Sunday, July 23, 2017

Grandma's Tiny House

Grandma's Tiny House
written by JaNay Brown-Wood; illustrated by Priscilla Burris
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Grandma's house stays small as the family grows. 
Will everyone fit inside this time? Who knows?!

As one grandma continues to live in her very small house, her family grows larger and larger. Staring at a wall of pictures, Grandma wonders if everyone will fit in her house. Let the counting begin! The smells of two turkeys deliciously waft in the air. At her front door stand three neighbors with four pots of greens and ham hocks. Coming up the walk are five family friends with six dozen biscuits. The counting continues as uncles come with jugs of lemonade. Aunties arrive with cheesecakes while nephews bring pumpkin pies. After fifteen grandchildren rush to Grandma, a dilemma presents itself. Where will everyone eat? With no room in the house, an adorable grandchild wearing a yellow hairband has the answer.

I'm not sure I've ever been more delighted to count to 15. Let me start near the beginning where Grandma is viewing the pictures on her wall. This wonderful text and sweet artwork brought back memories of my grandmother living in a tiny house with family pictures everywhere. Seeing everyone gathering in the house, smiling and laughing, reminded me of family meals with wonderful food and conversations. Students will make this connection as well. In the classroom or at home, you can read Grandma's Tiny House to have students write their own family version based on the book. What do family gatherings look like in the homes of your students? If you teach kindergarten, you could shorten the counting to ten for the writing. Could you use this book with older students? Yes, first and second graders would benefit from mini-lessons about parts of speech. There are many adjectives and vivid verbs to use to model good writing. Even better than making me hungry, Grandma's Tiny House brings an extra large helping of love. What could be better than that?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Take Ted Instead

Take Ted Instead
written by Cassandra Webb; illustrated by Amanda Francey
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's time for bed, sleepyhead. 
No, no, take Fred instead

For one little guy, it's time to go to bed. Trying to delay the inevitable as much as possible, he offers up his dog Red instead, as he hides under a blanket on the couch. His patient mother, resplendent in bunny slippers, patiently reminds him that "It's time for bed, sleepyhead." Hiding behind a curtain, the boy suggests taking Fred the cat. See the pattern? If your name ends in -ed, you're going to be a candidate for taking his place in having to go to bed. Older brother Jedd is too busy reading. Action figure Zed needs to spend his evening in the toy chest. Neighbor Ned is sipping his evening coffee and a little too old for Mom to tell to go to bed. And Ed the fish better not leave his bowl. Which leaves us with one final candidate. Giant stuffed bear Ted is the perfect replacement. But Mom, as moms are want to do, gives an excellent answer as to why Ted can not head to bed by himself. So the boy succumbs to Mom's superior wisdom. The last picture is a sweet surprise and the perfect ending to the book.

If you're going to create a bedtime picture book, it helps for it to have certain qualities. First, you want the artwork to be adorable. Look at the cover and the spread below. Check that off the list. Second, if you have a rhyming pattern, that's going to promote interactivity with the book and better engagement. Another check on the list. Third, it helps to have a dose of humor. This isn't a gut busting book, but you really don't want that in a bedtime story. The humor is sweet which is just the right dose. Finally, having to go to bed is a universal concern so Take Ted Instead will easily connect to your young reader. Can I be the bearer of some good news? This book is a super slumber time choice.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Treat Yourself!

Treat Yourself!
written by Jessica Siskin
2017 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Even if you're not the stereotypically crafty type, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to make a really cool-looking and delicious tasting dessert.

So here's the dilemma: You want your child to work on reading and math over the summer, but you also want them to relax a little and take a break from school-like activities. Here's one solution: Engage them in an ultra fun activity that requires reading and math skills and they get to post it on social media. The kicker is getting to eat the fruits of their labor at the end. In Treat Yourself, ninety-three different ways to have a lively, ooey-gooey crispy rice good time are presented. There's no baking involved, but plenty of krispy goodness. Starting off, I wouldn't skip the introduction from author Jessica Siskin aka @mister_krisp. It's a big batch of encouragement for young people to pursue their dreams and take off with their imaginations. There are way more people in our lives who encourage us to stay in the box, so it's nice to have a voice that says go for it with your creativity.  Following the introduction is a short explanation page for how to use the book and another four pages with the basic recipe that will be the base for your creations. A sequence of pictorial steps for making it is also included. There are a lot of opportunities for sneaky learning here. You have to read a procedural text and comprehend. Math skills will be needed for making sure you concoct the proper amount. One hint: You'll want plenty of cooking spray on hand. Other pages in the beginning section include tricks, troubleshooting tips, and special decorating ingredients. After that, the bulk of the book is the ninety-three recipes in alphabetical order. From apples to zebras. Want something for a holiday? It's covered here from flags to trees to turkeys. Watching a big game? Many sports are represented in the recipes. How cool would it be for your child to make a wedding cake treat for a relative's bridal shower? So many ideas here. Each recipe has a sequence of pictures to guide you and the materials and equipment needed to make the treat. The back matter of the book contains resources, FAQs where the author is candid about gluten free and vegan possibilities, and some cool conversion charts.

I think Treat Yourself! is a book for all seasons, but it screams summer to me. If you have time at home with your kids, this is definitely a fun activity. That doesn't mean you couldn't try this in a classroom. I've worked with many brave moms and dads who would be willing to work with students at a holiday party/science center. Think about a unit on rocks and how elements (heat, water) shape them. Studying friction? This would be an interesting way to tackle several science topics. Treat Yourself! is packed with plenty of hands-on learning enjoyment.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Piece By Piece

Piece By Piece
written by Stephanie Shaw; illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

At night she wove the day's bounty into cloth. It was rich. Exquisite. Unique.

A kind weaver places unusual memories from a trip to the seaside into her basket. The springiness of moss and the leap and splash of a fish. With her children fast asleep, she magically weaves these and other memories into lovely cloth. When her children ask where the cloth came from, she responds with more unexpected items like the sweetness of a puppy and the breath of a hot air balloon. Using her unique bolts of cloth, she weaves a beautiful dress that includes dragon scales and a pirate's sash. The weaver hopes to sell the dress so her family can afford basic necessities. When she shows the dress to a shopkeeper, he pooh-poohs it. He tells her to remove the shimmer of the starlight and candle glow if she wants to sell the dress in his shop. The weaver acquiesces and changes the top. When she returns, the crotchety shopkeeper demands more be removed. Gorgeous items like the coo of a dove and the scent of chocolate and cinnamon fall to the floor as she cuts again and again. Soon nothing is left but a small piece of fabric that catches the tears of the weaver. Of course, now the shopkeeper wants nothing to do with the weaver's work. Fortunately, fairy tales have a happy ending. The children, unbeknownst to their mother, kept all of the pieces that were removed from the dress and created a fantastic quilt. Anxious to buy the quilt, the shopkeeper is told by the weaver, in a nice way, to talk to the hand. As she tucks her children under the amazing quilt that night, the weaver tells a story as her hand moves across this special patchwork. The ending spread reveals a dream fulfilled without a prince in sight.

Piece By Piece is a lovely twist on a fairy tale. There's no royalty around, but you will find magic and good vs. evil (or maybe just mean). When the weaver describes her cloth, the adjectives flow, but it's not all about pretty objects. It's a nice touch that she includes sounds like the squishing of mud between the toes and the kiss of the sea on the shore. One of the lessons I pick up here is there is more to life than shiny things. You also see a family that follows their dreams.

Similes abound in this book. There are several language mini-lessons you will be able to create. As you see below, the artwork is outstanding and quite fairy talish (Is that a word? It is now.) I would also find a copy of The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy and compare the two books with a Venn diagram. Both include a strong emphasis on family. Add Piece By Piece to your collection of fairy tales. It's a piece of magic.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices

A New School Year
written by Sally Derby; illustrated by Mika Song
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Now I have to learn everything
all over again.
What if I make a mistake?

Six children, one for each grade level of K-5, share their concerns, hopes, and observations in the form of alternating short monologues as they prepare to start the school year at J.W. Riley Elementary. It's the night before the first day. Clothes laid out on his bed, kindergartner Ethan puts his stuffed bear's blue jacket in his pants pocket for a feeling of security. First grader Zach is worried about starting over in a new class and with a new teacher. Katie, a second grader, didn't get the teacher she wanted. And he is a Mr. and not a Miss or a Mrs. Kneeling at her bedside, third grader Jackie says a prayer of thanks that she didn't have to move. She also asks God for her teacher not to be bothered that she has to be in class an hour early so Mama can go to work. Carlos wonders if he'll make any friends in fourth grade. His father gently tells him not to worry about the "what ifs" that are constantly in Carlos's mind. Unable to sleep, fifth grader Mia is deciding whether or not to wear a ponytail that will show the hearing aids that are in her ears. Three more sets of narrative poems, for the morning, at school, and after school, share how the day progressed for each student.

I think this is my favorite back to school book of all time. As a teacher, this is what I need to read a few times as I prepare for the new year. It raises the empathy meter way up. These stories pull at your heart and are so true to the voices of children. I know because I've heard many children comment at the beginning of school that they got the "man teacher", meaning me, in second grade. I have taught all of these children at one time or another.

A New School Year would be a great choice for a Reader's Theater performance, but I want you to also consider it for a writing activity in 2nd-5th for the first week of school. After reading the book, ask students to write about how they felt the first day of school. You need to write and share as well because that will make a huge impression on your students. I would even ask parents if they would like to volunteer to share their thoughts.

I was really touched reading A New School Year. This book is simply wonderful.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pink Lion

Pink Lion
written and illustrated by Jane Porter
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One day, a growling gang bounced by. 
"It's a PINK lion!" they said. 
"Living with a lot of BIRDS!"

Arnold the lion is living the dream. Loved by his family, he eats great food and plays games with them at the water hole. Okay, so he's a lion living with a flamboyance (Yes, I googled it.) of flamingos. But he's happy. Until a pride of lions, who are quite proud, show up at the water hole. They question why Arnold is not part of their family. Confused, he looks into the water and notices that he does look like the other lions. The pride invites him to join them for lots of roaring and hunting. Arnold agrees, but soon finds out that he is not much for running fast and cleaning himself with his tongue. And roaring? All Arnold can muster is a meager "Squork." He decides he isn't cut out for the lion life. When he returns to his flamingo family, Arnold discovers that a mean crocodile has taken over the water hole. Suddenly, his inner lion makes an appearance. The mighty roar startles the crocodile and it also calls forth his fellow lions. With the horrid croc chased from the premises, Arnold's cousins discover that there are advantages to a flamingo life.

First of all, one of the most adorable book covers you will ever see. Bar none. It's just as engaging on the inside as well. This is also a story that would be a great read aloud for a lesson on being yourself. That is SO important in the K-2 world. There is a large amount of dialogue in Pink Lion, so it's perfect to convert into a Reader's Theater script for working on fluency. Another use would be to compare Arnold and his lion cousins using a Venn diagram. No lion, this book will charm your socks off.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Autumn: A Pop-Up Book

Autumn
created by David A. Carter
2017 (Abrams Appleseed)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Who nibbles the water plants?
Who builds their homes with logs?



Third in a seasonal series of pop-up books, Autumn is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. A giant pumpkin leaps forward and a vine springs upward. Jumping to the right is a smaller, mostly green pumpkin. Laying on the left is a butternut squash. Lift it up and you'll see a star-nosed mole. The pop-ups are definitely the stars of the show, but I was also delighted with the variety of flora and fauna in the surrounding drawings. For example, around the pumpkin in the distance are bison, sandhill cranes, and a pear tree. A black widow hides behind the pop-up leaves of the pumpkin. There is so much here that you can talk about! Open the next spread and an oak tree, covered with acorns and two blue jays, lifts into the air. Falling yellow and orange leaves are attached by string. Behind the tree are wild turkeys and river otters. I love the levels in the landscape with mountains in the farthest distance. In the bottom left of each spread, descriptive sentences are interchanged with questions that prompt the reader to interact with the book. Perhaps my favorite pop-up is a grove of aspens with bright yellow leaves fronted by a moose. Opening the pages was definitely an "ooh-aaah" moment. It was like watching pop-up fireworks.

Toddlers will love the beautiful colors and touching the edges of the detailed plants that pop up. Adults will love the variety of plants and animals and the chance to build vocabulary with their young reader. A gorgeous visual representation of the season.

Monday, July 10, 2017

K is for Kindergarten

K is for Kindergarten
written by Erin Dealey; illustrated by Joseph Cowman
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

C is for crayons and coloring
How creative can you be? 
Glitter, scissors, paste and yarn-
Make some art for all to see!


Future kindergarten students are probably in two camps in the last weeks leading up to their start of K-12. They're either super excited or a little anxious about this big event. Either way, K is for Kindergarten will be a splendid way to help them prepare. Since there are many books about beginning kindergarten, what sets this book apart from the crowd? First, writing the book with the alphabet as a template will catch the eye of students and their parents. Learning your letters is a big deal for the first year of school. Still, other books may have rhyming quatrains and incorporate the alphabet. What I think is a bigger deal are the tips and activities that accompany every two page spread. This is a very clever and helpful idea to integrate with the rhyming lines. For example, with the letter D, a game called Hidden Treasure will help children work on following directions. With step by step instructions, they get to direct a family member or friend to find a hidden object in a room. How much better is that idea than simply telling a child to follow directions in school? You are illustrating the importance of following directions through the use of a fun game. J stands for jitters so the activity is to have a family member draw a picture of what kindergarten was like for them. They compare their picture to what the incoming student has drawn. The two can compare and share how they feel about kindergarten. This book is full of ideas that will help prepare children for this important step. Another big plus is the artwork. It's fun, colorful, and full of diverse characters. These illustrations bring back fond memories of the times that I have worked with kindergarten students.

As a teacher, I think July is the perfect time to find this book. I like the idea of easing students into the path towards starting school. Spend a little time each day and maybe share one letter at bedtime or during the day. The activities will certainly be a benefit. K is for Kindergarten is a great way to kick off a landmark year in a child's life.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Little Pig Saves the Ship

Little Pig Saves the Ship
written and illustrated by David Hyde Costello
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the first day without his brothers and sisters, Little Pig had a lot of spare time. 

Little Pig's brothers and sisters are going to sailing camp for a week, but he is too small to join them. His downcast face and shrugged shoulders have to stay home. Little Pig's oldest brother gives him a piece of rope and a book of sailor's knots with which to practice while his siblings are away. On the bright side, Grandpa and Poppy have come over to show him the little ship that Poppy has started making for him. What ensues is a week of ship building and sailing fun for Little Pig and Poppy. One line of text at the top of each page moves the story while cartoon bubbles provide the conversation between Little Pig and Poppy. They finish the boat on Sunday and sail it in a stream the next five days. The big adventure finishes with a flourish on Saturday when a gust of wind blows the ship downstream. With the water being too deep, Little Pig watches from the bank as Poppy valiantly tries to catch up to the boat. As the little ship approaches a bridge, Little Pig remembers his brother's admonition and puts his rope into use to become the hero. Now he has a story to share with his brothers and sisters.

This is a sweet story where the smallest character is the hero. It's a classic underdog plot that is extremely appealing to young readers and writers. Speaking of writing, the Saturday sequence would be a fine text to mentor writers who are learning to write small moment stories. The cartoon bubbles provide another teaching opportunity. What's great about the sparse conversation is that it contains boating vocabulary (Four points off the bow; Batten down the hatches!). Some sponge-like brain in your class will ask about the terms so now you can talk about new vocabulary. I would even mention that pirates could have used these terms. Yet another fun classroom idea would be to use this book to work on learning the days of the week. Little Pig will sail into a harbor of kid appreciation as a classroom read aloud and/or bedtime story.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Murphy's Ticket: The Goofy Start and Glorious End of the Chicago Cubs Billy Goat Curse

Murphy's Ticket 
written by Brad Herzog; illustrated by David Leonard
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The story began with a bump in the road,
and that goat in the back of a truck.
Who would believe that this was the start
of Chicago Cubs baseball bad luck?

Do you believe in curses? Many Chicago Cubs fans certainly did. And it all started with a goat. Wandering through the streets of Chicago, the infamous goat was adopted by tavern owner Billy Sianis (On a side note, the tavern was immortalized in the Saturday Night Live skit with the phrase "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger".) Sianis came to love the goat and named him Murphy. He even wore a goatee and took on the nickname Billy Goat. On October 6, 1945, Billy had two tickets for the World Series game between the Cubs and the Tigers. One ticket for him and one for Murphy. They marched around the outfield and Murphy found the grass to be very tasty. After being cheered by the fans, they went to their seats. An attendant said Billy was welcome but Murphy would have to leave Wrigley Field. Being highly offended, Billy left with Murphy and announced "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more!" Just another angry fan. No big deal, right? Well, the Cubs, who had been up 2-1 in that World Series, went on to lose it. The next year, they fell to sixth place. As the years went by, the Cubs became known as lovable losers. In 1969, they were in first place for most of the season, but went on to lose 17 of their last 25 games to plummet out of contention. Did the black cat that ran onto the field carry on The Curse? 1984 brought on more heartbreak as a first baseman's error helped deny the Cubbies a spot in the World Series. Perhaps the most infamous moment was in 2003 when an overanxious fan interfered with a Cubs outfielder in the National League championship series and it all went downhill after that. It seemed the Cubs would never visit the World Series again, yet alone win it. Fortunately for them, everything was reversed last November when they won Game 7 and became World Series champions. The legacy of losing was lifted.

Murphy's Ticket is an entertaining retelling of a classic American sports story. The rhyming of the second and fourth lines of each quatrain add several degrees of engagement for young readers. In a small group, I would use small sticky notes to cover up some of the fourth line words to work on phonemic awareness and prediction. This is also a terrific book to use for distinguishing between fact and opinion. Was the curse a fact or simply the opinion of long suffering Cubs fans? I also need to mention David Leonard's artwork, especially his drawings of Billy. The vivid facial expressions are delightful. This piece of baseball history makes for an enjoyable picture book for sports fans young and old.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2018

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2018
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's a blob. It's a ball. It's a pleurobranch! A mysterious purple orb discovered in the Pacific Ocean has stumped scientists. 

This is like a candy store for informational text. Instead of the barrels being filled with chocolate and peppermints, they contain facts from around the globe and about a wide variety of subjects. You start with a preview of 2018. Did you know the Winter Olympics are coming up? In February, the quadrennial frozen sports extravaganza will be hosted by South Korea. Photos of ski cross and luge will get you ready. In the following section, Awesome Exploration, you meet adventurers who explore high and low and you can participate in the Newsmaker Challenge including choosing a shark for inclusion in next year's almanac. The teacher in me appreciates the More for You feature at the end of each chapter. This feature focuses on activities that will help students with skills like writing an essay, a letter, and presenting an oral report. I also like the variety of chapters in this almanac. The authors are people who know what students want. A chapter about animals includes information about wild cats and dinosaurs. You can't go wrong with a photo of a cat wearing a tiara. Kids also care about the world around them so when you have chapters about taking care of the environment, the wonders of the natural world, and space, that's going to be a winner. Today's students are also fascinated by technology, so why not have a chapter with robots, cars that sail, and an underwater plane. Hot topics like drones and 3-D printers are also spotlighted. It's great that there's also a nod, in the form of a timeline flow chart, to the life and work of George Washington Carver. My favorite part of the almanac may be the last chapter, Geography Rocks. The world map and the maps of the continents are superb. You also get brief fact overviews, complete with flags, of all 195 countries and the 50 states.

A big reason why I would want a copy of this almanac? Think about reluctant readers. The student who can't seem to find anything to interest them. What better chances would you have to find something for them than with a book that has such a wide variety of subjects like this? Plus, it could serve as a gateway to further reading if a student finds an interest. You could also use this book to work on differentiating between fact and opinion. If you like informational text, having the Almanac 2018 is like being a kid in candy store.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Can An Aardvark Bark?

Can An Aardvark Bark?
written by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins
2017 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Can a porcupine whine? Why, yes, it can! Lots of other animals whine too.

My first thought is Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins together? On their own, both have contributed mightily to children's nonfiction literature so when they combine their talents, the book becomes a must read. An intriguing question for the title? Hmm, never thought about the noise that an aardvark makes. Now my curiosity is at a high level and I really want to dig in. Plus, how can you resist a book with an adorable aardvark on the cover? So I open the book and get a full length view of the aardvark with the details that make Jenkins a big favorite among readers of all ages. Up top, the title question is on the left side of the spread and a response on the right side in a larger font while in the bottom left corner is additional information in a smaller font. With the rhyming of the large font question continuing throughout the book (Can a wild boar roar? Can a giraffe laugh?), we have a pattern that says "Big time fun shared reading ahead." K-1 students will love reading along and viewing the artwork. You could also cover the right side and have students predict whether the animal can make that sound. The smaller text will feed the appetite of animal enthusiasts who want more information. After you learn about the feature animal, the next spread highlights four other animals who make the same noise. There are eight feature animals in all. Add four animals that support each lead animal and you have forty animals in all.
Now you have an opportunity to work on building categories and making graphic organizers. Divide your class into eight groups and create bubble maps for each sound. Another bonus? Each of the paragraphs that accompany an animal is a great opening to work on cause and effect. Why does the animal make that sound? There's always a reason. On the final spread of the book, all of the spotlighted sounds are combined so readers can practice their animal communications. Beside being loads of entertainment, this will help them connect to the information previously presented. 

Whether you have to bark, grunt, growl, or bellow, do what you have to do to add this book to your classroom collection. With so many possible uses, it will be a valuable addition. 

You should also check out Melissa Stewart's Clubhouse for more science resources.