Sunday, August 30, 2015

Best Picture Books for the New School Year!

Oh my goodness, if teachers haven't spent enough already on glue sticks and bulletin board border and what-not...but one of the great pleasures of the plundering of the pedagogue's paycheck is the building of one's own special classroom collection.  Here are a baker's half-dozen of primary picture book titles that I would hazard to suggest are useful and lovely enough to be considered must-haves of the season.  Treat yourself, or if you're a parent, treat a teacher...and know that the children are being treated as well!

Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye (Nosy Crow).  Any child will relate to the feeling of shyness on the first day in a new classroom. But don't worry...Miss Moon will help the little mouse find friends, and any child who hears this story will be reassured that his or her classroom teacher will do the same! The nocturnal school setting suggests a certain autumnal spookiness that matches well with the timidity of our hero, and the witchy teacher is simply charming.  I personally can't wait to share it with primary students during our first week together!

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle (Random House)  I know, I know, another "there was an old woman" formulaic cumulative tale chestnut, but really, this one is very good.  Exciting, bold and funny illustrations and clever rhymes combine with the appealing Medieval setting to make this a favorite read-aloud.

Troll and the Oliver by Adam Stower (Templar Books)  Every day around lunchtime, Troll tries to eat the Oliver, but to no avail.  With the catchiest refrain since The Gingerbread Man and a great surprise ending, this book is sure to inspire predictions, choral speaking and a lot of laughs.

The Grasshopper and the Ants by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)  Can't have too many classics, and the beauty of this version of this Aesop's fable by a multiple Caldecott-winning watercolor artist will make you gasp aloud.  You should get it just as a present to yourself, though it's bound to prove as useful and cheerful as a song in the long, cold winter months.

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Tundra Books)  A story stand instead of a lemonade stand?  What an inspired idea!  Read how Rufus satisfies his customers, gets paid in an alternative economy and set up your own Story Stand in a writing center.

Use Your Imagination by Nicola O'Byrne (Nosy Crow)  Speaking of story, a rabbit who happens to be a librarian helps a hungry wolf create a narrative with an ending that keeps him from being the end.  Meta marvelousness with discussion of action and setting.

Fowl Play by Travis Nichols (Chronicle)  One of the trickiest parts of learning a new language is learning the idiomatic expressions, and this book is chock full of them, in the context of discovering who broke Mr. Hound's store window.  Mystery of helping ESL students solved!

Also check out:

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann (Candlewick); Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes (Candlewick); Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs by Raphael Barbanegre (Tundra Books); The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye Books).

And where is all the nonfiction, you may ask?  Stay tuned for best books for the new school year part II!  In the meantime, please share your favorites in the comments below and how you use them in the classroom!

Links for informational purposes.  Please support your local independent bookseller!  

Saturday, January 31, 2015

PLANETESME PICKS: Best Picture Books and Nonfiction of 2014

What makes a book great?  I created this list with a teacher/school librarian's eye.  These are books that are fun to share with a group;  books that children love and make children cheer;  books that connect to the wider world, and springboard us into further classroom connections or themes; books that promote empathy, history, imagination and arts appreciation; books that are exemplary in their beauty and expand what a book can be.  I create these lists with the belief that children's literature is our best hope for equalizing education in America, and recognizing also, in America, we are short on funds in homes and schools.  And so I recommend these titles that I share with my own, knowing the children will be the better for encountering them, and that in combination with best books from other years culminate in well-rounded learning through reading.  Links for information, please support your local independent bookseller!

Best picture books of 2014:

Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagen White (Tundra Books)
Aviary Wonders, Inc.:  Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth (Clarion)
Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Eerdmans)
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle)
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)
Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Green is a Chile Pepper:  A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle) 
I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy (Beach Lane)
A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion Books)
The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Brook)
The Orchestra Pit by Johanna Wright (Roaring Brook)
Peanut Butter and Cupcake by Terry Border (Philomel)
A Perfect Place for Ted by Leila Rudge (Candlewick)
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (Scholastic)
Rooting for You! by Susan Hood, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Disney-Hyperion)
The Scarecrow's Wedding by Julia Donaldson, illusrtated by Alex Scheffler (Arthur Levine Books)
The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose (Little, Brown)
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton  (Candlewick)
Wazdot?  by Michael Slack (Disney-Hyperion)

Other great picture books of 2014:  My Teacher is a Monster! by Peter Brown (Little, Brown); Draw! by Raul Colon (Simon & Schuster); Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui (Candlewick); Noodle Magic by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So (Orchard); I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by David Slonim (Arthur Levine); Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider (Clarion);  The Dandelion's Tale by Kevin Sheehan, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey; The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane);  The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (Holt); Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty; Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow):  Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Clarion); The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (Dial); Never Say a Mean Word Again:  A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard (Wisdom Tales); Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton (Candlewick);   The Odd One Out:  A Spotting Book by Britta Teckentrup (Big Picture Press).

Best nonfiction of 2014:

Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum)
Ballerina Dreams:  From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Random House)
The Cosmo-Biography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka (Candlewick)
Firefly July:  A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet  (Candlewick)
Food Trucks!  by Mark Todd (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Gingerbread for Liberty!  How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Girl from the Tar Paper School:   Barbara Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield (Abrams)
Ivan:  The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Clarion)
Josephine:  The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)
Malala:  A Brave Girl from Pakistan/ Iqbal:  A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane)
Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book by Carolyn Meyer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
On the Wing by David Elliot, illustrated by Becca Standtlander (Candlewick)
The Right Word:  Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)
Some Bugs by Angelina DeTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Beach Lane)
Tiny Creatures:  The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Candlewick)
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 0544252306/planetecom-20

Other great nonfiction of 2014:  The Pilot and the Little Prince:  the Life of Antoine de Saint Éxupery by Peter Sis (Farrar Straus Giroux); Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams);  Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher (Beach Lane);  Leontyne Price:  Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon (Knopf);   Lend a Hand:  Poems About Giving by John Frank, illustrated by London Ladd (Lee & Low)Everything is a Poem:  The Best of J. Patrick Lewis by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli (Creative Editions); The Case for Loving:  The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Aiko, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Arthur Levine Books);  Star Stuff:  Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson (Roaring Brook); Buried Sunlight:  How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (Scholastic); The Iridescence of Birds:  A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook);Handle with Care:  An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns, photos by Ellen Harasimowicz (Millbrook); Feathers:  Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen (Charlesbridge); Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook).  

Best chapter books for young readers coming soon! 

What did I miss?  Please share your favorites of the past year in the comments below! 

And if you're looking for great children's literature from past years to supplement your child's education...
Best books list 2006, click here
Best Books 2007, click here!
Best Books 2008, click here!
Best Books 2009, click here!
Best Books 2010, click here
Best Books 2011, click here!
Best Books 2012, click here!  
Best Books 2013, click here!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


My Teacher is a Monster!  (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown.  A boy with a penchant for irritating his teacher encounters her outside of school and finds her to be an entirely different creature.  Brown's pictures are funny and Ms. Kirby's illustrated metamorphosis into a human being is gradual and pretty darn great.  This book, despite it's laughs, has an unexpected depth and speaks volumes about teacher/student relationships; the only disappointment is that when Robert regresses into his bad behavior back in the classroom at the end of the book, Ms. Kirby is depicted as the monster instead of Bobby. 
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sun's a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon's a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars!  all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!
- Robert Wallace, "In the Field Forever"
What greater gift on the bookshelf than a perfect anthology of poems?  This lovely, over-sized tome of thirty six well-chosen treasures takes us through the wheel of the year with evocative and colorful full-edge mixed media. The only complaint might be wishing the "very short" ride would never end, but open it back up, and the seasons begin again.   A book that would be relished as a gift, and a lyrical read-aloud treat for teachers as well.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Friday, February 21, 2014


Aviary Wonders, Inc.:  Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth. 
Extremely creative and extraordinarily gorgeous build-your-own-bird guide that painlessly introduces children to high-level science vocabulary and explores biology part by beautiful painted part, while quirky Q&A and assembly instructions also introduce readers to wonderful expository writing.   Teachers, this is an out-of-the-box mentor text, as children will enjoy creating their own catalogs and order forms for creatures that inspire them.  Imagination takes flight.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler.  Based on a real note found in a 12th century manuscript, a monk loses a library book when it is eaten by a bear, and makes penance by recreating the manuscript page by painstaking page.  But will the bear be waiting for another course?  An exciting read-aloud that teaches the process of how books used to be made, you don't have to be a bruin to find this book delicious.  I only wish the publisher had invested in a little illumination...ah, well, nothing a gold marker can't fix.
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Help!  We Need a Title!  by Henré Tullet.  Nothing's betta than a little meta.  An author climbs inside his own story to make peace with his characters and give them something exciting to do.  While this character-in-a-book awareness stunt has been done in various iterations in children's literature before (Henrik Drescher's unfairly out-of-print Simon's Book being one example, Mo Willems' We Are In a Book! and Mordecai Gerstein's A Book more recent explorations on the theme)  and my favorite writing-process-book-for-kids remains Mary Jane Auch's The Plot Chickens, naturally the author of Press Here has his own fun and cunning spin on things; expressive photos of the author himself pasted inside the book makes this a little fresh and lively lines are kid-friendly and worth a look.  
Link for information; please support your local independent bookseller.  


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