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!  

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!


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