Great Big Guinea Pigs

Roth, Susan L. Great Big Guinea Pigs. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006.

A fascinating history of guinea pigs told from the point of view of a parent telling a bedtime story: “Once upon a time, about eight million years ago, guinea pigs like us weren’t sweet, cute, and little….No one brought us fresh water or seeds and berries from the pet store….No one brought us to school for show and tell….”

But how can we be sure that this history really happened? The story was “in theTimes. Tomorrow morning,” the parent says,  “I’ll read it to you. You’ll have to wake up early, though, before the people clean our cage and change the newspaper.” Humorously, the bibliography at the end of the book includes an article from The New York Times

The cozy tone is complemented by vibrant collage illustrations and a bold font. Highly recommended for children and parents. 

More books to expand your general knowledge

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Clean and Tidy

Gravett, Emily. Tidy. London: Two Hoots, 2016.

Pete, a badger, likes everything to be neat and tidy. So he starts cleaning up the forest. Grooming the animals, sweeping the ground, polishing the rocks…even pulling up the trees. Oh dear! Pete has gotten carried away. How will he put everything right again? This humorous story-in-rhyme will amuse children in primary grades.

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Wehrli, Ursus. The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013.

What if everything was taken apart? Organized? Put in order? How would the world look then? A humorous wordless book highly recommended for all ages! 

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Ernst, Lisa Campbell. This Is the Van That Dad Cleaned. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005.
In the pattern of ‘This is the House That Jack Built’, this rollicking picture book tells the story of three children who make a mess of the vehicle their father has just cleaned. Full-page pastel, ink, and pencil illustrations will appeal to readers – and listeners – three years old and up. Highly recommended for kindergarten and grade 1 classrooms, but older students will have fun reading it, too.

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Albert’s Quiet Quest

Arsenault, Isabelle. Albert’s Quiet Quest. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2019.

Albert wants a place where he can read in quiet. But no matter where he goes, friends arrive and rambunctiously interrupt. Until he explodes. Now what will happen? This mostly wordless summer story will be appreciated by young readers looking for peace and quiet of their own. 

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The Secrets of Blueberries…

Nickerson, Sara. The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Missy and her older brother Patrick convince their parents to let them get a job picking blueberries. But Missy acquires much more than money during the summer. She learns how people change. How life doesn’t stay the same. And sometimes there is no one to blame. Sometimes things just happen.
This 323-page novel with a relatively large font and well-spaced lines of print is easy to read. It flows smoothly with lots of conversation and short paragraphs.
Some novels written from the first person point of view seem too self-centred. This story, though, suits this approach. The difficulties of adolescence, the frustrations of life, the slow change of perspective on life are all empathetically portrayed in this introspective story recommended for readers 11 to 14 years old.

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My Heart is Laughing

Lagercrantz, Rose. My Heart is Laughing. Wellington, New Zealand: Gecko Press, 2014.
Dani is always happy. Except when she is unhappy. But she does not count those times. This cheerful story about the little adventures of life is filled with quiet wisdom: Don’t give up, even when things seem hopeless. Try to think about something fun when you’re upset. Forgive people. Originally published in Sweden in 2012, this short novel with large print and wide margins is perfect for readers 7 to 10 years old. 

Some stories have an intriguing plot line. Some have finely drawn characters. But very few flow beautifully. Lyrically. And that last quality is what turns a novel into a work of art. Rose Lagercrantz’s story – translated into English by Julia Marshall and illustrated by Eva Eriksson – is a true example of writing as art.

What other novels have such rhythm and grace? Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May. Joy Cowley’s Chicken Feathers. Patricia MacLachlan’s Kindred Souls. Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers. Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree….

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Some challenging reads for young readers

Lagrecrantz, Rose. My Happy Life. Wellington, N.Z.: Gecko Press, 2014, c2013.
Want to teach young readers how to recognize theme in novels? Want to use a novel to start philosophical discussions with 7-year-olds? Read this novel aloud and watch for true-to-life sentences.

Lagercrantz, Rose. See You When I See You. Wellington, N.Z.: Gecko Press, 2017.
This novel continues the Dani series. Although not as full of profound truths about life, it is still greatly entertaining.

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Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Schmidt, Gary D. Pay Attention, Carter Jones. Boston: Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.

Life can be chaotic and a bit crazy. That’s normal in a busy family with three kids and a father stationed overseas with the U.S. army. Well, it was normal until a bowler-hatted man appears at the door and announces that he has come from England to help them. His former employer, the children’s grandfather, has left a bequest providing the services of a full-time butler. Mr. Bowles does a lot more than keep the household in order. He helps sixth-grader Carter see life from a new perspective and supports the whole family when there’s a painful surprise. A humorous yet serious story recommended for readers 11 years old and up.

P.S. It’s worth reading all of Gary Schmidt’s novels.

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