Monday, December 31, 2012

Book #366: Six Hogs on a Scooter by Eileen Spinelli, Illustrated by Scott Nash

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The Hog family is ready to go to the opera tonight. They’ve bathed and dressed in their fanciest duds, but when they get into Father Hog’s car it won’t start! Young Horace Hog has a scooter and so all six pigs jump on the tiny scooter. “Six Hogs on a scooter makes an interesting sight.” Unfortunately, they hardly move before the tires go flat. So Penelope Hog pulls out roller skates and the Hogs are soon on the road again, but it turns out that most of them can’t skate very well at all. “Six Hogs on roller skates makes an interesting sight.” The Hogs are determined to get to the opera, so they try a cart, but there’s nothing to pull it, and a hot-air balloon, but it won’t get off the ground. Finally, Grandma Hog saves the day, “Can anyone tell me why we just don’t take the bus?” However, by the time they reach the opera house the opera is over and the opera house is locked up for the night. The Hogs just don’t have the energy to canoe home, so they settle down on the bench to wait for the morning bus, “Six Hogs sleeping at a bus stop makes a very interesting sight.”

Between the repetitive refrain, “Six Hogs on a _____ makes an interesting sight,” Spinelli’s lively text describes the actions of the Hog family who are determined to hear some opera. Each family member, from Grandpa Hog to little Horace Hog, gamely suggests a mode of transportation in dialogue that is concise, yet playful. Nash’s humorous watercolor and ink illustrations are bright and cartoony. The Hogs are colorful in both senses of the word; They’re just so excited to go to the opera and their “fanciest clothes” run the gambit from a nice dress and pearls to a Viking hat and sneakers. Readers will get a good giggle from the illustrations that show the family squeezing into each vehicle. There’s something wonderfully silly about six Hogs in a hot-air balloon.

Tell this story with a flannel board to keep a visual list of all the modes of transportation mentioned in the book. After you finish the book have the kids help you “remember” all of them. Pair this book with other “how will we get there?” stories, such as The Rattletrap Car, To the Beach, or How Will We Get to the Beach?

If you are reading this book to elementary school aged kids use the format of this book to tell your own “how will we get there?” story. Pick some characters (you can use the Hog family, fairy tale characters, or simply some names you like) and pick a starting and ending location (the forest, the ball, the castle, the ice cream shop, home, etc.). Take turns telling about the next mode of transportation the characters use. You could have each kid write and illustrate a page of the story and put the pages together into one book. Discuss as a group the conclusion of the story. Will the characters make it to their destination?

You could also use this for a storytime about pigs. Try pairing it with books like Piggies in a Polka, Pigsty or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (or any version of the 3 pigs story).


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book #365: Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

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This eloquent wordless book focuses on the friendship between a young Southern farm girl and a runaway slave hidden in the family’s corn crib. No words are spoken between the two friends, but the girl leaves a checkered napkin each night with a bit of food. Although the Civil War is raging, Confederate soldiers abound, and men come in search of the slave, the girl and her family say not a word. Eventually the runaway slave leaves, but he or she leaves behind a small doll fashioned from a checkered napkin. This book shows that unspoken words can be just as powerful as those shouted from the roof tops.

Completely rendered in pencil on thick tan paper, Cole’s illustrations are full of emotion. The story is told from the young girl’s perspective and her fear heightens the suspense and danger of hiding a fugitive slave. The detail in the beautiful two page spreads is impressive. Small elements – the grain of the wooden door, the fold of the checkered napkin – bring life on a farm during the American Civil War to life. Cole deftly defines dark from light, day from night with amazingly precise shading and hatching. The overall effect is stunning. The book concludes with an author’s note about the historical events that inspired this book.

Use this book as part of a history lesson on slavery in the US and/or the American Civil War. When you read the book point out elements that ground the story in the historical setting, such as the Confederate flag carried by the soldiers, the wanted poster, and the lanterns. There aren’t any men or women living on the farm who look young enough to be the girl’s parents, discuss the idea that they might be soldiers, doctors/nurses, spies, etc. in the war.

If your working with independent readers, pair this book with Brian Selznick’s middle grade books, Wonderstruck or The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Selznick and Cole both use pencil to create their illustrations; how are their styles different or the same? What do you learn from the illustrations that might be hard to convey in words?  

In the author’s note Cole encourages readers to write the words for this story to make it their own, “filling in all that has been unspoken.” Encourage kids to create their own text individually or in small groups. You could also have each child write the text for one illustration and then pass it on to the next person to continue the story and so on.

Read more about Cole and the creation of this book in this Q&A from Publishers Weekly.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book #364: Piggies in a Polka by Kathi Appelt, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

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Once a year all the piggies gather for a hootenanny. In the red barn under the yellow-bellied moon the piggies dance to polka tunes. The band, complete with banjos, trumpets, and even a kazoo, is lead by Porcina, the “peachy-keen soprano.” The piggies dance all night, stomping their feet and do-si-doing. All too soon Porcina sings the last song, ending with a “Whee whee whee” as she blows kisses and sends the piggies on their way. As the piggies drive home to their nooks and crannies, they “are a-dreamin’ / of next year’s hootenanny."

Appelt’s rollicking rhyming text is full of musical merriment. The rhymes trip off the tongue with ease and incorporate a rich vocabulary of dance and music terms. Movement is woven into the text, as well as the illustrations, and the rhythm of the book sets your toes a-tapping. The illustrations, which were created with a combination of watercolors, colored pencil, and digital media, are lush. Pham uses a geometric style that creates a joyful atmosphere. The group scenes are delightful and the colorful lanterns cast a warm glow over the dancing piggies.

For a pig themed storytime, pair this with other porcine books, such as Olivia, The Three Swingin’ Pigs, Pigsty, or your favorite version of the Three Pigs story (My current favorite is The Three Little Javelinas). Follow up with some piggy rhymes and songs, such as Boogie Woogie Piggy, Five Little Piggies, I’m a Little Piggy, as well as the classic, This Little Piggy.

You could also use this book for a music or dance themed storytime. Try pairing it with titles such as Kitchen Dance, Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance, Dance (featuring Bill T. Jones), or Chicken Dance.

Discuss the different reasons people (or pigs) dance. Do you dance because your happy, sad, angry, or nervous? How would you dance differently for each of these emotions? You could play music for each of these emotions and encourage kids to demonstrate.

Play music that features the instruments mentioned in the story: banjo, trumpet, fiddle, etc. How are the sounds different or the same? Talk about the different ways musicians produce music from their instruments, using their hands, mouths, a bow, etc. 


Friday, December 28, 2012

Book #363: Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James & Joseph Bruchac, Illustrated by Jeff Newman

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This story takes place long ago when Rabbit had a long and beautiful tail. Unfortunately, Rabbit did not have patience as long as his tail. In fact, it was very short indeed. So when Rabbit wished it would snow so he could hop upon the snow and reach the tender leaves of the trees he wanted it and he wanted it right now. Even though it was summer, Rabbit still wanted snow and he knew he could make it happen. He had a special song he would sing while dancing with his drum that always brought the snow. As Rabbit ran through the forest to find his drum he chanted, “I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!” The other animals were worried, they weren't ready for winter and snow, they needed to gather more food and finish preparing. But Rabbit didn't care. With drum in hand, Rabbit began his snow song and dance:

Thump! Thump!
Thump! Thump!
“YO, YO, YO!
YO, YO, YO!”

The snow began to fall, but Rabbit wasn’t satisfied, even when it reached the bottom branches of the trees. What happened when the snow reached the tops of the trees? What happened when the summer sun came out and melted the snow? Most important of all, how did Rabbit lose his long, beautiful tail?

The Bruchacs have crafted the text of this porquoi tale to be perfect for a read aloud. Rabbit’s repetitive refrain, “I want it, I want it, I want it right now!” along with his songs are entertaining and engaging. The story has a quick pace from page one and does not slow until the conclusion that explains two natural phenomenons: why rabbit’s tail is so short and why pussy willows resemble rabbit fur. Newman’s illustrations, created with watercolor, gouache, and ink are bold and colorful. Characters are created with flowing brush strokes and all the illustrations have a retro look to them. Newman skillfully uses paint spatters to mimic falling snow and blends colors to add texture. The facial expressions and body language of the characters, especially Rabbit, serve to develop the personalities of the animals, even those only featured in one illustration.

The only drawback of this book is that it does not include an author’s note citing sources. The title page calls this “a traditional Iroquois story,” but there are several tribal nations within the Iroquois and it is not stated if this book is based on a story told in one or all Iroquois nations. For source information from Joseph Bruchac and a cultural analysis of the text and illustrations, check out Debbie Reese’s post on the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog.

For a look behind the scenes, check out Newman’s sketches and storyboards for this book posted on the blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

When you read this book, invite the audience to join in on Rabbit’s songs. You might even want to teach the songs before you read the story and for adults you can write the words on a whiteboard. Get kids up and moving by having them thump their feet along with the song.

Use this book as part of a storytime about winter and/or snow. Try pairing it with other wintery titles, such as Brrr!, Extra Yarn or Over and Under the Snow.This is also a great time to discuss winter hibernation. Discuss the animals mentioned in the book. Do some of these animals hibernate? What are some of the other ways animals prepare for the cold and snow of winter?

You could also pair this with other rabbit stories, such as Creepy Carrots, Listen Buddy, A Boy and His Bunny or I Want My Hat Back.

Follow up by making some rabbit tails. If you have lots of extra yarn, make pom-pom tails. The instructions use white yarn, but I think it would be fun to make multicolored rabbit tails (and a great way to use up yarn scraps). Or you can glue some cotton balls onto a small paper plate. Either way you’ll want to attach a string on either side of the tail so kids can tie it around their waist.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book #362: Roar of a Snore by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Pierre Pratt

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The Huffle family is fast asleep in their farm house with the stars shining bright in the night sky, except Jack. He tosses and turns because he can hear a noise that rocks the floor and shakes the door. He hears a clamorous, thundering, ear-splitting snore! Jack gets out of bed and wakes up each of his family members hoping to stop the snore. Soon his entire family, from Papa Ben to Sweet Baby Sue, the dog and the Huffles twins too, have joined Jack on his hunt for the source of the snore. They continue their search into the barn, waking up the sheep, the goat, the cow, and more and finally in a stack of hay they find a tiny kitten, the culprit of the snore! But the kitten looks so hungry and lost that the Huffles decide not to disturb him and instead they settle down in the hay. Soon all the Huffles are asleep, but poor Molly Olsen down the road lies wide awake for she hears a roar of a snore!

The rhyming text of this nocturnal cumulative story is rhythmic, setting a brisk pace for the story. The text is mostly description of the sounds and movements of the people and animals on the Huffle family farm, making this a fun story to read aloud. Arnold uses repetition to great effect each time she names the Huffles who are searching. The acrylic illustrations create a stylistic world where size and shape are slightly skewed. Brush strokes and blending add texture to the nighttime world that contrasts the cool, dark colors of the night with the warm yellows and browns of the lantern lit barn. The roar of a snore is represented visually as a series of capital R’s that zig and zag around the pages.

Use this book for a pajama or bedtime storytime. Try pairing it with Pajama Pirates, Interrupting Chicken, Goodnight, Me or In the Night Kitchen. Follow up with some sleep themed songs, such as Are You Snoring?, Five Kittens in Bed, or your favorite lullaby.

The cumulative nature of this story makes it easy to read with a flannel board. Add characters as they appear in the story and point to them as they’re mentioned in the text. This makes the telling of the story longer, but more interactive.

Have kids retell the story. Assign each child a character from the book and tell them to pretend to sleep (with lots of pretend snoring) until the child playing Jack wakes them up. You may want to give them cards to wear around their neck with the name and a picture of their character. If you have a young group, it can be easier to play Jack yourself. 
Read more about the inspirational snores behind this book on Arnold’s website, but also includes suggestions for activities.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book #361: Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, Illustrated by James Marshall

Image from Scholast
The students in Miss Nelson’s class, Room 207, were misbehaving again. No matter how nicely Miss Nelson asked they won’t stop talking, they won’t do their schoolwork, they were even rude during story hour! Sweet Miss Nelson knew something had to be done. The next day at school Miss Nelson did not arrive in Room 207. The students were ecstatic, until they heard an unpleasant voice hissing down the hall. The substitute teacher had arrived. Her name was Miss Viola Swamp and her mood was as ugly as her black dress. She put the kids right to work and they knew she meant business. They had stacks of homework and story hour was canceled. As the days passed the kids realized they missed Miss Nelson! They tried to find her. They even went to the police department and talked to Detective McSmogg, but Miss Nelson was nowhere to be found. When the kids spied on Miss Nelson’s house, they were scared away when Miss Swamp came around the corner. There was nothing the kids in Room 207 could do. They might be stuck with Miss Swamp forever! But then one morning they hear a sweet voice ring out, “Hello, children.” Miss Nelson had returned! And she was happy to find her class had not only missed her, but were very well behaved too! As to the whereabouts of Miss Viola Swamp, well, that’s Miss Nelson’s secret and she’ll never tell.

This humorous tale of a teacher in disguise is told in third person narrative and snappy dialogue. The text is printed in black letters against the white page and is laid out to match up with the corresponding illustration. The illustrations are done in Marshall’s signature style. The line work is wild and the characters all sport gigantic smiles, tiny eyes, and large amounts of hair. Watercolor washes provide color and background. My favorite pages show the students contemplating what terrible thing might have happened to Miss Nelson. The story could be a moralistic story about learning to behave if it weren’t for the inside joke of Miss Nelson disguising herself as Miss Swamp. This makes the ending not only satisfying, but hilarious.

Compare the two teachers using a venn diagram, graph, or visual chart of your choice. Read other books that feature teachers, such as Iggy Peck, Architect or Chrysanthmum. How do those teachers compare to Miss Nelson and Miss Swamp? Alternatively, you can compare the kids in Room 207 before they meet Miss Swamp and after she leaves.

This story is often performed at children’s theatres. Check out the suggestions in the activity guide created by the Oklahoma Children’s Theatre. I especially like the suggestion to make help wanted posters on page 2.

This is also a great story to perform as a reader’s theater production. Try this script for seven readers. If you want to use this script for a larger group split the narrator into two and divide the lines for Kids 1-4 to create additional Kids.  

If you enjoy this book, check out the sequels, Miss Nelson is Back and Miss Nelson has a Field Day.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Book #360: Never Take a Shark to the Dentist (And Other Things Not to Do) by Judi Barrett, Illustrated by John Nickle

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In this hilarious book readers are cautioned that there are some things you just shouldn’t do, such as going shoe shopping with a centipede or holding hands with a lobster. It’s also a bad idea to sit next to a porcupine on the subway or invite an ant to a picnic. After the list of “Nevers,” the readers are left with one “Always.” “Always go shopping with a pelican.”

The book establishes a formula that builds up to the “Always” twist on the very last page. Each two page spread features one line of text on the left hand side of the page and a humorous illustration of why it’s a horrible idea on the right. The dead pan text is printed in large font against a white background. The acrylic illustrations depict animals engaging in human activities, such as shopping, watching movies, jumping rope, and going to the bank. The anthropomorphic animals also wear clothes and their facial expressions and body language help to deliver the punch line of the jokes.

Use this book with kindergarten or elementary school aged students as part of a joke/riddle themed storytime. Try pairing it with Mr.Putney’s Quacking Dog, Adam Rex’s Pssst! or Guess Again! When you read the book out loud make sure to give the kids plenty of time to get the joke and laugh before moving onto the next page.

Ask kids to think up their own “Never” tips to create a companion book. Encourage them to illustrate why it’s such a bad idea. Or each child can create their own book of tips, as suggested on Gypsy Jacquelina’s blog.

On her blog, Adventures of Room 129, Mrs. Harris uses this book to teach inference. She suggests reading the text without showing the pictures and asking the kids to use their existing knowledge of the animals and situations to figure out why it’s a bad idea. Follow up by reading Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing also written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by her husband, Ron Barrett.

Finish by crafting a humorous paper plate shark or a shark hat (scroll halfway down). Alternatively, you could pick another animal featured in the book and do a craft based on that animal.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Book #359: Potato Joe by Keith Baker

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Based on the classic, One Potato, Two Potato nursery rhyme, the potatoes in this book count themselves out from one to ten and then back down again. The potatoes are just so excited to be out of the ground! In bouncing rhyming text the spuds “ro-de-O!” and “do-si-do” with their friends, Tomato Flo and Watermelon Moe. All too soon it’s time to roll back into the garden and underground where potatoes grow.

All the rhyming text in this energetic book is spoken by the potatoes, either solo or in a rousing chorus, and presented in large speech bubbles. The font is large and the color of the text changes from bubble to bubble. Each page features only a handful of words, keeping the tempo of this book lively. Although the book lacks a plot, it doesn’t matter because the potatoes keep on celebrating and rhyming in sunshine or snow, piled high or piled low. The illustrations were created in Photoshop and feature ten smiling potatoes with lively eyes and button noses. The tone of the book is welcoming and this is reinforced by the use of soft edges and light texturing. Movement is emphasized with swirling white lines. Keep your eyes open for the small black ant that Baker has hidden in nearly all the illustrations. Other creatures can be seen in various pictures, including spiders, caterpillars, and ladybugs.

The short text and rolling rhythm of this book make it a great choice for a baby or toddler storytime. I’m a big fan of singing books and this one is such fun to sing/chant. Began or end your reading by singing your favorite version of the One Potato, Two Potato rhyme. For slightly older kids try this version that was featured on Sesame Street.

Use this book as part of a food or vegetable & fruit themed storytime and pair it with The Belly Bookok or Orange Pear Apple BearYou could also use this book for a gardens and growing themed storytime. Good books to pair include, Underground, My Garden, and Planting a Rainbow.

Follow up with some potato crafts. Make potato stamps or your own homemade Mr. Potatohead. If you’re reading this book at home head to the kitchen to make some delicious potato based foods, like mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or french fries.

If you like this book, check out Baker’s other books, especially Big Fat Hen and Hickory Dickory Dock, which are also based on nursery rhymes.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book #358: Robot Zombie Frankenstein by Annette Simon

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One robot is pretty amazing, but what happens when two amazing robots meet one another? An epic battle of robot one-upmanship! After sizing each other up one robot zips away only to return dressed as a zombie proudly proclaiming, “Robot Zombie!” The other robot mutters under his breath and quickly changes into a robot zombie Frankenstein! The competition rapidly builds until the two machines are staring each other down dressed as Robot zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chefs! Who will win the battle? Will it be a tie? What could possibly trump such gruesome and wonderful costumes?

The text of this silly book builds the urgency of the competition in simple, yet humorous dialogue between the two robots. The text is printed in big black letters, making this oversized book a great read aloud. Readers will giggle at the unexpected ending that shows the two new friends bonding over a cherry pie. (Don’t ask me why the robots want/need to eat; it works within the ridiculous framework of the story). The digital illustrations use brightly colored shapes to create the hilariously expressive robots that stand out against the crisp white page. As more dress up items are added shapes are layered on top of shapes. Simon has cleverly deconstructed the shapes that make up each robot and they are spread out on the endpapers.

This book is great fun to out loud, although you may want to practice saying “Robot zombie Frankenstein…” a few times because it can be a tongue twister. This is also a wonderful book to read with a storytime guest. The dialogue of each robot is easy to pick out on the page and evenly distributed, making it fun for two readers. 

Use this book for a robot storytime and pair it with If I Had a Robot, Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) or Boy + Bot.

This book would also be a hilarious addition to a Halloween or monster themed storytime. Try pairing it with other monstrous stories, such as The Monsters’ Monster, If You’re a Monster and You Know It, Go Away, Big Green Monster! or the classic, There’s a Monster at the End of this Book.

Finally, this book is a fun introduction or snappy wrap up to a storytime about shapes. Good titles to pair include, My Heart is a Like a Zoo, Go Away, Big Green Monster!, Round is a Pancake or Boat Works.

Follow up by creating your own robot zombie Frankensteins, like Stephanie Petersen’s children did. To make this craft easier/faster provide precut paper shapes. You could use foam shapes instead of paper. Also, check out the printables in the fun kit provided by the author.

Read more about the inspiration and creation of this book in Tara Lazar’s interview with Simon and an interview conducted by Mr. Schu. For a taste of the illustrations and humorous tone of the book, check out this short book trailer.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book #357: Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo by Kevin Waldron

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One morning at approximately 9am Mr. Peek put on his favorite jacket to do his zookeeper rounds. But he noticed the jacket was too tight, so tight that one of the buttons popped off! This puts in Mr. Peek in a horrible mood as he walks about the zoo checking on each of the animals. He berates himself for eating bad food, not fitting into his jacket, sweating, becoming old and wrinkled, and many more complaints. Unfortunately, the zoo animals think he is scolding them and this puts them in a horrible mood as well! The elephants are distraught thinking about their wrinkles and the penguins are worried about the bad food they supposedly ate for breakfast. But then Mr. Peek turns a corner and meets his mischievous son, Jimmy, who is wearing a very large zookeeper jacket, “You have MY jacket on, Dad!” Mr. Peek is very relieved. He skips as he does his afternoon rounds, complimenting himself and the animals as well. He is glad to see the animals looked happier too, they seemed a bit glum during morning rounds. All is well until Mr. Peek realizes his keys are missing…

The humorous text of this story is printed in easily readable, but chaotic fonts that convey the jumbled state of Mr. Peek’s mind. Waldron uses size to emphasize important words. Dialogue in quotation marks tends to swirl and weave through the pages, while descriptions remain (mostly) stationary. The illustrations, created with digital media, are stylized and modern. Waldron’s use of color, exaggeration, and shading create a graphic design atmosphere. Mr. Peek’s absurd assumptions are supported by his slightly exaggerated, ridiculous appearance; His angled mustache sticks out below a gigantic nose and his belly juts out over impossibly long, skinny legs. Waldron has cleverly hidden the source of all the mischief, young Jimmy, in nearly all the illustrations. Don’t miss the endpapers, which feature a beautifully designed map of the Peek Zoo.

Use this book to start a discussion on assumptions, gossip, or jumping to conclusions. You could also discuss the power of words and how they can have an impact on others even if you didn’t mean them too. Finally, this is a great book to read if your child has a bad start to a day. Sometimes you just need something to turn your day around.

Books about zookeepers have been quite popular recently. Try pairing this book with A Sick Day for Amos McGee or Where’s Walrus? Follow up with some rhymes or songs about zookeepers and zoo animals, such as The Animals in the Zoo (Tune: The Wheels on the Bus) or Zoo Animals (Tune: If You’re Happy and You Know It).

Craft a zookeeper with a brown paper lunch bag and some paper shapes. I wasn’t able to view the instructions for this craft, as you have to be a subscriber to the site, but judging by the picture you would want to pre-cut hats, arms/hands, heads, overalls, etc. and add goggly eyes. Make the craft faster/easier by gluing sections, such as hands to arms and hats to heads. To make the zookeeper look more like Mr. Peek omit the overalls and instead draw a vertical line to create the legs of his green pants. Add a white oval for his shirt and either draw or glue on his black tie. Draw or glue six buttons to the front of his jacket, as illustrated in the book.

This is Walden’s first book. Read more about him in this brief Q&A posted by Walker Books. If you like Mr. Peek and his son, keep your eyes peeled for the soon to be released sequel, Pandamonium at Peek Zoo


Friday, December 21, 2012

Book #356: Listen Buddy by Helen Lester, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

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Buddy was a rabbit with great big ears. His father had a beautiful big nose and a wonderful sense of smell. His mother had beautiful big teeth and could chomp carrots with the best of them. Unfortunately, Buddy’s beautiful big ears did not make him a good listener. Buddy got very distracted and so he just didn’t listen. His parents asked him to bring some squash home from the market; he brought a basket of wash instead. When they sent him for tomatoes, he came home with potatoes. His parents tried everything, talking louder, softer, standing right in front of him, but nothing seemed to work. One day Buddy’s parents gave him permission for his first long hop alone. He was so excited he didn’t listen to their warning, “At the end of the road, there are two paths. The path to the left will lead you around the pond and back home. But the path to the right will lead you to the cave of the Scruffy Varmint.” At the end of the road Buddy hopped right. Right into the Scruffy Varmint! Will Buddy survive his encounter with the snarling, mangy Scruffy Varmint or will he be made into bunnyrabbit soup?

The message of this rollicking tale is that listening is important. Lester’s text is a mixture of snappy dialogue and fast-paced narrative, which keeps this book from sounding teachy-preachy. The characters are depicted humorously in the text and illustrations and the exaggerated results of Buddy's lack of listening will elicit many a giggle. Munsinger’s illustrations are brightly colored and pen and ink lines provide definition and detail. The anthropomorphic animals are dressed in solid colors and much is conveyed with facial expressions and body language. For all his faults, Buddy is an endearing protagonist and Munsinger never misses an opportunity to incorporate Buddy’s big ears into her compositions.

Use this book for a storytime about ears, the five senses, or the importance of listening. Try pairing it with books, such as The Talking Eggs, Interrupting Chicken, Before John was a Jazz Giant, or the wonderful (but sadly out of print) The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head.

This is also a fun addition to a “bunnyrabbit” themed storytime (as the Scruffy Varmint would call it). Try pairing it with other rabbity tales, such as Creepy Carrots, I Want My Hat Back, A Boy and His Bunny or Goodnight Moon. Follow up with rhymes and songs about rabbits, like Little Peter Rabbit (to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) and Look at All the Bunnies. Finish by crafting some beautiful big ears.

Practice listening skills by playing Simon Says, which you could rename Buddy Says. Tie the game into the story by asking kids to do things like hop like a bunny, twitch your ears (use your hands as ears), wiggle your nose, pretend to eat a carrot, etc. Telephone is another fun game to play after reading this book. If you have a large number of kids, split into smaller groups of 10 or less there's less time to get restless waiting for a turn. It’s easiest to control the content of the messages if you are the one to start each round. Try using sentences from children’s books, songs, or nursery rhymes.

I’m a big fan of reader’s theater and was happy to find a script for this book for 10 readers adapted by Jill Jauquet.

If you like the this book, check out my reviews for Tacky the Penguin and A Porcupine Named Fluffy. Both books are written by Lester and illustrated by Munsinger.

Thanks to Corinne for bringing this book to my attention!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book #355: A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & The Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by Ed Young

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Highly adaptable animal survivors are the focus of the 14 poems in this illustrated collection. Each poem highlights a specific animal, the seemingly inhospitable habitat they live in, and the unique ways they have adapted to their harsh homes. From penguins that live in warm weather to monkeys that huddle in the snow, from blind albino cave fish to vibrant pink flamingos who feed in salt flats, the poems in this book will have readers eager to learn more about the animals that live in the world’s most dangerous habitats.

Singer’s poems cleverly incorporate science while also conveying her amazement and respect for these animals. Poems are written from a third person perspective and Singer’s words evoke the hot, cold, arid, wet, of these hazardous locales. The preface discusses the possible reasons an animal might move to a harsh environment. A note about poetry forms is included in the back of the book, explaing that most of the poems use free verse or a regular rhyme scheme without set rules. Singer also denotes which poems were written using formalized structures, such as triolets, haikus, cinquains, and terza rimas. The endnotes include a solid paragraph on each animal, their scientific name(s), and more about their adaptation to their habitat (although it would be nice to have a list of sources or recommended further reading). Young’s earthy collage illustrations use a variety of materials (many papers, cardboard, shiny plastic, woven mats, etc.) to create layered compositions. Some illustrations show the animals close up and larger than life, such as the big-eyed petroleum flies, while others show more of the animals environment, such as the snow monkeys and the urban foxes.

Singer uses a rich vocabulary to describe the animals and their homes, making this book ideal for elementary school aged kids. It maybe helpful to define words, such as “carrion,” “altitude,” “nutrients,” and “adaptation,” before reading poems. You can also read the poem once through for enjoyment, define words, and then read it a second time.

Singer does not shy away from depicting adaptations that some might consider gross, such as the fact that flies can be born in water, soil, oil, or carrion. However, all “disgusting” elements are rooted in fact and there’s something attractive about grossness, especially for young boys.

Bring in photographs of the animals, as well as their habitats, to show to kids. Spread out a map and find the areas that the animals live in. Bring in non-fiction books about harsh locations and their inhabitants. Encourage children to pick an animal and write a poem about the environmental challenges and how the animal has adapted.

Use individual poems from this book as part of a storytime on a certain animal to widen your audiences’ perception of where that animal lives, what it eats, etc. For instance, if you have an under the sea theme, read the poem about blind cave fish, “Out of Sight,” or “Down in the Depths” about the tube worms that live near deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

Read the poem “City Living” about foxes who have adapted to living in cities and the perils they face. Ask children for examples of other animals that have adapted to city living, such as raccoons and pigeons. What other animals can you find in your city? Have kids keep a log of all the animals they see during a day or a week. Tell them to write a description of the animal if they aren’t sure what it’s called. Compare logs at the end of the day/week. Use the information to make charts or graphs. You can also have children keep notes on the location they saw the animal and then plot the points on a map. Maybe many children saw the same animal in the same location.

One of the reasons that animals adapted to these dangerous habitats is that more temperate climates, although more comfortable and home to more food sources, are also challenging because there are many predators and fierce competition for food. Talk about predators and read the poem “Top of the World,” about goats that have adapted to live high in the mountains to be safe, “living where enemies cannot intrude / it succeeds indeed at this altitude.” Follow up by reading all or some of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book #354: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, Illustrated by David Small

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Elliot was a very proper young man always impeccably dressed, formal, and polite. So Elliot wasn’t particularly thrilled when his father suggested they go to Family Fun Day at the aquarium; too many noisy kids! But Elliot was too polite to say that. Instead he said, “Of course. Thank you for inviting me.” At the aquarium Elliot explored while his father sat and read a magazine. That’s how Elliot found the Magellanic penguins. He liked their proper posture and precise black and white markings. So Elliot asked his father if he could have a penguin. His father said yes and handed him a twenty dollar bill while gazing at an advertisement for plush penguins. Elliot found the smallest penguin, named him Magellan, and popped him into his little red backpack. At home Elliot set about making Magellan comfortable, making him anchovy pizzas and running him an ice cold bath for swimming. Elliot tells his father he needs to go to the library to do some research on Magellan. His father thinks that’s a wonderful idea, “When I was in third grade, I got Captain Cook.” Elliot’s father discovers the penguin in the bathtub, but the story ends with a humorous twist as Elliot shoots readers a knowing glance as Captain Cook, Elliot’s father’s Galapagos tortoise, sniffs the water.

The text of this humorous book is split between the amusing narrative and dry, tongue-in-cheek dialogue between Elliot and his seemingly oblivious father. Dialogue is printed in line with the rest of the text, but is cleverly encapsulated in speech bubbles. This ties the text and illustrations together neatly. Small’s hand drawn illustrations that use pen and ink, ink wash, watercolor, and color pencil are based in crisp black and white, with accents of icy blue, vibrant red, and a tortoise-y plaid. Small incorporates many details that foreshadow Elliot’s father’s hilarious revelation at the conclusion of the book. For instance, Elliot’s father wears pajamas with tortoises and can be seen studying maps of the Galapagos. The facial expressions and body language of the characters are superb; they not only serve to play up the humor of the situations, but also bring the reader into the story more fully.

Pull out your favorite penguin picture books and have a penguin themed storytime. My current favorites are Tacky the Penguin, Lost and Found, and Turtle’s Penguin Day.

Bring in photographs of and facts about real Magellanic penguins. Good online resources include the websites for the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Penguin Project, and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

This book will be funnier to kids who have some knowledge of Frederick Magellan and Captain Cook, so this could be a fun snappy wrap up to a unit about explorers. Other picture books about exploring include The Adventures of Polo, the non-fiction So You Want to Be an Explorer?, and the imaginative Crazy Hair.

Buzzeo’s website features some great extras including a reader’s theater script with parts for 7 or more readers, an activity kit with printables, and a curriculum guide.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book #353: Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life by Jerdine Nolen, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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Hewitt Anderson lived in an enormous house with his parents who believed big things were best. Everything about J. Carver Worthington Anderson and his wife was big, which made sense because they were giants. Unfortunately, Hewitt was not a giant. In fact, he was so small he could sit in the palm of his father’s hand or on the brim of his mother’s hat and there was still plenty of room. Although the family was very happy, full of love, laughter, and song, Hewitt’s parents worried about their son’s survival in the big, wide world. So they start giving him survival lessons. They try to teach Hewitt to swim and climb beanstalks, but something always went wrong and Hewitt had to save his parents with his quick thinking and small stature. After Hewitt helped his parents and the family doctor, Dr. Gargantuan, escape from a locked room by crawling into the lock and pushing the gears to open the door, the Andersons realized that Hewitt knew how to live among big things. Not in spite of his size, but because of it. “For his parents realized that big or small, either is best of all!

Inspired by the classic folktale, Jack and the Beanstalk, this original story is a tall tale full of big descriptions and musicality. Nolen’s words are carefully constructed for reading aloud. As befits a tall tale, the telling of each incident is exaggerated. This heightens the urgency of the story, pushing the pace and tying the small episodes together. Nelson’s oil illustrations use perspective and angles to further emphasize the largeness of Mama and Papa and the smallness of Hewitt. The four characters in the book are African-American and the clothing and hairstyles place the story sometime in the late 1800’s. The illustrations and the text both demonstrate the love in the Anderson family. This is especially evident in the illustrations that show Mama, singing “resounding, resplendent melodies,” and Papa with his “deep baritone,” serenading Hewitt until he falls asleep in the palm of his father’s hand.

Before reading this book, read one or more versions of the Jack and the Beanstalk story. Try Steven Kellogg’s humorously illustrated Jack and the Beanstalk, Colin Stimpson’s Jack and the Baked Beanstalk (set in a diner), or E. Nesbit’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Independent readers might enjoy the graphic novel version retold by Blake A. Hoena and illustrated by Ricardo Tercio. Compare the giants in the different retellings of Jack and the Beanstalk to the Andersons.

In this story Hewitt and his father climb a beanstalk, ask kids if they think it’s the same beanstalk that Jack climbed. Is it a new one? How did it get there? Nelson mentions in the text that Hewitt’s great-great-great-grandmother Ida moved to the valley after “that business with the beanstalk.” Make a family tree to show the generations between Ida and Hewitt.

Follow up by making some growing newspaper beanstalks. For very young kids, you can make the beanstalks before storytime, show the kids how to make them “grow,” and encourage them to decorate them with markers, paint, or stickers. Preschoolers and older will be delighted to learn to make their own beanstalks, something they will want to make and show off to their friends.

There are a number of musical terms used in this story, including “aria,” “serenade,” “operatic,” and “harmonies.” Define these words before, during, or after your reading.

Learn about synonyms by finding all the words that mean "big" in the text of this story. You could read the book once for enjoyment and then a second time asking kids to stop you when they hear a synonym. Make a list of synonyms from the text and use thesauruses to add to the list. You can do the same with synonyms for "small" in this story. Other stories that reinforce this lesson include “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” and The Duchess of Whimsy.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Book #352: Rhino’s Great Big Itch! by Natalie Chivers

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Rhino has an itch, a very big itch. It’s inside his ear and even after he twists and turns, wriggles and rolls, the itch was still there. Bird took one look at Rhino and said, “All you need is a little help.” Rhino could see Bird was right, so he set off to find some help.  He asked several animals, but for one reason or another each animal couldn’t help him. Frog was too slimy, Monkey was too silly, and Lizard was too prickly. Nothing worked and the big itch was still there. Rhino didn’t know what to do, but Bird piped up again, “I can help!” Rhino wasn’t too sure, this is a very big itch and Bird is very small. But Bird knew just what to do and with “a hop…and a skip…and a little peck…the itch was gone!”

The brief text of this simple story about opposites and size is full of words that roll about the tongue pleasingly and encourage movement for both the reader and the listener. The book and the printed text, like Rhino’s itch, is big making this a good book to share with a group of babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. The painted illustrations use a pale color palate and Chivers’ blending of colors adds subtle detail. The grain of the canvas is visible in the illustrations, which adds texture and complexity without cluttering the clean compositions. The animals are stylistically rendered, yet they are realistic enough to be easily identifiable.

Use this book for a storytime about rhinos. Try pairing it with other stories that feature rhinos, such as Hippo! No, Rhino! or A Porcupine Named Fluffy.

This is also a nice addition to a storytime about opposites. Other books that address the differences between big and small include, Guinea Pigs Far and Near and The Little Little Girl with the Big Voice. Include some non-fiction titles in your storytime by reading all or part of Actual Size or Big & Little, both by Steve Jenkins. Follow up by singing your favorite songs or rhymes in great, big, loud voices and then small, soft, quiet voices. 

You can also use this book with kindergarten or elementary aged kids as an introduction to symbiotic relationships in the animal world. I’ve found references to black and white rhinos having symbiotic relationships with cattle egrets and tickbirds or oxpeckers. Ask kids what might cause Rhino’s itch and how Bird might be helpful, beyond just scratching the itch. Follow up by sharing non-fiction books about symbiosis, such as How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships or Weird Friends: Unlikely Allies in the Animal Kingdom.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Book #351: Time Train by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by Claire Ewart

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Miss Pym’s class is going on a field trip to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah for spring vacation. At the train station in New York City Miss Pym buys 8 tickets from the ticket seller, who tells them if they really want to learn about dinosaurs, they should take the Rocky Mountain Unlimited at gate 44A. By the time the train passes through Pittsburgh the class knows they are in for an unusual field trip. Instead of skyscrapers and cars, the streets of the city are full of horse-drawn carts, men in top hats, and women in long dresses! As the train chugs west it also travels back in time. That evening they see mammoths on the snowy plains and in the morning the hot weather brings in bugs bigger than Miss Pym! The train drops the class off in Utah and soon they see their first dinosaur! After several wonderful days playing with the dinosaurs the Rocky Mountain Unlimited returns to take the frazzled Miss Pym and her class back to New York.

Fleischman’s dead pan delivery makes for a magical and humorous time adventure. The text briefly describes the scenes that the train passes or that the children encounter in their play with the dinosaurs, but it is the illustrations that deliver the punch line to each carefully crafted joke. Ewart’s painted illustrations are colorful and lush with lots of funny details. The mostly unnamed students represent a variety of skin and hair colors and all of them approach this unexpected journey with curiosity and enthusiasm. Poor Miss Pym never quite relaxes on the field trip and her distraught actions are deliciously funny.

Use this book for a storytime about dinosaurs for kindergarten or elementary school students. Try pairing it with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs or Dinotrux. You’ll want to have non-fiction books about dinosaurs and other prehistoric flora and fauna for kids to browse and check out.

Pair this book with other stories about time travel, such as The Secret Box, Charlie and Kiwi: An Evolutionary Adventure or Dinosaur Dream. Ask kids to talk or write about a place they would want to travel to in a different time. Where and why?

Bring out a map of the U.S. and figure out a possible route for the Rocky Mountain Unlimited. Make a timeline that charts the journey through time as well as space. Using your timeline guesstimate what the children might see out their window in other states or major cities. If you live close to a train station, pick up some travel brochures and train schedules. Have kids create a brochure advertising the wonders of riding on the Rocky Mountain Unlimited, as well as a train schedule to go along with it. You can also have kids create a menu for the dining car.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book #350: Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by David Small

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Elsie has always lived in Boston. She knows the sounds of the streets and the rhymes the kids sing as they play on the corner. Best of all, she knows the birds that sing in the trees: cardinals, chickadees, robins, wrens. She listens to their songs and sings them back. But then Elsie’s mother dies and her Papa decides it’s time to move far away from Boston. Papa, Elsie, and Elsie’s pet canary, Timmy Tune, board the train that takes them farther and farther away from everything Elsie knows to the sod house on their new farm in Nebraska. There is music in the wind that whistles through the grass, but Elsie is too heartbroken to hear it until the day Timmy escapes from his cage. Elsie has never explored the tall grasses, but she’ll do anything to find her best friend. She sings Timmy’s favorite song and soon he has landed on her shoulder to sing with her. And then it happens. Elsie hears the voices of the plains, the wind rippling in the grass, the cries of a blackbird, “Koo-a-lee.” And she sings back to the voices songs from Boston, skip-rope songs, sea shanties, and hymns from church.

Yolen’s beautifully worded text brings to life the two environments that deeply affect Elsie’s life. Lines of hymns, jump-romp rhymes, and children’s songs are woven into the text emphasizing Elsie’s love of music. Through text and illustrations Elsie’s carefree happiness in Boston is contrasted with her despondency and isolation in Nebraska. Small’s illustrations consume the entire page with loose line work and watercolor washes. Black ink in varying thicknesses is used to outline elements providing definition and contrast. Small uses just enough detail to bring the historical setting (I’m guessing around the late 1800’s) to life, but not so much that the illustrations are cluttered.

Pair this story with other books about moving and adapting to a new home, such as The Quiet Place or The Gardener (coincidentally, both were illustrated by Small). Follow up with poems about traveling from Come with Me: Poems for a Journey.

Bring in non-fiction books about birds and learn more about birds found in Nebraska and Boston. Are there any that can be found in both locations? eNature provides audio files for hundreds of bird calls. Listen to them. Can you imitate the calls? Birds use different sounds to communicate, to call one another or to sound an alarm. The Exploratorium has an interactive online game that allows kids to listen to three different sounds from the same type of bird: song, call, and alarm. Talk about how humans use different sounds to communicate different emotions. Check out Project Beak, a website for kids devoted to birds that live in Nebraska. The website also includes teacher resources.

Check out Yolen’s website for insight into the creation of this book.