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Kids Read: Smiles, Secret Zoos, Blue Dogs

A local librarian reviews children's books.

"Kids Read" is an online, bi-weekly children’s book review column designed just for today’s families. Every other Friday afternoon, starting May 6, you’ll see a couple of different kids’ books featured – giving you a peek at something you may want to pick up this weekend. 

From time to time, you’ll see books for parents related to kids’ developmental stages or issues. Featured fiction and non-fiction will have links to the library or the bookstore – to help you find them. 

Children reap great rewards when parents encourage at least 20 minutes of reading a day. Reading aloud with all your children is a terrific way to spend quality family time together.

Books can also give us some time alone in our own space – and while we use that space to think about the story, we also reflect on ourselves and the world around us. Books spark creativity, innovation and imagination – let’s lead our kids there!

Today’s top picks:

The Secret Zoo, by Bryan Chick, Greenwillow Books (formerly published under Second Wish Press) – for ages 8-11

“The Secret Zoo” is one of those rare books that both avid and reluctant readers do NOT want to set down until they've finished. Bryan Chick’s descriptions are so vivid you can see the action as if you were watching a movie. 

Brother and sister Megan and Noah, and fellow tree fort Adventure Scouts Ella and Richie, are the best of friends.  They live near the Clarksville City Zoo. One late evening, from the perch in their fort, Megan spots monkeys climbing the rooftops of their neighborhood homes. She alerts her sleepy brother, who fails to see the animals. 

Deeply disturbed, Megan writes an entry in her journal about what she saw. This is where the author gets us hook, line and sinker: “An hour later, she fell asleep without knowing that she’d just completed the first pages of a journal that would eventually alter the course of the world.”

Red-eyed tree frogs looking for a girl, fluttering notebook pages on the zoo floor, and the proclamation that Megan had gone missing are the author’s next bait.

When a small bird taps on Noah’s bedroom window and gives him a note to read, you understand you are embarking on a fantastical journey to figure out where and how Megan disappeared. With the help of a polar bear and a penguin, the friends enter another world and brave great dangers to save the City of Species. 

“The Secret Zoo” is especially suited for readers who’ve loved the “Magic Tree House” series, by Mary Pope Osborne, and are ready for something more challenging to read. You’ve got the tree house, the dimensional travel, and adventures with friends – and you’ve got a real winner in this book.

By the way, the sequel is out. “The Secret Zoo: Secrets and Shadows" was published by Greenwillow Books in February this year.

Find “The Secret Zoo” at your local library: http://catalog.ccclib.org/#section=resource&resourceid=6292037&currentIndex=0

Why is Blue Dog Blue?: a Tale of Colors, by George Rodrigue [text with Bruce Goldstone], published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang – for ages 4-8

Artist George Rodrigue co-wrote this charming story, “Why Is Blue Dog Blue?: A Tale of Colors," centered around his blue dog paintings. People always ask him why the blue dog is blue. His explanation skirts around a direct answer (at least until the end of the book) so that he can tell kids, in a simple and engaging way, about using an imagination inspired by what he does and what he thinks about.

There are bold, primary colors, geometric shapes, and fun things to look for in the various, multi-colored dog portraits. For example, the green dog in the swamp has an unusual tail, and the mustard yellow dog is the answer to: "What color do I paint Blue Dog when I want a hot dog?"

This picture book is a great read-aloud for both preschoolers and early elementary students. It's sure to get kids talking and thinking about ways they can make art their own!

Find “Why Is Blue Dog Blue?: A Tale of Colors” at your local library: http://encore.ci.pleasanton.ca.us/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb1145858%7CSwhy+is+blue+dog+blue%253F%7COrightresult%7CX5?lang=eng&suite=def  

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier, published by GRAPHIX – brings a smile to all ages :), but is especially aimed at kids 11-14

Raina Telgemeier's "Smile" is an uplifting graphic novel set in San Francisco during the late 1980s and early '90s - autobiographical (she knocked out her front teeth in the sixth grade), and artistically very compelling.

Having barely glanced at the pages, my sons, age 4 and 10, fought over who would peer at the pages and hold the book the day I brought it home for myself to read. They have never fought over a book before. 

My younger son, who does not read on his own yet (but is getting there), flipped page after page, taking it all in. So far, he has learned to read a few words from this book.  Fun for all reading levels and abilities, “Smile” will do a great job pulling in reluctant readers.

Raina not only tells us what it's like to go through years of dental and orthodontic treatment, she tells us what it's like to navigate family dynamics, "dork" status, self-doubt and negative female peer commentary, to come out on top of it all.

Toward the end of high school, Raina uses her artistic talents for good causes, earning admiration among peers who are positive people, worthy of friendship, which builds her self-esteem and confidence as an artist and a whole person. Not just a girl's novel, "Smile" is a terrific read for all.

Find "Smile" at your local library: http://catalog.ccclib.org/#section=resource&resourceid=59872610&currentIndex=0

Find your local, independent bookstores. They trump the big box stores with best-selling author book events, personalized service and selection.

Read. [by G.R. DOODLEBUG]  www.readbooksellers.com

Rakestraw Books  rakestrawbooks.com

Bay Books  www.baybooks.us

Town Centre Books  townecenterbooks.com

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