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
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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.