Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When Spanish and English Join Together...

There has been a proliferation in recent years of books that use both English and Spanish text. What better way to give students whose first language is Spanish, or Spanish is spoken at home, access to reading and to story?

Ann Whitford Paul has a series of picture books in this vein. With a Southwestern vibe, four friends (Iguana, Conejo, Tortuga, and Culebra, i.e. Iguana, Rabbit, Turtle, and Snake) share many adventures. Paul has a way of crafting her stories so that the Spanish words are understandable to English speakers and vice versa. This technique could make for a stilted or explanatory story, but it does not. Spanish words are repeated in English by another character or the context gives a direct clue as to the word's meaning. There is also a glossary in each book, if you're stumped.

Ethan Long furnishes the illustrations, which offer colorful characters and exaggerated expressions. They also provide an excellent scaffold for deciphering the meaning of unknown Spanish/English words.

And another plus? Some of these are fractured fairy tales! Enjoy!

MaƱana, Iguana (2004) - A retelling of The Little Red Hen.

Fiesta Fiasco (2007) - The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books calls this “A creatively executed original trickster tale.”

Count on Culebra: Go from 1 to 10 in Spanish (2008) - Culebra plays doctor and gets Iguana to forget her throbbing toe through counting.

Tortuga in Trouble (2009) - A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Friday, May 24, 2013

PPBF: Tap Dancing on the Roof

TitleTap Dancing on the Roof
Author/Illustrator: Linda Sue Park/Istvan Banyai
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2007
Genre/Audience: Poetry/Ages 4-8
Themes: sijo (Korean poetic form), events in a day, school year, seasons

Opening: (First poem)


For this meal, people like what they like, the same every morning.
Toast and coffee. Bagel and juice. Cornflakes and milk in a white bowl.

Or--warm, soft, and delicious--a few extra minutes in bed.

Synopsis: (From

"A sijo, a traditional Korean verse form, has a fixed number of stressed syllables and a humorous or ironic twist at the end. Like haiku, sijo are brief and accessible, and the witty last line winds up each poem with a surprise. The verses in this book illuminate funny, unexpected, amazing aspects of the everyday--of breakfast, thunder and lightning, houseplants, tennis, freshly laundered socks. Carefully crafted and deceptively simple, Linda Sue Park's sijo are a pleasure to read and an irresistible invitation to experiment with an unfamiliar poetic form. Istvan Banyai's irrepressibly giddy and sophisticated illustrations add a one-of-a-kind luster to a book that is truly a gem."

Why I Love This Book:
I love that sijo is a lesser-known cousin to haiku. It has a specific number of syllables and, with a surprise ending, each poem delights. There are so many ways to extend this to the literacy classroom. Linda Sue Park has proven herself a master of many children's genres, from her Newbery Award winning novel A Single Shard to picture books and poetry, her books are a sure bet.

Great general resource:

Sijo writing competition, open to students grade 12 and younger

Linda Sue Park's website

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Author/Illustrator: Paul Schmid

Does your library display books on top of the children's shelves? Mine does. For me, this is eye candy. This is the check-out line impulse buy. I scan the book covers and take half the inventory. The librarians have to restock the displays when I'm done. (And they probably cringe when they see me coming.) Shelf-top books are where it's at.

This is where I found the next treasure I'm going to share with you. And the treasure is author/illustrator Paul Schmid. You know you've found gold when you read a book and immediately request everything else that person has written. So it was for me and Mr. Schmid. Let's take a tour, shall we?

A Pet for Petunia (2011): Opening: "Petunia likes skunks. No, that's not exactly right. (page turn) Petunia LOVES skunks!" I was hooked. This is a simple, quirky, perfectly preschool read. Petunia does what any child who wants a pet does: she begs, she promises her parents impossible things, she pleads, and when her parents refuse ("'They stink,' say her parents."), she throws a tantrum and plays all her cards (it's not fair, you don't love me, I'll die if I don't get one, and, my favorite, "Why did I have to get born into THIS family?"). Petunia is determined, but in for a surprise. Read this clever take on an age-old childhood request to find out how Petunia reacts when she discovers her parents are telling the truth.

Petunia Goes Wild (2012): Petunia is back in another animal-related adventure, but this time, she's the animal. Opening: "Monday morning Petunia, growling and snorting, ate her breakfast off the kitchen floor." Again, an excellent hook. In this pet book with a twist, Petunia's parents are the ones who throw a tantrum and use every line in the book to refuse her request. This fresh, fun sequel is just as entertaining as the first.

Hugs from Pearl (2011): Pearl is a lovable porcupine with a problem. She loves to hug, but her hugs "were just a little ouchy." I like the voice in this book. The narrator speaks to the reader and you feel like you are right there with Pearl, watching her try various ways to solve her prickly problem. She has empathy, perseverance, and, by the end, lots of hugs to share.

Perfectly Percy (2013): Percy is Pearl's little brother. In this sequel, he also has a prickly problem to solve because his favorite things are balloons: "But HAPPY little porcupines with balloons are soon SAD little porcupines." Percy thinks hard to find a solution, but he can only think of ice cream. Pearl's ideas "were not very practical" and mom is busy. When Percy has run out of thoughts, a solution presents itself. Even if it means skipping breakfast :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Canoe Season

The weather is finally warming up and with it comes of the promise of closer communing with nature. I used to live near a lake where I could going kayaking in observant solitude. I'd bring my writer's notebook and jot down the color of the sky, the smell of the marsh, the way the light shone on the duck's feathers. So peaceful and serene.

These two selections highlight that feeling and both take place in a canoe. Whether on the water or in the woods, I hope you find time to get back to nature. Enjoy!

Sleepy River by Hanna Bandes; Illustrated by Jeanette Winter (Philomel Books, 1993) - I love the connection between mother and child as she shares the wonder of night fall near their village. Rich with literary elements, such as onomatopoeia and alliteration, this book begs to be read aloud. While this book feels hushed, mirroring the end of the day, it is also full of animation as wildlife hunt and congregate in the dusk. When darkness falls, another world wakes and is full of life. The book closes with a lullaby: The sleek canoe slips to the shore, stars sing a silent symphony." Unfortunately, this gem is out-of-print. Hopefully your library has it!

Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen; Illustrated by Ruth Wright Paulsen (Dragonfly Books, 1999) - Peace. Stillness. Quiet. Nature observation at its best.  Paulsen's poetic language draws the reader onto the lake with him and his canoe.  My favorite line?  "The water is a window into the skylake."  The accompanying illustration perfectly captures the mirror image of the lake's edge in the glassy water. Step into this silent canoe day and be rewarded with nature's wonders.

Friday, May 10, 2013

PPBF: Nibbles: A Green Tale

Title: Nibbles: A Green Tale
Author/Illustrator: Charlotte Middleton
Publisher/Date: Marshall Cavendish Children/2009
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 6+
Themes: guinea pigs, gardening, conservation/sustainability 

"If there was one thing Nibbles loved more than soccer, it was... eating dandelion leaves. He ate dandelion leaves... at breakfast time, at lunch time, and at dinner time."

Synopsis: (From
"The guinea pigs of Dandeville love munching dandelion leaves so much that slowly but surely dandelions are disappearing all over town. Soon there is only one dandelion left! A little guinea pig named Nibbles finds this last dandelion right outside his window. What should he do? Nibbles finds a way to save the day—and the dandelions—in this green tale, which is captured in unique mixed-media artwork."

Why I Love This Book
First, the irony of a story based on the disappearance of dandelions tickles the funny bone. And what a fun way to learn about gardening and sustainability! Nibbles is so resourceful and so huggable that you can't help but love his character. This is a simple read with an important message. And there is even a sequel: Nibbles' Garden: Another Green Tale.

Eating Dandelions is not just for animals!

Gardening for Kids

Seed Dispersal Methods

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Three Little Pigs - Post 2 of 2

Back for more Three Little Pigs? There are so many fun variations to share. Enjoy this week's selections!

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka; Illustrated by Lane Smith - Told in the first person by A. Wolf, this clever twist shows the Big Bad Wolf in a different light: "I don't know how this whole Big Bad Wolf thing got started, but it's all wrong." Do you need more to entice you? "The real story is about a sneeze and a cup of sugar." This is a classic (pub. 1989) and still one of my favorite variations on the theme of the Three Little Pigs.

The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz; Illustrated by Dan Santat - One of the most recent spins on this story (pub. 2012), The Three Ninja Pigs is the story of a bully and the three pigs who enroll in Ninja School to stop him. Written in a romping rhyme and paired with multi-framed spreads that look like stills from an Asian action movie, this unique retelling manages to defeat the wolf (as expected) while also emphasizing the character traits of perseverance and dedication. A winner!

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas; Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury - My boys were tickled by this title, as they immediately got the joke. While written in the same vein as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, this follows the traditional storyline more closely, only to get progressively more and more ridiculous. The images of the wolves playing leisurely garden games is juxtaposed with the pig's destructive tools. This silly book has an equally silly ending.

The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell; Illustrated by Jim Harris - In a Southwestern twist, javelinas (cousins of pigs) build their houses of tumbleweeds, saguaro ribs, and adobe bricks. But what happens when Coyote decides to have pig for dinner? Learn about the source of Coyote, the trickster, in the author's note at the end.