Friday, November 30, 2012

Book #335: Kite Flying by Grace Lin

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It’s a windy day, perfect for flying kites! From their trip to the art store to buy supplies to flying the colorful dragon kite, this story shows the process of making a kite as narrated by a young girl. Each of her family members, Ba-Ba (father), Ma-Ma (mother), and her two sisters, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie, completes a different portion of the kite, from gluing the sticks to the paper to painting on a laughing mouth. Finally, the family takes their beautiful kite out to the hill.

“Look up! Our dragon is talking to the wind! What do you think he is saying?”

This story celebrates the ancient tradition of kite flying that can be found in cultures all over the world. Lin uses short, simple sentences to describe the action in the story. The illustrations are stylistically bold and colorful, yet Lin is careful to include details that make the story richer. The family is Chinese-American and Lin deftly incorporates cultural markers into the illustrations. For instance, the family wears Chinese-style patterns and prints and removes their outdoor shoes and puts on slippers while indoors. There are two distinct environments presented in the book. The windy out of doors is based in cool colors with swirls of wind covering the light blue sky. In contrast, the inside of the family’s house is cozy, glowing with warm yellows, oranges, and reds. The book concludes with an author’s note about the history of kite flying in China, the symbolism of kites, traditional kite festivals, and ways other cultures have embraced and celebrated kite flying. Don’t miss the endpapers! The papers at the beginning of the book feature the supplies needed to make the kite and the papers at the end show a variety of kites and their symbolism in Chinese culture.

Read this story as part of a kite storytime or program. Try pairing it with The Emperor and the Kite, Henry and the Kite Dragon, Fly, Kite,Fly!: The Story of Leonardo and a Bird Catcher, and Kites: Magic Wishes That Fly Up to the Sky. Begin or end your program by singing the Disney classic, Let’s Go Fly a Kite. Follow up with some fingerplays and rhymes, such as Five Little Kites, Fly My Kite or My Kite.

Of course, you’ll want to make a kite of your own after reading this story. Most of these crafts will require some adult assistance, so plan accordingly. There are dozens of kite tutorials on the internet, but here are a few that I’m itching to try myself. Try making some brown paper bag kites as posted on the Rhythm of Home blog. The Maya*Made blog uses a 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper and a bamboo skewer as the base for their kite. Formula Mom uses recycled items to create her kite. Although this book focuses on Chinese kites expand your program to look at kites from other cultures and make some Japanese Koi Kites.

If you are looking for kite crafts that can be done with less adult supervision, try making paper plate kites. Check out Lin’s website (one of my favorite author websites), which includes instructions for decorative (i.e. they won't fly) construction paper dragon kites. For an even quicker and smaller craft, make origami kites. You can omit the toothpick and just tape a piece of yarn for the tail.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book #334: What Can a Crane Pick Up? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Illustrated by Mike Lowery

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This lively rhyming book is built around a single question: What can a crane pick up? The answer: lots of things! Trucks, railroad cars, airplanes, trees, submarines, even a cow! “Cranes pick up— that’s what they do!”

The energetic text is like a snowball gaining momentum downhill as Dotlich expands from ordinary (trucks, steel) to extraordinary cargo, such as cuckoo clocks, cowboy boots, and “boxes and boxes of underwear.” Although the rhyming could be smoother, readers will enjoy the call and response nature of the book. The illustrations, created with pencil, silk screen, and digital techniques, are brightly colored and outlined in irregular, thick black lines. The cartoonish pictures are very happy and nearly all the vehicles have dot eyes and smiling mouths. 

After you read this book ask kids to come up with a list of other items a crane could pick up. Have them draw pictures to go along with their suggestions. 

Read this book as part of a construction themed storytime. Try pairing it with Demolition, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site or Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night? Follow up with rhymes from Builder Goose: It’s Construction Rhyme Time! or songs like, The Construction Song (tune: The Farmer in the Dell) and The Construction Workers Song (tune: London Bridges).

After reading this story kids will want to play with a crane of their own to see what it can pick up. You can make a very simple crane with just tape, string, and magnets as posted on the Spaghetti Box Kids blog. If you’re looking for a rainy day craft to last a few hours, try making a crawler construction crane out of milk cartons and cardboard tubes. Either way, make sure to have lots of cargo for the cranes to pick up. Try small household objects like cups, coins, forks, spoons, pencils, etc.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book #333: My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

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Elizabeth loves her name. It has nine letters, it sounds neat when she says it, and there’s even a queen named after her! Unfortunately, other people don’t seem to understand how Elizabeth feels about her name. Friends and family call her, “Lizzy,” “Liz,” Beth,” and the dreaded, “Betsy.” Finally, Elizabeth can’t take it anymore! “My name is ELIZABETH Alfreda Roxanne Carmelita Bluebell Jones!! But you may call me Elizabeth.”

The text of this child-empowering story is brief and presented completely in speech or thought bubbles. Dunklee has created a protagonist that stands up for herself, but never becomes bratty or disrespectful. The illustrations, a combination of pen and ink, gouache, and digital techniques, are rendered in just three colors—black, orange, and blue—against the white of the page. Although the book was published in 2011, there’s a retro feel to the stylistic illustrations. However, the settings and actions in the book are pertinent to modern children and so the book has a timeless quality to it.

Most kids love their names, so name themed storytimes are always popular. Pair this book with titles such as Chrysanthemum, A My Name is Alice, A Porcupine Named Fluffy, Matthew A. B. C. or Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Elizabeth mentions in the book that her name has nine letters. Write the names of other characters in the story or other stories you read and compare the number of letters. You can do the same with the kids in the group.

Follow up with your favorite name craft. Here are a few of my current favorites. If you don’t mind a glittery mess and sticky hands, make Fairy Dust Names with glitter and glue. Teach kids to finger spell their names in American Sign Language by making ASL name plates. Make photocopies of the ASL alphabet and then cut the letters into squares about 1 inch by 1 inch. Kids can glue their name onto a half sheet of paper and decorate it with stickers, markers, etc. I have found it’s helpful to have letters separated rather than all mixed together in a box. If you have train lovers, make Name Trains. You could combine this with the above craft by using the ASL alphabet for the train cars.

I have found that kindergarteners and preschoolers are usually just fine spelling their names, but if you are doing these crafts with kids under five years old, you will probably need parents or an extra person to help kids. It can also be helpful if kids are wearing name tags.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book #332: Little Tug by Stephen Savage

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Little Tug may not be the tallest, fastest, or biggest ship in the harbor, but when the taller, faster, bigger ships are in a bind, it’s Little Tug who lends a hand pushing, pulling, and guiding. At the end of the day when Little Tug is all worn out the other ships tuck him in, sing him a lullaby, and give him hugs.

The brief, repetitive text of this charming book makes it a wonderful choice for a baby or toddler storytime. Although the plot is simple and lacks a major conflict, small readers will identify with Little Tug, who works so hard to be helpful despite his size. The illustrations use bold shapes and glowing colors to bring the boats to life. I especially love the many ways Savage plays with the water to create visual interest. Sometimes the water is choppy, other times it smoothly reflects the outlines of the boats. Additionally, the water is a variety of colors. It reflects the pink of a glorious sunset, the white of big puffy clouds, and at night it glows blue-purple.

Use this book as the quiet ending to a storytime about boats. Try pairing it with Boat Works, Little Boat, Jonathan and the Big BlueBoat or Boats: Speeding! Sailing! Cruising! Pair it with rhymes like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Five Little Boats or All Kinds of Boats.

You could also use this book as part of a storytime about size. Try pairing it with titles, such as Press Here,  George Shrinks or The Perfect Nest.

Fill a kiddie pool with water to make a harbor. Bring out toy boats or make some of your own. If you are working with older kids, try making milk carton tug boats. You can make the craft faster if you precut the milk cartons and other small pieces (which also removes the need for scissors).


Monday, November 26, 2012

Book #331: Emma’s Rug by Allen Say

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Some kids have a favorite teddy bear or a security blanket they tote around, but for Emma it was a small, fluffy, white rug. She never stepped on it; instead she spent hours staring into the rug. Soon Emma began to draw and paint. She drew all sorts of animals – pangolins, tapirs, wart hogs. Her parents marveled, “where did she see a pangolin?” When Emma started school her teacher was also impressed by Emma’s artwork and soon Emma was winning ribbons and trophies. But Emma didn’t care; instead she looked into the rug and asked, “What should I draw next?” Then one day Emma’s mother washed the rug for the first time. When Emma came home from school she was heart-broken. The rug was no longer fluffy, it had shriveled and become ragged. All the fluff was gone. Emma threw all her artwork and prizes away. She stopped talking and drawing and painting. Was Emma able to create art without her rug? Where did she find a new source of inspiration?

Say’s quiet, reflective style is well-matched to this story of a young artist who loses her inspiration. The text is mostly description with just a few bits of spoken dialogue. Say not only creates Emma’s physical world, but also conveys Emma’s complex emotions. The watercolor illustrations are delicate and detailed and light and shadow are used beautifully. Say uses angles that emphasize a child’s point of view. Although Say has chosen an Asian-American protagonist, the story does not include cultural markers beyond skin and hair color. The book seems to be set in a major city (perhaps San Francisco, judging by the painting on the Golden Gate Bridge in Emma’s bedroom) that is populated by a multicultural cast. 

Use this book to start a discussion on creativity. Try pairing it with other books about creativity, such as Sky Color, The Pink Refrigerator, Think Big or Bear’s Picture. Where do you think Emma ultimately finds her inspiration? Does it come from inside or outside? Ask the kids where they get their inspiration for the artwork they create. This can be for a painting or drawing, like Emma does in the book, or for any other creative expression, such as writing, music, dancing, collage, cooking, knitting, etc. The University of Washington Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children has a great list of discussion questions.

Say has written many wonderful children’s books, many of which deal with serious subjects, including immigration, home, and progress. Many of his books look at Japanese or Japanese-American culture. His style is unique, making him a excellent choice for an author study. Read more of his books out loud and/or bring in copies for silent reading. My current favorites are Kamishibai Man, Grandfather’s Journey, and The Bicycle Man. The RIF Reading Planet has a kid-friendly interview with Say. The address to send letters to Say is included at the end of the interview. Encourage kids to write to Say. Things to write about might include: your favorite Say book, why you like it, how you find creative inspiration, or questions you had about the story/characters from a particular book.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book #330: Koala Lou by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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From the day she was born, all the bush animals loved soft and cuddly Koala Lou, but it was her mother who loved her the most. All day long her mother would praise her beloved baby saying, “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” But the years pass and Koala Lou’s mother has many other children that take up her time. Her mother is too busy to express her love as she used to and Koala Lou longs to hear those words again, so she decides to train to win the gum tree climbing event at the Bush Olympics. Even though she loses the event Koala Lou learns that her mother loves her, “Koala Lou, I DO love you! I always have, and I always will.”

Koala Lou’s universal desire for attention and love will be recognized by readers of all backgrounds. The message of the book is that you don’t have to do anything special, win any awards, or be the best at anything to be loved. All you have to do is be yourself. Children will feel reassured by the ending, which shows a mother’s unconditional love for her daughter. The story will be especially meaningful to older siblings who know what it feels like to share their parents with a new sibling. Fox’s storytelling voice is intimate and warm, as though she’s telling the story just for you. As the plot progresses the pacing of the book increases and by the time the Bush Olympics come around, readers will be cheering Koala Lou on as she climbs the gum tree. The repetitive refrain, “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” gives Koala Lou a tangible goal to strive for and provides a touchstone for readers as well.

The illustrations are eye-catching and appealing. Lofts utilizes blending, color, and shading to render the wide-eyed creatures and the spectacular plants of the Bush. Filled with Australian animals including, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas, platypuses, etc., Lofts’ illustrations convey the heat and sun of the Australian Bush. Lofts’ use of yellow sunlight and purple shadows, not only illustrates the time of day as described in the text, but also adds a whimsical, playful touch to Koala Lou’s world. The animals are drawn true to life, although Lofts’ gives them anthropomorphic facial expressions that convey the emotions of the story and expand the personality of Koala Lou. At times Lofts seems to break the fourth wall because some of the characters seem to be staring right into the eyes of the reader.

Use this book for an Around the World or Australian themed storytime. Try pairing it with Diary of a Wombat, Possum Magic or Hunwick’s Egg. Bring in non-fiction books about Australia for kids to check out. Teach the kids the Kookaburra Song. This is a wonderful musical connection because the lyrics not only mention the “laughing” Kookaburra, but gum trees, which feature prominently in this book.

The book does not include a list of all the Australian flora and fauna in the illustrations, so bring photos and information when you share this story. Elementary school aged kids could work together to put together a supplementary booklet that would include information about each animal and plant for other classes/groups to use. Each child could pick an animal or plant to research. Information could include a photo, where the plant grows, where the animal lives, what it eats, and any other fascinating facts. The Wild Kids section of the Australian Museum website and the website for the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary are great online resources.  


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book #329: The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

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Take a wordless adventure though time in this intriguing adventure of secret maps in secret boxes hidden in secret hiding places. It all begins when a boy many years ago hides a secret box in the attic of a school for boys in the country. Time passes and the school finds itself in the middle of a bustling city. It seems that the secret box has been forgotten until the day three school children find the box in the secret hiding place in the attic. They find photographs and maps with red arrows, torn tickets, and a token with a seahorse. What does it mean? Will they be able to follow such an old map? And what will they find when they arrive?

The illustrations in this small, square book are bright and bold. Outlined in thick black lines, Lehman’s illustrations are detailed, yet stylistically simple. The children in the book are diverse with a variety of skin colors and hair types/styles. Lehman does not denote a specific year for each illustration, but she includes clues to the approximate time period, such as modes of transportation, clothing, and technology, such as telephone lines, traffic lights, and cable antennas. Spoiler Alert: The conclusion is a bit fantastical. Somehow all the children who have ever followed the clues in the secret box are at the final destination and they are still young, even the boy who originally hid the box so many years ago. Although this time-bending ending doesn’t fit with the realistic depiction of the city, it does emphasis the timelessness of the secret box. Make sure to look at the endpapers for a sneak preview of the contents in the secret box.

Check out the suggestions for using this book with K-8 on the Classroom Bookshelf blog. I especially like the idea of having kids illustrate the items they would hide in a secret box and the discussion questions about the open ending of the book.

For preschool kids, pair this book with other titles that focus on maps and finding treasure, such as The Once Upon a Time Map Book and Roxaboxen.

Tie this in with middle grade books for older kids that have maps on the endpapers, use your favorite novel with a map or use a classic, such as The Phantom Tollbooth or The Wonderful Wizard ofOz.

Have a wordless book themed storytime. Try pairing it with one of Lehman’s other wordless books, Sector 7 (or one of David Wiesner’s other books), The Adventures of Polo, Shadow (or one of Suzy Lee’s other titles) or Where’s Walrus?

Create a Secret Box program around this book. Create a map and other wordless clues and put them in a box. Have the kids work in teams of 3 or 4 to figure out the clues and find the party at the end. You can do this activity indoors or outdoors, just make sure all groups are supervised on their adventure. If you’re working with teens and depending on the size/safety of your neighborhood, you could make the adventure much longer and more complex.

Check at your local library to see if you can find old maps of your city. Have kids compare the maps from different time periods. What landmarks are still standing? Can you find pictures of the landmark in different time periods and compare them?
For a glimpse of the illustrations inside this book, check out the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Book #328: Lights Out by Arthur Geisert

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The piglet in this book is scared to go to sleep when the lights are off, but his parents tell him his bedroom light has to be off by 8pm. His parents say, “If you can figure something out—go ahead.” And so the piglet does. He creates a Rube Goldberg inspired machine that begins in his bedroom, goes up to the attic and onto the roof, hurdles into the backyard, rolls into the basement, and finally back up to the attic where a cord is pulled, which turns off the light on the bed stand next to the sleeping pig.

The book is almost completely wordless, with just a few sentences to provide context on the first page. The rest of the book is devoted to the workings of the piglet’s ingenious machine that uses household objects – scissors, dominoes, a baseball bat, a tricycle, a broom – to achieve the seemingly simple task of turning off the lights. The etched illustrations are detailed and make great use of light and shadow. Geisert uses wide shots and close ups to illustrate how the pieces and parts of the machine interact with one another. The last two page spread shows a cross section of the house and yard and small circular numbered thumbnails of each moving part of the machine.

Pair this book with So You Want to Be an Inventor? for a storytime about inventing. You could also read one of Geisert’s other books that feature mechanical inventions, such as Hogwash, Oops, or The Giant Ball of String. When you read this book out loud have the audience help you describe the movements of the machine. Ask them to guess what will happen (cause and effect) on the next page. 
Divide kids into groups of 3 or 4 and have them design and build their own Rube Goldberg-like machines. You can choose a task to accomplish, such as pouring a cup of water or turning off a light, or let kids come up with their own ideas. For elementary school aged students ask them to have at least 2 steps to their design. The older the kids/teens, the more steps and more elaborate the machine. Bring in a variety of building materials. Try items such as wood or metal slats for ramps, tubing, ball bearings or marbles, balls, cups, string, rope, springs, rubber bands, kitchen utensils, etc. Give each team a designated area to build their machine, such as a taped off part of the room, a table, or for younger kids, a shallow cardboard box, which keeps items from rolling away. Have each group write out a step-by-step description of their machine.

For more ideas, read about the machines invented by kid watchers of the PBS Kids show, Zoom, the Rube Goldberg lesson plan from Teach Engineering (6-8 grade) or the teaching guide (5-8 grade) from the PBS TV show, Scientific American Frontiers.

For more information on Geisert’s etching technique, read the 3rd and 4th paragraph of Patricia Newman’s article. You can also follow up with a reading of The Etcher’s Studio, also by Geisert, which shows the process of creating etchings through the story of a young boy helping his grandfather in his studio.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book #327: Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan, Illustrated by Brian Floca

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This illustrated non-fiction book tells the story of the creation of Appalachian Spring, one of the most well-known American modern dance ballets, which was a collaboration between dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and artist/scenic designer Isamu Noguchi. The book follows the ballet from a story developed by Graham through the rehearsal process to the opening night performance on October 30, 1944. “But the life of Appalachian Spring goes on after the great night / to become an American favorite, / to be danced year after year.”

The text of this American Library Association Notable Children’s Book is descriptive, yet lyrical. Much like Graham’s dancing it is simple and direct, yet layered with contextual and atmospheric information. The length and complexity of this illustrated book make it suitable for upper elementary through high school students. A few pages are spent on each of the collaborators, however as the title suggests, all interactions are focused around Graham. The detailed watercolor and ink illustrations depict realistic scenes. The dancers’ bodies are anatomically correct and the movements are specific evoking Graham’s unique style of dance. Several pages are devoted to a detailed, linear description of the ballet itself. Floca uses a combination of small images that convey sequences of movement, as well as larger images that plant the dancers in the context of Noguchi’s minimalist set. The text is careful to describe the movement and present possible ideas, but it does not limit the reader to one interpretation of the ballet. The back matter includes biographical information about the three collaborators, extensive and detailed notes and sources, and a black and white photograph of the original production of the ballet.

Read this book before attending a performance of Appalachian Spring or watching the videos of a 1959 performance of the ballet. This is also a good book to read to prepare students for reading Russell Freedman’s biography, Martha Graham: A Dancer’s Life.

The Virginia Arts Festival and Martha Graham Dance Company put together resources for student lessons based on several of Graham’s dance pieces. This festival featured a part of the Appalachian Spring ballet, so look for references to ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple in this document. I especially like the sections that provide more information on Graham and her dance technique. Check out page 8 to learn about some of the key principles of her technique and page 9, which discusses specific Graham movements. Many of these movements can be seen in the illustrations for Ballet for Martha. For instance, Floca illustrates a single dancer contracting and releasing on page 9 and a dancer in the middle of a cave turn on page 8.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a great reader’s guide, which features many discussion questions, as well as a list of vocabulary words featured in the book.

Pair this book with Dance by Bill T. Jones and Susan Kuklin for a unit on modern dance. Graham’s technique has greatly influenced other modern dancers and choreographers. Can you see any of her style in Bill T. Jones’ movements?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book #326: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

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One day a boy finds a penguin, a very sad looking penguin that follows him everywhere. The penguin doesn’t say a word, but the boy thinks he must be lost and sets out to find the penguin’s home. After asking many unresponsive birds to tell him where penguins live, the boy finds the answer in a book: the South Pole! But how to get there? He tries the harbor, but he can’t make himself heard over the loud horn of the gigantic ship. So the boy and the penguin pull out a row boat and pack it with many supplies and push it out to sea. They row for many days and nights. To pass the time the boy tells story after story and the penguin listens. They reach the South Pole and the boy and penguin say good-bye. But as the boy rows away he looks back and the penguin looked sadder than ever. And the boy realizes that the penguin wasn’t sad because he was lost! He was sad because he was lonely! The boy manages to find the penguin again and together they row home, “talking of wonderful things all the way.”

Jeffers’ spare and subtle text creates the foundation for a wonderful story about the joys friendship. The simple act of spending time and sharing stories with a friend is celebrated in this unusual bird-boy friendship. The bold and colorful watercolor illustrations are stylized and soft. The boy, with his round bald head, striped shirt, and stick-like legs, takes his mission very seriously. The compositions are eye-catching and size, shape, light, and color make the environment almost like a third character.

Use this for a storytime about getting lost and pair it with books like, Addis Berner Bear Forgets or Sheila Rae the Brave. This is also a good time to talk about what to do if you get lost. Invite a police officer to your storytime to read a story and discuss this topic. If parents attend your storytime don't forget to provide information for them as well. Look at the tips on the websites for Parents Magazine Online and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Follow up with your favorite penguin craft or try folding an origami penguin-in-a-boat out of just one sheet of paper (Scroll about halfway down the page).

There’s a lovely (but rather long at 24 minutes) 3D animated film based on the book and narrated by Jim Broadbent. I was only able to skim the video, but I think it maybe a little slow paced for youngsters, however it is beautifully rendered and the soundtrack is especially notable.

The boy and the penguin continue their adventures in Up and Down and the boy is also the protagonist of How to Catch a Star and The Way Back Home.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book #325: Monsieur Marceau by Leda Schubert, Illustrated by Gérard DuBois

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He peeks out from behind a curtain, his dark eyes twinkling from his face caked with white make-up. He can make “reality into dreams and dreams into reality.” All alone on a stage he can play tug of war, chase butterflies, transform into a fish or a bird or a tree with just the movements of his body, the expressions on this face. He is Marcel Marceau, the famous mime. But Marceau wasn’t always a mime. Born in Strasbourg, France in 1923 as Marcel Mangel, his dream of becoming a silent film star like Charlie Chaplin was crushed with the arrival of World War II. He joined the French Resistance and led hundreds of Jewish children to safety in Switzerland. So people wouldn't know he was Jewish he changed his last name to the French sounding Marceau. It wasn’t until the war ended that Marceau studied mime and created his most famous character, Bip. Marceau went on to perform around the world because, as he said, “Neither laughter nor tears are French, English, Russian, or Japanese.”

This picture book biography is a wonderful introduction to a unique performer, as well as a look at his efforts to save lives during World War II. The text, printed in large font, is beautifully worded and well-researched. All words spoken by Marceau in the text are drawn from research and are cited on the back page. There is an afterward with more detailed biographical information and a list of recommended books for further reading. Schubert also includes some beginning miming advice from Rob Mermin, the founding director of the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus. Mermin includes a short exercise that encourages the use of the senses of touch, taste, and sight to bring the imagined world to life. DuBois’ painted illustrations are wonderfully textured with visible brush strokes of thick paint. Illustrations that show Marceau performing pop out from the page in high contrast black and white with accents of blue and red. Conversely, the illustrations that depict Marceau’s real life as a child and during the war are soft edged and draw from a wider color palate that includes browns, greens, yellows, and blues.

Before or after you read this book show this video of Bip in The Lion Tamer. Watch the clip once through just to enjoy it. Then ask the kids how they knew where the lion was on the stage. Talk about how Marceau uses his eyes to follow the imaginary lion. Can you see the difference when Marceau is looking at lion and when he is looking at the audience and thanking them for the applause? How do you know what the lion is doing? Watch how Marceau reacts to the actions made by the lion. You might also show this snippet of his maskmaker sketch. For both sketches, you can also discuss the importance of music to the act. Watch them with sound and then without, what are the differences?

Use the exercise and suggestions given by Mermin and Schubert at the end of the book to get kids up and moving. Urge kids to think about all the little movements they use to accomplish even a small task like brushing their teeth or making a sandwich. Often kids will want to rush through the actions, so encourage them to slow down so that their audience can see every detail.

If you are interested in watching mime performed live or bringing a mime to your library, school, or other venue check out the Pantomime Mimes website, which includes listings for festivals and artists, as well as books, history, and news from around the world.

Check out Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s short 5 questioninterview with Schubert posted on her blog for more information on the inspiration and creation of the book.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Book #324: Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

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You’ve probably consulted his most famous book, The American Dictionary of the English Language, but have you ever stopped to think about why Noah Webster wrote his dictionary? This lively and well-researched picture book biography follows Webster’s journey to unite the country with words. Before Webster came along Americans spelled the same word in many different ways. Although it took him over twenty years of writing, researching, and editing, Webster’s efforts were not in vain. His dictionary continues to be the second most popular book ever printed (after the Bible) and whether they consult the print or online version, Americans use the book to learn, spell, and use almost every word in the English language.

You might think that the author of a dictionary might not be a fascinating subject for a picture book biography, but Ferris, known for her non-fiction books on U.S. history, disproves this statement from page one. The energetic and frequently humorous text pushes the story along at a vigorous pace. The book is structured chronologically, starting with Webster’s childhood on his father’s farm and progressing through his career and personal life to his death in 1843. Although Ferris cites years within the text, this provides context for the passing years and does not drag the story down. Most notably, Ferris defines words within the text, dictionary-style, which not only helps readers understand the story, but illustrates the importance of dictionaries. These words are divided into syllables for pronunciation, printed in bold capitals, and definitions are provided in brackets. For instance, "U-NITE [verb: make one]." Back matter includes a timeline with events in Webster’s life and U.S. history, a bibliography of websites and primary and secondary sources, and more biographical information on Webster’s personal life and his many accomplishments.

The stylized, cartoonish illustrations depict the verbally passionate Webster in period clothing with a gigantic head and a big mouth. This fits with Ferris’ description of Webster who, “always knew he was right, and he never got tired of saying so (even if, sometimes, he wasn’t). He was, he said, ‘full of CON-FI-DENCE’ [noun: belief that one is right]…” The illustrations are contained within inky borders and the text is incorporated into the compositions.

Use this book as an introduction to a lesson on how to use a dictionary for the lower elementary grades. Bring in a variety of dictionaries and have kids compare definitions for the same word. Do all the dictionaries use the same definition? If you have access to a computer children can also learn how to use an online dictionary. Have each child pick their favorite word and create a page with the definition(s), which could include an illustration. Have the children work as a group to put the words in alphabetical order and then put them together to make a dictionary of favorite words.

If you’re sharing this book with middle or high school students, try pairing it with Lemony Snicket’s 13 Words. Follow up by playing the board game, Balderdash. If you don’t have the game or don’t have the money to spend, never fear. You can create your own version by picking out lesser known words from the dictionary and writing them at the top of an index card (you will probably want to write out at least 50 words because they cannot be reused with the same players). Below write the real definition of the word. Make a scoreboard to keep track of points. The rules for playing are outlined on Wikipedia. Many thanks to BK for teaching me this game!

Other great resources include the extensive discussion and activity guide written by Debbie Gonzales and the website for the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book #323: Underground by Denise Fleming

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Underground, beneath the trees and the grass many animals are born, live, eat, and sleep. Moles dig and squirrels store food for the winter. Box turtles bury their eggs and worms make squirmy tunnels through the dirt. Although it may seem tranquil from above ground, the world beneath our feet is teaming with life!

In very sparse rhyming text, just a handful of words per page, Fleming highlights the many parts of the underground ecosystem. The two page spreads, beautifully illustrated using pulp painting with pastel pencil and copy transfer accents, show the interconnectivity of the underground world. The proximity of the animals and plants is emphasized and Fleming includes every day occurrences of the natural world, from robins eating worms to ants tending for their eggs and larvae. The illustrations are cross-sections showing a few inches of above ground at the top of the page, which provides context. There is a slight visual plot of a young boy in an orange shirt planting a bing cherry tree, however the subterranean world is the star of the story. The book finishes with two pages of creature identification which includes a sentence or two about the creatures activities underground, as well as thumbnail size close ups of each creature taken from illustrations in the book.

The extremely brief text of this book makes it a great read aloud for toddlers and babies. You can take your time reading the story by pointing out the creatures and plants in the illustrations or you can speed up your reading for restless listeners by just reading the text.

Older children will enjoy the nature and science aspects of this book. Challenge them to look at the illustrations to find all the creatures listed on the identification pages. Have each child pick a creature to research. Ask them to bring in two or three fun facts about that animal, such as what they eat, if they live underground all year long, etc.

Fleming’s paper pulp illustrations are unique. Get a sneak peek of the illustrations from this book trailer. You can also learn more about Fleming’s process in this 40 minute video (disclaimer: in a perfect world, I would have time to watch this entire video, but unfortunately I was only able to watch the first few minutes and skim the rest).

Follow up by making paper pulp crafts. If you have paper making screens (you can also make your own out of window screens, screening sandwiched between embroidery hoops or old picture frames) have kids help you make paper pulp in the blender and press it onto the screens as shown on the Happy LittleMesses blog. This is a messy craft, best done outside on a summer day. For a less messy, more controlled craft, try this tissue paper technique from Marcia Beckett’s Art is Basic blog. Whichever process you use, make sure you allow time for the pulp to dry. 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book #322: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, a Poem by Eugene Field, Illustrated by Johanna Westerman

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Beautiful starlit illustrations accompany the classic bedtime poem by the American poet and literary critic, Eugene Field (1850-1895). In Westerman’s version three children sail off on a wooden shoe over a small town and up to the old moon. They cast their nets of silver and gold to catch the herring fish that live in the sky. Then the children sail back to their bedroom and tumble into bed.

“Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes, / And Nod is a little head, / And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies / Is a wee one’s trundle bed.”

The rhyming text of this poem quietly rocks along using imaginative language to evoke a magical nighttime adventure. Although the poem was written in 1889 the vocabulary does not feel dated. This poem can be found in many children’s poetry anthologies and has been published as a standalone illustrated picture book several times. Westerman’s watercolor illustrations further the magical elements of the poem. The fair-haired, fair-skinned children sail the enormous wooden shoe through the crashing waves of the sky as though it were an ocean. The details in the illustrations are clever, such as the herring fish that dance out of the wall paper. The illustrations are framed with a blue border dotted with stars. 

This is a book my mother used to sing to my brother and me when we were young and I very much wanted to review the copy I remember. Unfortunately, that book is out of print. I promptly checked out every version available from my local library and Westerman’s illustrations won me over. 

Pair this book with others that feature nighttime adventures, such as The Maggie B., and Pajama Pirates or In the Night Kitchen.

The poem has also been put to music and recorded by many artists including Buffy Saint-Marie (who sang the song on Sesame Street), Cass Elliot and the Big Three, and this lovely choral version with music by Joseph Shank. 

I cannot find the exact version of the song my mother used to sing to me (maybe she made it up), but the closet version is the one by Lucy Simon. You might also recognize the more upbeat Dobbie Brothers version. If you’d like to accompany yourself on the guitar (or another instrument), here are the chords (no melody) for the song.

There are several dramatized version. Disney created a SillySymphonies animated version loosely based on the poem in 1938. And if your child is a Barney fan, you might recall seeing this live-action version.

If you live near Washington Park in Denver or the Green in Wellsboro, PA take a field trip to see if you can find the matching statues of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Eugene Field lived in Denver and his house has been relocated to Washington Park near the statue (715 S. Franklin St.). I’m not sure if the house is open for viewing, but it seems the outside of the house is easy to see from the street.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Book #321: Stagecoach Sal by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Carson Ellis

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“I was knee high to a grasshopper when Pa first lifted me up to the shotgun seat.”

Sal loved to help her father drive the stagecoach. As they bumped along the dusty roads Sal sang her favorite songs, which not only helped to pass the time, but also kept the passengers quiet. One day Pa couldn’t drive the mail, so Sal volunteered to drive alone all the way from Ukiah to Willits. Ma worried because the bandit, Poetic Pete, was on the loose, but Sal reminded her mother that she took first-prize in “ropin’, trick ridin’, and shootin’.” The journey was uneventful until a dapper gentleman flagged the stagecoach down. Sal knew this had to be Poetic Pete, who was so polite he would never interrupt a lady, but had still robbed hundreds of stagecoaches. Sal worried, but then came up with a plan. She invited the bandit to sit on the shotgun seat, but before he could say a word Sal began singing so Poetic Pete couldn’t get a word in anywhere. She sang through the night and into the morning. She sang until the bandit fell asleep. She sang until she delivered Poetic Pete to the Sheriff in Willits.

“And that’s the story of how I single-handedly snared the cantoing crook.”

Inspired by the true story of Delia Haskett Rawson, the first and quite possibly the only woman to deliver mail by stagecoach in the state of California, Hopkinson has created a rollicking tall tale of the Wild West. The text is written from Sal’s point of view and is frequently punctuated by her own renditions of her favorite songs. Lyrics are printed in a looser, painted looking font to differentiate it from the narrative in regular print. Ellis’ illustrations are stylized and based in a palate of dusty pinks, browns, and greens. The western setting is integral to the story and the illustrations feature the rocky terrain of Northern California. The round-faced characters are dressed in styles of the day. More information about Delia Haskett Rawson and the real bandit, Black Bart, known as the “poetic robber,” is included in an author’s note at the end of the book.

When you read the story sing out Sal’s songs loud and proud. You may want to stop on one or two songs so kids can join in for a second chorus. After you read the book teach the kids the songs featured in the book, She’ll Be Coming around the Mountain, Polly Wolly Doodle All Day, and Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me. Follow up by reading/singing Jonathan Emmett and Deborah Allwright’s picture book, She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.

To add even more music to your storytime, play all or part of the video of the All Northern California High School Honor Band playing the world premiere of Gary P. Gilroy’s Take the Ribbons, a piece commissioned by the Northern California Band Association and inspired by Delia Haskett Rawson.

Discuss the difference between a story inspired by true events and a historical account of events. Read other tall tales that feature spunky women of the Wild West, such as Thunder Rose and Dust Devil.

Share more information about the real Delia Haskett Rawson. Good kid-friendly sources include an article in the San Dimas Community News and a page on Stagecoach Etiquette written by Katy Tahja for the Keely House Museum.

Use chairs or cardboard boxes to make a stagecoach for kids to reenact the story. Please discourage “cowboy and Indian” play as this perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans. Instead encourage kids to take on roles as stagecoach drivers, passengers, sheriffs, or bandits.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book #320: The Quiet Place by Sarah Stewart, Illustrated by David Small

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It’s 1957 and young Isabel and her family move from Mexico to a new home in the Midwest. Isabel isn’t as confident in her English skills as her wonderful older brother, Chavo, so she practices her new language by writing weekly letters to her Auntie Lupita. Isabel likes her new home, but she is shy and so her family creates a quiet place out of a refrigerator box. Unfortunately the box is blown away by a big storm, but when her mother begins cooking and baking for birthday cakes Isabel is able to ask for the big boxes once the presents have been opened. She uses these boxes to create a beautifully decorated quiet place with many rooms that reminds her of Mexico. When Isabel’s mother throws a birthday party for Isabel she shares her quiet place with her new friends, “My quiet place was not quiet, but it didn’t matter.”

All the text in this beautiful book is presented in the letters from Isabel to her auntie. Isabel is a thoughtful and observant protagonist and these elements shine through her simple letters. She also loves words, collecting them as she does boxes for her quiet place. The watercolor illustrations depict a loving and understanding Mexican-American family. Isabel’s light brown skin and springy black curls set her apart from the fair haired children in her new neighborhood, however the book focuses on Isabel's internal journey, rather than external forces, such as racism or bullying. The illustrations are impressionistic with detailed characters and foreground elements and blurrier watercolor washes in the background. Several wordless pages convey Isabel’s emotions and ideas and the foldout of the children enjoying the quiet place at the birthday party is wonderfully joyful. The time period is not only denoted by the dates on the letters, but also by the clothing, hairstyles, cars, and household objects.

This book is a great read aloud for elementary school aged kids. Pair it with other books that focus on text in letters, such as The Gardener, Dear Peter Rabbit or Dear Mr. Blueberry. Provide stationary for kids to write their own letters.

Isabel asks guests to bring her their favorite word for her birthday. What word would you give Isabel and why?

If you are going to be or have recently moved, this is a great story to read and discuss. Look at the ways Isabel adapted, but also kept her love for her family and the culture of Mexico. Other books about moving or adapting to a new environment include, Sunday Chutney, Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School, and The Quilt Story.

Bring in large cardboard boxes and let kids build their own quiet place as Isabel does in the book. This is a great rainy day activity. If you want to stretch it out over many hours save back art supplies to introduce gradually so kids don’t lose interest.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book #319: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

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Most people know the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but did you know that Goldilocks made a slight detour before finding the bears’ house? That adventure took her to the enormous house of three dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway. Before Goldilocks arrived the dinosaurs made three bowls of chocolate pudding at varying temperatures, for no reason at all, and certainly not because they were imagining the delicious taste of a chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon. Not long after the dinosaurs had gone Someplace Else, which looked a lot like hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to fall into their trap, but wasn’t at all, Goldilocks barged into the Dinosaurs house. Will Goldilocks eat the gigantic bowls of chocolate pudding? Will she figure out she’s in danger before the dinosaurs come home for “chewy-bonbon-time”? Will she make it to the right story?

As usual, Willems takes the reader’s expectations, flips them up, inverts them, and brings it all together with a humorous flair and unmistakable style. Willems’ tongue-in-cheek text is witty and he knows kids, as well as adults, will be in on the joke. The dialogue makes good use of punctuation to convey the subtext of the dinosaurs’ evil plan. The absurdity of the exaggerated characters is conveyed in text and illustrations. Papa Dinosaur has a scribbley mustache and Mama Dinosaur wears a purple wig. The illustrations, outlined in thick black lines, are bright and colorful with many humorous elements. Readers familiar with Willems other books will delight in the hidden visuals, such as Pigeon hiding in the cookie jar. Make sure to check out the endpapers as well, which feature a lot of discarded ideas for Goldilocks stories, “Goldilocks and the Three Naked Mole Rats,” “Goldilocks and the Three Clams,” etc.

Read several versions of the Goldilocks and the three bears story and compare and contrast characters and outcomes. Try James Marshall’s Goldilocks and the Three Bears (a Caldecott Honor Book), Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Caralyn Buehner or Jan Brett’s Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

For a dinosaur themed storytime pair this book with titles like, Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp!, Brontorina or one of Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs…books. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray put together an Everything’s Better with Dinosaurs event kit.

Check out the humorous activities sheet also created by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. I especially like the idea of singing songs and replacing a word with “Dinosaur.” Try songs that repeat the replaced word a lot of times, such as the Kookabura Song (replace the word, “Kookabura”), My Hat it has Three Corners (“Hat”), You Are My Sunshine (“Sunshine”) or Baby Bumblebee (“Bumblebee”).