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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Raindrops Roll

Raindrops Roll
written and photographed by April Pulley Sayre
*Kudos to Jeff Sayre for the tree frog photograph!
2015 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Rain is coming. You can feel it in the air.

Raindrops Roll is a series of spectacular photographs accompanied by simple (In size only.) sentences that explore the effects of rain. (Reading the first sentence above makes me want to also accompany it with a Phil Collins drum roll from In the Air Tonight. It's hard to type when you are playing air drums.) The first set of photographs show different insects finding a place to hide from the rainstorm. Following these are sentences with vivid verbs (plop, patter, spatter) rhyming and vivid pictures to illustrate the power of these drops. The photographs could easily be the star of the show here, but don't be fooled. It is incredibly difficult to write sentences that have a rhythm and throw in other techniques like alliteration. As a wanna-be author, I stink at this. This would be a great text to use to show alliteration doesn't have to occur with the first word of a phrase or sentence:

They magnify and mingle and moisten.

The bow on this present of hermosa agua is the back matter. Detailed text explains why water falls to the land and how it can change forms. This would be an excellent resource for a unit on the water cycle. Grab a water bottle, slip on some Ramona Quimby red rain boots and enjoy reading and seeing Raindrops Roll.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Poetry Friday - Safety Splash


Check out Poetry Friday at Teacher Dance!

We bought an old house recently and with the cold weather, I have been slightly obsessed with the pipes freezing. As a result, you have today's poem. So far, so good with the pipes!

Safety Splash 
(Not to be confused with the Safety Dance which was a really bad '80s song. This is just a really bad poem for a small audience.)

Drip, drip, drip, 
A drop over the lip.
Lever pushed but not too much, 
Pinch the handle with a delicate touch.

Drip, drip, drip,
The body in bed will flip.
Many thoughts crowd the mind,
Lying in bed, hard to unwind.

Drip, drip, drip,
No room to stumble or trip.
The night air hovers close to zero,
Can't have a plumber being the hero.

Drip, drip, drip,
Early sun through the curtains can slip.
Jump out of bed to check the tap,
Not south enough to miss the cold snap.

©Jeff Barger 2015


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Little Bird Takes a Bath

Little Bird Takes a Bath
written and illustrated by Marisabina Russo
2015 (Schwartz and Wade Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Rain, rain, gone away," sang Little Bird,
who always started his day with a song. 
"What a perfect day for a bath."

Little Bird was not a happy fowl. He saw the rainy night before him and made a face not unlike a Little League baseball player having his game rained out. When he woke up, Little Bird saw a sunny day from his ledge. Time to find a place to take a bath! Flying through the pleasant cityscape, he couldn't find the perfect puddle. Finally, a landing spot presented itself inside a park. Little Bird started splashing when he heard "bounce, bounce, bouncing" coming toward him. A blue rubber ball chased him from his bath. When quiet returned, he landed back in the shrinking puddle. "Flip, flop, flapping" was the sound that chased him a second time from his chosen water spot. A little girl in a sun dress was playfully splashing through the puddle. Soon the girl passed by and Little Bird was again in the puddle and was this time singing. "Arf, arf, arfing" raced toward him. The third time was not the charm for Little Bird. Instead, it was time to be despondent because there was not enough water left for a bath on this day. Heading home with disappointed wings, a surprised awaited Little Bird.

Young readers can relate to a character who runs into problems when they're trying to accomplish something. Who hasn't had a pencil lead break, a paper tear, or lost an eraser when it was time to write? Sometimes the most comfortable seat in the reading area is taken two seconds before you get there. Life comes with its hurdles. I like that Little Bird keeps trying. This is a great lesson for primary students.

When teaching about retell and summarizing, I often use a strategy called "Somebody Wanted But So Then." This helps a reader succinctly tell what a story was about. Little Bird Takes a Bath would be a terrific mentor text for teaching this strategy. If you teach in a rural area like I do, Little Bird is also a good book to show students an urban setting. The colorful city scenes are my favorite illustrations in the book. They happily remind me of Dan Yaccarino's Oswald television series.

Talk about a perfect bedtime story! You combine a bath with a main character settling in for the night at the end of the book. That my friends is the assist and the slam dunk rolled into one. You'll be punching the play button on your DVR before you know it.

Little Bird Takes a Bath will be available on March 10.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Blue on Blue

Blue on Blue
written by Dianne White; illustrated by Beth Krommes
2014 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Gray on gray. 
Dark and glooming.
Black on black.
Storm is looming. 

On a small island farm, a young girl jumps rope in the backyard while her mother hangs laundry on the clothesline. In the distance, the weather is beginning to grow stormy. As the storm rolls over the house, the girl dives under her blanket momentarily. Water races out of the gutter and into a rain barrel. The noise of the storm drives the baby to cry, the dog to howling, and the girl to cover her ears at the kitchen table. Let's face it: Thunderstorms are a bummer to everyone except Jim Cantore. Rain on rain on rain. Finally, the winds shift and the rain ceases. Smiles return to the faces as the family goes outside to see a wet but sunny world. The pigs wander out to their mud and roll happily. This inspires the young girl to jump in a mud puddle and do a mud angel. Fortunately this is not followed by a laundry detergent commercial but instead a nighttime bath to top off the day.

Blue on Blue is a pleasing rhyming book that is paired with the wonderful scratchboard illustrations of Beth Krommes. This will be a fun shared reading experience with a preschool or kindergarten class. Students will want to share their own experiences with thunderstorms. You could also use this book to work on timelines with older readers who are struggling readers. They can place the events of the story in order and then create their own timeline of a day in their life. Blue on Blue would also be a good addition to your weather unit.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Winter Poems and Other Poems of the Cold

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold
written by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Rick Allen
2014 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

I'm a big brown moose,
I'm a rascally moose, 
I'm a moose with a tough, shaggy hide

There are restaurants that try to sell you a three course meal for $10 or $15. It's usually a restaurant that is at best average and is trying to build more business for unexceptional food. You walk out after spending $40 on you and your beloved and feel unsatisfied. I've got a better deal. How about combining exceptional poetry, interesting nonfiction text, and gorgeous illustrations? May I present for your literacy palate a wonderful meal titled Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold. Check out a stanza from the title poem:

We are an ancient tribe, 
a hardy scrum. 
Born with eyelash legs
and tinsel wings,
we are nothing on our own.
Together we are One.

Joyce Sidman's poetry creates wonderful visuals and makes it a pleasure to read lines aloud. I'm especially drawn to the adjectives that she uses. The poems are impressive on their own, but then you get fascinating nonfiction with great wow! facts. Reading about the relationship between ravens and wolves, you learn that ravens may pester wolves to keep them on the move and finding food that the ravens can share. Wait until you learn about the skunk cabbage and it's stinky cleverness. Thanks to Rick Allen's vivid illustrations, you can easily visualize the information that is presented.

Skip the restaurant. Save your money and get a copy of Winter Bees. You will find yourself happier and with less calories to boot!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Draw!

Draw!
illustrated by Raul Colon
2014 (Simon and Schuster)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A young boy sat on his bed with a large book about Africa (It reminds me of the large books that I would pull from the reference section in the library and sit in a big chair to read. Back in the Mesozoic era, you couldn't check those books out.) It prompted him to reach for his sketch book and start drawing. He started with an elephant that enjoyed his drawing enough to transport the artist through the land as he drew the animals that he saw. The boy's eyes lit up when he saw a rhinoceros charging toward him. He got his sketch but also a free trip up a tree. For the price of a sandwich, he was able to have a baboon sketch him standing next to the elephant. With the journey complete, the elephant gave the boy a tusk hug and he walked away and back to his room through the sketch book.

I'm jealous of my two talented daughters. They sit for hours and draw in their sketch books. I got a C in middle school art so you can easily assess my talent. Draw! serves to celebrate and inspire kids to draw their dreams in their sketch books. It's a wonderful wordless book that entertained my kindergarten friends who gave it a big thumbs-up. The illustrations are gorgeous. I enjoyed the different glances of the protective elephant telling their own story. This book would encourage young artists to create their own wordless story. It's harder than you might think to create one of these, but a worthwhile effort nonetheless. Find Draw! and add it to your wordless collection.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
2014 (Little, Brown and Company)
Source: Orange County Library

I'm just in a messy old book that will end up in some garage sale. A book no one will ever want, read, or love. 

Little Louie was skipping along happily because he was in a book and was going to be able to tell his story. All was right in his world until he came upon a jelly stain on his book. Who would do such a thing? Moments later, a peanut butter blob covered his face. To add insult to injury, it was the chunky kind. (Blogger sidebar: I haven't eaten chunky peanut butter since I got married over 23 years ago. Some things you give up for love.) Louie was apoplectic. He gave a nice sermon about the need to take care of books and all seemed right until he ran into some crayon scribbles. Naturally Louie asked for a paper towel from the reader which made a stain that screamed four year old Jackson Pollock and the Northern Lights. Louie was so despondent that he fell to the ground as the narrator continued trying to tell his story. Laying on terra firma, Louie realized that even with messes in his life and book, everything was going to be okay. At least until the surprise at the very end.

This book is a perfectly great way to laugh and connect with a character at the same time. My friends in kindergarten had their thumbs way up for Louie. He is definitely an every-man in the same beloved vein as Charlie Brown. We all have setbacks and what may define us is how we deal with our misfortunes. If we can keep marching on, perhaps everything will be okay. For my Band-Aid needing, pencil is not sharp enough, "So and So called me a booger" young friends, this is a humorous book well worth sharing.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Dog and Mouse

Dog and Mouse
written and illustrated by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt
2015 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"I am looking for someone, a very best friend, who is loyal and true-from beginning to end."

Mouse saw a little dog waiting and watching in the woods. What was he looking for? Turned out he wanted a friend. Mouse thought this was quite the noble cause so she offered her help. Dog eagerly accepted the assistance of this kind soul. Dog and Mouse looked every day. They watched through all seasons. Maybe the friend would come marching in wearing a crown or a cape. Perhaps a subtler touch would be applied with the friend barely causing a stir. The loyal little mouse came to comfort Dog and aid his search for an entire year. One day, Mouse didn't come. Dog worried as he remembered all the good times that he shared with her. There was building a snowman and trick or treating. Hide and seek games and sharing ice cream. What would he do without that mouse?

Dog and Mouse is a celebration of friendship. Reading through this rhyming gem, I was reminded about what it takes to be a friend. As Mouse remarked near the end, she had "just done what she knew that she should." Being a friend does mean doing what you know you should. After reading this book I would ask students to write about how they are a good friend and good times they have shared with a friend. This is the kind of book that you want to read at the beginning of the year as you try to build a positive culture in your classroom. These two animal pals were a big hit in kindergarten so you might want to invite them to your class.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bears Don't Read

Bears Don't Read
written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
2015 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Oh, life is lovely, he thought. Tra-la-la and all that! But is this it? he wondered. Is this all there is?

Sitting on a bench, George the bear wondered this about life. His bear peers are happy doing the same thing again and again, but George is bored. Kind of like a bear Truman Show with George in the Jim Carrey role. Fortunately, he found a book in the forest and it changed his life. This book had pictures of bears and lots of words. George knew there was meaning in this book. He was so excited that he shared his find with the other bears. They were completely unimpressed when George said he wanted to learn to read. Telling his bear family to talk to the paw, George left and headed into town to find the owner of the book. He was full of optimism until the townspeople raced away from him in terror. One harried citizen was kind enough to tell George that the book came from the school. He wandered in to find the owner. Surrounded by police immediately, George is rescued a little girl named Clementine who is the owner of the book. What followed was a sweet reminder why we love to read and how empowering it is to learn this skill.

Bears Don't Read has a powerful message. Everyone can read and deserves to read. George represents all of us who have picked up a book and just wanted to be transported to another place. Books do change lives and that's the power of reading. I love the cheery illustrations. George is a sweet brown bear and the illustrations with Clementine are delightful. This would be a great book to share during National Children's Book Week which is May 4-10 this year. Your readers won't (Wait for it. Horrific pun approaching. ) bear to part with this book.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Tale of Two Beasts

A Tale of Two Beasts
written and illustrated by Fiona Roberton
2015 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth - Mark Twain

In Part One, the narrator, a little girl, found a strange little beast hanging from a tree limb. She decided to rescue him, whether he needed it or not. She safely secured him and took him home. He got a bath, fed a bowl of nuts, fitted with a sweater, and walked for good health. Yet the beast was not happy. He spied an open window, shed his sweater, and jumped out the window. The little girl couldn't sleep that night. Would she ever see him again?

In Part Two, the narrators switched places. The forest creature was happily singing and hanging from his favorite tree when he was grabbed by a "terrible beast." He was taken away to the beast's lair where she subjected him to an unneeded cleaning, fitted with ugly clothing and force fed squirrel food. Worst of all, he was displayed for a pack of even wilder beasts who matched her ferocity. Using his mathematical skills, the narrator designed a foolproof plan and ran to freedom. Once deep in the forest, he realized that all was not so bad at the beast's lair. His surprising decision led to another final twist in this tale of two wee beasties.

A Tale of Two Beasts was a hit with my kindergarten book critics. They laughed and enjoyed seeing the story told from two points of view. It's a clever take and can help young students understand that people can (or in this case, living beings) see the same thing differently. I often hear two versions of a tale at lunch or recess. The ending is smart as well. It's not what you expect and young readers always like a humorous twist. With the Common Core emphasis on comparing two texts, how great is it that you can get this in one book?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Farmer and The Clown

The Farmer and the Clown
illustrated by Marla Frazee
2014 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Library

Home. You know where it is when you're there. But sometimes you get a bit separated from home, and you may need a little help finding your way back. 

A baby clown falls off the back of the circus train and into a farmer's field.
He's pitching hay when he sees the clown fall. Rushing to help him, the farmer finds the clown with a smile on his face. He takes the baby clown to his house and begins to take care of him. They share meals and the farmer shows the clown how to do different chores. One day, the two new friends share a picnic lunch under a large tree on the farmer's vast and stark land. In the distance, they catch sight of a train coming toward them. Even from far away, they can see that it is the circus train coming back for the baby clown. What follows is a sweet reunion, a poignant goodbye, and a surprise ending.

I think The Farmer and the Clown may be the most popular book of the year with my kindergarten friends. Their teacher reported that they were very quiet as she showed them the illustrations. Rachel made the comment that perhaps they have to work harder with a wordless book to follow the story. They were very engaged and loved the surprise ending. Marla Frazee is a wonderful illustrator. School Library Journal compares this book to Raymond Briggs's The Snowman. That's high praise but not a stretch. It may be the favorite for the Caldecott Medal. Marla Frazee is certainly deserving.

A really good wordless book lends itself to lessons on inferring or mood. I would want students to think and discuss/write about the farmer with these possible questions: How did the clown baby change his life? What might he do after saying goodbye to the circus performers? What do you think about the ending? There are many rich lesson possibilities with The Farmer and the Clown.