Thursday, September 30, 2010

Can't Sleep Without Sheep

Can't Sleep Without Sheep
written by Susanna Leonard Hill; illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
(Walker & Company) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Ava is having a hard time falling asleep so she tries counting sheep. Unfortunately, Ava just counts and counts and the sheep are the ones getting tired of jumping fence after fence. The sheep decide to quit, but not before finding a replacement for Ava. The first applicants are horses, but they turn out to be too pretty to help her fall asleep. Next up are the chickens who are just too ridiculous in their attempts to jump the fence. Several other animals follow with hilarious levels of ineptitude (you need to see the penguins!), before Ava finds the perfect replacement.

I've seen descriptions of Can't Sleep Without Sheep and the word used often is adorable and Mike Wohnoutka's illustrations are just that. But I really like the humor in this story and its illustrations. It's a clever take on a common idea (counting sheep) and a fun way to teach point of view. It reminds me of Mark Teague books like Pigsty where there is humor with an original twist. There are also great vocabulary words like stampede and chaos where you could have students create an illustration to match one of these words. My students gave Can't Sleep Without Sheep a big thumbs-up.



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

2010 Cybils

Nominations for the 2010 Cybils will start on Friday, October 1st. You can visit the Cybils website and nominate one book per category:

 For a great preview of the Cybils, click over to Jen Robinson's Book Page (Thank you Jen for the links above!) and read her post about the Cybils Panels. I am blessed and humbled to be included on the Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books panel this year. My strategy for nominating books is to promote books that I loved, but might have flown under the radar.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tagxedo

What you see on the left is an apple tag cloud that I created on Tagxedo. What is Tagxedo? From the website:
  
Tagxedo turns words -- famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes, even your love letters -- into a visually stunning tag cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text.

I could see students taking a short piece of their writing and creating a tag cloud to see if any words are repeated too often. Or you can make a Tagxedo out of a tweet or a blog. A social studies lesson could come from entering the text of a famous speech. 101 Ways to Use Tagxedo will give you plenty of ideas on how to use this cool tool.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light
written by Tim Tingle; illustrated by Karen Clarkson
(Cinco Puntos Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wendie's Wanderings

It is 1915 and a young Choctaw mother steps out on the porch of her new home in Pasadena, Texas. As she is admiring the light of a new day, a young boy throws a rock and cuts her face. Her two year old son sees his mother sitting on the floor with a red liquid running between her fingers. He thinks it is sweet cherry pie filling and takes a taste. Spitting it out, he says "Saltypie!". His mother laughs and cries at the same moment and this word becomes a phrase for the Choctaw family to use to describe trouble that you have to shrug off. The strong young mother becomes a grandmother who has lost her sight, but she is still able to teach others to see through the strength of her character. Saltypie concludes with a life changing event that brings the family together to remember how their mother and grandmother has touched their lives.

On the back cover of Saltypie, author Tim Tingle says "Stories of modern Indian families rarely grace the printed page. Long before I began writing, I knew this story must be told." It is a wonderful story of a lady who exhibits tremendous courage and strength through some difficult times. This is a great character lesson for our students. As Tingle writes in his essay in the back matter, this book is also an opportunity for students to see that "Indians are modern people, that Indians are friendly neighbors who love their families, their homes, and care about education." Saltypie is a chance for students to understand that American Indians are a people for today and not just the history books. The modern American Indian is woefully underrepresented in children's literature so let's celebrate this terrific book and hope for more like it in the future.

Other reviews of Saltypie:
American Indians in Children's Literature

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"

Candy Bomber
written by Michael O. Tunnell
(Charlesbridge) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

The chocolate was wonderful, but it wasn't the chocolate that was most important. What it meant was that someone in America cared. That parachute was something more important than candy. It represented hope. Hope that someday we would be free. Without hope the soul dies.
 - A child in Berlin

Lt. Gail Halvorsen was a pilot in Germany during the Berlin Airlift. One day he took a tour into Berlin so he could get a closer look at the bombed-out city. While waiting on his ride, he struck up a conversation with a group of German children. The children told him that they would rather make do with little food than succumb to the Soviet threat. This touched the young lieutenant and he gave the children two sticks of gum and was surprised how the large group was able to share the tiny amount of sugar without squabbling. As this scene unfolded, a C-54 roared above and provided Lt. Halvorsen with the inspiration to start the effort to provide the children of Berlin with candy. What transpired was an amazing story that continues to this day.

Candy Bomber is my favorite nonfiction book of 2010. Gail Halvorsen is a real deal hero from the greatest generation. Michael O. Tunnell has crafted an unforgettable tale about how an act of kindness led to a heroic effort by American and British soldiers. The individual accounts of German children and their reactions to the candy drops are incredibly touching. My favorite was Peter Zimmerman and his detailed instructions to Lt. Halvorsen on where to drop the candy. I can't imagine how difficult it was for Tunnell to decide what to include in the book and what to leave out. I think upper elementary and middle school students will enjoy reading Candy Bomber and perhaps be inspired to take on a project of their own.

Here is a link to an activity guide from the publisher.

Other reviews of Candy Bomber:
Classroom Book of the Week
Wrapped in Foil

Saturday, September 25, 2010

iPod adventures - Clifford's Be Big With Words

In our small groups yesterday, we used the Clifford's Be Big with Words app on our iPods. Students can make three letter words by choosing letters from a palette and dragging them onto a line. They do this three times to make a word. Irregardless of what letter they choose, they will still make a word each time. I added an extension by having students write down the words they made on a chart. Our kindergarten students were excited to be making words and it was a good exercise in using fine motor skills as well. After only two exposures of about 8 minutes apiece, our students are becoming very comfortable with the iPod touch.  For most of our class, this is the only experience they have had with this device. I have a colleague who guides me to always ask "Why are we doing this?" before trying something new. The point of the question is to make sure every activity has a sound educational reason behind it. Using this app helped our class review letters and sounds and work on stretching out words in order to decode.  We shot a video of one of our students saying "L-O-G". He was pretty excited to be able to recognize this word.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Clever Jack Takes the Cake

Clever Jack Takes the Cake
written by Candace Fleming; illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(Schwartz and Wade Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Jack receives an invitation to attend the princess's tenth birthday party, but he has no money to buy a birthday gift. He is quite the smart young man, so he decides to barter and use kindness to gather the ingredients to make a scrumptious cake for the princess. It's a long walk to the castle, and along the way Jack runs into several obstacles including a troll and a bear. Each obstacle involves negotiation and seemingly bad luck so as he travels, Jack loses a part of his cake until there is nothing left to present to the princess. What Jack does have is his considerable wits which leads to a happy ending.


Clever Jack Takes the Cake is a humorous fairy tale with an admirable lead character. Jack doesn't complain but uses his brain to figure out what to do next which is a great trait to discuss with children. This book is also terrific for working on predicting.  My students had several opportunities where we could discuss what we thought would happen next. Thumbs up from the kindergarten class for Clever Jack Takes the Cake.


Other reviews of Clever Jack Takes the Cake:
School Library Journal
Kids Lit

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flora's Very Windy Day

Flora's Very Windy Day
written by Jeanne Birdsall; illustrated by Matt Phelan
(Clarion Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Flora is having a tough time. Her little brother Crispin has spilled her paints again and Mom blames her for having the paints within her little brother's reach. Mom's solution is for Flora to take her little brother outside on a very windy day. Flora is not worried for herself since she has a pair of "special heavy-duty red boots" (As a father of two daughters, I feel I can say that every little girl should have a pair of red boots!) that will keep her from being taken away by the wind. When the two children arrive outside, the wind tries hard to take Flora away but to no avail. Flora taunts the wind, but also announces not so innocently that Crispin is wearing "regular old purple boots". With this veiled invitation, the wind proceeds to take Crispin away. Flora sheds her special red boots so she too can follow her brother in the air. Different elements of nature (moon, eagle, cloud, etc.) offer to take Crispin away from Flora, but she stands firm despite her previous issues with her brother.

Flora's Very Windy Day  is a very clever story with wonderful illustrations. I love the reasons why Flora declines each offer from a natural element (e.g., There are no chocolate chip cookies on the moon and Crispin loves chocolate chip cookies) and Flora's body language and facial expressions in Matt Phelan's whimsical illustrations. Sibling rivalry is always a popular subject for read alouds since most students can easily connect to this topic. The book would also be a good launching pad for a discussion on how we handle being upset. Flora is mad at the beginning, but she thinks through the consequences of giving away her brother and works hard to keep him. The priceless final illustrations reveal Flora's true feelings and provide a sweet ending.

** While visiting Jeanne Birdsall's website, I read that a new Penderwicks book is coming out next summer. Totally cool news!

Other reviews of Flora's Very Windy Day:
Kids Lit
Kiss The Book

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Little Black Crow

Little Black Crow
written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library 

Little black crow,
do you ever wonder about lightning or thunder?
About morsels you eat?
About creatures you meet?

A little boy sitting on a fence wonders about the life of a black crow and in turn about life itself.  He asks 27 questions of the crow, questioning how the crow takes care of itself in the rain and how it sleeps in the deep forest. By asking these rhyming questions, the boy takes the reader on a journey of thinking about not just the life of the crow but the boy himself. I began wondering why the boy was alone on the fence and what life was like with his family. He takes on big subjects like love and creation with his questions which forces the reader to ponder these things as well.

I read Little Black Crow with two groups of kindergarten students today and not surprisingly the class was full of questions. Two areas, where the crow goes in the winter and where he goes during a storm, were the main topics of the questions. I'm not sure they were able to latch onto the bigger themes that this book touches upon, but I'm sure older students would be able to do this. Since there are rhymes in this book, I also asked the groups to provide the word on a second line to see if they could generate the rhyme. I wish I had thought to do a Venn diagram with my class comparing the boy and the crow. There are a lot of possibilities for after reading activities with Little Black Crow.

Other reviews of Little Black Crow:
My World-Mi Mundo

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm a Truck Driver

I'm a Truck Driver          
written by Jonathan London; illustrated by David Parkins
(Christy Ottaviano Books) 2010
Source:Orange County Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped In Foil

I have a colleague who is implementing a transportation unit in kindergarten this week and this is the perfect book.  Each set of pages features a different vehicle with a humorous illustration and four rhyming lines that describe the vehicle:

                                                        
                                                                    I'm a Power Shovel operator.
                                                                    I dig up the land.
                                                                    I operate the gears
                                                                    and scoop up the sand.

There are 12 different vehicles featured in this book, and young readers will enjoy reading about all of them. I'm a Truck Driver would be a good mentor text for teaching using sound words in writing. On a similar note, you can also teach young readers why authors will change fonts in a book. In this case, it's to showcase sound words. This book would be a good companion to the Trucktown series from Jon Scieszka and friends. You could read this book as part of creating a transportation circle map as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

iPod adventures in kindergarten

Yesterday was our first day using the iPod touch in small groups in our kindergarten class. I met with 5 or 6 students at a time and started by explaining how to turn it on and off.  Most of our students had never used one before, but they quickly learned how to manipulate it.  Simply touching the device and not crushing it with their finger was a challenge for some, but soon most students were able to swipe and touch without too much trouble. After meeting with the first group, I also realized I hadn't been explicit enough with my instructions, so I made sure with subsequent groups that I showed them everything I wanted them to do.  Each group used either the Monster ABC app where they work on letters and sounds or The Cat in the Hat app where they can have the story read to them or read it themselves.  Part of our thinking is for the students to learn their letters and how text works in a different setting and with a different medium than normal. I met with each group for approximately 9 minutes. My co-teacher and our assistant made the point that this was also a good exercise in developing fine motor skills. We were extremely pleased how quickly our students were able to work with the Touch and look forward to using them again next week.

I want to tip my hat to Moms with Apps again. Along with a free download on App Friday, there also is an app link exchange where readers share their favorite apps. That beats slogging through iTunes to find a decent app among the hundreds available. Speaking of iTunes and Moms with Apps, developer Julie McCool has written an enlightening post titled Five Tips for Decoding an iTunes App Listing. Click on the link and learn.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by David Smalls
(Philomel Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Elsie lives an idyllic life in Boston.  She plays skip rope with her friends and sings to the birds. Life is wonderful in Boston. But since the death of Elsie's mother, her father desires to be far away from Boston and "the sadness in his heart." He decides to move to Nebraska "where are there are few people and almost no towns at all."  Elsie goes happily with her new canary on the train with Papa. When they arrive, Elsie notices there is nothing near her except a house with a roof of sod. She desperately misses her old life in Boston with her friends and grandparents, but doesn't say anything to Papa.  It's not until her canary escapes from its cage that she discovers the beauty of the "sea of grass" that is her new home.

Elsie's Bird would be an excellent choice as a read aloud to explore the theme of home. What does it mean to have a home and what is the definition? Is a home a building or the people around you? This is an interesting discussion to have with students. As with other Jane Yolen books, Elsie's Bird could also be a mentor text for teaching writing and specifically the use of adjectives to create images. The streets of Elsie's childhood are "lazy curves" and Nebraska is a "faraway place." Jane Yolen is simply one of our best writers. David Small's artwork is very effective in giving you a sense of Elsie's loneliness. We see her swallowed up by the prairie grass and understand how she feels in this unfamiliar place.

Click on this link for an episode of Penguin Storytime featuring Elsie's Bird.

Other reviews of Elsie's Bird:
Fuse #8
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil

My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil
written and illustrated by Hanoch Piven
(Schwartz and Wade Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library 

A young girl's Grandma arrives for a visit and asks her granddaughter a zillion questions about school. Rather than give the standard answer (It's good), she uses similes and object art to tell her Grandma about school.  The girl's teacher, Mrs. Jennings, talks in a voice "as sweet as candy" so the girl uses a piece of candy as the mouth for her object art portrait of Mrs. Jennings. My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil is full of these lively descriptions and hilarious object art portraits. What I really love about this book is this is an idea that students can replicate.  I can see a class of students writing similes about the people in their lives and creating object art.  Hanoch Piven's use of language is a terrific model for students to see how figurative language can create images in our minds and liven up our writing.

I also think there is an environmental lesson that could taught using this book. We stress recycling and object art would be a fun way to use items that might get thrown away. You could pair My Friend with Bag in the Wind or Here Comes the Garbage Barge! and have a discussion about landfills and how we can lessen the amount of trash we create.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whisper Phones

One of the most effective tools I have used in working with kindergarten students is the whisper phone. Two PVC elbows attached to a three and a half  inch long pipe make for a device that allows students to practice reading and hear their voice without making too much noise.

There are whisper phones that are sold commercially, but don't buy those. I went to a local home supply store where two helpful clerks worked with me to create enough whisper phones for 32 students. The cost was around 20 dollars for 35 whisper phones.  Students hold one opening to their ear while the other opening goes to their mouth like an old rotary phone.

As part of our reading workshop, each student has a gallon Ziploc bag that contains three leveled books and a whisper phone. The books are beginning level (1/2 or A/B) so students can have predictable text to practice using beginning letters, pictures, and their background knowledge to decode the text. Starting out, we are practicing about 5 minutes each day.  This will increase during the year to about 10-12 minutes by spring.  I model how to use the whisper phone and what I do when I come to a word I don't know. At first, many students don't know most of the words, but they do know that each group of letters represents a word so they can make guesses and practice going left to right and using strategies to read the words. 

There is something about hearing their own voice that encourages students to practice. Be patient when you first start out because it can get a little hairy, but you will soon see benefits if you continue doing this daily. This is a strategy that, in conjunction with other teaching strategies, has helped our students become readers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Art and Max



Art and Max
written and illustrated by David Wiesner
(Clarion Books) 2010
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Arthur and Max are two desert lizards who happen to be artists. Arthur is very accomplished and is painting a portrait of another lizard when young Max, an enthusiastic beginner, interrupts him because he wants to paint as well. Arthur gives in and allows Max some space and supplies as long as he does not get in the way. Max is delighted until he realizes he doesn't know what to paint. Arthur, being a staid portrait artist, suggests that Max paint him. Max takes this literally and thus begins the fun. What follows is colorful mayhem that ends, thanks to Max's unbridled enthusiasm, with Arthur rethinking the meaning of art.

The artwork for this book is unbelievable. It's David Wiesner, so you know the book is going to contain fresh and clever ideas and it does. Arthur is transformed several times in ways unimagined. Primary students will easily connect to Max and his joy for creating art. They are your most enthusiastic students and are not hesitant to give something a go, so they will understand Max's excitement when he creates. Max is kind of like the kid who paints his bedroom wall and wants you to appreciate the artwork and not worry that he just painted a wall. If you want to teach students about how characters change over the course of a story, Arthur would be a great candidate. Art and Max would also be the perfect piece to launch a discussion about the meaning of art and how we can appreciate what other artists create. David Wiesner's books are just flat out fun to read since there is always something different to see with each additional viewing. Look for the classic rock reference in one of the scenes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brontorina

Brontorina
written by James Howe; illustrated by Randy Cecil 
(Candlewick Press) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

 Brontorina Apatosaurus dreams of being a ballerina. Even though she has the body of a dinosaur, Brontorina has the heart of a dancer. Madame Lucille, of Madame Lucille's Dance Academy for Girls and Boys, can sense this and invites her to join her ballet class. In her first class, Brontorina impresses Madame Lucille with her grace and agility although not everyone agrees. Two snarky students comment that she doesn't have the right shoes. In the weeks that follow, Brontorina gives her best effort, but she has difficulty fitting in due to her size. Madame Lucille is ready to throw in the towel until Clara reveals a lovely surprise which makes Madame Lucille change her point of view.

Brontorina is a humorous and clever tale that would make for an excellent lesson on point of view. You could discuss what several characters are thinking as events transpire in the book. What Madame Lucille sees would be different than the viewpoint of the two snarky students or the students, like Clara, who befriend Brontorina. This book is also about friendship and acceptance which are always good discussion points. You could also ask students to think about what would be the main idea of this story as there is a clear message about following your heart and being accepted.

Other reviews of Brontorina:
Hooray for Books
A Year of Reading

Monday, September 13, 2010

Potty Animals: What to Know When You've Gotta Go!

Potty Animals: What to Know When You've Gotta Go!
written by Hope Vestergaard; illustrated by Valeria Petrone
(Sterling Publishing) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Rasco From RIF

Working in kindergarten, I am delighted to read Potty Animals. In the book, each animal in the class knows how to use the bathroom, but they all have one particular thing that they could do better. For example, Wilbur the hedgehog does not wash his hands, while Arnold the Alligator has great aim on the playground with his basketball shots, but not so good aim in the bathroom. Each issue is treated with appropriate dignity, taste, language, and humor. In my career as an elementary school teacher, I have seen every one of these bathroom issues come up at one time or the other, so it's nice to have a book that combines humor, understanding, and potty etiquette. If you work in preschool or kindergarten, you know the bathroom makes the top ten list of daily issues, so find a copy of Potty Animals if you need to have a discussion with your students about bathroom etiquette.

Other reviews of Potty Animals:
5 Minutes for Mom
There's a Book

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lily's Victory Garden

Lily's Victory Garden
written by Helen L. Wilbur; illustrated by Robert Gantt Steele
(Sleeping Bear Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Lily and her brother Jack spend Saturdays collecting tin cans and scrap for the war effort. The last house they collect from is the Bishop's house. Jack tells Lily that the Bishops were the first family to lose a son in the war. This explains why the Bishop's once glorious garden has been left alone. Mrs. Bishop no longer goes outside to tend to it. One evening, while reading the newspaper with her father, Lily discovers that the mayor has decided to turn Town Park into a Victory Garden to help with the war effort. Unfortunately, Lily is not old enough to tend to one of the Victory Garden plots. Undeterred, Lily decides to approach the Bishops about using part of their yard. What follows is an unexpected friendship and a lesson of healing.

Lily is a kid that is determined and willing to work to help others. These are great traits to share with students.  I also like the setting of World War II to show students how citizens can sacrifice for a greater cause. The back matter of this book is a nice complement to a sweet story. Lily's Victory Garden would also be a good text to model how stories are constructed. There is a nice arc to this book and that makes it a handy text for teaching parts of a story to older students.

Other reviews of Lily's Victory Garden:
Soulful Service Book Reviews

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ocean Soup: Tide-Pool Poems

Ocean Soup
written by Steven Swinburne; illustrated by Mary Peterson
(Charlesbridge) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Where are you, octopus?
   Hiding in a crevice, trying to catch some z's,
   waiting to greet you with a saltwater squeeze

Ocean Soup is a clever blend of science, poetry, and humor that will entertain students and provide teachers with a versatile nonfiction text that can be used for shared reading with younger students and for reader's theater with older students. Author Steve Swinburne's poems focus on creatures found in a tide pool. Each poem is accompanied by an informational paragraph about the subject of the poem. One of my favorites is a poem titled Old, Cold Fish which features a camouflaged fish called a sculpin that opens its large mouth to pull in water and unaware victims. The back matter for this book has a glossary, an author's note, and a page of resources that will be valuable for further instruction on tide pools. As if that isn't enough, an added bonus is Steve Swinburne's humorous reading of selections from Ocean Soup. Click on this link to view this talented guy in action. If you use Ocean Soup for reader's theater, definitely check out the videos to model for your students how to put more oomph in their performance.

Other reviews of Ocean Soup:

Curled Up With a Good Kid's Book
Abby the Librarian

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Elephant in the Bathtub

Elephant in the Bathtub
written and illustrated by Kristina Andres
(NorthSouth Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Elephant fills the bathtub with water and brings a rubber duck. Seeing that there is plenty of room to spare, Cat climbs in with his box of tub toys. What follows is a parade of Elephant's animal friends joining in the bathtub fun and using their imaginations to take a trip on the high seas. In the end, Elephant and friends learn a valuable lesson about volume and the displacement of water.

Elephant in the Bathtub could inspire young readers and writers to make connections with how they use their imaginations when playing in a bathtub, a pool, or the ocean. There is also a prediction lesson that can be taught as you could ask students how they think this story is going to end with more and more animals joining the bathtub crew. A science lesson is possible as well as students could work with water and predict what would happen as you added items to a container of water. The big lesson would be that objects take up space and have volume.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Biblioburro: A True Story From Columbia

Biblioburro
written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
(Beach Lane Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Luis Soriana lives in a remote part of Columbia and loves reading. He has collected so many books that his wife wonders what they are going to do with all of them. Luis decides to buy two burros so he can share his books with those people that live in the faraway hills. The two burros, Alfa and Beto, are loaded with crates that are full of books. Biblioburro, the burro library, travels the countryside to share books with eager readers. Luis encounters natural and man-made barriers including a bandit, but he reaches his destination of the village of El Tormento. Along with the books, Luis has a surprise as he reads aloud a story to his happy audience of children.

The back matter of Biblioburro explains that Luis Soriana began transporting books to villages in 2000. About 300 people benefit from Luis's efforts to share his love of reading. Biblioburro shows students that one of the best things about reading is sharing what you have read. This book would work well for students who are learning to write biographies. You can show the video below, of an interview with Luis, as an after activity for a read aloud. A good writing activity would be for students to make a list of how they could share the books that they read.

Other reviews of Biblioburro:
Book Aunt
The Picnic Basket



Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dog Loves Books

Dog Loves Books
written and illustrated by Louise Yates
(Knopf Books for Young Readers) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Dog loves everything about books. He loves the smell and feel of them. His love is so great, he decides to open a bookstore. On the day of the grand opening, Dog finds that he is quite lonely. No one is coming in to buy books. Feeling sad, Dog picks up a book and realizes that he is not alone. He is surrounded by book characters.  When a customer arrives, Dog is ready to recommend just the right books, and he realizes that what he loves best about books is sharing them.

If you are looking for a book that, in a nutshell, expresses why we read books, Dog Loves Books is that book. Dog shows how books can take us to another world and how we connect with other people through our love of books. This is a great book to share with beginning readers so we can explicitly share why reading is so important.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two New Alphabet Book Titles

Brian Wildsmith's Amazing Animal Alphabet
written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith
(Star Bright Books) 2009
Source: Orange County Public Library

One of the cool things that happens when you do a blog like this is you come across people you should have known a long time ago and are just now discovering. Brian Wildsmith is one such person. He is a very distinguished British author and illustrator and his Amazing Animal Alphabet shows why.  The illustrations are gorgeous and the mix of animals from the familiar to the not so familiar is great (I now know about the xenops!) . The back matter provides a paragraph of details about each animal. Another wonderful thing about this alphabet book is the font. I've read several alphabet books where the font is quite tricky and might throw off a child trying to learn their letters. The font is this book is very kid friendly.

A Fabulous Fair Alphabet
written and illustrated by Debra Frasier
(Beach Lane Books; Simon and Schuster) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Warning: Do not read A Fabulous Fair Alphabet on an empty stomach! I became very hungry as I read this extraordinary mixed media melange. Debra Frasier photographed thousands of letters while visiting state fairs and has created an astounding alphabetic visual feast. If this book does not catch the eye of your students, I'm not sure what will. As a child of North Carolina, I have one tiny complaint. I did not spot a funnel cake anywhere. You can't have a state fair without funnel cakes. My petty whining aside, go find this book and entertain your eyes and flash back to old fair memories. It would be fun to gather the background knowledge of your students about fairs before sharing this book.

Visit Debra Frasier's website for cool resources related to this book and others that she has written.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Famous Nini

The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star
written by Mary Nethery; illustrated by John Manders
(Clarion Books) 2010
Source: A review copy was provided by the publisher

In 1890s Venice, a white stray cat named Nini wanders in Nonna Framboni's caffe on the heels of Guiseppe Verdi, the renowned composer. Verdi is vexed by an unfinished composition that needs just the right note. Nini's meow strikes the exact note needed and Verdi is delighted. Nonna puts a sign in her window, hoping Verdi's visits will bring in much needed customers. Sure enough, more customers come wanting to see the cat who inspired Verdi. Nini is subsequently visited at the caffe by the king and queen of Italy, the pope, and the emperor of Ethiopia. In each visit, Nini produces a small act of kindness that deeply touches each guest and turns a struggling caffe into a new home for the stray cat.

This fictional account, of a real life cat celebrity in 1890s Venice, contains beautifully bright illustrations that are a companion to a story that contains a simple yet powerful message. Small acts of kindness can make a large difference in someone's life, and Nini the cat teaches students that you don't have to be big to make a big contribution. The Famous Nini reminds me of Paulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace in that both books feature characters who make people happy through simple acts.

Other reviews of The Famous Nini:

Diary of an Eccentric
Elizabeth Varadan