Friday, March 30, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Max's Words

Author/Illustrator: Kate Banks/Boris Kulikov
Publisher/Date: Frances Foster Books/ 2006
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Preschool and up

Themes: language, storytelling, collecting

Opening: Max's brother Benjamin collected stamps....Max's other brother, Karl, collected coins....Max wanted to collect something, but he wasn't sure what.  He gave it some thought.  Finally he said, "I'm going to collect words."

Synopsis: From School Library Journal: "Max's two older brothers are serious collectors: Benjamin saves stamps and Karl keeps coins. The youngest boy decides to accumulate words. He carefully selects them from newspapers and magazines, cutting out and sorting them by category: colors, foods, small ones, big ones. He copies entries from the dictionary onto pieces of paper and adds them to his mounting collection. It doesnt matter if coins or stamps are moved around, but words can be arranged and rearranged to create stories. Even though his siblings wont share pieces of their collections, Max gives away words and the three boys devise a short story together."

Why I Love This Book How incredibly creative!  I love the idea of word collecting.  We take our language for granted and this book creates a fun way to remember how powerful word choice can be.  As Max discovers, putting words in different orders can make a big difference in meaning: "A blue crocodile ate the green iguana.  The blue iguana ate the green crocodile."  I also love the open ending, which certainly be used as a writing prompt: "There was a big brown dog..."  The illustrations are vibrant and full of life, and the cut out words actually look like they come from magazines and newspapers.  All the fonts are fun! 

Max literally collects words. How great is this book for a writing lesson? Assignment: cut out words from magazines: favorites, adjectives, etc.

By arranging words, Max creates stories and his brothers join in, creating a collaborative, evolving story. Try it with your kids or students!

Lesson plan:

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Easter and Passover: Books for the Holidays

What a beautiful spring!  And with Passover and Easter just around the corner, I thought I'd take a look at books that highlight the holidays and their traditions.  Some are funny, some poignant and some explanatory, especially if you are not familiar with the holiday you are reading about.

I have to say, there are a ton of books about the Easter Bunny, but I didn't find any I loved.  (Jan Brett's The Easter Egg came the closest and her books are tons of fun to look at.)  And finding books about the actual religious holidays was very tricky.  I hope you like what I came up with!

Piggy Bunny (Author: Rachel Vail; Illustrator: Jeremy Tankard) - Okay, in my intro I said I didn't come across any Easter Bunny books that I loved. But here is an Easter Bunny book with a twist. Liam (a pig) wants to be the Easter Bunny when he grows up. He practices and persists, even against a lot of criticism. Finally, when his grandparents believe in him, he gains the confidence to believe in himself. The lessons from this book reach far beyond the Easter holiday!

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah (Author: Leslie Kimmelman; Illustrator: Paul Meisel) - This is a funny holiday version of the well-known folk tale.  It uses witty repetition and a few well-placed Yiddish words to come to a satisfying conclusion that is drawn from the Passover tradition. 

The Matzah That Papa Brought Home (Author: Fran Manushkin; Illustrator: Ned Bittinger) - Follow the richness and meaning behind the Passover Seder through the form of The House That Jack Built.  The beautiful paintings draw you to the family table and the story of Passover, including the vocabulary and notes behind the traditional parts of the feast, are given at the end.

Chicken Sunday (Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco) - Patricia Polacco's childhood memories are a rich treasure trove for her memoir-like stories.  In Chicken Sunday, the children want to get Miss Eula a beautiful Easter hat. After a misunderstanding with the hat maker, they have to prove they are trustworthy.  Polacco masterfully marries Russian and Baptist traditions to show the gift of love and sacrifice for Easter. 

The Story of Easter for Children (Author: Beverly Rae Wiersum; Illustrator: Lorraine Schreiner Wells) - In this rhyming book, the joys of spring transition to the Biblical story of Easter.  This is a simple retelling of the Easter story for young children; the only one I could find!  (The Very First Easter by Paul L. Maier is the only other picture book I came across that looked at the Bible story, but it is meant for older children; perhaps 10 and up.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Everybody Needs a Rock
Author/Illustrator: Byrd Baylor/Peter Parnall
Publisher/Date: Aladdin/1985; Atheneum/1974
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Preschool and up

Themes: rocks, play, imagination

Opening: "Everybody/needs/a rock.  I'm sorry for kids/who don't have/a rock/for a friend."

Synopsis: Byrd Baylor's poetic prose is the strong voice behind a young girl who offers ten rules for finding the perfect, personal, unique rock.

Why I Love This Book: Five years ago this month, a dear friend and colleague gave me this book to use in our third grade rocks & minerals science unit. (Thank you, S.D.!)  I feel strongly that literature should be the foundation in every subject, not just reading and writing.  Books about curriculum topics give students a window through which to view a topic from a new, interesting, or different perspective.  Before diving into the properties of rocks and minerals, identifying them, and giving them scientific names, we started with this book.  We used the rules related in this book and each student chose a rock.  It became personal...and powerful.  And my students were that much more interested in the nitty-gritty of geology after this experience.  So... that's my soapbox speech for why high-quality children's literature should be part of every subject in school.

Take a nature walk and go rock hunting.  Follow the rules in this book to find your perfect rock.

Byrd Baylor has many fantastic books.  Why not try an author study?

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!

Ahhh…Spring!  Spring is so full of hope.  The lengthening days and the milder temperatures make up for the rain and mud.  And I discovered, as I was gathering my spring book list, that spring is full of poetry.  (Why haven’t I noticed this before?)

As a child, I learned this rhyme: “Spring has sprung!  The grass is riz.  I wonder where the birdies is???”  I’m not quite sure why the birds haven’t arrived (especially since the robin is the harbinger of spring), but every spring that rhyme pops into my head.  My children will probably learn this silly, grammatically incorrect, and enigmatic poem.  Can I even call it a poem?  Enjoy these book selections that feature truly talented poets and authors who use poetic language to describe this beautiful season.

Spring : an alphabet acrostic (Author: Steven Schnur ; Illustrator: Leslie Evans) – Walk through the alphabet this spring, starting with A for April and ending with the Zucchinis of summer.  Each letter features a haiku-type acrostic poem which simply and elegantly describes a part of spring.

Handsprings (poems & paintings by Douglas Florian) – Douglas Florian’s rhymes highlight all that spring has to offer; the highs and the lows (See his back-to-back poems: “What I Love About Spring” and “What I Hate About Spring”).  He offers a variety of styles, from list poems to concrete poetry.  His poems are short and springy (no pun intended!), with none taking up more than one page and each is illustrated.  This seasonal collection is perfect for the classroom or a quick read-aloud at home to dip in and out of.

and then it’s spring (Author: Julie Fogliano; Illustrator: Erin E. Stread) – This beautifully sparse book begins: “First you have brown, all around you have brown/ then there are seeds”.  It is hopeful, discovering the slow, yet unstoppable progress of the seasons changing.  The woodblock print/pencil illustrations are a gorgeous accompaniment to the colorful text.

Mud (Author: Mary Lyn Ray; Illustrator: Lauren Stringer) – This book has the feeling of free verse.  My favorite line from this book: “Someone opening a door will notice: earth comes unfrozen.”  The illustrations shout for joy along with the text at the opportunity to squish mud between fingers and toes.  An exuberant celebration of spring!

I’d also like to mention two early readers about spring:

Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble (Author: Cynthia Rylant; Illustrator: Sucie Stevenson)

Poppleton in Spring (Author: Cynthia Rylant; Illustrator: Mark Teague)

I highly recommend the Henry and Mudge series and the Poppleton series as read-alouds for the preschool set or read-to-myself books for 1st-3rd graders.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: The Pink Refrigerator
Author/Illustrator: Tim Egan
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin/2007
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Preschool and up

Themes: self-actualization and laziness

Opening: "Dodsworth loved to do nothing.  Now, this isn't to say that he never did anything, because he did.  But his motto was basically 'Try to do as little as possible.'"

Synopsis: From School Library Journal: "Dodsworth leads a rather dull and lazy life of naps, TV, and daily junkyard trips to replenish his thrift-shop stock. The mouse's routines are abruptly altered when he is attracted to a magnet on the front of a rusty pink refrigerator. The mysterious appliance becomes his cornucopia for adventures as it is filled with different supplies each day to help him follow the gentle suggestions written on notes held under the magnet: "Make pictures"; "Read more"; "Play music." His days become so filled with purpose and life that when a last note on the now-empty refrigerator exhorts him to "Keep exploring," Dodsworth finds he has the inner resources to do just that. Egan's masterful handling of the character's growth from lazy lump to a delighted self-starter will engage readers."

Why I Love This Book Have you ever been stuck in a rut?  I love this book because it bumps the lazy Dodsworth off his couch and into action.  His curiosity is motivated by a mysterious refrigerator.  I would love to have all the time in the world to follow various paths of interest.  It is very satisfying to see a character change his perspective on the world and choose adventure over a life lived vicariously in front of the television.

Children can make a list of things they would like to learn or explore, as noted in the following article:

An educational article entitled "Critically Reading the Word and the World" uses The Pink Refrigerator as one example for activities such as literary maps and 'sketch-to-stretch'.

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.

Books For My Niece (Happy Birthday, E!)

This post is dedicated to my niece for her second birthday.  At times, I come across books that I would love to share with her.  She's a bit young for most of these, but someday...  Not that my boys wouldn't like or learn from these books.  I'm sure I'll share these with them someday, too. 

And as I was collecting my list, a pattern started to emerge.  Many of the books I chose show strong girls/women.  So what do I wish for my niece?  Dream big!  You can become anything you can imagine!  Happy Birthday, E!
My Name is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream? (Author: Jennifer Fosberry; Illustrator: Mike Litwin) – A contrary little girl changes her name throughout the day, cleverly imagining herself as famous women such as Marie Curie and Annie Oakley.  Positive role models for girls build self-esteem, encouraging them to pursue their dreams.  I love how the book ends with short biographies of each of the famous ladies.
The Paper Bag Princess (Author: Robert Muncsh; Illustrator: Michael Martchenko) – This book is the perfect foil to traditional “damsel in distress” fairytales.  Elizabeth, the princess, takes charge after a dragon destroys her castle and kidnaps Prince Ronald.  She outwits the dragon and rescues Ronald, but he is critical and unappreciative, to say the least.  A hilarious must read!
Just Us Women (Author: Jeannette Caines; Illustrator: Pat Cummings) - Someday, perhaps, my niece and I will take a journey like the one described in this book.  In this beautiful story, a girl and her aunt plan a leisurely car-trip.  They are in no hurry and they stop along the way to explore the landscape and do the things they love.  When asked, "What took you so long?"  They reply, "We had a lot of gril talk to do between the two of us.  No boys and no men - just us women."
Not all Princesses Dress in Pink (Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple; Illustrator: Anne-Sophie Lanquetin) - Yet another story that diverges from the classic fairytale expectations of girls, these princesses play sports, get dirty, and use tools.  And not one wears a pink gown to the ball!  A sparkly crown, however?  That is still a must.

Ruby's Wish (Author: Shirin Yim Bridges; Illustrator: Sophie Blackall) - In traditional Chinese culture, girls were not taught to read or write.  Ruby loved to learn and chose to take lessons with her boy cousins, even if that meant staying up late to finish her chores.  Ruby's greatest wish was to go to university, yet she knew that it was likely she would be married instead.  Ruby's Wish is a true tale of courage and hope in the face of cultural expectations and tradition.

Mirette on the High Wire (Author/Illustrator: Emily Arnold McCully) - Winner of the Caldecott Medal, the gorgeous illustrations pair well with the text to tell the story of a girl with an adventurous spirit who seeks to accomplish a daring feat.  She learns from the best and benefits from a mentor who believes in her.  Mirette is able to return the favor when her teacher runs into trouble on a high wire act.  Through perseverance and empathy, Mirette accomplishes something she never dreamed was possible.
(When my niece is older, she'll still be hearing from me when it comes to book recommendations.  Here are some terrific chapter books for girls (and boys!)
Clementine (Sara Pennypacker)
The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes)
Tooter Pepperday (Jerry Spinelli)
Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)
Love, Ruby Lavender (Deborah Wiles)
Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: An Egg Is Quiet
Author/Illustrator: Dianna Aston / Sylvia Long
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books / 2006
Genre/Audience: Nonfiction / Preschool and up

Themes: Eggs, biology, natural world

Opening: “An egg is quiet.  It sits there, under its mother’s feathers… on top of its father’s feet… buried beneath the sand.  Warm.  Cozy.”

 Synopsis: Excerpt from School Library Journal: “An exceptionally handsome book on eggs, from the delicate ova of the green lacewing to the rosy roe of the Atlantic salmon to the mammoth bulk of an ostrich egg. Aston's simple, readable text celebrates their marvelous diversity, commenting on size, shape, coloration, and where they might be found. The author occasionally attributes sensibilities to eggs (An egg is clever, for example). Still, her quiet descriptions of egg engineering and embryo development (no mention of mating) are on the mark, and are beautifully supported by Long's splendid watercolor depictions of a wide variety of eggs.”

Why I Love This Book:  This book is gorgeous and incredibly informative.  Poetic language in simple statement form is supplemented by fact boxes that give the reader an in-depth look at the diversity of eggs on our planet.  The author doesn’t limit herself to bird eggs, but includes fish and insects.  I love the endpapers.  The front shows the eggs and the back shows what has hatched from them!

Science lesson for book:

Author website:

Illustrator website:

Video of hummingbird egg hatching (a bit long, but some great shots of the tiny nest, even tinier eggs and hatchlings, and the mother feeding the babies):

Video of ostrich laying an egg:

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Toddlers and Tantrums

The terrible twos…It is real.  And it can be terrible.  The ‘I wants’, the ‘I don’t wants’, the “It’s the end of the world if I can’t have that toy” moments, the attitude and tone of voice (attitude at 2???), and most gratingly, the whining.  No one ever said anything about whining when telling me about the terrible twos.  Shame on them! 

The past few difficult weeks with my nearly three-year-old (a threshhold, I’ve heard, will not offer any reprieve), I’ve been thinking about books that show anger or tantrums.  These books are so helpful to me as a parent because they remind me of the child’s point-of-view: that tantrums can be scary; that the child is looking for reassurance and love; that coping strategies can be taught.  They are also a helpful talking point.  If you are in the midst of the toddler years, I hope these books bring you some perspective and hope.

Mad at Mommy (Author/Illustrator Komako Sakai) – A bunny lists all the reasons he’s mad at mommy and decides to run away.  But he returns with an important question: “Did you miss me?”  Komako Sakai’s illustrations add such important details to the text that it is a story in itself.  A very satisfying insight into a child’s emotions.

When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry (Author/Illustrator Molly Bang) – Sophie lashes out when her turn to play with the gorilla is over.  In typical toddler fashion, she uses her fists, feet, and voice to show how angry she is.  Sophie has a strategy, however, whether she realizes it or not, to help herself calm down.  This book shows that anger can, and is, followed by calm, and that things can return to normal.  Very reassuring for the toddler who is frightened by his/her strong emotions.

Sometimes I’m Bombaloo (Author: Rachel Vail; Illustrator: Yumi Heo) – This matter-of-fact story about a girl that sometimes gets angry and loses control will be recognizable to preschoolers and parents alike.  Humor and an understanding parent go a long way to helping her calm down and become herself again: “It’s scary being Bombaloo.  My mother knows that.”  I love the newly-minted word to describe a child’s fierce anger. 

Mouse Was Mad (Author: Linda Urban; Illustrator: Henry Cole) – The reader never finds out why mouse is so mad, but that doesn’t matter.  His good-natured friends all show him different ways to cope, until Mouse stumbles on a strategy of his own.  A great book that illustrates what anger can look like without dismissing the emotion.

Finn Throws a Fit! (Author: David Elliott; Illustrator: Timothy Basil Ering) – Finn’s tantrums cause floods, earthquakes, and blizzards.  This hysterical picture book uses metaphor to illustrate what a tantrum feels like for the child and the parent.  Fits are epic and endless.  Or, at least they seem that way.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Let’s celebrate Read Across America and Dr. Seuss’ birthday today with one of his classics.

Title: Bartholomew and the Oobleck
Author/Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
Publisher/Date: Random House Books for Young Readers (October 12, 1949)
Genre/Audience: Fiction for ages 6 and up

Themes: Arrogance/power, being content, admitting you’re wrong and saying you’re sorry

Opening: “They still talk about it in the Kingdom of Didd as The-Year-the-King-Got-Angry-with-the-Sky.  And they still talk about the page boy, Bartholomew Cubbins.  If it hadn’t been for Bartholomew Cubbins, that King and that Sky would have wrecked that little Kingdom.”

Synopsis: Bartholomew, the page boy, is the voice of reason in this story of an arrogant king who is bored with the weather and wants something new to fall from the sky.  The king’s magicians cast a spell that wreaks havoc on the kingdom and Bartholomew has to save the day by getting the king to admit he was wrong and apologize. 

Why I Love This Book:
First, Dr. Seuss is the master of imagination and fantastic worlds. 

Second, as a teacher, I loved March 2nd.  Read Across America was a great excuse to inject children’s books into every part of the school day (even more than normal) and throw a birthday party for Dr. Seuss, which made reading for third graders fun, fun, fun! 

Third, if you’ve never made Oobleck with cornstarch and water, you have not lived!  It creates the most interesting substance that is not quite solid, not quite liquid.  Slap it: it doesn’t splatter.  Try to pick it up: it runs through your fingers.  This is so much fun for kids and adults alike!

Read Across America materials:

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.