Who says nonfiction and poetry have to be two separate genres? In Mammalabilia, Douglas Florian has brilliantly combined the two. Each two-page spread...moreWho says nonfiction and poetry have to be two separate genres? In Mammalabilia, Douglas Florian has brilliantly combined the two. Each two-page spread features a short, witty verse about a particular mammal opposite a striking, colorful painting that matches the amusing poem. For instance, a woman wearing a stole with a live, laughing lynx accompanies the following:
Some people wear fur coats of lynx. I think that stynx.
This book relies on humorous word play, inventive rhymes, and creative forms (such as the words to the porcupine poem arranged like quills.) Although it shares less factual information about animals than some of his other books, we do learn some facts about mammals. For instance, “The Hippo” reveals that hippos prefer water by day, and land by night.
I love Douglas Florian! And so do my 3rd graders. When I introduced them to Insectlopedia during a nonfiction unit, his books circulated like wildfire during independent reading. These books are perfect for kids. The selections are light on text, but not on humor. I definitely would recommend a Douglas Florian collection as an addition to any classroom library. (less)
Will Smith has teamed up with renowned artist Kadir Nelson (We Are The Ship, Moses, Salt in His Shoes) to turn his 1998 rap song into a picture book....moreWill Smith has teamed up with renowned artist Kadir Nelson (We Are The Ship, Moses, Salt in His Shoes) to turn his 1998 rap song into a picture book. And believe it or not, it works. The lyrics, or in this case the text, reveal the powerful relationship between a father and his son. Throughout the book, a proud father offers protection, imparts advice, and attempts to keep up as his newborn son grows into a young man. For example, one page reads:
I try to be a tough dad, but you keep making me laugh Crazy joy when I see the eyes of my baby boy I pledge to you, I will always do Everything I can To show you how to be a man.
The text is written in varying fonts and sizes, emphasizing the most important words and ideas. For instance, the dad is awestruck when he realizes his son is “a little me,” he pledges to the young boy that no matter what “I’ve got your back,” and teaches him to rise above injustice because “hate in your heart will consume you too.”
But the best part of this book is the magical touch Kadir Nelson adds with his brilliant illustrations. From the very first heartwarming image of the dad cradling his newborn, a mesmerized look in his eyes, the illustrations are gorgeous, touching, and convincing. Nelson’s artwork offers the perfect complement to the text.
This picture book highlights the poignant language and deeper message of Smith’s rap song. It offers something that the original song does not. In this format, you can really see the honesty, emotion, and humor of his lyrics. You can clearly see Smith’s personality behind them, yet the verses seem much more poetic than in song format.
I’m looking forward to putting this text in my digital listening center along with Smith’s original rap song to highlight for my kids the connection between books and music. Hopefully they will come to see song lyrics as an authentic form of “written language.” (less)
Outside The Lines is an anthology of poems about play. The text and illustrations work together to mirror the activity being described. For instance,...moreOutside The Lines is an anthology of poems about play. The text and illustrations work together to mirror the activity being described. For instance, a poem about playing catch forces the reader to move his eyes back and forth across the page to follow the poem, just as they would follow a real life game of catch. A baseball poem organizes the verses in diamond -- a verse at first base, one at second, one in the pitcher’s mound, etc. The jumping rope poem has moving text forming two curved lines, in “double dutch” format.
It’s a great concept! Outside the Lines is original, playful, and perfect for kids. Probably not for very new readers, though. It challenges much of what young readers know about concepts of print – including directionality and form. But for more experienced readers, it's much like a puzzle…the reader needs to figure out what comes next. I’m so glad I discovered this book at my local library. I highly recommend it!(less)
(Audio Version) Jack Prelutsky’s popular poetry collection has been adapted into song for fifty minutes of head-bopping rhyme sure to attract young ch...more(Audio Version) Jack Prelutsky’s popular poetry collection has been adapted into song for fifty minutes of head-bopping rhyme sure to attract young children. Like most Prelutsky collections, this one consists of silly poems that contain silly characters in silly (yet real) cities. For instance:
In Winnemuca, way out west, a monkey sat is a bluebird's nest. The bluebird squawked and fussed all day, till the monkey ran to San Jose.
The musical version makes the playful text even more enjoyable and upbeat. The songs are folky in feel. Prelutsky does the vocals himself – his background as a folk singer definitely comes in handy. I can’t wait to put The Frog Wore Red Suspenders in my new digital listening center!(less)
I love books that surprise me. I didn’t choose this for my book club this week, simply because it didn’t appeal to me at the time. However, when I saw...moreI love books that surprise me. I didn’t choose this for my book club this week, simply because it didn’t appeal to me at the time. However, when I saw it at the library I decided to give it a try.
What a fabulous book! Lonny is a foster child who lost both of his parents in a tragic fire. Although he has a surviving sister, Lily, she has been placed with a foster mother who “did not want boys.” Lonny cherishes the rare opportunities he gets to see his sister. It is one of the many things he writes about in his poetry journal. Other topics include school, friends, his unique relationship with his foster mom Miss Edna, and most of all, his parents.
Lonny is one of those characters you empathize with from his first poem. He is a believable character that uses contemporary lingo with his friends, yet has a clandestine talent for poetic language. Although not overly sentimental, his poems reveal his pain. The poems are not told in any one form. Lonny’s writing teacher, the inspiring Ms. Marcus, encourages him to explore different styles, so there is much variation in the forms of Lonny’s poems. The last few brought me to tears, which was something I was definitely not expecting. This is a great book for upper elementary and middle school students. Glad I had a change of heart! (less)
Andrea Davis and Brian Pinkney’s brand new book (published 2010) is powerfully told. It portrays the true story of the 1960 Greensboro sit-in, in which...moreAndrea Davis and Brian Pinkney’s brand new book (published 2010) is powerfully told. It portrays the true story of the 1960 Greensboro sit-in, in which four boys “stood up” by sitting down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter despite the clear WHITES ONLY sign. The boys, of course, were not served. But that didn’t stop them from coming in day after day, sitting and waiting for “a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side.” The text is eloquent and compelling. The author writes, “At first they were treated like the hole in a doughnut – invisible.” The boys, however, waited quietly, patiently, politely. And in doing so, they inspired a nation. Non-violent sit-ins spread throughout the country.
The colorful, wispy sketches are optimistic, and create a positive and hopeful tone. Although never explicitly mentioned, Dr. King’s presence is felt throughout the book. Like Martin’s Big Words, select phrases from Dr. King -- big, bold, and colorful -- are interspersed with the narrative. For instance, the boys remember that “We must meet violence with nonviolence” and “We must be loving enough to absorb evil.” Despite injustice, the boys remain gentle, stoic, and determined. Readers will truly empathize with the four boys who sit patiently doing schoolwork and studying for their tests waiting for “a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side.” (A repeated refrain throughout the story.) They will feel for other protesters across the county who had “coffee poured down their backs, milkshakes flung in their faces, and ketchup dumped on their heads” yet still sat patiently without lashing out. The final page is an extended pull-out spread that shows what the waiting was for. It reveals swirled lunch counters across the land with all colors being served. The narrative is supplemented by a factual civil rights timeline, a note to the reader from the author about the motivation for writing the book, and actual photograph of the 4 boys who “stood up” by “sitting down.”
The metaphors to recipes and studying in the book were a bit overused. (Those kids had a recipe, too. A new brew called integration. Combine black with white to make sweet justice. Everybody would score an A+ with that coffee and cream on the side. If black people and white people could break bread together, everyone would pass the test.) Still, the book is a powerful one – one that I intend to add to my classroom library and share with my kids in our studies of Civil Rights.(less)
I came upon this “ultra-modern” picture book biography while browsing the nonfiction section of my local library. The cover is great -- a young, freck...moreI came upon this “ultra-modern” picture book biography while browsing the nonfiction section of my local library. The cover is great -- a young, freckled Hillary, staring up at the sky, looking wise beyond her years. Based on the topic and cover, I was expecting big things from this book. Unfortunately, I have to say it did NOT deliver.
I enjoyed the beginning, which portrayed Hillary as a young girl, and couldn’t help but chuckle when Hillary lost for president of her junior class and the boy she ran against claimed she was “really stupid if she thought a girl could be elected president.” However, after that, the book went downhill.
I understand that picture book biographies are tough to write. They demand that authors cover a historical figure’s entire life in 32 pages. With that said, Hillary ages much too quickly in this book, going from one stage of her life to another without any clear bridge or explanation. For instance, it goes from her as a lawyer on one page, to her making speeches as First Lady on the next, to her becoming senator on the next. The descriptions of Hillary at each stage in her life were vague. (For kids, at least.) Immediately following her pictured on the White House lawn, the next page reads, “There were only one hundred senators. Each one truly could make a difference in the areas they cared about the most. She ran for senator, won, and went airborne in politics by herself for the first time.” I feel like kids would read that and say…Huh???
We’ve talked in class about children’s books written for an adult audience. This is a perfect example of such a book. It made obscure references that kids just wouldn’t understand without background knowledge. We as adults know what it means when the author writes, “She tried to cover a lot of ground, and not everything she did was a success.” But that line is not kid-friendly. As adults, we get the references, the implications, the jokes. We know what the author means when she is pictured smiling aside three old, white men each raising a skeptical eyebrow; we remember when she became “First Lady of one of the poorest states,” we can grasp the line, “Others mocked her looks and wished she would just stay home,” we can pinpoint ways in which she “used politics to help people.” But for kids, these things are poorly explained and developed.
Additional flaws, in my opinion, included the extraneous cursive quotes that distracted from the story and the completely overdone references to flight. The subtitle of this story is Dreams Taking Flight. When Hillary was young, we learn, she wanted to be an astronaut. “Her life, however, took flight in a different way.” That I get, but the metaphor became forced and overused right up to the last page which reads, “Sooner or later, we will have a woman president, and it will be because of every girl who has wanted to fly.”
I can’t decide if this biography tried to do too much, or too little, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me. Putting aside all of my knowledge of this high-profile figure, I asked myself…would this book appeal to kids? The answer is no. It’s too bad. I was really hoping to put this title in my collection for Women’s History Month, but am doubtful that my 3rd graders will be able to make any sense of it. Kids could read this book cover to cover and still have no idea who Hillary Clinton is or what she has done. This book is written for someone who already has knowledge of Hillary Clinton. It’s, as we discussed, one of those “adult books for kids.” (less)
This book explains the scientific and historical significance of the winter solstice. At least, it attempts to. I personally would not choose to add t...moreThis book explains the scientific and historical significance of the winter solstice. At least, it attempts to. I personally would not choose to add this book to my classroom collection. The book is seemingly kid-friendly, with just 2-3 sentences per page alongside youthful and cheery oil pastel illustrations. However, I think the book would be more baffling than informative to a child.
The narrative format hinders the scientific explanation of the movement of the sun. The text reads, “In the north, the sun appears lower in the southern sky” and “people realized the day was the shortest when the sun set farthest south.” These lines would likely be confusing to kids without visual support. Yet the illustrations on these pages do little to support the directional concepts and seem to be decorative more than anything else. The book goes on to highlight how people throughout history misunderstood, then came to celebrate the winter solstice. One page is dedicated to each of the following groups: Ancient Romans, Ancient China, Mayans, Incas, Druid Priests of Ireland, Swedish Families. Aside from “Druid Priests,” there is a great deal of vocabulary (horizon, astronomers, harvest) that is used without any textual or picture support to help students make sense of the information. This book would have to be read with a great deal of supplemental instruction.
The winter solstice is made out to be a “time of celebration” in modern times. The text reads, “People have welcomed the winter solstice because it’s a new beginning” as well as “People celebrate the shortest day because longer days follow.” (Mind you, this is alongside illustrations of kids playing and happy families rejoicing.) Although I consider New Years a time for new beginnings, the actual day of the winter solstice (Dec. 21st) is not a major cause for celebration in my book.
I do like the child-friendly experiment ideas at the very end of the book (ie. measuring shadows, making a model of the sun and earth) but overall, this wasn’t my favorite informational book to say the least.(less)
When I look back on my own education of the Women's Suffrage Movement, one word comes to mind...BORING. Children's trade books were never incorporated...moreWhen I look back on my own education of the Women's Suffrage Movement, one word comes to mind...BORING. Children's trade books were never incorporated into my social studies curriculum growing up. It was a "learn-from-your-textbook" kind of environment. No wonder I hated social studies until I got to college.
Elizabeth Leads The Way is a book I wished my teachers had shared with me when I was younger. Through fun and energetic text and illustrations, Elizabeth Cady Stanton is depicted as a forward-thinking, bold young girl who grows up to be a leader of the Women's Rights Movement that ultimately gave women the right to vote.
Elizabeth was four years old when she overheard someone claiming it was a "pity" that her newborn sibling was a girl. Elizabeth would see to it that there was nothing pitiful about her life. She went to college, a path nearly unheard of at the time for a woman, and subsequently organized meetings and demonstrations to gain voting rights for women.
The style of the book truly brings Elizabeth to life and allows young readers to grasp the reality of the time, one in which women were expected solely to wash dishes, mend clothing, and take care of the children. It is a very kid-friendly book. The illustrations and text are lively and bold, doing justice to Elizabeth's own spirit. For instance, on one page after learning that women could not own property, the word "preposterous" spews as moving text from Elizabeth's lips. Old-fashioned portrayals of life are done in a contemporary artistic style which captures the early 1900's well, yet appeals to a modern audience.
I read this book in a guided reading group made up solely of girls, and it was a big success. The text had one girl pounding her fist on the table as she read Eliabeth's lines, and lended itself to spirited discussions with a "you-go-girl" kind of vibe. Most importantly, it taught an important piece of history in a way that I was (unfortunately) deprived of at this age.
Who says age matters? This is the true story of a friendship that developed between a baby hippo and a 130-year old giant tortoise at a Kenyan wildlif...moreWho says age matters? This is the true story of a friendship that developed between a baby hippo and a 130-year old giant tortoise at a Kenyan wildlife preserve.
After being orphaned by the 2005 Indonesian tsunami, baby hippo Owen was transported to the nature preserve. He immediately gravitated towards an old tortoise named Mzee. At first the “grumpy” old Mzee seemed annoyed and crawled away. But the next morning, the staff found Owen and Mzee snuggled up against each other. “Their extraordinary friendship had begun.”
It is easy to see why this became a #1 New York Times bestseller. First of all, the story itself is fascinating. Reptiles typically don’t form attachments with other animals -- particularly mammals 129 years younger than themselves. When Owen lost his family, he looked to Mzee as a parental figure, and Mzee surprisingly accepted. The story is well-told. The text includes heartwarming imagery of how Owen playfully nudges the tortoise when he wants him to move faster, or simply walks ahead of him then stops to wait for his friend. And you can’t help but smile at the descriptions of how Mzee rests his head on Owen’s “broad belly,” shows him where to find food, and bares his tiny turtle teeth when he feels Owen is threatened. Most interesting, however, is the unique language the two animals have developed to communicate – a sound that’s not quite hippo, not quite tortoise. These two truly have a bond that defies the laws of nature.
Authentic photos complement this endearing story. Photojournalist Peter Greste captures the two animals snuggling, eating, swimming, and playing. For kids that find the story a bit text-heavy, the pictures clearly tell this fascinating story. This would be a great text to use as a read aloud in a discussion of habitats, ecosystems, adaptations, or animal behavior. I am looking forward to sharing this story of Owen and Mzee with my class. (less)
Shek and his little brother Wong leave their country to join the hundreds of Chinese workers in America in building the great Transcontinental Railroa...moreShek and his little brother Wong leave their country to join the hundreds of Chinese workers in America in building the great Transcontinental Railroad in the mid-1800s. “Coolies” was the derogatory name give to the laborers, meaning “lowly workers.”
The story is actually told as a flashback. Shek’s great-grandaughter is passing along the family history to her own grandson. It begins in impoverished and hunger-stricken China, where news of the need for laborers in America sends Shek and Wong overseas. Shek promises to save enough money to bring their mother and younger brothers to America. They board the “overcrowded ship” with “hundreds of other men frantic for work” en route for the land of opportunity.
Beginning in Sacramento, they work from dawn till dusk, month after month, through blistering hands, scorching sun, blizzards, unscrupulous bosses, and discriminatory pay. Shek survives both a risky detonation of explosives and an avalanche, in which he contracts frostbite. In an ultimate insult, the Coolies – the most vital component of the completion of the project -- weren’t even invited to the celebration when the Central Pacific line from the west and Union Pacific line from the east finally meet up to form the Transcontinental Railroad.
The themes in this book are powerful ones. It depicts the value of protection (Shek looking after his little brother at every opportunity), optimism (the boys regularly send hopeful letters back to their mother in China promising they will never go hungry again) and perseverance (the boys endure harsh conditions day after day). The story is well told, and compassion for the main characters comes easily. The illustrations, a contrast of cool blue and warm gold hues, add an intensity to the text, beginning with the striking cover image of the boys standing tranquilly with sledge hammers over their shoulders, not really knowing if their faces reveal hope or disillusionment. Ultimately, it is the story of both.(less)