Friday, December 31, 2010

Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus(Book #1)
written by Atinuke; illustrated by Lauren Tobia
(Kane Miller) 2010
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Anna Hibiscus is an early reader chapter book containing four short stories about the life of a young African girl. If you teach children in grades 1-3 and don't find and read this book, you are totally missing out! Anna lives with her large extended family which contains grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and two baby twin brothers named Double and Trouble. These four stories contain universal themes (importance of family, merging of old and new cultures, doing the right thing) that primary students will easily connect with and in a setting (Africa) of which most of our students have little background knowledge. What I especially love about these stories is the importance placed on family. The grandparents are greatly respected and everyone works together to help one another. In the first short story, Anna Hibiscus on Holiday, Anna's immediate family of five goes away for a vacation and finds out that having a large extended family is a great blessing. Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges shows us a grandfather with great wisdom who teaches Anna how important, and sometimes difficult, it can be to do the right thing. This family is a wonderful mixture of old and new ways. The short story Auntie Comfort, about an aunt who lives in the United States and comes back for a visit to Africa, really illuminates this mix. Family members text and email each other across the Atlantic, but are also concerned about whether Auntie Comfort will remember the old family traditions. Few early reader books are this rich and well told. I can't wait to read more Anna Hibiscus books.

Other reviews of Anna Hibiscus:
The HappyNappyBookseller
Fuse #8
The Reading Tub
Brown Girl Speaks

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Let's Count Goats!

Let's Count Goats!
written by Mem Fox; illustrated by Jan Thomas
(Beach Lane Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

If I'm going to read a book a million times to a child, I want it to be funny and with predictable rhymes so the child can soon join me in the reading. Let's Count Goats! fits my criteria on both counts and will prove to be an enjoyable read to a preschool child. Author Mem Fox knows her stuff when it comes to early literacy and so has crafted a book that is both fun and full of learning opportunities. In the book, the pattern is a humorous statement followed by an equally humorous question involving counting:
"Here we see an airport goat looking for her cases. But can we count the Pilot goats with goggles on their faces?"
The goat looking for her cases is happily munching on a blue suitcase while on the next page we see two goats flying planes while one is munching on a tail wing. Jan Thomas's illustrations are an equal partner in providing mirth for the reader as they work on learning how to count. As Mem Fox explains in the video linked below, Let's Count Goats! provides an interactive experience between reader and text that is invaluable.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Old Bear and His Cub

Old Bear and His Cub
written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea
(Philomel Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Old Bear and Little Cub love each other very much. And sometimes love means having to tell someone something for their own good instead of what they want to hear. For instance, Little Cub does not want to eat his porridge, but after a stern glance from Old Bear he decides to eat it. Old Bear admonishes Little Cub to tie his scarf around his neck so he won't catch a cold. Little Cub is not warm to the idea, but he decides to wrap the scarf after a patient and loving "Yes, you will" from Old Bear. While on their way home from a walk, Old Bear sneezes. This time there is a role reversal and Little Cub has to remind Old Bear to wear a scarf. When they arrive at home, Little Cub lovingly but sternly tells Old Bear that he needs to get into bed and drink some blackberry tea. Old Bear doesn't want to do this, but Little Cub stands his ground and the grouchy bear follows through with the instructions.


Old Bear and His Cub is a beautifully illustrated picture book. Little Cub and Old Bear are a pair that would make for a good discussion to explain to children why we have to sometimes tell them things they do not want to hear. This ursine pair also serve as a role model to those of us who work with children in that we need to be consistent and patient with our little folks. Another good use for this book would be to show how characters change during the course of a text.

Visit Olivier Dunrea's website (linked to his name above) for some interesting behind the scenes information about his creation of this book.

Other reviews of Old Bear and His Cub:
Kids Lit
Children's Books

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kauffman's Fruit Farm - Gingerbread Cookie Mix

I try not to push product (other than great books and technology) on this website, but I have to tell you about the best gingerbread cookies we have ever made. This summer we visited Bird-in-Hand, Pennslyvania and purchased gingerbread cookie mix among other things (peach butter was unbelievably good) from Kauffman's Fruit Farm. We just used the mix tonight and made fantastic gingerbread men. If you make gingerbread men or women in your classroom, you might want to consider trying this. We were able to make about 24 gingerbread figures from one bag of mix.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rubia and the Three Osos

Rubia and the Three Osos
written by Susan Middleton Elya; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(Hyperion Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

The Three Osos are getting ready to eat a plato of la sopa when Mama Oso suggests they go for a walk as "part of her South Woods Plan." While the family of osos is enjoying their stroll, who should come along but Little Miss Rubia who immediately expresses adoration for the bears' casita. If you are familiar with the Three Bears, you know where this story is headed. What you don't know is that Susan Middleton Elya has written a different and sweet ending to this familiar tale which will delight preschool and primary students.

Rubia and the Three Osos is a terrific read aloud for introducing students to words in Spanish. I can see students easily transferring the words they learn from this story into their everyday conversation. This book also could be used as part of a unit on fables where you compare different versions of the same story.

Other reviews of Rubia and the Three Osos:
5 Minutes for Books
A Year of Reading

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good Night Little Monster

Goodnight, Little Monster
written by Helen Ketteman; illustrated by Bonnie Leick
(Marshall Cavendish Children) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Little Monster is getting ready for bed. He goes out on the porch to howl at the moon. His plump, pointy tail is scrubbed and his ears are checked for bugs. Mama Monster makes sure that she tangles his hair and makes a bedtime snack of worm juice and baked beetle bread. Little Monster has one particular fear as he gets ready to go to sleep, but Mama assures him that there are no children under the bed. After turning on his monster eyeball night light on, he snuggles with his stuffed slug and falls fast asleep.

Preschool and kindergarten age students will enjoy this bedtime story told from Mama Monster's point of view. The rhyming text and humorous illustrations will keep young readers engaged. I think illustrator Bonnie Leick should market the night light she created for this book. I would buy one. Goodnight, Little Monster would be a good book to share to teach the use of end marks (periods, question marks, exclamation points) as there are a wide variety in this book. You could also have students compare their night time routine with Little Monster's and find similarities and differences with a graphic organizer.

Other reviews of Goodnight Little Monster:
Maw Books Blog

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 Favorite Children's Books for 2010

It's difficult to pick the 10 books from 2010 that I liked the most. I could do this again tomorrow and pick an entirely new list. I have included a short blurb from each book's review. If you have happen to stop by my way, feel free to leave a comment and let me know which books were your favorites. So, without further ado, here are ten favorites of mine for 2010:



Chalk; written and illustrated by Bill Thomson
"Bill Thomson's wordless Chalk is a visual delight.  Thomson used acrylic paint and colored pencils to create the very real looking playground scenes. He also knows kids. We have several who live in our neighborhood and use sidewalk chalk to draw pictures. They draw figures similar to what the fictional kids draw. My favorite part of the book is the dinosaur and the solution one of the quick thinking friends devises to save the group." - May 17th

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"; written by Michael O. Tunnell
"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." - September 26th

Nest, Nook and Cranny; poems by Susan Blackaby and illustrations by Jamie Hogan
"Nest, Nook & Cranny is a collection of poems that is a teacher's dream.  Susan Blackaby combines several different poetic forms (sonnet, cinquain, triolet, villanelle) with animal habitats (desert, grassland, shoreline, wetland, woodland) as the subject of the poems. The reader gets a combination of poetry, figurative language, and science that is entertaining and informative." - July 12th

Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog; written by Adrienne Sylver and illustrated by Elwood H. Smith
"Hot Diggity Dog combines two of my favorite things, history and food, to make a flavorful concoction that is sure to please." - November 14th

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen; written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Shadra Strickland
"This is one of the most moving books I have read in a long time. Renee Watson and Shadra Strickland give us an intimate portrait, from a child's point of view, of how families in New Orleans were affected by Hurricane Katrina. This book would be an excellent companion to nonfiction books about weather. We often study about the technical aspects of storms (how it forms, wind speed, etc.), but it is rarely combined with how it changes the lives of the people in the path of the storm." - August 11th

Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade; written by Stephanie Greene and illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
"Author Stephanie Greene has spent a lot of time hanging around kindergarten and first grade students. I don't know her personally, but her writing rings true to this age level so I figure she's knows these kids and what makes them tick. Posey is a delightful character who reminds me of students that I work with each day and one in particular that lives in my house. Like Posey, they're sweet kids who have some fears and need some help in navigating this thing we call school." - October 9th

I Know Here; written by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James
"One of the reasons why we teach children to write is so they can share a piece of themselves with others. I Know Here would be a superb read aloud to demonstrate this. It really reminds me of What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan where both female protagonists are reminiscing about a beloved place and what makes it special. These are not complicated books, but no less profound in their detailed descriptions of a love of place and how it can shape our lives." - November 2nd

The Quiet Book; written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska
"My six year old daughter saw my library copy of The Quiet Book and remarked, "The Quiet Book! I love The Quiet Book." Do you need to know any more before you find a copy of this wonderful book? Deborah Underwood's concept may strike you as a simple idea, but as a kindergarten teacher I can tell you that it is sheer genius." - October 12th

Country Road ABC; written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert
"Arthur Geisert has created a series of 26 illustrations that show daily life on the Iowa farmland where he lives. The detailed illustrations are humorous and informative. My favorite illustration is for the letter I which is represented by the word inoculate. In the illustration, there are pigs that have red spray paint marks on their backsides. Geisert explains in the accompanying glossary that "the red spray paint is to keep track of who has been given a shot already!" - October 4th

Ants: National Geographic Reader; written by Melissa Stewart
"There are more than 10 quadrillion ants in the world.  The queen African driver ant alone lays fifty million eggs a year. I say we stop teaching these cute penguin units and start focusing on the ants.
Melissa Stewart is certainly doing her part by writing Ants.  She has penned a ripping good piece of nonfiction that happens to masquerade as a Level 1 Reader.  Ants is packed with amazing facts (Did you know that there were ants that could live underwater? Me neither.), several nonfiction text features, and terrific National Geographic photographs. What more could you ask for?" - March 12th

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shattering Earthquakes

Shattering Earthquakes
written by Louise and Richard Spilsbury
(Heinemann Library) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Simply Science 

On page 6 of Shattering Earthquakes is the clearest, most kid-friendly description of what causes an earthquake that I have ever read. Authors Louise and Richard Spilsbury describe the crust of the earth cracking like the shell of an egg and that the plates formed by this cracking "float like huge rafts on hot, liquid rock that bubbles deep inside the Earth." Throughout this book, they seek to explain scientific phenomena by comparing it to things (rafts, ripples on a pond, etc.) that a kid would understand. There are several other features that I really like about this book. Contained in the book are four case studies of famous recent earthquakes that have taken place around the world. Facts like time, location on a map, and the size of each of these earthquakes is located within each case study. A map of the world on page 10 also shows the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific Ocean where many volcanoes and earthquakes occur. In the latter half of the book there is information about the efforts of scientists to predict earthquakes and what you can do if you are in an area experiencing an earthquake. Included in the back matter are a glossary and website addresses including one for a kid's site produced by the U.S. Geological Survey. Check out the animations and an excellent ABC book about earthquakes. Shattering Earthquakes is also a superb book for teaching nonfiction text features.

Other reviews of Shattering Earthquakes:
Karen Timmons/NSTA

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dinosaur Vs. The Potty

Dinosaur Vs. The Potty
written and illustrated by Bob Shea
(Hyperion Books for Children) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

The second in the Dinosaur Vs. series finds Dinosaur battling lemonade and splashing in the sprinkler while not having to go to the potty. My favorite battle is when Dinosaur takes on the three juice box lunch and still doesn't have to use the potty. Through each battle, you know that eventually Dinosaur is going to have to go. It would be fun to read Dinosaur Vs. The Potty and have students try and predict at which point the potty will win. A big part of the charm of the Dinosaur books is in Bob Shea's writing. You have to read it out loud like a 4 or 5 year old boy who is playing by himself and having pretend battles. This books plays like a parody of monster movies from my childhood. While you certainly could use this book for help in potty training with preschoolers, I think another good idea would be to read it as part of a writing activity with K-2 students. You could make a list of different childhood issues that could compete with Dinosaur and write a class book using one of these ideas. For example, Dinosaur Vs. Homework could be a book. "Dinosaur versus math problems. Dinosaur wins!". Dinosaur Vs. Lunch Time could be another book. "Dinosaur versus opening a milk carton. Dinosaur wins!"   The Dinosaur books are big read aloud hits that will have your students roaring with delight.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Octopus Opposites

Octopus Opposites
written by Stella Blackstone; illustrated by Stephanie Bauer
(Barefoot Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Octopus Opposites is a charming book for very young readers that would be a popular read aloud in preschool and a big hit as a bedtime story. Each set of pages rhyme (Elephant young, elephant old. Polar bear hot, polar bear cold.) and are accompanied by illustrations that are vibrant and sweet. Children will love the animals represented on each page and enjoy learning about opposites by reading this book again and again. In the back of the book, all of the land animals are represented together and the sea animals on another page. Each set of opposites are shown together on the last page. With the vivid animal illustrations and rhymes, this would be a good book to use with English language learners. I also think you could use this to teach preschoolers how print works. The text is fairly large and located at the bottom of each page which makes ideal for using your finger to point under each word. On a lighter note, if you are going to a baby shower anytime soon, you would do well to purchase Octopus Opposites as a gift.

Other reviews of Octopus Opposites:
Storytime Kate

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Cow Loves Cookies

The Cow Loves Cookies
written by Karma Wilson; illustrated by Marcellus Hall
(Margaret K. McElderry Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

The horse loves his hay and the chickens love their feed. As a matter of fact, most of the animals on Farmer's farm eat what you would expect them to eat. But the cow loves cookies. She's not interested in pig slop, or doggy treats. The corn adored by the geese holds no charm for her. But the cow loves cookies. It's not until near the end of the book that we find out why the cow holds out for sweet treats. Apparently she and Farmer made an unusual deal that results in a daily delight for the two of them.

The Cow Loves Cookies was an engaging read aloud in my class, but it turned out to be more than just a book where students could chime in on the predictable rhymes. My kindergartners asked about the meanings of the words "glop" and "slop" which led to a discussion of pig food on a farm. They questioned aloud, without prompting,  about why the cow liked cookies which led them to make predictions. This book just seemed to open the thinking floodgates in my class. I was pleasantly surprised to have a "deeper read" than expected. The Cow Loves Cookies is a whimsical read aloud full of surprises and delightful illustrations that will get your kids' minds buzzing.

Other reviews of The Cow Loves Cookies:
Young Readers
KidsRead

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas
written and illustrated by David Melling
(Tiger Tales Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Douglas the bear has woken up from hibernation and what he needs more than anything else is a hug. First, he hugs a huge boulder which is a bit too heavy. Hugging a tree gives him too many splinters. His attempts at hugging various woodland and farm creatures doesn't exactly endear him to the rest of the animal kingdom. Fortunately, a kindly rabbit takes him by the paw and leads him toward the hug that he needs.

Hugless Douglas is a sweet and funny story that our kindergarten students loved. It would fit in nicely with a hibernation unit or if you are trying to teach the skill of identifying the problem and/or solution in a fictional story. David Melling's illustrations are hilarious and I like the idea of this book leading to a discussion of how all of us, even big ol' bears, need to know that we are cared for and loved. You could also create a graphic organizer (maybe a T chart) and list things you should hug and not hug.

Other reviews of Hugless Douglas:
The Cat's Rrar
Jenny the Librarian

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Recommended Older Books for the Holidays

If you are looking for two good books to read for the coming week during this holiday season, check out Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and Allen Say's Tree of Cranes. In the first book, Hershel of Ostropol is tired and hungry as he approaches a small village on the first night of Hanukkah. He is surprised to see that there are no menorahs in the windows. It seems the village has a problem with goblins who don't like Hanukkah. The fast thinking Hershel is up to the challenge of defeating the goblins and bringing happiness to the village. The second book is a biographical tale from the wonderful Allen Say. It is the story of his first experience with Christmas during his childhood in Japan. Say's mother brings in a small pine from the garden and decorates it with paper cranes and candles while sharing her experiences as a small child in California. This book is an understated beauty that extols the peace of this holiday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud

Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud 
written by Frances Watts; illustrated by Judy Watson
(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) 2010
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Ernie Eggers is late for school again. His favorite TV show, The Daring Dynamo, runs over and therefore Ernie is hustling into the school building as the bell is ringing. As Ernie is racing to his class, he spots an unusual sight. A slightly bulging man wearing purple tights and an orange turtleneck draped by a purple cape. Amazing Desmond is posting an announcement that will change Ernie's life forever. The Baxter branch of the Superheroes Society is getting a little long in the tooth (hilariously illustrated by Judy Watson) and needs new blood. They decide to hold a contest to add to their "elite" group. Mild mannered Ernie Eggers, who views himself as anything but super, is the only student to answer their ad. With the sassy sheep Maud as his selected sidekick and a super suit, formerly ordinary Ernie goes out into his community to find crime to fight and to discover why he is indeed extraordinary.

I enjoyed reading Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud on a couple of levels. The humor of the book is crisp and subtle, so I'm not sure younger readers will be able to fully enjoy it. The "past their prime" Superhero Society kept me in a constant chuckle. If you are teaching parody to older students, you would do well to lift a small passage from this book and share it. I also like that the main character is an ordinary kid that many students will be able to easily connect with. Ernie really doesn't do anything extraordinary, but he finds that he is able to rise to the occasion when needed and this is a good lesson for students in that they too have unknown talents to discover if they are willing to take a chance like Ernie did. Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud, with its not too difficult to read text, could be a nice chapter book to put in the hands of a reluctant 4th or 5th grade reader.

Other reviews of Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud:
100 Scope Notes

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Li'l Rabbit's Kwaanza

Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa
written by Donna L. Washington; illustrated by Shane Evans
(Harper Collins Children) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Kwanzaa is not going so well for Li'l Rabbit. Granna Rabbit is in bed sick. Li'l Rabbit's favorite part of Kwanzaa is the feast called Karamu, but since Momma has to take care of Granna there won't be a feast. Momma sends Li'l Rabbit outside and he works hard to think of what he can do for his Granna.  Along the way, Li'l Rabbit encounters several forest creatures that have been helped in the past by Granna Rabbit. Each animal recalls what she has done for them and they wonder what they can do for her. By the end of the day, Li'l Rabbit hops home sad that he hasn't been able to think of anything. When he opens the door to his house, Li'l Rabbit finds that perhaps he was wrong about not being able to do anything for Granna.

In kindergarten, we study different holidays leading up to our winter break. Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa is a great read aloud for teaching young students about the Kwanzaa tradition. In addition to the engaging story and appealing illustrations, there is back matter that explains the purpose of each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. I like the overall theme of a community coming together (harambee) to help one another. My students also made several unprompted predictions while reading this book so it works well to work on making predictions as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nonfiction Monday - Planes: National Geographic Reader

Planes: National Geographic Readers
written by Amy Shields
(National Geographic Society) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Reading Tub

Planes is a nonfiction early reader that will fit well in a tub dedicated to books about transportation. This book would be a good example to use for teaching about different genres under the nonfiction umbrella. You don't have to start reading an informational text (like Planes) at the beginning as opposed to a narrative like a biography. Planes has several short sections with information about different aspects of planes including size, use, and speed. For example, the Antonov 225 can hold 80 cars in its belly and is the biggest plane ever made. You could teach contrast by comparing the aircraft Antonov with the 8 1/2 foot Bumblebee II which is the smallest plane. A good question to ask students would be "What is the purpose of each of these planes?" Since Planes is full of facts, you could also use it to teach fact and opinion. I could also see using Planes to teach how to chart information from a text. You could list the different modes of transportation and write about their use in a parallel cell. Perhaps the most interesting section of the book is the information about the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. It carries 70 airplanes and those planes land on a deck that is 20 stories above the ocean. Planes is a series of short bursts of facts which will appeal to young readers who like to become experts in different subjects.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Free Thumbelina app - Moms with Apps

It's App Friday at Moms with Apps so get yourself over there and find out how you can download a free Thumbelina story app from Touchoo. This looks like a great app for ELL students. Better hurry since this deal only lasts until 8 PM PST.

Most of the cool apps that I download for our K-5 students come from recommendations I find on Moms with Apps. If you use an iPhone, iPad, or iTouch with a kid, you owe it to yourself to go to this website.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stack the States: iPod Touch app for elementary students

Stack the States
developed by Dan Russell-Pinson
2010
$0.99

This is one of the most addictive and clever iTouch apps I have downloaded.  After answering a question where you identify the shape of a state or the capital of a state, you are presented with an animated shape of the state answer which has to be dropped on a platform. The goal is to "stack the states" high enough to reach a checkered bar. Stacking is not automatic as the figures tend to bounce according to their shape which adds some geometric thinking to this game. Think playing Tetris while learning state information. If you are able to stack enough states to cross the bar, you earn a state. Earning states allows you access to other games. I haven't tried this with students yet, but the adults who have tried this app have not been able to put it down. For a very reasonable price, you get a fun way to learn more about our 50 states.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bats: National Geographic Readers

Bats: National Geographic Readers
written by Elizabeth Carney
(National Geographic Society) 2010
Source: Copy provided by publisher

Bats is another winner in the National Geographic Readers series of informational text. You get a combination of high quality photographs and interesting text that will hook young readers. Bats are a fascinating subject with their nocturnal nature and vampire folklore attached to their name. One of my favorite sections of this book is called Bat Myths Busted!. Elizabeth Carney refutes myths about the eyesight and cleanliness of bats. If you want to teach text features, this book would be an excellent source for teaching labeling. Page 13 has a full length photograph of a bat and several labels of bat body parts. The Bat Hall of Fame section is another engaging part of this book with amazing information about species like the flying fox which can have a wingspan of six feet long or the brown bat which "can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in one night."

I read this book with my kindergarten class this morning and they were mesmerized. It is the perfect size for use with a document camera. I drew a quadrant with blocks dedicated to old schema, new schema, new words, and questions we have about bats. Some of my students thought that bats slept at night so reading this book helped us to learn about  the word nocturnal and clear up misconceptions. Bats also helped us work on how to ask questions and wonder out loud.