Written By Alice
Alice is a Children's Librarian and mother of two. She is passionate about books for kids and teens, and delights in sharing new finds and matching kids with books to enjoy. She loves that she gets to do that here!Read Her Blog "Shelf Candy"
It’s been a couple of weeks now that the kids and teachers have been back to school, and everyone has gotten settled into routine. Which means that it’s about that time – the time when those colourful book club flyers start coming home!
If you’re new to the Decoder, the idea is that I go through the flyers every month and tell you what I think are the best 8 or 10 picks. This year, I’m going to lump the repeaters together, though, so it is more clear which things you’ve seen every month already, and which are new or less-frequent offerings.
Hopefully with some recommendations, you can order with confidence, if you are so inclined. I will also say this – every year, someone brings up that there is a lot of junk in the flyers. True. There is also a lot of good, worthwhile stuff, if you know how to find it, and that’s where I come in. It’s pretty well-proven that kids who have books of their own become readers and do better in school, so I think the opportunity to get some books in the house at a lower cost is definitely worth taking, if you can!
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – I love a good bedtime book, and this one is perfect for the construction-mad child in your life. It has a good rhythm for a goodnight book, talks about lots of big machines, and most of all, has wonderful illustrations that straddle the line between cartoonishly bold and bedtimey soft.
Llama Llama – these ones, to be honest, are ones that I don’t love for myself, but they really, REALLY work for toddlers. They bouncing rhyme is simple, and Llama’s outbursts are pitched right for toddlers to relate to. Reassuring in the end, these make for nice shared reading for small kids.
Chicka Chicka Pack – These are nothing short of modern classics, a term I use sparingly. They are bold and bright in their illustrations, have great rhyme and rhythm (Bill Martin really is a master), and introduce letters and numbers in a fun way. I also like that the alphabet features both upper- and lower-case letters, which is not always the case.
***Favourite Authors Library – This collection of 6 books includes two Lionni titles, Two Henkes books, and two Cronin favourites. These are some fantastic books, and if they aren’t on your shelf, this would be my top pick for the month, a great way to load up on some solid stuff all at once.
Harold and the Purple Crayon – This was a favourite of mine as kid – and of my mom’s when she was small. It’s a wonderful little book about a boy with a big imagination creating a whole world with just a purple crayon.
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly – There are lots of versions of this out there, but this one, with die-cut holes and Simms Taback illustrations, is one of the best. I love having song books to sing along with, and I recommend this one if you do as well.
1, 2, 3, To The Zoo – This nearly wordless counting book from Eric Carle shows readers the animals riding on a train bound for homes in the zoo. It’s good for counting practice together, and of course, Eric Carle’s art is always wonderful.
Pigeon Pack – The pigeon books show up Mo Willems’ background as an animator to perfection, written entirely in dialogue that shows a perfect ear for the hilarious. Kids love these, and if you are willing to ham it up a bit, they are fantastic read-alouds.
Bear’s Loose Tooth – This series of bear books have a jazzy rhythm to them that make for good reading aloud. There are several of them now, some stronger than others, and they occasionally show up in packs. This is a newer one, taking on a topic of interest to kids in their first few years of school, when loose teeth abound.
David Pack – These are not the only David books, but I would suggest that they are the best two. These are beloved of kids everywhere for their silliness, and I love Shannon’s art, as well as the reassuring endings.
Classic Stories Listening Library – Books and CDs for listening can be a terrific activity for kids. They don’t replace reading together, but when you can’t do it, they are a great way to bring more stories into your kids life that they can enjoy independently, even if they aren’t reading yet. This trio offers some seriously classic stuff, great stories for listening to, and you can enjoy the books again together at storytime.
Repeaters: these two are guaranteed to be back at some point or in other packs
Franklin Loves Fall Pack – These are some of the original Franklins, written by the author before the television show. These ones are still repetitive, being a series, but I like the quality better. Franklins often appear in various differently-sized packs and collections, so while this is a small and targeted one, others will definitely appear.
Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2 – These DVDs are animated versions of really, really good picture books made by the consistently award-winning Weston Woods studio and rereleased for home audiences. They now come in various different groupings through the year, including this giant pack of 17. This is labeled “2” because it is different than the set of 100 stories that came out last year, but there is enough overlap that owners of last year’s might want to keep their eyes out for the new stuff separately.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Pack – These are nothing short of modern classics, a term I use sparingly. They
are bold and bright in their illustrations, have great rhyme and rhythm
(Bill Martin really is a master), and introduce letters and numbers in a
fun way. I also like that the alphabet features both upper- and
lower-case letters, which is not always the case. This is the same two books as in the Elf flyer, but this time, with accompanying CDs. if you’d just like the books, ask your teacher if they could order from Elf for you.
Biscuit Readers Pack – Biscuit books are early readers, for real beginners. They are not great stories, but feature a cute puppy, limited vocabulary, large text, and lots of repetition, which is just what emerging readers need to succeed.
Chester – Chester is not pleased with the direction his author is taking, and tries to steer things his way in this very funny picture book that is a big hit with kids. Chester is likely to appear again, possibly in a pack with other titles in the series, though he is not a constant, so if you’d want to have them all, you could wait it out.
***Kevin Henkes Pack – I am a massive fan of Kevin Henkes. His stories feature warm, wonderful families, everyday problems and fantastic “kids” (mice), exceptional language, and fantastic illustrations. I can’t say enough about his books, and this price is an opportunity to get a good few of them on your shelf. This is a top pick by any measure.
***Eric Carle Favourites Pack – there are some months where you can’t choose one top pick. And pitting Eric Carle and Kevin Henkes? I can’t make that call. Carle is another top-drawer children’s author, who has a wonderful way with a story that often also incorporates a concept of some kind, and his collage are is bold and distinctive.
Bear Says Thanks – This series of bear books have a jazzy rhythm to them that make for good
reading aloud. There are several of them now, some stronger than
others, and they occasionally show up in packs. This one is a Thanksgiving potluck dinner story, which is promising, but I will say, this is one of the rare times when I am recommending a book without having read it. This is an American series, but it is likely that this story, being populated with animals, won’t be affected by that difference.
Repeaters: it’s a sure bet that you’ll see these again in one configuration or another
Magic Tree House Set – I’m not always a fan of big series for kids, although they very definitely serve a purpose. They are by nature formulaic, and often not well-written. These definitely follow a formula, but the writing is better than it has to be, and the various times and places visited give kids a nice little taste of history and different cultures, which I like. Not only does it broaden their schema, but interested kids can go and learn more, making it a nice bridge between fiction and non-fiction. This is a gigantic series, so watch for various different sets and packs as well as single new titles in pretty much every month throughout the year.
Munsch School Stories Pack – I do like Robert Munsch, though I generally prefer his earlier stories. That said, We Share Everything is a favourite of mine for the kindergarten set, and Class Clown is a fun title, too. As school stories go, these inject a little fun! Munsch shows up consistenly in various packs and combinations, so if these don’t look like the ones you want, hang on & they’ll come around.
Scholastic Children’s Dictionary – Scholastic offers quite decent reference material for students, and this is occasionally offered with others, such as a thesaurus. if you need a dictionary for your child, this is a good price for something that should carry them for a good few years until they need some higher-level language and vocabulary.
The Usborne Big Book of Experiments – I love science for kids, and getting to try some experiments that demonstrate interesting principles is a great way for kids to learn while having some fun.
***The Tale of Desperaux – This is my top pick for this month. Beautifully written, imaginative, and full of appeal for both boys and girls, this is a fairy-tale inspired gem.
Freckle Juice – Judy Blume writes great stuff for kids – you might remember this yourself, because it is an oldie but goodie. Aimed at grades 2-4, it is a great read-aloud or read-alone for kids who are just into chapters.
Pippi Longstocking – The silly, wonderful world of Pippi has been amusing kids for decades, and just begs to be shared. She is charmingly offbeat, and drags along her much more regular neighbours on some crazy adventures.
Ralph S. Mouse Pack – This trilogy recounts the adventures of a mouse with a motorcycle and a whole little world to explore. These are by Beverly Cleary, of Ramona fame, and are a wonderful choice for either boys or girls of this age range.
Best Ever Stories Pack – The Herdman family were the worst, most ill-mannered bunch around, and caused mayhem no matter what they did or where they went – mayhem that is written to perfect hilarious effect by Robinson, who also manages to find the heart behind their madness.
Clementine and the Family Meeting – There are lots of books about spunky, precocious girls for these grades, and one of my favourite stars among them is Clementine. She is a good kid at heart, who just has trouble with her self-control, and gets into some pretty funny messes because of it. her family, though, is wonderful, and her teachers do pretty well at working with her, too, so I like that the overall is a picture of warmth and understanding, rather than a bratty kid at odds with exasperated adults.
Repeaters: These are sure to be back shortly, if not monthly
Magic Tree House #48 & Library – see SeeSaw repeaters
2012 Guinness World Records – These books are great fun for browsing, and favourites among even the most reluctant readers, who can find bizarre and fascinating records to pore over and share with friends. This would make a great gift or a nice way to hook a kid who doesn’t gravitate toward books naturally.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Pack & Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7 – This series has been wildly popular with kids from about grade 2 up to grade 6, even among the most reluctant of readers, who appreciate its humour and its half-graphic format. It’s an easy read, and his school troubles resonate with kids. The pack is on frequent offer, and the new one is also on offer alone here.
Klutz: Pom-Pom Monster Salon – The Klutz kits aren’t great literature – heck, they aren’t even literature – but they are excellently done kits for a variety of activities, and include everything you need for your project. The instructions are very clearly written, and following instructions is a discrete literacy skill that is worth exploring. These make for good gifts, as well, so getting them at a little cheaper price is a nice thing.
***Holes – Holes is one of those magic books that adults love, and kids come and ask for on their own. It’s an odd one, featuring a bizarre assortment of kids, and in the end, it wraps up into the most beautifully told and rounded out tale, one with a mythical quality that I just love. This is good stuff, here.
Frindle and Troublemaker – Andrew Clements is the reigning king of the school story, and with good reason. Frindle is a story of a kid who starts an experiment about renaming something and how words become adopted, based on something that his teacher said. Troublemaker is about a boy trying to shake his habits and reputation as a troublemaker. What I particularly like about Clements is that his characters are all well-developed, even his adults are three-dimensional and we come to understand their motives.
Mythbusters: Confirm or Bust! – Science experiments are a great way for kids to learn through activities, and no one better to walk them through it than the Mythbusters, TV’s squad of specialists at exploring urban myths by experiments. This is my daughter’s favourite show, and their sense of fun combined with curiosity is a great inspiration for anyone with questions.
From Anna – This is classic Canadian historical fiction about a young girl who has moved from Nazi Germany to Canada, and is struggling to find her place. When it is discovered that her sight causes much of her awkwardness, her life takes a turn for the better.
Dear Canada: Sea of Sorrows – This diary format series covers lots of historical events from the point of view of a fictitious character in the midst of them. They are written by seriously top-shelf authors, which I love. This title is about one of the “coffin ships” infected with typhus that left Ireland during the famine, and a young girl who was aboard.
I Am Canada: A Call To Battle – These are the “boy” equivalent of the Dear Canada books, about the experiences of young men in historical settings. This title is about a young boy who wants to help defend Canada during the War of 1812.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths – the Percy Jackson books have, to my great joy, brought renewed interest to the fantastic stories to be found in mythology, something every kid should have passing acquaintance with. Whether your kid is a Percy fan or not, these are great for perusing alone or reading together.
Best Ever Stories Pack – The Herdman family were the
worst, most ill-mannered bunch around, and caused mayhem no matter what
they did or where they went – mayhem that is written to perfect
hilarious effect by Robinson, who also manages to find the heart behind
Judy Blume Pack – This pack of five Judy Blume titles is a great one for boys or girls, as they are not the truly girl-oriented tales of growing up, but a nice collection of Fudge books and stories of regular kids. This would be a winner with kids in about grades 3-5, I’d say.
Wayside Stories Pack – The Wayside stories books are each a collection of totally silly stories set in a school where the ridiculous is the norm. They are funny, short, and easy to read, making them favourites among younger kids and kids who are not strong readers or like lighter fare.
Moon Over Manifest – This is a recent Newbery winner. I quite honestly haven’t gotten to reading it yet, but I’ve heard such good things about it that I’m going to go ahead and say that if you like to read the award winners and solid reads like that, it’s probably a good pick for you.
Repeaters: These will be back around soon, so you’ll have another crack at them
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Pack & Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7 – see Lucky repeaters
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – Similar to the Guinness World Records book, this large browsing book contains a bizarre and magnificent assortment of oddities like those that made the museum famous.
The Kane Chronicles, books 1, 2, and 3 – Rick Riordan, of Percy Jackson fame, has started a series related to Egypt this time, and predictably, it’s been a hit. Fans of his are sure to be asking for these, and yes, they will show up again.
Big Nate – This series is the natural successor to the Wimpy Kids books, having a similar half-graphic format, school setting, and kid who gets into scrapes. They are, perhaps, a little brattier, but the same kids who love Wimpy Kid are eating these up, so if it’s all your kid wants to read, it may be worth picking up this month or pretty much any other month.
Heroes of Olympus, books 1 and 2 – This is the next series in the same world as Percy Jackson, but with different characters and quests. I am eager to read these, because the world of Greek mythology is so rich, I don’t feel that Rick Riordan is likely to have run out of material.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Complete Collection – I love this series. The writing moves quickly, the quests are studded with many mythological monsters, and the overarching storyline is the stuff of archetype. I highly recommend this series, which grabs readers and carries along so masterfully that even a lot of reluctant boys at work have chewed through them.
2012 Guinness World Records – see Lucky repeaters
The Hunger Games Trilogy – I expect these to show up a lot this year, after the massive popularity of the movie last spring. The books had been huge with teens before that – and to be honest, that is who I think should be reading them. If you have a very sophisticated reader, it might be something that you could read together and talk about, but otherwise, I believe that these are worth waiting for when kids are old enough to appreciate them.