Here's what we're reading this month!
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Welcome to my May Bookletter!

I look forward to sharing book news, fun learning resources, and reading recommendations with you each month. I'd love your feedback—drop me a note and let me know what you'd like to see in this space!


The Prairie Thief is a contender in the Naperville School District #203's 2013 Battle of the Books! The Naperville Public Library has the full list of competing titles—I could happily spend my own summer reading my way through these books. I'm honored to be included on this list.

CryptoMania by Edith Hope FineIt's time for Cryptomania!

My friend Edith Hope Fine, author of many wonderful children's books (including Nitty Gritty GrammarWater, Weed, and Wait, and Under the Lemon Moon), has invited me to work with her on CryptoKids, the website for her excellent Greek and Latin roots program. 

We're big fans of Edith's Cryptomania! book in my house and I'm thrilled to be part of the Crypto team. If you're looking for a fun way to incorporate some Greek and Latin roots into your homeschool or classroom, pop over to the CryptoKids website or follow us on Facebook. In addition to ordering info for the Cryptomania! paperback and the CryptoKids Decoder Program, you'll find our new Greek/Latin Root of the Week feature (Facebook only, for now, but not for long) and other good stuff.

Books We Love

May 2013 edition

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert EinsteinOn a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berle, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. This gorgeous picture book held my four-year-old son and six-year-old daughter entranced, and my twelve-year-old has been seen poring over it as well. It's a fascinating and thoughtful look at a boy who thinks hard about things most people take for granted. Why does a lump of sugar dissolve into hot tea? Why does pipe smoke disappear into the air? The inquisitive, deep-thinking boy becomes an inquisitive, deep-thinking man—and one of the greatest minds the world has ever known. This sweet, sometimes funny, probing look at Einstein is one of my favorite books so far this year. We'll return to it many times—and we'll never look at a sunbeam quite the same way again. 

What Is It? Birds by Robert Metropulos Jr. This unusual book is my four-year-old's current obsession. It's a large tome printed on thick paperboard (like a board book, but picture-book size) about birds found in nature. For each bird (five total), there's a short "what is it?" rhyme offering clues to the species, alongside a large close-up painting of the bird's eye and surrounding plumage. Press a button to hear the bird's call (that's Huck's favorite part, of course). When you turn the page, there's a full-page photograph of the bird, with a pop-up flap over the same section portrayed in the painting. The idea behind this is to compare the artist's rendition with the real bird. Well, this absolutely captivates Huck. He goes back and forth from "real" view to artist's view over and over. This second spread also contains some factual info on the bird in question—an element appreciated by my nature-loving six-year-old. She's at the fact-sponge stage and this appealing book hits all the right marks for her. Because of its interactive features, the price tag's a bit steep, but it would make a nice gift book for a family you know, or a fun addition to a classroom library. Scored extra marks with me when I discovered the batteries are replaceable!

Gammage CupThe Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. Kendall, author of The Firelings (another favorite around here), is one of those writers whose voice I just plain enjoy. She’s a quirky storyteller with a taste for misfits. This middle-grade novel is about the Minnipins, a tradition-loving people who live in small villages in an isolated mountain valley. Their distant ancestors settled there after escaping from terrible enemies about whom little is known, now, except their names: The Mushrooms. When Muggles, the reluctant heroine, and her misfit friends begin to suspect the terrible Mushrooms are preparing for another attack, they have to persuade the rest of the villagers that the danger is real. Instead, they get kicked out of the village. This is a fun read, somewhat formulaic, but Kendall’s unusual voice makes the formula feel new. Beneath the storybook action is a quiet exploration of intellectual honesty; the villagers tend to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, without pondering the origins of the customs. Muggles, though fearful of the social consequences of coloring outside the lines, can’t help but ask questions. (See the full version of my review here.)

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Links to Share

• In last month's bookletter, I wrote about Odd Duck, a delightful graphic novel about two quirky, quacky friends. This month I had the fun of interviewing Odd Duck's author, Cecil Castellucci, about the making of the book, her own quirky habits, and the process of writing comics and novels. 

• In "Makers Gotta Mess," I'm pondering the relationship between creativity and mess, and the importance of giving kids lots of down time and the freedom to spread out with their projects.

App of the Month

Another math app! DragonBox has been getting a lot of play in my house these past couple of months. Everyone from the four-year-old to the fourteen-year-old finds it compelling, almost addictive. You start off thinking you're playing a puzzle game, getting a mysterious box alone on one side of a two-sided tray, and several screens later you find yourself solving basic algebraic equations. Diabolically clever. The original version (DragonBox Algebra 5+) targets younger kids (but as I said, is entertaining and instructive for older kids as well); now there's a new version, DragonBox Algebra 12+, that ventures farther into advanced concepts. I'm eager to investigate that one, too. 

More Fun Finds

As long as I'm thinking about Maker kids, here are a couple of sites that provide lots of fodder for creative exploration:
• PBS Design Squad Nation: tons of hands-on science and craft activities for kids, including a Mission Solar System guide written in collaboration with NASA.

• MAKE Magazine's online Kids & Family section: enough how-to guides there to fill your entire summer with projects. 

Books by Melissa Wiley

The Prairie Thief, a middle-grade mystery about life on the prairie—with a magical twist! A Junior Library Guild selection.

"Wiley has created a charming, inventive tale that reads like a delightful mash-up of Little House on the Prairie and Tony DiTerlizzi’s 'The Spiderwick Chronicles'."—School Library Journal
My newest Inch and Roly adventure: Inch and Roly and the Very Small Hiding Place. A Level 1 Ready-to-Read illustrated by Ag Jatkowska.

Author spotlight and letter to readers at Simon & Schuster's Ready-to-Read home page.
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