About admin

teacher, librarian, chess instructor, author, storyteller, expert on boys and reading. Email me at mike@talestoldtall.com.

Schooled Again

Gordon Korman. Super Gifted. (Balzer + Bray, 2018)

In Schooled, Korman showed us a kid who belonged anywhere but public school thrown into a suburban middle school. In Ungifted, Korman showed us a kid designed for public school, thrust into a gifted and talented school. Now, in Super Gifted, that kid is back in public school, and he brought along someone whom nobody could imagine anywhere but the gifted and talented school. In each story, the power of one kid’s inner identity is pitted against the overwhelming pressure of belonging, with increasingly hilarious consequences.

I’ve often tried to explain why Korman seems to click with middle-grade readers. I’ve said it before, the man is twelve years old, and twelve-year-olds buy anything he’s selling. But I think I see it more clearly now. Korman knows how to write earnest, and kids being psychological purists understand earnest. Korman can write from multiple, and very different, points of view, and still make you believe every kid means every word he says.

See my review at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2317462841

The Quality of our Language

 New York Times
The Boys Are Not All Right

The article linked above is quite a read from the NYT. If I may add a small bit to this heartfelt discussion: the author talks about how we as males lack the language to talk about difficult feelings. At least part of that is a lack of broad language in general. As George Carlin reminded us, we think in language, and the quality of our language affects the quality of our thought. Boys will acquire more language tools through reading than any other method, and as for the depth of language, that comes through engagement in longer texts (not necessarily long books, but often long series where the reader can engage with characters through many situations). The fact that reading is seen as tied to age or skill level rather than brain development and psychological readiness alienates boys from reading, making it unnecessarily hard and pointlessly irrelevant. Boys often don’t read because we adults make reading foreign to many boys, the more struggling the boy, the greater the isolation. Do I think promoting reading in more boy-friendly ways will end mass shooting, violence against women, or teen suicide? No. But it may be one way to move forward against these stark and complicated realities.

Zombie Apocalypse… yeah!

Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate. The Last Kids on Earth. (Viking, 2015)
Monsters running amok, zombies everywhere, society broken down, no rules, no adults… what an opportunity for a cool monster-slaying, post-apocalyptic, middle school super hero! (Just ask him…)

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, by Steve Sheinkin.

Quick, name the greatest football player and coach combination ever to play the game… Think innovations so great that the rules would be changed every time they started something new; think hurry up offense and dynasty. No, not Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots. Brady never punted the ball 60 yards, ran under it and caught it in the air, broke four tackles and scored on the return; that wouldn’t even be legal today! If you are a football fan, or a history buff, this story of the Carlisle Indian School, Jim Thorpe, and Pop Warner will take you from the Civil War through World War I, and you’ll meet the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley on the way.

How About a New Teen Series for the Summer?

Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. Zeroes. (Zeroes, Book 1) Simon Pulse, 2015.
Not all powers are super. Not all consequences are intended. And when you are a teenager with abilities you don’t understand and nobody else has, using that power is always dangerous. What do you do? Where do you turn? And is teaming up with a handful of other teens in the same boat a comfort, an alliance, or just a chance to multiply all that power, be it beneficial or destructive?

Book Two: Swarm (2016)


Taran Matharu. The Novice [Summoner #1] (Feiwel and Friends, 2015)
An excellent start to a dark fantasy series. The human world are count between competing wars with the orcs on one front and the elves on another, and must contend with the dwarves as a subjugated people within their empire. The battlemages are their greatest weapons, unleashing magic and demons on the enemy. But there are far too few; so few that commoners and other marginalized adepts are now being trained. But a nameless orphan from the very edges of the empire? Ultimately, what really matters is power, and power can come from all kinds of sources. For those who love Jonathan Stroud, wish John Flanagan had more of a supernatural edge, or have simply outgrown Harry Potter.

Book #2: The Inquisition (2016)
Book #3: The Battlemage (2017)

Creepy & Cool, Lockwood & Company

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud, the creatively twisted mind behind the Bartimaeus Trilogy, brings another sure-fire, darkly gothic world to life in Lockwood & Co.  When ghosts drifted out of the closet half a century ago, a whole new social order, economy, and profession for young adepts came to life… defending the world against the dead. Yet even with the crucial talent in the hands of teens and pre-teens, adults can’t help manipulating them for their own ends. Enter Anthony Lockwood, a dashing, brash, and proud teen determined to fight “The Problem” on his own terms. With his two young associates, Lockwood & Co. take on the most haunted place in the world, and a living enemy that may be far more dangerous.

Got a Box from Peachtree Press!

Check out three great new titles from Peachtree. One great nonfiction title, a lap book, and a fun new story hour favorite-to-be!


Alex Latimer. Never Follow a Dinosaur. (Peachtree, 2016)
What would you do if you saw dinosaur tracks? Yeah, well you aren’t five years old!


Cathryn Sill, illustrated by John Sill. About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children. (Peachtree, 2016)
A Nature primer from the old school, simple text that introduces young readers to an entire class of animals with beautifully detailed paintings. Do you remember the first time you saw an Audubon bird book? Give that same experience to a young nature lover today.


Lisa Papp. Madeline Finn and the Library Dog. (Peachtree, 2016)
“I do NOT like to read.” So says Madeline, like so many emergent readers. But Madeline’s library has a special program, where timid readers can read to some very special listeners, who don’t judge, don’t laugh, and who wag their tales appreciatively. See how one furry friend helps Madeline find the reader she can be.

Nonfiction Picture Books for Little Guys

We all know many boys are very visual learners; sparking cross-brain communication is a key to sparking boys’ brains. We also know that many boys prefer true books to story books. So Nonfiction picture books should be a part of every little guy’s library. Here are some recent winners to choose from:

American Museum of Natural History, illustrated by Steve Jenkins. 1-2-3 Dinosaurs Bite!: A Prehistoric Counting Book. (Sterling, 2012)
Learn to count… or these dinosaurs will eat you!

Artie Bennett, illustrated by Pranas T. Naujokaitis. Belches, Burps, and Farts, Oh My! (Blue Apple, 2014)
What’s better than a book about gas? One with unforgetable pictures and easy-to-memorize rhymes! In typical Artie Bennett fashion (Do you remember The Butt Book and Poopendous?) this book puts the logical in scatological, making sense of the things we all have in common without ever lessoning the gut-busting humor. Watch out! If your kids laugh too hard they might slip up and learn something!

Fred Bowen. No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season. (Dutton, 2010)
Bowen tells, in spare text and with illustrations reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, the simple story of Ted Williams, who wouldn’t go into the record books with a tainted record and anything less than a full season of hitting .400, a feat that has not been matched in seven decades. This is a baseball biography for even the very young; read this to a future Hall of Famer in your life.

John Coy, illustrations by Joe Morse. Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball. (Carolrhoda, 2013)
And you thought YOUR class was bad! This one was HISTORICALLY bad. But one great teacher turned one tough class into one of the most popular games in the world.

Doris Fisher, illustrated by Julie Buckner. Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert. (Pelican Publishing, 2013)
Just picture a line of huge, humpy camels in Texas, eating the spiny cacti that were supposed to fence them in, scaring horses, dogs, mules, and, well, Texans! How did THOSE animals get in THAT place? Before the railroad, before the Civil War, before camels even made it to American zoos, the Army brought a little piece of Africa to the western desert.

Nancy Bo Flood. Sand to Stone and Back Again. (Fulcrum, 2009)
For those young explorers who are obsessed with the question “How?”, here is a stunning look at the natural wonders of the desert. The words seem to gladly sink into the background as pictures of rock formations and minerals just dance across the page. It looks like fantasy, and reads like nonfiction. How can you go wrong?

Bruce Goldstone. That’s a Possibility!: A Book About What Might Happen. (Holt, 2013)
Okay, I hate to jump on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) bandwagon, because we need to concentrate more on developing the habit of reading than on skills, but this one is just fun! Possible, impossible, probable, not likely, not a chance! Cats batting around balls of yarn, dogs scarfing up treats, and gumballs – who could resist gumball-based math? All concepts and virtually no numbers, starting from the very basics and getting steadily more complicated, so you can do one page together, or try to get all the way through the brain teasers in the back. Pull it out with a three year old or a thirteen year old.

Steve Jenkins. Actual Size. (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
Put your hand up against the hand of a gorilla. Go eye to eye with a giant squid. Lay your whole arm along the back of the world’s biggest insect. Too cool!

Steve Jenkins. Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World. (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014)
The endless variations on how animals see, and just enough general information to see how it all fits together. For those kids who can name EVERY animal at the zoo, Jenkins consistently finds new and fascinating corners of the natural world.

William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer, pictres by Elizabeth Zunon. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. (Dial, 2012)
“Magesti a mphepo,” he whispered. “I will build electric wind.” And that is exactly what he did.

Sara C. Levine, illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth. Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons. (Lerner, 2013)
Oh sure, that little kid knows all the animals… from the outside. But can you tell an animal from just the bones? Here is a first nature challenge for that budding little naturalist.

Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by C.F. Payne. To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt. (Disney-Hyperion, 2013)
He may have started out small, but Teddy Roosevelt made himself strong, and made the world listen. He became one of the truly big men in history. And you are never too small to dream big.