Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pirates and Dinosaurs

Yes, today is Halloween.  I bet you thought that my boys chose to be a pirate and a dinosaur, based on the title of this post.  Nope!  They are going as trains.  Don't they look adorable?

Pirates and dinosaurs are just some popular book themes that have been floating around the house lately, and believe it or not, there is actually a book that combines the two.  Just like my boys' favorite show, Dinosaur Train, the first book on my list is a brilliant combination of two things boys love: pirates and dinosaurs.  Note to my writerly self: just combine two popular topics, preferably unrelated, for story success!  So here it is: a random list of pirate and dinosaur books, starting with the one that brings the two together.  ROAR YO HO!

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs (Author: Giles Andreae; Illustrator: Russell Ayto) - Reminiscent of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Flinn finds himself in a closet, talking to a sobbing pirate captain about his lost ship, when the back of the closet falls away and a pirate ship is waiting.  Flinn is installed as captain (since the captain would rather cook) and the search for his missing ship begins.  Needless to say, when it is found, Flinn is astounded to find the crew are pirate dinosaurs!  With a T. Rex captain, of course.  Hilarious action sequences ensue and Captain Flinn is, of course, the hero.  If you like to read pirate stories, dinosaur books, or just like to daydream, this one's for you!

Portside Pirates! (Author: Debbie Harter; Illustrator: Oscar Seaworthy) - This is a much-loved favorite in my house, perhaps because the text is also a song.  (The book comes with a CD.)  And thanks to the illustrator's conception of a pirate ship manned by child pirates (even a baby pirate, with a bottle!), this book has unending appeal.  There is a terrific diagram at the end which labels all the parts of the ship.  My older son uses this "to count" since it is a numbered list.  My younger son likes to point to all the masts and the ship's cat.  Oh, and the cabin boy.  There are some other pirate facts included and the sheet music for the song.

Brontorina (Author: James Howe; Illustrator: Randy Cecil) - Here's another book that juxtaposes two unrelated ideas: a dinosaur that dreams of being a ballerina.  Madame Lucille, the dance instructor, is unsure, but open-minded, and takes on this strange new pupil.  I enjoyed her character more than the rest.  Howe wrote her with passion for dance, a commanding presence, and a willingness to think outside the box.  Brontorina is a salve for all those dreams that got away (speaking as an adult reader of a picture book).  But they don't have to get away, do they?  The take-away?  Don't be afraid to dream big!

How I Became a Pirate (Author: Melinda Long; Illustrator: David Shannon) - (FROM!home/mainPage) "Pirates have green teeth—when they have any teeth at all. I know about pirates, because one day, when I was at the beach building a sand castle and minding my own business, a pirate ship sailed into view." So proclaims Jeremy Jacob, a boy who joins Captain Braid Beard and his crew in this witty look at the finer points of pirate life by the Caldecott Honor–winning illustrator David Shannon and the storyteller Melinda Long. Jeremy learns how to say “scurvy dog,” sing sea chanteys, and throw food . . . but he also learns that there are no books or good night kisses on board: “Pirates don’t tuck.” A swashbuckling adventure with fantastically silly, richly textured illustrations that suit the story to a T. 

There is also a terrific Pirates Activity Book that complements this story, which teaches you how to make a pirate hat, eye patch, and talk like a pirate, among other things.

Dinosaurs Galore! (Author: Giles Andreae; Illustrator: David Wojtowycz) - Filled with quatrains describing a variety of dinosaurs from sun-up to sun-down, Andreae's text is both educational and entertaining.  My favorite?
I'm as little as a chicken,
but please don't be too hasty!
Although I may be chicken-sized,
I'm nowhere near as tasty!

Halloweensie Contest 2012

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words witch, bat, and "trick-or-treat". Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!) Get it? Halloweensie - because it's not very long and it's for little people :)  Click here to read all the other silly, scary, and spooky entries!

Here's my entry!


Jack O’Lantern was an orange-headed kid
With a very round face, a stem on his lid.

On Halloween night, Jack met an old witch.
He begged for a spell and presented his pitch.

“I want to trick-or-treat like a regular boy
In spooky attire.  I love Almond Joys.”

Jack guzzled her brew, full of bat wings
And all sorts of other odd, horrible things.

“Jack?” Joe asked.  “You’re as white as a ghost.”
"A witch threw a pumpkin. I thought you were toast!”

“My pumpkin head’s gone! I feel….BOO!” Jack haunted.
“Turning into a ghost was not what I wanted.” 

(100 words exactly!)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: To Market, To Market
Author/Illustrator: Anne Miranda/ Janet Stevens
Publisher/Date: Harcourt Brace & Company/ 1997
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 4+
Themes: Nursery Rhymes

Opening: “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggity jig!  To market, to market, to buy a red hen.  Home again... Uh-oh!  That pig left the pen."

Synopsis: From School Library Journal - What begins with the traditional serene nursery rhyme turns into a slapstick excursion filled with mishap and mayhem. A "fat pig" is not enough for this ambitious shopper. The elderly woman makes return trips to the market for a hen, trout, lamb, cow, duck, and goat. While she is acquiring more, her earlier purchases are wreaking havoc. Patterned, staccato verses tell the zany tale, but it is Stevens's wonderfully wild illustrations that bring it to life. The conventional home's interior is pictured in flat gray charcoal tones. The woman and her animals are colorful, oversized figures that burst off the pages. The collage technique allows for the contrasting colors and styles that magnify the uncontained boisterous fun of this very imaginative book. Visual format, repetition, and rhyme make this title an ideal choice for sharing aloud. It could also be used as a springboard for writing projects as children start with a familiar rhyme and make it their own. All-in-all, a delightful, albeit raucous, romp.  Heide Piehler, Shorewood Public Library, WI
Why I Love This Book:
Where do I start?  This book is laugh-out-loud funny.  A nursery rhyme with a twist, kitchen mayhem, and exaggerated, colorful characters all make for a fabulous read-aloud.  Be ready to spend a lot of time examining the illustrations, which create a rich understory and the basis for much of this story's humor.

As the School Library Journal reviewer suggests, take a nursery rhyme and write what happens next.  What an extra challenge?  Make it rhyme!

A preschool site with musical nursery rhymes:

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Silly Spooks

I've been asking myself the question: What kind of Halloween post should I do?  Traditional holiday, witches, monsters?  I just couldn't decide so here is a list of the silly, spooky books that have been floating around my house this month.  With two young children, silliness and spookiness need to balance out.  They are not quite into the 'fright for fun' part of Halloween.  But they love to say "BOO!"  I hope you are able to still find some of these at your library.

Even Monsters Need Haircuts (Matthew McElligott) - Following in his father's footsteps, a boy wants to be a barber.  And once a month, on the full moon, he is... to a very monstrous clientele!  Parents will enjoy this silly monsters book as much as the kids as they recognize the puns and witticisms scattered throughout the text and illustrations.

In the Haunted House (Author: Eve Bunting; Illustrator: Susan Meddaugh) - Rhyming couplets invite the reader into the spooky house.  Clever feet-only illustrations of the two walking/running through the house create their own story.  There are clues throughout to alert the reader as to the nature of the mysteries in the house, so this one is to be read as much for the illustrations as the text.  A twist ending has the readers (and a revealed character) wanting more!

The Little Old Woman Who Was Not Afraid of Anything (Author: Linda Williams; Illustrator: Megan Lloyd) - This classic read-aloud gets readers involved as they "CLOMP CLOMP" with the shoes, "WIGGLE WIGGLE" with the pants, "SHAKE SHAKE" with the shirt... well, you get the idea.  This haunted being has come to scare the old woman and is dejected when she refuses to be afraid.  But not to worry!  She knows exactly what to do with this spook.

Guess What? (Author: Mem Fox; Illustrator: Vivienne Goodman) – Who is Daisy O’Grady?  Is she just a crazy old lady?  This is another book where the illustrations demand careful examination.  Through a series of yes/no questions, Daisy O'Grady's identity is gradually revealed.  The illustrations are bizarre and may be a bit scary for the youngest set, but there is so much to explore (a bit of “I Spy”) for children thrilled with Halloween and mysteries.  And guess what? There is a surprise ending!

Hampire! (Author: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; Illustrator: Howard Fine) -  The rhyming text makes the reader feel as though they are tiptoeing along, trying to stay away from the Hampire!  Duck's need for a midnight snack gets him into trouble when he comes face-to-face with the dreaded swine.  Another silly/scary story...until the final twist!

Room on the Broom (Author: Julia Donaldson; Illustrator: Axel Scheffler) - Don't forget this one from last week's post!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai
Author/Illustrator: Claire A. Nivola
Publisher/Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/ 2008
Genre/Audience: Biography/Grades K-3 (personally, I would use this through middle school)
Themes: Kenya, Green Belt Movement, Conservation, Tree Planting

Opening: “As Wangari Maathai tells it, when she was growing up on a farm in the hills of central Kenya, the earth was clothed in its dress of green."

Synopsis: From Booklist - *Starred Review* Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her environmental and human rights achievements. Founder of the Green Belt Movement, she has encouraged people to repair their economy, land, and health with simple, environmentally friendly acts, such as planting more trees. This beautiful picture-book biography echoes the potent simplicity of Maathai’s message with direct, spare prose and bright, delicate watercolors. Tracking forward from Maathai’s childhood in the rich landscape of Kenya’s highlands, the words and pictures clearly show how the activist’s deep connection with nature as a youth inspired her to develop sustainable practices as an adult. Nivola writes about potentially complex, abstract relationships, such as those between ecological preservation and human health, with clear language that shows connections that children will easily grasp. The story of how each human and tree can make a difference will inspire young people, who will want to linger over the wide, double-page landscapes picturing people restoring stripped land to green, thriving communities and forests. An author’s note offers more about Maathai’s inspiring story. Point teachers and parents seeking more information to Maathai’s autobiography, Unbowed (2006), which was named a Booklist Adult Editor’s Choice. Grades K-3. --Gillian Engberg
Why I Love This Book:
Inspiring, both for its conservation and activist themes, children feel empowered by the difference the simple act of planting a tree can make.  Reforesting a country is a daunting challenge for one, but when acting together, many people can make real change happen.  Children need this positive message as they seek to make a difference in their world.

This book would lend itself to many units of study: Africa, ecology, women.
A lesson plan:

Learn more about Wangari Maathai and The Greenbelt Movement at

Arbor Day Foundation: "We inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees."

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Author Study: Julia Donaldson

Ever since my family took a trip to Northern Ireland to visit friends in September, I've been enamored with Julia Donaldson's books.  Donaldson's writing career started out as singer/songwriter for children's television in Great Britain.  Her song, A Squash and a Squeeze, was made into a book in 1993, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, with whom she has collaborated on a number of books.

Best known here in the States is The Gruffalo, but many of her books are available through my local library.  Here is a smattering.  Enjoy! (Book listings include illustrator only, since this is an author study.  I've also included covers of the original book, before it was "translated" for a United States audience.  It is very interesting to note the differences.)

The Gruffalo (Illustrated by Axel Scheffler)

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.
This book is a trickster tale at its best.  A cunning mouse creates a terrible monster, a gruffalo, to ward off predators.  The owl, snake, and fox are taken in.  But what happens when he stumbles upon an actual gruffalo???  And there is a sequel, titled The Gruffalo's Child.

"a modern classic" The Observer
One Mole Digging a Hole (Illustrated by Nick Sharratt)
Two snakes with garden rakes
Three bears picking pears .....
A basic concept book with a gardening angle, the unusual scenes play out in verse and illustration.  It had my boys giggling!
"There are jokes aplenty: foxes tidily filling boxes - with tomatoes, of all unlikely things - and crows with a hose helpfully watering the cabbages. Sharratt's uncluttered use of the page gives room for the build up of the numbers to have a clear visual effect." The Guardian

What the Ladybug Heard (Illustrated by Lydia Monks)

Once on a farm lived a ladybird
Who hardly ever spoke a word,
But the ladybird saw and the ladybird heard,
And here's what the animals said:

Two robbers intent on stealing the prize cow don't anticipate the power of the tiny ladybird to foil their plans!

“Classic Julia Donaldson rhyming text makes this farmyard tale bound along” The Bookseller

The Fish Who Cried Wolf (Illustrated by Axel Scheffler)

Once there was a fish and his name was Tiddler.
He wasn't much to look at, with his plain gray scales.
But Tiddler was a fish with a big imagination.
He blew small bubbles but he told tall tales.

Tiddler is always late for school and every excuse he makes is more outrageous than the last.  What will he do when he really gets caught in a fisherman's net?

“Picture book perfection” Independent on Sunday

One Ted Falls Out of Bed (Illustrated by Anna Currey)

One ted
Falls out of bed.
He tugs and pulls the cover, BUT...
Two eyes are tight shut.

After Ted falls out of bed, he finds nighttime adventure with three mice.  This frolicking midnight romp counts up to ten, and then down again, until the story has come full circle and Ted is back in bed.

"Another little miracle from Julia Donaldson… it has the robust feel of a classic." The Bookseller

Room on the Broom (Illustrated by Axel Scheffler)

How the cat purred and how the witch grinned
As they sat on their broomstick and flew through the wind.

When a witch loses her hat, she rewards the dog who found it with a ride on her broom.  This scene repeats itself as other things blow off in the wind.  But what happens when a dragon appears that wants "witch and chips" with his tea?

"Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler have come up with another gem… we loved it." The Independent

Julia Donaldson has written many, many more picture books than I've highlighted here.  See what you can check out at your library!  To learn more about Julia Donaldson, her commission as the United Kingdom's Children's Laureate(term June 2011-June 2013), or to download a podcast of her talking about her books, go to her official website:  Youtube also has videos of her singing, performing, and reading her stories.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Quick as a Cricket
Author/Illustrator: Audrey Wood/ Don Wood
Publisher/Date: Scholastic/ 1982
Genre/Audience: Fiction/ Baby to age 6
Themes: Animal comparisons; similes; opposites

Opening: “I'm as quick as a cricket, I'm as slow as a snail, I'm as small as an ant, I'm as large as a whale."

Synopsis: From Review – "Parents and teachers choose this big square book for the message of self-confidence. Toddlers love it for the singsong phrases and Don Wood's large, silly, endearing illustrations, which feature a boy mimicking different kinds of animals. At one point, he is pictured sipping tea formally with a fancy poodle ("I'm as tame as a poodle") and on the very next page he is swinging through trees ("I'm as wild as a chimp"). Whether brave or shy, strong or weak, in the end the young boy celebrates all different, apparently contradictory parts of himself. With a confident grin, he lifts his arms up and declares, "Put it all together and you've got ME!"

Why I Love This Book:
This simple book is anything but simplistic.  There is a lot of traction here for language arts lessons on language use with similes, dramatic interpretations as young listeners act out the animal comparisons, and the overall theme of celebrating the diversity of self.

Young readers and writers can create their own animal similes.  Collecting them together would make a nice, illustrated class book.

Hear the story read on youtube:

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Books from Across the Pond

Storytime is universal.  While visiting our friends for two weeks, storytime often came before breakfast, before bedtime, and at various times throughout the day.  All four adults can attest to being "the lap" in this scenario. (You will be spared pictures of our bedheads and PJs)   Imagine one lap and three children, ages 2, almost 3, and 3 1/2, all vying for a coveted place in front of a book.  When all the "He's in my spot" and "I can't see"s died down, they were enthralled with whatever story was on hand.  Thankfully, darling E brought her books to share, so now I share them with you.  Here is a taste of British authors and their unique humor and vocabulary (some of which has to be "translated" when published in the States.)

My personal favorite from our visit:
A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson; Illustrated byAxel Scheffler - This rhyming book with a folk-tale feel trips along as a silly old woman is dissatisfied by her small house.  She turns to a Wise Old Man for advice and he tells her to bring in her chicken, her goat, her pig, and her cow.  She thinks these are odd suggestions, but follows the advice.  With each addition, her house become "a squash and a squeeze."  Finally, she turns the animals out, and she discovers that her house is big enough after all.  I'm so glad that I got the chance to read this book in Northern Ireland since I can't seem to find it in our local libraries.  I guess the title phrase proved too much to "translate" into more familiar vocabulary.  It is a shame, because it is a charming book.

Next week, I'll be highlighting this fabulous author, who has written many children's books, The Gruffalo being amongst the most well-known. She is also the United Kingdom's Children's Laureate, term June 2011-June 2013.  She lives in Scotland.

Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andreae; Illustrated by David Wojtowycz - I was familiar with Giles Andreae, having used his book Giraffes Can't Dance for many years in my third grade classroom.  (A terrific book for celebrating differences and following dreams.)  Rumble in the Jungle, his first children's book, is a collection of poems about the various animals you might encounter on a safari.  From sun-up to sun-down, there are many animals to meet.  The bouncy rhyme makes these encounters fun, as well as educational.  Andreae lives in London.

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell - A child asks the zoo to send him a pet, but finds fault with each selection as the animals get more and more wild!  With flaps to lift and short, bouncy, repetitive text, young children will engage with this story's surprises and perfect pet resolution.  Published in 1982, Dear Zoo is celebrating its 30th anniversary and has certainly become a children's classic.  Rod Campbell lives in Scotland. (Author picture from:

Oh Dear! by Rod Campbell - Campbell has written many books with Buster as the main character.  Toddlers will relate to his trial and error strategy and his blooming independence.  In this story, Buster looks all over the farm for eggs.  Where will he find them?

Silly Moo by Karen King; Illustrated by Marina Le Ray - After getting clonked on the head by an apple, a cow decides to lie down, but she can't remember where she lives!  Her friends label her a "Silly Moo" when she tries all of their houses, for which she is far too big.  Children will love to lift the flaps, chime in when the cow is being a "Silly Moo" and giggle at the surprise ending.  I know I did!  Karen King lives in England.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Stormy’s Hat: Just Right for a Railroad Man
Author/Illustrator: Eric A. Kimmel / Andrea U’Ren
Publisher/Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 2008
Genre/Audience: Historical Fiction / Ages 5+
Themes: History, trains, hats, women, sewing

Opening: “Stormy Kromer was an engineer.  He drove a locomotive on the Red Stack line from St. Paul to Chicago. Stormy loved driving trains.”

Synopsis: From book jacket – Stormy Kromer is an engineer who loves driving trains. But he has one problem with his job: he can’t find a hat that’s right for a railroad man. He tries a derby, a cowboy hat, a presssman’s hat, and a fireman’s hat. Nothing works. Stormy tells his wife, Ida, not to worry, he’ll figure out something. But Ida isn’t worrying – she’s thinking. If only Stormy would listen…

Why I Love This Book:
At the library, the boys and I grabbed this book because it had to do with trains.  But I really love that it is a historical account of something we always associate with train engineers: their headgear!  Bravo to Eric Kimmel for researching this obscure topic and bringing it to life for the young (and not so young!) audience.  I also love the message that women have good ideas and should have a voice.  Stormy learned this from his wife, Ida!

Author Eric Kimmel reads his stories on his webpage (not Stormy’s Hat, though) -

The Stormy Kromer Mercantile still exists and makes hats!  Check out their history page -

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kate & Jim McMullan Series

I apologize for the two week hiatus.  We recently returned from a much needed reunion with far off friends.  We packed our suitcases and braced ourselves for international plane travel with our boys, ages two and three.  With little "confusion and delay", as Sir Topham Hatt would say, or as he is called in the U.K., the Fat Controller (a Thomas the Tank Engine reference, for those of you without preschoolers), we arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  We spent a fantastic week in Co. Donegal, Ireland, and then back in the outskirts of Belfast.  Isn't this beautiful? 

In a week or two, my post will be inspired by books that we read in the U.K. and Ireland.  Until then, enjoy these sassy stories!

As I mentioned, I have boys.  They like trucks, trains, boats, and, recently, dinosaurs.  While at the library, we happened upon Kate & Jim McMullan's book about a garbage truck: I Stink!  My kids thought it was funny, but, honestly, I thought the voice was a bit sassy.  As I've come to know the other books in this series, however, I am appreciating them a lot more.  The voices are hip, modern, current... making them fresh, fun, and accessible.  The characters have attitude and pluck. Definitely different than a lyrical or rhyming text.  These books are obviously well-researched and this husband and wife collaboration just works.  I love how the text is part of the illustration: fonts of various size and color add to each spread and give traction to the already unique voice.  Check out their website.  Below is the series in its entirety with professional reviews. 

I Stink! (Harper Collins 2002)
"Most kids already love garbage trucks on general principle, and one assumes that can only go double for a sass-mouthed, animated dumper like this one, out on its early-morning rounds: "See those bags? I SMELL BREAKFAST! Crew? Get me to the curb! Lights? Blink! Brakes? Squeal! Tail gate? SAY AH!" The many opportunities for loud, large-type sound effects should make for spirited readings, and a recipe for "alphabet soup" lets young readers practice their letters, working through the ABCs from apple cores to zipped-up ziti with zucchini." - Paul Hughes, Review

I'm Mighty! (Harper Collins 2003)
"...the tugboat that narrates this picture book tells his story with more than a splash of moxie... there's so much here to enjoy: the energetic writing, the boastful tug's bravado, and the well-conceived illustrations. Best of all, the big boats need help from the little boat instead of the other way around, making this an appealing nautical version of every preschooler's dream." - Carolyn Phelan, BOOKLIST

I'm Dirty! (Harper Collins 2006)
"Counting down from 10 to 1, the backhoe removes the alliterative trash: 4 cat-clawed couches, 3 scuffed-up signs, 2 tossed-out toilet seats, 1 wonky washing machine. Then, he pulls out a tree stump, takes a mud bath, and back-drags his bucket over the dirt. Throughout the story, the machine becomes progressively dirtier, with a repeating motif of mud. The text flies about the pages, changing size, shape, and orientation. With its saucy tone and dynamic color cartoon illustrations, this picture book exudes energy. Suzanne Myers Harold, School Library Journal, Starred

I'm Bad! (Harper Collins 2008)
"Like the bragging, swaggering vehicles in the authors’ previous titles, such as I Stink!, the tyrannosaurus narrator of this picture book is all boasts: “I’m REALLY bad. Scare-the-tails-off-all-the-other-dinosaurs BAD.”... the high-energy illustrations and macho narrator’s words create a rowdy, crowd-pleasing whole." - Gillian Engberg, BOOKLIST

I'm Big! (Harper Collins 2010)
"A subtle message about standing ground against bullies underlies this story, which features the McMullans’ familiar delights: infectiously, rhythmic text; inventive, animated art; and an endearing, boastful narrator whose kidlike qualities children will instantly recognize." - Gillian Engberg, BOOKLIST

I'm Fast! (Harper Collins 2012)
"The train engine is the big talker in the McMullans' latest vehicles-with-attitude tale." - Christine Heppermann, HORNBOOK