Hey there, befuddled aunts, uncles and family friends. Not sure what to get for all those nieces, nephews and offspring of other people? This year (for the first time!) we've included kids' titles in our year-end best books roundup. Pay a visit to NPR's Book Concierge to see what our staff and critics recommend for kids and teens in 2013.
Librarian Mara Alpert keeps a running list of "top picks" in the children's literature department at the Los Angeles Public Library. When we asked her to share her 2013 favorites, she gave us the stories she could "see a parent reading to a child over and over (and over and over)"; these are the books children will unwrap and then "read under the table at Christmas dinner," she says. The titles on Alpert's list will introduce kids to Japanese baseball, frog noises from around the world, dinosaurs of all different sizes, and even an alternative approach to "This Little Piggy." (Think about it: What are the toes on the other foot up to? Now you can find out.)
For the slightly older set, we turned to children's book author and blogger Lisa Yee. She gave us books about Albert Einstein, a superhero squirrel, a tween music superstar, and a determined pioneer girl. "There's a certain indescribable feeling that washes over me when I read something I love, and I felt that for all the books I selected," Yee says. "What these books have in common is that each is a small gem, the kind readers take to heart."
For the ever-enigmatic teenage crowd, we asked YA writer Alaya Dawn Johnson to help us out. She recommends a masterful mashup of Little Red Riding Hood, a hilarious story about what it's like to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and of course, one book starring vampires.
NPR staffers contributed, too: Monkey See host Linda Holmes recommends Eleanor & Park, a smart, sensitive YA novel about feeling loved and feeling lost. NPR's Backseat Book Club producer Justine Kenin test-drove titles with her own kids and says you can't go wrong with Aces Wild or The Apprentices. Emily Ecton, a Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! producer and children's book author, recommends Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great (which, if you ask me, is tied for best title on this list with Mr. Wuffles! a recommendation from Weekend All Things Considered staffer Becky Hersher).
So consult the Book Concierge to find a title that fits the kid on your list. I promise: a carefully selected book will long outlast the AA batteries in whatever electronic toy they're begging Santa to bring them this year.
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Mary Barra will become the new leader of General Motors in January, the company announced Tuesday. A longtime GM veteran, Barra is currently an executive vice president; her tenure as CEO will begin after current leader Dan Akerson retires on Jan. 15.
Barra, 51, works in the company's global product development unit. She will soon become the first woman to lead a major automaker, as The Detroit Free Press reports.
"With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today's GM," Barra said, in a news release from GM announcing the change. "I'm honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed."
GM says the pending change comes after its chairman and CEO, Akerson, 65, "pulled ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer."
Barra's title will not mirror Akerson's, GM says, because the company is splitting the roles of chairman and CEO. Board member Tim Solso, a former CEO of Cummins, will become the new chairman of the corporation's board.
The change comes as GM is "closing the chapter on government ownership," the company says.
On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had sold its last remaining shares in the company. In 2009, the government took on a stake of nearly 61 percent of GM's value as part of a federal bailout of several large U.S. carmakers.
The move is credited with saving thousands of jobs — but as Scott reported yesterday for The Two-Way, it also meant that U.S. taxpayers lost $10.7 billion.
Avery Stackhouse, age 7, of Lafayette, Calif., says he wishes he had more time for phys ed.
"We just have it one day a week — on Monday." There's always lunch and recess, he says. "We play a couple of games, like football and soccer," he tells Shots.
But at Happy Valley Elementary, where he goes to school, recess last only 15 minutes and lunch is 45. Between eating and mingling, he says, "there's only a few minutes left where we play games and all that."
Fifty-six percent of parents say their elementary school kids are getting just one or two days of physical education a week, according to a poll NPR conducted in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
Fewer than 1 in 5 parents with children in kindergarten through fifth grade said their kids were getting physical education daily.
Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that K-5 students get at least 150 minutes a week. Physical activity has a lot of benefits, from reducing obesity to helping kids do better academically.
Louisiana State University's Russ Carson, an exercise researcher, tells Shots the poll results don't surprise him. "This has been going on for years, unfortunately," he says. School administrators can only fit so many things into a day, and often, he says, "testing and other aspects of education take precedence over physical education."
More and more, Carson says parents and educators are starting to "think beyond the gym walls," and come up with ways to fit in exercise before or after school. One idea is to have teachers integrate physical activity into match and reading lessons.
At Wildwood Elementary, a private school in Amherst, Mass., kids are required to take a morning walk between the time buses drop them off and classes start.
Rebecca Spencer, whose 5- and 7-year-old daughters attend Wildwood, says it's a good way for the kids to fit in some more exercise. "They only get [physical education] once a week, and it's for an hour. So it's very brief," Spencer tells Shots.
The school has also organized what it calls a jog-a-thon for the older kids. Students can run laps around the playground to earn points, and the school keeps track of all their miles to see how far they've run collectively run.
Spencer's older daughter also swims after school.
And these school-wide initiatives are a good way to get every student to exercise, Spencer says. "Some people think of recess as a time for physical activity," she says. "But there's actually nothing to make sure these kids are being physical during that time." Having some structured P.E. classes at school is important, she says.
Spencer, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts, says she's well aware of the physical and cognitive benefits that kids get from being active. "The physical education is giving them some of the motor skills that they need," she says. But, she also says she understands that the school doesn't necessarily have the resources to provide more P.E. classes.
"Exercise — any exercise — is great for brain development," she says. "Most of the studies that have been done that show how the brain develops through exercise actually don't use any special form of exercise," she says. "They typically use just treadmill walking."
That seems to indicate that even a even simple walk around a track can do kids a lot of good.
For years, a car accident has been blamed for killing former Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek, who died in 1976. But a new inquiry has found the politician was murdered by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for 21 years.
"We have no doubt that Juscelino Kubitschek was the victim of a conspiracy, a plot and a political attack," Sao Paulo Truth Commission leader Gilberto Natalini says, according to Agence France-Presse.
Kubitschek served as Brazil's president from 1956 to 1961; his election as a former surgeon with a devotion to infrastructure and development garnered a cover story in Time magazine. At the time of his death, the former leader, 73, worked as a banker.
The panel that looked into Kubitschek's death found "more than 90 pieces of evidence and clues on the military's involvement in his death on Aug. 22, 1976, on a road near the town of Resende, in the south of Rio de Janeiro state," the AFP says, citing Natalini.
The military junta that seized power in Brazil in 1964 maintained control until 1985. For several years, the dictatorship forced Kubitschek into exile. He was killed less than 10 years after his return.
Kubitschek's death has long been attributed to an accident in which a bus hit his car. But for just as long, suspicions have lingered over the official story.
From the BBC:
"Among the evidence is testimony from the driver of the bus that crashed into the former president's car.
"He is said to have told the investigators he had been offered money in exchange for admitting guilt for the accident.
"Another witness reportedly told the commission he briefly saw a bullet hole in the head of Mr Kubitschek's driver during an exhumation procedure in 1996."
The commission is releasing its full report today.
During his presidential tenure, Kubitschek sought to modernize Brazil and develop its industrial ability. He moved the nation's capital from Rio de Janeiro to the planned city of Brasilia, which remains defined by its modern architecture. The city's international airport is named in his honor.