Friday, December 21, 2012

Curious Critters

Curious Critters By David FitzSimmons
Grades K-6

Phenomenal! Vivid photographs, uncluttered pages, bright colors, amazing close-ups, this is what an animal nonfiction book should like. The photographs themselves are stunning, but what really made this book unique was how David FitzSimmons then wrote a first person narrative of what each animal was thinking when being photographed.

Ohio Crawfish: Do you want to know something really cool? If any of my legs get hurt, including my giant claws, I can grow new ones. Pretty neat, huh? Now, enough chitchat. Back off!

From Eastern Screech-Owl to Red Flat Bark Beetle, there are lots of unusual animals to learn about and study. In the back there are some more cool things to check out. Each animals has a short paragraph telling a little more about it, plus there is a two-page spread of life-size silhouettes so that the animals can be compared in size to each other.

Lesson Seed: Have students bring in a photograph of their own pet, or find a photo of an animal from a magazine, and then ask them to write first-person narratives from the animals' perspectives.  Take this project a step further and have students do short research reports to go along with their photos as well. They can use an online encyclopedia to look up a few facts and then combine this nonfiction writing with their fiction writing for a really interesting project.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Washington Does The Gingerbread Man

It's my tradition each December to read four or five different versions of the Gingerbread Man to my third graders. Then we make gingerbread houses in the library. It's the unit I look forward to the most each year and all my younger students can't wait until 3rd grade so they can have a turn to do this fun unit. Here are some of the versions we read. I mix it up each year picking whichever stories I am in the mood to read.

The Runaway Rice Cake By Ying Chang Compestine
Grades 2-5
This version takes place in China. It is longer than the other versions and has more difficult concepts and vocabulary too. Three brothers and their parents are poor and make a rice cake for the New Year. It runs away only to be eaten by a poor old woman. Upon hearing what happened to their food, their generoud neighbors come by with offerings. Sharing what little they themselves have to eat. The food starts to magically replenish and it is assumed that the woman was a god in disguise and is rewarding the family for their kindness.

The Matzo Ball Boy By Lisa Shulman
Grades 2-5
This version is written with some Yiddish words and it's about a Bubbe (grandmother) who is lonely and makes a Matzo Ball Boy for Passover to keep her company. He runs away and is chased by a Rabbi, a Yenta (village gossip), and the tailor. Though he outsmarts the fox he meets an untimely end in a bowl of soup when he trusts a poor married couple in the forest who invite him in for dinner.

The Gingerbread Boy By Richard Egielski
Grades K-3

This version takes place in New York City which my students enjoy since we're in north Jersey and they go into the city frequently with their families. He is chased by subway musicians, construction workers and a policeman mounted on a horse in Central Park.

Runaway Radish By Janice Levy
Grades K-3
This is a version that takes place in Mexico. The radish is about to be carved for a radish festival and runs awak. Along the way he is chased by a donkey, a chef making mole sauce, and a mariachi band.

The Gingerbread Girl By Lisa Campbell Ernst
Grades K-3
This is the only version we do where the gingerbread is a girl. This is one of my students' favorites because she outsmarts the fox in the end and she is a very sassy character.

The Gingerbread Cowboy By Janet Squires
Grades K-3
This version follows the traditional storyline, but the characters the gingerbread cowboy meets along the way are specific to the wild west which makes it fun to read. He sees long-horned cattle, lizards, etc.

The Gingerbread Man Retold by Jim Aylesworth
Grades K-3
This is the version I start with each year. All the other version we read are then compared to this one. We do discuss that typically the fox tricks the gingerbread man while crossing a river and eats him which is different than this one. other than that it's a pretty traditional version. 

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School By Laura Murray
Grades K-3
This is a new version I bought for the library this year. The students liked how it was written in more of a comic book layout, but was still really easy to read aloud to the class because it wasn't too cluttered. The gingerbread man survives in this version too and the students who make him even build him a gingerbread desk and house so he can stay in their classroom as their friend.

Two or three weeks before we make the houses I send a letter home to the parents letting them know we'll be making gingerbread houses, telling them which day and time their students have library and also what they will need to bring in for the project. Each child has one adult helper come that day to assist in building the house. Lots of grandparents and dads come in which is really nice. It's a very simple project because they just cover an empty milk or juice carton with frosting and then graham crackers. Then the rest of the period is spent decorating the houses with any candies, icing or sprinkles they have brought. The kids share with each other and have a lot of fun being creative.  Here are some of the houses my 3rd graders made this past week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ruby and Leonard and the Great Big Surprise

Ruby and Leonard and the Great Big Surprise By Judith Rossell
Ages 3-6

A sweet pastel-colored story about a brother mouse, Leonard and his sister, Ruby deciding to make a birthday surprise. They work as a team to make frosted cupcakes and along the way they keep reminding each other to be quiet and not ruin the surprise. As you look carefully at the pictures you'll see some whiskers, paws or a head lurking in the background of each page. The surprise is that they have been watched all along by their other brothers and sisters because they all share a huge birthday (and birthday party) together. The cute illustrations are very heartwarming. Best as a lap-read with a young child who might be excited about their own upcoming birthday celebration.


Baghead By Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Grades K-3

"On Wednesday morning, Josh had an idea." Josh decided to wear a bag on his head to breakfast, and to ride the bus, and to class and even soccer practice. Everyone keeps telling him he can't do these things with a bag on his head, but somehow he does. Why is Josh wearing a bag on his head? Because he tried to cut his own hair and he's too embarrassed for anyone to see it. But when Josh's sister gets an idea to help, he won't have to wear that bag again.

Comparison seed: Read this story along with Home-Field Advantage by Justin Tuck about another haircut gone wrong and discuss similarities and differences between the two stories.

Testing the Ice

Testing the Ice: A True Story about Jackie Robinson By Sharon Robinson
Grades 1-4

Jackie Robinson's daughter Sharon Robinson has written this beautiful tribute to her father and the bravery he exhibited not only breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but also testing the ice on their frozen pond in Connecticut. Jackie Robinson couldn't swim and he always avoided going in the lake with his children and their neighborhood friends. Finally, one winter, when they were dying to go ice skating they convinced Jackie to come down to the lake. As terrifying as it must have been for him, he slowly walked all the way to the center of the pond to make sure it was completely safe before letting his kids on the ice. Sharon recounts that day vividly with pride for her caring father. This is an interesting look at the baseball hero and shows us a different side of the famous athlete. This is a wonderful winter read aloud which appeals to both boys and girls and has nothing to do with the holidays.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Grades PreK-3

Amy Krouse Rosenthal's sweet cookie-inspired morsels of wisdom define some difficult concepts in the most easy to grasp way with a simple sentence and darling illustration. For example: 
Appreciative means, thank you so so much for taking the time to bake with me.
Moderation means at the party not having twenty cookies, and not having zero cookies, but having just enough cookies.
Anticipation means, I've been thinking all day about making the cookies. I'm so excited. I can't wait.
These are such cozy, soft illustrations to pore over while curled up on the couch. This isn't necessarily a classroom read aloud, but more of something I'd want to do as a lap read with the children in my own family. A definite holiday gift for the cookie-loving kid in your family and it even has a sugar cookie recipe in the back.

The Hueys in the New Sweater

The Hueys in the New Sweater By Oliver Jeffers
Grades K-3

Oliver Jeffers is pure genius at work. I adore his children's books and this one is no exception. The thing about the Hueys was that they were all the same. Until one Huey knitted himself a nice new sweater and was as proud as could be. At first the Hueys think he looks strange, after all he no longer looks exactly like them. But when another Huey also knits himself a sweater being different starts to catch on. Soon all the Hueys are wearing exactly the same sweater and they're all different now. Except really none of them are. Get it?! Such a fun book and the best part is the end when it shows itself to be a circle story with a Huey named Rupert deciding he'd like to wear a hat.

Discussion Seed: Discuss what it means to be different, why it's important to respect others' differences, etc. I think this book could easily tie in with a social skills lesson about bullying.

Dog Loves Books

Dog Loves Books By Louise Yates
Grades K-3

Such a sweet book about Dog who loves books and opens a bookstore. At first business is very slow. The only people who come in are looking for tea or directions. To pass the time Dog immerses himself in reading and realizes that when he is in the middle of a book he is never alone. When a little girl comes into the store Dog is able to give some great recommendations to her because he knows his collection so well. This story reminds me of my first year as a librarian, delving more and more into my collection and finding so many new treasures to share with my teachers and students. All libraries should own this one and I can't imagine a book more perfect for the first month at school.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chanukkah and Christmas Bears

Old Sadie and the Christmas Bear By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Grades 1-5

Amos the bear wakes up from his hibernation smelling something he doesn't recognize. He goes off into the nearby to discover what it might be. There he finds Sadie, an old woman who doesn't see very well anymore. As he tumbles into Sadie's home she welcomes him over to the hearth to get warm. She shares food with him and he in turn warms up her chair. She isn't aware that a bear has been to visit but they offer each other some company in this quiet Christmas tale. A real gem, worth searching for at your public library or buying a used copy since this 1984 book is hard to come by.
 Teaching in a public school means making sure to purchase, read and recommend books for both Hanukkah and Christmas in the month of December. I can't imagine two stories that go better together than these two. A storytime match made in Heaven. 

Lesson Seed: Hold up the books before reading and get predictions. When finished spend some time comparing how the two books were similar. The real thinkers will be able to dig deep and figure out ways in which they were different as well.

The Chanukkah Guest By Eric A. Kimmel
Grades 2-5

Bubba Brayna is 97 years old and doesn't hear or see as well as she used to. This foreshadowing by the author explains why she allows a bear to enter her small cottage at the edge of the forest, plays dreidel and then feeds him all her potato latkes. Imagine her surprise a short time later when all her family, friends and the Rabbi arrive and the latkes have been polished off! Not until her grandchildren discover bear tracks in the kitchen does she realize her mistake. This is a perfect Hanukkah book to share with your family or class.

I Love...Anna Walker

The I Love...series by Anna Walker is perfect for toddlers and early elementary aged children. The books have a lot of white space; uncluttered pages make for easy reading. Ink illustrations on watercolor paper make for muted peaceful pictures. The text is brief and rhymes. I adore all these books and I think they would make great gifts for the children in your life ages 2 and up. Even my first graders love them!

The Woods

The Woods By Paul Hoppe
Grades PreK-2

When a boy discovers, at bedtime, that his stuffed bunny is missing he ventures off into the woods to find him. Along the way he comes across some scary creatures, but each time he uses his bravery and problem-solving skills to diffuse a potentially frightening situation. His vivid imagination call to mind Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I would certainly pair these two together for a bedtime themed/monster themed storytime session. 

Lesson Seed: Stop throughout your reading of this story and ask your students to predict what might come next. When you're finished reading have them draw a story of their favorite cuddly stuffed animal at home having an adventure with them. Let the creativity rule!

Home-Field Advantage

Home-Field Advantage By Justin Tuck
Grades K-3

New York Giants superstar Justin Tuck has written a funny book for kids about family love and sibling torment. This first person narrative tells about how he grew up to be so tough. He says it's in part due to battling with his twin sisters Tiffany and Christale and goes on to share what happened the day they gave him a reverse mohawk haircut. The illustrations by Leonardo Rodriguez are bright and hysterical. I love how they are almost like caricatures and show exaggerated expressions on Justin's face. In the back of the book there is a short biography for Justin and also some information regarding the charity that he and his wife, Lauran started called R.U.S.H. for Literacy which encourages children to Read, Understand, Succeed and Hope. This is a great pick for the football lover in your life or for any children that come from big families and can relate to the trouble big sisters and brothers can wreak in your life.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bubble Gum!

 Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum By Lisa Wheeler
Grades K-2

This is a circle story where one animal gets stuck in gum, and then another and another until it comes full circle. Filled with rhymes it really begs to be read aloud. If you're teaching alliteration or adjectives this is a great book to have handy. Here is one sample I love:
Along comes a bee...
A buzz-buzz bee,
A buzz-buzz
-stuck fuzz!-
Bumbled-up bee.

Trouble Gum By Matthew Cordell
Grades K-3

 I have not met a student who didn't love this book after I read it aloud. The illustrations are on the small and detailed side so make sure if you're reading it to an entire class to have them come close. This is the story of two pig brothers and all the trouble they get into when they are chewing and blowing bubbles with the gum their grandmother gives them, against their mother's wishes. It's hysterical and the pictures really make the book. I come back to this book every year and never tire of it. I like to read it with the next book when I compare fiction with nonfiction books on the same topic. I think it's one of the student's favorite first grade lessons because when they're in 2nd grade they often come ask me, "Remember that gum book you read last year? Can you check it out to me?"
Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum By Meghan McCarthy
Grades 1-4

I use this nonfiction book every year with my first graders when we begin comparing fiction with nonfiction. They love seeing a fun nonfiction book that teaches true facts, but also has cool illustrations and reads like a picture book. This is a very approachable nonfiction book for your younger students - what kid doesn't like to read about bubble gum?!

Craft Seed: Have students make drawings of their own faces and tape balloons onto their mouths to look like they are blowing up bubbles. Some teachers also attach a how-to writing activity where the students explain in three or four steps how to blow a bubble. The photo below was taken from Mrs. Saylor's first grade blog.

Lesson Seed:  Have students make bubbles each filled in with a different adjective that describes bubble gum. If you don't want to do individual projects and are pressed for time make one big class anchor chart with gum adjectives. You'll be surprised how many they can come up with! The photo below was taken from Mrs. Saylor's first grade blog.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Christmas Tree for Pyn

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea
Grades K-3

Pyn lives in a cabin in the woods with her gruff, large father. She is small and sweet and your heart breaks a little bit as you read about how her father speaks to her. Not mean, just distant. All Pyn wants is a Christmas tree like the ones she sees down in the village. Her father is noncommittal and you find yourself pulling for this sweet girl. In the end the true Christmas miracle isn't the tree her father cuts down for her, but the love he starts showing and the bond they begin to form. Heartwarming, tender, beautifully illustrated...everything a holiday book should be!

How do I decide?

For those of you that regularly read my book reviews you might wonder how I decide what to pick. You might wonder why none of my reviews are negative. You might be thinking to yourself does this woman love EVERY book? In a word: no. In two words: definitely not! 

I have read tons of children's books that just don't float my boat. And I won't be reviewing any of them here. That's not what this site is about. I am not here to bash authors or books. If I come across something that I don't like or wouldn't use at home or in my school library I just won't mention it. There's enough negativity in this world without me adding to it. 

My focus is solely to highlight books that I find interesting, funny, valuable, creative and a delight to read either alone or aloud to others. I hope that my reviews can introduce parents, teachers, librarians or any book lover to something new. Or maybe I might remind you of a book you once loved and had forgotten about, or give you a new idea of how it can be used with your children or class. 

I don't get paid by anyone to write these reviews. I am reviewing these books and pairing them with discussion ideas, crafts, etc. because as a school librarian that's what I love to do. I am passionate about literature and when I come across something that I think is worth sharing that's exactly what I'll do. If you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to write to me. I'd love to hear from more of you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Battle of the Books 2012-2013

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George  
Grades 3-6 

Fabulous Fantasy! Girl Power! Action and Adventure! It's all here. Princess Celie's favorite days at her home are Tuesdays. It's on Tuesdays that the castle changes, adding new rooms, or entire wings. The castle is magic and is ever changing. When Celie's parents, the king and queen are attacked she must try to figure out what has happened and if they are even still alive. She also must defend the castle against neighboring kingdoms who wish to take over her beloved home. A total page-turner.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech  
Grades 3-5 

Rosie and her best friend Bailey learn some important lessons about friendship, loyalty, and communication from Rosie's sweet Granny. 

The Mystery of the Missing Everything by Ben H. Winters 
Grades 3-6

 Bethesda Fielding, self appointed detective, must solve the mystery at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School where a trophy has been stolen from the glass case in the front hall. Luckily she has some help while doing her sleuthing from her friend Tenny. Lots of suspect interviews and leads keep the reader guessing up until the very end.

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Grades 2-5 

Told in alternating viewpoints this is a book about sibling rivalry. Evan (people smart) and his younger sister Jessie (math smart) end up competing during a heat-wave to see who can make more money with a lemonade stand. The result is a funny competition that also gives business tips and math "lessons" along the way. This book flies off the shelf at my school (even before I selected it as a Battle of the Books pick and appeals equally to both my boy and girl students. 

The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman  
Grades 2-4 

This is a typical Dan Gutman book, and by that I mean: funny dialogue, relatable characters, focused on school/friends. I picked this one since it was an election year and I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit about the process of running for government. It will be one of the quicker reads for my 4th and 5th graders, but a definite romp.

Savvy by Ingrid Law
Grades 4-7

 I just love this book! I can't wait to read Scumble, also by Ingrid Law, to enjoy more of her vivid writing. This is the story of Mibs Beaumont and the supernatural power that she obtains on her 13th birthday. In the Beaumont family each member gets a Savvy (power) when they turn 13 and each time it's different. Mibs' father is in the hospital and she is hoping that her Savvy will in some way be able to heal him and bring him back home. She goes on quite an adventure trying to get to her father and meets some zany characters on the way. It's no wonder why this book got a Newbery Honor award.

Rules by Cynthia Lord
Grades 4-7 

Catherine's brother David has autism. This fact affects every aspect of her life. As much as she loves and protects her brother sometimes she wishes he was "normal".  Throughout the story Catherine gives rules to her brother to help him navigate life. Rules like keep your mouth closed when chewing food, don't put toys in the fish tank, and always say thank you when someone gives you a present - even if you don't like it. The characters in this book are so real! I picked this book for my students this year in the hopes that it would open their eyes to autism in a very touching way.

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins  
Grades 2-4 

This is a collection of linked short stories about a plastic ball, a stuffed stingray and a stuffed buffalo. These funny friends are reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh in the way they teach other lessons, care about each other and have their own distinct personalities. I love when they talk about their fear of the washing machine.

Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein  
Grades 3-5 

About to be shot by a hunter, the young lion begs for his life to be spared, even offers to come to the hunter's house and lie on the floor in front of the fireplace to be a rug. All to no avail, so the lion does what any lion would do. He eats the hunter and takes his gun home. Lafcadio becomes a world famous sharp-shooter (marshmallow obsessed and suit-wearing!) and as the book goes on he becomes more like a human and less like a lion. Very interesting characterization. 

Fergus Crane by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell  
Grades 3-5 

Fergus Crane attends school on a clipper ship, with pirates for teachers and a mother who works in a bakery. When his school leaves port with all his classmates on it he begins an adventure trying to rescue them from the villainous pirates that have more on their minds than education. Mechanical winged horses, mysterious winged boxes, walking chairs, talking penguins, this book has it all! The illustrations add so much to the pleasure of reading this book. 

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor  
Grades 4-7 

Georgina Hayes is living in a car with her mother and little brother, Toby ever since dad walked out and they were evicted from their apartment. Working two jobs to find a new place to live has her mother over-worked and occupied. Georgina is left taking after Toby and feeling despondent. A missing dog poster offering a $500 award gives her the idea to "steal" a local neighbor's dog. She doesn't plan on keeping it, just borrowing it for a few days until she can return it and collect the money. Not all plans go smoothly though, as Georgina soon finds out.

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman 
Grades 4-7

When Gabe finds out that he has been accepts into the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment he is beyond excited. Then he has the horrifying thought that his new step-brother who is from California and is super cool will find out and think that Gabe is just a big nerd. Gabe has a blast at summer camp making new friends, even a budding romance and he also learns a lot about himself, what "cool" really means and how to be honest with others even when it might be the hardest thing to do.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola
Grades 2-5 

This is my biography pick for the year. I loved the illustrations and how it reads like a picture book story, not at all like a dry biography. Sylvia falls in love with water and wildlife as a child. She turns this passion into a career and an environmental crusade.

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season by Fred Bowen 
Grades 2-5

In a time when lots of athletes aren't truly demonstrating model behavior or sportsmanship it i nice to read about Ted Williams and his feat of hitting .406 in the 1941 season. His tale of perseverance is inspirational. Reading about someone's extreme success is so exciting.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer 
Grades 4-7 

This story follows three seemingly unconnected kids Duncan Dorfman, April Blunt, and Nate Saviano. Duncan is living with his single mom and odd Aunt. He has a superpower of being able to use hi fingertips to feel letters and words without looking at them. Not a very useful skill, unless you're playing Scrabble and picking letter tiles. April is constantly striving to be seen as more than a big nerd in her family of super jocks. Nate is struggling with his father's decision to homeschool him and live up to his constant demands for perfection. These three kids meet in Florida during a Scrabble Tournament and as they become friends and competitors they learn about themselves more than the game they love.