Friday, April 22, 2016

Wild About Books

I read Wild About Books to my 1st & 2nd graders this week. What fun! Author Judy Sierra's way with words kept them listening intently and entertained me through the whole story. The kids didn't understand why a hippo winning a Zoolitzer prize was funny, but I enjoyed the play on words. She truly has a gift for creating playful, "punny" rhymes.

Sierra also avoids focusing on the more common zoo animals and includes bandicoots, skinks, and onyx to keep things fresh and, a bonus - my students had lots of questions about the different animals, zoos, and other things that stood out as being both unfamiliar and interesting.

Bookmobile librarian, Mavis McGrew, mistakenly drives her bookmobile into a zoo and decides to make the best of it. She parks the bus, sets up her lounge chair and check-out system, grabs a book and starts reading. One by one the animals come closer to check things out and become hooked on reading. They read in pairs, in packs, in bunches or solo. They share jokes and poems and plays in trees, on boulders and in tiny shelters made of books. In fact, they become so addicted to reading that they build their own Zoobrary.

 Marc Brown, of Arthur the aardvark fame, has illustrated this fun pro-literacy book in his typical cheerful, friendly style. Children are fascinated by his drawings and I noticed more than one of my students looking through the book on their own later, savoring the colorful artwork. He includes as many treats for adult readers' eyes and Sierra provides for their ears.

Buy this at your local bookstore, order it online, or better yet - check it out at your local zoobrary library.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Peanut Butter & Cupcake

Peanut Butter is the new kid in town. Mom is busy unpacking and setting up their new home, so when he asks her to play with him, she encourages him to go into the neighborhood and meet some new friends. His greeting to each potential friend goes like this:

"Hello, I'm new here, and I'd like to play
Maybe now, maybe later - or even all day
I'll make you chuckle deep down in your belly
And we'll go together like Peanut Butter and...(insert potential friend's name here)"

He approaches Hamburger, Cupcake, Egg, Meatball, French Fries, and Soup, but none of them want to engage with him, so he sits down on a park bench, ready to give up. Just in time, a new kid approaches and we finally get to meet the new friend that everyone knew would eventually show up...Jelly! (and the rhyme is finally a rhyme!)

Peanut Butter & Cupcake is written & illustrated by Terry Border, who is best known for his creations involving bent objects. While I found the story line to be prosaic, the photographs will fascinate readers and are the star of this story book.

Border cleverly manipulates 3-D objects to create a fun and funky world for our favorite food characters to inhabit. I laughed out loud at the meatball jumping rope with a piece of spaghetti and my students loved seeing Hamburger out walking his dogs, which are two hot dogs. The girls ooh'd and aah'd over Cupcake building a "sand" castle with sprinkles and I adored the photo of French Fries reading under a tree with a basket of ketchup by his side.

Worth reading just to see the photos!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dex: The Heart of a Hero

I've been a fan of Caralyn and Mark Buehner since I read Fanny's Dream. When my daughter had a chance to hear them speak recently at the Springville Library (the library where she runs an incredible teen program!) she got a them to autograph copies of Fanny's Dream and Dex: The Heart of a Hero for me, which is like gold in our family!

Dex: The Heart of a Hero, written by Caralyn Buehner, and illustrated by her husband, Mark Buehner, is just plain cute. Dex, the weenie dog desperately wants to be a hero, but he can't even defend himself from tauntings of the neighborhood tomcat Clevis.

But Dex has a rich imaginary life, shared with the reader through comic strips frames that portray Dex as a flying superhero and he decides that he was tired of wanting to be a hero, he was going to start being a hero.

He begins to train by reading every superhero comic book and watching every superhero movie he can find. He starts a vigorous exercise program, and in one of my students' favorite frames, finally discovers his muscles. Dex even orders himself a superhero uniform, which garnered lots of laughs from my class because, let's face it - weenie dogs look comical in superhero get-ups.

The minute he ties on his shiny green cape, Dex begins helping others in any way that he can. His crowning achievement, however, involves rescuing the very tomcat who has been torturing him. All hail Super Dog!

I'll avoid spoiling the ending for you, but it is cute.

Mark Buehner's work is among my favorite in the world of illustrators. My first Mark Buehner book was Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm and I was hooked. His pictures, even when depicting events that take place in darkness, are always bright and vivid. He is great with facial expressions and, in this particular book, has hidden rabbits, cats and T-rexes throughout the illustrations, which motivated my students to scour every picture. Their hidden pictures treasure hunt generated discussions about a number of things they would not have otherwise noticed.

Read this story, heck, make it a dog stories week and add The Hallo-wiener, the Martha Speaks series, Dog Breath, Harry the Dirty Dog, Walter the Farting Dog series and Dogzilla. The giggles are half the fun!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Giraffes Can't Dance

Poor Gerald the giraffe has a bad case of the wish-I-coulds. He's really good at doing the things that giraffes are supposed to do, but what he really wants to do is get down and boogie at the annual Jungle Dance.

He watches all the other animals waltz, rock 'n' roll, tango and cha-cha, but when Gerald walks onto the dance floor, the other animals sneer and jeer and he leaves the dance feeling utterly alone.

Luckily, a clever cricket gives him some good advice and Gerald discovers that "We can all dance...when we find music that we love."

Giraffe's Can't Dance, written by Giles Andreae is delightful. The rhyming text draws in young readers and immediately creates empathy for Gerald. My 1st and 2nd graders couldn't help themselves as Gerald was bullied out of the dance, I heard multiple whispers, "That's so sad," "Why are they doing that?" "That's mean." "Poor Gerald." But when Gerald starts grooving to the music of the violin-playing cricket, they were giddy - giggling, gasping, and cheering for his new moves.

Guy Parker-Rees' bright illustrations were created with watercolor, pen and ink. There are a couple of pages I particularly like - the scene by the bonfire at the dance, all the animals bathed in firelight takes me back to all our Dillon Beach campouts, and the scene with Gerald closing his eyes, listening to the world around him. I can just imagine the effort it took to shut out the voices in his head, the distant sounds of the Jungle Dance, and listen for his own kind of music.

Enjoy this little gem with your little ones!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Leprechaun's Gold

I post a lot of St. Patrick's Day books! I'm not particularly fond of the holiday, so I've been trying to figure out why I am apparently obsessed with these books.

A few moments ago, a memory flashed into my mind of my dad sitting at my bedside at the 210th Street house, telling me about O'Shaunnesy, O'Toole and O'Day, the three leprechauns who would visit me on St. Patrick's Day eve and leave a treat (if I would just GO TO SLEEP!) When I would awaken the next morning, there would be a small bundle at the foot of my bed with gold (chocolate) coins and a couple of other trinkets and candies. Mystery solved - I miss my dad.

Today I read this gem to both of my classes and they loved it. I'm tempted to say that their fascination with this story has something to do with the Irish accent I use when reading the dialogue, but, let's not kid ourselves.

Sidebar: years ago, when I was teaching first grade in California, I had them all gathered for Circle Time on St. Paddy's Day. I thought it would be fun to lead the entire routine in my Irish accent, and it was - they were completely enthralled and I could see that some of them weren't sure it was really me. But one young man, Ben, was laughing uncontrollably - literally rolling on the floor, holding his belly and laughing. I was delighted that I had tickled his funny bone so thoroughly. Finally, he cried out, "Stop! I can't take it any more! You have to stop speaking Spanish!" Yep, that's how good my Irish accent is.

Back to this colorful, fun book - The Leprechaun's Gold, written by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole. We meet Young Tom and Old Pat, two Irish harpists living in the same small village. Old Pat taught Young Tom to play the harp and Young Tom soon believed his skills to be far superior to those of his teacher. He begins to make a career by charging for his harp-playing services, while Old Pat is content to play for anyone, anytime, no charge.

Soon a contest is announced by the king and all harpists in Ireland are invited to compete for the title of best harpist. Young Tom decides to travel to the venue with Old Pat because he is sure Old Pat will share his food, thus saving Young Tom some money. Their first night on the road, Young Tom sabotages Pat's harp and while this mini-drama is unfolding, they hear a cry in the woods. Young Tom refuses to investigate because of the well-known danger of leprechauns playing tricks. But Old Pat soon realizes that the cries for help are genuine and follows the sound to find a leprechaun in need of help. He gladly assists him and once the leprechaun hears Pat's tale, he decides he must repay him. Pat resists, so the leprechaun causes him to fall asleep so he can work his magic unencumbered.

In the morning, Old Pat wakes to find young Tom has deserted him, so he heads for the castle alone. The competition is in full swing and Pat arrives just in time to hear Tom play. Unfortunately, Tom falls into some "bad luck" and is unable to finish his performance.

When Pat's turn comes, he pulls his harp from the bag and in it's place is a beautiful, gold leprechaun harp. I'll let you find out the ending when you read the story, but it's definitely a feel-good ending.

The illustrations are steeped in greens and golds, splashed with bright colors and a liberal dose of Pat's good nature. Cole adds to the fun of this Irish tale by hiding shamrocks on each page for young readers to find.

The Leprechaun's Gold - add it to your collection and read it in your best Irish accent to a wee one.

If you're looking for a fun, easy prep St. Paddy's math activity, head on over to my TPT store! I've got Lucky Charms math packs for bother upper and lower elementary classes.

Looking for more St. Patrick's Day book suggestions? Click here.
And here
And here
And one more

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fiona's Luck

St. Patrick's Day is just a few days away and I find myself wanting to add to my collection of St. Paddy's tales, so I went to my go-to site, and started searching.

Luckily for me, I found this golden nugget, Fiona's Luck, written by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. The story and the illustrations are equally delightful and readers will be enchanted from the very first sentence: "Once, luck was as free to be had in Ireland as sunlight, and just as plentiful."

Bateman uses rich, rhythmic prose to craft a tale of the cunning Fiona, who realizes that the disappearance of all luck from Ireland must be "the work of the leprechauns" and turns the tables on the king of the leprechauns in order to restore luck to Ireland.

The leprechaun king is determined to win their bargain, but Fiona, whose shrewd ruse gains her access to the world of the leprechauns, exactly as she expects, circumvents him at every turn and triumphs in the end. Luck is restored to Ireland and still roams free today.

Well-formed phrases such as "one midsummer's eve," "in a trice," "glorious cavern," and "steeped in luck," not only enrich a young reader's vocabulary, but strengthen inferential and context clues skills as well.

Murphy's illustrations are anchored in greens with muted golden undertones - a constant reminder that the tale is set on the Emerald Isle.

Fiona is an strong, clever, intelligent female character who correctly surmises, "Luck's all well and good, but myself? I'd rather depend on my wits."

Follow the rainbow to find this pot of gold in your local library or at your favorite online book dealer.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I finished reading this little gem today and love, love, loved it! WonderR. J. Palacio's first novel, has quickly become a favorite of anyone I've talked to who has read it, adults and children alike.

Auggie Pullman is a 5th grader who is starting private school after years of being home schooled. He's not worried about keeping up academically, but he is worried about finding friends. Not an unusual concern for someone about to become the new kid, but he's only navigated a few friendships in his short life, not because he lacks the opportunity or social skills, but because his face is deformed and other children are reluctant to come near him.

Auggie is used to stares, whispers, shock, tight smiles, and even screams, but experiencing that all day, every day will be an adjustment he's not sure he wants to make.

Palacio tells the story of Auggie's 5th grade year not only through Auggie's eyes, but through the eyes of those who love him - his sister, Olivia and her friends Justin and Miranda, and his friends Jack and Summer. August and Olivia give the reader clear insight into their parents' view, but all of the voices telling the story are the voices of children and teenagers who understand the social ramifications each of the others face when they commit to becoming part of Team Auggie.

I shed more than a few tears and laughed out loud several time as the kids told their stories. There are characters who are redeemed and those whose pride doesn't allow redemption. Readers will enjoy meeting the frenemies, the love-blind parents, the long-suffering, invisible sister, and watching the transformation of the student body at Beecher Prep as they learn that the old saying is true - what matters is what is on the inside.

For those who want more Auggie, there is a companion to this novel titled Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, which is waiting for me at my local library.