Monday, April 30, 2012

Chapter Books A to Z: Z is for Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder has penned numerous books for children and young adults. She was even honored three times with Newbery Honors. I read two of these books when I was in elementary school.

The Egypt Game is about a group of children who are fascinated by Ancient Egypt. They sneak into a storage yard through a loose board and commence to mimic rituals that are based on those of the Ancient Egyptians. A murder in the neighborhood puts a damper on their game for a few months. When they are able to return, mysterious things start to happen.

The Headless Cupid was another one of Snyder's Newbery Honor books. The Stanley children have a new stepsister named Amanda who believes in the supernatural and the occult. She promises to teach them what she knows and then strange things start to happen in their house. Rumor has it that a ghost cut off the head of the cupid statue upstairs. They fear that the ghost has made a return.

Both of these books have just enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. I don't remember either one of them being so scary, though, that I had nightmares. That being said, some children are going to be more sensitive than others. I loved them.

Chapter Book A to Z: Y is for Young Adult

How does one distinguish between chapter books and young adult books? Many times, books for kids are featured under both categories, which makes it even more confusing. Here is how I make the distinction.

I look at the ages of the characters in the books. Typically those who are under the age of 16 fall into the chapter book category and are appropriate for elementary and middle school. Many stories involving kids who are 16 and older tend to be more appropriate for high school.

Young adult books also deal with more mature issues than chapter books. I like to think of chapter books as having a PG rating and young adult as being more PG-13. Young adult books may delve deeper into relationships between the opposite sex and use more adult or profane language. Adults also tend to enjoy young adult novels more than chapter books.

The length of the book can also sometimes be an indicator. Chapter books tend to be shorter; young adult books are more like an adult novel in length.

Whether or not I am actually accurate in my definitions may vary on the definitions of each individual reader. How do you distinguish the difference between the two?

Chapter Books A to Z: X is for the X-Factor

What is the X-Factor in chapter books today? I know that when I was a kid, we liked a lot of the mysteries and stories about real kids doing everyday things with a little mischief. I think there was some adventure and fantasy going on, but nothing like exists today. Now it seems like most of the new chapter books that come across my Kindle list or review book options all have an element of the supernatural and fantasy. I find those more difficult to read. Then again, I am not a kid of today reading these books for the first time.

What was the X-Factor for you as a kid when you chose your chapter books?

Chapter Books A to Z: W is for Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in the series featuring the Murry and O'Keefe families by Madeleine L'Engle. Meg Murry is the oldest child in her family. She has younger twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys and a younger genius brother named Charles Wallace. Along with her classmate Calvin O'Keefe, Meg and Charles Wallace are taken on an adventure through the universe, using the fifth dimension known as a tesseract. You may think of it as a wormhole. Their mission is to find Mr. Murry, who has been missing for quite some time.

The second book in the series is A Wind in the Door. Somehow, that was the only book in the series that I owned as a child. Like most books I owned, I read that one over and over again and know it better than the rest. In this one, Charles Wallace is quite ill, due to a battle being fought in his mitochondria. Meg and Calvin end up traveling inside of Charles Wallace, with some other supernatural creatures, to fight for his life and the fate of the galaxy.

There are more books in this series. I have read them only once. There is also a spin-off series that features the O'Keefe children. This is another series that my friends and I devoured in elementary school.

Chapter Books A to Z: V is for Verne

Jules Verne was one of the original science fiction writers. His books featured inventions that were not yet realized, such as traveling under water, in space and in the air. While much of his work may be considered geared toward adults, elementary students can enjoy reading some of his famous works.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the story of a group of men who are sent to attack the sea monster responsible for drowning many boats. When the creature is vanquished, they go on an aquatic adventure around the world.

In A Journey to the Center of the Earth, a professor and his nephew travel into volcanic tubes that lead to the center of the earth. Along the way, they encounter all kinds of prehistoric creatures before reemerging on the Earth's surface.

Around the World in 80 Days is about a man who places a wager, saying that technology had advanced to such a point that it was possible to travel the entire world within 80 days. He sets off to prove himself, with a limited amount of funds and few clothes. It's like The Amazing Race, only better.

Each one of these books is appropriate for elementary-aged students. They have also all been made into movies. Like always, I recommend reading the books prior to seeing the movies. The adventure contained within is exciting.

Chapter Books A to Z: U is for Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events was a very strange series about a set of orphaned children who are placed under the care of a very strange uncle named Olaf. He is solely interested in their inheritance and tries to off them on a regular basis after they are taken away from him. Olaf follows them around, as does quite a bout of bad luck, hence the series title.

Each child has a talent. Violet, the oldest, has a knack for inventing things. Klaus, the middle child, loves to read to find out information. Sunny, the baby, has extremely sharp teeth that can bite into just about anything.

The series is extremely dark and odd, yet strangely intriguing. I found myself devouring each one and anxiously anticipating the next one when I made my way through them.

The movie starring Jim Carrey made the series even more popular. It is an okay rendition of the book. As is usually the case, the books are much better than the movie. I am tempted to reread them.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chapter Books A to Z: T is for Trixie Belden

Another great mystery series for kids was the Trixie Belden series. I got most of my copies as hand-me-downs from my older cousin.

Trixie lives on a farm in New York. Honey is her best friend who lives in a mansion next door. Diana is another one of their close friends. They have a club called the Bob-Whites of the Glen that also includes many of their siblings. They often find themselves mixed up in mysteries and adventures. Because they are younger than Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, actually around the age of 13, their adventures are somewhat toned down. You can almost call Trixie the younger and more realistic version of Nancy Drew.

Only 39 adventures were ever written in the series. The first 15 are the only ones currently in print. I have numerous copies of the older ones, thanks to my cousin. They are not too scary, making them a great read for elementary students.

Chapter Books A to Z: S is for Sweet Valley

When we were in elementary school, my friends and I devoured the Sweet Valley High books. They featured a set of mirror image twins, named Jessica and Elizabeth. Mirror image twins are identical twins, except everything is reversed. When they face each other, it is exactly like looking into a mirror. For example, if one has a mole on the left side of her face, the other will have it on the right side of her face. It is a rare phenomenon. I do, however, know a set of mirror image twins, and I recognized it from this series of books. But I digress.

Jessica is the outgoing one of the two. She is popular and likes to go out and have a good time. Elizabeth is more relaxed and would rather study or curl up with a good book. Jessica also likes to play the field; whereas Elizabeth is more the monogamous type.

The series chronicles a lot of ups and downs both in the girls' dating worlds and with their parents. Some would probably classify this series as being more young adult, but I do not remember anything being too grown up for us to be reading in upper elementary school. It was just like reading a soap opera, except featuring teenagers.

For the younger generation, another series was created. Sweet Valley Twins featured Jessica and Elizabeth when they were in sixth grade. This features the time in their lives when they first decided they wanted to be different from each other. I didn't like this series as much, because by the time it was written, I was deep into the high school drama.

Apparently other series were created about the girls at a younger age. Sweet Valley Kids was about them in early elementary school. The Unicorn Club featured them and their friends in the 7th grade. Sweet Valley Junior High is about the twins in the 8th grade. Last year, a book called Sweet Valley Confidential came out, that features what supposedly happens to all of the characters as adults. I have never read any of these.

My mother didn't really care for the series and didn't like to buy them for me. I was, however, permitted to check them out of the library and borrowed them from friends.

Chapter Books A to Z: R is for Ramona

Ramona is my favorite naughty girl in children's literature. She doesn't mean to be naughty. It just happens to her. She is no different than any other curious child. Author Beverly Cleary had her down pat as she penned the series over the decades.

My favorite book about Ramona was always Beezus and Ramona. It's the one where Ramona is truly at her worst. She rides her tricycle into the table when Beezus and Henry are trying to play checkers, simply because she wants attention. She crashes Beezus' painting class. She has an impromptu party without notifying her mother. And she sneaks down into the basement to take one bite out of each apple being stored down there. After all, the first bite is the best!

I just read this to my extended day students. They loved it. When we went to the school library, they were excited to find another copy of it that had a different cover and checked it out. I am sure they would love to hear some more Ramona stories, but we're working on introducing a few other series before the end of the year.

I had all of the Ramona books when I was a child. When I became a teacher, I also collected the books about Henry and Ribsy, though she plays a small role, if any. My other favorite was Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I think it was partially because I was about 8 when I read it for the first time. I loved the D.E.A.R. segment. And I could commiserate with her frustration in making the big floppy 2 that was supposed to be a capital cursive Q.

I related to Ramona and Her Father, which was a Newbery Honor book. My father and I were extremely close, also. In part of the storyline, Ramona tries to help her father quit smoking. My father smoked for years, resulting in numerous health complications that lead to his passing away last year.

I grew up with Ramona. Her last book, Ramona's World, came out in 1999, when I was well into adulthood. She is a part of me.

Chapter Books A to Z: Q is for Quest

Books about quests seem to be very popular with children these days. I was never really into fantasy as a kid, but am starting to check out the books to better understand what it is they are all reading these days.

I think some of the most popular books about a quest are the Percy Jackson series. I have never read them, but have seen parts of the first movie. It looks somewhat entertaining and is on my list of books to eventually read. Percy is a demigod whose father is Poseidon. His various quests are to save his friends and the gods of Mount Olympus.

Harry Potter ends up being a sort of a quest, at least in Deathly Hallows. He is on a quest to find all of the Horcruxes and to defeat Voldemort once and for all.

Then you have the Warriors series and by the same group of authors the new Seekers series. Warriors is about a group of cats that live in the woods in different clans and are sent on various missions. Seekers seems to be a similar concept, only involving bears.

Numerous other series exist and new ones pop up on my freebies list for Kindle every day. What are some of your favorites?

Chapter Books A to Z: P is for Piggle-Wiggle

Ah, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the wisest woman who ever lived in children's book land. This beloved character, created by Betty MacDonald, lived in an upside-down house that was built by her late husband. He was also rumored to be a pirate. The children in the neighborhood loved her and parents depended on her wisdom to help them rear their children. She had all kinds of magical powders and tricks that helped teach naughty children to break their bad habits.

Reading as a kid, I was fascinated by the magic of her cures and by how naughty some of these kids were! I also felt a little guilty here and there, as I recognized myself in some of the stories. I was the kid who had the chronically messy room and back-talked her parents. I was secretly glad that my parents didn't have access to a real-life Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, because I didn't want to be a victim of those magical spells!

As an adult, I appreciate her wisdom in caring for children. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was extremely understanding of children, their feelings and their thought processes. She loved them unconditionally, which is all children really want, along with freedom within established boundaries. I think that part of my core of understanding and loving children, despite their imperfections, is due in part to reading these books so much as a kid. I had aspirations, even back then, of being a sort of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle when I was older.

Some of these stories were "translated" into picture books of individual stories. I have read both the picture books and the chapter books in my classroom with kindergartners and with older kids whom I nannied. All of the children have loved them almost as much as I do.

My favorite of the series was the fourth book, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic. My copy had a purple cover, which is my favorite color, and probably helped my attraction to it. This is the story in which the children are all visiting Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's house. She is out of money, but is convinced that Mr. Piggle-Wiggle still has some more hidden somewhere for her. The children go on a quest to help her find it, even though it is pouring rain.

My least favorite was Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm. The pictures were drawn by Maurice Sendak, where the other books were illustrated by Hilary Knight. Between different drawings and a different location, the book has a different feel to it. I do enjoy the animal characters in it, though.

A fifth book, Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle came out a few years ago. This was primarily written by Betty's daughter. It includes one story actually written by Betty MacDonald. The rest are based on her notes. It also has a different feel to it, but is still entertaining.