Monday, November 30, 2009

The Scarecrow's Dance

On an autumn evening, a scarecrow has the opportunity to escape his place in the field.  He jauntily travels along the cornfield, past the cows and the barn until a yellow light from the farmhouse catches his eye.  A young boy is being tucked in for the night, but before he goes to sleep, he says a prayer.  It is the boy's prayer that touches the scarecrow and causes him to think about his place in the world.

I'm a big sports fan so it comes naturally to make a list of who would be in the top five of something or the other. If I'm creating a top five of writers for children, Jane Yolen goes in my top five.  The Scarecrow's Dance, with the use of rhyme and a thoughtful message, can easily stand with Owl Moon and other Yolen favorites. You can't find a book about teaching writing that doesn't mention a Jane Yolen book as a model text.  Her writing is so descriptive and yet free of unnecessary details. Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations are wonderful and remind me of Norman Rockwell paintings.

The Scarecrow's Dance, like Owl Moon, would be a great piece to use to teach small moment writing.  A mini-lesson on cause and effect or main idea could easily be generated with this book as well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bartleby Speaks!

Bartleby Huddle is interested in many things.  He likes to play in the sandbox, color pictures, and generally enjoys life at his pace.  One thing that does not interest him is talking.  Much to his noisy family's chagrin, Bartleby decides to remain silent. Mama Huddle tries singing opera to encourage him to speak.  Papa Huddle plays his cello while big sister Isadora tap dances feverishly in an effort to make Bartleby say something.  It isn't until Grampy Huddle arrives for his birthday that Bartelby shows any desire to speak.  When he does, a lesson is learned by the other noisy Huddles.

Bartleby Speaks!, written by Robin Cruise and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, is a fun story with a lead character who embodies the joy of simply listening.  Bartleby follows his own path without being obnoxious, and that's a pretty good lesson for all of us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Women's Adventures in Science

Women's Adventures in Science is a website experience from the National Academy of Sciences. It accompanies a biography series, of the same name, that is for middle school age readers. There is a time line, information about female scientists, and a cool games section on the website. Check it out!

Rose's Garden

Thank you to Betsy Bird (Fuse #8 Blog) for mentioning Rose's Garden, a telefable written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.  Check out Reynold's company Fablevision and see what the future may hold for children's literature.

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem

Chico Bon Bon is a monkey with a plan.  He has an awesome tool belt and a mind to match.  Chico wakes up one morning to find that a loud noise has invaded his house.  This intrepid monkey will not rest until he finds the source of the problem.  When he locates the problem, Chico devises an ingenious way to solve it and keep all out of harm's way.

Chris Monroe's Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem was a big hit in kindergarten today.  The vibrantly colored and detailed illustrations are a visual delight.  Nonfiction fans will be delighted with the cutaway illustration of Chico's house, the labeled tool belt (Batman would be envious!), and the sequence of 12 steps taken by Chico to solve his problem.  There are a ton of details in this book that create a desire for repeated readings. 

The kindergarten teacher took predictions from her class today while reading this book.  Sequence and cause and effect lessons could also be drawn from Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem.  If you haven't read it yet, the original Monkey with a Tool Belt will be enthusiastically received by your students as well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

Dyamonde Daniel ("... a gem waiting to be discovered") is an intelligent third grader who has no problem finding her way in her new school.  She exudes self-confidence in solving any dilemma, and a new one has arrived in the form of Free, another new student. Free's father has lost his job and Free is not happy about having had to move to a new school.  His unhappiness frightens his new classmates with the exception of  Dyamonde. She is determined to find the source of Free's troubles and perhaps make a new friend.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is a gem of an early reader chapter book. Without being too heavy, Ms. Grimes has created a character who, through her intelligence and humor, deals with issues (divorce, moving, making friends) that are familiar to students in my classroom.  It is rare to find an early reader book with a lead African-American character, so find this book and share it. 

This would make a great character study with female heroines (Judy Moody, Keena Ford, Ruby Lu).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School

Zoe Fleefenbacher has hair that is beautiful, wild, and frankly has a mind of its own.  Zoe's hair is very helpful in kindergarten by cleaning up trash, erasing the board, and getting the class ready for snack.  Unfortunately, when Zoe and her hair go to first grade, they meet Ms. Trisk, a no-nonsense teacher who loves rules and despises wild hair. There is much distress until Zoe and her hair show her teacher the importance of being flexible.

Laurie Halse Andersen and Ard Hoyt have created a terrific tale of teachers and students learning to work together.  The inventive story and vibrantly wild illustrations will appeal to K-2 students. The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School would be good to read at the beginning of the year to build community in your classroom.  It would also make for a great problem/solution lesson. You could pair this book with Stephanie's Ponytail by Robert Munsch or This is My Hair by Todd Parr for a unit on hair.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Little Blue and Little Yellow

Random House has printed a 50th anniversary edition of Leo Lionni's first book, Little Blue and Little Yellow. In the book, Little Blue and Little Yellow are best friends and love playing together.  One day, excited at finding each other, they hug and turn green.  After playing for the day, they go home but are unrecognized by their parents.  What follows is a lesson on friendship and acceptance.

An excerpt, from Lionni's autobiography, is included in the back of the book.  The excerpt explains how Little Blue and Little Yellow came into existence.  It's a great example of how necessity is the mother of invention.

This book could be read as part of a lesson on making connections.  It would interesting to try it with older students to see if they can generate a main idea from the text.  You could also compare this book with Kathryn Otoshi's book One.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Boats Speeding! Sailing! Cruising!

Boats, written by Patricia Hubbell and illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy, is a rhyming tour de force of all things floating on the seas.  This is the fifth in Hubbell's transportation series of  books, and it rolls along merrily with zippy illustrations. You will learn all about the parts of a boat and also learn about several different kinds of boats and their uses.  For such a lean book, Boats packs a punch of good information about boats. 

If you are looking to introduce labels in a kindergarten writer's workshop or as part of a unit on nonfiction text features, this book would be a good resource. Boats could also be used for a lesson on categorizing or listing as well. You could challenge older students to create categories for the boats in the book.    

Episode 5 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure

Episode 5 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, written by Gregory Maguire (Wicked) and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (Mercy Watson series), has been uploaded. Spoiler alert: Huge surprise ending!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Living Sunlight

A picture book about photosynthesis that is easily understood and holds your interest? Believe it.  Living Sunlight combines the talents of Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm to present a narrative, told from the sun's point of view, about how photosynthesis is the "most important process on Earth."

There are several things that I like about this book. The text explains the process of plants making food in a way that is easily understood.  Blues, greens, and yellows dominate the vivid illustrations which include inserts that show photosynthesis up close.  While the main text is meant for a primary audience, the author's notes in the back make for a great science lesson for third graders and above.  

The authors have provided a great teacher's guide for K-2 and 3-5 students which includes an excellent selection of links for teaching science.  I would also recommend taking the main text and turning it into a reader's theater script with several narrators. The author's notes, with subheadings, would make for good mini-lessons on nonfiction text features and main ideas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Camping With The President

In May of 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt spent four days camping in California's Yosemite National Park with Sierra Club founder John Muir.  Camping With The President, written by Ginger Wadsworth and illustrated by Karen Dugan, is a fascinating retelling of those four days. The author and illustrator take great care to recreate what Roosevelt and Muir saw and heard during their trip and the vital discussions that generated Roosevelt's championing of national parks. Dugan's watercolor illustrations are a wonderful depiction of the grandeur of Yosemite.

Wadsworth's descriptive writing could be used for a writer's workshop mini-lesson (vivid verbs) as well as teaching the skill of visualization in reader's workshop.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Curious Garden

Liam lives in a dreary city "without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind."  One day, while investigating an abandoned section of railroad tracks, Liam discovers a small patch of struggling plants.  He takes it upon himself to help these plants and soon the garden begins to look like a "real garden". The garden, like Liam, is curious and begins to explore "farther and farther down the tracks."  The weeds and moss lead the way followed by the "more delicate plants."  Soon, this curiosity leads to a much different looking city.

I see why so many groups (check out Chicken Spaghetti's big list of lists) have The Curious Garden, written and illustrated by Peter Brown, on their best of 2009 lists. The text carries powerful messages about letting nature take its course and how one individual can truly change the world.  The illustrations are beautiful to view and do a fantastic job of dictating the mood of the story.  The richness of Brown's drawings lends this book to lessons on author's purpose and on using the illustrations to gain meaning.  It could also be beneficial to compare illustrations from the beginning and the end of The Curious Garden to teach contrast. This is a book that could be read several times for different uses.

By the way, does anyone think of The Talking Heads song (Nothing But) Flowers or Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi when they read this book?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Katy Did It

Katy the katydid's mom tells her to "hop outside, but don't get into trouble." Unfortunately for Katy, it's not quite that easy.  She hops through a series of mishaps which are made worse by her brother Lou who doesn't hesitate to say "Katy did it!" when an accident is discovered. All is not lost however, when Katy finds her hopping is needed to lend a helping hand.

Katy Did It, written and illustrated by Lorianne Siomades, is a vibrant book that will make it easy for K-2 students to make text-to-self connections.  I would also read it to lead discussions on tattling or sibling rivalries which are always rich topics with elementary students.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Read It, Don't Eat It

Going to the media center next week with a K-2 class?  If so, right before you go, you should read Ian Schoenherr's Read It, Don't Eat It.  This is a fun book of dos and don'ts for book etiquette.  Told in rhyme (Borrow, don't steal.  Try not to squeal.) with humor and colorful illustrations, Read It, Don't Eat It will be a crowdpleaser and your media specialist will love you for reading it.

Thinking beyond the application for the media center, this would be a great starting point for creating other lists for different places in your school.  Play It, Don't Say It could be a list for behavior in the gym.  Color, Don't Blubber might work for the art room. You get the picture. Read It, Don't Eat It could also serve as an introduction to the concept of contrast with the good and not so good behaviors. 

Check out Ian's blog to see some wonderful illustrations.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Are The First Kid On Mars

You Are The First Kid On Mars, written and illustrated by Patrick O'Brien, is an engaging mixture of science fiction and facts that will hook readers (especially your Star Wars fans) and lead them to learn more about space. O'Brien shows us what it might be like on a future journey to Mars through the use of imagined devices (space elevator - cool idea!), facts (Mars and Earth can be as close as 35 million miles to each other and as far as 248 million miles), and vivid illustrations that look like photographs.

Since this book is a combination of facts and O'Brien's vision of the future, it would be an excellent text to use for teaching how to determine if a piece of information is a fact. You Are The First Kid On Mars could also be utilized for teaching sequence (think time lines) and included in a unit on space. It would also be interesting to contrast this book with Moonshot or another recent book about the moon and compare the two different journeys.  If you know a reluctant reader, try putting this picture book in their hands as well.

The Birthday - iTouch app

The Birthday ($1.99) is a new iTouch story book app featuring Frank the Frog and Gigi the Giraffe. The story is centered around Frank trying to think of a gift to give Gigi for her birthday. The narrator asks the player to answer questions, based on the story, to help move the story along. There is a mix of math and reading skills needed to answer questions.

This is the first app that I have seen that tells an actual story as the player interacts with it. I like the mixture of questions (abstract thinking, listening comprehension, and number recognition are a few of the concepts represented) and the story is engaging enough. I didn't like the narrator's answer when a question is missed ("That's not right."), and I am concerned about how many times the app would be used after initial completion. A child would probably finish in about 20-25 minutes, but I wonder if they will interested enough to play multiple times.

With a story as the centerpiece, I think The Birthday represents an interesting twist for apps. I will be curious to see how other story-based apps perform.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stars Above Us

Amanda does not want to go to sleep because she is afraid of the dark. Her daddy takes her outside to show her that many wonderful things are happening in the dark. Especially wonderful are the stars, so Amanda and her dad cut out stars, apply glow-in-the-dark paint, and paste them to her ceiling. Daddy asks Amanda to remember the North Star while he is away on military service.

Stars Above Us, written by Geoffrey Norman and illustrated by E.B. Lewis (The Other Side, Coming On Home Soon), is a touching story of a family's love and the separation they face when a parent is called into military duty. One of our second grade classes read this book yesterday and the teacher said Stars Above Us struck a perfect tone for remembering Veterans Day.

Thank you to all of our soldiers past and present and their families for their service to our country.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Day-Glo Brothers

The Day-Glo Brothers, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani, tells the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer, inventors of Day-Glo colors. The Switzer brothers, like most inventors, are curious and like to solve problems. Experimenting with colors to help with Joe's magic act, the brothers learned how to make glow-in-the-dark paints which eventually led to their invention of Day-Glo. This invention helped save lives in World War II and became a permanent cultural fixture in the Sixties.

Chris Barton does a terrific job of taking a complex subject (fluorescence) and turning it into an accessible and interesting picture book. Tony Persiani's illustrations are vibrant and fun.
The Day-Glo Brothers is another nonfiction read that can inspire students to be curious and dream big. I see several possible uses for this book. You can add it to your biography collection (contrast with the Wright brothers), read it as part of a science unit on light, and use it to teach sequence. Definitely check out this cool link that shows an animation of how regular and daylight fluorescence work.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Frogs and Toads All Sang

In her introduction to The Frogs and Toads All Sang, Adrianne Lobel talks about receiving a phone call about an estate auction of an old family friend. The sale included books created by her father Arnold Lobel (Frog and Toad series, Fables) as gifts to friends. These books are the source for this new collection of Lobel poems with Adrianne applying the colors to her father's pencil sketches. The illustrations are a precursor to Frog and Toad's adventures.

The Frogs and Toads All Sang would make a fun shared reading experience with K-2 students. You could also adapt the poems and make them into a reader's theater script.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New Rick Riordan books in the news

Jen Robinson's Book Page (Link is to the right. You should visit!) has a tweet with a link about Rick Riordan's plans for world literacy domination. Keep May 4 open on your calendars. I'll be at a bookstore with my oldest daughter.

Looking Like Me

Looking Like Me, written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers, is a rocking rhyme filled book that revels in the many different people that are inside all of us. Jeremy is a little brother, a son, a dreamer, a writer, an artist, and more. As he celebrates all the facets of his personality, Jeremy punctuates each one with a fist bump. How cool is that?

Christopher Myers' collage illustrations are filled with photographs, bright colors, and block letters that jump off the page and catch your eye immediately. The text has a great rhythm that makes for fun reading. "THE MAILMAN LIFTED HIS FIST. I GAVE IT A BAM! IT IS KIND OF AMAZING ALL THE PEOPLE I AM." This book screams to be made into a Reader's Theater piece.

This would be a fine book to read at the beginning of the year to learn about each of your students. They could write their own versions of Looking Like Me to introduce themselves to the class.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Georgia Rises

All of the picture book biographies or historical fiction texts that I have read recently have a similar thread running through them. All of the figures portrayed in the texts have a curiosity that sustained them throughout their life. Reading these texts to students can perhaps inspire them to find their passion.

Georgia Rises, written by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by Ora Eitan, imagines a day in the life of painter Georgia O'Keefe. Drawing inspiration from O'Keefe's letters, Lasky takes us through a day in the New Mexico desert as Georgia pulls inspiration from different time settings. She wakes early in the morning to capture the lavender that appears with the first morning light. The afternoon brings a brilliant blue that contrasts with the whiteness of the bone that fascinates O'Keefe. Night time contrasts the dark sky with a slice of the moon.

Lasky writes wonderful details that can be a model for writer's workshop. Georgia Rises could also serve as an introduction to the use of time lines. Ora Eitan's lovely watercolor illustrations remind me of James Stevenson's work on When I Was Nine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Millie's Marvellous Hat

Millie goes to a hat shop, but cannot afford to buy any of the hats. A kindly shopkeeper brings a box with the best kind of hat, a hat that is shaped by Millie's imagination. Millie walks home and along the way notices that others are wearing hats as well.

Millie's Marvellous Hat, written and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, is a beautiful book that celebrates the joy of a child's imagination. It reminds me of The Big Orange Splot where the characters build the houses of all their dreams. Substitute houses for hats and you get Millie in the role of Mr. Plumbean. Kitamura's artwork also helped me make a text-movie connection (that really should be a category). This book brought back memories of Yellow Submarine, the Beatles animated movie that is a favorite from my childhood. I especially like the pages where Millie is in the park. This would be an excellent book for teaching inference skills.

Episode 4 of the Exquisite Corpse

Episode 4 of the Exquisite Corpse Adventure has been posted. Susan Cooper has penned this episode and Timothy Basil Ering has drawn the illustration. My wife's seventh graders have raved today about this episode. A threatening porcine? Albert Einstein? Read on dear readers!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Into the Deep

As a kid, I read mostly nonfiction, Boxcar Children books, and collections of Peanuts comic strips. I knew the biography section well, but I don't recall having too many picture books that were biographies. Now, it's hard to find the time to read all of the really good ones that have been published just this year.

David Sheldon's Into the Deep, is a biography of naturalist William Beebe. Beebe searched remote areas around the world to find rare species of animals and to teach others about the need for conservation. He, along with Otis Barton, invented the Bathysphere which allowed him to search the unexplored depths of the ocean.

Into the Deep is full of bright and exotic illustrations that illuminate why William Beebe loved nature. I would add this book to my biography collection and also use it to discuss conservation issues. Sheldon's text is full of vivid verbs so you could also read it for a writing mini-lesson.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers

Josef Albers was an artist who revolutionized how we think about color. In his Homage to the Square, Albers showed how colors can influence each other and change the mood of a painting. Albers tames red with violet and makes gray sparkle next to black. He never stopped being curious about color and continued studying and learning until his death at age 88.

An Eye for Color, written by Natasha Wing with art by Julia Breckenreid, is a splendid look at the life and interests of Josef Albers. The art is eye-popping (sorry for the pun) and the narrative is sparse in a good way. You are not overwhelmed with information as can happen in non-fiction sometimes. In the back of the book, make sure you read the Author's Note, More About Josef Albers, and the See-for-Yourself Activities. This is a great book to show to your school's art teacher, but it would work in the regular classroom as well. It would be interesting to see what colors students experiment with after reading the book. You could use this book in introducing the scientific method. Students could form hypotheses about how colors react to one another. For example, how do you think red will look when it is surrounded by different colors? Will it affect its brightness? I would also add An Eye for Color to your biography section as well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Duck Tents

If you are looking for a read aloud hit with kindergarten, find Duck Tents written by Lynne Berry and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. The ducks go on a camping trip that includes fishing and roasting marshmallows. Everything is great until the sound of an owl creates a pause for our duck heroes.

The counting and rhyming will appeal to young ears and eyes. I appreciate the subtle humor as well. This is definitely a book that students will want to have read several times. Our kindergartners enjoyed making connections to their camping experiences and to their teacher's love of camping as well. This book could also be used for shared reading experiences.

If you are new to the ducks like me, check out Duck Skates and Duck Dunks.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


If you do a unit on myths, Persephone, written by Sally Pomme Clayton and illustrated by Virginia Lee, would be a good choice for a read aloud book. Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the Earth. She is kidnapped by Hades, god of the Underworld, with the purpose of her becoming his bride. Demeter, upset by the loss of her daughter, curses the land and creates winter.

The text is appealing to 3rd-5th graders and the illustrations really set the mood of the story. A fifth grader recommended Persephone to me. I would read this book as part of a unit on Greek mythology or as part of a study of pourquoi stories (tales that explain natural phenomena). With the popularity of The Lightning Thief, you could compare the two texts. Lee's illustrations would make for an interesting discussion of how illustrators can set the mood of story.