Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Sign of the Beaver


Our class is finishing up our historical fiction genre study and this is the book I've been reading aloud to them during lunch each day. I've been using this in my 4th grade classes for years and every time I read it, I remember all the reasons I enjoy it so much. By time we reached chapter 3, this year's class was completely engrossed and silent as I read (not a state in which they typically exist ;)

1. Elizabeth George Speare - this author has historical fiction chops! This novel won 3 awards: a Newbery Honor Citation, the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and the Christopher Award. She also received the Laura Ingalls Wilder (pause here for appropriate fangirl dance) for her "enduring and distinguished contribution to children's literature." Other well-known works are The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Calico Captive, and The Bronze Bow.

2. This story absolutely entrances children. I'm never sure how each class will respond, after all, this was published well before 9 year-olds began dressing and behaving like celebutantes. But Speare is a master storyteller who does not indulge in protracted descriptive paragraphs that young readers typically skim or ignore. Using direct language sprinkled with some vivid figurative language, she crafts a tightly woven story of friendship, prejudice, and growing up. Readers will be holding their breath to see how things turn out for our hero, Matt.

Twelve year-old Matt is left in the Maine territory to watch over his family's new home while his father returns to Massachusetts to fetch the rest of the family - mother, sister, and brand new baby.

While he waits, and the expected 6 weeks turn into months, Matt is robbed, has a life-threatening accident, and discovers that the nearby Native Americans - the clan of the Beaver - have been watching him and saved his life. He and the chief's grandson are forced to spend time together and grow from grudging companions into true friends.

The events have led to interesting discussions in our class about differences in lifestyle between then and now, attitudes toward Native Americans (called Indians throughout this novel) at the time, the instinct for survival, and honoring our responsibilities.

If you haven't read this book, check it out of your local library today! It will be well worth your time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Decision, Decisions

During the week leading up to Valentine's Day, I read a picture book to my class each day while they eat their mid-morning snack. With one day to go, I have 4 books left and time for one tomorrow. So I brought them home and read them again, and thought I'd write a bit about each one to help me make up my mind.

The Ballad of Valentine, by Allison Jackson, can be sung to the tune of "My Darling Clementine." A man writes letter after letter to his sweetheart, Valentine, and none of them ever arrive. He chronicles the different delivery methods he selects and the ways in which they go haywire. All the while, we see Valentine going about her daily chores, including baking a pie, which she then carries to his home to present to him. Mars and Venus at their best :)

The Best Thing About Valentines, by Eleanor Hudson, is for younger readers. The rhyming text is perfect for letting the little ones finish the sentence with the second rhyming word. An adorable bear makes and delivers valentines, capturing exactly how most children feel about this special day.

I enjoy P.K. Hallinan's work and managed to pick up most of his holiday-themed books at a wonderful children's book shop in Ashland, Oregon years ago. Heartprints is his Valentine's Day offering, but the definition of heartprints on the cover leaves no doubt that this is no ordinary Valentine's Day book.
"the impression left behind by a deliberate act of kindness"

The final book on my list is Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink by Diane deGroat. This is another in her series of books about Gilbert and his friends. These characters tackle problems that kids face in their families, with their friends, and at school. This one finds Gilbert unable to write something nice on two of the valentines he is making for his classmates, so he writes a mean poem to both of them and signs their names. Of course, everyone finds out and Gilbert has to deal with being ostracized and figure out how to make things right.

Hmmm, I might have to make time for two books.

Update: I could NOT make up my mind, so I did what every 21st century digiphile does and put it on Facebook. Everyone who responded chose Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink. We read it this morning and I must say, my friends have great decision-making skills - the kids loved it and it gave us an opportunity to have a rich discussion about choices, consequences, and looking for the best in people.

I'll save Heartprints for one of our Morning Meetings in the near future. I can't pass up that opportunity!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mr. Goat's Valentine


I read this story to my class today while they were eating their mid-morning snack. Big mistake. Don't read this book to anyone who is eating ;)

Mr. Goat realizes it is Valentine's Day and scoots off to gather gifts for his first love. So far, so good. But Mr. Goat has different sensibilities than your average human and he purchases...well, never mind, I don't want to spoil the story...or your appetite.

As a mother, I love the ending. It will tug at any mother's heartstrings and we all hope our sons are as thoughtful as Mr. Goat when they are grown and busy with all that life brings their way.

Eve Bunting, who will be 90 this year, often writes about weighty topics - riots, homelessness, the Holocaust, changing families, Japanese exclusion, even serial murder. Given her expert touch with these topics, one might not expect her to have such a well-developed funny bone, but she does, and even though my students were groaning at Mr. Goat's choices, they laughed and enjoyed every bit of the story.

One of my personal favorites is her book How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story. Our team reads it to our 4th graders at Thanksgiving time each year. I have a hard time keeping my tears at bay.

Illustrator Kevin Zimmer has matched Bunting's tone with his clear, bright, completely engaging illustrations. He creates a lovable Mr. Goat in a bright, friendly world.

Mr. Goat's Valentine is a great addition to the Valentine's Day selection of books available for children. Your local library is sure to have a copy.

* I love watching interviews with our beloved children's authors - here is one with Eve Bunting - her Irish brogue is delightful.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Love From the Very Hungry Caterpillar



What a gem! Of course, it's Eric Carle, so gem status is guaranteed, but still.

His trademark collage illustrations once again bring to life reader favorite - the very hungry caterpillar - in the 2015 picture book, Love from The Very Hungry Caterpillar.


This tiny book is short and sweet, telling the reader why s/he is loved. Everyone likes to hear that they make the stars sparkle and the sun shine brighter for someone, right? Little ones will enjoy pointing out our friend the caterpillar on each page. This is a wonderful snuggle up book to read with your child or grandchild (another Grandma's Book of the Month Club pick!) and it's brief enough that the littlest of the littles will sit still for it :)


One of the items on my bucket list is visiting The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. I was looking for more information about the museum on his website and blog, when I found this:


Very Eric Carle: A Very Hungry, Quiet, Lonely, Clumsy, Busy Exhibit

This traveling exhibition is co-organized by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
  • Spring 2018: Discovery Cube, LA, Los Angeles, CA
  • Summer 2018: Family Museum, Bettendorf, IA
  • Fall 2018: Mississippi Children’s Museum, Jackson, MS
  • Summer 2019: Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito, CA


I'm sad that the exhibition won't be in Seattle, but California is doable! To tide you over till you can visit the museum, here are some video links Eric Carle fans will enjoy:
Here's a cute Q&A interview with him from 2007.
On the 40th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he gave this interview.
Here he is reading aloud The Very Hungry Caterpillar.




Saturday, February 10, 2018

Catching Kisses



Me + this book = love at first sight!

Let me explain: 9 months ago, I became a grandma for the very first time and that girl is the light of my life.

She lives over 2,000 miles away and I only get to see her every few months, so I am grateful for technology. I send her little videos of me telling her that Grandma loves her, we FaceTime, and thanks to Amazon Prime, I started Grandma's Book of the Month Club and she gets a couple new books every month, which she promptly either chews or "reads," depending on her current mood.

Last night, her thoughtful mama sent me a little video of sweet, 9 months old Miss B waving and blowing a kiss. Oh, my heart!

So when I picked this book up at my community library this morning, I instantly connected with the idea of blown kisses traveling around the world to reach whomever they are meant for, and I could picture that sweet little kiss from my granddaughter flying over the miles, weaving around mountains, through cities, and across the Puget Sound to me.

Sound silly? Well, then, this isn't the book for you. But if you believe in the power of love, if you yearn for loved ones who aren't nearby, this book will touch your heart.


Maria Van Lieshout uses a sparse color pallet via Adobe Illustrator and all of the people appear in silhouette. Her chosen technique is crisp, clean, and keeps the focus squarely on the author's message. I enjoyed seeing Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, and you and your little ones will surely recognize many of the locations as you move through the book.

Author Amy Gibson has captured a simple, powerful idea - that love knows no bounds - and turned it into a heartwarming picture books for ALL ages. Some of my favorite phrases:
"Kisses are powerful. No wall can hold them back. No fence can keep them out." "Like thumbprints and snowflakes, no two are the same." "Everyday, everywhere, kisses are flying. They're invisible, but real as the wind in your face." Pardon me while, I wipe away a tear and blow a kiss to my darling little grandgirl.

Catching Kisses is a great book to read with someone you love for Valentine's Day, but I know I'll be reading it more often than once a year (and guess what's going in Miss B's next GBOTMC package?)!

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Mitten


My fabulous 4th grade friend is here to help me convince you to read The Mitten by author/illustrator Jan Brett. If you've ever read a Jan Brett story, you won't need convincing - her books are delightful works of art!

I had the opportunity to attend an author visit in El Dorado Hills, California during her Mossy tour  (I posted a bit about it here) and she was as wonderful as you have always imagined that she would be - she even did a drawing lesson with the children in the audience.

The Mitten is Brett's retelling of a Ukrainian folktale about a boy, Sasha, who insists that his Baba knit him white mittens. She resists, telling him that it is too easy for white mittens to get lost in the snow. He persists, and Baba creates the white mittens. Of course, he loses one almost the minute he walks out the door and that's where the fun begins.

A host of animals, each larger than the last, take shelter inside the mitten. Sasha finds his mitten before he returns home and doesn't seem to notice how much larger it is than the other one, but Baba notices. One of my favorite parts of the final page is Baba holding up both mittens, clearly wondering what Sasha could possibly have done to stretch one out so badly.

As you read the story, take time to examine the illustrations! Each frame hints at what will come next, and children will delight in noticing how oblivious Sasha is when he is right by his mitten. When I read this aloud, I enjoy emphasizing the ways that each animal intimidates the others into making room for him in the mitten.

There is so much colorful detail, packed with opportunities for children to predict, infer, and most of all, enjoy this humorous folktale.

Once you've read The Mitten, go get The Hat, The Easter Egg, Mossy, Town Mouse and Country Mouse, Gingerbread Friends - you get the idea ;) Have a Jan Brett extravaganza!

I've opened a TPT store and have posted several Story Time lesson plans - perfect for Pre-K, Kindergarten, homeschool, library story times, and any other situation in which you find youself with a group of young children. If you would like to see the lesson plan for The Mitten - click here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Snow Sisters!



Snow Sisters! is a 2018 addition to the world of children's literature. Written by Kerri Kokias and illustrated by Teagan White, Snow Sisters! lets us peek in on  two sisters enjoying a snowy day, each in the way they prefer.

Right off the bat, it's clear that these girls are complete opposites. One is clearly neat and tidy, while the other is...not.

One sister heads out to play in the snow - throwing snowballs, building a fort, hiding to track animals, sledding - while the other enjoys inside activities - reading while wrapped in a cozy blanket and drinking hot cocoa, baking cookies, making paper snowflakes, having a tea party, and watching animals from the windowsill.

Then they switch places and children can enjoy seeing how differently they do the very same things their sister did in previous pages.

The last couple of pages find them enjoying the rest of the afternoon together inside their blanket fort.

The sparse text leaves plenty of time for observing and discussing what is happening in the illustrations (gouache & watercolor), and sibling relationships.