Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book #305: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

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“Marian called it Roxaboxen. (She always knew the name of everything).”

What’s a Roxaboxen you might ask? It may have looked like a rocky hill in the desert covered with sand and rocks, old wooden boxes, cactus and thorny ocotillo, but Roxaboxen was always there, waiting for children to find it. Marian and her friends dug up round black pebbles and these became the currency of the town of Roxaboxen. Marian was the mayor, of course, and everyone helped to line Main Street with white stones. Along this street small houses took form, outlined in stone. The wooden boxes became tables, chairs or anything else they pleased. In the winter no one would go to Roxaboxen for weeks, but when the weather turned warm the population of Roxaboxen would soar. Eventually, the children grew up and moved away, but that wasn’t the end of Roxaboxen because not one of them ever forgot.

This story, based on events that happened during McLerran’s mother’s childhood in Yuma, Arizona, celebrates the powerful and vivid imaginations of children. The story is magical, but told in the matter-of-fact tone of a child. The unnamed narrator, who speaks in third person past tense, clearly loves Roxaboxen and that reverence shines through the text. Cooney’s illustrations bring the desert setting to life. The mountains loom in the distance while plants of the desert cover the foreground. I especially love the illustration that shows the children standing in the cactus “jail” because they have been caught speeding (in their imaginary cars). Behind this humorous scene the sunset has colored the sky and hills pink and purple. The children are dressed in old-fashioned clothes (I'm guessing the book is set in the 1920's or 30's), but their imaginative activities are timeless. The book finishes with a note about the inspiration and creation of this book. You can read more about the real Roxaboxen on McLerran’s website.

Use chalk or stones to create a Roxaboxen of your own (check out the photos on the Love Learning Blog). Wooden boxes are great if you have them, but cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates are just as fun. Cardboard is especially nice because kids can use markers to make signs. Have kids draw a map of the town and label the shops, streets, and other places of interest. Follow up by reading The Once Upon a Time Map Book for a lesson on map reading. Check out the 4th grade lesson plan from the Arizona Geographic Alliance that includes specific instructions on using this book to create a map of Roxaboxen as depicted in the book.

Bring out a map of the United States and have the kids find Yuma, Arizona. Bring in non-fiction books about the desert, such as Desert Digits: An Arizona Number Book and G is for Grand Canyon: An Arizona Alphabet, to learn more about the climate, plants, and animals. Try pairing this book with poems from Pat Mora’s This Big Sky

I’ve never been to Yuma, Arizona, but if I ever make a trip there I’ll be sure to stop by Roxaboxen Park located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 8th street. If Arizona is too far away, take a virtual tour of the park thanks to Bill and Kathie.

Many thanks to Chris for bringing this book to my attention! 


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book #304: The Great Pet Sale by Mick Inkpen

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One day a boy walks by a pet store and notices a sign on the window, “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” Also in the window is a small rat who shouts to the boy, “I’m a bargain! I’m only 1 cent! Choose me!” Naturally, the boy goes into the shop to see what other pets are selling cheap. There’s a turtle for 3 cents and a tortoise for 4 cents, but the rat assures the boy that rats are better. Things beginning with P are 5 cents each – penguin, puffin, platypus – but the rat tells the boy that R is much better than P, “R for Ratty!” There’s even a Komodo dragon for just 25 cents! The rat is despondent. There’s no way the boy would pick him over all the other fabulous pets. But the boy just smiles and counts up his money. He has exactly $1, “just enough to buy the rat…and everything else in the shop!”

Inkpen’s soft watercolor illustrations are set off against a plain white background. If your child is a fan of Kipper the dog, you will probably recognize his style. The animals are cartoonish with small dot eyes and rounded bodies and faces, especially the outspoken little rat. Flaps are incorporated into the illustrations as well. They are often used to reveal the persistent rat or other humorous visual elements. The text, written in past tense, is a combination of narrative and the rat’s dialogue with the boy. The clever use of counting currency throughout the story provides a strong through line and the numbers, printed in large, bold print, pop out on the page. I believe this book was originally published in the UK and in that edition the boy bought the pets with pounds and pence. The US version uses dollars and pennies instead.  

Use this as a mini-math lesson about dollars and cents. Read the story so that everyone can cheer for the little rat. Then ask kids how many pennies are in a dollar. Read the story and keep track of how much each item would cost on a large piece of paper or a whiteboard. Print off a sheet that has the names and pictures of each animal that kids can fill in with the price as you read the story. You can also give each child 100 real or pretend pennies so they can count the money as the story progresses.

You can talk about even and odd numbers and have kids separate the animals in the store into even and odd columns. Multiplication and division can easily be worked in as well. Ask kids to pick their favorite animal in the story. How many puffins would they be able to buy with a dollar? You can also use the printable coloring sheets from Sparkle Box for some of these activities.

Several pets in the story may be unfamiliar to young readers, such as terrapins, platypuses, and Komodo dragons. Have photographs and non-fiction books about the animals in the book for kids to browse and check out. The boy also asks about the difference between salamanders, skinks, and geckos, so you’ll probably want to have some basic information to share.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Book #303: Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

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The thirteen riddle poems in this book give readers clues to the titles of classic children’s books. From Tacky the Penguin to The Polar Express, Goodnight Moon to Madeline follow two book young book detectives and their canine companion as they sort through the textual and visual evidence. Humorously illustrated by Munsinger, these poems will have readers shouting out the names of their favorite books and characters.

Each two page spread is devoted to a different poem/book and features the young detectives (a boy and a girl), their dog, and a giant book. Characters and elements of each story peek and tumble out of each book and the landscape changes to reflect the story. For instance, the boy and girl examine a blue waistcoat while in the garden of Farmer McGregor and they pull yards and yards of hair from a book that resembles a tower. Some of the poems are just a handful of words while others are a few stanzas. Although most of the poems rhyme, they take different forms such as the riddle about Click, Clack, Moo:Cows That Type, which is in the form of a letter to the farmer from the cows. The answers, including author and illustrator, are included on the last page of the book.  

This book is best enjoyed if kids are familiar with the stories presented in riddle form. Prep by reading the thirteen books, although most kids (but certainly not all) are familiar with Cinderella and Rapunzel, so you might be able to skip those. Some books, like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Charlotte’s Web are longer and you may want to read selected sections.

To make the riddles more difficult to guess don’t show the illustrations. If the kids can’t guess it read it again and show the picture. Alternatively show the kids the illustration first and see if they can guess the story before you read the poem.

Talk about the types of clues in the poems, such as the setting, characters, modes of transportation, time of day, and major plot points. How many clues did can be found in a single poem and illustration?

Have kids write a riddle poem about a favorite book and encourage them to share it with the group. You can start simply by having kids write a list of 4-5 clues about the book. These can then be developed into a riddle. Poems can also be illustrated to include visual clues as well.

Fold a piece of cardstock in half or use blank note cards and have kids write their riddle on the front and the answer on the inside. These can then be put up on the walls of the library for other readers to guess.

For more discussion questions and activities, check out the reader’s guide written by Patrick L. Yercich.

Celebrate the wonderfully inventive poetry of J. Patrick Lewis by reading more of his riddle poems. Try collections such as Scien-Trickery: Riddles in Science, Doodle Dandies: Poems That Take Shape, and Arithme-Tickle: An Even Number of Odd Riddle-Rhymes.

Have a storytime devoted to riddles with other titles like Mathematickles!, Apples & Oranges Going Bananas with Pairs, Mr. Putney’s Quacking Dog or Guess Again!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book #302: Roger, The Jolly Pirate by Brett Helquist

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Before Black Beard and Long John Silver there was a pirate named Roger. Unfortunately, he was a terrible pirate. He was clumsy and forgetful. He didn’t scowl he smiled and he didn’t growl he grinned. The other pirates called him Jolly Roger and it wasn’t a term of endearment. One fateful day the pirates are attacked by the fearless Admiral. As usual Roger is told to stay in the ship’s hold until the fighting is done. Roger wants so badly to make the other pirates like him, so he decides to bake a cake! He finds a big iron pot (that looks suspiciously like a cannon) and fills it with everything he can find (did I mention that Roger wasn’t a very good cook either?) and then he lights the handy wick attached to the pot (what could be more convenient?) and waits for it to bake. Up on deck, the pirates are close to surrendering when there’s a huge explosion and Roger, covered with soot and flour, is thrown out of the hold like a flying apparition! The Admiral and his men abandon ship and Jolly Roger is now a hero among his shipmates. He’s still a lousy pirate, but his shipmates don’t care. They even make a special flag in his honor – the Jolly Roger.

The text, written in third person, is great for reading out loud and includes new vocabulary words, such as “justice,” “terror,” “surrender,” “scowl,” and “vessel.” The pace is brisk and readers will be invested in Roger’s desire to be liked by his shipmates. The illustrations, which seem to be a combination of painting and hand drawn linework, are detailed and precise. Most of the book takes place on the pirate ship out at sea and Helquist takes full advantage of the clouds, sky, and water in his compositions. Make sure to check out the gorgeous endpapers, which features the pirate ship at full sail. Helquist also includes the lyrics and sheet music for The Ballad of Jolly Roger on the back papers. The six kid-friendly verses, sung to the tune of What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?, tell the story of Roger’s heroic act.

I’m a big fan of Helquist’s illustrations (you might recognize his style from illustrations he’s done for the covers and chapter headings for The Series of Unfortunate Events and other chapter books), so I was excited to find this book at the library!

Throw on your best pirate attire and read this book along with other piratey titles such as, Pirateria: The Wonderful Plunderful Pirate Emporium and The Pajama Pirates. My guess is a storytime to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19) would bring in more fathers to storytime.  

Follow up by making your own Jolly Roger Flags. Chica and Jo use dowel sticks, but my family always used disposable chopsticks when making flags. You have to make the flags slightly smaller, but it's much cheaper than buying dowel. You could also have kids design their own pirate flag, which would make an eye-catching display. You can also use the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones on other piratey items, like newspaper pirate hats.

Empowering Writers has a short lesson plan on using this book to learn how to summarize a story.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book #301: Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

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The first day the lion wandered into the library everyone was quite alarmed. But when Miss Merriweather, the librarian, found out she said that if he wasn’t breaking any rules they should just let the lion be. The lion loved the entire library, but he loved story hour the best. Everyday he would arrive a few hours early for story hour and he would help Miss Merriweather dust the encyclopedias and lick envelopes. Then at three o’clock he would curl up in the story corner and wait for story hour to begin. Soon everyone in the library became very fond of the lion. Except for Mr. McBee, who thought that the library was no place for lions. One day Miss Merriweather fell while reaching for a book, so she sent the lion to find Mr. McBee. Unfortunately the lion couldn’t get Mr. McBee to understand and he roared in frustration. Mr. McBee ran off to tell Miss Merriweather of the lion’s behavior, but the lion already knew he broke the rules and he sadly left the library. The next day Miss Merriweather returned to work with her broken arm in a sling, but the lion did not. And he didn’t come back the next day or the day after that. Not even for story hour. In the end, it is Mr. McBee, who cannot stand to see Miss Merriweather so sad, who finds the lion and tells him about the new library rule, “No roaring allowed, unless you have a very good reason – say, if you’re trying to help a friend who’s been hurt, for example.”

The text of this story that celebrates the welcoming atmosphere of libraries combines description and dialogue to form a narrative that is plain, but captivating. Words are chosen carefully and no element is included without a purpose. For instance, the theme of following the rules is used as a plot point, as well as a recurring joke. The acrylic and pencil illustrations use soft colors and edges to create a cozy environment. The lion is realistically drawn, yet he has anthropomorphic facial expressions that communicate his love for the library and the people in the library. It’s also lovely to see library patrons of many different skin and hair colors.

Read this story as part of a storytime on libraries and books. Try pairing it with titles like Library Lil, Miss Rumphius or Will You Read to Me? Try a few poems from Book Speak!: Poems about Books. This is a great time to talk about the different jobs people do in libraries. Take the kids on a tour of the library to find the encyclopedias and circulation desk.

Naturally, it’s great fun to read this story at storytime because kids love to see things they do depicted in books. Have kids roar along with the lion when you get to the roaring parts of the story. If you have a stuffed lion toy bring it in and encourage kids to pick out stories to read to the lion. 

Check out the story hour guide from Candlewick and the reader’s guide from Oregon Reads for discussion questions, activities, and other resources.

Follow up with rhymes such as Guess Who?, I’m a Lion, We’re Going on a Lion Hunt or play the classic song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

And then craft some lions of your own. Try paper plate and paper bag lion puppets, hand print lions or tissue paper lions.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Book #300: The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

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Feelings of depression and isolation are explored in this emotionally evocative story. A small red-haired girl in a long purple dress begins her day with nothing to look forward to and the situation goes from bad to worse. She feels lost, misunderstood, and forgotten. She waits and waits, but nothing changes. Wonderful things pass her by while troubles beset her from every side. She doesn’t know who she is or what to do. But at the end of the day, when she is about to go to bed with the same feelings she woke up she finds a small red tree that begins to grow. “Suddenly there it is / right in front of you / bright and vivid / quietly waiting / just as you imagined it would be.”

Tan’s sparse text skillfully expresses the many facets of depression and isolation. In the author’s note at the back of the Tan collection, Lost & Found, he writes that he has personal experience with depression and that he wanted to create “something useful from what can seem to be a useless experience – an abject feeling of hopelessness.” In addition, he wanted to acknowledge and validate depression for readers of all ages. On his website Tan notes that this book was an experiment in creating a book without a sequential narrative. 

Tan intended the illustrations to be representations of emotion in landscape form and this goal is most certainly achieved. Tan uses multimedia techniques to create a textured, layered world that seems to overpower the small protagonist. The surreal landscapes compound the feelings alienation. For instance, one illustration shows the girl bewildered by buildings created from print words in many languages and another depicts the girl trying to weather a stormy sea full of huge grey ships in a tiny red boat. However, the book has a hopeful ending and if you look closely at each illustration you can find a red leaf, a red leaf to remind the girl that the red tree of hope does exist.

When you read this book aloud make sure you give the audience some time to examine and think about the illustrations and words. You may want to choose a quiet piece of music to play in the background. I love reading this book because I always find something new in the illustrations or in the way I connect with the text.

The Red Tree was adapted into a play by the Barking Gecko Theatre Company in Australia (check out the production highlight video). They developed an educator’s guide that includes many discussion questions and extension activities.

Hachette Books also developed a reader’s guide and I especially like their activities regarding symbolism. The most obvious symbol in the book is the red leaves and the red tree, but it can represent many things to different people. Ask kids to write or talk about what the red tree symbolizes for them. Have kids look for more symbols in the book. Encourage kids to create symbols that represent different emotions or ideas.

Check out this animated retelling of the book by Ellsie Kay. It's more than a book trailer, but something less than fully animated. Kay's original music adds a beautiful layer to the story.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book #299: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Illustrated by Ron Barrett

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One night, after a pancake flies off the stove top and onto Henry’s hair, a grandfather tells his two grandchildren the tall tale of the tiny town of Chewandswallow. Chewandswallow had everything most small towns have, stores, houses, a school, people, dogs, cats, but what it didn’t have were food stores because they weren’t needed. Instead of buying it off the shelf, food arrived three times a day by weather. The townspeople took their plates and cups everywhere so they would be ready if it rained orange juice and eggs for breakfast or frankfurters in rolls followed by a drizzle of soda for dinner. All was well in Chewandswallow until the weather started getting worse. The food tasted horrible and became dangerous. The school got buried under a giant pancake and people got lost in the thickest pea soup fog in history. What are the townspeople to do?

The Barretts (a husband and wife team) have created a fantastical world that never ceases to intrigue readers. I used to dream about eating strawberries as big as apples, so Chewandswallow seemed like a paradise to me! The humorous text is great for a read aloud and is set off nicely in solid colored text boxes. It addresses the questions that kids would have about living in such a town. What would you do if you got hungry between meals? And what happens to all the leftovers on the streets? The illustrations are often broken up into comic strip-like panels and use intricate line work and hatching to create a cartoonishly whimsical world. The book begins in black and white, but when Grandpa begins telling the kids about Chewandswallow color begins to glide over the pages like butter melting on a skillet.

Before you read this book ask kids if they ever think the clouds in the sky look like food. Maybe marshmallows or mashed potatoes? After you read the book have them write a weather forecast for Chewandswallow for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Pair this with other books about weather such as Sector 7, Thunder Rose or All the Water in the World.

You can also use this for a food themed storytime. Try pairing it with The Hungry Thing, Hey Pancakes! or Cooking with Henry and Ellibelly.

You can choose your favorite weather craft or if you’re up for a messy craft try one of these crafts using foodstuffs. Instead of gingerbread houses, make houses out of peanut butter and bread slices (check for allergies). You’ll probably want to get a stiff, sturdy bread (sorry Wonder Bread lovers) and provide toothpicks to help hold things together. Cook up some spaghetti and have kids spell their names with the noodles on paper. Hands will get sticky, so make sure you have wash clothes at the ready. I also like the food collages posted on the Art Dish Blog.

If you can’t get enough of the town of Chewandswallow, check out the sequel to this book, Pickles to Pittsburgh.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book #298: Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas

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Much has been written about grown up Zeus, the lightening bolt throwing ruler of Mount Olympus from Greek mythology, but what was his childhood like and how did he become top dog? In a compelling and humorous storytelling voice, Karas tells the story of young Zeus whose mother, Rhea, hides him on the island of Crete so that he may grow up in safety away from his cruel father, Cronus. Although he is well cared for by the enchanted she-goat, Amaltheia, Zeus is lonely and longs for playmates. As soon as he is strong enough, Zeus is sent to free his brothers and sisters from their prison inside Cronus’ belly. His adventures continue, filled with monsters and battles, until Zeus is proclaimed “the ruler of heaven and earth. He divided up chores and scheduled playtimes…And thus began fun and order on Mount Olympus.”

The story is a combination of researched information, sources cited in the author’s note, and Karas’ own imaginings used to fill in the gaps. Zeus’ desire to have other gods to play with will be understood by the targeted audience of 5-10 year olds. Although Karas does not go into gruesome detail, adults should be aware that Cronus is shown eating his children and many characters are banished to the underworld. The text is fun to read aloud, especially several rhyming songs that Zeus makes up during his adventures (my brother says my rapping versions of the songs leave much to be desired). The loose and expressive illustrations, created with gouache and pencil on paper, are textured and mysterious. There is a cartoony, slightly surreal atmosphere to the world Karas has created. The difference in size between characters adds a humorous element. Karas also includes an illustrated cast of characters before the story starts, which helps to orient the reader.

I found this book last year while putting together a collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology books for kids 7-12 for a course in graduate school. Check out the collection for recommended books, DVDs, audio books, graphic novels, magazines, and websites.

After reading this book have kids choose another god or goddess and have them research and write about their childhood. Bring in a few of your favorite mythology anthologies for kids to cross reference. My current favorites are D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Donna Jo Napoli’s Treasury ofGreek Mythology, and Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull.  

The Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers are mentioned in this book. Bring in more information about these mythological monsters. Invite kids to research another monster. Have them draw a picture and find two or three facts to share with the group. Try bringing in books like What a Beast!: A Look-It-Up Guide to the Monsters and Mutants of Mythology, Greece! Rome! Monsters!, and Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters. Both of these activities are great for kids to practice using table of contents and indexes.

If you’re having a Percy Jackson themed program at your library this is a fun book to read aloud. If you have leftover Harry Potter lightning bolt temporary tattoos, bring them out and rename them Zeus’ lightning bolts.

Check out the book trailer, narrated from the she-goat’s point of view.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book #297: How Many Jelly Beans? By Andrea Menotti, Illustrated by Yancey Labat

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It all starts when Emma and Aiden are asked how many jelly beans they would like. They start off small, ten, twenty, twenty-five. But then it becomes a jelly bean competition! If Aiden wants fifty than Emma wants seventy-five! Soon the competitors are asking for hundreds and then thousands of jelly beans! Finally, the two decide on a million jelly beans and the illustration of those one million jelly beans is a ten page, double-sided foldout!

This oversized book begins simply enough with small numbers and illustrations of larger than life jelly beans. Each number is written in words (i.e. twenty-five, not 25) and the correct number of jelly beans is shown on the page. As the numbers rise the jelly beans shrink so that they can squeeze onto the page. Labat’s illustrations provide visual variation; sometimes the jelly beans are scattered, corralled into shapes or numbers, or arranged by color. Although the reader expects Emma and Aiden to say one hundred or one thousand jelly beans, it’s truly a surprise when they shout, “What about ONE MILLION jelly beans?” All the text is dialogue and most of it is contained in speech bubbles. The children and their dog, Murphy, are rendered in cartoony black lines on a white background. The jelly beans however are a riot of colors and flavors. All illustrations were rendered digitally.

Use this for a storytime about really big numbers and pair it with How Much is a Million?

This book provides several great connections to math lessons. Here are a few ideas that can be simplified for preschoolers or made more complex for elementary school kids. Look at the illustration that shows how many jelly beans you could eat in a day if you evenly distribute 1,000 over a year and talk about multiplication and division. Have the kids choose a number of jelly beans and figure out how many that would be per day or conversely, have them decide how many they want to eat per day and then multiply to find out how many they would need for the year. Make it more complicated by asking them to further divide or multiply to include their friends.

Talk about percentages and averages by looking at the page that shows how many jelly beans of each flavor Aiden would choose. Bring in a bag of jelly beans and have the kids separate and count them by color (the fewer flavors in the bag the easier the activity). Have them figure out the percentage and average number of each color. Have them create a graph or chart to illustrate their findings.

Check out Playing By the Books for more activity ideas. I love that they created a work of art with their candies that incorporated the total number. 

Mr. Schu has a wonderful interview with Menotti posted on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Menotti includes suggestions for activities and books that tie in with this one.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Book #296: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

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She wasn’t always called the Lupine Lady or even Miss Rumphius, when she was young they called her Alice. She lived in a city by the sea with her grandfather who told her stories of faraway places. Alice vowed to visit many faraway places and when she grew old she too would live in a city by the sea. But her grandfather said there was a third thing, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Alice didn’t know what that could be, but she promised. When Alice grew up into Miss Rumphius she did indeed travel the world and when she grew even older she bought a house by the sea. But what could she do to make the world more beautiful? Then she saw the lupines on the other side of the hill and she knew just what to do. She bought bushels of lupine seeds and spent all summer walking and scattering handfuls of seeds. The next spring the lupines bloomed all over the seaside town. Now Miss Rumphius is old, but she makes her granddaughter, Alice, promise what she promised her grandfather, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

The text of this American Book Award winner is written from the granddaughter’s perspective. She lovingly tells the story of her grandmother, a woman she obviously admires and wishes to emulate. The imagery in the text is subtle, but evocative. This delicate and heartwarming story is accompanied by intricate and soft illustrations, which were painted in acrylics with accents of color pencil on gesso-coated percale fabric mounted on illustration board. Cooney deftly illustrates Miss Rumphius throughout the years starting as a red-haired adolescent, through her travels to many faraway places, to her old age as gray and white spread through her abundant hair. The style of clothing and hair show the passage of time as well. For instance, as a girl Miss Rumphius, long hair pulled into a pony tail, wears dresses and high buttoned shoes. In contrast, her granddaughter is clad in sneakers and jeans topped off by a mop of unruly red hair.

The Philosophy for Kids website has a list of good discussion questions to ask kids before/after reading this book. Many could be used as writing prompts for kids for middle school or high school students.

Brainstorm a list of things you can do to make the world more beautiful. Talk about the different meanings of the word, “beautiful.” It doesn’t have to mean beautiful in appearance, there are many kinds of beauty and many ways to share that beauty. What kinds of things are beautiful to you and how could you share them with someone else? I bet the kids will surprise you with their answers.  If you are reading this your own kids or a group of kids you regularly meet with, see if it’s possible to follow through with one or more of the items on the list.  

Many children will not have seen a lupine flower growing in real life, so bring in photographs. If your budget allows, buy packets of flower seeds and plant them. If you don’t have the resources/time to plant the seeds together give out seed packets at the end of the storytime. Display books about gardening so that kids can read more about growing their flowers.

Create your own finger painted lupines. You can simplify the craft by eliminating the pastel background. If you want to extend the craft to a second day, have kids outline the shapes in marker (black is used in this example, but you could really use any color). Make the world more beautiful by painting lupines on cards and sending them to a friend, relative, teacher, librarian, or another person of the child's choice. 

You can also learn more about Maine, the location of Miss Rumphius’ house by the sea. Cooney herself lived in Maine and loved the lupines she saw growing there.  

Other ideas for extension include calculating how much five bushels of lupine seeds would weigh converted into pounds, ounces, grams, etc. and taking a field trip to a conservatory.

This is one of my favorite picture books of all time and I knew from the start of this project that I would have to review it. Although I now have a crisp, clean hardcover copy, I will always remember the worn cover of the copy I used to pull down from the shelf as a child. Miss Rumphis was and continues to be a wonderful role model for me.  


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book #295: Forsythia & Me by Vincent X. Kirsch

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Chester and Forsythia are best friends and Chester thinks Forsythia is amazing. She bakes Chester an elaborate many layered cake for his birthday. She performs every Saturday with the circus and every Sunday with the ballet. She has even tamed the ferocious animals at the city zoo and now they all arrive promptly at tea time. But one day Forsythia is sick. She stays in bed because she doesn’t feel like doing anything amazing. Good thing for her she has a best friend who will bake a special monographed cupcake, make up pirate dances for her, and who always shows up on time for tea.

Forsthia may have her name repeated thirteen times in the text (not counting the title), but this story is really about Chester learning that he is an amazing friend too. Written from Chester’s point of view, the text has a childlike matter-of-fact quality. The story is divided into two sections and moves along quickly with just a few sentences per page. The first part is devoted to Chester’s admiration of Forsythia and the second half shows how Chester amazes Forsythia, but in his own unique way. The intricate and detailed illustrations are dominated by (forsythia) yellow. Forsythia is never seen without her signature heart-shaped glasses and Chester always dresses in a dapper blue suit. Most of the adult world is rendered in grayscale behind the two best friends. The message that is delivered subtly with style and panache is that there are many ways to be amazing, but being a good friend is the most amazing of all.

For a storytime about appreciating the differences in friends and amazing qualities of friendship pair this book with Roasted Peanuts, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, or Tanya and Emily in a Dance for Two.

Use this book for a Valentine’s Day themed storytime and pair it with My Heart is Like a Zoo or How Do You Hug a Porcupine? Follow up by using this printable template to make heart-shaped glasses like Forsythia wears in the books.

Show the kids photos of forsythia flowers (or real ones if you happen to have a green thumb) and then have kids create tissue paper forsythias.

Bring in cupcakes (you can usually ask the bakery at your local grocery store for unfrosted ones) for the kids to decorate like Chester does in the book. Make sure to prepare for messes and to check with parents about food allergies and other dietary concerns.  


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book #294: Corduroy by Don Freeman

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Corduroy is a small stuffed bear that lives on a shelf with other toys in a big department store. None of the shoppers ever look at Corduroy until one day a little girl in pink coat points to him and tells her mother, “Look! There’s the very bear I’ve always wanted.” Unfortunately, her mother points out that the bear is missing a button and says not, “Not today, dear.” Corduroy had never realized he was missing a button, but that night after the store closes he climbs down from the shelf to search for his button. He doesn’t find his button, but that’s ok because Lisa, the girl in the pink coat, returns the next day to bring Corduroy home. She sews a new button onto his green overalls and Corduroy says, “You must be a friend, I’ve always wanted a friend.”

Although the conflict is minor (that pesky lost button!), this simple story is driven along on the charm of the little brown bear in green corduroy overalls. Freeman’s storytelling style is plain, yet compelling. The illustrations use loose inky brush strokes combined with washes of watercolor and hatching to create Corduroy’s world. First published in 1968, this book is also notable for featuring an African-American girl, although race is not a driving force in the plotline.  Regardless of her appearance, Lisa’s desire for a toy and a friend is universal.

Ask kids to bring in their favorite stuffed animal or toy to storytime. Have kids design a new outfit for Corduroy or for their stuffed animal/toy.

The Scholastic website suggests having kids set up a teddy bear store. Have them make price tags and signs.

This book is a great excuse to do some button crafts. Check your local thrift store for buttons; often you can get an entire jar or bag for just a few dollars. Put the buttons in a shallow tray (you can use a baking sheet) so that kids can easily sort through the different colors and shapes. If you have buttons with big enough holes, have kids thread the buttons into yarn to make a bracelet or necklace. Create button collages by gluing the buttons to cardstock or cardboard (regular paper won’t be able to hold very many buttons). Encourage kids to draw around their glued buttons, which can easily be turned into the center of flowers, eyes, car wheels.

This was one of my favorite books growing up. I had a stuffed bear and I remember going to the fabric store with my mother to buy a scrap of green fabric to make overalls for him. There are several more books that feature Corduroy, some by Freeman and some by other authors. My favorites are the original book and the first sequel, A Pocket for Corduroy.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Book #293: Book Speak: Poems about Books by Laura Purdie Salas, Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

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In 21 clever poems, Salas celebrates the beauty, humor, joy, drama, and structure of books. The poems are accompanied by colorful and lively collage illustrations. Together poems and pictures urge readers to find a new adventure within the pages of a book.

Salas’ poems take a variety of forms from rhyming verse to acrostic. Length also varies, some poems reach across two pages, while others are composed of thirty words or less. I especially love the poems that focus on a specific element of a book, such as the poem in the form of a sales pitch from an index and “The Middle’s Lament: A Poem for Three Voices,” in which the middle of a book complains to the beginning and the ending. The illustrations are elaborate and witty on some pages, while on other pages they recede to a single image or pattern on the border. Bisaillon incorporates pages of printed text and cursive handwriting into the images, as well as featuring shelves and stacks of books.

Kendra Duckworth, guest reviewer on the Poetry for Children Blog, suggests using the opening poem, “Calling All Readers,” as a storytime introduction. 

Read the poem, “Book Plate,” and then have kids design a personal book plate. It’s even better if you can find a way to give them a book to begin their own library.

The poem, “This is the Book,” reminiscent of “This is the House that Jack Built,” describes the many people involved in taking a book from idea to finished product. Choose a book and then bring in photographs and information on the people who helped to create that book, from writer to editor, designer to publisher.

After you read the poem, “Conflicted,” talk about the conflicts in books the kids have recently read. What would happen if the conflict was removed? What would the story be like?

Encourage kids to write a poem from the perspective of a book or from a character in a book, like Salas does in "A Character Pleads for His Life" and "The Sky is Falling". What happens to characters when they are not being read about?

Check out Salas’ website to view the book trailer and for more information on her other poetry collection, STAMPEDE!: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book #292: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Peter Brown

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Jasper Rabbit loves carrots, especially the ones that grow in Crackenhopper Field. He eats them before school, on his way to baseball practice, and then again on his way home. Jasper eats them all the time…that is until the creepy carrots start following him. “Tunktunktunk.” Jasper hears and sees creepy carrots everywhere, but when he turns around to look at them they disappear! After a week Jasper can’t take it anymore. So he saws and hammers, digs and builds, until the carrots are contained by a tall fence and surrounded by a moat! No way those creepy carrots will creep on him again! And the carrots? They cheer as well because they know that Jasper Rabbit will never eat them again!

Although “creepy” is in the title, this book isn’t really that scary and it has a happy ending (at least for the carrots). In the tradition of oral scary stories, Reynolds’ humorous text is written in third person past tense, making this a great book to read aloud. Punctuation is utilized to emphasize words and the sound of the carrots creeping, “tunktunktunk,” is hilarious (I mean, if a carrot could creep, why wouldn’t it “tunk?”). The illustrations, rendered first in pencil on paper and then composited and colored digitally, have a black and white film noir look to them. Brown uses orange very sparingly and with great effect. The carrots are orange, as well as objects that could appear carrot-like out of the corner of your eye or in the middle of the night. The creepy carrots are ridiculous, with glowing eyes and one or two blunt, square teeth.

Check out this video interview with Brown for insight into the inspiration and creation of the illustrations.

Use this for a Halloween storytime. Pair it with Even Monsters Need Haircuts or Frank was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance. Dress like Jasper Rabbit (rabbit ears and a baseball cap) or wear all orange and be a creepy carrot.

Orange is used with great effect in this book, so add this to an orange themed storytimed along with The Big Orange Splot.

Pair this with Tops & Bottoms, Lois Ehlert’s Growing Vegetable Soup or The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss for a storytime about vegetables. Finish up with a snack of carrot sticks or some edible eyeballs made from carrots.

Whatever theme you choose, this book is a great excuse to create some creepy carrots of your own. Try collage carrots or simply cut carrot shapes out of orange paper. Glue on goggly eyes and draw on creepy mouths.

You can also cut real carrots into stamps. Make sure you have a good knife and that the stamps are completely flat or kids will have a hard time stamping evenly. You can use tempera paint or washable stamp pads. This can be a messy craft, so put plastic on the floor and have wash cloths ready for messy hands. 

Set up a creepy carrots photo booth. Make large creepy carrots out of poster board and stick them to the wall. Have kids stand in front of the carrots and make their best “creeped out” faces. They can also hold up the carrots they crafted. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book #291: Mr. Zinger’s Hat by Cary Fagan, Illustrated by Dušan Petričić

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Every day after school Leo would take his ball into the courtyard to play and while he played old Mr. Zinger would walk around the courtyard. They never talked until one day when the ball escaped from Leo and knocked off Mr. Zinger’s hat. Leo caught the hat and brought it back to Mr. Zinger, “I wonder why my hat took off like that. Maybe there is something inside it.” And there was. A story. Mr. Zinger started the story, but soon Leo was making additions, changes, and even naming characters! After Mr. Zinger went home to write more stories, Leo made a new friend, Sophie, and together they found a new story in Leo’s baseball cap.

The text pushes the reader right into this story about storytelling. The dialogue is compelling, yet natural, making this a fun book to read aloud. The three major characters in the book, Leo, Mr. Zinger, and Sophie are well-crafted. Leo is an imaginative protagonist and he manages to be respectful of Mr. Zinger, as well as curious and outspoken. The layout of the book brings the illustrations and text together harmoniously. Petričić uses two styles of illustrations both created with watercolors. The first style is used for the real world that Leo lives in. The colors are softly blended and the line work is loose. Then Leo and Mr. Zinger begin their story, which is illustrated in a brighter, more cartoon-like style. The story world is flat with solid colors, while the real world employs perspective, shading, and texture.

Wear a hat when you read this story and pretend to find the story inside the hat, just as Leo and Mr. Zinger do. After you read the story, look into the hat and start a story with a simple prompt like, “Once upon time there was a boy/girl/rabbit/bear/rhino/shoe/whatever” and then pass the hat around for each child to find a bit more of the story inside.

Read this book as the introduction to a creative writing lesson for elementary school aged kids. Some kids are not as comfortable writing a fictional story, so begin by having them write stories in teams of two.

If you have kids who are reading middle grade books, try pairing this picture book with the chapter book, The Phantom Tollbooth written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. How are Milo and Leo alike? What kind of story would Milo find in a hat? Do you think Leo would go through the tollbooth?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book #290: A Few Blocks by Cybéle Young

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It’s time for Ferdie and his sister Viola to walk to school, but Ferdie doesn’t want to go, “Not now. Maybe never.” He has lots of things to do at home, pictures to draw and towers to build. But Viola knows just what to do. She holds out Ferdie’s coat and tells him it’s a superfast cape! If he puts on his rocket-blaster boots they’ll get to school in no time. Off they blast, flying over buildings and streets until Ferdie runs out of rocket fuel. He doesn’t want to go to school, “Not now. Maybe never.” Good thing Viola has more ideas to propel her reluctant little brother to imagine his way to school! But what will happen when Viola runs out of ideas?

The text, written in third person present tense, is printed in black font on the bottom edge of the page. Most of the text describes the imaginative world the siblings create, but every once in a while Ferdie breaks in with his signature ultimatum, “Not now. Maybe never.” The ink, watercolor, and 3D paper collage illustrations are delicately rendered (look for the shadows that show that the images aren’t sitting directly against the paper). Viola and Ferdie live in a grayscale world until they begin to imagine, then they are surrounded by wonderful colors contained in shapes that simultaneously represent the city blocks they are walking through and the fantasy world they create in their minds. Within each shape Young uses monochromatic colors and precise line work, which creates a detailed, yet magical landscape. The size of the book and the illustrations make this book best for storytime with a small group.

I have the best little brother in the world, so I’m rather partial to sibling stories. Viola and Ferdie clearly have a very trusting sibling relationship and it’s wonderful to see how they depend and take care of one another. Pair this with other siblings stories such as, Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly, I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Lola Reads to Leo, or Big Sister, Little Sister.

Before you read the story, show the kids the cover and ask them what they think the book will be about. Talk about the different definitions of the word, “Block.” Do they think the kids will be walking a few blocks or playing with a few blocks? Will there be a block shaped obstacle? How about mental or writer’s block?

Follow up by making 3D collages. Glue pieces of art foam behind paper to create different layers. You can have pre-cut paper pieces; just don’t use anything thinner than construction paper because it will droop. Stack multiple pieces of foam to create more layers.You can have kids create a cityscape or create an abstract work.

If you walk with your children to school, the library, the park, etc. take turns choosing an imaginary adventure like Ferdie and Viola do in the book.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Book #289: Before John was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Sean Qualls

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This picture book biography examines and celebrates the influences of John Coltrane before he was a jazz giant. As a boy, John hears music everywhere. There’s music in the sound of his grandma cooking, in the steam engines whistling, the hymns at church, and the birds singing sunrise. And John takes all the sounds in the world around him and he puts them in his saxophone. “Before John was a jazz giant, he was all ears.”

This book, which was named a Coretta Scott King honor book for illustration, uses the repetitive refrain, “Before John was a jazz giant,” to begin each page of text. What follows are individual moments that weave themselves in a musical tapestry of young John’s life. The acrylic, collage, and pencil illustrations use muted colors to create a world as sophisticated and textured as Coltrane’s music. Qualls’ work is reminiscent of Kandinsky and utilizes many silhouettes and geometric shapes. Circles in a variety of colors and sizes are used to represent sound and music in the illustrations. Like the text, the illustrations overlap and layer colors, shapes, people, and objects to create a visual representation of John’s musical influences. The text does not include many facts about John’s life; however an author’s note at the back of the book provides a short biographical overview. Also included are lists of recommended musical recordings and further readings on Coltrane’s life.

Pair this book with Jazz on a Saturday Night, This Jazz Man, or Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum for a storytime that celebrates jazz music.

This is also a great addition to a storytime about hearing and sound. Try pairing it with books like Jazzmatazz or The Little Little Girl with the Big Voice. This is a good time to discuss loud and soft or teach phonological awareness by clapping out the syllables in the words of the book or in a child’s name. Check out the activity guide by MacMillian for more sound and hearing activity suggestions.

Introduce kids to Coltrane’s music by first playing a little bit of his famous cover of Roger and Hammerstein’s, My Favorite Things. Then play a recording or watch a video of the song from the movie version of Sound of Music (any excuse to listen to Julie Andrews is ok by me!). If you have time, teach the kids the song. Finally, go back and play Coltrane’s version once again. Can the kids identify all the instruments playing in the song? How does the music make you feel? Notice how Coltrane takes the melody and plays with it. Encourage kids to dance, sing along, or even draw pictures while the music is playing.

Listen to this interview with Qualls about how he created the illustrations for this book. He even reads a page of the text.

If you like the illustrations in this book, check out, Dizzy, a picture book biography about Dizzy Gillespie also illustrated by Qualls.