Wednesday, August 18, 2010

1 + 1 = 5 (PICTURE BOOK)

1+1=5: and Other Unlikely Additions1+1=5 AND OTHER UNLIKELY ADDITIONS by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Brenda Sexton (Sterling, 2010) When does 1+1=5? How about 1 set of triplets + 1 set of twins = 5 babies! Does 1+1=14? Yes, when 1 ant + 1 spider = 14 legs! Sometimes 1+1= hundreds and hundreds, if you are counting the seeds in 1 pumpkin + 1 watermelon! And more traditional number-crunchers needn't worry, 1+1 does ultimately equal 2, if you count two friends. This ingenious book makes the impossible very possible by exploring outside of the box, and while it may not do wonders for math skills, it certainly creates magic when it comes to divergent thinking. Bright, geometric illustrations nicely bordered and framed make every page fun to turn, and add a sense of order to the boundless imagination that this book will inspire. For older children, use it as a warm-up to the more advanced mathematical poems in Betsy Franco's marvelous MATHEMATICKLES (where a tadpole=2/3 frog, and cold air divided by breath = tiny cloud). Easily one of the most inventive books of the year, what creative math problems can your children devise with such inspiration? 1 crazy original read-aloud + 1 classroom/homeschooler/booklover eager to look at math in a whole new way = integrated learning. It all adds up. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
Other new picture books to add to the teacher's fall reading pantry. 

Sivu's Six WishesSIVU'S SIX WISHES by Jude Daly (Eerdmans, 2010) Sivu the stonemason has a talent for carving beautiful sculpture, but he remains unsatisfied. How wonderful it must be to have the power of the rich businessman who patronizes his work! Magically, Sivu's wish is granted. When he discovers being a businessman is no all it's cracked up to be, he wishes he could be the mayor, passing by so grandly with his entourage. Wah-lah! And so it goes, with the poor megalomaniac striving ever higher. To be the sun! To be a rain cloud! To be the wind! To be a rock! But for all his ambition, what turns out to be the most powerful job of all? This retelling of the celebrated Taoist tale "The Stone Cutter" set in modern Africa doubles as an homage to artists everywhere and is clearly told, rife with the kind of poignant and memorable irony of Ed Young's resonant I, DOKO. A read-aloud folktale with a surprise ending?  What more could anyone wish?  (6 and up)

The Circulatory StoryTHE CIRCULATORY STORY by Mary K. Corcoran, illustrated by Jef Czekaj (Charlesbridge, 2010) It's hard to resist this guided tour of about 60,000 miles through the circulatory system of a fetching redhead, all narrated by a little green guy traversing through her insides, kind of like The Great Gazoo meets Miss Frizzle's Magic School Bus.  A mix of the colloquial and clinical, the adventures are often put into meaningful contexts with which children will identify, like the forming of scabs or the cause and effect relationship between junk food and arterial plaque.  While I confess I still have a special place in my heart (or at least my left ventricle) for Steve Alton's BLOOD AND GOO AND BOOGERS, TOO for use in second grade studies of the human body, and David Macaulay's inimitable THE WAY WE WORK for older kids, the text here is generous and conversational, and the overall comical treatment might very well set reluctant readers' blood racing, making it a desirable addition to a thematic collection. A glossary helps with words like "fibrin" and "macrophage." Don't know what those mean?  See, you need this book.   (7 and up)

How Rocket Learned to ReadHOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ by Tad Hills (Schwartz & Wade, 2010)
As Rocket breathed in the crisp air, the little yellow bird hung her banner. "Ah, the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet," she marveled.  "Where it all begins."
Lucky for Rocket, this chirpy teacher is willing to take the illiterate pup under her wing.  Reticent at first, the lure of a good read-aloud with puppy-centered interest draws Rocket into the world of the word, learning to sound out each letter.  But when the little yellow bird flies away, can Rocket keep up with his studies?  Illustrations of Rocket running through the snow to form letters, nosing in the springtime dirt to spell "m-u-d" or feeling every lonely letter of the wind's "w-h-o-o-s-h," we join in the dog's eagerness for his encouraging teacher's return; likewise, we feel the little yellow pedagogues' dedication and effervescence trill out on these pages like a songbird's high note. Darling artwork done in oil paint and colored pencils are perfectly matched to the pert, well-chosen words that comprise the text, and ultimately, this book conveys the best of what we could want to say about education:  to learn to read is both an opportunity and a joy, and it's a two-way street between teacher and student.  Moreover, it says it in the nicest way.  A pleasure from endpaper to endpaper and from both poles of the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet, this book about the gift of learning should be a gift to every teacher this September, and then read to every primary student. L-o-v-e-l-y.  (5 and up)

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010


My list of 10 Picture Books I Couldn't Teach Without is posted at

Cathy Mere, author of MORE THAN GUIDED READING and blogger at  Reflect and Refine:  Building a Learning Community, in cooperation with Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning,  invited/challenged members of the Kidlitosphere blogging community to come up with ten picture books they couldn't teach without.  Please visit my other blog especially for educators to see which titles I chose...and to devise your own "if I were on a desert island" collection!  You can also use this wonderful "Jog the Blog" feature to easily browse ALL the top ten lists of ALL the participants!  What fun.

Meanwhile, the schoolbell's ringing!  Readers, please line up for some middle-grade novels that will really stretch your thinking.

Me and Rolly MalooME AND ROLLY MALOO by Janet S. Wong (Charlesbridge, 2010)
Jenna Lee is a smart, math-loving fourth grader, but is frowned upon by the more popular girls in her class (and their mothers) for being slightly shabby and idiosyncratic. Queen Bee Rolly Maloo concedes to some limited friendship with Jenna, though, when it means she can ask for an answer on a high-stakes test. When Mrs. Pie busts them in the act of cheating, it is the beginning of a turn of events that can send Jenna Lee into a downward spiral...unless a few loyal classmates speak out, and a teacher in a compromising position can solve the mystery behind the misbehavior.  Cheating makes for an engaging subject, but beyond that, many complex issues are addressed here with honesty, age-appropriateness and aplomb: economic class prejudice, the pressures and impact of high-stakes testing on school communities, the difference between tattling and protecting, and the effect of parental gossip.  All of this is done in a completely fresh format, a hybrid of straight prose and graphic novel that wholly compliments each other; thought balloons and conversations in illustrated form sometimes alternate with the prose, other times run parallel, always offering insights, contradictions and inner thoughts of the children (of both genders), the teacher, the principal and the parents, each informing decisions that move the plot and begs the question: what would you have done? Moreover, the author does something that is very rare in children's intermediate fiction: she includes the grown-ups. Children in real life overhear what adults say, and their lives are impacted daily by the decisions large and small that adults make. Likewise, in this work of realistic fiction, young readers can see what the grown-ups are thinking, and why they do what they do...whether right or wrong. Ultimately, the conflict is resolved believably to the reader's satisfaction, even happily and hopefully as Jenna's mom finds a new start with a baking business, and manages to "stick it" to the woman who thought the worst of her daughter.  At no point is the young reader underestimated here, and this is a book about decisions that is sure to be widely enjoyed for its format and widely discussed for its content.  While challenging to read aloud, it's sure to create conversation, making it a a stupendous choice for book clubs and classroom sets, and an engaging read for individual fans of classroom stories and realistic fiction as well. Ultimately a tool for the empathetic imagination, in turning her talents toward the middle-grade novel, this versatile poet and picture book author has turned out the best work of her career. (8 and up)

Also of interest:
Mary Mae and the Gospel TruthMARY MAE AND THE GOSPEL TRUTH by Sandra Dutton (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)
"Them stripes in the hills," I say.  "Shows all the different ages of the earth.  You can't see it now.  It's way back."
Now Mama's mood just gets worse.  "Ain't no different ages."
I don't know what she's talking about.  "Why not?" I say.
Mama don't answer right away.  She says to Granny, "I swear, them teachers ought to stick with spelling and numbers."
Mary Mae's teacher is not sticking to spelling and numbers, but instead, presents an enthusiastic unit on the Ordovician age, fostering an interest in trilobites and archeology well-matched to Mary Mae's budding curiosity about the natural world.  But this fifty thousand year old history doesn't jive with the evangelical view of the world as six thousand years old, and from Mary Mae's mother's point of view, threatens her eternal soul. Mary Mae's tendency to ask "why?" trickles over into Sunday School, and when her fossil collection and essay titled "Interview with a Trilobite" are discovered, Mama reacts with a decision to homeschool, even though teaching is definitely not mama's forté.  Mary Mae is frustrated, and wonders, is there any way she can find a balance between what she must believe and what she longs to learn?  Perhaps her participation in the church's Noah's Ark puppet show will give voice to the balance that is in her heart.  Dutton does a fairly brilliant job of respecting both sides of a prickly argument.  The church's loving embrace of its congregants, eager to celebrate and give thanks for good news conveys a great warmth ("Jonathan Safer jumps up.  'I got a B on my history test.' ''Praise the Lord!' Everybody yells. 'Amen!'"), as does her secular teacher's desire to accommodate ("I'm sorry,' says Miss Sizemore.  'I wish I'd known.  You know, I could have given you different assignments, the why I do Shirley Whirly.' 'Nope,' I say.  'I like science.  I want what everybody else gets.' Then I get a lump so big in my throat I can't even talk").  Both are sensitively drawn, and the character of Grandma, who sees the wonder of her maker in all things, serves as a central pillar to both ends of the scale.  The detail, lack of cynicism and inherent contemplation of this novel could have only been written by somebody who has experienced both sides of the coin.  As the daughter of two Sunday school teachers in Ohio, the author says, "I wrote this book for kids like me who love discovering things, whether the Bible, the backyard, or a history book.  I want them to have the courage to ask questions."  In a storm where sometimes two grown-ups sides rage, the likable, high-spirited child character remains central.  Teachers: the only thing I balked at in the book was a linguistically colloquial reference to a woman's breasts, which I chalked up to regionalism, worth being aware of but not a deterrent for collection development. Readers of all faith backgrounds and educational backgrounds will sympathize with and like Mary Mae, and find plenty to discuss.  Provocative in the very best way, this is a brave and timely book that leaves you the better for having read it.  (10 and up)

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams
Diary of a Fairy GodmotherTHE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS by Rhonda Hayter (Dial, 2010)  It's hard to resist a good witchy-poo story, and Abbie makes for quite the endearing heroine, with the focus on magic instead of malice as she tries to survive school among her regular human classmates, from whom she must hide her unusual skills and identity.  Pros of being Abbie: with a special talent for time travel (and freezing time, when necessary), she is able to do her history homework using primary sources.  Cons:  little brother is a pain (and uses his magic powers against his teacher when given a time-out), keeping secrets from best friends is no fun, auditions for a school play is causing jitters, and, yes, the kitten her father brought home as a pet is actually Thomas Edison under a spell.  Normal stuff like that.  The author's background in movie production is apparent in this debut, each chapter episodically framed in thirty-three short chapters that move cinematically through the story arc. The real magic of this book is that history is woven through the novel absolutely painlessly, and just as Abbie's many interesting relatives make appearances throughout, this is a book the whole family can enjoy.   The breezy pace, believable preteen voice (and vulnerability), good humor, eye of newt and toe of frog will work a spell of confidence-building success for reluctant readers.  Of all the varied problems Abbie Adams might have, finding friends in contemporary readers should not be one of them.  My favorite witchy school story since DIARY OF A FAIRY GODMOTHER.  But of course, in that case, I was biased.  (10 and up)

Extra Credit (Junior Library Guild Selection)Also, please check don't forget one of my favorite school stories of last year, EXTRA CREDIT by Andrew Clements, a great story and a springboard for international learning and activities!  I would like thirty copies, please (along with a classroom set of Mitali Perkins' RICKSHAW GIRL). Click for reviews, and many more solid intermediate picks.

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support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Dogs Don't Do BalletDOGS DON'T DO BALLET by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilve (Simon and Schuster)
For my birthday I get tickets to the Royal Ballet.  "Can Biff come, too?"  I ask Dad.  "He loves ballet..." 
"No," says Dad.  "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Dogs don't do ballet!"
Miss Polly, the ballet teacher, concurs with Dad. This does not stop the little bulldog from twisting his neck upward to longingly admire a tutu hanging on a doorknob, or peering over a windowsill to observe an eclectic row of little girls of all colors, body types and fabulous hair-do's lined up at the barre. The dog's owner can't help from feeling watched as she rides the bus and walks down the street en route to the big show.  It seems like this canine understudy is not so easily discouraged by a few haters.  More than ready for his moment in the spotlight, is the audience ready for him?  Animals with performance aspirations are not new to the pages of children's books (Robert Kinerk's CLORINDA, Margie Palatini's MARY HAD A LITTLE HAM, Sergio Ruzzier's especially lovely AMANDINA, and Lydia and Don Freeman's PET OF THE MET to name a few), but the theme is executed here with a special panache, each page as fresh as a bloom in an opening night bouquet.  The storytelling moves along at a nice allegro tempo, the art well-matched with a loose and lively line.  Extremely cheerful, colorful and expressive, this old dog has learned a new trick sure to inspire pirouettes, chuckles and encore readings.  Applause!  (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Let's add a couple more shiny new cars to this cuteness train.

Roly Poly PangolinROLY POLY PANGOLIN by Anna Dewdney (Viking, 2010) "Roly, Poly, very small, / Doesn't like new things at all."  True dat.  Roly Poly is freaked out in tidy rhyming couplets for many pages.  He's afraid to eat the bug offered for dinner.  And what's that sound coming from the bush?  The darling wide-eyed wonder--and worry--so effectively portrayed in Dewdney's other books (LLAMA LLAMA MISSES MAMA) is worked again to good effect here, with animals as sweet, safe preschool stand-ins (and a nifty picture of a real live pangolin,  an endangered species and animal sweetie pie, on the back flap).  Whether clinging squinty-eyed to his mother's tail or rolling into a defensive ball, it's not until friends reveal themselves that he can relax and realize, "Roly Poly, very small /not so frightened, after all."  Whew.  Glad Roly Poly found a support group.  (3 and up)

Barry the Fish with FingersBARRY:  THE FISH WITH FINGERS by Sue Hendra (Knopf, 2010) A little blue fish has cleverly made appendages out of some fish sticks (work with me, here), and uses his new digits to entertain the ennui-laden undersea troops with finger painting, tickle chases, a little piano playing and, of course, a puppet show.  All swell, but there's one trick Barry's fingers does that save the lives of all his fishy friends, and has all the bottom-dwellers styling.  This is an odd and oddly irresistible book, brazenly unfraid of exercising a more childlike suspension of belief or being quirky (naming a fish "Barry," for instance, seems along the lines of the work of the great Arthur Yorinks or maybe Daniel Pinkwater).  The art is all preschool party, with splashy, straightforward pictures that you can see from across the room, bringing to mind Ed Emberley's GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER (though for some grown-ups, Barry himself might bring to mind WHERE WILLY WENT, but whatever, it's not for us).  This book is not cheap on the brand of silly kids love, and be sure to compare the front end papers with the back for a final laugh.  This book is good with or without ketchup.  (4 and up)

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More Esmé stuff at

Monday, August 02, 2010


The cheerful little organgutan, hands on his knees, postured like an old vaudevillian foreshadows the fun inside this book. All sorts of familiar wild animals get double-page spreads, each with a great photo and unusual facts. Did you know giraffes whistle, moo hiss and roar (and sometimes kiss), kangaroos can't hop backwards, and like snowflakes, no two zebra patterns are exactly the same? Information about each animal is succinct and conversational, but the photos take on special meaning thanks to the back story: looking at a tiger feels different once you know it chased the photographer, and the lion's expression takes on new meaning, knowing what has caught his eye. Speaking from a school librarian POV, this is the kind of book that starts a tug-of-war, so consider a couple for your animal book menagerie. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
Kids always love information about the animal kingdom, and there are some wonderful contemporary authors and series that readers will be wild about.  

Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to RememberCheck out the work of Steve Jenkins, especially his recent release  NEVER SMILE AT A MONKEY (Houghton Mifflin, 2009) featuring his signature paper-cut illustrations and perfectly paced paragraphs that pack a punch of information on every page.  Each elegant, sharp picture against a white background is coupled with an exploration of an animal's  defense mechanism, often very surprising and hidden...I never knew a platypus had venomous spurs on its hind legs, and is the only poisonous mammal, did you?  "You learn something new every day" seems to be the unspoken mantra in the a long list of Jenkins' engaging titles, this one in particular  underscoring Jenkins' talent for creating nonfiction that works both as read-aloud and read-alone, speaking both to the heady young fact-finder and the reluctant shelf explorer. Also check out HOW TO CLEAN A HIPPOPOTAMUS:  A LOOK AT UNUSUAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIPS (with Robin Page, Houghton Mifflin, 2010), a diversion from his usual format into smaller comic-book like frames and panels. (7 and up)

The Buzz on Bees: Why Are They Disappearing?THE BUZZ ON BEES:  WHY ARE THEY DISAPPEARING? by Shelley Rotner and Anne Woodhull, photographs by Shelley Rotner (Holiday House) Packed with plentiful frames of attractive photographs, some very affecting such as the single bee against a double-page spread of empty honeycomb cells, this book describes the nitty-gritty of Colony Collapse Disorder (or the mysterious recent disappearance and death of pollinating bees) employing a question/answer technique, suggestions for what can be done, lots of on-line links in the back matter and and real-world pictures and facts throughout.  By varying visual and informational technique, the book creators have managed to build an effective bridge between the dense heavy-duty text of nonfiction for older children and the simplifications for young readers, finding a perfect middle ground for information-seeking right in between.  Again, this is a nonfiction title that works both as a read-aloud or read-alone...I suggest reading together, as the interesting subject has much to discuss and is a boon to science curriculum/pollination explanations to boot. (7 and up)

Project Seahorse (Scientists in the Field Series)Speaking of heady young fact-finders and heavy-duty text,  such smarties will enjoying following scientists on the job in the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series, akin to spending an unrelenting day at the hip of a real science practitioner, getting the play-by play from hypothesis to outcome.  Check out the latest additions to the series, including the summery PROJECT SEAHORSE by Pamela Turner with photographs by Scott Tuason (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), a chance to join conservationists and community in the Phillipines as they try to restore a coral reef, and THE BAT SCIENTISTS by Mary Kay Carson with photographs by Tom Uhlman (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), an especially exciting and often close-up view of wildlife in the skies, caves, and underground as scientists try to deflect the damage done by White Noise Syndrome, a malady that destroys millions of hibernating bats. This series is akin to armchair internships for upper-grade students, and a real and rare opportunity to vicariously experience the grown-up world of work...meaningful work, to boot.  (12 and up)

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