Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Picture books for little kids

We're still in the throes of the book fair and it's always so much fun to help the kids find new books.  Today I'm looking at some of the picture books for little kids.

I really loved this one called "Bear Sees Colors" by Karma Wilson.  It's about a bear and some of his friends who go for walk and see things of many different colors.  What makes this one so much fun is that there are some very fine, predictable rhymes and then each color page asks the kids to identify things on the page.  It's such a great opportunity for oral language, particularly really specific vocabulary (like the difference between a blue jay and cardinal or a poppy and sunflower).  The kids I  read it to really liked it a lot.  It would be great with an old favorite "White Rabbit's colors" by Alan Baker, which I also love because of it's lovely vocabulary.

I also loved this funny folk tale called "Noodle Magic" by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.  It's about a little girl named Mei who has a grandfather who makes noodles.  Grandfather's noodles are magical and Mei hopes to one day make noodles too but worries that she isn't good enough.  It has a great message about a person's magic coming from within and self confidence.  This would be a great one to use during your folk tale genre as well as story structure.
Here's a video of how a chef makes Chinese noodles without magic (but it sure looks like magic to me!)

Kadir Nelson wrote and illustrated the last picture book from the book fair.  It's called "If You Plant A Seed".  It's about a little rabbit and his friends who are planting a garden.  As they are harvesting the garden, birds show up hoping to share in the harvest and the rabbit and his friends are given a choice of responding with selfishness and anger or with kindness.  You might be able to guess which Nelson thinks is the better choice.  This is a very sweet book with lovely pictures and if you need to teach lessons in kindness, this would be a great one to use.  You could connect it to "Nico and Lola" by Meggan Hill which is also a book about kindness.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Picture books for big kids

The Scholastic Book fair is at my school this week, YAY!!!  It's always a lot of fun (and a lot of work) and one of the best things is, I get to read all the new books.  This morning, I spent the morning reading some of the new picture books and there were some really good ones that I thought could be used as mentor texts for the bigger kids.

One thing we find at our school is that we want our kids to do research projects, but having them write reports or give oral presentations (even using technology) seems dated and artificial.  When I read this book "Abraham Lincoln His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z" by Alan Schroeder, I thought "This is something my kids could do!"  It's all information about Abraham Lincoln but instead of being in chronological order, it's in alphabetical order.  So G is for Gettysburg Address (a famous speech Lincoln made), The Globe Tavern (where Abraham and Mary Lincoln were married), and Good Samaritan (Lincoln did kind things for others in need).  The information is extensive and the pictures are great.  There are also quotes from Lincoln sort of scattered around in the not-so-empty spaces.  I liked this one a lot.

I also liked this memoir called "Crow Call" by Lois Lowry.  This one would also be a great mentor text for writing personal experiences.  It's about a time when Lois went hunting with her dad, right after he returned from World War 2.  It's full of rich details and beautiful images.  The pictures are gorgeous too.  

The last one I have mixed feelings about.  It's written by Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg, who's work I love.  Steven Kellogg live in Sandy Hook and wanted to do a memorial for the people who died in the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.  It's a lovely book about the individuality of snow flakes and the change of the seasons and the last line of the book says " And we remember the children-no two the same, all beautiful", with a picture of snow angels.   The pictures and text are very lovely but the mixing of the feelings comes from my sensation that this is really not a book for little kids.  I don't really want to talk to my three, four, and five year olds about a school shooting so I'm pretty sure I'm not going to put this one in my library.  But I think for the bigger kids, the poetry of the book and the metaphorical way that the subject is broached might be a great springboard for conversation.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More new stuff!

I've been reading some new things from Netgalley and part of why I haven't posted in awhile is because several of the books I read were real dogs.  Like " kick them to curb after 100 pages" kind of dogs.  It was a good thing to remind my students that if you aren't loving a book, you should give it a chance but there is a point of no return.  If you find yourself reading and not caring about who you're reading about, it's time to go.  Happily, these books were better than that!

The first one is called "Weird" by by Erin Frankel.  It's part of a series of books about self esteem and bullying.  It's a picture book and the pictures are lovely pen and ink drawings with splashes of color to draw attention to the main character.  The main character, Luisa, is being bullied by a girl named Sam.  When Luisa does things (like speaking to her dad in Spanish or raising her hand in math class) Sam calls her weird.  Luisa tries not doing those things to avoid the label of weird.  But people who care about her notice that she's behaving differently and when she tells her mom, her mom reminds her that she's wonderful just the way she is and Luisa embraces all the things that make her weird.  What's really great about this book is at the end, there are notes from both Luisa (the main character) and Sam (the bully) that have messages of self empowerment and how bullying maybe isn't a great way to be a friend or to get friends.  LOVED this book and I can't wait to get it for my library.  This would be great paired with "Chrysanthemum" by Kevin Henkes or "Oliver Button is a Sissy" by Tomie de Paola which also have themes of bullying and self esteem.

Here's an author profile.

The second one is called "Nightbird" by Alice Hoffman.  It's about a girl named Twig (a nickname for Teresa) who lives with her mom in a small town in Connecticut.  Twig's mom bakes the most amazing pies and they are very shy about talking to anyone else because they have a big secret, which is a brother who has wings.  There is a magical curse involved as well as redemption and the power of love.  I thought this was an interesting premise (If you have magical powers do you have to hide?  How would your neighbors react if there really was magic?  Is magic monstrous?  Do we have to be afraid of people who are different from us?) but I didn't think it was particularly well done.  There are some holes in the story that make it kind of weird but I think a lot of kids will like it.  It's a nice readable story.

Here's a video of Alice Hoffman talking about the difference between writing books for adult and writing books for kids.

The last book is a follow-up novel from an author I really liked... Sara Gruen.  She wrote "Like Water for Elephants", which I adored and is definitely a book for grown ups.   This new one is called "At the Water's Edge" and it's also definitely an adult novel.  This one is also historical fiction and it's starts in Philadelphia during World War 2.  Maddie is a young married woman who lives from party to party.  Her mother in law disapproves of her marriage and her own mother is dead and she is estranged from her father, so her husband is really her only support, both financially and emotionally. She and her husband have a disagreement with her in-laws and decide the only way to solve the disagreement is to go to Scotland.  His best friend also decides to go along.  Their best plan is to go by ship, which is fraught with peril since the Germans have been sinking passenger ships.  When they arrive in Scotland, things are much more difficult than they imagine (war time rationing is taken a lot more seriously when your country is actually actively being bombed by the enemy) and Maddie starts to think hard about her life and the truth of how she's been living.  It's a good story and you find yourself hoping that Maddie will be able to find happiness.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Books I could read a million times

As a school librarian who teaches 8 classes each day, I need to have a certain tolerance for repetition. I certainly COULD read different books to each class each day, but after awhile, I'm bound to hear "You already read that one".  So for me, it works better to read the same book to the same grade level all week long.  What I have come to understand is that there are some books you can read a million times in a row and never be sick of and some that after the third day you want to hide behind the reference books and never look at ever again.  It occurred to me that parents of small children might feel the same way (except that you might be hiding the books behind the couch instead of the reference books).  So here's a short list of some the books that I don't ever get tired of reading.

The one that made me think of this post was the one I was reading this week.  It's kind of a funny little book that apparently didn't get much press when it was published a few years ago.  I bought it for a lesson on Groundhog's Day (which I have very mixed feelings about) and it works perfectly.  It's called "Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox" by Susan Blackby.  It's about a groundhog who comes out and sees her shadow and is dismayed to find that there were will be six more weeks of winter.  A skinny little fox finds her and tries to eat her but Brownie talks him out of it.  Because I live (and work) in South Florida, we have to have an extended conversation about snow, hibernating animals, signs of spring, frozen ponds, ice skating, robins, and more snow, but the dialogue in this book is hilarious.  There are so many ways to read it and interpret it that it's easy to read over and over again with out getting bored (at least for me it is).  It's also a great excuse to have cocoa and cinnamon toast (which also make an appearance in the book).
As an added bonus, there is a sequel that just came out called Brownie Groundhog and The Wintry Surprise.  
Another one that I really loved, which also apparently didn't get a lot of press when it came out is called One Eye, Two Eyes, Three eyes by Eric Kimmel.  It's a folk tale that has a ton of text to text references.  It's pretty creepy (a witch with three eyes is one of the main characters) but first and second graders seem completely riveted by it.  For us, it also requires a bit of a lesson on what stinging nettles are (we don't have them in south Florida) and what carding wool or cotton or even nettles will look like.  Here's a little youtube video you can show your students or your kids!

Here's what the book looks like.
This brings me to another thing I love about this book, the art work.  Eric Kimmel is a great writer but he gets illustrators to do the pictures, so all of his books appear very different.  This one has art work that reflects the native culture of the story-the Carpathian Mountains (think Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic... that area).  All of this adds up to a great story.

The last one is one I must have read a million times to my niece one summer when she was about 3 or maybe 4.  Although at some point, I was tempted to put it away (at least for a day), when my niece would remind me that I didn't have to be scared at the scary part, I remembered yet again, why this book was so great.  Which is why when I mentioned it one of my teachers the other day and she said she'd never read it, I almost fell over (since I can pretty much tell you the book verbatim).  It's Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger.  It's a story and a folktale in one (and if you can't carry a tune, it's ok, the song is a lullaby and there isn't much of a tune to it anyway).  It's about an annoying boy and his annoying father who are ostracized from their village.  One day a giant called Abiyoyo comes to town and they come up with a plan to save the town and get rid of the giant.  It's kind of scary and kind of funny and there's a song!  

Here's Pete Seeger reading it on Reading Rainbow.

He does a great job of reading it but if you can ever find a recording of James Earl Jones reading Abiyoyo, it's complete magic.  And maybe you could tell me where you found it because I've been searching high and low for it since I lost mine.