Monday, April 30, 2012

Book #121: A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

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Mr. and Mrs. Porcupine were overjoyed at the birth of their first child, but what to name him. Prickles? Needlerozer? Qullian? In the end, they choose Fluffy. But as Fluffy grew up he began to doubt that he was fluffy at all. He had problems that a fluffy porcupine shouldn't have. He poked holes in his mattress when he accidentally rolled over and he had a very unfortunate incident with an umbrella. So he decided to become fluffier. He imitated pillows, covered himself in whipped cream, and ate a whole bag of marshmallows. But nothing worked, he just wasn't fluffy. One day he walked along the road, thinking of ways to become fluffy when he met a very large rhinoceros who growled and asked for Fluffy's name. When Fluffy told him, the rhinoceros began to smile, then giggle, and pretty soon he was rolling on the ground laughing. Fluffy was not amused, but he politely asked the Rhinoceros his name. After some hemming and hawing, the rhinoceros finally told him that his name was...Hippo! Fluffy laughed and they became best friends.

Each word  has been carefully chosen, so even though the text is short, it is very descriptive. There’s a tongue-in-cheek quality, which seems very appropriate because Fluffy just isn’t fluffy. The illustrations work so well with the text because they have the same humorous quality. I especially love the pages that show Fluffy trying to be fluffy; his face is priceless. And I like the subtle moral of the story: you don’t have to conform to your name to be your true self.

Use this story with preschoolers and use it as a jumping off point to talk about texture. Put different items in small boxes and pass them around so they can feel each one. If you want, put a lid on the box and cut a hand-size hole in the side. Then kids can feel the texture without seeing the object. Ask them to describe the texture. Ask the kids to help you sort the boxes into two piles: fluffy and non-fluffy. 

If you’re reading this at home, look for opportunities to talk about texture as you go about your day. What does the carpet feel like on your feet? How about a bath towel after bathtime? Can you describe the texture of your lunch?

Use this book for a storytime about opposites. It’s also a book commonly used in storytimes or units about names. Pair it with Chrysanthemum or one of the other books I’ve written about that feature names. Or use it for a storytime on rhinos and pair it with Hippo! No Rhino!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book #120: If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

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One day Jack is riding in the back seat of the car while he dad drives and he begins to describe his dream car. He’d pour over design to create the perfect car, with three headlights, four taillights, two giant Cadillac fins, and a Plexiglas dome.  Inside there’s a pool, an instant snack bar, and a robot built into the driver’s seat for when you get tired. But wait, there’s more! With a touch of a button the car becomes a boat, a submarine, and even a plane. The car will be cool and keen, one big fantastic machine. Anyway, if Jack built a car, that’s just what he’d do.

The rhyming Seuss-like text keeps the pace of this imaginative book moving forward. Although there are a few words beyond the scope of a toddler or preschooler, like “zeppelin” and “retractable,” the pictures will hold their interest. The illustrations are inspired by cars and elements of the 50’s and 60’s. Filled with shiny chrome, the color palate is retro as well, all minty greens and pearly pinks. Jack, in his cuffed jeans and sneakers, is an enthusiastic narrator, but the real star of the book is the car. It’s a futuristic, straight out of Popular Science magazine, sparkling and glistening in the sun.

This is a fun addition to a storytime on cars/transportation or inventing. After you read the book, flip back to the page that shows Jack’s room. Can you see items in his room that might have inspired different aspects of the car?  Jack’s car has an instant snack bar with hot dogs and pudding, what kind of foods would your snack bar include?

The book begins with some blueprints of possible dream cars and the last few pages of the book feature drawings of the car that Jack describes in the book. Have the kids draw their own dream car. Ask them to write notes, as Jack does, to describe the features. You can extend the activity by asking them to write a paragraph or two about their car. If you're working with older kids, you can ask them to make their description rhyme like Van Dusen’s text. Check out Grand Island Public School’s webpage for more extension ideas.

Even better, get out those extra cardboard boxes and let the kids build their own dream car to play in. If you have some extra foil they can use that to create chrome accents on the car. Save up plastic lids from juice bottles, jam jars, etc. to be used as buttons.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book #119: Hug by Jez Alborough

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Bobo, the little monkey, is walking through the forest and everywhere he turns, he sees hugs! So many parents and their babies hugging each other: elephants, snakes, giraffes. But then he begins to worry because he wants a hug, too. The kindly elephant picks him up and helps him look for his special hug. He sees more hugging animals, but none of those hugs are his. Bobo gets very upset and begins wailing. The other animals gather around, wondering what to do. Then, out of the jungle Mommy comes running for her little Bobo. Now there are joyous hugs all around.

Alborough uses the same 3 words throughout the book, Hug, Mommy, and Bobo, which makes this book great for babies and toddlers (it’s also available as a board book). The words are in speech bubbles, making it easy for youngsters to follow along. The illustrations carry most of the weight in this story, showing Bobo’s increasingly worried face as he searches for his mother. Alborough makes good use of the pages, some are full 2 page spreads, while others are broken up into panels that provide close ups and move the story forward. The compositions are varied and visually appealing and the colors are bright and inviting.

Did you know that January 21st is National Hugging Day? Use this book for a hug themed storytime. Follow up with Charlotte Diamond’s song, Four Hugs a Day. Diamond also sings the song in French and Spanish (Spanish lyrics here). The chorus is very simple and kids will be singing along in no time.

This is a wonderful gift for a baby, especially if they have an older sibling. The book is simple enough even a toddler or preschooler to read to their younger sibling. It’s also a great Mother’s Day gift for a new mother.

Jez Alborough includes an insightful Q&A about the creation of this book on his website. The website also includes some printable coloring sheets of Bobo and his friends. If your kids fall in love with Bobo, check out his further adventures in Yes and Tall.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Book #118: The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear, Illustrated by Louise Voce

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This picture book uses the text of the classic nonsense poem by Edward Lear. The Quangle Wangle Quee sits atop the Crumpetty Tree in his enormous hat. He lives on jam and jelly and bread, but he’s very lonely. Soon, however, Mr. and Mrs. Canary arrive and beg to build their home on the Quangle Wangle’s hat. He consents and the birds are followed by a parade of animals, from the Stork to the Frog, to the imaginary Pobble with no toes and the Fimble Fowl with the corkscrew leg. That night by the light of the Mulberry Moon the animals dance to the flute music of the Blue Baboon and were as happy as happy could be.

Lear’s rhyming poetry is full of nonsense words that just beg to be read aloud. I especially love the lines that describe the Quangle Wangle’s Hat:

“For his Hat was a hundred and two feet wide,
With ribbons and bibbons on every side
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,”

Voce’s whimsical illustrations are placed in a coastal or island location. Although the passage of time is only mentioned at the end of the poem, Voce sets the time frame of the poem within one day. You can follow the progress of the day by looking at the sky and the lighting of each page, from orangey dawn to blue sky afternoon to a purple night lit by the Mulberry moon.

Before you read the book, tell kids that this is a nonsense poem and to be on the look out for nonsense words. After you read the poem, ask kids to give you examples of nonsense words from the poem and to suggest their own meanings for those words.

You can also read the poem without showing the pages the first time and ask the kids to illustrate their own versions of the imaginary animals, such as the Attery Squash and the Bisky Bat. You can then read the poem and show the pictures in the book. Remind kids that these animals are from Lear’s imagination and there’s no right or wrong interpretation.

This is my favorite illustrated version of this poem, but bring out copies of the other versions for kids to look at and compare. Janet Stevens illustrated the poem in picture book format and you can also find it in His Shoes Were Too Tight: Poems by Edward Lear, edited by Daniel Pinkwater and illustrated by Calef Brown. A bit of online searching also uncovered a musical rendition of the poem by the Randolph Singers.

This is a great addition to a hat theme storytime and it would be fun to decorate hats with ribbons and bibbons, etc. You can also check out the hat themed activities from my previous posts (The Magic Hat, Millie’s Marvellous Hat, A Three Hat Day, and Go, Dog, Go!).

If your kids like the animals in this poem, try a few of Edward Lear’s other nonsense poems, such as The Pobble Who Has No Toes and The Owl and the Pussycat.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book #117: A Boy and His Bunny by Sean Bryan, Illustrated by Tom Murphy

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A boy wakes up one morning with a little white bunny on his head. He names him Fred. They go downstairs to eat some bread. (Did I mention this is a book in rhyme?) The boy’s mother becomes concerned, but the bunny assures her that “you can do anything with a bunny on your head.” The bunny’s list includes reading a book, speaking French, riding in a bobsled, exploring the sea, and more. The boy’s mother feels much better about the situation, until the boy’s sister walks in with a small alligator on her head!

The rhyming text keeps this fun read aloud moving along at a brisk pace. The font is quite large, making it easy to read upside down during storytime and for kids to follow along with the words. The humorous illustrations are done with pen and ink and pop out against single color backgrounds. I especially love the illustrations of the boy and his bunny zooming by on a moped and diving under the sea with matching snorkel masks.

The alliteration in the title makes it a great choice for a storytime about the letter B. After you read the book, you can have the kids help you make a list of all the words that rhyme with “Head” in the book and see if you can add anymore of your own.

Ask the kids what else you can do with a bunny on your head. This question can get pretty ridiculous, but that’s the fun of it. You can also have kids illustrate new boy-bunny activities and put all the illustrations together to make a book of your own.

This book, along with a Girl and Her Gator and A Bear and His Boy, make up a three book series by Bryan and Murphy about waking up with something ridiculous on your head. Pair these books with Imogene’s Antlers for an On-Your-Head storytime. Finish up with the song, Pig on Her Head, which you can change to Bunny on His Head. I love the crazy headbands in the video and it would be fun to make Bunny on Your Head headbands. Have kids decorate cardstock bunnies and then attach them to store bought headbands.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book #116: Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Daniel Jennewein

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Although some people think that kindergarten isn’t a place for a buffalo, the little girl in this book knows otherwise. Her buffalo has a backpack, which means he’s definitely ready for kindergarten. He may be shy in his new environment because no on else has a hump or horns or a mane, but he’ll learn that everyone is special in his or her own way. The girl goes on to identify many possible concerns you might have for your buffalo, such as using scissors, learning to cooperate and take turns, even when someone calls him a Fluppalo, and helping your buffalo look his best on picture day. Although he might have been shy to start off with, your buffalo will learn to love kindergarten. In fact, he may not want to leave at all!

The humorous tone of the text makes this book a fun one to read out loud. There are plenty of rhetorical questions that kids will find hilarious. The illustrations feature slightly exaggerated characters and a buffalo with the most endearing smile I’ve ever seen. I’m guessing the illustrations were done digitally, but all the lines have a crayon texture to them, which is appropriate to the kindergarten setting.

Use this book as a funny way to get preschool kids ready for kindergarten or read it during the first week of kindergarten. You can also use it as part of a Buffalo storytime and follow up by singing Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight. Get out those trusty lunch size paper bags and make a paper bag buffalo puppet.

Did you know that the buffalo is the Oklahoma state animal? I sure didn’t. Who says adults can’t learn anything from kids books! Use this book as part of a storytime about the Boomer Sooner State. For more discussion questions and activity ideas check out the Teacher’s Guide from Vernick’s website.

If your kids enjoy the antics of the eager buffalo in this book, check out the sequel, Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book #115: Twelve Dancing Princesses Retold & Illustrated by Brigette Barrager

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In this beautifully illustrated book, Barrager retells the classic Grimm fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses who mysteriously wear out their shoes every night. In this version of the story the king becomes concerned that his daughters won’t be able to rule the kingdom one day because all they do is nap. So he makes a proclamation, the person who can solve the mystery shall have their hearts desire. Doctors, scientists, and others do their best, but it is the cobbler, Pip, who figures out the secret. He follows the sleepwalking princesses through the trap door in their room, through the silver, gold, and diamond forest, to the magical ballroom where they dance all night in their sleep. Pip breaks the spell, saves the princesses, and they all live happily ever after.

I like this version of the story for younger kids because it moves along quickly with just a few sentences per page. This version is also unique in that the princesses are under a spell, instead of tricking their father. There are versions of the story that use text to paint more detailed descriptions of the magical world and the perils of following the princesses through the forest multiple times, however Barrager chooses to be more concise with her words and lets her illustrations do the rest.

Speaking of illustrations, they have a wonderful 1950’s retro feel to them, reminiscent of Mary Blair’s work (concept artist for many Disney animated movies, including Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, as well as the It’s a Small World ride). Barrager weaves images of vines with curling leaves into nearly every page. The characters are whimsical and stylish; I especially love Pip’s pompadour. Check out Barrager’s blog for more characters with stylish flair.

Use this as part of a princess or royalty storytime and incorporate some of the rhymes and crafts I posted for The Paper Bag Princess. The princesses wear out their shoes every night, so use this as an excuse to have a shoe relay. Have kids take off one or two shoes (depending on how much time you have) and throw them in a pile. Mix the shoes together and split the kids into two teams and have them line up on either side of the room. When you say go one player from each team must run, find their shoe, put it on, and then run back to tag the next player on their team.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Book #114: The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

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Pigeon is back and he’s not happy. The duckling gets a cookie just because she asked (politely). The cookie even has nuts! Pigeon is simply outraged. He asks for things all the time, to drive a bus, to have a hot dog party, a French Fry Robot, a walrus, and he never gets what he wants! It’s just not fair that ducklings get everything, because Pigeons like cookies, too! Finally, he can’t stand it anymore, “Why did YOU get that cookie!?!” The innocent duckling replies, “So I could give it to you.”

The illustrations are comprised of crayon-y characters against pale blue and lilac backgrounds. Although the characters are drawn with just a few lines, Willems is able to give them a wide range of expressions. For instance, take a look at Pigeon’s eye throughout the book and take note of just how many different emotions he can convey with those two simple circles. The text is presented in speech bubbles, using color and font size/shape to convey Pigeon’s emotions. Several of the pages are divided into quarters, sort of like comic book panels.

The wonderful thing about this book (and the other books that feature Pigeon) is that the text is so much fun to read out loud. The more outrageously you say Pigeon’s dialogue, the more kids will laugh. Check out the Event Kit provided by Hyperion Books for Children for discussion questions, games, and other ideas. Also check out Mo Willems personal website for fun Pigeon games and activities.

This is a great addition to a storytime about manners. I like it because it doesn’t talk down to kids, there aren’t goody-goody characters, and it’s not sticky sweet. Kids familiar with Pigeon will know that he’ll do just about anything to persuade people to give him things, but he’s never asked as politely as the duckling.

Decorate Frisbees to look like cookies and have a cookie toss. Lead the kids in a few cookie themed songs and rhymes, like the classic Sesame Street, C is for Cookie, and Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar. And of course, have the kids help you bake or eat some cookies. If you want to get really fancy, make some Pigeon Cookies!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book #113: All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon, Illustrated by Katherine Tillotson

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Today’s book, chosen to celebrate Earth Day, beautifully explains the never-ending water cycle, from the evaporation of water, “thirsty air / licks it from lakes / sips it from ponds / guzzles it from oceans,” to the release of water from clouds in a “tap dance / avalanche / stampede / of drips and drops and drumming.” The importance of water is emphasized and readers are urged to conserve it and keep it clean.

Tillotson’s illustrations are simply gorgeous, not only representational, but evocative and creative. The illustrations were rendered digitally, which allows Tillotson to create collage-like images that feature sharp lines and shapes, as well as transparent elements that overlap and intermingle. Lyon’s text is poetic and rhythmic, yet informative. Like water, the text is presented in different sizes and seems to flow across the page.

This book is a great introduction to the water cycle for young children and just begs to be read aloud. This book clearly isn't meant to be the definitive informational book about water, as many terms, such as “evaporation” and “precipitation,” are not mentioned in the text. However, I suggest using this book to introduce the idea to very young children or with elementary school age children to begin a larger unit on water.

The text and images will inspire kids to learn more about water and how it affects everyone on the earth. Check out the background information and activities for this book and an animated water cycle, both provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more information on water conservation, check out the City of San Diego’s kid-friendly resources.

Before you read the book, ask the kids to share different ways they use water every day, such as taking a bath, washing their hands, drinking water, etc. All living things depend on water to survive, name some living things around your neighborhood that need water. For more great discussion questions and ideas, check out the teacher’s guide created by Lyon.

If you’re reading this with young kids, follow up with some water themed rhymes, such as Raindrops Falling, Drip Drip Drop Drop, and Ten Little Raindrops.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book #112: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? By Susan A. Shea, Illustrations by Tom Slaughter

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This colorfully stylish flap book uses rhyming text to ask the repetitive question: “Do you know which ones will grow?” Each two page spread compares an animal with an inanimate object. For instance, one question features a polar bear cub that grows into a bear and asks kids if a stool can grow into a chair. Kids are encouraged to answer “Yes” or “No,” but the answers aren’t given on the individual pages. After a set of four questions the book recaps the questions and provides answers before moving onto another set of questions. The final question breaks the pattern, “can a baby grow and become…YOU?”

This is a great book for people who are new to reading out loud for groups of kids. The discussion questions are built right into the text and the repetition and predictability make it easy for kids to follow. The paper collage illustrations use simple shapes and outlines arranged in eye-catching layouts. The flaps that show a washcloth growing into a towel and a cupcake into a cake make the illustrations as interactive as the text.

Use this book with preschoolers who are learning to differentiate between living and nonliving things. They’ll know the answer to most of the questions, but the reinforcement of the idea is important and the book presents it in a fun, sometimes silly, way. Plus, they’ll enjoy shouting out “Yes!” and “No!” In addition, each flap opens to reveal the word that completes the question, which of course fits into the rhyming scheme. The book also features several sets of animal parents and their babies, so you could easily add it to a storytime or unit about animal babies.

Make cards that show the pairs in the book. Make sure that each card shows the baby and the adult or the two inanimate objects because the visual element is important. Make a Yes column and a No column on your board or wall and as the kids answer each question put the cards in the appropriate column. You can extend this activity beyond the book by creating more cards with more pairs.

You can also have the kids create their own comparisons and illustrate them. Older kids may want to include flaps or cut outs like the book.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Book #111: Mathematickles by Betsy Franco, Illustrated by Steven Salerno

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This colorful poetry collection explores and celebrates the four seasons with short poems that use mathematical symbols, formats, and ideas. These visually stimulating poems are arranged by season, starting with fall and ending with summer. Salerno’s playful illustrations use broad brush strokes and swaths of color to create backgrounds that compliment, rather than overpower the poems. Although plot-less, the illustrations feature a young girl and her cat that experience the season along with the reader and serve to bring the separate poems together.

This delightful and creative collection of poems is an exercise in brevity and innovation. The emphasis is on choosing the perfect words and mathematical symbols to create equations and graphs. In many ways Franco poems can be viewed as mathematical rebuses, so share these poems visually as well as aurally. In addition to mathematics, Franco varies the font size to convey meaning in her bite-sized poems.

The organization of the poems by the four seasons not only gives them a logical sequence, it also drives the pace of the book forward. The illustrations are dynamic and inviting. The girl and feline provide visual interest and context to the poems by interacting with their seasonal surroundings, yet they never pull focus from the poems, which are arranged to pop to the forefront of the page. The author’s note at the beginning of the book provides a nice introduction and explanation of this concept-rich collection.

Although younger children will delight in the poems that use addition and subtraction, the book targets 9-12 year olds who are learning about long division, graphs, fractions, and other mathematical symbols and ideas. This collection would be a great way to attract children who identify better with numbers and mathematical ideas than with words. Conversely, this book can be used to bridge the gap between numbers and letters for children who have an aversion to math.

After you read the book, write your own Mathematickles. As a group choose a topic and then brainstorm words on that subject. For instance, if it the topic was cooking you might come up with a list that includes: whisk, stove, hot, cold, chop, slice, vegetables, soup. Then use those words to add and subtract: chicken + rice = homemade comfort.

This book can also be used with middle school and high school students. Try using more complex/abstract ideas such as emotions or creating poems based on a book the class has been reading. Older kids will be able to move beyond addition/subtraction to use fractions, algebraic equations, graphs, etc.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book #110: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. & John Archambault, Illustrated by Lois Ehlert

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A told B and B told C, “I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.”

And the letters are off, racing to the top of the coconut tree. But will there be enough room? And what happens when the lower-case letters fall out of the tree?

This classic alphabet book was first published in 1989 and has remained popular ever since. The rhyming text is extremely catchy and kids will love to shout out, “Chicka chicka boom boom! Will there be enough room?” The bold and colorful illustrations are done in Ehlert’s signature paper collage style (see my post on Planting a Rainbow). If I had to choose just one alphabet book to read, this would be my top choice hands down. No matter how many times you read it (and I’ve read it enough to memorize it), it is still fresh and exciting.

This book is commonly read in preschool and kindergarten classrooms and there are dozens of crafts and activities available. For a sample, here’s the results of a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Pinterest search. I particularly love the easy (and cheap!) toilet paper roll tree.

Many kids know this story by heart and it’s an easy one to memorize, so try telling the story without the book using a flannelboard. You can also have the kids retell the story using the flannelboard or make your own coconut tree and cut out paper or foam letters for a three dimensional retelling. Wrap up the story by singing the alphabet song.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book #109: Press Here by Herve Tullet

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Beginning with a small yellow circle, this book takes the reader on an interactive journey. Press the dot and turn the page and now there are two yellow dots. Gently rub the left dot and turn the page and now the dot is red. As you progress there are more instructions and more dots, red, yellow, and blue. The dots multiply, increase in size, and dance around the pages. The last page brings you back to one yellow dot and urges you to start all over again.

The text in the book speaks directly to the reader giving instructions and encouragement. The illustrations are simple, primary colors painted on a clean white background. The strategically placed page turns are the magic design element. Each instruction is followed by a page turn and even adults will be curious to see what their actions have done to the dots.

If you’re reading this to a group make sure you give each child a chance to directly interact with the book. Some instructions, like clapping, can be done by the entire group, but others are easier for one child to perform, such as shaking the book. Ask the kids what they think will happen when they press the yellow dot on the first page. Based on that outcome, what do they think will happen when they press the yellow dot again?  

Have kids create their own interactive books. Start by brainstorming other things that could happen to the dots. What if you gave the dots personalities? What if they were squares instead of dots? Tullet only uses three colors for his dots, what if you add more colors? Older kids will be able to create books of their own, while younger kids may need to create one book as a group.  

You can also create some collage art with colorful dot stickers. You can get a multi-pack at your nearby office store in opaque or transparent. Get the removable ones, just in case they end up in places they shouldn’t be.

I also love the suggestions on Crayon Freckles' blog to have kids recreate the patterns in the book using primary colored pom-poms or shapes. The blog also features suggestions for making tissue paper sun catchers and using bingo markers to create artwork.

Chronicle Books has a wonderful book trailer if you want to see the book in action, as well as a downloadable activities PDF.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book #108: Mr. Putney’s Quacking Dog by Jon Agee

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Meet Mr. Putney’s menagerie of animal friends in this pun-tastic book. Each page features a riddle in question form about the name of one of Mr. Putney’s friends. Turn the page to find out the answer. Can you guess which of Mr. Putney’s friends has cold feet? Why, it’s the socktopus, of course! How about the messiest lunch companion? The slobster!

Agee’s simple, yet quirky style adds a delightful atmosphere to this riddle-filled book. This book is a celebration of puns, rather than a book with animal facts, so the anthropomorphic animals, such as the hyena in a trench coat (a spyena) and the knitting walrus (a woolrus), are appropriate and silly. The text is direct. The answers to the riddles come after the page turns, giving the reader plenty of time to study the illustration and make guesses.

I really love that this book engages kids in word play in such a fun way that they probably won’t even realize it. Read the story slow enough to let the kids guess the answers to the riddles. After you read the story, ask kids to come up with a riddle about a new friend of Mr. Putney’s and draw a picture to go along with it.

This book will be a hit with kids who love to tell jokes. Pair this book with Guess Again! for a riddle themed unit or storytime. Ask each child to tell their favorite joke. Fold a piece of paper in half and have the children write the joke or riddle on the top flap and inside have them write the answer or the punch line. Illustrate and hang on the walls.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Book #107: Bear’s Picture by Daniel Pinkwater, Illustrated by D. B. Johnson

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A bear wants to paint a picture. So he gets out his paper, brushes, and paints and begins to create. He’s blissfully painting when two gentlemen happen upon the bear. One is short and round, the other tall and slim. As soon as they see the bear painting they begin criticizing the artwork. “Bears can’t paint.” “Besides it’s a silly picture.” Exasperated, the bear defends his painting as the two men inch closer to figure out “what it is supposed to be.” Before they know it, the men have stepped inside the bear’s creation and then bear begins painting them into the composition until they disappear saying, “Bears are not the sort of fellows to paint pictures.” When they’re gone bear looks at his picture and finds he’s very happy with his painting.

This story not only celebrates the creation of artwork, it also turns the tables on art critics. The bear never asks for anyone’s opinion on his painting, he just feels the need to create. The critics on the other hand never admit that their point of view might be too rigid and structured, even as they disappear into the painting. The text is mostly dialogue and the story moves along quickly. The text and illustrations really go hand in hand. The illustrations were done with mixed media and somehow give the impression of being flat and three dimensional at the same time. The characters are rendered in grayscale, which pulls the reader’s focus to the bear’s colorful painting. Speaking of the painting, make sure to turn the final picture of the painting upside and take a look.

Before you read the book, ask kids if they always know what they want to draw or paint before they start or if it comes to them as they go. After you read the book, discuss the idea that art doesn’t have to “be” anything. Sometimes we create art for other people and sometimes we create art for ourselves. Sometimes art represents an emotion or a feeling, rather than an object or a person. Ask the kids why they think the bear was happy with his artwork when he was finished.

Use this book as an introduction to a unit Picasso, an artist who is celebrated now, but who was criticized by many during his lifetime. Check out the lesson plan ideas in the artist study of Picasso on Squidoo.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book #106: Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

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Little Mouse is afraid of lots of things: spiders, loud noises, sharp objects, getting lost, the list goes on and on. Little Mouse uses her pencil and collage elements (photos, newspaper clippings, found objects) to record and illustrate her fears. Just when you think there’s no hope for Little Mouse, she realizes that even though she’s afraid of nearly everything, there are humans who are afraid of her!

The text is very minimal and all written from Little Mouse’s point of view. But don’t turn the pages too fast, because the illustrations are a feast for the eyes, full of details and insights into the reasons for Little Mouse’s fears. The book is made to look like a journal to record your fears and overcome them. Each page features and defines a phobia in the upper right or left corner, much as you might see the date printed in the corner of a journal, such as “Chronomentrophobia (Fear of clocks).” The illustrations utilize the entire page and there are design elements that add to the experience. There's a fold-out map of the Isle of Fright and many pages have flaps and mouse-nibbled corners.

Use this book as a jumping off point to talk about fear with kids. Before you read the book, tell them that everyone is scared of something. You might share one of your fears to let them know that even adults are afraid of things. Explain the definition of the word, phobia, and explain how it is often used as a suffix to create words that define fears.

As you read the book, ask them if they’re afraid of each of the things that Little Mouse mentions. After you read the book, talk about the ways that you could help Little Mouse feel safer and maybe overcome her fears. She’s afraid of the monsters under her bed, could you check for monsters together and then read her a bedtime story?  

The book begins with a motivational introduction of sorts from Gravett that states that this Big Book of Fears is: 

“the essential book to help you overcome your phobias. It has been put together by an expert in worrying, who draws on a lifteime’s experience of managing her fears through the medium of doodle. You too can overcome your fears through the use of art!”
Gravett provides directions to create your own Collage of Fears, just as Little Mouse does in the book. Encourage kids to find the “official” name for their phobia. Check out the alphabetized, kid-friendly list provided by the Kids Net Encyclopedia.

Pair this book with Henke’s Shelia Rae, the Brave for a storytime about facing your fears. How are Little Mouse and Shelia Rae the same? How are they different?


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book #105: The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

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Henry is a book lover, but not like you and me. He loves books because he loves to eat them! Not only do they taste good, but he finds that when he eats them he gets smarter. He eats a book on goldfish and then knows all about goldfish. So he eats more and more books, figuring he would soon be the smartest person in the world. But then things go very wrong. He's eating so many books that he feels sick and information is getting jumbled around in his mind. He stops eating books, but then he doesn't know what to do. So he picks up a book and begins reading it. And it's good! Now Henry has a new plan to become the smartest person in the world, it just might take him a bit longer.

The text of the book moves along quickly and is written in a conversational tone, making this a fun and quirky read aloud. The illustrations were done on a variety of old papers, maps, book covers, and pages from dictionaries, textbooks, and other books. Jeffers isn’t content to merely paint on these items; he also incorporates them in, around, and through the pictures and the words. The overall the design of the book is clever, featuring a missing bite-sized chunk of the lower right corner of the book.

As you read the book, stop to ask the kids what they think will happen to a boy who eats, instead of reads, books. The book is based upon a slightly silly idea, so feel free to ask some slightly silly questions. What do you think books taste like? Do they all taste the same? What else could Henry eat and what would happen if he did?

After you read this book, help children create books of their own. Check out the book making activities on Susan Kapusinski Gaylord’s website. I really like Literacy Launchpad’s idea to create a paper Henry with an empty brain for kids to place their books. Also check out the directions on the Learning Parade blog to create mixed media artwork like the illustrations in the book. You should be able to find cheap old books, maps, and other printed materials at your local thrift store. Make sure you tell kids that it’s ok to cut up these books, but that they shouldn’t cut up their own books or books from the library.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Book #104: The Magic Hat by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

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One day a magic hat comes wafting into town on a breeze. It flips and flies through the air until it lands on the head of a man and poof! suddenly the man is a toad! As the magic hat continues it’s journey through town, it continues to change ordinary people into magical creatures,

“Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat!
It moved like this, and it moved like that!”

The magical transformations pull people out into the streets to smile and laugh with wonder and awe. Then a great wizard appears and changes the animals back to people with a wink and a wave of his wand. He gives the people a magical present and slips away. As he walks away, he takes off his tall wizard’s hat and puts the magical hat on his head. I’ll leave you to guess what the magic hat changes him into as he walks down the road.

The rhyming text and repetitive magic hat refrain make this book a wonderful book to read aloud. The fast pace of the book is propelled by the forward motion of the magical hat and by the anticipation of the next magical event. Without the smiling faces and beautiful backgrounds this story could easily turn dark and sinister, but there is no chance of that with Tusa’s illustrations. The whimsical illustrations are full of round-faced people decked out in colorful stripes and polka dots.

This book is a quick read, so you might want to read it twice in one sitting. The first time ask the kids to guess what each person will turn into before turning the page. Read it again and invite the kids to join in on the magic hat chant. Patricia Gable suggests extending the chant into a dramatic game. Give everyone a hat and say the chant, each time turning into a different animal (see Gable’s list).

The rhymes in the book are great fun and can be used to help kids understand the concept of rhyming. After you read the book, ask the kids to tell you a two rhyming words from the book, such as “Wink” and “Think” and “Confused” and “Amused.” You can make a chart on the board with the word pairs or even have the kids illustrate the rhyme.

Follow up with the rhyme, The Magic Hat, or one of the rhymes or games I’ve mentioned in my other hat themed book posts (Millie’s MarvellousHat, A Three Hat Day, and Go, Dog, Go!).


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book #103: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

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Liam lives in a dark, grey city devoid of plants and gardens. Everyone stays inside; everyone but Liam. He loves to explore the city. One day he finds the stairway to an abandoned elevated railway. There he finds a few plants struggling to grow over the old rails. So Liam returns every day to tend the plants.  Soon the garden expands to cover every corner of the railway. The years pass and Liam not only grows to become a better gardener, the garden grows as well. It leaves the confines of the railway and soon there are gardens all over the city, tended by more and more gardeners. Liam sees many new gardens in the revitalized city, but his favorite is the one on the railway where it all began.

The artwork in this American Library Association Notable Book is simply breathtaking. The garden is a character in the story and it’s personality is apparent in the illustrations. The transformation from a grey dreary cityscape to a city embraced by urban gardens is especially wonderful to follow. The text is all description, no dialogue, and yet readers are able to connect with Liam and his desire to nurture the garden. Liam is a thoughtful and diligent protagonist and I found myself cheering him on in his early attempts to garden.

The book has wonderful vocabulary building words. Start with the title and ask the kids to help you define the word, “curious.” You can then move on to other words in the story, such as “dreary,” “delicate,” “toll,” and “blossomed.”

Hachette Book Group has a very detailed and useful educator’sguide (the link will download a PDF to your computer). The activities, geared toward children ages 3-6, focus on reading comprehension, environmentalism, and the idea that one person’s actions can make a difference.

Pair this book with The Gardener for a unit/storytime on bringing nature into cityscapes. Follow up with gardening activities or by volunteering to clean up an urban area.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book #102: Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes

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Sheila Rae is a brave mouse. She’s not afraid of the dark, thunder storms, mean classmates, or monsters that hide in closets. One day after school Sheila Rae decides to walk home a new way and calls her little sister, Louise, a scaredy-cat for being afraid. She walks home, stepping on all the cracks, boldly crossing streets, and scarring away mean dogs. Until she realizes that she’s lost. Suddenly she’s very scared and lonely. Luckily, Louise has followed her the whole way and is able to lead her bravely back home, stepping on cracks and crossing streets. Now both Louise and Sheila Rae are brave.

Once again, Henkes uses his signature style of writing and illustrating to address an important issue for kids and parents. The characters in the book learn that it's ok to be scared sometimes and to depend on other people. Kids will identify with the colorfully clothed mice, especially Sheila Rae, who is brimming with personality and spunk, and the loyal, loving Louise.

Before you read the book, ask your kids what makes a person brave and to give examples of bravery. Ask them the same question after reading the book. Do they think about bravery differently now?

After you read the book, ask your kids to tell you about a time when they were scared, but were brave anyway. If you have the time, have kids write their answers. They may be more willing to share their fears that way. You can also discuss the idea that it’s ok to be brave and it’s ok to be scared. Sometimes we get to be the brave one for someone else and sometimes they get to be brave for us.

Many kids worry about getting lost and this is a great book to address that topic. Follow up by making a map of your neighborhood. has great directions and discussion questions for making a neighborhood map.

If you like this book, check out my blog posts on Chrysanthemum and Julius, the Baby of the World. Both books are written and illustrated by Henkes and feature mouse protagonists.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book #101: Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Betsy Lewin

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Famer Brown keeps a very close eye on his animals. Every night he listens as the cows, sheep, pigs, and the mischievous Duck snore. Duck finds an ad for a talent show at the county fair. First prize is a trampoline, only slightly used. So he gets all the animals to rehearse right under Farmer Brown’s nose. At the talent show, the cows and sheep sing, the pigs sleep through their interpretive dance, and Duck wows the crowd with his rendition of “Born to Be Wild.” That night when Farmer Brown listens to the animals in the barn he hears them snoring, “Dooby dooby BOING!”

The illustrations are done in Lewin’s signature style, with loose black brush strokes and washes of watercolors. At times the plot is pushed forward by the illustrations alone, so you may want to ask kids questions as you go along to be sure they understand the major plot points.

The fun part about reading this story aloud are the animal sounds. Each animal has a distinctive sound, from “Dooby, dooby moo” to “Whacka, whacka quack,” and Cronin plays with the sounds with great humor on different pages. The cows and the sheep even use their sounds to sing for the talent show. The text is perfect for reader’s theater (clicking the link will automatically download a Word doc of the script, please be sure to give credit if you use the script).

The story is also available as an audio book with narration by country singer, Randy Travis. If your library has this recording, I highly recommend it.

If Duck and his farm yard friends tickle your funny bone, check out other books in this series including, Click Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and Duck for President.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Book #100: That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child

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This is the story of a rat who longs to be a pet and have a real name, instead of “That Pesky Rat.” He has many friends who are pets and although each one points out the pitfalls of being a pet (weekly baths, embarrassing sweaters), the rat is still determined to be a pet. At the pet store he puts up an ad in the window. The rat’s dreams are fulfilled when old (and very blind) Mr. Fortesque adopts him as a pet and gives him a name. So what if Mr. Fortesque thinks he’s a cat and names him Tiddles?

The illustrations are done in Child’s signature collage style, with lots of bold colors and prints. The text is humorous and written from the rat’s perspective. The words zig and zag all over the pages, adding another exciting element to the book.

After you read the book ask the kids about their pets. If they could have any pet in the world, what would it be? 

Since the story it told from the rat’s point of view it can be considered an autobiography of sorts. Have the kids write their own autobiographies. Start off by pasting a photo of the child on the first page with the text: “This is me. I’m the one with the _____ and _____. I live in _____.” Then have the kids write and illustrate pages on other aspects of their life, such as family, pets, hobbies, etc. This activity can be extended quite a bit depending on your time limit. You can children include a list of their favorites (favorite food, favorite color, etc.).

The cityscapes in this book are very distinctive and creative. Try recreating your own with this cityscape art project posted by on the Fairy Dust Teaching blog.