Friday, November 30, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

TitleWhen You Are Happy
Author/Illustrator: Eileen Spinelli / Geraldo Valerio
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/ 2006
Genre/Audience: Fiction/ Ages 3+
Themes: Emotions, Poetry, Family, Unconditional Love

"When you are sad./ I will hold you./ I will let you cry./ I will catch your tears/ in a blue cup/ and water the yellow flowers/ and they will grow/ more beautiful."

Synopsis: From BOOKLIST - "Spinelli offers an unusual approach to helping children understand their fears and feelings. Using a comforting refrain ("When you are . . ."), each member of the young girl's family reassures her when she is cold, sick, lonely, tired, grumpy, lost, and happy: "When you are afraid, / I will take your hand / and not let go-- / except once to borrow one hundred tiny stars / to spell out the words: YOU ARE SAFE." Appealingly offbeat, whimsical illustrations characterize the girl's emotions: when she's afraid, she's depicted in a Little Red Riding Hood outfit. Like a Technicolor dream, the art is full of movement and bright color, with smiling, happy people wafting across every spread. This will be great for lap sharing; children will feel warmed by the sense of close family ties." Julie Cummins

Why I Love This Book:
I rediscovered this on my bookshelf from my teaching days.  And I can't wait to share it with my boys.  What child doesn't need to be reminded that no matter how they are feeling, they are loved unconditionally?  Spinelli's lyrical voice, rich with metaphor, strikes a chord for me that informational books about emotions do not.  Valerio's illustrations are bright and inviting, even with the darker emotions of being afraid and lost.  I love how this book can be read on many levels, from the basic understanding of love and emotions to the deeper symbolism of what it means to search for a loved one who is lost.  Once again, I am in awe of picture books like this one that shine for a spectrum of readers, from young child to adult.

Writing Activity: Begin with Spinelli's refrain: "When you are _____."  Have students fill in an emotion, directing their short poem at a family member. This would be a good way to jump into a discussion of empathy.  The poems may make a nice holiday/Mother's Day/Father's Day gift.

Create an emotions poster or flashcard deck using student photos.  Here's an example.

Family Tree Template - Create a family tree, like the one on the dedications page.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Interactive Books

Picture books are inherently interactive.  The text and pictures combine to create a story that children can linger over.  But there are books out there that invite active participation.  Remember pop-up books?  I loved the pull-tabs and the elaborate spreads that fanned out over the pages.  Unfortunately, pop-up books are not really preschooler friendly.  I've repaired enough flaps torn off from lift-the-flap books to know that I need to keep my treasured pop-ups hidden, on a high shelf,  until my boys are, well, probably 18!  Interactive books have moved beyond traditional pop-ups and lift-the-flaps.  There are books that ask readers to look closely, follow directions, and use their senses.  If you are looking for a holiday gift book that will encourage play, here are some of my favorites:
Press Here by Hervé Tullet - This unique French import is not a story.  Rather it is a set of directions for the reader to follow, which in turn (literally, in turning the page), makes the primary-colored dots that populate this book, react.  In the age of iPads and other touch screen devices, this book may seem old-fashioned, but the perceived movement of the dots by the reader lends itself more to imaginative play. 

And while I haven't gotten my hands on it, Tullet's interactive adventure The Book with a Hole, sounds just as intriguing.  From "The Book with a Hole blasts a hole through the middle of the book itself.  Sometimes the hole is an eye the reader can look through; sometimes it is a mouth and the reader's fingers make the teeth!  The next minute it is a plate (with food drawn by the reader on a sheet of paper behind the book), an obstacle to jump across, or a saucepan.  It's crazy!  It's a Book with a Hole!" (Ages 2+)

Peek-a-Moo! and Peek-a-Zoo! by Marie Torres Cimarusti; Illustrated by Stephanie Peterson - For the toddlers in your life, I highly recommend these books which feature huge lift-flaps on each page.  These books teach animal sounds while involving the reader in a game of barnyard or zoo peek-a-boo.  Both bring the game back to the child at the end with: "Guess who? What do you say?" (Ages 2+)
Heads and Tails by Matthew Van Fleet - These two books, filled with rhyme, tabs, and terrific textures,  invite the reader to play, while learning a bit about animal heads and tails.  In Heads, all the animals are named in a large fold-out page at the end, so it is a great reference.  The end of Tails parallels the first book by bringing in the same animal at the end, but Van Fleet adds on with a re-read activity, inviting the reader to go back and find 1 skunk, 2 tigers, ..., 10 pigs.  Be ready to use your senses (if you are brave enough to scratch & sniff a skunk)! (Ages 2+)

Look!  A Book! A Zany Seek-and-Find Adventure by Bob Staake - Remember Where's Waldo?  This fun, interactive book is reminiscent of finding that fun-loving guy in the red and white striped shirt in the midst of chaos. Staake draws the reader's attention to pieces of a larger spread by cutting literal holes in the page.  Turn the page and you see the big picture. The rhyme asks the reader to find a specific item.  In searching is the fun, as readers/observers delve into a themed illustration full of the expected and unexpected.  Pages include Things That Go and Treetop Town(Ages 3+)
Can You See What I See? series by Walter Wick - Walter Wick is a masterful photographer, creating scenes around themes and using that photograph to illustrate a puzzle rhyme that has the reader eagerly scouring the picture to find all the hidden objects.  Trucks and Cars (Ages 2+) was a hit with my boys.  Once Upon a Time: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve (Ages 6+) has gorgeous spreads of different fairy tales.  Wick has also collaborated with Jean Marzollo on the popular I Spy series.
Zoom by Istvan Banyai - This exquisite wordless picture book is not what it seems. A picture within a picture, Banyai uses each spread to draw the eye further out.  The book jacket says it best: "Just when you think you know where you are, guess again.  Nothing is as it seems."  Zoom! (Ages 5+)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: ART
Author/Illustrator: Patrick McDonnell
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company/ 2006
Genre/Audience: Fiction/ Preschool-Grade 3
Themes: Art!, Daydreaming, Inspiration

"This is Art.  And this is art.  Art and his art.  Can you tell them apart?"

Synopsis: From School Library Journal - In a play on words that carries throughout the story, Art, a young boy, joyfully tries his hand at all kinds of art. He DRAWS SCRIBBLES THAT SQUIGGLE, SPLOTCHES WITH BLOTCHES, ZIGS and ZAGS, doodles and dogs, and so much more. His creations, rendered in watercolor and crayon, extend from the drizzles on the title page to swirls and curls and Jackson Pollock-like spreads until the doodles become a picture in which Art and his dog blast off for the moon: THERE'S NO STOPPING ART...WHEN ART IS INSPIRED. He falls asleep amid his work and awakens to find it on the refrigerator, PUT THERE BY MOTHER 'CAUSE MOTHER LOVES ART. The rhyming text is brief and takes a backseat to the little boy's exuberant pictures. This story, along with Peter H. Reynolds's The Dot (Candlewick, 2003), can free up hesitant artists to let their talent shine.-Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT

Why I Love This Book:
My boys and I have fallen in love with this book (it's on its third renewal from the library!)  It is a simple rhyme with a fun pun and the art takes center stage.  This is a breath of fresh air, giving children the permission and encouragement they need to make their own art, drawing from their own inspiration.  One of my favorite lines: "Art stares at the paper and uses his noodle to conjure up a perfect doodle."  Unfortunately, this gem of a book is out-of-print.  And used copies are expensive.  I've looked!  So head to your library to enjoy this beautiful play on Art, the boy, and his art.

Click here for book trailer, blurb, and author info.
Click here for ART word jumble.
Click here for Abstract Expressionist art.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankfulness (and a Turkey...and some Monsters!)

Thanksgiving is fast approaching.  It makes sense that November is associated with giving thanks.  But shouldn't we be doing that right along?  Developing a sense of gratitude, beyond a mumbled "thank you" is, in my view, essential for empathy, courtesy, and community.  Even if my boys don't always understand the "why" behind our family routines, they learn as they grow that saying "Thank you for dinner" to the one placing food on the table is at once polite, respectful, and thankful for that day's meal.  Here is an interesting assortment of books related to gratefulness.  From a silly turkey tale, to a Native American Thanksgiving Address, to a child's perspective on thanks, to a monster book (!), I hope you find some fun and thankfulness to share with your kids this season.  I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year, so I'm taking next Wednesday off in preparation! I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my love of children's books with all of you, my faithful readers.  Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message (Author: Chief Jake Swamp; Illustrator: Erwin Printup, Jr.) – Opening: “To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life.”  Ever so humble, this beautiful book reminds us of all that we have to be thankful for.  In the Author’s Note, Chief Swamp provides the background for this book: “The words in this book are based on the Thanksgiving Address, an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.”  

All of Me!: A Book of Thanks (Molly Bang) – In a variation on toddler books that teach body parts and senses, Molly Bang illustrates a book in which a child gives thanks for a fully functioning body and all the marvelous things it can do.  Using paper bags and various artsy odds and ends, her illustrations are kid-friendly and highly accessible, to the point that it teaches readers how to make their own books. (See the back endpapers!)  This lovely, simple book from a child’s perspective brings home the need to give thanks for our amazing bodies!
Beauty and the Beaks: A Turkey’s Cautionary Tale (Mary Jane and Herm Auch) – From School Library Journal: “Wonderfully creative handmade characters and sets are the highlight of this over-the-top chicken tale…. A humorous story about dressing a turkey, but not in the usual manner.”  If you have not picked up any of Mary Jane and Herm Auch’s books, you are missing out!  Their photographed chicken sculptures/scenes draw the reader in as much as the story, which in itself if full of wit, puns, and barnyard humor!  In this off-beat Thanksgiving story, the hens of The Chic Hen Beauty Shop stop at nothing to help an arrogant (and ignorant) turkey (“This feast is a very eggsclusive event.  There’s only one bird invited. Me!”) avoid the fate of being stuffed with chestnuts.  You’ll be groaning your way through this delightful book…and not because you ate too much at Thanksgiving!

The Monsters’ Monster (Patrick McDonnell) – First of all, who can resist the opening line: “Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom thought they were monsters.”?  Patrick McDonnell’s illustrations are quirky, exaggerated, and cartoonish; perfectly suited for this hilarious book about little, BAD monsters who decide to create a BIG, BAD monster.  Only their plan doesn’t go as they'd hoped.  Their BIG, BAD monster is… thankful, gentle, and generous!  An oddly appropriate book for the Thanksgiving season.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday


Title: Epossumondas
Author/Illustrator: Coleen Salley/ Janet Steves
Publisher/Date: Harcourt, Inc./ 2002
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 3-7
Themes: Folktales (retelling), Noodlehead Stories, southern United States

"Epossumondas was his mama's and his auntie's sweet little patootie.  They just loved him to death."

Synopsis: From Publishers Weekly -

"Foolish Jack is cast here as a pampered, over-mothered Louisiana possum in a refreshingly retold version by New Orleans storyteller Salley (Who's That Trippin' over My Bridge?). This familiar story takes on new silliness as the improbable possum-child interacts with his human mother. And what a mother (fans of Stevens's To Market, to Market will recognize her as the same model)! Stevens, in wickedly observant pencil and watercolor illustrations, characterizes the doting matriarch and her sister as matronly, doughy-cheeked ladies in cat-eye glasses and flowery dresses circa 1952. When the aunt sends cake home with Epossumondas, he scrunches it in his hand and ruins it. His mother chides him, "Oh, Epossumondas, you don't have the sense you were born with!" and advises him next time to carry cake on his head. When his auntie gives him butter, he unthinkingly follows his mother's advice regarding cake transport. "What you got, Epossumondas?" a raccoon asks, as the butter streams down the possum's face. "Butter," he replied. "Hmm. Don't look much like butter to me," Raccoon says drily. Salley narrates the series of mishaps with a storyteller's impeccable timing and a pleasing Southern patois that should inspire many spirited read-alouds. A note at book's end gives an overview of the tale's many incarnations all over the world."

Why I Love This Book:
First, I couldn't resist the cover.  I discovered this book because of the illustrator, Janet Stevens, who also illustrated To Market, To Market (which I recently posted here as a perfect picture book).  While not story related, the mother-figure is the same character, and based on renowned children's literature professor, storyteller, and author Coleen Salley!  Once I recognized this, I had to read this story.  Now, I'm not familiar with noodlehead stories.  Foolish Jack and Epaminondas are new to me and I'm fascinated by this genre of folktale (I love trickster stories, too!).  This is a funny take on the classic, where the main character is a possum! A helpful "Storyteller's Note" at the end talks about the incarnation of noodlehead stories around the world. 

Lesson Plan for Epossumondas:
Epaminondas story:
Lesson Plan for Foolish Jack (includes listing of similar tales from around the world):
Books dedicated to Coleen Salley:

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Lesson on Literacy: the Rocket Books

You have until 6PM EST, Thursday, November 8 to vote for your favorite Halloween story!  Get to Susanna Leonard Hill's site by clicking HERE.

A friend and former colleague recently recommended these books to me.  We taught third grade together and I always looked forward to her latest and greatest picture book finds.  Well, these hit the mark.  Perfect for both teachers and parents, the Rocket stories are endearing, but never preachy.  Literacy can make a great story! 

How Rocket Learned to Read (Tad Hills) - Opening: "Rocket loved to play.  He loved to chase leaves and chew sticks.  He loved to listen to the birds sing."  A lovable dog, doing lovable dog things.  Until he is awakened from a nap by a little yellow bird, insisting that she is the teacher and he is the student!  After which comes my favorite line: "Rocket found it hard to argue with this bird."  Rocket becomes captivated by a read-aloud, but the bird stops on a cliff-hanger!  Rocket arrives early the next morning to find out how the story turned out.  Thus begins Rocket's literary journey.  He learns the alphabet and how to write his name.  "He spelled everything." 

When the little yellow bird returns in the spring, they read, and the book closes with "And when they were done, they read it again.  And again.  And A-G-A-I-N.

The bird is symbolic of the most beloved teacher you have ever had, the most inspiring, the most patient.  Rocket is the most reluctant student who is then reached by a caring and willing teacher.  May this book be shared far and wide!

Rocket Writes a Story (Tad Hills) - Opening: "Rocket loved books.  He loved to read them to himself or to sit quietly by his teacher, the little yellow bird, as she read them aloud."  I love this parallel opening to the first book.  One of my favorite lines in this book comes from the little yellow bird: "Books are inspiring!  They make me sing." 

In this terrific sequel, Rocket collects words.

He decides to write a story.  "But no story would come."  He finds inspiration in pine needles and feathers and tries to make friends with a mysterious animal in a pine tree. He arrives at the tree to find "O-W-L.... It was a present."  Rocket decides to write a story about the owl.  He found his inspiration, overcame writer's block, interviewed the owl, revised to include details, and even illustrated his story.  What better way to teach the writing process than by writing a compelling story about writing? 

Author Resources: - Author website includes information on the books and iPad App - an interview with Tad Hills

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I'm a "Halloweensie Contest" Finalist! Please vote for your favorite!

Warning: Shameless self-promotion about to ensue....

I am so thrilled to have had my short, little "Halloweensie" story chosen as one of the eight finalists in Susanna Leonard Hill's contest.  SO, if you'd like to vote for more than president today, head over to her site to vote for your favorite short story.  I'll let you be objective (but if you've been reading my blog, you'll know which one is mine!  Or if you scroll down... Okay, okay, I'll let you be objective :)

Without further ado, VOTE HERE!  (You have until Thursday, Nov. 8, at 6pm EST to vote.)


Friday, November 2, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: In November
Author/Illustrator: Cynthia Rylant/ Jill Kastner
Publisher/Date: Harcourt, Inc./ 2000
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 4-7
Themes: Seasonal Changes, November, Senses, Poetic Language, Family, Nature

"In November, the earth is growing quiet. It is making its bed, a winter bed for flowers and small creatures. The bed is white and silent, and much life can hide beneath its blankets."


From Booklist - "... Poetic language and lovely oil paintings evoke the traditional and seasonal activities that occur in November. Families gather around the table for a Thanksgiving feast, cats snuggle together in the corner of the barn, "staying birds" bid farewell to "leaving birds" beginning their long journeys. Rylant's words are simple but evocative and filled with wonderful sensory images, similes, and metaphors: the bare November trees are "all sticks and bones . . . spreading their arms like dancers." The smell of November food "is an orange smell. A squash and a pumpkin smell." The verbal images are splendidly captured in Kastner's soft-edged, double-spread paintings, which are rendered in a palette of warm autumn colors and sepia tones. The rich illustrations, done in a painterly style with obvious brushstrokes and texture built up from thick layers of oil paint, are a perfect match for the text. This handsome book is sure to become a new fall favorite. Lauren Peterson; Copyright © American Library Association.

Why I Love This Book:
I love any book by Cynthia Rylant.  She has a way with words that makes me sit up and take notice.  She is my model and inspiration as I look my dream of being a writer in the eye.  November is here and all the nature and family-related aspects of the month are given lyrical time and attention.  Poetic prose allows for a close look at ordinary events that might otherwise be missed.  And the lovely paintings are the perfect complement to the text.

Rylant uses the repeating line "In November".  This is a terrific writing exercise.  Use the same line, create your own to repeat, even make it a class-collaboration and put it on display.

Research birds that migrate and "the staying birds".  Identify species for each category in your area.  How do "the staying birds" survive the winter?

Research hibernation.  The line that I want to know more about is: "Bees pile up in deep, earthy holes."

Share family Thanksgiving traditions.  Use the five senses to describe a favorite holiday food.

Take a nature walk in November.  How is the world changing from fall to winter?  Take notes.  Collect artifacts, such as acorns or colorful leaves.

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