Friday, April 27, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: The Hello, Goodbye Window
Author/Illustrator: Norton Juster/Chris Raschka
Publisher/Date: Michael Di Capua Books - Hyperion Books for Children/ 2005
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 3+

Themes: grandparents, imagination, special places

Opening: "Nanna and Poppy live in a big house in the middle of town.  There's a brick path that goes to the back porch, but before you get there you pass right by the kitchen window.  That's the Hello, Goodbye Window.  It looks like a regular window, but it's not."

Synopsis: From School Library Journal

Starred Review. PreSchool-Grade 1–The window in Nanna and Poppy's kitchen is no ordinary window–it is the place where love and magic happens. It's where the girl and her doting grandparents watch stars, play games, and, most importantly, say hello and goodbye. The first-person text is both simple and sophisticated, conjuring a perfectly child-centered world. Sentences such as "When I get tired I come in and take my nap and nothing happens until I get up" typify the girl's happy, imaginative world. While the language is bouncy and fun, it is the visual interpretation of this sweet story that sings. Using a bright rainbow palette of saturated color, Raschka's impressionistic, mixed-media illustrations portray a loving, mixed-race family. The artwork is at once lively and energetic, without crowding the story or the words on the page; the simple lines and squiggles of color suggest a child's own drawings, but this is the art of a masterful hand. Perfect for lap-sharing, this book will find favor with children and adults alike.–Angela J. Reynolds, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, OR  

Why I Love This Book I know I just used this book in my grandparents-theme list, but I had to share it today, too.  It is beautiful in so many ways.  From the lyrical prose to the vibrant illustrations, this book celebrates the grandparent-grandchild relationship.  The metaphor of the window is brilliant, letting the girl look out at the world and in at her grandparents with wonder and appreciation.  Never needing a name, the girl is each one of us, allowing us to reminisce (or wish for) that special bond that grandparents can share with their grandchildren.

ELA Lesson Plan:

This book offers so many jumping off places for activities, from creative writing to art.  Have students think of their own special window, draw it, and write about what they can see in or through  it. 

Or have them imagine a magic window.  Who would they want to see through it? 

Or have your child write a note to a grandparent, telling them why they are so special.  Could it be your grandfather plays the harmonica, too, and his specialty is breakfast?  Or your grandmother has a fabulous garden?  They would love to get some mail, so tell them what you love about them!

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


This week, H and N's Grammy and Grampy are visiting.  The boys can't get enough of them and the same is true of my parents!  What a special bond children can have with their grandparents.  My kids just soak up all the fun, games, and silliness that is showered on them by their grandparents. Everytime they get together, they explore the world, finding worms, birds' nests, Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, and learn the joy of throwing a snowball or splashing in a puddle.

To pay homage to all the beautiful grandparent/grandchild relationships out there, here are a few terrific picture books that highlight this theme.  Enjoy!

The Hello, Goodbye Window (Author: Norton Juster; Illustrator: Chris Raschka) – Norton Juster of The Phantom Tollbooth fame has written his first picture book and it is incredible.  A little girl tells about a special window at her Nanna and Poppy’s house where you can make silly faces, gaze at the stars, and, maybe, just maybe, see unusual guests pass by.  Her special relationship with her grandparents is apparent in the details of the story.  When she has to go home, “You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know.”

Grandpa & Bo (Author/Illustrator: Kevin Henkes) – This poignant book about the special relationship between a boy and his grandfather touches the heart.  They spend the summer together learning, laughing, and loving each others’ company.  For grandchildren that live far away from their grandparents, this book is a must.

I Already Know I Love You (Author: Billy Crystal; Illustrator: Elizabeth Sayles) – All the excitement of being a Grandpa for the first time is conveyed in this lovely rhyming book.  The anticipation of showing a new grandchild the world, hearing giggles, making funny faces, and having special days are captured with warm illustrations.

Abuela (Author: Arthur Dorros; Illustrator: Elisa Kleven) – A girl imagines the adventures she would have with her grandmother if they could fly over New York City.  The rich illustrations match the cultural diversity celebrated in this story, where Spanish words and phrases are defined without interrupting the flow.  I love that the girl and her Abuela enjoy having adventures together.  The end leaves their next adventure to your imagination.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Like a Windy Day
Author/Illustrator: Frank Asch & Devin Asch
Publisher/Date: Harcourt, Inc./ 2002
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 3+

Themes: wind, imagination, play

Opening: "I want to play like a windy day."

SynopsisFrom School Library Journal - "In a poetic text, a girl imagines herself doing all of the things that the wind can do. The brief story is filled with action verbs as the child follows the personified wind through the countryside, into town, and along the beach and riverside. The exciting pen-and-ink illustrations were colorized in Adobe Photoshop. Broad and sweeping spreads are filled with movement as the child tumbles, races, and flies until she settles at the end "like a gentle breeze."

Why I Love This Book It is spring and, boy, can it be windy!  I love this text for all the read-alouds and weather units it could be incorporated into.  Not to mention the fabulous illustrations that portray the wind as an adventurous (and sometimes mischievous) playmate.  The first line, "I want to play like a windy day", is repeated throughout the book, adding different details each time, incorporating all the things that wind can do.

Make this book a dance!
Check out the author's website:
Make a pinwheel:

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Earth Day

Every year, April 22nd is set aside to commemorate Earth Day. Many communities rally around this spring time date to do neighborhood clean-ups and vacant lot green-ups. You can make a difference simply by taking a walk with a rubber glove and a garbage bag, picking up litter as you go.  Or check with your local government to find out about activities that may be going on in your area.

While Earth Day is a valuable teaching tool, every day should be Earth Day.  As a global village, we need to consciously make choices that will add, rather than detract, from the health of our planet.  If everyone pitches in, large-scale change is possible. 

Air and water quality, wildlife conservation, soil erosion, deforestation, climate change, habitat loss, energy conservation... There are so many issues that need a voice and a set of hands to do the work of "going green."  How will you help?

Check of these Earth Day/conservation books to get you started.  Also, take a look at my first blog post, Reading for the Earth:

Earth Day Birthday (Author: Pattie Schnetzler; Illustrator: Chad Wallace) - Sing this book to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and you will follow the behavior of twelve North American species in their natural environment. The illustrations are gorgeous and it ends with a quick Earth Day history and a set of "gift" ideas you can present the Earth with at an Earth Day birthday party!

Stuff! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Author: Steven Kroll; Illustrator: Steve Cox) - At times, it is difficult to find a fiction book with a nonfiction subject matter that doesn't feel preachy or stilted.  Steven Kroll's book finds a way to make teaching about the 3R's fun.  I love the beginning: "Pinch was a pack rat.  He kept everything....There was so much stuff in Pinch's house, it was spilling out onto the street."  Check out this book to discover how Pinch and his community find ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson (Author: Amy Ehrlich; Illustrator: Wendell Minor) - This lovely, illustrated biography of the woman, whose book Silent Spring, launched the modern environmental movement, shows her strengths as a writer, biologist, and thinker.  Always observing and questioning, Rachel Carson wrote books about the sea.  Her last book about the pollutants that would cause the end to songbirds and other living things continues to make its mark on how we view the Earth and our role in caring for it.

Earth Dance (Author: Joanne Ryder; Illustrator: Norman Gorbaty) - The lyrical text of this book invites readers to imagine they are the Earth.  This book is truly a celebratory dance that reminds us that the Earth is our one and only, magnificent home. 

Let's Celebrate Earth Day (Authors: Connie and Peter Roop; Illustrator: Gwen Connelly) - This comprehensive nonfiction book about Earth Day includes its history and contemporary importance. Filled with facts, riddles, quotes, and earth-friendly activities, this book is a terrific place to start when looking for ways to be good to the Earth.  It ends on a positive note, relating plants and animals that have been protected since Earth Day began in 1970.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Emily
Author/Illustrator: Michael Bedard/Barbara Cooney
Publisher/Date: A Doubleday Book for Young Readers/ 1992
Genre/Audience: Historical Fiction/Grades 3-5

Themes: Emily Dickinson; Neighborliness; poetry

Opening: "There is a woman on our street they call the Myth....  She hasn't left her house in nearly twenty years.  If strangers come to call, she runs and hides herself away.  Some people say she's crazy.  But to me she's Emily...."

Synopsis: From School Library Journal: "A young girl whose family has just moved into the neighborhood describes her first encounter with the inhabitant of the yellow house across the road. Called ``the Myth'' by some, deemed crazy by others, she is, in fact, the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. An air of mystery surrounds the woman as the child overhears her parents discussing their neighbor. When the girl's mother is invited to the yellow house to play the piano, curiosity deepens. The first meeting and special gifts exchanged between the girl and the poet are described in this imaginative and unusual picture book. In keeping with a story about a poet, the language of the text is lyrical."

Why I Love This Book In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I would share this gem of a book; a fictious account of a girl's encounter with the reclusive Emily Dickinson.  It is a glimpse into the life of a mysterious and gifted poet where music, flowers, and words offered pleasure and hope when feeling blue.

A biography:
A collection of Emily Dickinson's poetry:
Lesson plan:

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Uh Oh, SpaghettiOs!

When my youngest son was 16 months, he learned the phrase “Uh oh, spaghettiOs” from his Grammy. At the time, he would repeat it enthusiastically. Now, at 20 months, he initiates its use regularly. His spoon falls on the floor: “Uh oh, ra ra row”. A toy gets stuck under the couch: “Uh oh, ra ra row”. He tips his bowl of spaghetti over: “Uh oh, ra ra row”.

With this constant refrain in our house, I thought finding a bunch of spaghetti-themed books would make for a fun post.  (And, of course, I should mention that this is my three-year-old son's favorite dinner, so spaghetti is popular in this house in many ways!)  Enjoy!
On Top of Spaghetti (Author/Illustrator: Paul Brett Johnson; Lyrics: Tom Glazer) – I love this take on the classic song.  Who can resist these opening lines? “Howdy, folks.  Welcome to Yodeler Jones’s Spaghetti Emporium & Musicale.  You’re just in time to hear about the BIG SNEEZE.”  The reader is treated to a story just as silly as the song, with hysterical consequences.  Sheet music, lyrics, and a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs are included!

Strega Nona (Author/Illustrator: Tomie dePaola) - If you have never read this book, you are missing out.  "Grandma Witch" can cure headaches, make potions, and get rid of warts.  But she needs help.  Big Anthony ("who didn't pay attention") comes on the scene and chaos ensues when he disobeys Strega Nona and touches her magic pasta pot.  A funny story with subtle lessons in cause & effect and logical consequences.
Spaghetti Eddie (Author: Ryan SanAngelo; Illustrator: Jackie Urbanovic) - Who knew spaghetti had so many uses?  Eddie's favorite food saves the day in a number of unusual situations.  The neighbors come together to celebrate!
More Spaghetti, I Say! (Author: Rita Golden Gelman; Illustrator: Mort Gerberg) - This is a level 2 Scholastic Reader.  Seuss-like in rhyme and silliness, this story will make readers laugh with all the funny ways to eat and use spaghetti.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: The Wonderful Happens

Author/Illustrator: Cynthia Rylant/Coco Dowley
Publisher/Date: Aladdin Paperbacks/ 2003
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Preschool and up

Themes: appreciating the little things; individuality

Opening: "Each day, the wonderful happens."

Synopsis: From Publishers Weekly: "Like the lyrics to The Sound of Music's "My Favorite Things," Rylant's picture-book list of what is wonderful in the world includes both raindrops and roses. The sweet, rhythmic text is both cheery and unabashedly sentimental."

Why I Love This Book From bread to birds, peaches to spider webs, the wonderful happens.  I love that phrase.  Rylant uses her brilliantly poetic language to uncover the ordinary and fill you with awe.  Especially when the phrasing shifts: "and then there's the most wonderful thing of all -- you!"  What a beautiful way to share the love for a child and their presence in the world by connecting them to all of the exquisite, natural wonders that came before.  (This post dedicated to my oldest, who turns three today!)

Student writing prompt: What other natural, wonderful things happen?  Use this book as a model for writing your own story.  (This could easily be turned into a seasonal activity or a reflection on a nature walk.)

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Books to Inspire Imagination (Happy Birthday, H:)

To my Oldest Son:

You are three.  Three!  It is such a cliche to say "Where did the time go?", but it is so true.  In this short time you have gone from complete dependence to a boy who fiercely desires independence.  You express yourself in clear language, humor, and surprising insights.  You are showing love and protection for your younger brother and you have stories developing in your head...imaginative play.  What a joy to watch you create and develop these stories, involving us in plane travel, having your trains make perilous journeys to the edge of cliffs, and giving us medical check-ups (especially shots to 'make us better'.)

My hope as you enter your fourth year is that you continue to develop your imagination and find ways to share your stories.  I love you!  Mommy

Books that highlight the imagination:

Below (Author/Illustrator: Nina Crews) - This is one of H's favorites.  Jack and his best buddy, Guy (a toy) are always going on adventures.  But one day, they discover a hole in the staircase and only Guy can fit through. Jack begins to worry about what Guy is encountering and decides to begin a rescue operation.  After that, they only go on their adventures together!  Nina Crews' photographs, overlaid with various landscapes and chalk-drawings, bring Jack's imagination to life.

A Quiet Place (Author: Douglas Wood; Illustrator: Dan Andreasen) - I love how this book begins: "Sometimes a person needs a quiet place....But it can be hard to find one.  You have to know where to look."  When the world gets overwhelming, this book offers "quiet place"  suggestions and what you might find there.  Will you discover a lost continent, catch a monster, or be an artist?  This book is a celebration of a child's thoughts, feelings, and imagination.

Weslandia (Author: Paul Fleishchman; Illustrator: Kevin Hawkes) - A boy creates his own civilization during summer break.  Through a bit of fantasy, ingenuity, and a lot of self-reliance, Wesley succeeds in completing a summer project that tops all others!

Imagine a Place (Author: Sarah L. Thomson; Illustrator: Rob Gonsalves) - The exquisite paintings in this book are the highlight.  While the text is a beautiful companion, it is secondary.  The paintings are Escher-like, transitioning from a state of reality to a place of imagination.  Spend time on this book.  Talk about the pictures.  You will create your own stories!
Nothing To Do (Author: Douglas Wood; Illustrator: Wendy Anderson Halperin) - Bored?  Having nothing to do is GREAT!  It is a time to observe, wonder, and create.  I love the ending: "...sometimes, doing nothing is the most important thing in the whole wide world to do."

My Garden (Author/Illustrator: Kevin Henkes) - A little girl helps her mother in the garden and imagines what it would be like to have a garden of her own: flowers that change color, a jelly bean bush, and tomatoes as big as beach balls!