Monday, April 24, 2017

Share, Big Bear, Share!

Share, Big Bear, Share!
written by Maureen Wright, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But Bear just sighed with a dreamy grin, hugged his pail, and dug right in. 

Bear is lying down on the grass feeling very pleased with himself. He has a large silver garbage can full of berries. Life is good. Some squirrels and birds look on in envy, but Bear is too busy with his face in the berries to notice. A wise old oak tree implores him to share, but Bear's not strong with paying attention, so he thinks the oak is telling him to comb his hair. Using a fish bone, he strokes through the fur on his head. Going back to eating his berries, Bear again hears the old oak tree urging him to share. This time, Bear thinks he hears the word lair. So Bear goes to his home, takes a peek inside, and then heads back to his pile of fruit. The back and forth between Bear and the old oak continues through more words until the tree has had enough. Instead of a short phrase, the tree gives Bear a four sentence lecture on sharing. This time, Bear finally gets the message. In a pivotal moment, Bear asks the other animals to forgive him and he turns the can on its side so they all can share. On the last page of the book, lying with his back against the old oak tree, Bear shares something else with his new friends in a piece of artwork that is simply sweet.

In news that is not new to anyone, sharing is hard for young students. They need role models to show them why it's important to give to others. Bear can be such a role model. Another use of Share, Big Bear, Share, would be to use the book for shared reading. Your class will have a lot of fun reading sentences like "He plopped his rump on the smooth tree stump and popped in a berry so juicy and plump." The vivid artwork will also allow classes to work on learning how to infer. Reading Share, Big Bear, Share will bear a lot of fruit in your classroom.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur

T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur
written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls; illustrated by Katherina Manolessou
2017 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Reginald ate broccoli, Reginald ate beans. Reginald ate bowls and bowls of garlic, grapes, and greens.

Reg is a typical t-rex is almost every way. He has a loud roar, gnashes his teeth, and pounds the ground with his clawed feet. One thing makes him stand out among the dinosaur drove. Reg is a vegetarian. He prefers fruit shakes, avocado pie, and pea and spinach stew to a steak. Offering these delicious foods to family and friends, he's made fun of and frowned upon by his parents. Never having associated with a vegetarian, they choose to mock instead of understand. What's a t-rex to do? Well, how about putting on your backpack and trying to find like-minded creatures? Problem is, when you're a herbivore from a carnivore background, you aren't exactly warmly welcomed. Herbies run away from Reg instead of embracing him. Meanwhile, his t-rex family and friends have started to miss him and see the error of their ways. Regrettably, they may not be able to tell Reg they're sorry, as a massive rock is starting to crash down a cliff and take out the whole lot of them. If only there was a super strong dino to save them.

T.Veg is a superb way of showing how eating your fruits and vegetables is a cool thing to do. It's also a good lesson in accepting our differences instead of making fun of them. That's pretty valuable in an elementary school setting. Teachers can't have enough books that promote this. Many kindergarten classrooms also have units on eating new foods. This would be an excellent opportunity to introduce Reg to your students. Vive le vegetables and vive Reginald!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On Duck Pond

On Duck Pond
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bob Marstall
2017 (Cornell Lab Publishing Group)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A frog leaped off his lily pad,
Quite surprised and very mad.

It's pretty quiet at the old Duck Pond as the day dawns. Nice and peaceful. Until the ducks show up. They make all sorts of noise which is nicely described by a variety of vivid verbs. Different animals make a break for it to avoid the crashing fowls. In a captivating close-up, a frog jumps sky high off a lily pad. Both flora and fauna are "trembling" as viewed through the water. Even the narrator notices that his reflection is a metaphor for the scene as it is in pieces due to the duck destruction. And then, the pond becomes quiet again as the ducks have left. Each animal returns to a comfortable spot. The heron to her nest, the trout to "quiet pools", and the frog back to his lily pad. More critters join the previous occupants who were temporarily displaced. As he walks away, the narrator feels closer to the wild as they have all shared both the disquiet and the coming back together.

Like its predecessor, On Bird Hill, this book is a jewel of a small moment. On Duck Pond is what you take off the shelf when you want to show people of any age how to write a narrative. The text is captivating with spirited action words as the ducks land in the pond, and then soothing after the blusterous birds have exited. Matching the text in beauty is the artwork. I particularly like the different points of view as some illustrations are close up and others give a much wider view. It would be an interesting discussion to have as to why the illustrator made these choices for each spread.

My guess would be that one of Cornell Labs' goals with these books is to encourage children to observe the world around them and describe what they see. With the first two books that have been published, they're off to a superb start.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Leaky Story

The Leaky Story
written by Devon Sillett; illustrated by Anil Tortop
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Soon, it could no longer be contained. At first, there was a small trickle. Just a drip...drip...drip.

Those books on the shelf that are collecting a thin sheet of dust. Ones that you haven't touched in awhile? You might want to take a look at them. Young J.J. noticed one titled The Leaky Story as he was playing pirates on a circular rug. The book shifted and fell on its side, unable to contain the weight of what was inside. Slowly, water and letters started dripping down the wall. The word once cascaded down followed by upon a time. Suddenly, there were puddles in the living room. His mother thought she heard something, but Dad said it was only her imagination as he stared mindlessly past his toes toward the television. Then, a pirate ship and various sea creatures came out of the book. The battle was on! Mom was jousting with a pirate, using a rolling pin while Dad grabbed the vacuum hose to fend off another while the living room changed into a sea scene. Right behind J.J., a Kraken roared loud enough to disturb the neighbors, but the courageous family fought on, throwing all manner of household items to beat back the unwanted visitors. Sensing their impending defeat, the sea creatures and water meekly made their way back up the wall and into the book that had previously released them. After a group hug to celebrate, the family raced off to their next adventure.

The Leaky Story joyfully illustrates the benefits of getting lost in a book. When you can bring a couple of family members with you, that's even better. In this age of everyone going to a separate room with an electronic device, we need reminders of how reading can bring us together. Thinking about the classroom, The Leaky Story is a terrific example of small moment writing. You could also teach a lesson on sequence with this book. Avast ye mateys, The Leaky Story is a fun experience to be had!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where's the Ballerina?

Where's the Ballerina?
written by Anna Claybourne; illustrated by Abigail Goh
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

You'll soon discover how the best ballets are full of funny mix-ups, thrilling drama, and most important, huge casts of wonderful characters in colorful costumes. 

I don't know squat about ballet. I don't know a passe from a forward pass. I don't know a plie from a pair of pliers. But I really like this book. Ten famous ballets are spotlighted. Each ballet is summarized in a two page spread. It starts with a paragraph that provides the setting and some background for the story. From a teacher's perspective, I appreciate this frontloading. Then, the story is told in a sequence of 7-8 paragraphs. Each paragraph is accompanied by an illustration featuring ballet dancers. Also included is an illustrated set of main characters. That's important because each two page summary is followed by another two page spread that is a dazzling search and find based on the setting of the story. It's the job of the reader to find the characters in the search and find. They can also look for a ballet dancer and a peacock who are in all ten search and find sets. These are elaborate pieces of artwork. It occurred to me that you could use this book to talk about different types of architecture across the ages. Another cool aspect of Where's the Ballerina? is that you are introducing classic stories to students. Look at this list: Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, The Nutcracker, La Bayadere, Coppelia, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Cinderella. You're going to be smarter for having read this book. When you hear that someone is tilting at windmills or being puckish, you will get the meaning since you learned about it in Don Quixote and A Midsummer Night's Dream. That's pretty impressive for a search and find! I learned about stories I've heard mentioned all of my life, but never bothered to check out. Want another way you could use this in a classroom? How about comparing characters? There are plenty of heroes and villains in these stories.

This is such a smart way to introduce ballet to students. They will start with the search and find, but will also be pulled in to the stories. You can introduce tragedies and comedies, universal themes, and other literary terms to older students. The artwork is fabulous and could be used to teach landscapes and architecture. You will do a peppy pirouette at the possibilities presented in Where's the Ballerina?

Monday, April 10, 2017

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea
written by Kate Hosford; illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
2017 (Carolrhoda Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"James," she yelled. "This tea is horrible!"

The Queen, looking like she came from Wonderland as imagined by Maurice Sendak, is not happy. And when the Queen is not happy, nobody is happy. The problem is her cup of tea has stopped being tasty. So she and her butler James head off in a hot air balloon to find a perfect cup. When they land, a girl named Noriko greets them and mentions that the Queen is "just in time." Her kitties could use a loving snuggle. James tells Noriko that the Queen isn't here for that. Doesn't matter. Noriko says she needs to do it. A little awkward at first, the Queen finds her groove and actually enjoys the snuggle. The six selfie-like shots of the Queen and the cat are a hoot. Feeling fine, the Queen asks Noriko for a cup of tea. Noriko grants her wish, but only if she helps. The Queen manages to turn on the faucet, but that's about the extent of her capabilities. She's not used to doing anything for herself, so this is quite the triumph. While enjoying Noriko's tea, it's not the perfect cup so the Queen and James are off to find another cup. They go on to meet two other children, Sunil and Rana, and the Queen dribbles a soccer ball, dances, and helps a little more to make tea on each successive trip. Still, she hasn't found the perfect cup of tea, but now she knows what she has to do next in her search. The perfect cup of tea is found, but in a surprising place.

Is there a more universal item shared than tea? Even at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, they serve tea during the brutal winters. How the Queen is a marvelously clever celebration of this ubiquitous drink, but also of learning how to be independent and how to be a friend. When the Queen learns how to make her own tea, it's like a student who learns how to tie their own shoe. Sure, it's nice when someone ties your shoe, but it's more satisfying when you can do it yourself. Even better for the Queen, she shares her tea with her new friends. If you want to encourage your students to be more independent and friendly (And who doesn't?), invite them for this splendid cup of tea.

Friday, April 7, 2017

I Am (Not) Scared

I Am (Not) Scared
written by Anna Kang; illustrated by Christopher Weyant
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

You look scared. Well, maybe a little. Don't worry, there are much scarier things than this. 

Click, click, click. As you hear that sound, you truly wonder if you have lost your mind. The roller coaster slowly climbs higher and higher and your fears soar with it. This is the predicament the two furry creatures in I Am (Not) Scared face. As a fan of roller coasters, I think the author and illustrator have really nailed this experience. Through the two creatures, you see the stages of riding. First, there's the part where you have to pump yourself up. You have to convince yourself that this isn't going to be that bad. The two friends do this by naming things that are much scarier. Like a tub of hairy spiders. Or an alien with pink eyes and furry teeth. Or snakes. Next is the point of no return. The car rolls up and you have to get on board. Unfortunately for the two buddies, it's a car with a snake although less scary since the snake is wearing glasses. So, the now threesome face the scariest part which is making the climb up. But you know, when you have a pal beside you, it's not as bad. What follows are three spreads of visual delight that remind me of classic Looney Tunes mayhem as the three hold on for dear life. As they depart from the car at the end, the two frazzled fuzzies declare the ride to be "the scariest." But if you've ever ridden a roller coaster, you know what is going to come next.

One of the things that we try to do as adults is put on a brave face and shield our kids from fear. Maybe we do too good of a job. It's okay to be scared. By sharing this with our students, we make a connection and strengthen our relationship with them. They need to know that having fears is natural, but the lesson here is not to let fear stop us from living our lives. Life is a roller coaster, but one that needs to be ridden and with all the friends we can find. With humor, sweetness, and delightful artwork, I Am (Not) Scared is a ride we all will want to take.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Henry and the Chalk Dragon

Henry and the Chalk Dragon
written by Jennifer Trafton; illustrated by Benjamin Schipper
2017 (Rabbit Room Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Henry leaped to his feet. "I'm sorry, Principal Bunk, but I have to go. I have to save the school."

"Don't let your imagination run wild." On this day, Henry Penwhistle's imagination goes beyond that old maxim. Actually, it probably leaves the galaxy. Unfortunately for him, no one seems to understand. He doesn't fit in at school. He's picked on and seen as weird. Nobody, except for his best friend Oscar, seems to get him. And even his friendship with Oscar carries an unspoken dread. Unmotivated to go to school and please the teacher by drawing bunnies for the art show, Henry instead uses the back of his bedroom door as a canvas and creates a jungle green dragon that is "fierce and fearsome and full of fire." Okay, so what's the problem? Well, if you wake up and the door is absent a dragon, that's a problem. If the dragon is heading toward your school, that's a bigger problem. Henry races to school to track down the runaway chalk dragon and during this battle deal with other issues (communicating with adults, lack of confidence) that are monsters in their own right.

You start reading some books and you know they are going to be a read aloud hit in the classroom. Henry and the Chalk Dragon has a terrific energy to it. It moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of action to keep the reader riveted. Running parallel to the action is a great heart. We sympathize with Henry who is a reluctant hero who just wants to do his own thing and not conform to the pressures of a tedious testing school world. Young readers really connect to those characters because there is a little bit of each of them in Henry.

As a teacher, I think Henry is an excellent choice for paying attention to how characters change during the course of a book. One idea would be to create a point to point graph and chart Henry's emotions as you go through the chapters. This is also a good companion for writing poetry as one of the characters breaks out in song with heroic verses lauding Henry's actions. Similes and metaphors could also be the subjects of mini-lessons connected to this book. Other fun ideas can be found in the curriculum guide on author Jennifer Trafton's website.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon is a kid-sized chapter book saga that will enthrall those brave enough to read it.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Wonderful You: An Adoption Story

Wonderful You
written by Lauren McLaughlin; illustrated by Meilo So
2017 (Random House)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The lady in blue looked us over some more.
She liked what she saw, but she had to be sure. 

The lady in blue is looking far and wide. Carrying an unborn child, she is looking for a home. A home that will take in her daughter. A home that will love her Wonderful You. From the skies, she surveys the coastline while sitting in the curve of the moon. She sees a home in the dunes. A couple waits anxiously. They have a crib, a teddy bear, and an abundance of love. After securing a promise to love Wonderful You morning and night, the lady in blue hands off the child and travels peacefully back to her home on the wings of a bird. The new family, along with the teddy named Boo, enjoy life together as Wonderful You grows up. They ride bikes and swing high in the sky. Birthdays are celebrated and snowmen are built. Watching from afar, with a smile on her face, is the lady in blue.

Wonderful You exudes the hope and love that you wish for families. Told in lyrical rhymes and illustrated in beautiful colors like a dream, you sense both textually and visually the adoration of all of the parents involved. I've read a couple of reviews that talked about this book being overly sweet, but that's looking through the eyes of an adult. PreK - 2nd grade students will see it differently and love it. Have you ever watched a six or seven year old when they are near a baby? Wonderful You is a precious way to open a discussion about adoption.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My First Book of Soccer: A Rookie Book

My First Book of Soccer
written by Beth Bugler and Mark Bechtel; illustrated by Bill Hinds
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review book provided by the publisher

Since the foul was serious, the referee shows the player a yellow card. That's a warning that he'd better not do it again. 

The first competitive sport for both of my daughters was soccer. You're outside in the fresh air and there's a lot of running. Equipment costs are fairly low at the beginning and it's fun when the adults behave. To help introduce the sport, you can read My First Book of Soccer. It combines informational text about the game with action photos and two animated characters who add humor and give a kid's point of view. For example, on the two page spread about halftime, the characters bring gallon size bags of orange slices onto the field while making a pun. If you've been a soccer parent, you know the importance of halftime snacks.

I really like the visuals in this book. A labeled soccer field helps readers see the lined sections. This will assist when readers later learn about penalty areas and corner kicks. The photos used to teach passing show proper foot form and players in the act of passing. I can see that the creators of the book were very intentional in their choice of photographs. All aspects of the game (skills needed and rules) are covered. Even yellow and red cards are included.

One interesting use of this book in the classroom would be for students to compare the rules in the text to the rules that they use in their soccer games. There will be some difference (number of players, amount of time, substitutions) between the two. I also think this would also be a good mentor text to use when you write How-To books in class.

*I have to admit I have a bias in that Bill Hinds illustrated the animated characters. He is half of the team that created the iconic Tank McNamara comic strip which was a favorite of my childhood. Unfortunately, I may have to explain what a newspaper is to my students.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!
written by Anita Sanchez; illustrated by Catherine Stock
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Karl decided to get things organized. He planned to bring order to the chaos and give everything a clear and simple name. 

Karl's parents wanted his nose in a book. He'd rather have it in a flower or near a striped insect. How to compromise? With plants being an important part of medicine, Karl begged to attend medical school, and pass on being a lawyer or a minister, so he could spend plenty of time outdoors. As he tried to cure ailments, Karl ran into the same problem again and again. There was no consistent agreement on the names of plants. People would have several different names for the same plant. He also noticed that this conundrum applied to animals as well, so Karl set out to develop a more organized system. Dividing the plant and animal kingdoms, he created classes for plants and gave each plant and animal a name with only two parts. An important aspect of Karl's research was observation. He traveled north to Lapland to find wildflowers. Whether climbing high to gather pine cones or checking the mouth of a bat, Karl thought, "Truth ought to be confirmed by observation." In addition to his work in classification, Karl also was a teacher. The outdoors was a classroom where discoveries would literally be trumpeted in celebration. This paid off as his students went out into the world. With the help of specimens sent to him from his students, he "created a new language of science."

If you told me, "Hey, I have a picture book about the history of taxonomy", I might be classified as bloggerus runtheotherwayis. But this is a really interesting picture book biography about the father of taxonomy. I like how it's framed as a story of someone who thought differently and went against the grain. Karl is a problem solver and eager to take up challenges. I also like the extra information attached to the lovely watercolor illustrations. It could be a quote from Karl or examples of his classification work. That's like finding an extra flavor in a delicious dish of food. Karl, Get Out of the Garden would be a terrific addition to a biography or science unit.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants
written by Sandra Markle; illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Grandma's thirst stirs a memory of a dry time long ago, when she was a baby like Little Calf. 

In hot and dry Tanzania, Grandma elephant leads the herd as they search for water. The smell of water directs their path. They find water at the river and the animals already there show deference to this mass of mammals. Continuing dry conditions lead to less water in the river so the herd has to move on. The elephants dig holes in the ground and chew juicy plants, but it is not enough. At one point, Little Calf succumbs to the heat and drops. Mother elephant uses her saliva to cool off her child. A desperate measure for desperate times. Grandma's memory is leading the herd to find a watering hole from her childhood. With a loud trumpet, she signals the herd that she has found what she was looking for. At last, there will be enough water for the elephants.

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants was inspired by the story of a real elephant named Big Mama who led her herd to a new watering hole during a 1994 drought. An author's note gives details about Big Mama and several elephant facts and extra resources are also contained in the back matter.

When I think of examples for young writers to follow, Sandra Markle is one of the authors that comes to mind. Her writing has so many great qualities. For example, I would use the following sentence to showcase building more vivid sentences: "Grandma leads the way through the rosy glow of the fading day." What a visual! There's also great variety in the length of the sentences. Longer sentences are mixed in with shorter ones that are punctuated with action words in capital letters. Markle writes like a conductor leading an orchestra. Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants would be an excellent addition to your narrative writing unit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Search and Find Animals

Search and Find Animals
written by Libby Walden; illustrated by Fermin Solis
2017 (Silver Dolphin Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Under the opposite flap we hide,
Just use these pictures as a guide!

So when you open the book, you see two flaps. Like below:
The object of the book is for the reader to find those animals in the large scene that is below the two flaps. Yes, the pictures are charming and humorous and you probably picture a parent with a toddler on their knee looking inside the book. That's all well and good, but there are some sneaky deeper things going on here. Guess who is being introduced to the concept of biomes with this book? All of those animals naturally belong in that scene. Show your young learner a picture of a penguin and ask them why it doesn't fit in this scene. They may reply that penguins don't live on farms or that it is too warm in the picture. Another dropping of knowledge that's going on here? You're introducing adjectives. "What kind of donkey do you see?" When they answer "gray", that's using an adjective. Learning about using descriptors might help produce a stronger writer down the line. Want to work on motor skills? Children will be using their pointer finger to find animals in the large scene. Know what that's good practice for later? Reading. A pointer finger will come in quite handy in the near future of your little genius. Oh by the way, when you are looking for all of these items, you are also introducing a ton of vocabulary. Talk it up when sharing this book! 

The artwork in Search and Find Animals is brilliant in color and very engaging. Adults will enjoy the humor and appreciate that their child is having a great time finding the animals. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

High Frequency Word QR Code Bingo Game

When I was looking for ways to combine high frequency word study in K-1 with technology, I ran across an article on the Technology in Early Childhood blog. Using information from the article, I created a QR code bingo game that can be played using an iPad and a QR code scanner. Instead of audio files, I created video files. I would also recommend teachers create a video with directions that is linked to a QR code. Students can scan this code when they are not sure what to do. It keeps the activity independent for the student. Here are the directions for creating the game:



  1. You will need to shoot videos for the high frequency words that you want to use in this game. You can do this with your laptop. A fun idea would be to video faculty members saying the words. The videos only need to be 3-5 seconds long. After creating your videos, upload them to a Google Drive folder. Then, create a shareable link for each video and click "On-Anyone with the link". Once you have a shareable link, you can paste it into a QR code generator (http://www.qr-code-generator.com) and create a QR code. You can download the QR code and print it for classroom use. I created 3x3 tables in Google Docs and placed the codes in the tables. For this game, I used 33 kindergarten high frequency words.
  2. Create several cards (I inserted 5x5 tables in a Google Doc) that have different combinations of words. 
  3. Print the QR codes, laminate them, and cut them out for student use. Place the codes in a basket. Students will pull a QR code and scan it to hear the high frequency word. They will mark on the board when they hear a high frequency word that matches one on their card. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie
written by Barry Wittenstein; illustrated by London Ladd
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One day I'll tell my kids how long we waited for Pumpsie Green. I'll tell them how he dug his heels into the batter's box. I'll tell them how I pretended it was me, Bernard, sliding into third. 

Narrator Bernard is waiting. Waiting for his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, to have an African-American player on their roster. It's been 12 years since Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. When Papa complains about the Yankees having only one African-American on their roster, Bernard notes "It's one more than we got." While watching a game at Fenway Park, Bernard and his sister cheer when the Yankee player, Elston Howard, hits a single. Two fans promptly tell them to "sit down and shut up." When Mama and Papa turn to defend their children against the rude fans, a policeman tells them they need to "learn how to behave." Bernard now understands why African-Americans don't feel welcome at Fenway Park. He also wonders when change is going to come. Finally, the Red Sox add a player to their spring training roster. Pumpsie Green is a promising infielder who could help the team. But the waiting continues as Pumpsie is assigned to the minors when the season begins. In July, Bernard's prayers are answered as Pumpsie is promoted to the big league Red Sox. Papa and the family gather around the radio and in the eighth inning, the last major league team to integrate their roster sends Pumpsie Green into the game. It's an emotional moment in Bernard's house with shouts of joy and a few tears from Papa. Later on, Bernard's family attends a game at Fenway where Pumpsie hits a triple and the crowd cheers. After the game, Bernard stops to look at the field and remember the moment.

You get a good sense of the frustration and joy for Bernard and his family. The text and artwork work well together to give an authentic representation of the time period. Waiting for Pumpsie is a great lesson in point of view as we see the world of 1959 through Bernard's eyes. He and his family deal with racism, but they never lose hope or their love of baseball. Also important, as Fuse 8 pointed out in an earlier note about the book, Waiting for Pumpsie fills a potential knowledge gap for students. They may think everything was great for African-American baseball players after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. This picture book, especially with the author's note, will help them understand that this notion is not true.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Brobarians Blog Tour

Brobarians
written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Two seekers of high adventure, their strength and courage became that of legend. 

This is a saga worthy of History Channel treatment. Or perhaps it should be Lin Manuel Miranda's next Broadway musical. Two young warriors torn by a clash over cookies. The youngest Brobarian, Iggy, is brave. He challenges the monster grill on the patio. Animals, real and stuffed, listen to his wise words. He uses his strength to take leadership of a standing (literally) army of 6 men. Watching from the high ground is the disgruntled older Brobarian Otto. How dare Iggy take his army! This calls for a mighty mission to restore his rightful place. While Iggy has retreated away from his cave for snacks, Otto has done a most daring deed. Iggy returns to find his milk bottle, his Bah-Bah missing. Anger fills the air. Iggy scales a stump mountain, wades through the quicksand inside the turtle, and sloshes under a raging sprinkler. He approaches the camp of his rival Otto. Iggy's nemesis leaves his tent and in a brazen public display, drinks the Bah-Bah! A wail for the ages begins a mud battle unmatched by trucks. With the land being destroyed, the mightiest warrior of all appears and banishes the brothers to the warm waters and bubbles of the "dungeon of seclusion."

This is an epically epic (You need over the top phrases for books like this.) tale. Yes, it is adorable and preK-2 readers will be highly amused. But think about other possibilities for using this book in your classroom. You can talk about sequence and chart out the major events. Along those lines, Brobarians is a fantastic example of taking a small moment and expanding it. Could you use this in middle or high school? Yes!! Think about parody. This is a classic send-up of shows like Vikings on the History Channel or the movie Conan the Barbarian. Like other great sagas, let's hope there's a Brobarians 2 around the corner.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Animal Planet: Baby Animals

Baby Animals
written by Dorothea DePrisco
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A bunny's nose has more than 50 million receptor cells. (Human noses have 6 million.) 

Must not do it. Can't say it. Have to hold back. NO, NO, NO, here it comes: "AWWWWW". I tried, but the cuteness bowled me over. A photo of a St. Bernard puppy will do it every time. But cuteness will only take you so far. You need to drop knowledge in an interesting way that will satisfy young readers, parents, and teachers. Baby Animals brings it. Each spread starts with a summarizing paragraph in larger font that's a good fit for late first grade to second grade eyes. Then you get a mix of more in-depth fact boxes and text features accompanied by engaging photos. Sections are tabbed by what is featured. A dark green tab is attached to a spread that shows ways in which baby animals grow and learn. For example, Making Changes focuses on how animal features change as they age. The blue eyes of a bobcat kitten will turn green or brown when they are adults. A light blue tab spotlights habitat facts. Other tabs show ways people interact with animals and how animals adapt to their environments. A yellow tab means a single animal is the star of that spread. A large photograph with labels bring out facts about the body of the animal. Red panda cubs have flattened teeth that help them chew bamboo. They even have a thumb-like growth that allows for better gripping of bamboo and other food. A fact box called Info Bites gives their animal group and location. For fun, there is a check-off box. One box asks if the red panda is a candidate to invite over for a sleepover. They do sleep for over half the day, but where they sleep is high in a tree so you will have to stick to seeing them in your dreams or on the page.

Baby Animals is a bite-sized buffet of animal facts and photos that PreK-2nd grade readers will throw their arms around.  My favorite section of the book is a flow chart about the pet adoption process.This would be a good mentor text for creating nonfiction posters or learning about text features. Exposure to these kinds of books helps to produce a respect and love of animals. Now more than ever, we need conservation minded citizens.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! DOOM!

Ella and Owen: The Cave of Aaaaah! Doom!
written by Jaden Kent; illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk
2017 (Little Bee Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

And when fire-breathing dragons sneeze, you had better run for cover....

Pickled-fish popsicles. Ogre toenails. Evil wizards made of vegetables. Ingredients for a bubbly brew? No, more like components of a highly enjoyable early reader. Owen the dragon has a bad cold. All he wants to do is stay in bed and read, but it's a little dangerous in his room since he breathes fire when he sneezes. So how do you cure a cold? Chicken soup and rest? Ella, Owen's sister, has a better idea. A trip to a secret cave where she says a dragon wizard has the answer to what ails Owen. With the opportunity to collect ogre toenails, Owen is persuaded to leave the safety of his room. Ella tends to fly by the seat of her scales, so she doesn't reveal that their destination is named Aaaah! Doom! Along the way, they meet a sprite and a dragon eating ogre who nearly makes a meal of them. Fortunately, the ogre share a common fear with a famous monster which allows the dragon duo to escape. Once in the cave, they encounter two truly weird villains. The first one has fangs and smells of breakfast. A thousand guesses probably would not have revealed that it is a Wicked Wizard Waffle. Not foiled by a vat of maple syrup, instead it takes an off key version of a holiday classic to thwart this creepy cake. I've seen strange sightings in late night breakfast restaurants, but nothing tops this. Except for a large pat of butter. The second bizarre bad guy the fire spewing siblings confront has a broccoli body with celery arms and carrot legs. It is the dreaded vegetable wizard Orlock Morlock. Will the young dragons escape his cauliflower clutches?

Reading Ella and Owen will be a hilarious ride for early chapter book readers. The imaginations of Jaden Kent (Tom Mason+ Dan Danko) run wild to the benefit of all of us. Why have a cardboard scoundrel when you can have a menacing breakfast entree? Continental hotel breakfasts may never be the same. This new series promises more danger and delightful oddball humor in future books.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Animal Ark

Animal Ark
words by Kwame Alexander; photographs by Joel Sartore
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Chorus of creatures
Singing our names
See what we can save - together

National Geographic and photographer Joel Sartore have undertaken an epic project called Photo Ark. He is visiting zoos from around the world to take photographs of all 12,000 captive animal species. Hopefully, after visiting the Photo Ark, people will be motivated to take action to help endangered animals. What if you wanted to add text to further energize this effort? You team up with Kwame Alexander and create a book called Animal Ark. The book opens with a gatefold that features over two dozen animals including a koala, a pangolin, and a seahorse photographed against black and white backgrounds. Two more similar gatefolds later appear in the book. Full page photographs, accompanied by haiku woven throughout, follow the gatefolds. The artwork and text work together to connect the reader emotionally to these animals. Seeing them in close-up fashion and reading the poetry drives home the point of our species needing to do something to preserve those who are near extinction. When you see a photograph of a lemur, curled up in a ball, with the words embracing wonder above its head, you understand that we have a responsibility to help. Near the end of the book, a beautiful Malayan tiger is spotlighted in a two page spread with this powerful haiku accompanying it:

Grandfather of the hunt
Fierce and Fast
And favored, forever?

That last line is haunting and will hopefully spur readers. The back matter is similarly persuasive with essays from Kwame Alexander and Joel Sartore. Also included are thumbnails of all of the animals featured in Animal Ark with an IUCN listing that categorizes according to geography and conservation status.

Definitely include Animal Ark in your study of poetry. Its combination of persuasive text and gorgeous photographs makes it a terrific book to share with your class.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shh! My Brother's Napping

Shh! My Brother's Napping
written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

He's very noisy when he sleeps.
His mouth hangs open wide.
But Mommy has forbidden me
from putting things inside.

Life's not fair when your fussy younger sibling is finally asleep. The Rules triple during this time. Mom says you can't put anything in his mouth while he's asleep. How about the premiere performance of your pots n' pans orchestra? Are you kidding? Mom's not playing around when your brother is asleep. Painting and reading can be pretty passive pastimes to pass the time. Unless you're told not to paint your snoozing brother's face or you encounter a scary book that makes you run. What's a big brother to do? Play blocks. That's a quiet activity. Unless you build a big tower. And you have to stand on a pile of books that are on a chair that is on top of a box. What are the chances of that being a disaster? About 100 percent. On the bright side, your brother is now wide awake and you can play with him. Watch for the surprise ending that brings this enjoyable book full circle.

Being able to compare things is a big deal in life. It's an important skill for an elementary age learner. This book is a fun way to practice comparing. What big brother wants to do vs. what Mom wants him to do is a Venn diagram waiting to happen. The middle of the diagram could be how the two of them could compromise. Want to have a great discussion? Ask who's right here. Should the big brother have to be quiet or should Mom allow him to raise his normal ruckus? If you have iPads, your students could record their answers to this question. It would be a chance to teach how details support arguments as well. Don't fall asleep on the chance to procure this entertaining nap time adventure.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring
written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Pig dreamed she was flying with Goose. They flew over hills and fields. They flew over barns and rivers. They flew over a pond with a big oak tree. 

Carrying a picnic basket on a beautiful early spring day, Pig spots a small white dot in the sky. The dot turns out to be a goose who lands right beside her. Pig, being a kind soul, compliments Goose on his flying and wishes she could do the same. She asks Goose to teach her and he agrees. Sadly, no amount of speed or flapping of arms will lift Pig into the sky. On the bright side, the two have a good belly laugh at the thought of Pig flying. She suggests that they enjoy her picnic lunch by the pond. Later, Pig sees that Goose is not only an excellent flyer, but also a superb swimmer. This produces a bit of inadequacy in her heart. But Goose tells her that she has talents. He is quite correct, as later that evening, Pig proves to be a top notch hostess of a First-Day-of-Spring Party. She is charming, witty, and a spry dancer. As they clean and dry the dishes after the party, Goose tells Pig that she is wonderful. A little embarrassed, Pig asks if they can have another picnic the next day. These two have become fast friends.

You can't help but feel good after reading this book. Real friends notice the best in each other and Pig and Goose certainly model this. This is a good lesson on what friends do for each other. Pig and Goose works well as an early reader, with just right text for late first grade/early second grade readers. It's a nice bridge to the bigger chapter books to come. Pig and Goose are a welcome addition to the land of early readers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters

Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters!
2017 (Guinness World Records Limited)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The chapters are based on six of your favorite things to do: Watch (movies and TV), Browse (internet and social media), Read (books and magazines), Play (toys and games), Go (attractions and events) and Consume (shopping and brands)

When I was a child, I received two gifts every year at Christmas. One was the Associated Press Sports Almanac and the other was the Guinness Book of World Records. I've been batty about facts since childhood. I've found as a teacher that I'm not the only one and my fascination with facts has spanned generations. This is one book guaranteed to fly off the shelves. Within each chapter, there are several popular cultural topics. For example, in the Watch chapter, there are spreads dedicated to The Avengers, Pixar movies, Star Wars, and other movie and TV phenomena. In the spread, you will read short paragraphs peppered with facts that you expect from Guinness. A fact box titled Most Valuable Movie Franchise in the Star Wars section reveals that this franchise is worth $41.98 billion. Then, you get a breakdown of that giant number. Box office is about a fifth of the total, while toys and merchandise ($17 billion) make up almost half. Can you see the possibilities of fun math activities here? Teaching the concept of average numbers? You can discuss how Pixar has the highest average gross ($626.52 million) of any movie studio. Working on addition? Eric Jaskolka can help you. He has the largest collection of X-Men memorabilia. The paragraph featuring him breaks down the numbers by category of his 15,400 items. If you add Eric's 6,000 comic books and his 3,500 trading cards, how many items does he have? You've just made math more interesting by connecting to popular cultural topics.  If you're studying place value, you can download a scavenger hunt using the book right here. The activity has participants thumbing through the record book and answering place value questions. This would be a fun Friday activity or a center during math.

In addition to the chapters, there are four brand new Guinness challenges in the back of the book for students to try on their own. One of these challenges is to stack 20 Lego bricks in a right angle tower in the fastest time. Readers can also find out how to prepare for breaking a Guinness record. I think you could brainstorm a list of challenges for your school/class to undertake on a special day. That would be engaging for students. Fact is, older elementary and middle grade readers will enjoy this book.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Rock Maiden Blog Tour

The Rock Maiden
written by Natasha Yim; illustrated by Pirkko Vainio
2017 (Wisdom Tales)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Every morning, Ling Yee put her baby on her back. Then she hiked to the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. There she would scan the horizon for her husband. 

In a Chinese fishing village named Hong Kong, Ling Yee's heart was caught by a man who helped elderly fishermen to pull in their boats. She married Ching Yin and they had a son. Their happiness was short-lived as Ching Yin did not return with the other fishermen after a stormy afternoon at sea. One fisherman described the storm as like "fighting a giant sea serpent." Not believing her husband to be dead, Ling Yee, with her baby on her back, hiked to the top of a cliff each day to look for Ching Yin. While the other villagers whispered, Ling Yee's parents were so concerned that they made an entreaty with the patron goddess of fishermen. Tin Hau was so moved by this dilemma that she sent a lightning bolt that turned Ling Yee and her child into stone. Thus was born the Rock Maiden on the cliff who continued to look for her husband. When a rough looking stranger came to the village a year later, he inquired about Ling Yee. It was Ching Yin, who had struggled to find his way home after being stranded at sea. When told of the fate of his beloved maiden, he went to her and wept in anguish. Seeing this, how would the goddess of fishermen react?

Based on an old Chinese legend, The Rock Maiden will be a superb source of discussion for small groups or whole classes. Why do I think this? Great questions popped up while I was reading. Why did the goddess turn Ling Yee into stone? What did Ching Yin have to do to make his way back home? Providing rich discussion is a valuable trait of this picture book. Having a setting that will be unfamiliar to most students is also a plus. Like a good movie, The Rock Maiden takes readers to another time and place. I would ask readers "Does this story take place in today's time?" They will have to pull clues from the beautiful watercolor artwork and the text to answer. Finally, I would share the author's note and ask readers why they think the author changed the ending of this legend. Do they like the change? So many good questions! One thing I don't question? This is an excellent addition to your collection of fairy tales and legends

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man
written by Dimity Powell; illustrated by Nicky Johnston
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I make us tea like Dad did. The kitchen smells just like before...
But I can't get it right. The cracks are too wide. And tea seeps all over the floor. 

A young girl's dad can fix anything. Furniture, kites, and knots are no match for Dad. Accidents are no cause for crisis as Dad is able to find a solution with the help of a few tools. He makes peach and honey tea to help Mom through the days when she doesn't feel well. Music and laughter fill the house. Even a broken teapot is patched back together. Unfortunately, Dad can't fix what's most important. In a heartbreaking wordless spread, we see Dad and daughter looking out the window. Readers can infer that Mom has passed away. In the text that follows, the daughter speaks of the Fix-It Man now being broken. Her beloved stuffed animal Tiger is in need of repairs, but Dad isn't up to it. The daughter tries to fix Tiger, but falls apart herself and cries "I can't fix him, Dad." It's at this point that Dad rallies and says "Yes we can." From then on, the two of them help fix each other.

Achingly beautiful, The Fix-It Man is a gentle touch that can help children and adults deal with the loss of a loved one. Seemingly small moments, like a spilled cup of tea, represent deep emotions. With examples like the patching of a teddy bear starting the mending of two hearts, this book will lead to important discussions about how people move on in a time of loss.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm

Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm
written by Jonathan London; illustrated by Andrew Joyner
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Duck said, "Want to sail down the creek?
It'll be like riding down a roller coaster!"

It's lovely weather for ducks, so why shouldn't Duck be enthusiastic about a walk in the rain? On the other hoof, Hippo is not so sure. Assured of a shared umbrella, he decides to go ahead with Duck's plans. Problem is, Duck and Hippo aren't exactly the same size. After a few adjustments, they find a way to share the umbrella. Seeing a rushing creek, adventuresome Duck suggests this is an opportunity for a ride. Cautious Hippo is not sold, but moves forward. After a couple of awkward tries, they settle in the umbrella for a bumpy ride. Bypassing a crocodile, they make it to a pond, but Duck loses sight of her herbivore friend. Like this blogger when he can't find his car keys, Duck makes a discovery that is equal parts relief and embarrassment. Tromping out of the pond, they continue their walk with Duck sitting on Hippo's shoulder to keep both of them dry. Unfortunately, a raging gust of wind lifts Duck into the air. Will Hippo be able to catch her before she comes crashing down to earth?

Buddy adventures are a popular subject with K-2 readers. They're also great opportunities to work on comparing and contrasting. Duck and Hippo have their differences, so students can work on their text reading skills with this book. It also would be an excellent chance to compare with other buddy books like Frog and Toad. That's a big plus in second grade. Two other facets of Duck and Hippo should be highlighted. The artwork is brilliant in color and expression. We work quite a bit in kindergarten and first grade on pulling meaning from the illustrations. Duck and Hippo are very expressive which helps with understanding the story. This is also going to be a terrific text for fluency work. Both characters are animated in their speech, which makes for several chances to practice oral reading. As the opener in a series, Duck and Hippo is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, February 27, 2017

D is for Duck!

D is for Duck!
written and illustrated by David Melling
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Panic Quick (Quack) Run!

33 words. That's all that is in this book. Oh, and the words are mostly in alphabetical order. It's going to take some magic to pull off an engaging story. Our protagonist duck magician starts with Abracadabra. Following in order from the top hat are a Bunny and a Chicken. I'm pretty sure you can guess who represents the letter D. From this point on, the magic show goes sideways. When an Egg appears, all sorts of possibilities present themselves. It's the letter J that puts Duck in a jam and that's not what comes out of the hat. One of the hidden joys of this book is a constant stream of cause and effect. If a gargantuan Lion appears, you have to do something! This would be such a fun text for a mini-lesson to teach cause and effect. Another enjoyable aspect of this book is the surprise element. The letter N signals the end of one problem only for O to present a new one. Which sets the table for preK - 1st grade brains to put their prediction hats on. X can be a throwaway in alphabet books, but here it's a highlight of the book. One final surprise in the end will zing readers with delight.

With just 33 words, this book opens a world of possibilities for skills lessons. It doesn't hurt that it's funny and adorable. Young readers will find it to be absolutely enchanting.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Our Dog Benji

Our Dog Benji
written by Pete Carter; illustrated by James Henderson
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

In the park, he eats grass and daffodils, and pretends he's hungry if anyone is eating ice cream... I understand that.

Benji will eat almost anything. His owner not so much. The narrator wishes he were a less picky eater like Benji. Tomatoes, olives, even avocado are treats for Benji. When it's morning, Benji stares at the refrigerator with the hope that something will pop out. He searches for crumbs along the floor. We had a beagle that would lay down at my wife's feet every morning as she made lunches for our daughters. You never know when a snack cracker or a piece of cheese will hit the ground. For Benji, dinner time is spent under the table where unknown treasures appear. But it isn't just inside the house that food can be found. Walking through his open gate, Benji is found sharing a lunch with a construction worker. If a party is being held next door, he will grace it with his presence. Nothing better than good food and good company. Summertime brings an abundance of crunchy snacks in the form of bugs. There's really only one thing that he won't eat. In agreement with the narrator, celery is a food that can be left alone for this dog.

Our Dog Benji is a unique way to approach the subject of picky eating. I think you can also read this book and talk about gratitude. Benji is appreciative of what he is given. It's a sweet story that could lead to a larger discussion about what we can learn from our pets. You can also teach a lesson on comparing with Benji and the narrator or Benji and the reader using a Venn Diagram. Having lost a beloved beagle a few weeks ago, Our Dog Benji is a particularly heartwarming story for dog lovers.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sir Cumference and the Fracton Faire

Sir Cumference and the Fracton Faire
written by Cindy Neuschwander; illustrated by Wayne Geehan
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"They're Fracton numbers, my lady," the woman answered. "They are used to measure equal pieces of something, such as this beautiful cloth."

Lady Di of Ameter and Sir Cumference are visiting a fair with their friend the Earl of Fracton. In Fracton, you can buy a whole item or pieces of it. Lady Di spies a bolt of red fabric, but while she is getting a lesson on numerators and denominators from the seller, the fabric disappears. Meanwhile, Sir Cumference and the Earl are craving a snack so they chat up the cheese monger. He provides a lesson on equivalent fractions, which disappoints Sir Cumference because he, like an overeager second grader, thought choosing a large number for the denominator would guarantee more cheese. When the cheese monger turns to cut from the cheddar wheel, it's missing too! In fact, all of the vendors are missing items. Momentarily flummoxed, the Earl decides to think like a thief which allows him to devise a fracton-like plan to catch the stealing stinkers. Through the medium of a puppet show, a reward of one valuable gold coin is offered to the customer that can find the largest fraction written on pieces of paper distributed throughout the fair. The Earl surmises that only a visitor to Fracton would be delighted with a low numerator and a high denominator. Sure enough, a motley crew leader boasts of having found 1/32 and is outwardly annoyed when his fraction is not declared the winner. Case closed.

Fractions are one of the hardest topics for math students in grades 2-5. So when an engaging resource can be found to propel their learning, there is mathematical mirth to be had. The concepts are explained in an enlightening way both textually and visually. You also get the added bonus of fun wordplay, which is a hallmark of the Sir Cumference book series. All hail this new addition to a venerable math series!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Let's Go to Playgroup!

Let's Go to Playgroup!
written by Caryl Hart; illustrated by Lauren Tobia
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Billy is munchy-crumbly-crunchy,
Grabs his spotty cup. 
Buttery fingers slip and slide,
Milky cup tips up!

Bee and Billy arrive with their moms for playgroup time. Taking off to pretend to deliver the mail, Bee consoles a nervous Billy. She invites him to a farm disguised as two big buckets with wheels. They wave stuffed farm animals  and make noises as they sink into the buckets. But not all is always well in the playgroup. Sometimes a conflict arises over a toy. In this case, it's a red tractor. Baby and Bee both want it and it takes a wise Billy to deliver a solution in the form of a train given to Baby. Adults may think of these problems as minor, but to the participants they are big deal. I like that all is not sweetness and light. That will allow preschool readers to better connect to this book. There is spilled milk, tumbling blocks, and a raucous dance party at the end. Again, when it's time to leave, there's some conflict. Bee stamps her feet because she doesn't want to stop playing and Billy can't find his socks. This is a more realistic ending then if they went quietly away. As a parent, I remember not being able to find articles of clothing and having to pull my daughters away from playtime.

I think a playgroup is an underused topic for picture books. There are so many beginning readers who experience this so it's nice that they have a book where they can use background knowledge at such an early age. Preschoolers will make many connections. You can ask them, "Does this happen in your playgroup or preschool?" I'm also a big fan of Lauren Tobia's artwork having seen it with the Anna Hibiscus series. I love the diversity of characters in this book. The opening spread shows a world of different people gathering their children for the universal activity of play. Let's Go to Playgroup! also will make for a great bedtime read because it will set you up for the next day's events. It's a welcome addition to preK book collections.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Shackles From the Deep

Shackles From the Deep
written by Michael H. Cottman
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

In some small way, I have always believed my spirit-and the spirits of all African Americans-is an everlasting part of the continent. Our ancestors endured the worst possible fates imaginable-and we survived.


In July 1972, renowned underwater treasure hunter Moe Molinar was diving in the Gulf of Mexico. He was looking for a sunken Spanish galleon that contained treasure. What he found instead were shackles that came from a slave ship which had wrecked almost 300 years earlier. The shackles were stored in a laboratory where they would sit for another ten years. Marine archaeologist David Moore, not wanting these historical relics to be forgotten, headed a team of divers in 1983 to find out more about the ship. The team found a bronze bell that gave a name to what had been only known as the English Wreck. Moore and company had found the bell from the Henrietta Marie. Forward to 1992 where award-winning journalist Michael H. Cottman was attending a conference for the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. He met a prominent marine biologist and underwater explorer, Dr. Jose "Doc" Jones. Dr. Jones tells him of his desire to lay an underwater memorial at the site of the Henrietta Marie. What follows is a riveting retelling of Cottman's thoroughly personal journey of over ten years to find out as much as he can about the Henrietta Marie and about those who contributed to the enslaving of his ancestors. He traveled to England, the Caribbean, western Africa and other sites to piece together what happened with this slave ship. This book is so intriguing to me because I kept turning pages quickly as if I was walking right beside Cottman to find the clues. That's great writing. I also appreciate how he shared his feelings about what he learned. It was a very emotional task that had him wondering about the mind-set of people who profited from the buying and selling of human beings. One other engaging facet of Shackles From the Deep was the people that you meet. Joseph Ndiaye, curator of the House of Slaves on Senegal's Goree Island, gave a touching tour of the building to Cottman and to his readers. There are many other compelling people, like Mr. Ndiaye, for us to encounter.

This is one of the most fascinating history lessons you will ever learn. It takes you well beyond the retelling of facts like the best nonfiction books do. This is a story that all students need to hear.




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mr. Fuzzbuster Give-Away!



Who wouldn't want to have a copy of Mr. Fuzzbuster??? All you have to do to be eligible is to retweet me on Twitter (@ncteacherstuff) or if you don't tweet, reply in the comments section below. I will pick one winner from my social media accounts (Blogger, Facebook, Twitter) combined. I will contact our one winner tomorrow. In case you missed it, here is my review from before.

Mr. Fuzzbuster knew he was Lily's favorite. They'd been together since he fit in a teacup and she fit in diapers. 

There are two dogs and two cats in our house. We often place them in rank order depending on their behavior. If the beagle chews a rug, she gets ranked #4 or even lower if a fly has entered the house. If a cat manages to make it through the day without depositing a hairball, he might be the "pet with the most potential." These rankings affect absolutely nothing, but it's a fun conversation to have. At Lily's house, Mr. Fuzzbuster knows who's the pet with the most potential. It's him. With all of the activities (napping, dress up, eating meals together) they do together and his seniority, Mr. Fuzzbuster has to be the one. Who's the competition? A bird, a dog, a fish, and a lizard are also vying for Lily's attention. Holding a Lily-drawn old portrait of him like it's the Magna Carta, Mr. Fuzzbuster feels very confident of his place in the pecking order. To apply the coup de grace, he writes a note asking Lily to name her favorite pet. She reads the note and declares Fishy Face her favorite goldfish, but not her favorite pet. That designation probably saves him from becoming an hors d'oeuvre for Monsieur Fuzzy Face. Feathers the bird is declared her favorite bird and King the lizard is her favorite lizard. Surely, Mr. Fuzzbuster is going to be anointed the favorite pet. Nope. He is simply her favorite cat. With only the dog left, the forlorn feline packs his bags and starts heading out the door before he has to hear Bruiser the dog anointed with his crown. What he hears next stops him in his tracks.

Mr. Fuzzbuster is going to be a favorite in primary classrooms. Why? It's funny. His self-centered world is highly amusing. The artwork, especially Mr. Fuzzbuster's facial expressions, will entertain. But there are two sneaky things going on here. First, it's a picture book treatise on love and devotion. Why do we care for others? This book could easily jump start a discussion on that subject which is needed since it is an important facet of a classroom. Second, there's a final twist on the last page which may draw the biggest laughs. With all of these ingredients, it's become a favorite of mine as well.



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Babies Come From Airports

Babies Come From Airports
written by Erin Dealey; illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Some babies have a Gotcha. Today's my sister's day. And when she's big like me, I know exactly what I'll say. 

A tissue warning has been issued for this book. If you read Babies Come From Airports, you will want a box nearby. And that's a good thing. Told from a little brother's point of view, this is the story of his little sister's Gotcha Day. That's the day a new member joins a family through adoption. Dad, big brother, and little brother are getting ready to go to the airport to meet Mom who is bringing home a little sister. Big brother explains to his little brother that "a big guy named Security let Mommy bring you through." Little brother has drawn a picture so he can give it to his airport friend Security. Once inside the airport, little brother whispers that he needs to find Security. As you probably guessed, mayhem ensues as an airport worker hears him and blows a whistle for Security. When he comes and meets the little brother and receives his gift picture, it is the kind of poignant moment that will make your students say "Aww." A moment later, Mom comes through holding their new baby sister. The next spread shows the little brother sitting with his little sister and leafing through her Gotcha Day photo book with a final spread showing the whole family together in an embrace.

Over the last four years, I have taught several children who have had a Gotcha Day. I am delighted that they now have a book that celebrates this special event. Babies Come From Airports will be a good resource for an engaging point of view lesson. The text and the illustrations are shaped by the point of view of the little brother which is unusual since it's normally only the text that provides the point of view. Polaroid type pictures with kid drawn labels are an example of how this point of view is carried through. Written in rhyme, you can also use this book as a shared reading or in a small group/individual fluency lesson.

I don't mind telling you. This is one of the most touching picture books I have read in quite a while. It's a sweet tale about an important family moment.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Can I Join Your Club?

Can I Join Your Club?
written by John Kelly; illustrated by Steph Laberis
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Application DENIED!" said Snake. You're not really what we're looking for in Snake Club."

All Duck wanted to do was make a few friends. First, he approaches Lion about joining his club. Wearing a wig as a mane, Duck has the look, but can he roar like a Lion? Well, not exactly. It is a ferocious quack, but not a roar. Lion dismisses him with an "Application Denied!" If you use picture books to teach spotting patterns, hold onto that phrase. Next, Duck tries to join the Snake Club. Wearing cool shades like the leader of the club, Duck is trying to fit in. Having legs and wings is a negative, but if he can hiss like Snake, he's probably going to gain membership. Instead of a hiss, Duck spits (literally) out a quack which prompts Snake to give the same phrase as Lion before. Maybe the third try will be the charm. Once again, Duck wears something (glasses and a bow tie) to appease the club leader which is Elephant. Like before, it's not quite enough. Duck will have to possess an exceptional memory to join this club. Lacking that, a good trumpeting will suffice. Unfortunately for Duck, what comes out is the sound you would get if you handed a trumpet to a middle school student for the first time. Application Denied! Here's where you might expect Duck to shuffle off by himself and be offered membership by a kind animal like a rabbit and we have one big trite happy ending. A big thank you to the author, John Kelly, for not going down that road. Instead, Duck doesn't feel sorry for himself but instead starts his own club and puts his own positive spin on the "Application Denied!" phrase. Soon, everyone, including members of other clubs (hint, hint), wants to join this club. The last spread in the book is classic with a reference to a beloved 70's rock band.

Fitting in is a huge deal in any level of school. Nobody wants to see a kid that sits by themselves at lunch or has nobody to play with at recess. As a teacher, you need to build a strong classroom community where everyone feels included. Books like Can I Join Your Club? will help you create such an environment. Additional teaching points could include spotting patterns. Poor Duck goes through a Groundhog Day like gauntlet in trying to join a club. I also really like how he tries to solve his problem instead of giving up. There's a lesson on independence lurking there. PreK-2nd grade readers will gladly sign up for this club.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fresh-Picked Poetry

Fresh-Picked Poetry
written by Michelle Schaub; illustrated by Amy Huntington
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Join the party;
don't delay!
Come celebrate;
it's a market day!

Who doesn't like a farmer's market? Good food plus good people equals a good time. That good time is celebrated in this lively collection of poems. Like a farmer's market, you will find a great deal of variety here. First, there are several different forms of poems. Some have rhyme schemes like the second and fourth lines rhyming. Then you have Delightful Bites, where the words waft into the air like delicious smells. Necessary Mess, a poem celebrating dirt, has verses in groups of three with the first two lines rhyming. The battle between a green zebra tomato and dinosaur kale is a poem in two voices titled Wild Dreams in Two Voices. Why am I so happy about this? It shows young writers that all poetry doesn't look the same. There's a lot of wiggle room to use your creativity in crafting a poem. Plus, think about the different ways you can use these poems for fluency work. You could have an animated Reader's Theater with Wild Dreams in Two Voices or whole class shared readings. Lots of fun opportunities present themselves for enticing readers to practice. Another source of variety in Fresh-Picked Poetry are the topics of the poems. It's not just about the food. Market Melody is about a two person band which opens the door to onomatopoeia. Walking through that door is Antonio's Old-Time Sharpening  which features a knife sharpener who creates a "dizzy, whizzy whirr." I also appreciate the variety of people shown in the artwork. A farmer's market is a place where everyone can gather over good food so it's nice to see many different groups of people represented and shown conversing with one another.

Fresh-Picked Poetry is a choice crop of poems for your classroom.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Snowflake in My Pocket

Snowflake in My Pocket
written by Rachel Bright; illustrated by Yu Rong
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But a bear can never be exactly sure when the weather will change. He just knows that it will. 

A wise bear and a young squirrel share an old oak tree. Bear provides the wisdom while Squirrel brings the enthusiasm. Squirrel's first winter is coming up, so he's full of questions. He's excited about the snow that Bear knows is coming. Like Christmas morning excited. When Squirrel wakes up, he looks out the window and the woods are wrapped in a blanket of frozen goodness. A circle cut-out juxtaposes Squirrel's joy against the beautiful background. Unfortunately, his best friend Bear has a cold, so Squirrel will have to go outside without him. With making snow angels, snow bears, and embracing winter with a newcomer's unbridled zeal, it's almost the perfect day. How to make it perfect? Catch a snowflake and bring it home to Bear. An enchanting illustration shows Squirrel looking up in the sky against a snow scene in the shape of a bear. It only took this old man three tries to see this in the book. Squirrel finds a satisfying snowflake and starts homeward. But when he reaches into his pocket, it's gone. Again, the author and illustrator make the reader work for it, which is great from a teacher's perspective. The text is silent in regards to Squirrel's emotion, but when you look at the illustration, you see it all. I love when this synchronicity takes place. Being a wise Bear, he tells Squirrel that "snow comes and snow goes, but one thing lasts forever." This is where, after you reach for a Kleenex, you close the book and ask your students what the one thing is. There is great thinking to be had in Snowflake in My Pocket.

Rachel Bright and Yu Rong are very intentional with their text and illustrations. Yes, it's a sweet story with a winning partnership, but there are deeper things going on here and if you're willing to dig, you and your class of readers will be rewarded.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education
written by Raphaele Frier; illustrated by Aureliea Fronty
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world. 

From birth, Malala Yousafzai was contending for equal treatment. Her father encouraged family and friends to shower her cradle with dried fruits, candy, and coins even though she was not a boy. The founder of a school for girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, Ziauddin was determined that Malala would have an education despite the threatening presence of the Taliban. She loved her land, but not all of its ways. Malala's mother could not read or write, but her daughter was going to have a different life. An earthquake in 2005 strengthened the hand of a local Taliban leader. He said the quake was a result of sin, and used religion to curtail the freedoms of the people. That included shutting down the Khushal School. Malala made a speech challenging the Taliban and asking "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?" With her school having been taken away, she landed an opportunity to write a blog about her struggle. She took on a leadership role as speaker of a child assembly. The Taliban had been driven from her valley, but they returned. Schools were destroyed. Malala pressed on with her fight for the right to have an education. With success as a writer and a speaker, she started a foundation that helped her and others seeking knowledge. Angry with her success and her father's schools, two Taliban fighters stopped her bus and she was shot. Flown to England, Malala survived the assassination attempt and found greater fame and a bigger voice for her cause.

Malala is an excellent introduction to the life of one of the biggest heroes of this young century. Why is she important? Malala's strength teaches us to be brave in the face of fear. To be hopeful in dark times. She is a window to a place and circumstances of which most of our students are not familiar and her life shows that young people can make a difference. We need books that will inspire us to stand up for what is right.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hatching Chicks in Room 6

Hatching Chicks in Room 6
written and photographed by Caroline Arnold
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Mrs. Best is a teacher. The children in her class are learning about chicks and how they grow from eggs. 

What came first, the chicken or the egg? If you are a student in Mrs. Best's kindergarten class, the answer is easy. The eggs came first because Mrs. Best brought them from her backyard where she keeps chickens. In this appealing coupling of photos and text, we get a tour through the process of what happens during incubation and after hatching for the chicks. I certainly like all of the teaching opportunities presented by this book. In the spread about the incubator, it's accompanied with labels that explain the purpose of each part. For example, there's a motor that moves the rack and allows the eggs to turn. This keeps the chicks from being on only one side of the shell. So now you can talk about captions and text features. A couple of pages over, a cracked open egg provides a lesson on what's inside. Did you know that egg whites are called albumen and that they have a purpose other than being talked about constantly on Food Network? The albumen cushions the embryo. This book doesn't shy away from using big words for its kindergarten audience which is great because they will play with words like albumen and embryo and stun their parents. So that covers vocabulary. Do you or someone you know hatch chicks in their classroom? Think about how well those students will be prepared, after reading Hatching Chicks, when they witness this life cycle process for themselves. You're building invaluable background knowledge. Plus, you can compare your classroom experience with that of Mrs. Best's class. See, you're cracking open knowledge at every turn. In the back matter, there are questions, a listing of books, vocabulary, and websites to further your learning. Like a rooster, your class will be crowing for this book.