Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Thank You Dish

The Thank You Dish
written and illustrated by Trace Balla
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Well, I'm thanking the alpaca for the wool, so that Auntie Amber could knit the scarf... that kept Uncle Fred from freezing when he caught the fish," said Grace.

Mama gives a big thank you to "the rain, the soil, and the sunshine" as she and Grace get ready to enjoy a supper of fish and vegetables with a slice of lemon. Their tiny Australian house is in a large field with a fruit tree, a garden, and several kangaroos. Grace thanks the kangaroos for the supper. How are the kangaroos responsible for dinner? Well, they didn't eat all of the carrots. Leo also needs to be thanked. He provided the ladder which led to Grace picking lemons from Lily's tree. The fish? An alpaca is responsible for them. Yes, I know that alpacas don't fish, but they do provide wool that Auntie Amber can turn into a scarf which in turn keeps Uncle Fred from getting too cold when he catches the fish. Grace realizes that it takes a community to make a dinner happen. When you understand what had to happen to put food on a plate, that tends to increase the gratitude level. It can also cause one to think about what it takes to produce anything and how we need to cherish all of the links in these chains.

The Thank You Dish is a great lesson in gratitude. Take time to be thankful. It's also a nice mentor text for teaching the skill of  cause and effect. I would contrast it with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Both of these books actually show a bigger picture about how nothing in life happens on its own and we're constantly in a state of cause and effect. I also think there's a discussion to be had about sustainability. We have to take care of our resources or other things might be eliminated. When you grow your own food, you see the sequence of growing and what it takes to produce food. You might think that connecting an alpaca and a fish is a bit of a stretch, but it humorously drives home the point that life is full of amazing connections. You and your class will want to connect with the Thank You Dish. 

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.