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“Non-grammatical doesn’t always mean wrong”

The year that shall live in infamy…

School was at home, play dates were via computer, vacation plans were stalled.

The pandemic shut-down was difficult for many people in many ways; however, as hard as it was for as adults to deal with, it was especially hard on kids, many of whom had no idea what was going on, or why. I felt like I needed to write something to empower kids, to help them realize they do have some control over certain things.

So in late summer of last year I began brainstorming ideas by doing something unusual. I made a concerted effort to come up with a non-grammatical title. A strange way to begin the writing process, but I thought a non-grammatical title might not only be poetic and thought-provoking but would certainly catch attention sitting on a bookshelf!

As I thought about it, the phrase “I am today” eventually popped into my head, and I loved it! Kids are always being told they are “the Future” – but what if a child doesn’t want to wait, to make a difference? The concept for my next picture book was born.

Non-grammatical doesn’t always mean “wrong”:

These days, it seems grammar police are everywhere; allow auto-correct to add an apostrophe to the word “its” in your social media post and suddenly a cute little possessive pronoun is the subject of derision and ridicule by everyone who reads it. And let’s not even get started on the “your” and “you’re” brigade!

No one appreciates proper grammar more than me. Certainly, it’s important to teach grammar, spelling, and such. Verb conjugations, parts of speech, sentence diagrams are all important and all have their place in education. But as someone who writes a lot of poetry, I would suggest that going out of one’s way to be non-grammatical on purpose might have some uses – and be quite fun.

You see, a phrase is only non-grammatical when there is no context, or it is used out of context. Take the title of my new picture book, “I Am Today.” How can a person be an adverb?? (Yes, “today” can also be a noun, but we’re not going to split hairs) On its own, the phrase “I am today” would not normally make sense – but once the story is read and we understand what the main character is thinking, it suddenly makes all the sense in the world.

We tell kids “they are the future” – which, to be honest, could be considered just as non-grammatical as “I am the future.” So if we are proud when children consider themselves to be “the future,” it’s not much of a stretch to understand why a child might want to be “today.”

Putting non-grammatical phrases to use…

Now that you (hopefully) understand my rationale for cheering on grammar that would make my high school English teacher Mrs. Jencks scream, here’s what I think is really cool:  getting students to think creatively and/or poetically by deliberately creating non-grammatical phrases!

Think about it:  why can’t phrases like “puddles of books” or “running the rainbow” or “soccer seriously” be legitimate springboards to something fantastic – a story, a poem, a song?

Many of us (your faithful guest poster, included) are always encouraging young people to come up with new ideas for writing, yes? Since essays, stories, homework assignments always need to be correct and proper, why not turn things on their head for a change and give kids a chance to do something totally different?

Encourage students to put together phrases that sound completely wrong, then have them write the story or poem that goes with it. Or better yet, put all their non-grammatical phrases together and draw them randomly so students need to write based on someone else’s phrase.

Phrases like those three I mentioned earlier, while possibly a bit odd-sounding, would all be perfectly at home in a poem. That’s what poets do, after all – coin phrases, turn words around, make unexpected connections.

Poets speak in terms that are new to their readers, using metaphors, similes, and comparisons that are thought-provoking and unforeseen. What better way to get students thinking in this way than by showing them the value of putting words together that everyone normally tells them not to do?

Knowing most middle school and high school students, they’ll seize any opportunity to do something they’re not supposed to do. So capitalize on that – and see what happens!

About the Author from the Author: 

As a former radio broadcaster, I spent a good part of my life writing and producing commercials, comedy bits, and news stories. At various times I was also an event DJ, country dance instructor, news reporter, cook, telemarketer, ice cream scooper, and photography sales dude…and never figured out how to make a living doing any of it.

I also loved poetry – my first published poem was in 1984 when I was still in high school – and over the years I’ve had numerous adult-oriented poems published in various journals and anthologies including the Donald Hall tribute, “Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). In 2012 my poem, “Apple-Stealing” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and in 2019 I was the recipient of the MacGregor Poetry Prize, coordinated by the Robert Frost Farm board of trustees and Derry (NH) Public Library.

Anyhoo…little did I know all this short-form writing would lead to my debut picture book, “Flashlight Night” (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), which received numerous positive reviews including a Kirkus star and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017. I now have a dozen books out or under contract, including “Once Upon Another Time” (Beaming Books, 2021), co-authored with my friend, Charles Ghigna (aka, Father Goose®).

Meanwhile, my children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like “The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry” (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), “Night Wishes” (Eerdmans, 2020), and “Construction People” (Wordsong, 2020), the latter of which chosen by Kirkus as one of the Best Picture Books of the Year. Take a gander at all my books here.

Matt lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and more pets than he has fingers, so don’t ask him to count.

Expected Publication November 30th, 2021 by POW! Kids Books

About the Book: A young girl realizes that she doesn’t have to wait until she’s grown-up to stand up for what is right and make a big impact.

While playing on the beach in her coastal town, a young girl comes across a sea turtle ensnared by a wire. Her town is home to a factory that has provided jobs for many of her neighbors, including her mother, but it has also been dumping garbage from a pipe into the waters, threatening the creatures that live in them.

Children are used to being asked what they’ll do and be when they grow up, but the girl knows there is so much she can do today to help. Unable to forget the sight of the struggling turtle, with a fantastic act she inspires the townspeople to compel the factory to change its destructive ways.

Written in spare and evocative poetry, I Am Today is an empowering story for children who want to be the change the world needs.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide for I Am Today

Flagged Passages:

Thank you, Matt, for this post to make us, as adults, think a little bit more out of the box!

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Sofia is a 10-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer, who started with us when she was 8 years old. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

GET READY TO READ THE BEST BOOK EVER! Introducing The Double Life of Danny Day by Mike Thayer! Danny is no normal kid! He lives every day twice, which means he can improvise on the first run of the day! During his “discard days” he does crazy things because he knows anything that discard Danny does will be erased from people’s memories at the stroke of midnight. This is the kind of book that would make reluctant readers hooked. This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Danny has always had the ability to live every day twice. When he was a little kid and did not know to keep the double day thing a secret his parents thought he was crazy. Only after going to a psychologist for a few years, he now knows how to keep it a secret. Maybe he got this “power” by being born on February 22 at 2:22 am (2/22 at 2:22 am!) At his new school Danny sits with a girl named Freddie. On a discard day Danny plays a game called the brown bag game. It is a game where kids play a video game at lunch and whoever wins gets all the money the other people put into a brown bag under the lunch table. The money that the winner gets is the money that the kids pay as “entrance fee” which is two dollars. But Danny and Freddie suspect foul play when one kid wins every day. By now you might know why Danny mostly plays on discard days. At some point Danny starts to feel like he should tell somebody about the double day. Do you think Danny will tell somebody, and most importantly, who will he tell?!

I love this book because it is so funny and it keeps you reading. I love the idea of living every day twice and was enchanted by this book. It was so amazing to see how much a person can change on a discard day. I would really recommend this book to anybody! I hope you enjoy this fantastic book!

**Thanks so much, Sofia! Now we need to get our hands on this book!**

 

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A Sari for Ammi
Author: Mamta Nainy
Illustrator: Sandhya Prabhat
Publication Date: November 9, 2021 by Amazon Crossing

Summary: Ammi weaves the most beautiful saris but never gets to wear any of them. Her two little daughters decide to do something about it—break their piggy bank! But when there isn’t enough money to buy Ammi a sari, the two girls must work together to find a solution. Will they be able to buy Ammi the gift she so deserves? With a text full of heart, and bright, cheerful artwork, this story brings readers into the home of a weaver’s family in Kaithoon, India, where the creation of saris is an art form. The book includes a glossary of Indian terms and a note about the saris made in this region.

“This delightful picture book shines a spotlight on a rural, underrepresented Indian Muslim community.” —Kirkus Reviews

Mamta Nainy is a children’s writer, editor, and translator based in New Delhi, India. She is the author of many children’s books, including A Brush with Indian Art, illustrated by Aniruddha Mukherjee, which won the Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Award in 2019; and Bioscope, illustrated by Shanti Devi, which was named to the IBBY Honor List in 2012. Follow the author on Instagram @mamtanainy.

Sandhya Prabhat is an independent animator and illustrator from Chennai, India, who resides in the United States. She has a master’s degree in animation and digital arts from New York University. She has illustrated nearly a dozen picture books, including her recent book I Am Brown, written by Ashok Banker. She animates for TV and movies and creates content for social media websites such as Facebook, Google, and Snapchat. Follow the artist on Instagram @sandhyaprabhat.

Review: This is one of those books that makes readers want to be better people. The two sisters in this book have so much heart and so much love for their mother that they are determined to buy her a sari. It is clear that their mother is so beautiful of a person that they feel she must own a beautiful sari. I love, love this book and really enjoyed reading it to my children. Afterwards, we talked about the many ways we can be better people.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book invites readers to take action. After reading the text, I might ask students the ways in which they can show their gratitude for the people in their lives. Then, we might begin a community action project together.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why doesn’t Ammi own a sari?
  • What do her daughters decide to do? What do they learn along the way?
  • How might you show your gratitude for the people in your life?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Each Kindness by Jacqueline WoodsonI Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët, Normal Norman by Tara LazarAdrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers

Giveaway:

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Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.

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Looking for a Jumbie
Author: Tracey Baptiste
Illustrator: Amber Ren
Published September 21st, 2021 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Tracey Baptiste and acclaimed illustrator Amber Ren take readers on a fun, creepy, storytime-ready romp through a forest filled with creatures from Caribbean folklore.

I’m looking for a jumbie, I’m going to find a scary one.

But Mama says jumbies exist only in stories. So Naya sets out on a nighttime adventure to find out for herself.

No such thing, say the friends she makes along the way.

But Naya is sure that jumbies are real. Some have big mouths. Or thick fur. Or glowing skin. Or sharp teeth. Kind of like her new friends….

Looking for a Jumbie is a gentle, bouncy, and creepily fun read-aloud inspired by traditional Caribbean tales.

Praise:

“A vibrant and entertaining tale filled with mythical creatures from Caribbean stories that is perfect for Halloween and year-round.” -School Library Journal

“The illustrations are colorful and dreamlike, and Ren pays special attention to accentuating the features of characters. A nice addition to offerings on being afraid of the dark, monsters, or nighttime adventures.” –Booklist

About the Author: Tracey Baptiste is the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade novels Minecraft: The CrashThe JumbiesRise of the Jumbies, and The Jumbie God’s Revenge. A former elementary school teacher, Tracey is now on the faculty at Lesley University’s creative writing MFA program. Raised in Trinidad until she was fifteen, she now lives with her family in New Jersey. You can visit her online at www.traceybaptiste.com.

About the Illustrator: Amber Ren is the illustrator of Because by Mo Willems, a New York Times bestseller. She is also a visual development artist, and her work has been featured in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s first online exhibition, “ART in PLACE: Social Distancing in the Studio.” You can find her online at www.amber-ren.com.

Kellee’s Review: This book is equally compelling, spooky, and fun! Trent and I had a great time chanting the “I’m looking for a jumbie…” part of the story (great repetition & rhythm!) and meeting all of the jumbies that Naya meets along the way. The illustrations were also perfect for the story! I loved the way that Ren was able to bring such beautiful coloring in even in a story happening at night. After we were done, we went on a Google hunt to learn more about jumbies, and I introduced Trent to Baptiste’s middle grade Jumbies books too–he says he can’t wait to read them when he is older!

Ricki’s Review: This book feels like an instant classic to me—it is one that I will read and enjoy with my kids again and again. There are so many different ways to approach this text for kids, and it offers so much potential for classrooms. I love the ways in which the jumbies are made approachable for kids. It offered wonderful conversations in my family about fears and bedtime scary things. This is a book that belongs in every home. I think it will find a place in all readers’ hearts.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a great addition to lessons about mythology/folklore for young readers! Looking for a Jumbie is a perfect introduction to Caribbean folklore and can start a delve into more stories.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which Jumbie would you like to meet?
  • Why was Naya never scared of the Jumbies?
  • Was Mama right or wrong about the Jumbies?
  • How did the illustrator leave clues about the upcoming Jumbie?
  • What is the mood of the book? How did the illustrations add to the mood of the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Activity Guide:

Read This If You Love: Folklore & Mythology; Magical Stories

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studio for providing copies for review!!**

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Inside Cat
Author: Brendan Wenzel
Published: October 12, 2021 by Chronicle Books

GoodReads Summary: Told in rhyming text, Inside Cat views the world through many windows, watching the birds, squirrels, and people go by—but when the door opens it discovers a whole new view.

Review: Brendan Wenzel regularly impresses me. I use his They All Saw a Cat to teach about perspective, and it reminds us of the value of picture books at all levels of class instruction. I was really excited to read Inside Cat because I knew it would be just as compelling—and it was! Inside Cat can see the world in so many ways. It travels around the house and sees so much. I don’t want to give a spoiler, but the last page of this book will make you gasp.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book should be paired with They All Saw a Cat to teach perspective. Both offer different angles to questions of perspective. I think it could also be used to teach about authorship (as in authority and authenticity). Teachers might ask students to think critically about what perspectives we do or do not hold.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Inside Cat do?
  • What does Inside Cat see?
  • How do the images on the page work together?
  • What does the surprise ending teach you?

Read This If You Love: They All Saw the Cat by Brendan Wenzel, The Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker

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**Thank you to Eva at Chronicle for providing a copy for review!**

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What is Love?
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Publishing December 28, 2021 by Chronicle

Summary: A beautiful fable about the nature of love, from beloved, award-winning picture book creators Mac Barnett and Carson Ellis.

“What is love?” a young boy asks. “I can’t answer that,” his grandmother says, and so the boy goes out into the world to find out. But while each person he meets—the fisherman, the actor, and others—has an answer to his question, not one seems quite right. Could love really be a fish, or applause, or the night? Or could it actually be something much closer to home? This tender, funny tale is an original take on the “I love you” story, a picture book treasure for all ages to read and cherish.

A CLASSIC LOVE STORY: A wonderful narrative voice and spectacular pictures give this book the feel of a modern classic. Fans of The Runaway Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You, and Love You Forever will adore this book.

A BOOK THAT KIDS AS WELL AS PARENTS WILL ENJOY: Many books about the love between parents and children are told from an adult’s point of view. This book begins from the child’s perspective, and it’s funny and unexpected in ways that children can relate to, while being thoughtful in ways that adults will appreciate. Like all great children’s books, this book can be understood on many levels.

A BOOK ABOUT FINDING YOURSELF: The boy’s journey takes him to many different people, whose descriptions of what love means to them is very much about how they see themselves and their lives.

A GREAT READ-ALOUD: The engaging text is full of surprises and the distinctive voice of the narrator invites audiences to respond.

STAR TALENT: Mac Barnett is a New York Times bestselling author and a beloved figure on the school speaking circuit. Carson Ellis is a Caldecott Honor-winner and illustrator of some of the most interesting and beautiful children’s books published today. They’re an incredible creative duo and long-time friends, working together for the first time on this book.

Review: What is love? Adults and children will have a hard time defining it. It’s an abstract concept that is difficult to describe. A boy sets out to try to find the answer to this question. What I loved most about this book was that it wasn’t entirely serious—instead, this charming story has dabs of humor in it. Mac Barnett is just incredibly talented, and I’ve always loved the ways in which Carson Ellis’s illustrations capture the hearts of kids. I adored this book and think it will be one that readers of all ages will appreciate. It will leave them pondering—what is love to them?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book offers words and images which attempt to describe an abstract concept. Readers might write their own versions of this book with a different concept. For instance, “What is joy?” or “What is hope?”

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is love?
  • What answers does the boy find?
  • How do the author and illustrator add humor to the story?
  • Which spread was your favorite, and why?
  • Why is love defined differently by each person he asks?
  • Although the boy said he didn’t find an answer, he tells his grandmother he did–what is his answer?

Flagged Passages: 

“She picked me up in her arms and said,

‘I can’t answer that.’

‘Who can?’ I asked.

‘If you go out into the world,

you might find an answer.'”

Read This If You Love: Books about Love

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**Thank you to Chronicle Books for providing a copy for review!**

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Mr. Watson’s Chickens
Author: Jarrett Dapier
Illustrator: Andrea Tsurumi
Published: October 5, 2021 by Chronicle Books

GoodReads Summary: Interrupting Chicken meets Click, Clack, Moo in this zany classic-in-the-making!

With rollicking rhythms, nonsensical refrains, and too many chickens to count, this modern classic will inspire unstoppable giggles and endless rereads. Bawka-bawka!

Mr. Watson has 456 chickens in the sink, on the bed, in the bread box. When his partner, Mr. Nelson, threatens to leave, Mr. Watson takes his chickens to town to sell only for them to escape! Young readers will follow Mr. Watson all around town as he gathers up his chickens. But, when they’re all rounded up, does he have the heart to sell them? Does a different fate await these chickens?

This quirky, irresistible book is full of read-aloud fun with its onomatopoeia, rollicking rhythm, and familiar refrains and ends with a touch of sweetness. It has all the makings of a classic, with a farm theme, hilarious refrains, and a familiar narrative structure that unfolds in threes. Librarians, teachers, and parents looking for a new book that feels traditional will love sharing this book with children.

A JOY TO REREAD: This is a very classic-feeling storybook. Paired with its funny farm setting and hilarious refrains, this book is sure to inspire countless rereads and endless giggles.

PERFECT READ-ALOUD: This book is full of nonsensical sounds and repetition that make it fun to read out loud and invite audience participation. It’s a perfect choice for classroom events and laptime reads.

LIKE CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM, WITH CHICKENS!: With its bouncy refrains and rollicking rhythms, this book will remind readers of classic bestsellers like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

REALISTIC RELATIONSHIP UNUSUAL IN PICTURE BOOKS: This book features a gay couple at its center, but doesn’t call specific attention to it. It simply portrays a healthy relationship between two men (and their chickens!).

WRITTEN BY A NEW TALENT WHO REALLY UNDERSTANDS KIDS: This is Jarret Dapier’s first book! He’s a popular, award-winning teen librarian who works with kids, knows what they like, and is well-versed in the rhythms of the classic children’s book—and he has many more stories up his sleeves.

DELIGHTFUL, DETAILED DRAWINGS OF OVER 400 CHICKENS!: With hundreds of chickens to find and scenes crammed with action and detail, the pages of this book are chock-full of things to look at. Young readers will spend hours poring over each spread.

Perfect for: parents, families looking for LGBTQIA+ stories, fans of funny books.

Ricki’s Review: This book is hysterical. The chickens cracked me up. Teachers will love reading this book aloud. Mr. Watson’s partner Mr. Nelson is threatening to leave because they have TOO MANY CHICKENS (456, actually). So they take their chickens into town to give them away to chicken homes, but all does not go as planned. There is so much care and thought in this book–from the writing to the illustrations of all of the chickens. Kids will love it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book takes a twist on typical counting books and adds a delightful story. Kids might consider the numbers used in this book and how this may be intentional and create their own counting books.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some of the reasons that Mr. Nelson got frustrated with the chickens? Do you think he had a valid reason to be frustrated? How does Mr. Watson respond?
  • Where was Aunt Agnes? How does this enhance your reading of the story?
  • How does the story end? What do you think a sequel might look like?

Read This If You Love: Funny stories; counting stories; animal stories

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**Thank you to Eva at Chronicle for providing copies for review!**

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