Sunday, September 11, 2016

Happy Appleseed! Freebies in Honor of Johnny's Birthday!

It's that time of year, coming up on Johnny Appleseed's birthday, September 26th!  In honor of my favorite historical figure, I wrote a biographical picture book a few years back, SEED BY SEED: THE LEGEND AND LEGACY OF JOHN "APPLESEED" CHAPMAN, illustrated by the talented and award-winning Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow Books).  I wrote about it here.

I put the lessons garnered from research about Johnny Appleseed's life into the book in the form of five footsteps that allowed him to walk into history:

1.  Use what you have.
2.  Share what you have.
3.  Respect nature.
4.  Try to make peace where there is war.
5.  You can reach your destination by taking small steps.

Lends itself very nicely to a bulletin board if I do say so myself (and in conjunction with artwork from Aliki's Story of Johnny Appleseed)!  Plus, you can use SEED BY SEED as a springboard for reading any picture book biographies and have the children come up with their own "footsteps," or tenets of the person's life that make them notable and worth remembering.  The main idea of Johnny Appleseed's life and the book I wrote about him is that you can change the landscape of our country by planting a small seed every day---doing one small positive thing with consistency.  What seed will you plant?

The best news is that the clever illustrator created free downloadable seed packets, a "Johnny Jump-Up" printable toy and a coloring page that you can share with your class! Click here to print your own! Thank you so much, Lynne Rae Perkins!  In the spirit of Johnny Appleseed...please spread the seed to read!

Links provided for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Teacher Collection! Best Picture Book Read-Alouds for Back to School

Teacher budgets and bookshelf space are limited, so only the best of the best will do!  Here are my must-haves for September, perfect for treating your hard-working teaching self, or parents can start the year off right with a classroom or library donation of a favorite. Great children's books are also a bridge between home and school...we support a child's learning every time we read aloud!  So don't hesitate to add these winners to your circulation:

President Squid by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Sara Varon (Chronicle).  Of course, this fall is going to have lots of occasions to work an election theme into the classroom, and this is a number-one must-have. A bombastic, big-mouthed Day-Glo cephalopod has more bluster than charisma, but that doesn't stop him from seeking high office in the sea.  What does it take to be President?  Diplomacy Accountability? Responsibility?  Naaaahhhh.  Squid has a tie. That should do it!  The fact that he has a Titanic-sized house, fame, the gift of gab and the bones to boss are just bonuses.  But when a sardine is caught compromisingly in a clam, can President Squid step up and save him?  Maybe he'll learn what quality is most presidential of all...or will power corrupt?    The illustrator created one of my favorite books of all time, the thoughtful allegory of friendship that is Robot Dreams.  Here, Varon's wild palette and expressive style combined with Reynold's high-spirited humor make this any easy share and a perfect springboard for creating lists and conversations about qualities of leadership. By the way, I have it on good authority from the author that Trump wasn't running when he wrote this book.  But if the tentacles fit.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith (Scholastic).  Oh my goodness, I love when this happens: a big, beautiful, funny, well-paced read-aloud with chance to do voices and an unlabored, authentic multicultural representation, plus an opportunity to talk about parodies and differentiated versions of fairy tales. Sold!!! In this play on Red Riding Hood, winsome Little Red has to deliver acne medicine, but a lion is impersonating her auntie.  The makeover Little Red delivers on the lion's mane will elicit screams of laughter and delight, and the vantage point from inside of the lion's toothy maw rates ooh's and ahh's.  A happy ending and a little nudge toward asking for things politely paired with lively, colorful illustrations in a dynamic layout make this a perfect picture book.

Bear's Winter Party by Deborah Hodge (Groundwood).  I confess that every fall I have a penchant for purchases of all things bears and hibernation to add to my book cave.  This year, a close runner up was A Brave Bear by Sean Taylor, handsomely illustrated by the mighty mighty Emily Hughes (Candlewick), but the winner was this loose and juicily-watercolored story in which Bear plans a party to win over his cautious woodland neighbors before his big sleep. I was so admiring of the bear-faced honey ginger cookies that Bear was serving, and what do you know, an easy recipe is in the back! Why every classroom doesn't have a stove and oven, I haven't a clue.  But every classroom can have an invitation to this reading fete, and the inclusive message of "don't judge a book (or bear!) by its cover" that seasons these pages like warm cinnamon.

School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook).
A new school has been built.  What should be expected on School's first day?  The janitor is there to encourage via some earnest banter with the building, and the edifice is educated on how even the most reticent can come around to loving School....eventually. I love how School manages to learn a thing or two in the course of the day!  Robinson's folksy, friendly style is sunny and straightforward and realistically depicts a wide swath of cultures in the classroom.  Reminiscent of Sally's romance with her own school in Charle' Shultz's Peanuts cartoons, this book has a comforting combination of anticipation, problem-solving and reflection, and also touches on the value of all staff in a school building.  I often start the school year with a conversation about how lucky we are to be together at school, and how it is an opportunity not taken for granted around the world.  This book and its sampling of students who don't always have the most positive outlook lends itself nicely to a conversation about gratitude for the educational experience. It is also a perfect pick for introducing point-of-view, or eking out the point-of-view of your students on their own exciting first day.

Douglas, You Need Glasses! by Ged Adamson (Schwartz & Wade). "Nancy and Douglas were chasing squirrels.  At least, Douglas thought he was chasing squirrels." Poor, nearsighted Douglas is missing important signs, making silly mistakes and even finds himself in danger, all because he can't see well.  Children will laugh and correct Douglas' errors at his hilarious trip to the eye doctor, where Douglas finally chooses a life-changing pair of specs. From the blurry lettering on the cover  to the charming double-paged photographic spread at the end ("REAL KIDS WHO WEAR GLASSES!"), this hilarious book is the perfect prescription for empathy, fostering a deeper understanding from kids who don't wear glasses and a renewed sense of confidence in those who do.

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband (Disney Hyperion).
"'Hurry,' urged Tassie.  "Reverend John doesn't hold with being late.'
At Third and Almond, we slipped into the church,
And headed down the basement steps, into the darkness,
to the Tallow Candle School.
'Why can't we have windows?' I whined, already missing the sun.
'Hush, you know why,' Tassie said.
And I did.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
'Welcome to out school, James,' said Reverend John.
'We make our own light here.'"
Even the small, surreptitious school in the basement of the church is forced to close when Missouri institutes a new law forbidding African Americans to learn to read or write.  But where there is a will, there's a way, and Reverend John ingeniously refurbishes an old steamboat in order to teach the children on the Mississippi River, where the law of the land did not apply.   Inspired by the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum (1789-1854), the teacher and student are heroes.  We need these kind of heroes.   Cross-hatch illustrations against a limited palette of brown and black evoke the etching style of the period, but with broad spreads, expressive figures and paired with a high-stakes narrative, this choice lends itself beautifully to sharing in a modern classroom.

Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne Jones, illustrated by Richard Watson (Capstone Little Boost).  When an (ahem) ebullient little owl loses her voice, it leaves room for a little more listening. It turns out her friend told really funny jokes, she was able to finish her classwork and earn a gold star, and she got more out of the movies and books. When Lacey's voice returns, she has a choice to make.  Simple, bright illustrations do the trick in accentuating the gentle message, and the busy endpapers of Lacey in full yammering mode are a jocular overture to the inexorable character readers will meet inside. I'm sure none of you teachers out there have a nonstop talker in your room, but on the off-chance that you do, this book may inspire them to strike more of a balance between talking and listening, like Lacey Walker.

Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (Knopf).
What is wild?  And where can you find it?
Succinct, elegant musings and twisting ferns and flowers follow a boy and girl on a nature hike. They use each of their senses in turn to discover what is wild, even in the face of concrete. Graceful and colorful watercolor and pencil illustrations maintain interest through a varied layout.  While the prose may prove a bit opaque for some students, the reason this is a worthwhile pick is that it is so invitational.  The question of "what is wild?" is so especially relevant in the face of works like Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and the outdoor education, Reggio-Emilia and "forest kindergarten" movements that have taken hold in Europe and increasingly in the United States.  Whatever your school's mission and wherever you are, it is easy to take an observational stroll around the block following a reading of this book and allow for children to discover "wild" for themselves.  In fact, the whole idea and many meanings and connotations of "wild" (both in nature and people) makes for a very interesting exploration in general, made even more interesting paired with books like Wild by Emily Hughes, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, and also by Peter Brown, the wonderful new serial read-aloud chapter book The Wild Robot.  A theme that will leave students wild about reading.

What are your favorite picks for the new school year?  Please share in the comments below.  Links are provided for information; please remember to support your local independent bookseller.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Big Summertime Laughs

Though the joys of June are many, beware the dreaded summer reading slide.  The easiest way to keep reading skills bolstered while the sun shines hot is by enrolling in the local public library summer reading games and offering kids books that are so fun, they feel like the furthest thing from homework.  Here are a couple choices that are the most painless, page-turning reading and imagery mash-ups since MAD Magazine.  

13-Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton (Feiwel and Friends). Follow the adventures of besties Andy and Terry (coincidentally, the name of the author and illustrator) as they make additions and improvements on their treehouse  (man-eating shark tank, rollercoasters, baby dinosaur petting zoo, antigravity chamber, lemonade fountain, ice cream parlor with robot scooper, high bounce trampoline, to name a few), hang out with their animal-loving neighbor Jill and her flying cats while having adventures (like unveiling a sea monster disguised as a mermaid or battling vengeful vegetables)and  desperately trying to make deadline for their cantankerous publisher, Mr. Big Nose.   I am beside myself with the genius of this series.  Honestly. The 13-Story Treehouse and its sequels are the best thing to happen to kidlit since Captain Underpants, and, sorry, Dav Pilkey, surpasses it by a country other words, these books are a major event in children's literature and a must-have in every library.  The imagination of this graphic novel hybrid is truly incomparable, and the hilarious storytelling/artwork combination is  seamless, as though the Andy and Terry in the book have come to life and really are working together to tell these stories, an incident of real live book magic. Like potato chips, I could not stop with one...could they actually keep this pace and maintain this almost psychedelic level imagination?  Yes and yes.  Any summer reading goal is easily met through the entire series, including the 26-Story Treehouse, 39-Story Treehouse, 52-Story Treehouse.  After all, who wouldn't want to spend their summer in a treehouse?

The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton by James Proimos (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Three words:  LAUGH.  OUT.  LOUD.  One more: VERYHARD.  Johnny Mutton was a baby sheep that was left on a doorstep and raised as a naive, well-meaning little boy.   All of his comic adventures from three volumes are compiled here. Johnny gives away all of the cupcakes meant for a cook-off, throws an unpopular party, dresses like a nose for Halloween, is a good sport at a spelling bee and many more adventures in the three books worth of comic adventures compiled into this one strange and brilliant treasury. Loose line drawing and an odd but addictive vintage Zap Comix quality, it also offers an optimistic spirit, affirmation of individuality ("Johnny Mutton!  He's so him!") and an insight into the human condition that makes it brilliant for all ages. If Spongebob and James Marshall had a baby, it would be Johnny Mutton. Like his mother says, "I love you, Jonny Mutton!  There is no one quite like you."

And I was a little late to the party on this one, but still so pleased to discover What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night:  A Very Messy Adventure by Refe and Susan Tuma (Little Brown).

Posed plastic dinosaurs wreak havoc all around the house, culminating in a mud-covered mess in the living room that would even have No, David! shaking his head.  Though the photos have so much havoc to discover, the volume is slim.  If this story time sized intro to these anthropomorphic antics leave you wanting more,  I hear tell there's an even bigger collection for fans that will engage older children as well.   Naughty is always nice when it comes to reading, and anyway, who ever heard of a well-behaved dinosaur? Velociraptors don't care. Follow up on the fun by letting toys take some selfies, with your help.

What children's books make you and yours laugh the hardest?

Links for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Buggy for Books

As gardens spring to life, so does the wild and wonderful world of wigglies!  This amazing miniature world is mirrored so cunningly in the pages of these books, each in their own special way.

Stories from Bug Garden by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Gwen Millward (Candlewick).
Bee sat on a lilac branch and watched the clouds.
"Shouldn't you fly around?" asked Dragonfly."
"Shouldn't you sip nectar from the flowers?" asked Lightning Bug.
"Shouldn't you make honey?" asked Horsefly.
"I don't want to do any of those things," said Bee.
"What do you want to do, then?"
Bee settled back to watch the clouds.
"Just be," said Bee.
An abundance of friendship, gentle wisdom and well-developed characters are coupled with busy and whimsical ink, watercolor and pencil illustrations.  These sweet vignettes will inspire looking at all things that fly and crawl and buzz and wiggle with new eyes.

A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle).  "A beetle is kaleidoscopic," the text asserts, and the aboslutely gorgeous and colorful illustrations confirm.  The latest in the breathtaking series (A Seed is Sleepy, An Egg is Quiet, A Nest is Noisy, A Butterfly is Patient, A Rock is Lively, and every volume is worthwhile), this is like paging through a talented naturalist's notebook, with critters so realistic you'd barely blink to see them crawl off the page.  The text reads like poetry and I challenge you not to learn something along the other words, nonfiction perfection.

Gary's Garden by Gary Northfield (Scholastic).  This small-print graphic novel sleeper is a surprise gem that will be well-liked by any elementary-aged kid, following the adventures of the residents of a particular plot of land...who knew so many zany and intense adventures might be happening in our own backyards? The pests have tons of personality, and the Pokémon-like cards at the back of the book attest to the superlative qualities of the characters.  I hope to see this cast again in a sequel with the anticipation one usually reserves for springtime.

Links for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

PLANETESME PICKS: Best Picture Books and Nonfiction of 2015

For a long time, I have been saying that children's books are our best hope for equalizing education in America.  A great book in the hands of a rich child is the same great book in the hands of a poor child.  But more than that, books in thoughtful combination are an education in and of themselves.  I love making these annual lists, because I can only imagine how a child who experiences these titles will be changed, and change is the definition of learning.  Through what will new lenses will the child view the world after experiencing this art?  What biographies will inspire them, what mentors will fly through space and time to scaffold their own dreams and efforts?  How will they view and understand the natural world?  What new friends will they find inside books that will inform them to know how to connect and empathize with people outside of books?  What will make them laugh, cry, think?  After perusing hundreds of books this year with my teacher-librarian eye, these are the finest that I spy.  I hope read in any combination, they will be building blocks...building books! an individual ready to meet and embrace the world.

Most perfect book likely to win all sorts of awards:  Swan:  The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle)

Personal favorite book that I clutch to my chest and sigh:  The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye)

Most delightful read-aloud:  Winston & George by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco (Enchanted Lion)

Best book for kids destined to watch Downton Abbey some day:  Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes (Candlewick)

Make your own category and please share it in the comments, with any of your favorites or the past year or from these lists below! Links are for informational use; please remember to support your local independent bookseller.

Picture Books:
Animal Beauty by Kristin Roskifte (Eerdmans)
Animal Supermarket by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani (Eerdmans)
Beep!  Beep!  Go to Sleep! By Todd Tarpley, illustrated by John Rocco (Little, Brown)
Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle)
Cats Are Cats by Valeri Gorbachev (Holiday House)
Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes (Candlewick)
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Doubleday)
Dinosaur Rocket! By Penny Dale (Nosy Crow)
Doctor Nice by Valeri Gorbachev (Holiday House)
Finders Keepers by Keiko Kasza (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Fowl Play by Travis Nichols (Chronicle)
Happy Birthday, Cupcake! By Terry Border (Philomel)
Have You Seen My Monster?  by Steve Light (Candlewick)
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt (Doubleday)
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge)
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krozoczka (Knopf)
The Kind-Hearted Monster by Max Velhuijs (NorthSouth)
Leo:  A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)
Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings (Random House)
Little Tree by Loren Long (Philomel)
Love is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark (Nancy Paulsen)
Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye (Nosy Crow)
My Wild Family by Laurent Moreau (Chronicle)
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail (Atheneum)
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Roaring Brook)
P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis (Peachtree)
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera (Chronicle)
Poppy’s Best Paper by Susan Eaddy, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet (Charlesbridge)
Red:  A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (Greenwillow)
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins (Chronicle)
Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Schwartz & Wade)
Seen and Not Heard by Katie May Green (Candlewick)
Sharing the Bread:  An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Schwartz & Wade)
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood)
Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups by Stephanie Clarkson, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (Orchard)
Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs by Raphaelle Barbanegre (Tundra)
Some Things I’ve Lost by Cybele Young (Groundwood)
Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Roaring Brook)
Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Lee and Low)
Tacky and the Haunted Igloo by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (HMH)
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)
The Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood (HMH)
The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Putnam)
The Grasshopper & the Ants by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney (Sterling)
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam)
The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye)
Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida (Atheneum)
The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull (Templar)
The Sheepover by John and Jennifer Churchman (Little, Brown)
The Story of Snowflake and Inkdrop by Pierdomenico Baccalario (Enchanted Lion)
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Simon & Schuster)
So Cozy by Lerryn Korda (Candlewick)
The Turnip by Jan Brett (Putnam)
Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng (Groundwood)
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski (HMH)
The White Book by Minibombo (Candlewick)
The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna (Enchanted Lion)
There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle (Random House)
Too Many Toys! By Heidi Deedman (Candlewick)
Tough Guys Have Feelings, Too by Keith Negley (Flying Eye)
Troll and the Oliver by Adam Stower (Templar)
Use Your Imagination by Nicola O’Byrne (Nosy Crow)
Where Bear? by Sophie Henn (Philomel)
Who Done It?  By Olivier Tallec (Chronicle)
Whose Shoe?  by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion)
Wild About Us! By Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Janet Stevens (HMH)
Winston & George by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco (Enchanted Lion)
Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers (Toon Books)
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Candlewick)

100 Pablo Picassos by Violet LeMay (Duopress)
A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle)
A Tower of Giraffes: Animals in Groups by Anna Wright (Charlesbridge)
An A from Miss Keller by Patricia Polacco (Putnam)
Are You My Dinner? By Tracey West (Smithsonian)
Bigfoot is Missing! By J. Patrick Lewis and Ken Nesbitt, illustrated by Minalima (Chronicle)
Book:  MyAutobiography by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer (Candlewick)
Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward:  How the Pretzel Was Born by Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdmans)
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (Arthur Levine/Scholastic)
Charlie Piechart and the Case of the Missing Pizza Slice by Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Eric Comstock  (Katherine Tegen Books)
Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Paul Yee, illustrated by Shaoli Wang (Crocodile Books)
Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (Candlewick)

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects
 by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick)
Design Line: History of Men and Women’s Fashion by Sanna Mander (Big Picture Press)
Drum Dream Girl:  HowOne Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (HMH)
Eat Your U.S. History Homework:  Recipes for Revolutionary Minds by Ann McCallum, illustrated by Leeza Hernandez (Charlesbridge)
Enormous Smallness:  A Story of e.e. cummings by Matthre Burgess, illustrated by Kris DiGiacomo (Enchanted Lion)
Finding Winnie:  TheTrue Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Little Brown)
The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can by Dr. Tererai Trent, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Viking)
Home by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)
The House that Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (Henry Holt)
I Don’t Like Snakes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Candlewick)
Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Brad Montague and Robby Novak (Harper)
Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books)
The Maine Coon’s Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Lee White (Candlewick)
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle)
Mesmerized:  HowBenjamin Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno (Candlewick)
The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin (Henry Holt)
Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown (Clarion)
My Leaf Book by Monica Wellington (Dial)
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and The Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Milbrook)
Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane on the Bayou Story by Caroline Starr Rose and Rob Dunlavey (Schwartz & Wade)
The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell, illustrated by Joan Rankin (McElderberry Books)
Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane)
Santa Clauses:  ShortPoems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Carolrhoda)
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Swan:  The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle)
Trapped!  A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor (Charlesbridge)
Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Brian Collier (Abrams)
Water is Water:  A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook)
Where Did My Clothes Come From? By Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti (Candlewick)
Where Does Kitty Go in the Rain?  By Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (Blue Apple)

Happy reading in the coming year, dear book-loving friends !

Friday, November 13, 2015

Best New Nonfiction for the School Year!

So much talk about the value of nonfiction in the national Common Core curriculum, how it improves vocabulary and is so challenging and etc., etc., honestly, it may be so, but my goodness, nonfiction seems to have the same publicist as broccoli.  No need for kids and teachers to wrinkle their noses when there are so many choices that are such a pleasure to share and feed into childrens' organic motivations to read and learn...funny and fascinating poems, real life adventures and achievements, animals!  Here are a few of my favorite nonfiction picks of the year from which educators with meager budgets can get a lot of mileage, and book lovers of any persuasion can garner pleasure.

Brother Giovanni's Little Reward:  How the Pretzel Was Born by Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdmans).  Stirring together ingredients from a sparse pantry of information dating from around 610 A.D., this author bakes up a really lovely legend of a monk who is disappointed to find that intrinsic motivation is not enough to get his students to learn their psalms.  Where teaching skills fall short, baking skills compensate.  Whatever your faith base, it's a delicious story that celebrates problem-solving and serves as a springboard into discussion about why we choose to learn...and choose to teach.  Soft pretzel recipe in the back is a bonus.  All right, borderline nonfiction, I know...but a teachable moment to talk about how facts can inspire narrative. What a twist!

One Plastic Bag:  Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Millbrook Press).  Isatou Ceesay rescued her Gambian village from huge and dangerous accumulations of plastic bags by ingeniously repurposing them into crocheted purses.  Also ingenious is the artist's integration of real plastic bags into the illustrations.  A story about making a difference told in a simple, straightforward manner, with a dose of "girl power." Generous back matter includes an author's note, pronunciation guide, timeline and a photo of the real Ceesay.

How to Swallow a Pig:  Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  Care to learn how to spin a web like a spider?  How to defend yourself like an armadillo?  Disguise yourself like an octopus?  Want a dancing lesson from a grebe (or to learn what a grebe is)?  Fifteen animal how-to's offer exciting insight into some unusual behavior.  Robin Page always finds an unexpected lens through which to view the wild world and Steve Jenkins' paper cut illustrations are so miraculous and warrant an almost automatic addition to any nonfiction collection...but fawning over individual talents aside, this is a great model for expository writing and point of view.  Other great picks for animal lovers:  The Queen's Shadow:  A Story About How Animals See by Cybele Young (Kids Can Press); The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin (Henry Holt); I (Don't) Like Snakes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Candlewick) and A Tower of Giraffes:  Animals in Groups by Anna Wright (Charlesbridge).

The Death of the Hat:  A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick) Every endeavor by the Janeczko-Raschka team dedicated to introducing children to poetry and all its forms deserves to be on every teacher's shelf, being the best thing to happen to the teaching of poetry to children since Kenneth Koch.  This latest takes the tack of demonstrating how poets through the ages have taken everyday things such as manhole covers, birthday cards, boxes, bags and blades of grass and used them as inspiration.  The arrangement of the anthology is chronological from the early Middle Ages until the present, just underscoring that wherever and whenever you are, the muse is waiting.

Poetry is such an important genre in children's literature and education because it can be used across the grade levels, and, when done right, is both of high literary quality while being accessible to children of all different ability levels.  To that end, you also won't want to miss The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell and illustrated by Joan Rankin (Margaret K. McElderry Books).  Ruddell is one of the most imaginative children's poets working today, and has created a most appetizing collection of foodie poems, among them  "The Picky Ogre,"  "21 Things to Do with an Apple," "Menu for a Gray Day,"  "Dracula's Late Night Bite," and "Gingerbread House Makeover."  Seriously, how can you resist a poem called "Stand and Cheer for MAC and CHEESE!"?  Some children's poets overcook their themes, but Ruddell's collection is fresh and inspired from soup to nuts.

Another great poetry surprise was the seasonal Santa Clauses:  Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Carolrhoda).  After reading and enjoying a collection of Japanese haiku given to him by Mrs. Claus, Santa tries his hand at writing his own.  Turns out, Santa is a man of many talents.  This collection of poems is oddly poignant and evocative, revealing small, real details of Santa's life that had this reader believing all over again.  Broad. homey spreads are well-matched to the text.  One of my favorites books of this year.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle).  Picture book biographies are also one of the most important, inspirational and useful genres of children's literature, and, like poetry, can by readily used across all grade levels.  Worthy of weekly "biography breaks," you really can't have too many in your collection. This one in particular embodies a kind of perfection.  The spread of Pavlova traveling across the world and playing part after part will be pored over by many an aspiring performer, and the literal view through the window into Pavlova's childhood is a gift to the reader.  As graceful in both visual and written line as the dancer it portrays, it is unrelenting in its depiction of work, inspiration and generosity. Even the bitterness of the ballerina's ending is made sweeter by a life well-lived.  Morstad has illustrated many unusually beautiful books in the course of her career, but they all seem to have been building toward this sublime project.  Worthy of applause and the many awards it is bound to receive.  

When I said there are many wonderful biographies, I wasn't kidding.  Check out all these outstanding offerings:  Marvelous Cornelius:  Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle); Fur, Fins and Feathers:  Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell (Eerdmans); The House that Jane Built:  A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (Henry Holt); Sewing Stories:  Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Knopf); 100 Pablo Picassos by Violet Lemay (Duo); Enormous Smallness:  A Story of e.e. cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion Press); Funny Bones:  Posada and his Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiah (Abrams);  The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can by Dr. Tererai Trent, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Viking).

Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti (Candlewick).  The late, great Mr. Fred Rogers showed how important it is to make sure young children know how things are made, and this cheerful, clever book falls into that canon.  Do children appreciate how the jeans they wear started by growing on a bush, that the sweaters they wear may come from more than eight kinds of animals,or that their soccer uniforms might have started as a syrup?  They will once this story is shared!  The illustrations are naturally multicultural and inclusive, and help to impart that the clothes we wear are indeed a worldwide effort.  This book is an opportunity to look at something we see everyday in a new way, and with new gratitude.  A simple but thoughtful page of recycling suggestions makes for a nice finish, as do the fashionable endpapers. 

Also check out:  The Case for Loving:  The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selena Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selena Alko (Arthur Levine Books); Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts by Paul Yee and Judy Chan, illustrated by Shaoli Wang (Croodile);   Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome by Brad Montague and Robby Novac (HarperCollins); Book: My Autobiography by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer (Candlewick); An A from Miss Keller by Patricia Polacco (G.P. Putnam's Sons); Are You My Dinner?  by Tracey West, illustrated by Luke Flowers (Smithsonian); History of Women's Fashion by Natasha Slee, illustrated by Sanna Mander (Big Picture Books); My Leaf Book by Monica Wellington (Dial).

What's your favorite nonfiction this year, really and truly? What works in your classroom and home?  Please share in the comments below!

Links for information.  Please support your local independent booksellers.  

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!  


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