2010’s Great Books for Children

Mary Bannister is the librarian at Nate’s school.  I went to a presentation that she gave at PTA meeting earlier this year and I was blown away by her passion for getting kids to read. It’s reassuring to know that my kid is in the hands of a real book geek.  This is Mrs. Bannister’s first year at Whittier, and Nate’s third.  I don’t think it’s coincidence that this year he has become a voracious reader. 

In this week’s newsletter from school Mrs. Bannister did a great write-up on this year’s ALA winners.  She has graciously allowed me to share this with you.  Hopefully you are inspired to go out and pick up one of these noteworthy books to share with your kids. For ease of purchase I have linked all the titles to their respective pages (Disclosure: Parenting Geekly recieves a very small percentage of  these sales which go to site maintenance). I actually encourage you to check these out from your local library or buy them from your local independent bookseller.

New Book Awards from ALA
Moon Over ManifestIt was thrilling January 11th to see the list of the new book awards from ALA this year, especially as I was introduced to many of these titles, authors and illustrators at the DC ALA Conference in June 2010.

The most well known awards are the Caldecott and Newbery, however the Newbery title (best written) took many by surprise. Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 Newbery Medal winner. The book wasn’t available in several local bookstores. Hopefully Amazon will come through for me. I had the order placed within 5 minutes of the awards list being posted!

Babymouse author, Jennifer Holm, took a Newbery Honor for Turtle in Paradise. Other Newbery Honors went to Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. This book also won the Coretta Scott King author award. (The book was highlighted at my Readers Workshop class this summer, where we were predicting it was a strong contender for awards!) These books are being provided to the library by a WITS grant.

The Caldecott medal for best picture book went to A Sick Day for Amos McGee illustrated by Erin E. Stead. A copy is already in our library thanks to a quick call to Mockingbird Books. We were able to get this title and the three Geisel award winners with book sales profits!

A Caldecott Honor and Corretta Scott King Illustrators award went to Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick Hill. At the ALA conference in DC this summer I was able to get a signed copy by the author and illustrator as well as a poster which is up already in the library!

Another Caldecott Honor went to Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein and is certain to be a kids favorite!

I hope to acquire a copy of this year’s Pura Belpré Author Award The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, a favorite author of ours! In DC I picked up a personal copy signed by the illustrator of the Pura Belpre illustrator honor award Me Frieda. The award went to Grandma’s Gift illustrated and written by Eric Velasquez, and the other honor books were Fiesta Babies illustrated by Amy Córdova, and Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh. All of these Pura Belpre titles would be excellent additions to the Whittier Library!

A favorite award of mine is the Geisel award in honor of Dr. Seuss for the most distinguished beginning reader book. This award started 5 years ago, which was my first year as a school librarian, so it is no wonder it has a soft spot in my heart. The winner was from an author that usually writes for older children, Kate DiCamillo in partnership with Alison McGhee for their title Bink and Gollie. The Geisel Honor Books were Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin, a favorite author of picture and chapter books. The list wouldn’t be complete without an appearance of a Mo Willem’s title…this year’s honor went to We Are in a Book! All three of these books are already in our library waiting for read-alouds to our youngest students!


Check out Mrs. B’s Library Blog here.


Review: Leapfrog’s Tag Reading System

As I’ve written before, Kitty is really interested in learning to read.  We’re working on getting her there, but she’s three and obviously it’s going to take some time. This means that for now we are still reading her any book she’s interested in.  We read to her A LOT, and while it’s really hard to say “no” to a kid handing you a book, sometimes it’s just not practical to take the time to read (like when I’m cooking, going to the bathroom, or I’ve just read her five books and she’s begging for number six).  So when it was time to start thinking about Christmas presents for this year, Leapfrog’s Tag Reading System was appealing because it would read the books to her.

LeapFrog TAG Reading System - Green
Note: product does not stand on its own.

Leapfrog offers a Tag Junior which is suggested for ages 2-4, and the Tag Reading System is suggested for ages 4-8.  With Kit being three months away from her fourth birthday we opted for the more advanced version. The Tag Junior books seemed like they’d be more interesting to Kitty, and they are board books, which would have been more durable, but we decided the bigger age-range of the Tag Reader ultimately made it the better option. We found a purple version of the reader on closeout for $20 (Score!  They system usually retails for about $30).  It came with The Cat in the Hat and we purchased additional books featuring The Little Mermaid, Tinkerbell and Scooby-Doo.  Aunt Karen knew about the purchase and picked up Tangled to round out her collection.

The Reader looks like a chunky pen, and connects to a PC with a USB cable.  Leapster’s Connect software has to be installed on your system, and the content for each book has to be downloaded onto the pen.  The pen can hold up to ten titles at a time, though inactive titles are stored on your system and can be quickly swapped out.   This was the only clunky part of the process, but we had to load five books at once and Kitty was pretty excited about getting started.  The reader also uses to PC to access the “Learning Path” which allows the parent to track their child’s progress.  The pen also occasionally asks the child to have a parent connect to the software to access online “rewards” thay they earn from working through the books and their games.

To quote Arthur C. Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and the Tag is a pretty good example of that. The books look and read just like a normal book, with the exception of a few small symbols in the bottom right hand corner of each page.  Touching these symbols allow the child to have the page read to them or to play short games which are available on most pages. Super-Dad and I were amazed at this tiny thing’s ability to know exactly what point you were on in any given book without any additional hardware. The pen has an optical sensor and each page on the book has an almost invisible dot-matrix that the sensor uses to find its place. It will read the story, read the page, or read each word.  Each picture has sound effects or dialogue.  It’s pretty slick. The speaker has good volume for its size, and Leapfrog has also included a headphone jack, which I am immensely grateful for. 

Unlike its predecessor, the bulky Leap Pad, (which required a large pad, a book, a cartridge and still needed the child to push a specific spot on each page to “activate” it) the Tag needs nothing but the pen and the books. It will also read any title you own aloud without the book, a really smart feature that we’ve used at bedtime and when the books were forgotten at home on a long car ride.

Leapfrog Tag Kid Classic Storybook Walter The Farting Dog Goes On A Cruise
Is Walter the Farting Dog a classic? That’s for you to decide.

The production quality of the books we’ve tried has been phenomenal. The voice acting is great, as far as I can tell they use the same voice actors as the movies the books are based on.  The books are nice to look at and are long enough to be entertaining.  The MSRP on the books is about $14, but they are frequently on sale.  If you avoid character products the selection may leave you disspointed.  I think every book I’ve seen in stores is a licensed product, though there are several children’s “classics” like Olivia , Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Little Engine that Could available. The Leapfrog website and Amazon (and occasionally stores) also carry learn to read kits with phonics based readers.  The website also offers a few interactive maps, some activity-only books and some game boards.

My only real complaint is that clicking on any picture plays an accompanying sound clip, which totally distracts Kitty from the actual story.  She will spend a good amount of time dinking around with the pictures and totally ignore the “read the page” icon.  That really is a small complaint, though.  Kitty finds the entire experience very entertaining.  We were worried that because she was on the low end of the suggested age group that the system would be too complicated for her (we remembered it taking Nate a few months to get into the swing of using the Leap Pad when it came out).  I am happy to report that she has absolutely no problem using the system.   Even Nathan enjoys it, and I have found them snuggled in bed “reading” together several times since Christmas.

The verdict?  The Tag Reading System is totally worth the $30 price tag.  It’s portable, streamlined design makes it HUGE step up from Leap Frog’s previous attempts and it manages to be both fun and educational. It’s easy to use with features that make it both child and parent friendly.  Most importantly, it buys me 15 minutes of uninterrupted shower time.