Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kids, Books, and Language

Sometimes I blog about books, sometimes about kids, and sometimes about Language but I seldom find a topic that involves all three. Well, today is an exception. The children's book, Andy and the Albino Horse by Mary Jean Kelso is a book for kids that includes some interesting facts about animal language.
Andy is a boy who must use a wheelchair and Spirit is a therapy horse that helps him develop some muscle use and a sense of independence. While the book is fiction, there are organizations providing therapy horses to help people with disabilities in real life.
At the end of the book there are some fascinating facts about the gestures horses use to communicate. I especially enjoyed reading about their various ear positions, which seem to function like our facial expressions. The illustrations by K.C. Snider are clear and easy to understand.
This book is the first in a series that should appeal to lots of young readers, especially those who love horses or animals in general. And, while enjoying the stories, kids will learn a little about how it feels to have special needs.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Patrick Carman's Books

Instead of reviewing just one book today I'll mention several by the same author, Patrick Carman.
His series, The Land of Elyon, is excellent in my humble opinion. In some ways Elyon is what readers have come to expect of fantasy worlds, but it has some unique aspects. I could identify with the choices of the protagonist, Alexa, and enjoyed meeting the other characters as the exciting plots unfolded. There were a few very subtle theological things most readers won't even notice, but they added to the goodness.
Since those books were so good I read another one by the same author called Atherton and didn't like it nearly as well. Intended for older kids, that book is also exciting with well drawn characters and has a very unique fantasy world. However it's the first in a series and I felt completely cheated to discover nothing important had been resolved at the end of the book. Of course every author wants readers to get the next book in a series but I, for one, have no desire to get another one that will probably leave me hanging at the end.
In the Elyon series Carman leaves enough unknown to make us want to read more about the characters and their world, but each book has a complete plot. Atherton doesn't.
Patrick Carman is a gifted writer and I may read more of his work in the future, but probably none in that series.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

School Year

Some kids have already started back to school and most others will be doing that soon.
The school year was different when I was a kid back in the 1940s and 50s. In California, which was proud of having the best schools in the nation, all public schools started the day after Labor Day and ended the second week of June. In between we attended classes Monday through Friday every week except for two days off at Thanksgiving, two weeks off for Christmas and New Year's Day, and single days off for Washington's birthday, Lincoln's birthday, and what is now called Memorial Day. We also had a week off at Easter.
In those days it was okay for schools to celebrate Christmas and Easter because they only talked about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, which weren't considered religious. The Jewish kids in our school were sometimes upset that Santa Claus never brought them presents, though.
It's interesting that now some public schools discuss religious holidays of many different faiths, but still only mention Santa and the bunny when they talk about the Christian holidays. Others avoid mentioning any of them.
School calendars have changed in many ways and now there are year-round schools, charter schools, and different school districts have different calendar schedules. And now many students are home-schooled, which used to be illegal in our state when I was a kid.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another Book Review

I recently read Doggie Day Camp; Verb and Adverb Adventures by Cynthia Reeg.
The first part of the book is a story that will appeal to young kids, especially those going to school for the first time who might identify with Bubba's nervousness about being left at the day camp for dogs. Those children will probably pick up some information about grammar, too.
Older kids will learn a lot about grammar while they have fun with the games and puzzles in the study guide, which makes the book appropriate for use in educational situations.
The cute illustrations by Kit Grady will appeal to kids of both ages.
It's unusual to find a picture book that can reach such a wide age range of children and this is just one of several in a series that teaches about different parts of speech.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Family Daycare

A local newspaper article says schools may be ending their after-school childcare programs because of government budget cuts. Where will those children go?
When my daughter was young I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom but needed to make some income so I ran a family daycare home. I wonder if people who have lost jobs because of the economic situation might want to do the same thing.
Each state has its own requirements which may require certain college classes, First Aid and CPR training, and fingerprint clearance for the provider as well as physical requirements for the home.
The disadvantages of running a childcare home are the lack of privacy and the necessity of always being there or having a qualified substitute. You're not likely to get rich, either. But the advantages include being able to work at home with no need to commute, and spending time with your own children and their friends. For someone who enjoys kids, that job is fun!
You also get to choose the age groups you prefer to work with and be in control of the schedule with no office politics.
There are lots of resources available online and through local agencies that will provide much more information about how to be a home childcare provider. If any of you might be interested, please check it out. You might be able to help families, including your own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Value of Reading

As you may have read here a couple of weeks ago, I'm the author of a newly published book for kids, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist.
Books have always been an important part of my life. You might consider me a bookaholic who has no intention of getting into recovery. ;-)
One reason I write is to give back some of the benefits books have given me.
Reading can have a positive influence on kids in many ways and books don't need to be teachy-preachy (mine is certainly not like that) in order to make a difference. By reading fiction kids use their own imaginations and become more creative, learn to understand people who are different from themselves, and discover new ways of looking at the world. They may also get reassurance from characters who are dealing with the same sorts of problems they have, and sometimes books can provide a much-needed escape from those problems. Reading fun books prevents boredom, and vicarious adventures are much safer than some real life ones.
Of course by reading a lot kids are also improving their own language skills, which will help both with their academic learning and their ability to communicate with others.
I hope my book will be used to make a positive difference in the lives of everyone who reads it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Babe & Me

Recently I bought Babe & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman for my grandson and asked his permission to read the book myself. Since I'm not a baseball fan I didn't expect to like it much, but wanted to know what he was reading.
To my surprise, I loved the book! It isn't just about sports, but included time travel, family relationships, and a lot of interesting (even to me) information about baseball history.
This book is one of a series about a kid who is able to travel back to encounter the famous baseball heroes in his collection of classical baseball cards.
What collector hasn't wished to do that? In this one Babe Ruth is portrayed like he might really have been.
Gutman manages to recreate the way things used to be in a believable way and avoids some of the cliches used in many books about time travel. But what kept me turning the pages until I finished the book were the complex and believable relationships between the characters.
I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Right and Wrong

The other day I was giving someone a ride and needed directions.
"Do I turn left here?" I asked.
"Right," my passenger replied. "I mean left. That's right, you should turn left."
English is an amazing language. Because we've 'borrowed' words from so many other languages ours is rich in synonyms, but sometimes it can still be confusing. The word, 'right' has two meanings that have nothing to do with each other and I won't even get into the political meaning.
Another word with two unrelated meanings is "wrong." That word can mean either inaccurate or immoral and confusing the two sometimes causes worse problems than turning right instead of left.
If I didn't believe my beliefs were right (ie. correct) I wouldn't believe them, so obviously I consider beliefs that differ from my own to be wrong. But I mean 'wrong' in the sense of inaccurate rather than immoral. Unfortunately many people consider those whose beliefs are different from their own to be wrong in both senses, and that has caused a lot of hostility.
Of course some beliefs actually are immoral. For instance I would consider a religion that encouraged human sacrifice or a government that encouraged slavery to be morally wrong. However many of our religious and political differences are a matter of disagreeing about accuracy, not morality, and we could prevent a lot of hostility if we distinguished between the two meanings of that word more carefully.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Special Book

Quite a few books for kids have been reviewed on this blog in the past and there will probably be many more in the future. Now here's some information about a book that means a lot to me.
In a few weeks my first middle-grade novel will be released. I don't want to give away too much information before it's actually published but couldn't resist sharing my excitement now and will tell you more closer to the publication date. I've been writing professionally for years, mostly articles in newspapers and other periodicals, but have always wanted to be the author of fiction books for children. At last my dream is about to come true.