Wednesday, July 29, 2015

El Perro con Sombrero

El Perro con Sombrero
written by Derek Taylor Kent; illustrated by Jed Henry; translated by Gabriela Revilla Lugo
2015 (Henry Holt)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Pepe was a very sad dog. He had no home and no family to love him.

Pepe was a dog of the streets. No family, no source of food or love. As he was passing by a hat store, a sombrero flew off the balcony and landed on his head. Struck by the sight of Pepe in a sombrero, a grocer offered a big bone. Moments later, a movie director saw Pepe and decided that he belonged on the big screen. Soon, Pepe was living the dream. He was chilling poolside and enjoying the trappings of movie stardom. He had everything except what he really wanted. A family. Meanwhile, a rival was scheming to take Pepe down. El gato in zapatos was a siamese cat whose stardom had been eclipsed by Pepe. Being catty about this, el gato stole Pepe's sombrero in hopes of ending his career. When Pepe arrived on set without his signature hat, the movie making stopped. Seeing el gato with his hat, Pepe gave chase through the busy streets until he cornered the conniving cat in a playground sandbox. It was here that Pepe faced a decision that would change his life forever.

El Perro con Sombrero is a charming bilingual picture book that will engage primary age readers. These students love animals and they will embrace Pepe and his underdog tale. Each page features the English text with the Spanish text highlighted in red below. This makes for a great vocabulary lesson for all students. El Perro is also a terrific book for teaching inference. In the back half of the book, there are several opportunities for readers to make predictions. With a combination of humor, sweetness and delightful illustrations, El Perro is a top dog!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Growing Up Pedro

Growing Up Pedro
written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
2015 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Pedro loves playing baseball. 
He dreams that someday he and his brothers will play
together in the major leagues.

Pedro Martinez wanted to be just like his big brother Ramon. He dreamed that he would be signed by a major league team like his brother. Tagging along while Ramon attended the Dodgers' baseball academy, Pedro was noticed by a coach who encouraged him to continue working hard. Throughout this book, you see examples of Pedro showing determination in his career to overcome obstacles. After hearing his brother tell about his struggles with English, Pedro worked hard to improve his interviewing skills. He read road signs and learned new words daily. Pedro also overcame being underrated because of his small size.  His first major league manager didn't use him as a starter because he thought he was too small. It took a trade to the Montreal Expos to give him the chance to start. Pedro had such a good career that he will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.

One of the things that sets apart Growing Up Pedro from other sports picture book biographies is the focus on the relationship between Pedro and his brother Ramon. The support between the two siblings is a great teaching point for students. There's so much tearing down in this world that it's nice to see a story where two people build each other up. Our children have struggles each day to conquer. Reading about a success story such as Pedro Martinez will provide inspiration for them.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Counting Crows

Counting Crows
written by Kathi Appelt; illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
2015 (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Six salty peanuts, six ripe plums. 
Six for the counting crows. 
Yum, Yum, Yum!

First, how can you resist a book that features crows in striped sweaters? Readers go crazy over sharp dressed crows. A group of three crows start the festivities by gathering bugs and mangoes. They soon join another group of three in a tree. Peanuts and plums are added to the menu. Soon, another multiple of three is added to this jaunty group. They find themselves on a phone line with ants and crackers for snacks. Another three join individually and when the group finds a park bench they catch the attention of an interested feline. Can the dapper dozen find their way out of this predicament?

Counting Crows is a fun counting book with striking illustrations. Young readers working on learning their numbers will enjoy placing their fingers on the crows and counting up to twelve. This book is also full of vibrant adjectives (crunchy, spicy) so older readers can have an introductory lesson on this part of speech. Tell Mr. Jones that we have a picture book winner here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sheep Go to Sleep

Sheep Go to Sleep
written by Nancy Shaw; illustrated by Margot Apple
2015 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Nighttime noises scare the sheep. Really, who could go to sleep?

It's nighty-night time for the five sheep from jeep fame. Problem is there is too much noise for snoozing. Owls and crickets make it hard to get any rest. Fortunately, the perfect nanny, in the form of a collie, comes a-calling. Sheep #1 gets a snug hug and soon starts snoring. Sheep #2 wants a drink so water is fetched. Two down, three to go. A lullaby creates the right atmosphere for the next sheep to fall into La-La Land. What's better than a stuffed friend to help you feel sleepy? Sheep #4 is provided with a teddy bear and then there was one. The last sheep receives a cozy quilt and soon all is well.

The sound I hear right now is ka-ching because toddler parents will want to buy this book for nighttime reading. It's way past 10 on the cute meter, there's great rhyming action, adorable illustrations abound, and it's not that long which is great if you need to hurry to catch the second half of the game after having nighttime duties. This is definitely in the buy two category because the first one will be worn out quickly. It's also available in a board book which makes for great gnawing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

STEM Friday: Leaflets Three, Let It Be!

Leaflets Three, Let It Be!
written by Anita Sanchez; illustrated by Robin Brickman
2015 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A chemical in the sap, urushiol, might give you an itchy rash. 

Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate having poison ivy. I remember having just graduated from college and interviewing for jobs while having red splotches on my arms and legs. So I'm not inclined to be sympathetic to this vile vine. But if I take the point of view of a woodland creature, I might think differently. Guess who provides a meal for rabbits and bears that are hungry after a tough winter? Poison ivy. Only humans are allergic. Protection for baby cardinals who are hungrily waiting in the nest? Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood poison ivy. Nectar that is used by bees to make tasty honey? Believe it or not, p.i. The leaves provide food for beetles, caterpillars and other insects. Tiny berries are a feast for birds. The big picture for Leaflets Three, Let It Be! is that poison ivy has been getting bad publicity from hacks like me. It is a valuable food and survival source for many animals. Sounds like a great nonfiction point of view lesson! Opinion papers could abound with this book. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the terrific cut paper illustrations from Robin Brickman. I'm delighted that I was able to meet her last month at the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference.

From now on, I will be more favorable toward poor ol' poison ivy. I'll just try hard not to embrace it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Learned Something New: Neologism

                                                           Photo courtesy of the BBC

While reading articles about the economic situation in Greece, I kept seeing this word "Grexit". It is a new word created to represent Greece's possible exit from using the euro as its currency. Then I learned that a newly created word is a neologism. I do this all the time when I take people's (or other creatures) names and turn them into verbs. For example, if you have "pumpkined" your plate, that means you cleaned it off in record time. This is what my dog Pumpkin does when we leave the cat food dishes on the floor in the back bathroom and she sneaks back to eat it. Perhaps the most famous neologism of recent memory is Stephen Colbert's "truthiness". Do you have any neologisms that you have created? Leave yours in the comment section below.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Peas in a Pod

Peas in a Pod
written by Tania McCartney; illustrated by Tina Snerling
2015 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Then, one fine day, everything changed.

You can't go wrong with cute quintuplets. Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are definitely charming at first. Everything is the same. The outfits, the sleeping, the eating, etc. But there comes a time when matching shirts lose their adorableness. The quints start to find that being different can be refreshing. One wears a tiara while another prefers a crash helmet. Unfortunately, things go a little too far off the beaten path so mom and dad bring back the sense of sameness that brought order before. On the surface, there is harmony, but the quints are simmering underneath. A gentle rebellion is not far behind. A little hairspray, some gel and a pair of scissors bring about a variety of hairstyles. Mixing up the matching outfits takes care of the clothing. When accessorizing departs from the norm, it is quint chaos but in a good way.

I ask students to put their heads down and close their eyes when we vote on something. Why? Second graders are obsessed with being part of the "winning team" and may not express their true intentions. How often do we celebrate our differences in elementary classrooms? Peas in a Pod will help students understand that being yourself is a good thing. In addition, the artwork will be a big selling point. My ten year old daughter has mentioned twice about how this is a cute book. I think a fun craft could be conjured in conjunction with this book.

Reading Peas in a Pod will have you and your class saying Vive Le Difference!


Friday, July 3, 2015

Migration Nation

Migration Nation
written by Joanne O'Sullivan
2015 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's a wild trip through rushing rivers, across frozen ice floes, 
and through stormy skies.

Going to the grocery store that is three minutes down the road from my house is my version of migrating to find food. I would be a lousy polar bear. They travel up to 1,000 miles from the Arctic ice to the southernmost tip of the Hudson Bay. Migration Nation tells the tale of twelve different North American animals (e.g. bison, cranes, gray whales) that set off on journeys each year in order to survive. As opposed to me hopping in the car because we're low on milk.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of ways that information is presented. You get interesting narratives that take a few paragraphs to explain why the animals migrate and what goes into making their journeys. There's also a map with additional "quick facts" that add information that might not fit into the narrative. The author also points out the hazards that the animals face in traveling and how humans are trying to help improve these journeys. Check out this link to get a great preview of the style of the book. With the Ranger Rick brand, you're getting eye-catching photographs as well.

Migration Nation is the nonfiction report after which you would want older students (4th-12th grade) to model their writing. In addition, you could show a section and talk about the text features that you see. Don't hate me for saying this but the narratives are also the perfect size for practicing reading for a standardized test. You should migrate to your local book store or library and find a copy.






Tuesday, June 30, 2015

So You Want to Be a Writer for Children?

So you want to be a rock and roll star
Then listen now to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar.
And take some time and learn how to play.

- The Byrds (1967)

It sounds like an attractive proposition. Write books for children. See your work on Amazon and in Barnes and Noble. Work from home. Sounds pretty good. Unfortunately what I have found in my brief experience in the publishing world is that it's a tough climb just to write something and get it published. As for making enough money to have a career, you may not want to quit your day job. Very few writers make enough to survive alone on income generated by their writing. What I haven't said is that it is impossible. You may be the one. Or you may just be interested in trying to get one book published. If so, let me offer a little advice from people smarter than me.

1. A good place to start is  Neil Gaiman's 8 Good Writing Practices. You have to write every day. You have to finish things. That's where it starts.

2. Read books about writing. Interested in writing picture books? This book from Ann Whitford Paul would be a good start.

3. Join SCBWI. They are the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. This is a great place to get advice, find resources, and connect with other aspiring writers. You will learn what to do when you have a finished piece.

4. You need to hang out with kids. Find out what they like. Learn what they are reading. You'll be surprised if you don't do this on a daily basis. Often prospective writers are stuck in their childhood and aren't connected with current children.

5. Read, read, read! Read good books that are like the ones that you want to write. Make connections with librarians and find out what is moving off the shelf. Librarians are your friends!

6. Find a niche and/or develop your voice. You're going to need something unique to get your foot into the door.

7. Use the blogosphere to find fellow writers. If you're not already, get comfortable with social media.

8. Steve Perry used to sing,  "Don't Stop Believing." As I said earlier, you may be the one.

Good luck!


Monday, June 29, 2015

I Don't Like Cheese

I Don't Like Cheese
written by Hannah Chandler; illustrated by Lauren Merrick
2014 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It didn't matter what type of cheese his mum gave him. 
Mike refused to eat it. 

Mike the mouse is a contrarian. He thinks he doesn't like cheese. When presented with a piece, he politely refuses. Lucky for him Ashley, a girl in the house where he lives, brings him a little something each evening along with a token of which country the food is associated with. For example, on Monday she brings Mike a meat pie along with a cork hat representing Australia. Wednesday's meal is sushi and a little blue kimono from Japan on the side. On Thursdays, it's Italian and pizza is on the menu. Doesn't pizza have cheese? Mike can't be bothered with logic as he is living a traveler's dream until one Friday a note came with his croissant, creme brulee, and beret. The note said Ashley and her family are going on a vacation. The dinner train was coming to a sudden halt. Can Mike hold out until she comes back home or will he be forced to rethink his position on pasteurized goodness? His declaration regarding Dry Jack? His stance on Swiss?

At the age of 11, Hannah Chandler wrote this engaging picture book as a response to her principal's challenge. I usually don't mention an author's age, but this is pretty extraordinary. Plus, it's a terrific mentor text for young writers who will see that there is a potential big audience for their writing. I also like this book as part of a unit on trying new things or a healthy foods unit where students eat new foods. You can incorporate it into a unit on the five senses with a focus on taste buds. Or you could have a shared writing experience by making a book about the foods that your students do not like. They can practice main idea and supporting details with sentences like "I don't like grapefruit. It's too juicy and bitter for my taste buds."

Whatever your taste, I think you and your students will enjoy a helping of "I Don't Like Cheese."


Monday, June 22, 2015

A Poignant Poem



I saw this poem on a bench at St. Simon's Island in Georgia. I want to
say something profound about poetry, writing, or memory but I think
it's better to keep my mouth closed and let you come to your own
conclusions.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Poetry Friday: There's a Monster in the Garden

There's a Monster in the Garden
written by David Harmer: drawings by Tim Archbold
2015 (Frances Lincoln)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Go check out Poetry Friday at A Year of Reading.

What the mountains do is 
roar silent warnings over
huge brown and heather-covered spaces
or fill up valleys with dark green laughter
before resting their stone-cropped heads in sunlight.

When you write a poem about two traffic cops giving Santa a ticket for parking on a double yellow line, I'm all ears.  British poet David Harmer's poems are highly entertaining and there's an amazing versatility to the poems in this collection. One moment you're laughing when reading about a manic granny on a motorbike. Pages before, you are mesmerized by the musings of 13th century soldier Sir John who sees the ghosts of the men who lost their lives battling his father and grandfather.

I would use this book to show students that there's a wide range of emotions that can be shared when writing poetry. If you teach the skill of visualizing text, then you will find several poems that would serve well as mentor texts. And the similes! In the poem titled Lion, you get "...teeth picked out like stalactites in some vast cave" and "...black as a roaring mouth."

When I picked up this book, I expected a humorous collection and was not disappointed. What I didn't count on were the poems like Some Days, where the narrator speaks of sometimes school being a "concrete sandwich squeezing me out like jam" and on other days more like "a rocket thrusting right into the sun." Prelutsky and Silverstein will need to make room on the shelf for a visitor from the UK.