Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Edmund Unravels

Edmund Unravels
written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
2015 (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Source: Durham County Public Library

It's funny - when talking about a ball of yarn, the end is actually the beginning.

Edmund Loom is a ball of energy. He wants to see everything and live life to the fullest. Edmund's adventures, whether around a corner or in a tree, finish with his parents having to reel him back in. He tries to keep it together, but he is a restless ball of yarn. As Edmund ages, he goes further and further away from his family. His parents have a harder time pulling him back to them. Edmund sees all that life has to offer. Wonderful sights and sounds intrigue him and even the scary parts, like kittens chasing him, are "part of the adventure." He enjoys meeting different figures, such as a pin cushion, a button, a glue stick, and sipping a cup of tea with a vial of glitter. Wouldn't his parents be amazed to see him on the back of a kite above the world! But sometimes we can get a little far away from base and have to decide what is truly important to us. Edmund faces this decision.

Edmund Unravels is a sweet metaphor for growing up and being independent. Adult readers will relate to his adventures and recall their own youth. I think this would actually be a nice graduation gift book if you don't want to go the Dr. Seuss route. Young readers will enjoy the bright illustrations and different creatures that he meets. I would follow up a reading with questions about why family is important and what is interesting to students outside their town or city. Edmund Unravels also made me think about the challenge of dealing with restless children in the classroom.

If you are interested in a creative take on life, check out Edmund Unravels. Not that I want to string you along.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Boy and the Book

The Boy and the Book: A Wordless Story
story by David Michael Slater; illustrated by Bob Kolar
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A young boy comes rumbling into a public library like a sci-fi monster into a crowded city. As all of the books in the children's section cower or run in fear, he grabs a blue one. The boy drags the book across the floor. He plops down on the floor and tears a page while tossing it in the air. Mom comes to take him home so he tosses the battered and bruised book aside. Some books come to comfort him while others bring glue and tape. When the boy comes back on a different day, the blue book goes on the run only to be snatched through a shelf opening. After seeing their friend being boy-handled once again, the book's pals quickly hatch a plan to save their tormented blue buddy. Using a banner, one book swings in a swashbuckling style to grab the blue book out of the clutches of the boy. End of the story? Villain vanquished? Not so fast! A great unexpected turn takes place and your appreciation of this book goes to a whole other level.

Love this book. Love, love, love. The twist in the plot is genius. I laughed out loud at the expression of the books as this tiny tormentor wreaked havoc. I can't wait to share it with my kindergarten friends.

This is a terrific book to share at the beginning of the year as you introduce your classroom library. It's a humorous way to encourage good book behaviors. You can also teach inference to a kindergarten class with this wordless wonder. Add this book to your wordless collection now!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sparky and Tidbit

Sparky and Tidbit
written by Kathryn O. Galbraith; illustrated by Gerald Kelley
2015 (Simon Spotlight)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Sparky the dog wants to be a hero. His Uncle Spot sends him a new K-9 collar, hat, and badge so he looks the part. Now he needs something to happen so he can be a hero. Unfortunately, it's fairly quiet around the neighborhood. About to lose hope, Sparky hears "Yip, Yip, Yip". Could someone be having trouble with raccoons? Ducks? It turns out to be a pup named Tidbit. Seems he is having trouble reading a book. Tidbit gets so frustrated that he bites the book. Sparky tells him, "No biting" and encourages him to slow down. This isn't the hero work that Sparky wants, but he manages to keep a straight muzzle as Tidbit reads a whole page. Tidbit is so excited that he asks Sparky to listen to him the next day. Sparky hems and haws but agrees to continue. By the end of the week, Tidbit is much more confident. His teacher, Ms. Beagle, notices the improvement. She's so impressed that she writes Sparky a letter asking him to become the official listener for her class. Soon a class of pups is reading to and being encouraged by Sparky.

Sparky and Tidbit is the kind of book that you need in a first or second grade class. It's inexpensive in paperback, has an appealing story line, and will pass through several hands. Readers in the H-J range will most appreciate it. I like that the book focuses on reading volunteers. There are usually several in a school so students will be able to easily make connections. It's also nice that kids who struggle with reading get to be heroes in a book. Your young pups will enjoy this story!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Baby Animals Spots & Stripes

Baby Animals Spots & Stripes
illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I don't review board books very often, but I couldn't pass up this one. Look at that cover and tell me that a toddler wouldn't love it. You will get tired of looking at this book because your kid will want it over and over again.

On the first spread, you have a white bunny with spots on a black background on the left. The right side of the spread features a raccoon with a striped tail on a white background. These illustrations are detailed and stimulating. Young (and old like me!) eyes will be all over this stuff. The striped snake on a black background is especially cool. You will be able to talk to your child about animals and all the details that they see. Think of the vocabulary you can impart. Look at these two cuties below:


The final spread is adorable and smart. Two toddlers, one with polka dot shorts and the other with a striped shirt in a color illustration, are playing with a box of toys that resemble the animals that have been featured. If you want to make your kid think (and who doesn't?), guide them to connect to the animals on the previous page. Of course your child is above average and will do this on their own. 

Baby Animals Spots and Stripes is a very sharp nonfiction board book. This would be a terrific and unique baby shower gift. Throw in a couple of onesies and you will be a hit at that party. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

50 Things You Should Know About the First World War

50 Things You Should Know About the First World War
written by Jim Eldridge
2015 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

For hundreds of years, countries in Europe had been at war with one another. Each nation wanted more power and more land, which they hoped to take from the countries around them.

Ever have a task that you thought was too monumental to tackle? You end up taking care of it in small bites. Kind of like Bruce Bogtrotter eating the cake in Matilda. I bring this up because World War I is a huge subject that can be very daunting to tackle, but if you break it up in small pieces like 50 Things does, you don't get overwhelmed and end up learning a lot. As expected, the subject is presented in chronological order. Each year is like a chapter with a timeline at the beginning of each of these chapters. Important topics for each year are featured with bite-sized paragraphs. Early on, readers learn about trench warfare with brief explanations, impressive photographs, and a concise diagram. This book is chock full of text features which makes it infinitely more digestible than a straight narrative text that I would have been subjected to in my childhood. A language arts teacher could set this book under a document camera to showcase how to write nonfiction text and include features like bold print and captions. A social studies teacher would love the maps in 50 Things. In addition to a timeline, each yearly introduction contains a map on the two page spread that explains what is happening at that time. The back matter has a Who's Who gallery of important figures for both sides of the conflict.

50 Things will help readers of any age get a good introduction to World War I. It's a great gateway to deeper research into particular subjects that came from this war. If you want to understand the 20th century (and you should!), you need to study World War I. It is terribly sad, but instructive when it comes to events that occur later in the century.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Thank you, Jackson

Thank you, Jackson
written by Niki Daly; illustrated by Jude Daly
2015 (Frances Lincoln)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Mama says," explained Goodwill, "that it's the little things, like saying please and thank you, that make a big difference in the world."

Each morning, a farmer in Africa takes a load of fruits and vegetables to the market to sell. Jackson the donkey carries this load up a large hill without fail and without complaining until one morning when he stops halfway. Frustrated, the farmer fusses and fumes at the donkey, but Jackson doesn't move. The farmer pulls on Jackson, but to no avail. Starting to lose his mind, the farmer hurls verbal abuse at the donkey. At this point, Jackson decides to sit down and all the produce falls down the hill. The farmer, at wits end, searches for a stick. He shows Jackson the stick and starts a count. Beauty, the farmer's wife, sees and hears what is happening on the hill. She sends her son, Goodwill, to help his father with the donkey. The farmer reaches ten in his count and is about to strike Jackson when Goodwill intervenes. With a simple yet profound gesture, Goodwill saves the day. Jackson moves again, the farmer sees the error of his ways, and the produce is sold at the market. When the family returns home, the farmer takes a cue from his wise son.

Thank you, Jackson teaches three important lessons. The first lesson is to not take something for granted. Show your appreciation every day. Please and thank you go a long way in doing this. Second, no one is too small to do something big. Goodwill shows great wisdom and courage in doing the right thing. Third, the farmer learns from his mistake and shows contrition. Teachers and parents can model this when we make mistakes in front of children. Own your mistake and be transparent.

This is a terrific book for teaching the virtue of gratitude. The text is simple which allows readers to concentrate on comprehending. It's a tale that should be read by children and adults.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich
written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach
2015 (Borzoi Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It all started with the bear.

This may be my favorite sandwich story since Ross Gellar's Moist-Maker. An unseen narrator sets out to tell the tale of how a sandwich went missing. As you see above, the blame is laid at the paws of a undernourished ursine. Said bear was doing what looks like tai'chi moves one morning when he spots an unattended pickup truck with boxes of berries in the bed. He crawls into the truck, feasts, and curls up for a nap. As he snoozes, the truck takes him into a different kind of forest. One that features tall buildings instead of tall trees. No problem. There are many enticing aspects to this new forest. Great smells like popcorn in the park and fun adventures like a merry-go-round and a slide thrill the bear. From the top of the slide, he spies two lonely slices of bread. Drawn by the call of the sandwich siren, the bear maneuvers toward the unprotected meal. Stealthy moves are employed to overtake it. As he finishes off his find, the bear notices that other animals have been watching him. Startled, he races out of the park and ends up on a boat that leads him back to his forest. So who made this eyewitness report? That is the most excellent surprise that awaits readers at the end of the story.

If you teach beginning lessons on types of narrators, this is a cute book to help you with that task. I also think this could be a nice small moment mentor text. Don't speed through the illustrations either. There are several funny little details. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich will amuse your primary readers who always like a surprise at the end. It's the text equivalent of the prize in the box of Cracker Jacks. Yes, I skew kind of old.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Superhero Onomatopoeia Day!


It was Superhero Onomatopoeia Day in my classroom. What you can't see below each plate is a paragraph describing their superpowers. The funniest thing in the descriptions were non sequiturs such as "I like ice cream." Can you imagine Batman saying "My favorite flavor is chocolate"?


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Big Book of Color

The Big Book of Color
written by Stephanie Meissner; illustrated by Lisa Martin and Damian Barlow
2015 (Walter Foster Jr.)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

When you look at the cover of this book, you might expect a cutesy book for really young readers. It is a cute book, but this also contains high level information for budding artists. The color wheel starts the fun with several examples of how primary colors combine to make secondary colors. On the following spread, you learn about tertiary colors. These are when you mix a primary color with a secondary color. You know, the really cool colors in that box of 32 crayons like blue-green and yellow-orange. One of the great features of The Big Book of Color is the opportunity for readers to try out the techniques they are being taught. With the color wheel, readers complete their own with a blank wheel in the back.

Now the vocabulary kicks into another gear. New terms that I learned include complementary colors which are the colors opposite of each other on the color wheel. Think purple and yellow or orange and blue. Highlighting this section is a beautiful two page spread showing complementary colors in nature. Analogous colors follow. They are the colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Another feature of natural occurrences of these colors accompanies this section. Color and value talks about how you can add white, black, or gray to create different values. Features on monochromatic colors, warm and cool colors, and color mood round out the high level vocabulary.

The final section highlights individual colors by categorizing them, showcasing items that are this color, fun facts about the color, and different hues of the color. Each eight page section is a colorful splash of information. There is also a place for the reader to play with the color at the end of each color piece.

This is a terrific book for students who are interested in art. They will learn a lot of new information and get a chance to play with that new knowledge. I'm very impressed with the vocabulary and the attractiveness of the illustrations. This would be a great birthday gift for a kid. It would also be a nice addition to a kindergarten class that was learning their colors.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animals
written and illustrated by Mia Posada
2014 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A hunter traveling by full moon's glow
left paw tracks in fresh forest snow.
Racing through the night with its pack
chasing its prey, teeth bared in attack.


Who Was Here? is a combination of poetry and informational text that focuses on animals and the tracks that they leave behind. Featured animals include camels, snakes and wolves. In each section, a quatrain contains clues as to what animal made the tracks. Readers have to turn the page to see if their prediction is correct about the animal. What they will find is a paragraph of informational text. I like the abundant use of vivid verbs in the quatrains. A great activity for a classroom would be to use the poetry for shared readings. With the emphasis on informational text in the Common Core, this is a way for primary classrooms to sneak in extra nonfiction. Another strong feature of this book is the geographic spread of featured animals. All continents with the exception of Antarctica are featured. It would be fun to pin tags of animal locations on a world map.

With Who Was Here? as inspiration, you could use a foot template and have students write an informational text about themselves on one side. On the other side of the foot, a poem could be written.

I like books that invite the reader to actively participate and this book certainly does this by looking for a prediction. The animal lovers in your class, and that would be everybody, will enjoy Who Was Here?.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Before We Eat: From Farm to Table

Before We Eat: From Farm to Table
written by Pat Brisson; illustrated by Mary Azarian
2014 (Tilbury House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

As we sit around this table let's give thanks as we are able
to all the folks we'll never meet who helped provide this food we eat.

Cue Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. This rhyming paean to workers sheds light on the many hands that make the everyday possible. I know I take for granted the easy accessibility of the food that I eat. Earlier this evening, I was complaining in my head that my local store didn't have a better selection of bagged apples. I should be grateful that there were apples available at all.

  Before We Eat pays tribute to the workers who plow the fields, plant the seeds, pull in the nets, and all the other tasks that bring us the food that we eat. The rhyming text and Mary Azarian's wood carving illustrations are a fine tribute to those who don't receive a lot of credit for the important things that grace our tables.

With younger students, you could create a circle map and write down who was responsible for the lunch that was just eaten. Older students could create a flow chart to show the sequence of how the food that was in their lunchbox arrived there. This could also lead to discussions of reading labels and the availability of fresh food. There are many possibilities for lessons involving Before We Eat.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Poetry Friday: The Snow Man


Check out Poetry Friday at Robyn Campbell




The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.