Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scientists discover learning to read improves brain functions

There is good news to celebrate during this holiday season. Research scientists at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University have written about the first definite connection between reading and improved brain function. Here is the article from the Pittsburgh (PA) Tribune Review, published from staff reports on December 9. And visit the site FiveDads.com, where you can record yourself with a musical background and create an mp3 to share with your kids. It's a great way to be with your child even when you can't be with them.

Two Carnegie Mellon University scientists have uncovered the first evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself.

This instruction causes the brain to create new white matter that improves communication with the brain, CMU researchers Timothy Keller and Marcel Just reported today in the journal Neuron.

These findings could result in new strategies in the treatment of mental disorders, including autism, scientists said.

Keller and Just found that brain imaging of children between the ages of 8 and 10 showed that the quality of white matter — the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of gray matter where information is processed — improved substantially after children received 100 hours of remedial training.

After the training, imaging showed that the capability of the white matter to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better.

"We're excited about these results," Just said in a statement. "The indication that behavioral intervention can improve both cognitive performance and the microstructure of white matter tracts is a breakthrough for treating and understanding development problems."

The research was funded by grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

"The exciting breakthrough here is detecting changes in brain connectivity with behavioral treatment. This finding with reading deficits suggests an exciting new approach to be tested in the treatment of mental disorders, which increasingly appear to be due to problems in specific brain circuits," said Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Reading aloud to kids at FiveDads.com

Thanks to the BookDads website for the following. It's a great, creative, inexpensive way to be with your child even when you're not together, whether it's during the busy holiday season or throughout the year.

Check out this British website FiveDads.com. It provides an opportunity for dads, or anyone, to read to their kids even when they are away. For about $10 you can read one of 15 popular stories into your computer’s microphone and get an mp3 recording that your child can listen to if you are traveling or away from them.

For more information visit: FiveDads.com.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at BookBag!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just for fun: some new books for tweens

Just for fun, these books are exciting and filled with great characters who will make you laugh. Find copies at your local library using the World Catalog search box or Amazon.com link here on BookBag.

Binky the Space Cat, by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press) Graphic Novel. Binky is a cat with a mission: to protect his humans from aliens, which are everywhere (his humans call them "bugs"). His official certification as a Space Cat has just arrived in the mail from F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel), and he's decided to build a rocket ship so he can explore outer space and battle aliens on their home turf. But if he blasts into space and leaves his humans behind, who will protect them while he's gone? You don't have to be a cat lover to appreciate this funny, tongue-in-cheek adventure--but if you are, you'll laugh extra-hard at Binky, the bug-munching kitty with a secret identity.

The Dream Stealer, by Sid Fleischman; illustrated by Peter Sis (Greenwillow Books) Fantasy. Zumpango is a Dream Stealer. It's his job to capture children's nightmares, but he's sick of dealing with scary monsters and has begun to steal happy dreams instead. One night, however, Zumpango steals an especially good dream from a brave and clever young girl named Susana -- and Susana decides to get her dream back. This whimsically illustrated story is a little bit funny,

a little bit scary, and a whole lot of fun to read.

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano (But She Does Love Being in Recitals) by Peggy Elizabeth Gifford (Schwartz & Wade Books) Fiction. Pint-sized drama queen Moxy Maxwell is back, ready to wow the audience at her piano recital. She'll be playing a duet with her younger sister, Pansy--and she's more than a little miffed that her twin brother, Mark, gets to play a solo. Also, there was that bothersome note from her piano teacher, who says that Moxy pounds on the keys and doesn't stop playing her recital piece at the right time. But really, Moxy has far too much to do before the show for her to worry about something as silly as practicing. This 3rd book in the hilarious Moxy Maxwell series, just like the others, is illustrated with Mark's own off-kilter photos.

Two Bad Pilgrims, by Kathryn Lasky; illustrated by John Manders (Viking) Historical Fiction. If you think that all Pilgrims were prim and proper, think again. Based on the real-life story of the Billington brothers Francis and Johnny -- whose entire family was notorious for their bad behavior -- Two Bad Pilgrims tells how the boys nearly blew up the Mayflower, discovered an "inland sea," and (ironically enough) made peace with the Nauset Indians who had previously attacked the Pilgrims. Don't judge this book by its package -- it's the size and shape of a picture book, but it reads like a comic and contains lots of fascinating facts and a story that older kids, especially history buffs, are sure to enjoy.

Ottoline Goes to School, by Chris Riddell (Harper Collins) Humorous Mystery. Not quite a graphic novel but more than just a story with pictures, this is

the 2nd book about Ottoline Brown and her best-friend-slash-sidekick, the extremely hairy Mr. Munroe (who looks sort of like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family). After making a new friend who attends the Alice B. Smith School for the Differently Gifted, Ottoline decides to enroll at the school herself. Surrounded by students with special abilities, she finds it difficult to discover her own gift...but easy to stumble upon a mystery. Full of quirky characters and delightful feats of wordplay, Ottoline Goes to School is a quick, fun read.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

For fans of "A Wimpy Kid"

If you enjoy the continuing
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, here are some other books you might like about young underdogs and their struggles. Find copies of these books on World Catalog and Amazon by using the search boxes here on BookBag.

The Dodgeball Chronicles, by Frank Cammuso (Graphix) Graphic Novel. Arthur (aka Artie, aka "Wartie") King is the new kid at Camelot Middle School, and his first day isn't starting out well. After he's mysteriously able to open a rusted-shut locker that no one else has ever budged, he gets on a bully's bad side (as well as the principal's), has a pop quiz in Mr. Merlyn's science class, and ends up challenged to a dodgeball game with incredibly high stakes. Loosely based on the legends of King Arthur, this fast-paced and funny 1st entry in the Knights of the Lunch Table series is a good bet for fans of underdogs like Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Greg Heffley.

Busted! by Betty Hicks (Square Fish) Fiction. Stuart Ellis' super-strict mom has so many rules that he can hardly keep from breaking some of them, and he's lost so many privileges that the only thing left for his mom to take away is soccer. Desperate to stay on the team, Stuart asks his friend Mack for help. She suggests finding a boyfriend for Stuart's mom to divert her attention...but Mack didn't have the soccer coach in mind. That was Stuart's idea, and this painfully funny story (with plenty of bonus on-the-field sports action) details the many ways it goes wrong.

Schooled, by Gordon Korman (Hyperion) Fiction. Imagine being raised on a hippie commune with no TV, video games, cell phones, or iPods. Now imagine that, after being homeschooled your entire life, you are suddenly and unexpectedly sent to middle school. That's just what happens to Capricorn -- Cap for short -- when his grandmother, Rain, falls out of a plum tree and is hospitalized. Cap's naiveté (for example, he's never handled money) and funky style make him a target for the school's in-crowd, who are determined to humiliate him. Cap's a different sort of wimpy kid than Greg Heffley, but he could easily share some of Greg's fans.

Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen (Wendy Lamb Books) Fiction. The narrator of this hilarious story starts out the summer "12 years old and broke," but when his Grandma gives him his late grandfather's riding mower, he decides to earn some money mowing lawns. Before long, "Lawn Boy" has a growing clientele which includes an ex-hippie stockbroker named Arnold, who offers to invest the cost of Lawn Boy's services for him in lieu of cash payment. Soon Lawn Boy's enterprise is booming, his investments have flourished until he's worth a cool half-million ... and a local thug wants to take over his business. Lawn Boy is sarcastic, utterly ridiculous -- and a fun, quick read.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday books from the BookDads website

The holidays are here, and the BookDads site has a selection of books about winter celebrations -- not just Christmas, but Kwanzaa and the winter solstice too. Look for copies of these books using the World Catalog and Amazon search boxes here on BookBag, and be sure to visit BookDads, which always has interesting book ideas year-round.

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking Juvenile) This classic picture book isn’t strictly a holiday book, but carries a timeless appeal for its depiction of the magic of winter. A young boy awakens to find that it has snowed during the night, and goes out to explore his city under its snowy white blanket. The story is told without text, making it ideal for pre-reading children, and is a trailblazer for its depiction of a young African-American child as the protagonist.

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice, by Wendy Pfeffer (Dutton Juvenile). This book simply explains the phenomenon of the winter solstice, and how and why it came to be celebrated by peoples around the world. The solstice is described primarily in the context of the natural world, making this book widely appropriate for both freethinker and religious families of all denominations. Instructions for science activities and simple solstice celebrations are also included.

The Magic Tree House #29: Christmas in Camelot, by Mary Pope Osborne (Random House) Reading The Magic Tree House chapter books to children can be a wonderful way to introduce them both to the concept of longer stories and to the history of America and other cultures. For children already familiar with the Magic Tree House, it can be a special treat for them to experience a seasonal story set in the world of characters they know so well. In this tale, Jack and Annie must go on a journey at Christmastime to save Camelot from being forgotten forever.

Kwanzaa Kids, by Joan Holub and Ken Wilson-Max (Puffin) This lift-the-flap book is an excellent introduction to Kwanzaa for very young children. With its many Swahili terms and different traditions, Kwanzaa can be a bit challenging for children to learn about. This book cuts to the essentials, with each two-page spread giving a very short explanation about one of the Nguzo Saba – the seven Kwanzaa principles – and showing the corresponding candles on the kinara. The illustrations are bold and colorful, and help make learning about Kwanzaa easy and fun.

We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families, by Todd Parr (Little Brown). Todd Parr lends his trademark colorful illustrations and upbeat writing to this affirming book about all different kinds of adoptive families. Each two-page spread completes the sentence “We belong together because …” and tells the many reasons that adoptive families feel bonded to each other. This book sends the positive message that all adoptive families are born out of love, and can be shared not only with adopted children but also non-adopted children to introduce them to the idea of adoption.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fact & fiction: books about history

Sometimes truth really can seem stranger than fiction! Here is a selection of books, some non-fiction and others fiction based on fact, for readers who enjoy reading about unusual history -- and the almost-unbelievable stories of some American heroes. Find these books here on BookBag by using the World Catalog and Amazon.com search boxes.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum, by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Ray Fenwick (Schwartz & Wade Books) Nonfiction. Lay-dees!... and!... Gentlemen! Children of All Ages!! Step right up and be AMAZED by the story of a man who hauled himself up from the depths of poverty by fooling people for a fee--and making them like it! That's right: this self-avowed "humbugger" made preposterous claims about the wond
ers in his traveling exhibitions, but folks still clamored to see them. He was the infamous P.T. Barnum, and among other things, he founded the circus known as "The Greatest Show on Earth." This entertaining biography presents the facts--both flattering and appalling--of Mr. Barnum's life in stories, pictures, and memorabilia that are almost as much fun as the circus that still bears his name.

Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali
, by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Bryan Collier (Candlewick Press) Nonfiction. As nimble with a rhyme as he was in the boxing ring, world-champion boxer Muhammed Ali is duly honored in this collection of poems and artwork that tell his life's story. Boldly illustrated, Twelve Rounds to Glory tells about some of Ali's most famous fights--not jus
t his rounds against opponents like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, but also his resistance to racism, his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam war, and his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease.

Riot, by Walter Dean Myers (Egmont USA) Historical Fiction. Desperate for more Union troops, President Lincoln has instituted a draft requiring all able-bodied men--except those wealt
hy enough to pay a $300 waiver--to serve in the Civil War. This doesn't settle well with Irish immigrants who can't afford the waiver and who are already angry because they believe that black people are "stealing" their jobs. On July 11, 1863, the first names are drawn for the draft in New York City, and simmering racial tensions explode--Irish mobs loot stores, set fires, and attack black people in the streets. Told in a screenplay format like the author's book Monster, this powerful story centers on 15-year-old Clare Johnson, who, as the daughter of a black father and an Irish mother, is caught between the two warring sides.

A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck (Dial Books) Historical Fiction. When 12-year-old Bob Barnhart's family moves in next door to Mrs. Dowdel -- aka Grandma Dowdel from A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago -- he isn't sure what to think of his grumpy and odd new neighb
or. But then Mrs. Dowdel helps Bob get back at the town bullies for pulling a humiliating prank on him, and their friendship is well on its way. Chock full of memorable characters and small-town Illinois charm, this homey story brings the late 1950s (when Elvis was king and not everyone had indoor plumbing) to vibrant life.

Murder at Midnight, by Avi (Scholastic Press) Historical Mystery. Orphan and former street-urchin Fabrizio, newly apprenticed to Mangus the magician, is eager to prove his worth to his master. When Mangus is accused of treason against the king, Fabrizio gets his chance to be useful by proving the charges false--before he and Mangus are executed. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, this fast-paced and suspenseful prequel to Midnight Magic includes fascinating history about the first printing presses, which were thought by some to run on the power of evil magic. [Would-be time-travelers, take note: don't show off any modern technology to citizens of the past--they're liable to burn you at the stake for it.]

The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, by Michael Pollan, adapted by Richie Chevat (Dial Books) Nonfiction. Do you know where your dinner came from? If you'd like to find out, this is the perfect book for you. It explains how many processed foods, like chicken nuggets, "are really corn wrapped up in more corn" and that, if you wash 'em down with a soft drink, "you are drinking corn with your corn." Breaking down what most Americans eat, where their food comes from, and why it matters, author Michael Pollan also answers a nagging and fascinating question: since human beings are omnivores and can eat just about anything, what should we eat? Environmentalists, foodies, and fans of the movie Super Size Me will find plenty of food for thought in this kid-friendly version of the best-selling book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December books and the number Twelve

Here are books with a theme appropriate for the twelfth month of the year: they all involve the number 12. Short stories, fantasy, and fiction featuring vampires, fairies, and even a talking bridge -- find copies using the World Catalog and Amazon.com search boxes here on BookBag.

My Dad's a Punk: 12 Stories about Boys and Their Fathers, edited by Tony Bradman (Kingfisher Press) Short Stories. In these 12 stories, authors from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. write about fathers--good fathers, bad fathers, fathers who (for whatever reason) aren't around--and their sons. From a punk rocker to a workaholic to a bird-watcher, the dads depicted here are realistic characters with believable flaws and triumphs, as are their sons. This collection of funny, relatable stories would be a great pick for a father-son book club or for anyone who likes reading about family and everyday life.

The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina, by Caroline Lawrence (Roaring Brook Press) Historical Mystery. In this 6th volume of the mystery series that began with The Thieves of Ostia, young Flavia Gemina is suspicious of the widow Cartilia Poplica, who has caught her (eligible) father's fancy. Determined to uncover Cartilia's motives, Flavia decides that she must complete 12 tasks, like the Greek hero Hercules, in order to do so. Fans of this series like its quick-moving stories and their richly detailed ancient Roman settings, and there are plenty of them to enjoy; number 17, The

Man from Pomegranate Street, was published in July.

Twelve, by Lauren Myracle (Dutton Books) Fiction. As if being 11 wasn't hard enough, Winnie has finally turned 12, and she's just discovered a whole new set of problems to worry about--starting with her so-called best friend Amanda rejecting her. Luckily, there are also a lot of good things happening--like her new friendship with Dinah, getting her ears pierced, and her first crush on a boy. If you like reading about the ups and downs of everyday life, you'll enjoy reading all about Winnie in this book, as well as in Eleven and Thirteen.

Blue Noon, by Scott Westerfield (Eos Books) Fantasy. The teen heroes of this horror- and science-tinged fantasy series were all born at the stroke of midnight, which means that they are able to experience the magical 25th hour of every day when the rest of the world seems frozen. Being a "midnighter" is no picnic--terrifying, evil darklings inhabit the hidden hour, too. In this conclusion to the fast-paced, exciting trilogy that began with The Secret Hour, the darklings have figured out how to enter the world during the day, and the midnighters must once again risk their lives to save all of humanity. Don't miss it!

Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast, by Jane Yolen (Magic Carpet Books) Short Stories. Whether you're a fan of fantasy or science fiction--or you just like surprising, fresh takes on classic stories and characters (such as Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland)--there's something for you in this collection of tales by beloved author Jane Yolen. Featuring supernatural beings such as vampires, fairies, and a talking bridge (from "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"), as well as aliens and some very strange humans, these 12 stories range from downright scary to silly, bizarre, and sad. All of them, however, are quick, enjoyable reads.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best children's books, 2009, from the New York Times

From the editors of the Sunday New York Times Book Review, here are some outstanding children's books of 2009, featuring a selection of history, adventure, fiction and fairy tales. Locate copies using the World Catalog and Amazon search boxes here on BookBag.

Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales, written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick) Ages 3 and up In “Yummy,” the superbright palette of Lucy Cousins (of “Maisy” fame) meets the art of the fairy tale. Along with the wolves, hens and little girls in primary colors, outlined by the artist’s characteristic black brush strokes, the jaunty humor irresistibly pulls you in.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, by Deborah Heiligman (Holt) Ages 12 and up The unlikely, and happy, marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood comes to life in Heiligman’s intelligent and fast-moving book. Emma, a devout Christian but a sympathetic editor, helped make the arguments in On the Origin of Species airtight. Meanwhile readers can almost effortlessly absorb Darwin’s ideas and the culture in which they developed, along with a portrait of Victorian everyday life.

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Ages 4 to 8 Through a magical use of cut paper, Jenkins takes the reader on a voyage to the deepest part of the ocean. Multilayered and multi­colored, bizarre creatures almost seem to move on the page: flying squid, cold-eyed mackerel and lacy, bioluminescent siphonophores (lighted up like Broadway bulbs). Helpful descriptions both inform and entertain.

The Last Olympian: Perry Jackson & the Olympians,
Book 5, by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion) Ages 10 and up In Riordan’s universe, Greek mythology — along with its vividly imagined heroes and monsters — is alive and well in New York City. Percy, short for Perseus, here concludes his adventures (for the moment) with great humor and inventiveness, not to mention nearly world-ending mayhem.

Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. Ages 12 and up This brisk and brilliant novel tells the story of Marcelo, who knows he’s different, but not “abnormal or ill” (for people who need labels, he says his condition resembles Asperger’s). A summer job his father forces him to take in the “real world” plunges him into a legal mystery, a moral dilemma and a deepening friendship with his boss, the beautiful Jasmine.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd (Dial Books). Ages 14 and up Set among the fields of Iowa, what could have been a standard last-summer-before-college drama is instead packed with insights and memorable characters you want to know better, chief among them a young gay protagonist who plays against type in gratifying ways. Burd’s nuanced storytelling and metaphor-rich writing lift his debut novel far above the ordinary.

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random House) Ages 9 to 14 Stead’s novel is a thrilling puzzle: a complex mystery, a work of historical
fiction and a story of friendship, with a theme of time travel running through it. After Miranda’s apartment key disappears and strange notes begin appearing, clues pile up on the way to a moment of intense drama. From then on it is nearly impossible to stop reading.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Barbarians, Elephants ... and Delaware

Books can excite the imagination and challenge the reader to read more, whether it's the history of barbarians or conjuring the made-up worlds of fantasy. Here are a few books that are full of fascinating ideas for all kinds of readers -- use the search boxes here on BookBag to find a copy.

Barbarians! by Steven Kroll (Dutton Children's Books). Nonfiction. So, what makes a barbarian ... well, barbaric? Does anyone rude and crude make the cut? Or is barbarism simply in the eye of the beholder? Find out for yourself in this history of Goths, Huns (as in "Attila the"), Vikings, and Mongols (such as Genghis Khan)--nomadic peoples who attacked the empires of their times. Well-illustrated and covering everything from daily life to religious beliefs to each group's conquests, Barbarians will fascinate history buffs as well as anyone interested in the ways and reasons that humans make war.

Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, by M.T. Anderson (Beach Lane Books). Adventure. In what book can you read about staring competitions, monster squids, plagues of beetles, and the untamed mountainous realms of the forbidden state of Delaware (bet you didn't know that Delaware has mountains...)? None other than this 3rd volume of author M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales series, in which Boy Technonaut Jasper Dash and his cohorts Lily and Katie must unravel a knotty mystery and save the world from some dastardly villains. Like an over-the-top blending of a Hardy Boys mystery and the Indiana Jones movies with a healthy dose of complete absurdity, this fun and fast-reading story is perfect for those who enjoy ridiculous humor and plenty of action.

Wild Girl, by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books). Fiction. Ever since her mother died five years ago, 12-year-old Lidie has lived with her aunt and uncle in her native Brazil. Now she is moving to Queens, New York, to join her older brother, Rafael, and her father, Pai, who train race horses for a living. Attending a new school and learning a new language are big challenges, but worst of all, Pai and Rafael still treat Lidie like a baby. Maybe if she can ride Wild Girl, a spirited filly that her father has been hired to train, Lidie can show them how strong she's become. If you love horses, emotional stories, and characters who seem real, you'll gallop through Wild Girl.

The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press). Fantasy. Young Peter lives with an addled and strict old soldier who has told the boy that his younger sister, Adele, is dead. Hoping for a miracle, Peter uses their meager grocery money to pay a fortune teller for any news of Adele. He is told that she is, in fact, alive -- and that an elephant will lead Peter to her. This is outrageous, of course...until a local stage magician accidentally conjures up an actual elephant (he only intended to materialize a bouquet of lilies). This mysterious and enchanting story about what might be possible is full of subtle humor, fabulous description, and memorable characters.

Medusa Jones, by Ross Collins (Arthur A. Levine Books). Fiction. Medusa Jones can top anyone's bad hair day--she's got snakes on her head instead of hair! Medusa and her friends (Mino the minotaur and Chiron the centaur) are known as The Freaks and get picked on at school by the perfect, popular students, who call themselves the Champions. Medusa's parents won't let her turn anyone to stone, so she can't fight back. But when the Freaks and the Champions are teamed up on a class trip to Mount

Olympus and disaster strikes, Medusa gets a chance to be the hero for a change. If you think it would be fun to imagine what gods and goddesses might be like as kids, you'll love this quick, funny read.

Walking With the Dead, by L.M. Falcone (Kids Can Press). Fantasy/Adventure. Twelve-year-old Alex has plenty to worry about; he can't get the time of day from the girl of his dreams, and he has to pay the local bully not to beat him up. But when Alex's dad brings home a mummy to add to his museum of "oddities" and a freak lightning strike resurrects the corpse, Alex and his friend Freddie find themselves journeying to the Underworld to clear the mummy of an ancient murder charge. Bullies are nothing compared to monsters from Greek mythology! Packed with action, humor, and suspense, Walking with the Dead is a must-read for fans of Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio series.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

If you like "The Lovely Bones..."

The movie version of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel The Lovely Bones will be in U.S. theaters starting December 11, 2009. The book--narrated from heaven by 14-year-old Susie Salmon, following her murder--was lauded for its complex portrait of a family haunted by tragedy; its "personal, whimsical, yet utterly convincing heaven" (Kirkus Reviews); beautiful writing; and riveting suspense.

Looking for more great reads (many of them stories from The Other Side)? Check out one of the books featured below. You can find copies of these books at your local library by typing in the title in the World Catalog search box here on BookBag, or buy copies using the Amazon.com box above it.

Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Fiction. Liz Hall is nearly 16 when she is hit by a taxicab while riding her bike to the mall. The next thing she knows, she's on a boat headed to Elsewhere, the place where people go when they die. After learning that everyone in Elsewhere ages backward and, upon reaching infancy, returns to Earth, Liz is distraught and angry about everything she missed by dying so young. She becomes utterly preoccupied with watching her family and friends from Elsewhere's special observation deck and nearly misses her chance at finding peace, love, and fulfillment...in the afterlife. Author Gabrielle Zevin's fully imagined and intriguing version of the hereafter will have fans of The Lovely Bones

Many Stones, by Carolyn Coman (Puffin Books) Fiction. Berry Morgan was never her father's favorite--that was her older sister, Laura--but since their parents' divorce, she's hardly seen him at all. Now, a year and a half after Laura was murdered while volunteering at a school in Cape Town, South Africa, Berry's dad wants her to accompany him on a two-week trip to the place where Laura died. This wrenching book that VOYA calls "an ode to the grieving process" deftly parallels the struggle for forgiveness of a father and daughter with that of post-apartheid South Africa. If you were riveted by the disintegration of Susie Salmon's family after

her death (in The Lovely Bones), you'll appreciate the similar psychological complexity of Many Stones.

Waves, by Sharon Dogar (Chicken House) Fiction. Hal Ditton and his family have always spent blissful summers at their Brackinton beach house. This year's trip, however, will only intensify the pain the whole family has suffered since Hal's older sister Charley's late-night surfing accident last summer. She's been comatose ever since, but when the Dittons go to Brackinton without Charley, Hal is overwhelmed by thoughts that seem to belong to her. Is Charley sending Hal her thoughts? And if she is, why? This suspenseful book should especially appeal to readers who like Jodi Picoult's stories about families in crisis, or the supernatural narration of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.

The Stolen Child: A Novel, by Keith Donohue (Anchor Books) Adult Fantasy. What if you were stolen from your family...but you never knew it? That's what happens when the fey are about. Set in a mid-20th century American suburb, The Stolen Child features two boys adapting to life with each other's families. Taken by faeries, seven-year-old Henry Day is given the name Aniday and lives in the forest with other stolen ones, but he misses books and clean sheets. The new "Henry Day," a changeling, tries to adapt to life with the Days, even as his persistent memories of life in another place surface. If you liked the haunting quality of The Lovely Bones and the idea of characters who don't quite fit in the worlds that they inhabit, give this mesmerizing debut novel a try.

Where I Want to Be, by Adele Griffin (G.P. Putnam's Sons) Fiction. Jane Culvert

was the perfect big sister to Lily when they were little girls--Jane taught Lily how to play make-believe, and it seemed that Jane's imagination made the whole world enchanted. But as the sisters grew older, Jane stayed rooted in unreality while Lily started making friends and dating. Soon after this story begins, we learn that Jane has died in a tragic accident. Lily, however, continues to feel her presence, and fears that she may never be able to move forward with her own life. The two sisters, separated by death but still connected, narrate alternating chapters of this poignant story about letting go of loss and guilt.

The Afterlife, by Gary Soto (Harcourt) Fiction. While trying to get his hair combed just right in the men's room of Club Estrella, 17-year-old Chuy offhandedly compliments the shoes of the guy standing next to him--and gets stabbed to death in return. Chuy's spirit leaves his body and, like Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones, he wanders his hometown, looking in on family and friends as they grieve over his untimely death. He even has a chance to do some good and to fall in love before his "ghost body" fades away. The Afterlife vividly depicts the richness of barrio life in Fresno, California, and shows how precious Chuy's seemingly average life was.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Help for letter-writing, and silly word games

Sometimes books can be just silly fun to read. Playing with language can be a new way to explore words and their meanings -- here is a selection of books about language used in unexpected ways, from goofy sentences to word games. You can find these books by using the World Catalog and Amazon search boxes here on BookBag.

Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog! And Other Palindromes, by Jon Agee (Farrar Straus Giroux) Nonfiction. Palindromes are words, phrases, and sometimes whole sentences that read exactly the same backwards and forwards (read the title "Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog!" backwards). This knee-slapper of a book is jam-packed with palindromes like "Mr. Owl ate my metal worm," each of them illustrated with its own cartoon. Word aficionados may also want to check out Elvis Lives, the author's book of anagrams, and his book of oxymorons, Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp?

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster; illustrated by Jules Feiffer (Epstein & Carroll) Fantasy. Milo is bore
d--really bored. He just can't see the point in anything, so when a tollbooth appears in his bedroom out of nowhere, he blithely pays the toll and drives his toy car through...to a completely amazing and altogether unfamiliar place. Soon he's off on an adventure filled with peril, bizarre beasts, and its fair share of outright silliness, hoping to rescue twin princesses Rhyme and Reason and unite a divided kingdom. With more puns, wordplay, and over-the-top literalism than you can shake a stick at, this wondrous story is a word-lover's dream.

Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks, by Kate Klise (Avon Books) Fiction. Replacing a leaky water fountain should be simple, right? Dry Creek Middle School's principal thinks so when he requests a catalog from Flowing Waters Fountains, Etc. But in reply, artist and fountain designer Florence Waters informs him that all of her fountains are custom-made. Soon Ms. Waters is polling the fifth-graders for design ideas (they're in favor of auxiliary chocolate-milk dispensers) and planning an increasingly elaborate fountain ("Do you all have scuba gear?", she writes)--while a history class uncovers a sinister plot to halt the fountain's construction. Told entirely in letters, memos, transcripts, newspaper articles, and the like, this sublimely ridiculous story is filled with wordplay, puns, and clues to the mystery.

Word Nerd, by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund (Tundra Books) Fiction. As 12-year-old Ambrose's airways begin to constrict, he realizes that a trio of bullies have tampered with his sandwich and he visualizes the news headline "FRIENDLESS NERD KILLED BY PEANUT." Ambrose survives, but his panicked mom decrees that he'll be home-schooled from now on. While she works nights, Ambrose pesters their landlords' grown son, Cosmo, for lack of anything better to do. When Ambrose, who loves Scrabble and is constantly re-arranging letter combinations in his head, cons Cosmo into accompanying him to the weekly meetings of a Scrabble Club (without his mom's consent), neither of them has any idea of the misadventures ahead of them. Ambrose is a quirky, unforgettable character, and while anyone who likes a good laugh will enjoy this story, word nerds will love it.

Help for letter-writing

From Joanne Meier's weekly blog at the Reading Rockets website, here are some resources to help encourage and improve kids' letter-writing skills:

It is the time of year when many children sit down to write an important letter addressed to the North Pole. Other children pen thank you notes and party invitations during this busy time of the year. Some say letter writing is a lost art, but it doesn’t have to be!

An Introduction to Letter Writing covers activities for many common types of letter writing, including formal and informal letters, thank you notes, letters of complaint, and more. For kids who prefer to work online, or need a more step-by-step approach, try Read, Write, Think's Letter Generator. It's set up to help kids write either a friendly letter or a business letter.

For character-related fun, the Arthur section on the PBS Kids website has a Letter Writer Helper that shows kids the various parts of a "good old-fashioned" letter, an email, a greeting card, and a postcard. Staying within that site, kids can use Letters To to help them write to Arthur, Francine, Sue Ellen, or The Brain.

If you're wondering whether you have realistic expectations about your child's writing, some of the links within this section on Education.com can help you understand what to expect in writing by age and grade.

Whatever the reason for writing, hopefully these resources will help.