PENGUIN AND PINECONE by Salina Yoon

A penguin? A pinecone? How can a writer possibly bring these random things together in a fully-developed and beautiful story about friendship and love? When you read this new picture book by prolific and uber-talented Salina Yoon, you’ll see exactly how.

I asked Ellie to write a review of PENGUIN AND PINECONE for A Mom’s World because she was so touched by the characters from the moment she saw the book trailer:

It’s a short video, but during those 59 seconds Ellie cried and laughed and clapped and cried some more. She thought it seemed like a sad book and wondered how it would end. Would Pinecone be gone forever? What would Penguin do without his new best friend? We had to get the book to find out, of course, and while we read it, Ellie cried and laughed and cried and laughed. Then we read it another dozen times. She slept with it. She brought it to school. Finally, after a week of carrying it around, the book has a place of honor on our ottoman in the living room, because you never know when you HAVE to read it again.

In a nutshell, PENGUIN AND PINECONE is a friendship story: When Penguin finds a lost pinecone one day, an unlikely friendship blooms. But Grandpa reminds Penguin that pinecones can’t live in the snow — they belong in the warm forest far away. Though he will miss his friend, Penguin returns Pinecone to his home, dreaming of the day they can reunite. And when he finally returns to the forest to check on his friend, Penguin discovers that love only grows over time-and so do little pinecones! 

And here is Ellie’s review — I asked her some questions and typed her answers as she talked.

  • What did you think about the book?  Sad. Happy. Enjoying. When Penguin has to leave Pinecone it is sad. It is happy at the end when Pinecone grows into a big tree because now it snows sometimes and Penguin and Pinecone get to be together. It’s enjoying when they get to be together when they first become friends before Grandpa tells Penguin it’s too cold for Pinecone here.
  • What did you like best about the book? When Penguin tries to figure out what Pinecone is. It is really, really funny!
  • What are your 3 favorite things about the story?  1. It’s funny.  2. It’s also sad.  3. It’s learning – if you didn’t know this, pinecones have seeds in them and if you leave them alone they can grow into trees.
  • What is your favorite word/lines?  “Pinecone was sad to see Penguin go, but the forest is no place for a penguin.” Because it’s sad, but it’s funny because the tree has a scarf.And it’s also really exciting because Penguin saw how Pinecone had grown so big.  “When you give love, it grows.” All the trees have scarves, hats, mittens on and those were all the pinecones that grew up. They had love. Because of the hats and things.
  • Who is your favorite character? What do you like best about that character?  Penguin – because he is most funniest and also really sad when Pinecone has to leave. He’s caring. About Pinecone.
  • What was your favorite illustration?  The picture that shows when Penguin leaves Pinecone in the forest. He made an “I” with sticks, made a heart with stones, and a “U” with pine needles. And he put Pinecone right in the middle. It shows how much Penguin loves Pinecone and how it feels to lose a friend.

Ellie wants you to know that you should read this book too, but only if you really like penguins and pinecones and also books that are happy and sad at the same time. She was thrilled to find out that Penguin has his own blog now too, so she can stay in touch with him and find out what he’s doing these days. We both look forward to many more adventures with Penguin in books to come!

Ellie also wants to say THANK YOU to Salina for sending her Penguin’s story, AND a copy of her board book, WHERE’S ELLIE?, which has not yet come down from the top bunk where it is read nightly. She hopes that some day she can meet Salina in person and give her a hug.

ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Mitzi and I recently read “One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Last week, on our way down to Cape Cod for the holiday weekend, we discussed it, but as it was very late (close to midnight) and dark and I was tired. We talked for an hour but I didn’t take notes, so, for the record, her opinions expressed here are based on my memory of her remarks that night.

First, the jacket flap:

Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong–until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She’s not really a Murphy, but the gifts they’ve given her have opened up a new future.

Mitzi and I both loved Carley — she’s sassy and smart and really funny. But she’s very honest too, and her conflict is real. She tries her best to resist the affection that Mrs. Murphy offers her, but eventually gives in to it and comes to love Mrs. Murphy — perhaps even more than her own mother, who we don’t see much of in the book, though we do hear about the violent incident that landed Carley in foster care in the first place. Carley loves her mom and has loyalty towards her, but isn’t sure if she can forgive her for what she’s done.

Meanwhile, Carley has to adjust to the three Murphy boys. The youngest two seem to like her right away and are easy with their friendships. But the older son, Daniel, resents Carley’s presence, and it’s not until the pair find a common ground in basketball that they start to get along. Then there’s Mr. Murphy, a fireman, who also seems put out by having Carley in his life. He’s slightly suspicious of her, and doesn’t hold back his obvious irritation. Throughout the book, though, he warms up to Carley, in part due to Carley’s new friend, Toni, who razzes Mr. Murphy about his obsession with the Red Sox.

But the real story here is the one between Carley and Mrs. Murphy, who is an absolute contrast to Carley’s mother. Both Mitzi and I agreed that Mrs. Murphy is a wonderful character who helps Carley let down her wall so she can make new relationships and trust those who are trying to be nice to her and love her. We also both felt sucked into the story, like we were living it right alongside Carley. And, like Carley, we were sad at the end with the decision Carley ultimately makes.

I think Mitzi is tougher than me when it comes to reading books like this one — there were plenty of moments that had me in need of a tissue, but that might be because I can’t help but read with my mom-lenses on. This book is definitely not a tear-jerker, but it does have quite a few heart-wrenching moments.

The bottom line: we loved this book. Carley is strong and opinionated and funny — and also emotional, in that, she has them. Her character rang true with us, and Mitzi’s only disappointment was that she won’t get to know what happens next to Carley. “I really hope the author writes a sequel!” For me, I’m not sure that a sequel is in the cards, but I’m truly looking forward to the author’s next book. Her writing is just amazing. But don’t take it from me — go get your own copy!

One for the Murphys” is appropriate for ages 10 and up, and would be a great book for parents and kids to read together, as there’s much to discuss throughout, from foster families to relationships to honesty to trust, and more. Definitely a five-star book! 

How to build a reader, part 2

Yesterday I shared the story of how I helped Cooper grow as a reader. We are both very proud of the way his literary muscles have strengthened over the past two years!  He came home from school yesterday with a book from the library, a huge, fat book — he walked through the front door with it held high over his head, as if it was a trophy (which of course, it was, sort of, since it had been on hold for a few weeks and he was psyched it was finally available to him.)

Then last night I read this awesome post by the amazing Laurel Snyder. You should go read it. Now. I’ll wait for you right here.

*gazes thoughtfully out the window*

*drums fingers*

Okay, you’re back.

Laurel’s post just blew me away, because, in her usually beautiful style, she said exactly what I believe to be the immeasurable value of picture books — who needs them, and why, and what we’re losing by forcing our kids to read bigger and harder books at earlier ages.

Then I thought, “Oh crap!” Because I really didn’t want anyone who read my blog yesterday to have gotten the message that I was suggesting that it’s a good idea to push kids in their reading. Because there is a difference between forcing kids to read up too soon, and helping a child expand his repertoire, broaden his literary horizons. In the former, you’re forgetting about all the wonderful things children — and adults — get from reading picture books, and you’re forgetting why we need those things. In the latter, you’re encouraging a reader to branch out and try something new.

I happened to be sitting at the dining room table while I read Laurel’s post last night, and Cooper happened to be sitting next to me doing his homework. I asked him if he still liked to read picture books. He looked at me like I was nuts. “Why?”

“Because some adults think that kids should be reading harder books at younger ages. They think that picture books are for babies.”

Cooper rolled his eyes and said, “That’s stupid. Picture books are awesome!”

And you know what? Before bed he read one to Joanna. And despite his new library borrow, I saw him take a few picture books to bed.

There are just some things you never outgrow.

Thank goodness.

How to build a reader, in four (not-so) easy steps…

Last evening, after we’d dropped Cooper and Ray off at the baseball field and brought Mitzi to her softball game, Joanna, Ellie and I headed to the library. I wanted to get a book for Cooper’s project on John Adams, and figured it was a good time to restock our supplies. The girls loaded up with a dozen picture books and easy readers, and I chose a similar amount of middle grade reads for me and the big kids to share. Picking titles for Mitzi is easy — really, she reads just about anything, and there were some books I wanted, so we could share them.

Choosing for Cooper was harder.

Once upon a time, my son, child of my literary loins, did not like to read. It didn’t come easily to him at first, and he is the sort who, used to certain things being easy for him, gets immensely frustrated when things are hard.

It was difficult to watch — he struggled and gave up. Nothing interested him. He wanted to play sports, not be still with his nose in a book. As much as I try to let my kids be the little people they are, frankly, this drove me nuts. I love reading. Reading is awesome! CHILD, YOU MUST LEARN THIS TRUTH! Oh, he was happy to flip through picture books, mostly of the nonfiction variety, and, okay, that was fine, but I was there on the sidelines with a whole library just waiting for him. I began to worry that, even though he was going to be *able to read, he would never have that passion I truly wanted him to have.

And then….Captain Underpants swooshed into our lives. It was perfect for Cooper — a graphic novel with hilarious text (bathroom humor and all) and fun interactive features (Flip-O-Rama!). As soon as he gobbled those up, I introduced him to the spectacular Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. (These, too, were a hit, not just with Cooper, but all my kids.) Suddenly, Cooper was reading eagerly, whenever he got the chance.

It was time for my move. I’m a fan of graphic novels, but I wanted him to try longer texts, to challenge himself, to work his reading muscles because, darn it, there are so many awesome books out there that I knew he’d love if only he had the confidence to crack their spines. Around this time we had gone to my parents’ for a visit, and I was perusing a box of books I’d been saving for when my kids were old enough, books from my childhood that I read so many times they were battered and worn.

And there it was. The perfect book for Cooper: How To Eat Fried Worms. I knew he’d love the plot, but also the fact that the chapters are quite short and not intimidating. I smuggled the book home and when the time was right, I offered it. Okay, I seriously played up the gross factor of eating worms and the competitive aspect of the challenge, but, hey. I knew they’d hook him. And it worked. He probably read that book a half-dozen times. It was our Chapter Book Milestone. From there he went on to books like Encyclopedia Brown, again, with short chapters and a fun pace.

Soon after, he had The Big Kid Book Epiphany when he found Dan Gutman’s series of baseball books.

Then it was Origami Yoda by John Angleberger, Warp Speed by Lisa Yee, and How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephardt. The 39 Clues. Then came The Full-On Novel Breathrough — Percy Jackson. I saw this as a huge step. Long chapters, lots of characters to keep track of, a twisting plot, and lots of books in the series. But he was addicted to them, staying up far to late to “just read one more chapter.”

And so Cooper became a reader. He is still unpredictable in his tastes — I’ve gotten him books that I was sure would be perfect, only to have him labor through the first few chapters.

So it was, at the library, that I picked up The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott and Scumble by Ingrid Law. I also told him that he was welcome to read any of the others I got — Hound Dog True by Linda Urban or Eleven by Lauren Myracle — though I did tell both the kids that the copy of Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore was just for me.

I think all kids can learn to love to read. As a parent, you just have to keep trying. If I could get Cooper from Captain Underpants to Percy Jackson in two years, you can do it too.

The library is an excellent place to start.

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I’m a book addict…

The other night, after I had tucked in the little girls and kissed Mitzi, who was already cuddled up under her covers, immersed in her reading, I found Cooper on his bedroom floor. Before him was spread out a few books and he had a thoughtful look on his face. I asked him what he was doing. “Trying to figure out what I want to read tonight,” he answered.

These were not new books — he’s been reading them in turn for about a week. But Cooper doesn’t always read the same book day after day — he jumps from one to the next, depending on his mood. And it doesn’t bother him, and he easily follows the characters even if he hasn’t seen them for a few days.

He’s a snackish kind of reader. 

I’ve given up trying to understand or change his ways. But I don’t get it. Because I’m a exactly the opposite. No nibbling on books for me, no tasting them here or there. Nope. When I read, I binge.

If a book catches me on page one, I will do anything I can to read until it’s done, even if it means walking around the house with it clutched in my hands as I load the dishwasher or gather up dirty clothes for the wash. I stay up way too late, desperate to finish, because, if a book is that good I just can’t stand to go to sleep without knowing what happens.

Of course, I can’t do this all the time, and it takes every ounce of my adult sensibility to put the book down and get on with my day. But while I do all the things I have to, I steal glances at it when I walk through the room, and sometimes even pick it up to read another page or two. Just for a minute.

I was thinking about this today as I added another title to my library list. When will I be able to read all of these, and still do all the stuff I’m supposed to?

Too many books, too little time…

What kind of reader are you?

Happy World Read Aloud Day!!

Yay, World Read Aloud Day is here! Before I share with you some video the kids made to celebrate this day, I wanted to direct you to this awesome post

by the amazing writer, KateMessner. In it, she reminds us of why, no matter how old a child is, reading aloud to him or her is one of the most powerful things you can do.

On my home front, in the interest of not adding one more thing to our already busy school mornings, I recorded the kids reading aloud last night (except for Ellie, because the memory card filled up before it was her turn, so she went this morning before school).

The kids all picked books they love, books they remembered from when they were much younger, the kinds of books they begged to hear over and over and over again.  And it was so fun to hear those words come out of their mouths, not mine, and I could almost picture them reading to their own future children.

Okay, without further ado: our read-alouds for World Read Aloud Day!

First, my dad’s annual contribution (with a little help from Max, my parents’ adorable dachsaund). I love my dad!

Here are the kids:

 

Will you be reading out loud today? Share your stories!

Celebrate reading and support global literacy

If you are visiting A Mom’s World, you are either a) one of my parents, b) following me on Facebook or Twitter, or c) someone who was searching for information about Pillow Pets (that old post sure gets a lot of hits!). But no matter who you are, one thing is true: you can read.

Have you ever thought about how awesome that is? That every day your eyes scan over squiggly symbols and you know what they mean? Those squiggles — on street signs and storefronts, in print and online newspapers and magazines, in books — give you information, teach you new things, open up new worlds, transport you to other galaxies. Think about it. Awesome.

We often take our literacy for granted, but worldwide over 793 million people cannot read.

This Wednesday is World Read Aloud Day, sponsored by LitWorld, an international organization with the goal of promoting literacy for all children around the globe. For the past two years, World Read Aloud Day has shared this message through thousands of participants joining in many activities. This year, LitWorld hopes to have one million participants — I’m pleased to say that I’m one of them.

What happens on WRAD? Well, reading. Out loud. To your own kids, to a classroom of kids — many brilliant authors will by sharing their words with children via Skype visits, but you could Skype a story to your nephew across the country.

LitWorld’s website has free downloads of worksheets and suggestions for how you can participate in your own piece of the world.

In A Mom’s World, the kids and I are going to make some videos to share. But until then, here is what my father did last year to celebrate World Read Aloud Day:

 

Are you participating? I’d love to hear about your plans!