Sunday, March 29, 2015

Thank you, Jackson

Thank you, Jackson
written by Niki Daly; illustrated by Jude Daly
2015 (Frances Lincoln)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Mama says," explained Goodwill, "that it's the little things, like saying please and thank you, that make a big difference in the world."

Each morning, a farmer in Africa takes a load of fruits and vegetables to the market to sell. Jackson the donkey carries this load up a large hill without fail and without complaining until one morning when he stops halfway. Frustrated, the farmer fusses and fumes at the donkey, but Jackson doesn't move. The farmer pulls on Jackson, but to no avail. Starting to lose his mind, the farmer hurls verbal abuse at the donkey. At this point, Jackson decides to sit down and all the produce falls down the hill. The farmer, at wits end, searches for a stick. He shows Jackson the stick and starts a count. Beauty, the farmer's wife, sees and hears what is happening on the hill. She sends her son, Goodwill, to help his father with the donkey. The farmer reaches ten in his count and is about to strike Jackson when Goodwill intervenes. With a simple yet profound gesture, Goodwill saves the day. Jackson moves again, the farmer sees the error of his ways, and the produce is sold at the market. When the family returns home, the farmer takes a cue from his wise son.

Thank you, Jackson teaches three important lessons. The first lesson is to not take something for granted. Show your appreciation every day. Please and thank you go a long way in doing this. Second, no one is too small to do something big. Goodwill shows great wisdom and courage in doing the right thing. Third, the farmer learns from his mistake and shows contrition. Teachers and parents can model this when we make mistakes in front of children. Own your mistake and be transparent.

This is a terrific book for teaching the virtue of gratitude. The text is simple which allows readers to concentrate on comprehending. It's a tale that should be read by children and adults.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich
written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach
2015 (Borzoi Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It all started with the bear.

This may be my favorite sandwich story since Ross Gellar's Moist-Maker. An unseen narrator sets out to tell the tale of how a sandwich went missing. As you see above, the blame is laid at the paws of a undernourished ursine. Said bear was doing what looks like tai'chi moves one morning when he spots an unattended pickup truck with boxes of berries in the bed. He crawls into the truck, feasts, and curls up for a nap. As he snoozes, the truck takes him into a different kind of forest. One that features tall buildings instead of tall trees. No problem. There are many enticing aspects to this new forest. Great smells like popcorn in the park and fun adventures like a merry-go-round and a slide thrill the bear. From the top of the slide, he spies two lonely slices of bread. Drawn by the call of the sandwich siren, the bear maneuvers toward the unprotected meal. Stealthy moves are employed to overtake it. As he finishes off his find, the bear notices that other animals have been watching him. Startled, he races out of the park and ends up on a boat that leads him back to his forest. So who made this eyewitness report? That is the most excellent surprise that awaits readers at the end of the story.

If you teach beginning lessons on types of narrators, this is a cute book to help you with that task. I also think this could be a nice small moment mentor text. Don't speed through the illustrations either. There are several funny little details. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich will amuse your primary readers who always like a surprise at the end. It's the text equivalent of the prize in the box of Cracker Jacks. Yes, I skew kind of old.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Superhero Onomatopoeia Day!


It was Superhero Onomatopoeia Day in my classroom. What you can't see below each plate is a paragraph describing their superpowers. The funniest thing in the descriptions were non sequiturs such as "I like ice cream." Can you imagine Batman saying "My favorite flavor is chocolate"?


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Big Book of Color

The Big Book of Color
written by Stephanie Meissner; illustrated by Lisa Martin and Damian Barlow
2015 (Walter Foster Jr.)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

When you look at the cover of this book, you might expect a cutesy book for really young readers. It is a cute book, but this also contains high level information for budding artists. The color wheel starts the fun with several examples of how primary colors combine to make secondary colors. On the following spread, you learn about tertiary colors. These are when you mix a primary color with a secondary color. You know, the really cool colors in that box of 32 crayons like blue-green and yellow-orange. One of the great features of The Big Book of Color is the opportunity for readers to try out the techniques they are being taught. With the color wheel, readers complete their own with a blank wheel in the back.

Now the vocabulary kicks into another gear. New terms that I learned include complementary colors which are the colors opposite of each other on the color wheel. Think purple and yellow or orange and blue. Highlighting this section is a beautiful two page spread showing complementary colors in nature. Analogous colors follow. They are the colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Another feature of natural occurrences of these colors accompanies this section. Color and value talks about how you can add white, black, or gray to create different values. Features on monochromatic colors, warm and cool colors, and color mood round out the high level vocabulary.

The final section highlights individual colors by categorizing them, showcasing items that are this color, fun facts about the color, and different hues of the color. Each eight page section is a colorful splash of information. There is also a place for the reader to play with the color at the end of each color piece.

This is a terrific book for students who are interested in art. They will learn a lot of new information and get a chance to play with that new knowledge. I'm very impressed with the vocabulary and the attractiveness of the illustrations. This would be a great birthday gift for a kid. It would also be a nice addition to a kindergarten class that was learning their colors.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animals
written and illustrated by Mia Posada
2014 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A hunter traveling by full moon's glow
left paw tracks in fresh forest snow.
Racing through the night with its pack
chasing its prey, teeth bared in attack.


Who Was Here? is a combination of poetry and informational text that focuses on animals and the tracks that they leave behind. Featured animals include camels, snakes and wolves. In each section, a quatrain contains clues as to what animal made the tracks. Readers have to turn the page to see if their prediction is correct about the animal. What they will find is a paragraph of informational text. I like the abundant use of vivid verbs in the quatrains. A great activity for a classroom would be to use the poetry for shared readings. With the emphasis on informational text in the Common Core, this is a way for primary classrooms to sneak in extra nonfiction. Another strong feature of this book is the geographic spread of featured animals. All continents with the exception of Antarctica are featured. It would be fun to pin tags of animal locations on a world map.

With Who Was Here? as inspiration, you could use a foot template and have students write an informational text about themselves on one side. On the other side of the foot, a poem could be written.

I like books that invite the reader to actively participate and this book certainly does this by looking for a prediction. The animal lovers in your class, and that would be everybody, will enjoy Who Was Here?.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Before We Eat: From Farm to Table

Before We Eat: From Farm to Table
written by Pat Brisson; illustrated by Mary Azarian
2014 (Tilbury House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

As we sit around this table let's give thanks as we are able
to all the folks we'll never meet who helped provide this food we eat.

Cue Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. This rhyming paean to workers sheds light on the many hands that make the everyday possible. I know I take for granted the easy accessibility of the food that I eat. Earlier this evening, I was complaining in my head that my local store didn't have a better selection of bagged apples. I should be grateful that there were apples available at all.

  Before We Eat pays tribute to the workers who plow the fields, plant the seeds, pull in the nets, and all the other tasks that bring us the food that we eat. The rhyming text and Mary Azarian's wood carving illustrations are a fine tribute to those who don't receive a lot of credit for the important things that grace our tables.

With younger students, you could create a circle map and write down who was responsible for the lunch that was just eaten. Older students could create a flow chart to show the sequence of how the food that was in their lunchbox arrived there. This could also lead to discussions of reading labels and the availability of fresh food. There are many possibilities for lessons involving Before We Eat.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Poetry Friday: The Snow Man


Check out Poetry Friday at Robyn Campbell




The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Work Hard. Do I Work Smart?

Hooray! I took two years of loose papers and put them into notebooks according to month. This was a daunting task that I have been putting off. Thanks to our recent run of snow days, I was able to devote several hours and get this done. Completing this made me think about my work habits. I work hard. I'm usually doing something at school or home without a lot of down time. That's okay because I'm happiest accomplishing tasks. Others like to veg out, but that's not always for me. What I may not be doing is working smart. Reinventing the wheel every year has been my habit. I'm hoping the notebooks will stop that routine. Now I can see where I need more materials to plug in the holes during the year. I can also weed out activities that I no longer use. You know that new show on Fox, "Last Man on Earth"? I think I am "Last Man on Earth to Use Notebooks."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street
written by Matt De La Pena; illustrated by Christian Robinson
2014 (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Source: Orange County Public Library

CJ bounced down the church steps and felt the rain beginning to fall. He and his Nana walked to the bus stop. CJ asks why they don't have a car and Nana explained that they had a bus that breathed fire and a friend, the bus driver, who always had a trick. Sure enough, the bus driver pulled a coin from behind CJ's ear. As the bus motored on, CJ wondered why they always had to travel to the same destination after church. He looked longingly at a group of boys playing on their bikes. Nana told him that she felt sorry for people who didn't get to meet the friends who were waiting for them. During the bus ride, a blind man and a guitar player opened another sensory world for CJ as he listened to the music and closed his eyes per the blind man's instructions. The last stop on Market Street brought CJ and Nana to their Sunday destination. He marveled how Nana could find the beauty among the sights of decay. When they arrived, familiar faces waved from inside. A line of people stood outside. CJ and Nana were there to provide what Nana called a "better witness for what's beautiful."

Last Stop on Market Street is a wonderful story about two people who are making the world a better place. It's also about noticing the beauty in your life and circumstance. Nana is a terrific role model for all of us.

This would be a good book to use with a unit on community helpers. It would also be good to use if you have a celebration for Grandparents Day or working on the definitions for urban, suburban and rural.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
written by Katherine Applegate; illustrated by G. Brian Karas
2014 (Clarion Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Ivan was born in central Africa. He was a western lowland gorilla. One day poachers stole him and another baby gorilla. Purchased like an everyday item, they were delivered to a shopping mall owner in Tacoma, Washington. Ivan's fellow gorilla died soon after. He lived in a human home until he became too big at age five. Ivan was relegated to a cage in a shopping mall. It was a lonely life for the silverback gorilla. Eventually, people realized that this was not a proper life for a gorilla. They wrote letters and signed petitions to protest his living conditions. After twenty-seven years of living in a cage, he was transported to Zoo Atlanta where he was able to live in a place with grass, trees and other gorillas. He spent the last 18 years of his life at Zoo Atlanta.

The One and Only Ivan is a rightfully beloved novel also written by Katherine Applegate. Having read the novel, I appreciated learning new facts about Ivan. The picture book will serve as a good introduction for students in second or third grade who may be interested in reading the novel. I think it can also be a springboard for a discussion of how animals are treated by humans. I was bothered by a recent television commercial where a mom promises to take her daughter to a pet store. I see a lot of pets in shelters that need adopting. I wasn't alone in being annoyed. The commercial has since been altered.

Ivan would also be good to share during our unit on opinion writing. It was the opinion of thousands of adults and children that led to his relocation to Atlanta. We can use this book to show that opinions can make positive changes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream
written and illustrated by Bob Graham
2014 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

So how can I teach children that their actions have a ripple effect either negative or positive? I can talk to them and give examples from my life. If they're not busy picking apart the carpet or tying their shoelaces together, they might listen. I've found a better way. Bob Graham's Vanilla Ice Cream features a curious sparrow from India that finds an open bag of rice on a truck bed. The sparrow stays with the load of rice unintentionally as it makes its way through a city and onto a ship. This ship is heading toward Sydney with one truck-stop sparrow in tow. The sparrow flies through Sydney and finds toddler Edie Irvine sitting in a stroller. Edie is out and about with her grandparents. They stop at the Cafe Botanica where the sparrow, a dog and ice cream combine to rock Edie's world with a new sensory experience. Graham does not use a lot of text but instead engages in storytelling with brilliant watercolor art that gives a panoramic view. It's the picture book equivalent of a wide screen movie and it's fantastic for working on how to infer.

Vanilla Ice Cream demonstrates how the smallest of actions and beings can change the lives of others. It's enormously important that children understand how their actions affect other people. Reading this book can help bring about a discussion of this. Plus, you will get to say to students throughout the year, "Be the bird." They will understand that you are asking for positive actions.

If you are not familiar with Bob Graham, go to your library and find his books. He's able to convey great truths about life without knocking you over the head with a message.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

A Fine Dessert
written by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
2015 (Schwartz & Wade Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A bit more than three hundred years ago, in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries.

Next year, I think I'm going to have a social studies unit based on desserts. I'll have to exercise a little bit more at recess to work off the extra calories, but we can do this! Why the enthusiasm for this new unit? A Fine Dessert, which features four families in four different centuries making the same dessert: blackberry fool. This dessert timeline began in 1710 in the English town of Lyme where a girl and her mother collected blackberries to make dessert. Using a bundle of twigs, the girl whisked the cream from that evening's milk for 15 minutes to make whipped cream. After mixing in the pressed blackberries, they took the dessert to an ice pit in the hillside, where it chilled near sheets of winter ice. When the main course of dinner was complete, the girl and her mother served the blackberry fool to Father and the girl's older brothers. The illustrations of the family and their home give you an idea of the clothing and norms of that time period.

One hundred years later, outside of Charleston, South Carolina, a girl and her mother picked blackberries from the plantation garden. The girl used cream from a nearby dairy and a metal whisk made by the blacksmith to make whipped cream in ten minutes. A wooden box, stacked with blocks of ice, lined with lead, and insulated with cork, held the blackberry mixture until it was served to the master's family at supper. The girl and her mother hid in a closet and licked the bowl. This part of the book is an excellent lesson on how to "show, don't tell" in your writing. The reader is never told that slaves are making this dessert, but you can practice using context clues to infer this piece of information.

A mother and daughter in 1910 Boston and a father and son in 2010 San Diego complete the four families in the book. A Fine Dessert is a rich history lesson. You can compare society over the centuries. I would have students look at the family illustrations from 1810 and 2010 and compare. Technology can also be compared, in the form of the methods to whisk the cream, and how to make and store the dessert. Notes in the back matter from the author and illustrator provide more information and insights into the making of the book. These notes would be great to share with students learning how to do research. With the inclusion of the recipe, it would be fun to let a few students try their hand at whisking the cream and making the dessert.

I really admire how this book is smartly written and illustrated. It is certainly one of the tastiest history lessons you will encounter.