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1. Review of Playful Pigs from A to Z

lobel_playful pigsstar2 Playful Pigs from A to Z
by Anita Lobel; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Knopf     40 pp.
7/15     978-0-553-50832-1     $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-50833-8     $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-50834-5     $10.99

Twenty-six pigs wake up in their pen and decide to explore the countryside, running down the road and finding a field of “magical surprises”: brightly colored, freestanding letters of the alphabet. Lobel’s soft early-morning watercolors give way to bolder pages on which each pig is now clothed and standing upright. The entire alphabet, set in a distinctive condensed typeface, runs along the top and bottom borders while each pig interacts happily with a single tall, thin letterform (all are upper-case but i). Lobel uses a name-verb-letter structure (“Amanda Pig admired an A. Billy Pig balanced on a B”), with rolling hills below and plenty of white space behind the pig and letter. Repeat readers will spot an extra object beginning with the letter in question tucked into a lower corner. Gender roles are satisfyingly relaxed: Greta, a female soldier, guards the G, while on the  opposite page Hugo tenderly hugs an H. By the time Yolanda yawns and Zeke zzzs, evening has arrived and the pigs return to their pen in a mirror image of the opening spreads, once again unclothed and running on all fours. Dinner is followed by bedtime, with all twenty-six snuggled together cozily. This playful treatment creates a humorous, easygoing book that should relieve any anxiety about learning the alphabet.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. Little Scribblers Doughnut Art

Congratulations to 3 Little Scribblers this week at our doughnut art class. They used our ages 3+ training scissors for the first time, cut out circles (a challenge for newbies) and frosted them with purple homemade puffy paint and sprinkles. Nice work, girls!

Little Scribbler Doughnut

Little Scribbler Doughnut

 

The post Little Scribblers Doughnut Art appeared first on Scribble Kids.

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3. The Cat in the Hat — Read & Learn digital book app review

catReadLearn_Screenshot1Spend a rainy afternoon with the mischievous Cat in the Hat in Oceanhouse Media‘s brand-new interactive digital book app The Cat in the Hat — Read & Learn (July 2015).

After you leave the home screen in “read to me” mode (there’s also a “read it myself” option for reading practice), the energetic narration begins the full text of Dr. Seuss’s classic book. “The sun did not shine. / It was too wet to play. / So we sat in the house / All that cold, cold, wet day…” As the narrator reads, the words are highlighted in the text. Touch any object in the illustration to hear the narrator state its name and see the word appear on the screen, while said object sways, bounces, spins, or makes a noise.

If you’re lucky, the object you’ve tapped will be one of thirty-one throughout the app that reveal hidden stars. Tap the star to access a brief, educational activity (spell “cat”; what starts with the buh sound?; which item would you need to go out in the rain?). Appropriate to the “read and learn” element of the app’s title, these activities are typically literacy-related: spelling, rhyming, and matching words to their associated images.

catReadLearn_Screenshot9

Some pages allow you to drag objects around — in my personal favorite of these, you can throw a ball against the sides of the screen to watch it bounce back and forth across the room — while other interactive moments invite you to physically tilt your device to make things move onscreen. In the scene where the Cat (who has been hopping up and down on a ball while holding up the fish, a fan, a rake, etc.) falls and “ALL the things fall” with him, the objects are flung across the screen; tap to toss them about one by one. Throughout, the color palette and animation choices remain true to Dr. Seuss’s original work.

catReadLearn_Screenshot4

“Picture words” (words that pop up to identify tapped objects), activities, sound effects, and update notifications may be turned on/off in the settings menu. A locked parents’ section offers some usage tips and provides stats on minutes read, pages read, and completed reads, allowing parents to track a child’s progress through the e-book.

The combination of classic story with the added interactive elements creates an enjoyable learning experience for an emerging reader.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch; $4.99. Recommended for preschool and early primary users.

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4. I Don't Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty & Mike Boldt (ages 3-8)

There are times my kids seem dissatisfied with everything, but I'm also sure that there are times when all I say is NO. This hilarious book takes that situation and produces laughs in all the right places--the perfect medicine for crabby kids and peevish parents.
I Don't Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty
illustrated by Mike Boldt
Doubleday / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Little frog is sure he doesn't want to be a frog. As he sits reading a book about cats, he decides that would be the perfect animal to be. "I want to be a cat," he declares to his father. Nope, his father says, you're a frog. Back and forth the dialog goes, in easy to read expressive short sentences--perfect for reading aloud together.
"I want to be a cat."
"You can't be a cat."
"Why not?"
"Because you're a frog."
"I don't like being a frog. It's too wet."
"Well, you can't be a cat."
Hey--little frog can hop! He should be a rabbit, he tells his father. "You can't be a rabbit," his father calmly replies. No long ears, right? "I don't like being a Frog. It's too slimy," little frog whines. Little frog isn't easily persuaded. And his father's wise words don't sink in at all.

Kids are loving Mike Boldt's illustrations, especially how expressive little frog is. They love knowing that the dad is right, but I think they're rooting for little frog too. And the conclusion leads to giggles from everyone who's read it in our library.

Along comes a hungry wolf who tells how much he likes to eat all those animals. But does he like to eat frogs? No, not one bit. They're much too wet, too slimy, too full of bugs. Ahh, little frog finally realizes that--you know what, being who you are can be a pretty good thing after all.

For more of a taste, check out this adorable trailer:

Illustrations ©2015 by Mike Boldt; used with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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5. A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham -- Birthday fun with friends (ages 3-8)

Hooray! Today is my birthday, and I want to share a slice of cake with every one of my friends. This cake below, from 1976, should be large enough for everyone to have a slice!

4th of July 1976 stars & stripes cake
A trip down memory lane! I can still remember the feeling of growing tall enough to look at the oven knobs straight on, instead of having to stand on tip toe.
For a birthday treat, I'd like to share a favorite book: A Piece of Cake, by LeUyen Pham. It will bring lots of smiles, as kids laugh at the unexpected twists at each page turn.
A Piece of Cake
by LeUyen Pham
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-8
Kind little Mouse has made a birthday cake for his friend Little Bird. He sets off to deliver the cake, but meets other friends who ask for a piece. Pham sets up readers to expect that Mouse will gather the expected ingredients along the way: eggs, milk, honey. But with each page turn, Mouse's friends offer something completely unexpected in return.

A Piece of Cake was honored as a finalist in the Northern California Book Awards this year. I was honored to be part of the children's award committee. Here is part of their description of this delightful story:
Piece by piece, Mouse trades away the cake until he has none left, arriving at Little Bird’s house only with an odd assortment of things... As they walk back to Mouse’s house to make another cake, they find each friend surrounded by trouble. Once again, Pham expertly manages page turns to surprise readers with the solutions that Little Bird cleverly suggests. 
I adore the retro feel of Pham's artwork and the story is so much fun to read aloud. Little kids will love the patterned surprises, and older kids will have fun with the clever twists and enjoy the message about teamwork and creative thinking. I hope this web sampler from HarperCollins lets you glimpse part of this story--make sure to turn the pages to see how the story starts off:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. Hoppy for Poppy

Perfect for Father’s Day read-alouds, these picture books show a variety of dads—from those on lily pads to those in eucalyptus forests, from fantasy kingdoms to suburban parks—raising, teaching, and loving their children.

stein_tad and dadIn David Ezra Stein’s Tad and Dad, little frog Tad loves his father so much that he can hardly bear to be away from him, even at night. Kids will chuckle at Tad’s energetic bedtime antics; parents will laugh with grim identification when Tad starts to swim and grow but still crowds onto Dad’s lily pad to sleep. Stein uses color to great effect in this little book that is both a celebration of the father-child relationship and a good-night book that will hold up to repeat readings. (Penguin/Paulsen, 2–5 years)

miura_big princessIn The Big Princess by Taro Miura (a companion to The Tiny King), a childless king finds a bug-size princess in the castle gardens. His and the queen’s love for her grows daily, but, worrisomely, so does the princess. How to stop her from physically outgrowing the castle (and hence the family)? Miura’s digital collages feature improbably harmonizing elements: brightly colored, blocky geometric shapes coexist with photography, while characters whose faces assume Hello Kitty–like blankness nevertheless live out emotional scenes. (Candlewick, 3–6 years)

waber_ask meBernard Waber‘s Ask Me gives an idyllic view of an ambling, chatting father-and-daughter pair. But there’s more to their walk than meets the eye; the queries and responses they share capture the kind of give-and-take that gradually refines a small child’s language. “Ask me what I like.” “What do you like?”…”I like bugs.” “Insects?” “No, bugs.” With spare, informal colored-pencil lines; welcoming white space; and an eye for color, action, and witty detail, Suzy Lee depicts the two figures in a landscape littered with bright autumn leaves. This outing might inspire young listeners to form their own questions or can help tuck in a toddler with a sweet good night. (Houghton, 3–6 years)

saxby_emuClaire Saxby’s nonfiction picture book Emu relates the life cycle and habits of those birds through the story of a male emu who raises his young in an Australian eucalyptus forest (with this species, the female departs after egg-laying). Graham Byrne’s spiky digital illustrations perfectly display the emu’s hairlike feathering and their awkward-looking flightless movement. Each double-page spread includes the main narrative, in slightly larger type, along with additional statistics and facts about emus in a smaller, more casual font. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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7. Endless Spanish app review

endless spanish coverThe cute monsters from Originator‘s Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader, and Endless Numbers are back…en español! Endless Spanish (May 2015) follows much the same format as Endless Reader to teach basic Spanish vocabulary. There are two modes, “Spanish immersion” or “Spanish with English translation.”

Begin at A and work through the alphabet to Z, or start anywhere you like by choosing a letter from the main menu.

endless spanish menu

The narrator pronounces a word beginning with the selected letter as that word appears in lowercase. Los monstruos dash across the screen, scattering the letters; drag them into the correct order. As you drop each brightly patterned, monster-featured letter into place, the letter says its sound in a silly voice, followed by the narrator saying its name.

A sentence using the featured word in context (e.g., for amigo, ¡Los monstruos están muy contentos por tener un amigo nuevo!) appears and is read by the narrator. Then the featured word is knocked out of the sentence; it’s pronounced again as you place it correctly. One or two other Spanish sight words such as algo (something), bonito (pretty/nice), muy (very), and que (that), which are presumably included in additional letter packs, are highlighted in each phrase as well. The sentence is followed by a brief, humorous animation explicating both the word’s meaning and the gist of the sentence.

endless spanish animation

“The monsters are very happy to have a new friend!”

Tap to repeat the narrator’s pronunciation of the featured word or the contextual frase as many times as you’d like. In English-translation mode, the narrator gives you the English counterpart of the word/sentence, too.

The silly monsters and the funny situations they get themselves into introduce new vocabulary in an engaging way. Upbeat background music, sometimes with a bit of mariachi flavor, adds to the app’s friendly feel. I’ve been trying — and failing — to brush up on mi poquito de español; perhaps I’ll add Endless Spanish to my rotation of Spanish-language learning apps alongside Mango Languages and Duolingo. Endless Spanish is certainly more fun!

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later). The free preview gives you one word for each letter of the alphabet up through F: amigo (friend), bien (good/well), casa (house), dijo (said), encontró (found), and flor (flower). Additional words must be purchased separately ($4.99/pack). Recommended for preschool users and up.

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8. Review of Tad and Dad

stein_tad and dadTad and Dad
by David Ezra Stein; 
illus. by the author
Preschool   Paulsen/Penguin   40 pp.
4/15   978-0-399-25671-4   $16.99   g

Poor Dad. Poor Tad. Neither frog is getting any sleep in his (lily)pad. Tad loves his dad so much that he can hardly bear to be away from him, even at night. Whether Tad is a wiggling tadpole, swimming everywhere with his dad, or a jumping frog with legs, he doesn’t want to sleep alone. “‘Why are you in my bed?’ said Dad. ‘So you won’t miss me,’ I said.” Parents everywhere, especially those with night-wandering, bed-sharing toddlers, will laugh with grim identification when Tad starts to swim and grow and jump and catch his own breakfast, just like Dad, but still crowds onto Dad’s lilypad at bedtime. And, when night comes and the growing froglet dreams and practices his new skills in his sleep (“So that’s what was kicking me…”), little ones will chuckle at Tad’s enthusiasm and Dad’s growing exhaustion. Relaxed circular and rectangular frames signal Dad’s more mature bearing, while Tad’s energy is uncontained, often filling the whole spread. Stein uses color to great effect to show the lap-listener that this little gem is both a celebration of the father-child relationship and a good-night book. See Tad and Dad snoring together on the last page? The world is blue and black, lit only by the moon. ’Night, Tad. ’Night, Dad. Like every good go-to-sleep book, this one will hold up to many repeat readings.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Top 5 meta books to teach print concepts

As a Pre-K teacher, one of the things I am focused on is helping children learn concepts of print. These concepts include that books are read from left to right and top to bottom (in English at least); the role of punctuation; that print has meaning; the relationship between print and speech; that books have a beginning, middle, and end; and more. One of the fun ways to teach these concepts is using a meta book. Essentially, these are self-referential books that teach children concepts of print and how books work through their plot line and design. Below, are my top 5 favorite meta books:

It's a BookIt’s a Book by Lane Smith
I have seen children not old enough to crawl who know how to operate an iPad. This fact has inspired countless think pieces and studies regarding the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional books and books on tablets and computers. Lane Smith’s It’s A Book plays off of this divide between traditionalists and digital book readers in a way that will amuse both children and adults. In the story, we get one character pestering the other with persistent questions about the book he is reading such as “Can it text? Tweet? Blog?” Since many five year olds are already familiar with tablets and smart phones, this book can inspire discussions regarding the differences between digital books and traditional print books, and how those books work. (Note to educators and parents: the end of the book refers to the Donkey as a “Jackass.”)

We Are in a Book!We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems
Most readers of Lolly’s Classroom are most likely already familiar with Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series. One of my class’s favorites in the series is the meta book We Are In A Book! In this book, Elephant and Piggie discover that they are in fact in a book and go on to explain how books work in a myriad of funny scenes. For example, Piggie informs Elephant that “a reader is reading us” which leads to the two characters trying to get the reader to say random silly words like “banana.” Concepts like page numbers and that all books end are also learned via the plot line.

novak_bookwithnopixThe Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
Most got to know Newton native B. J. Novak when he played Ryan Howard on the TV show The Office. Since the completion of the show, Novak has expanded his artistic oeuvre to include writing a children’s book called The Book With No Pictures. As you probably guessed from the title, this book contains no pictures. Instead, the book forces the adult who is reading the story to say ridiculous things like “blork,” “Bluurf,” and “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.” This is a great book to teach children that text can have meaning without pictures and can inspire a fun lesson plan for emerging writers by having the children try to author their own book with no pictures.

Grover_MonsterThe Monster At The End Of This Book by Jon Stone
In this book staring the iconic Sesame Street character, Grover sees the title and is fearful of the monster at the end of the book. As the reader turns the book, Grover gets increasingly scared and angry at the reader who, by turning the pages, is bringing him ever closer to the monster at the end of the book. (I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess who the monster turns out to be)

! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Punctuation can be confusing to young children; fortunately, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld teamed up to create this great book simply titled !. In the story, the characters themselves are punctuation marks. At the beginning, we find the exclamation mark upset because he does not fit in with the periods. Eventually, the exclamation marks sets off and meets a question mark who can’t stop asking him questions, which leads to the exclamation mark finding his voice and purpose. This is a great book to read to set up a lesson plan about how different punctuation can change the tone and meaning of a sentence.

Finally, I will leave you with a simple lesson plan to create a “meta book” called “I Am In a Book” Get some small pieces of poster board and onto each piece of poster board attached a self-adhesive mirror tile (they are pretty cheap to buy). Use a hole-punch and book ring to turn it into a book. On the cover write “I am in a book”. On each subsequent page write phrases like “this is my happy face,” “this is my mad face,” “this is my sad face,” “this is my silly face,” and so on. As the children read the book they will make the face that goes along whatever is written underneath the mirror on that page.

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10. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

Spending time together. A grandmother and her grandson. That love and friendship is what life's all about.


I love how picture books can capture a small moment--and help us hold onto the small moments in our own lives. Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's wonderful picture book Last Stop on Market Street makes me smile every single time I read it--it's so filled with love, friendship and an appreciation for life, in such a real way.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña
illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P.Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
*best new book*
When CJ and his grandmother finish church, they head to the bus stop together. CJ doesn't want to wait for the bus, stand in the rain, or go places after church. "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" Nana gently chides him, really just planting seeds for how she sees the world. "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
You see, it's really how you look at the world, the magic you can see there, and the people you meet along the way. When CJ asks why a man on the bus can't see, Nana tells him, "Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people watch the world with their ears."
"Some people watch the world with their ears."
CJ's grandmother helps him see beauty in his surroundings, whether it's the bus or the soup kitchen they head to every Sunday afternoon. As Nana said,
"Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, C.J., you're a better witness for what's beautiful."
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson celebrate the relationship between CJ and his grandmother, and they help all of us see beauty in the small moments, where we never even thought to look. This is a book I look forward to sharing with a wide range of children. Young ones will feel the love between grandmother and grandson; older ones will see the messages that the authors are sharing.

I know my students will especially love the illustrations, with such a wonderful range of people that look so much like the people we see every day walking in our city. The rich, full colors infuse the landscape and city scenes with warmth, community and happiness.

Want to learn more? Check out:
I'm so happy to hear that this special book is now on the New York Times Bestseller list. Hooray! I've already purchased five copies to share with friends. Illustrations from LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET written by Matt de la Peña. Illustrations © 2015 by Christian Robinson. Used with permission from G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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11. Review of Smick!

cronin_smickSmick!
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Juana Medina
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-670-78578-0   $16.99   g

With minimal text, a clever use of sight words and word families, and a bounty of playfulness, Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to their new best friend: good-natured, tail-wagging, droopy-eared dog Smick. A game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”) gives way to the discovery of a new friend when Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” in the distance. Smick, stick, and the newly introduced chick, who is now comfortably situated on Smick’s head, attempt to resume the game, with mixed results (“Slow, Smick, slow!”). All ends in joyful doggy friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digitally rendered art incorporates photo images of a flower petal (transformed into the chick by the addition of a few added black lines for wings, legs, eyes, and beak) and a wooden stick. However, it mostly consists of simple black lines, stark against the expansive white space, that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy with economy, verve, and apt detail (i.e., one ear lifted in the direction of a new sound). The handful of words per page play with meaning via order and context à la Gravett’s Apple Pear Orange Bear (rev. 7/07), allowing readers to flesh out the story themselves and encouraging independent reading. “Go, Smick, go!” cheers the narrator, in homage to the classic Eastman easy reader. Readers will cheer along.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Juna's Jar, by Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino (ages 4-7) -- imagination and friendship soar

I adore picture books for the way they let us escape into our imagination, but they can also help us recognize our resilience (and our children's) as we face disappointment. Share Juna's Jar, a lovely new picture book by debut San Francisco author Jane Bahk, and talk with your children about how Juna's imagination helps her when she misses her friend Hector.
Juna's Jar
by Jane Bahk
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Lee & Low, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-7
Juna and Hector always loved collecting things together and putting them in Juna's kimchi jar, but Juna is at a loss when Hector moves away. It's especially sad that she hasn't had a chance to say goodbye.
"Juna loved to take the jar and go on adventures with her best friend, Hector."
Her big brother, Minho, helps cheer her up, getting her a fish. That night, Juna dreams of diving into the ocean, swimming with her new fish and looking for Hector. The next night, after her brother gives her a bean plan to fill the jar, she journeys into the rain forest. On the third night, Juna rides a cricket in her dreams, traveling far outside the city to Hector's new home. As she sees him sleeping, Juna is able to whisper goodbye.

Felicia Hoshino's gentle watercolor illustrations capture Juna's wistful emotions, full of longing but also the final promise of new friendship.

I love how friend Margie Myers-Culver sums it up in her review at Librarian's Quest:
Juna's Jar "asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination. It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass."
Jane Bahk won the 2010 Lee & Low New Voices Award for an unpublished author of color, with the manuscript for Juna's Jar. I look forward to more stories from her! I also want to honor and thank Lee & Low for this important award.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Lee & Low. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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13. Review of You Nest Here with Me

yolen_you nest here with meYou Nest Here with Me
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple; illus. by Melissa Sweet
Preschool   Boyds Mills   32 pp.
3/15   978-1-59078-923-0   $16.95   g

Yolen and Stemple gracefully incorporate natural science into a comforting picture book comparing various nesting birds with a “nesting” child (“My little nestling, time for bed…”). Some birds, such as pigeons, which “nest on concrete ledges,” will be familiar to many children, while others may be less so: “Grackles nest in high fir trees / Terns all nest in colonies.” Almost always, the verse ends with the soothing refrain, “But you nest here with me.” Sweet’s watercolor, gouache, and mixed-media illustrations use rich colors and delicate lines. The pictures are both accurate and arresting, page after page. Many details are included for children to pick out, such as a frog mother and child sitting on a log near a coot’s nest, or a fox gazing interestedly at a killdeer performing a “broken-wing charade” to protect her babies. A closing spread includes additional facts about each bird, along with a picture of its shape, feather, and egg. Science meets wonder in this deeply satisfying collaboration between poets and artist.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes, by Deborah Ruddell (ages 4-10)

It's fitting that National Poetry Month kicks off each year on April Fool's Day. Modern children's poetry has a strong tradition of delightful mischief and playful humor -- whether it's Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky. Share poetry for the sheer pleasure, but also share it because of its rich language, as it layers so many ideas in short spaces.
The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymesby Deborah Ruddell
illustrated by Joan Rankin
Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster, 2015
Your local libraryAmazonages 4-10
My students (and teachers!) are going to love this assortment of delicious, mischievous, amusing poems all about food. The topic is immediately appealing and approachable, making it easy to hook kids. Some evoke delicious food or happy memories, like "The Cocoa Cabana" serving hot chocolate at the edge of a skating pond. Others spice it up with humor, like the smoothie surprise with "a whisper of pickle" and "the slime from a snail."

Ruddell mixes it up with different poetic forms, and every poem is rich with imagery that will help young students explore the power of similes and metaphors. Because the topics are so fun, these comparisons will get kids actively involved in creating their own figures of speech. Just thinking about guacamole as porridge for a troll makes me smile!
"Even though it's lumpy and it's avocado green,
like the porridge for an ogre or a troll,
nothing on the table makes my eyes light up
like a little guacamole in a bowl!"
The illustrations are equally delightful, helping young readers visualize the poetic imagery and adding their own humor in the process. In "Welcome to Watermelon Lake", Ruddell playfully imagines that a slice of watermelon is a giant lake to some little critters. Young children will love Rankin's illustrations that show just how silly this might be.
"It's icy cold, so our advice
is take a breath and don't think twice.
Just jump right in--you'll never sink--
and did we mention that it's PINK?"
My all-time favorite poem is "How a Poet Orders a Shake" -- both for the imagery and for the way students could come up with their own "how to" poems.
How a Poet Orders a Shake

"A frosty cup of moonlight, please,"
the poet murmurs, low.
"As mush as a mittenful
of slightly melted snow...

And softer than a summer cloud
and paler than a swan
and pearlier than polar bears,"
the poet rambles on...

"And let it be at least as sweet
as icing on a cake.
In other words,
my usual:
a small vanilla shake."

-- by Deborah Ruddell
Do you have a favorite line in this poem? An image that really sticks with you? If you imagine a vanilla shake, what does comparing it to a "frosty cup of moonlight" make you feel like?

I'm looking forward to sharing more favorite poetry books for children all month long as we celebrate National Poetry Month.
Illustrations ©2015 by Joan Rankin; used with permission from Simon & Schuster. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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15. We’re Bugging Out!

beecover

Super excited to announce that our Bee Bully is being featured in Bookbub today and is only $.99 for a limited time.  To celebrate we have some free gifts to tell you about.  From April 1st – April 5th you can download our latest release, Caterpillar Shoes, absolutely free from Amazon.  Check out what’s troubling Patches the caterpillar and the silly decision she makes to live her life to the full.  There are some interesting caterpillar facts in the back of this book.

 

Caterpiller-cover_AM

I’ve also got more surprises to share.  My friend, Laura Yirak, is also giving away a copy of her delightful bee book, Bumble Babees during this same period.

 

bee_0J

 

Scott Gordon has another treat for you. His book, The Most Beautiful Flower will be FREE April 2-April 6.  This book is only $.99 on April 1st.  Don’t you just love spring!  Enjoy these goodies while they last.

the-most-beautiful-flower


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16. The early bird

After a long, hard winter, spring has finally returned. With it come our little feathered friends — and picture books about them.

konnecke_you can do it, bertIn Ole Könnecke’s humorous, cheering picture book You Can Do It, Bert!, a small red bird walks out to the end of a slender tree branch, trepidation written all over his face. “This is Bert. It’s his big day.” A brief, direct-address text follows Bert as he flaps his wings, checks his environment, and looks like he’s about to take a running start…but no, not yet. Simple shapes and minimal detail keep readers’ attention squarely on the (in)action — with a surprise twist! (Gecko, 2–5 years)

cronin_smickWith just a few words but a bounty of playfulness, Doreen Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to good-natured, droopy-eared dog Smick! During a game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”), Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” and discovers: chick. All ends in joyful friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digital art by Juana Medina mostly consists of simple black lines against expansive white space that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy. (Viking, 2–5 years)

yolen_you nest here with meJane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple’s You Nest Here with Me incorporates real-life information about birds into a comforting bedtime picture book. A mother reads to her daughter (from a book called…You Nest Here with Me) about the different places birds can make their nests — “Pigeons nest on concrete ledges, / Catbirds nest in greening hedges…” The reassuring refrain is “You nest here with me.” Melissa Sweet’s watercolor, gouache, and mixed-media illustrations are both lovely and accurate in their depictions of the avian creatures and their habitats. (Boyds Mills, 2–5 years)

paschkis_p. zonka lays an eggA hen named P. Zonka is dismissed by the other chickens as a dreamer; she’s more concerned with flowers, clouds, and the colors of the sky than with laying eggs. Cajoled into trying it, P. Zonka finally succeeds, but her egg surprises everyone. Julie Paschkis’s P. Zonka Lays an Egg gives one possible (and humorous) explanation behind the tradition of those beautiful Ukrainian pysanky. Her watercolors, filled with repeated patterns and a beautiful use of black outlines, seem to pop off the pages. (Peachtree, 4–7 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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17. Booking Across the USA: Maryland!


About five years ago, I was at a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Maryland and attended a breakout session on blogging, presented by local children's authors Wendie Old and Mary Bowman-Kruhm. I went into the session with a vague curiosity about blogging -- but definitely no desire to start doing it myself -- and left with the confidence to try it out, plus the specific idea of blogging about picture books and dance. So in many ways, Wendie Old and Mary Bowman-Kruhm were the impetus for the creation of Picture Books & Pirouettes!

When Jodie from Growing Book by Book asked me to join the third annual Booking Across the USA project this year -- with the theme of celebrating authors or illustrators from each state -- I knew exactly what I had to do...feature Wendie Old and Mary Bowman-Kruhm! They actually collaborated to co-write a couple picture books for very young readers, which I'll feature a little later. But first, here's a bit more about Wendie and Mary as individual authors...

About the Authors

Wendie Old has been a storyteller and children's librarian in Maryland for more than 30 years, during which time she has published numerous short stories and magazine articles, four picture books, and seven middle-grade biographies. Among her picture books are To Fly, which is a biography of the Wright brothers for elementary readers, and Stacy Had a Little Sister, which deals with the serious subject of the death of a sibling. You can read more about Wendie and her books here on her website.


Mary Bowman-Kruhm has written more than 30 books for children and teens, including many educational texts. Her latest book is The Leakeys: A Biography, which explores the lives and scientific discoveries of the famous paleontologists Louis and Mary Leakey. In addition to writing, Mary works part-time at the Center for Technology in Education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. You can read more about Mary here on her website.

Picture Book Collaborations

Remember how I mentioned that Wendy and Mary collaborated on a couple picture books for very young readers? The first, called Busy Toes, has quite an interesting story behind it. It was actually a collaboration among three writers -- Wendy, Mary, and a freelance writer named Claudine C. Wirth. Rather than having all three of their names on the cover of the book, they decided to write under the pen name C.W. Bowie, and they wrote and polished much of the manuscript over email rather than in person!

The simple text, with illustrations by Fred Willingham, portrays young girls and boys using their toes in many creative ways. "Tippy toes and dancing toes" is my favorite line in the book, but there are many others, such as "BIG TOES, little toes. / Open toes and closed toes / Waving toes / Tickling toes / Doggy tummy rubbing toes."

The creative team of C.W. Bowie and Fred Willingham also went on to write a sequel -- Busy Fingers. Similar to its predecessor, the book is about all the many things that little fingers can do: "Fingers high / Fingers low. / Fingers reach to touch a toe. / Fingers say, 'I love you.' / Fingers wave good-bye, too." 

Movement Activity

Part of the Booking Across the USA project is to share an activity to go with a featured book. Not surprisingly, I chose a movement activity -- and I created it to go with Busy Fingers. The book actually contains 23 different movements that can be done by little fingers, but I picked out the eight ones that seemed easiest to incorporate into an activity.

After reading the book out loud one time, I would go through the following phrases from the book and do the accompanying movements together with your little ones:

  • High: Stretch your arms and fingers up high in the air. This can be done either standing up or sitting down.
  • Low: Stretch your arms and fingers low to the ground. This can also be done in any position.
  • Reach to touch a toe: If you are standing up, bend over and try to touch your feet with your fingertips. If you are sitting down, stretch your legs out in front of you and try to reach your toes.
  • Say 'I love you': Practice saying "I love you" in sign language (see photo below). 


  • Wave good-bye: Ask the children to think of different ways you can wave hello or goodbye. You can wave your fingers so that they open and close, or wave them so all the fingers move together from side to side. You can also try using big movements and small movements to wave. Feel free to explore this concept even more and get creative with how you can wave!
  • Count: Practice counting to ten using one finger at a time. If this is too easy, you can practice counting by twos with your fingers, or adding numbers with sums of 10 or less.
  • Shadows on the wall: Experiment with making shadow puppets with your fingers. If you need some ideas, this YouTube video by professional puppeteer Corina Bona explains how to make some simple shapes like a rabbit, a dog, and a face.
  • Blow a kiss goodnight: You and the little ones can blow kisses to each other and practice catching them different ways with your fingers or whole hand. This is a good way to end the main activity.
And finally, if you want to incorporate art into your exploration of this book, there is a perfect stanza that you can re-read to set the children up for some finger painting and cleanup...

Fingers red, fingers green
Fingers soapy
Fingers clean

You can put red paint on one hand and green paint on the other and explore how different finger movements -- pressing, smearing, drawing -- can create different designs. Throughout the activity, be creative, have fun, and discover all the amazing things that your fingers can do!

Click here to access all the posts from the third annual Booking across the USA project.

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18. Review of Fiete: A Day on the Farm app

fiete on the farm menuIn Fiete: A Day on the Farm (German developer Ahoiii, December 2014), children help sailor Fiete — star of his own previous, self-titled app — and his farmer friends, Hein and Hinnerk, throughout their busy day. The home screen shows the three in a boat. The sky is blue, the hills are rolling, the birds are chirping. Entering the app, it’s early morning; there’s a lit lighthouse in the background, and the boat is gently rocking. Touch the large alarm clock icon and you’re taken to the sleeping men’s bedroom — it’s time to wake them up (their gentle snores are audible along with the ticking alarm clock and birds; it’s really quite peaceful). There are no instructions, so you have to figure out what to do. Swiping at each farmer a couple of times seems to do the trick — each wakes up smiling and ready to start the day. First task completed!

You’re taken back to the early-morning landscape where, swiping horizontally, the sun rises in the background and a rooster crows. The farmers are outside and on the dock (they give you a wave).

fiete on the farm dawn

Touch the rooster to complete the next task: gathering eggs. Swipe a hen to get her to stand up, then use your finger to guide the egg down into an outstretched farmer’s hand (if you miss, the egg falls, crack, but to no ill effect).

Next it’s activities such as virtually pulling carrots, shearing sheep (fun!), sawing a tree trunk with Fiete (really fun!), picking apples (and rescuing a cat from the apple tree), milking a cow (in all honesty, a little weird), and, finally, loading each of the items into its proper delivery truck at the end of the day before settling in around a campfire.

fiete on the farm sheep

There are no written instructions anywhere in this “intuitive interactive app,” but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of things. It’s all very low-key and low-stress; the sound effects are quiet nature noises, and background movement is generally of the gentle swaying-in-the-breeze variety. The visuals are all rounded shapes and subdued colors (until the glorious pink sunset); it looks like the digital equivalent of cut-paper collage, with a bit of European edge to keep things from being too sleepy and bucolic. Wherever Fiete goes next, digitally, little kids will likely want to follow.

Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch (requires iOS 4.3 or later), and Android devices; $2.99. Recommended for preschool users.

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19. Celebrating all types of families: 3 new picture books (ages 3-9)

Three new picture books celebrate all types of families with joy and love. Share these with preschoolers or kindergartners, especially as Mother's Day approaches--helping kids recognize that families take many shapes and forms.

Families, Families, Families
by Suzanne Lang
illustrated by Max Lang
Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
This book is sure to bring giggles as you read it with young children. Lang shares a medley of silly cartoon animal families showing all kinds of nontraditional families.  Each cartoon portrait is framed, hanging on a wall -- the realistic elements adding to the humor.
"Some children have lots of siblings"
"Some children have none."
Gently rhyming lines accompany the family portraits: "Some children live with their grandparents/ and some live with an aunt./ Some children have many pets/ and some just have a plant." As the SLJ review clearly states, "The loud-and-clear message is that 'if you love each other, then you are a family.' And imagine the many children who will be reassured because they have found a portrait of a family they will recognize as their own." A delightful celebration of diversity, treated with loving humor.
My Family Tree and Me
by Dušan Petričić
Kids Can Press, 2015
Book trailer
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-9
Beginning with his great-great-grandparents on his father’s side, a young boy introduces his family, leading to a current family portrait at the book's center. This provides a wonderful way to help children really understand and visualize what a family tree means. The second-half traces his mother’s family, back to his great-great-grandparents on her side. A delightful celebration of multicultural, multigenerational family.
The back cover of My Family Tree and Me
I especially love how easily Petričić integrates diversity into this picture book. The young boy's family is biracial, and each side of his family tree celebrates different heritage. Careful readers will notice how family traits carry on from one generation to the next. Best of all, I think this will help children start wondering about their own extended families.
Stella Brings the Family
by Miriam B. Schiffer
illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Chronicle, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
When Stella’s teacher announces their class is going to have a celebration for Mother’s day, everyone is excited, everyone except for Stella. What should she do? She has two dads and no mom.
"We're going to have a celebration for Mother's Day"
"Stella would be the only one without a mother at the Mother's Day party."
Schiffer tells the story through Stella’s eyes, perfectly capturing a child’s perspective -- sharing her worries, her classmates’ questions and the solution that Stella and her family come up with. This helps kids connect to Stella, empathizing with how she feels. When the big day arrives, Stella brings her whole extended family and feels surrounded by love and happiness.

I hope you enjoy seeking out these books as you celebrate all kinds of families with children. Picture books are both mirrors of our own worlds, helping us see ourselves a little more clearly, and windows into other people's worlds.

Illustrations ©2015 by Max Lang and Holly Clifton-Brown; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House, Kids Can Press and Chronicle Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. Review of It’s Only Stanley

agee_it's only stanleystar2 It’s Only Stanley
by Jon Agee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Dial   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-8037-3907-9   $17.99

The Wimbledon family can’t sleep due to one noise (“HOWOOO!”) after another (“CLANK CLANK CLANK”). In each case, it’s the fault of their dog Stanley, whose onomatopoeic disturbances interrupt — hilariously — not just the sleep but the perfectly cadenced rhyming account of the increasingly bothered Wimbledons: “The Wimbledons were sleeping. / It was late beyond belief, / When Wylie heard a splashy sound / That made him say: ‘Good grief!’” As the night wears on, more and more family members are awakened, and Stanley shows himself to be one clever beagle (and over-the-moon in love). The thick lines and subdued colors in the illustrations bring out the story’s considerable humor and focus readers’ attention on the ever-more-fantastical situations. Agee understands the drama of the page turn better than anyone, with vignettes of the increasingly crowded Wimbledon family bed giving way to full-bleed double-page spreads of Stanley’s machinations until it all comes together (“KAPOW!”) to make everybody jump. Make sure your listeners have their seatbelts fastened.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Courage to Be Yourself: 3 new favorite picture books (ages 3-9)

As kids enter school, their peer groups start having a strong influence over them--with that comes pressure to fit in. So that's why I love books that give the message that we want lots of different types of friends, that we all need the courage to be ourselves. Here are three new favorite picture books that sing that song.

Wild About Us
by Karen Beaumont
illustrated by Janet Stevens
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-7
Warty Warthog has warts, Rhino has wrinkly skin, and Crocodile sports a toothy grin--but they all love who they are. With snappy rhythm and rhymes that are a joy to read aloud, Beaumont celebrates what makes each animal unique.
"Elephant is confident that nothing is wrong.
He knows that his nose is supposed to be long."
Janet Stevens is one of my favorite illustrators of animals--I adore her Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Here, her animals are full of personality and pizzazz. Kids will love the cartoony appeal, but also connect to how each proudly declares how they love themselves just the way they are.
Tommy Can't Stop
by Tim Federle
illustrated by Mark Fearing
Disney Hyperion, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Young Tommy is in perpetual motion, bouncing like a pogo-stick, hollering while he hurdles and clomping like an elephant. He's driving his family crazy ("'He's an animal,' his sister pouts to their parents.") but you can tell from the illustrations that this is a little guy who's just got to move. When his mom drags him to tap class, he's really not sure it's for him. But when the teacher begins bouncing, he's hooked!
"The tap teacher begins bouncing. (Wait! She twirls like... Tommy!)
'You're a ... pogo stick!' he whispers as he watches.
'I call this a hop'"
I love the way this book shows Tommy discovering a joyful, positive way to channel his energy. When the tap teacher kicks, he's amazed that she kicks like a bulldozer -- but she says, "I call this a brush! (Everyone brushes, but Tommy brushes boldest.)" Kids--quiet ones and rambunctious ones--will feel this joy coming through both the illustrations and the words, as Tommy discovers how being true to himself helps him be a star.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Rafael López
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Cuba is an island full of wonderful music, but this beautiful picture book shows how hard one girl had to work to be true to her musical self. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who was of Chinese, African, and Cuban descent, dreamed of "pounding tall conga drums / tapping small bongó drums, and boom boom booming / with long loud sticks." But in 1930s Cuba, drumming was taboo for girls.
“But everyone / on the island of music / in the city of drumbeats /
believed that only boys / should play drums …”
Millo was not deterred, playing her drums every chance she can, even if it was in her own head. Finally, her father softened and brought a teacher to listen to Millo's drumming--a teacher who was so impressed that he allowed her father to have courage to break the social taboo. I just love how Millo's joy comes through in the illustrations. López captures a visual rhythm, the way that Engle does in her poetic text.
“When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings ...
the dancing tap / of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own heartbeat.”
This beautiful, poetic picture book will inspire children today to follow their own dreams, even if society around them scorns them. To see more of these wonderful illustrations, head over to Seven Impossible Things; to learn more about Engle and Lopez's creative process, definitely read Julie Danielson's article in Kirkus: Beating the Drum for Women's Rights.

I hope you enjoy these new picture books. Whether it's humorous animals, bouncing little boys or girls who feel music thrumming in their souls, these stories can speak to kids, helping them have the courage to be themselves.

Illustrations ©2015 by Janet Stevens, Mark Fearing and Rafael López; used with permission from the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Disney Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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22. ABC, easy as 123

Who says ABC books are just for babies? Why can’t you mix up some colors using just your finger, no paint? The following concept books defy conventions — and expectations.

tullet_mix it upIn Mix It Up!, Hervé Tullet follows the same format as in his hugely entertaining Press Here, but this time the play is focused on colors and what happens when you mix them. Children are directed to press on color splotches or to shake or tilt the book to make the colors “mix” or “run.” Turn the pages to see the results. For example, “If you rub the two colors [red and blue] together really hard…then what happens?” (Page-turn: purple!) Lots of fun, with no messy cleanup. (Chronicle/Handprint, 2–5 years)

carter_b is for boxThat bright, friendly cube from David A. Carter’s The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites is back in B Is for Box: The Happy Little Yellow Box. This time it’s taking a trip through the alphabet, encouraging children to use pull-tabs, lift-the-flaps, and other interactive features every step of the way. The white text and chalklike drawings on black backgrounds introduce multiple upper- and lowercase letters per page. The bold color contrasts and carefully engineered surprises make for a high-energy alphabet book. (Little Simon, 2–5 years)

jeffers_once-upon-an-alphabetEach letter of the alphabet gets its own little four-page story in Oliver Jeffers’s Once Upon an Alphabet. The tales are clever, silly, and thought-provoking; some of them overlap, with characters making their way in and out of one another’s stories. Jeffers’s loose-lined illustrations include lots of visual humor that will appeal to older children who already know their ABCs but can still appreciate a good alphabet book. (Philomel, 5–8 years)

ramstein_before afterThe wordless Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui presents before-and-after sequences: night to day, acorn to oak tree, etc. As the book progresses, some of the sequences become longer (sheep to wool to knitting to sweater), as simple transitions make way for more complex or philosophical ones. Clean, subdued-palette digital illustrations help pave the way for thoughtful discussion. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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23. Five questions for Lucy Cousins

lucycousinsIf you know any little girls named Maisy (or Tallulah; or, for that matter, any little boys named Cyril), chances are good that it’s because of Lucy Cousins. Her indomitable little-girl-mouse is beloved by toddlers and their grownups the world over, making Cousins one proud mama.

1. Your latest Maisy book — Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! (Candlewick, 2–5 years) — is a large-format, lift-the-flap book. You’ve also done Maisy board books, hardcovers, cloth books, Maisy First Science and Arts-and-Crafts books, books with stickers, etc., etc. How do you decide? Does form follow content?

LC: I like to try out any new ideas for Maisy that I can think of. Maybe it’s because she is quite a graphic character, she seems to work well in many different formats. Because the age range for Maisy is so wide, from a young baby who is just grasping things and looking intently to a child who enjoys stories and details, it means there is such a variety of book styles to create. A chunky book is great for a tiny child who might put the book in the mouth and drop it on the floor, whereas an older child will enjoy sitting quietly and studying the pictures and following a story. Whatever the age, I like there to be a choice of Maisy books, some just for fun, some for learning, some for stories. So I aim to create pictures and ideas or stories that are relevant to the format of the book.

2. You’ve introduced American children to some unusual-to-them names (Maisy, for one; also Tallulah, which is very cute to hear toddlers try to say!). How do you name your characters?

LC: I find naming characters a very difficult thing. I have a few dictionaries of names, which are usually for naming babies, and initially go through all the names starting with the same letter as the animal I’m trying to name. Or I think of names that sound nice phonetically. When I named Maisy, the name was familiar, but only really used by people of my grandparents’ generation. I just loved the sound of it, a soft and friendly name. Now it has become quite a popular name, and I sometimes meet children called Maisy and Tallulah when I am signing books. I was quite excited when my son came home after his first term at university and told us that his new girlfriend’s name is… Tallulah!

cousins_count with maisy cheep cheep cheep3. You’re well known for your work in those bright, bold colors. Have you done work in other styles, or using different media?

LC: I developed my style of illustration using bright blocks of color and a bold black outline while I was studying at art college. It feels very comfortable and natural to paint like that, so I enjoy mostly working in that style. Occasionally I have tried a slightly different approach. For example, my book I’m the Best (Candlewick, 2–5 years) was created with colored inks and a chunky graphite pencil. In the early days of Maisy, I had quite a lot of creative input into the developing of the TV series and merchandising, and I enjoyed working in those different mediums. I love doing creative things for fun, almost anything, from pottery to photography to knitting. But life has been so busy bringing up my four children and creating my books, that I haven’t had much time for experimenting.

4. Maisy is a toddler icon. Do you hear much from nostalgic ten-year-olds?

LC: Yes, it’s always lovely to hear memories of people enjoying Maisy. Especially from six-foot-tall teenage friends of my children. Parents sometimes tell me heartwarming stories about how a Maisy book has been very special to their child during a difficult time, like a hospital visit, or starting a new nursery school. I work in a solitary way, for weeks and months on my books, and sometimes it can be quite a struggle, so it means a lot when I hear about a child who loves Maisy.

5. Following Hello Kitty-gate, do you think of your character as a girl-sized mouse? Or a mouse-shaped girl? Or neither?

LC: I have to say that it is not something I think about, or am inclined to try and understand. For me, she is just Maisy, in Maisy’s world, and it’s completely separate from our world. When I did the very first drawing of Maisy about twenty-five years ago, I could picture her character and her world, and it’s always seemed to me that it’s best not to question that vision. If I start to think about why she is a mouse who behaves like a child, has no parents or family, can do things only adults can do, and is completely independent, it all seems rather confusing. Even her sex is rather ambiguous to me. She is officially a female, but that is a very unimportant part of who she is. She likes wearing trousers and mucking out pigs as much as dancing and baking.  So, Maisy is just Maisy. Simple.

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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24. Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8)

I'm so happy to share Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas this week -- our kindergartners and 1st graders are excited about Chinese New Years (which begins on Feb. 19th this year), and they'll also love the way Natasha Yim spins the Goldilocks story.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Grace Zong
Charlesbridge, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
One Chinese New Years, Goldy's mother asks her to visit their neighbors, the Chan family, to wish them "Kung Hei Fat Choi" and share special turnip cakes with Little Chan. "He never shares with me,' Goldy muttered," but mother reminds her that it is the right time to wash away old arguments or she'll have bad luck.

Goldy knocks on the Chan's door, but no one is home. She pushes open the door just to peek and tumbles in, spilling the cakes and making a mess. From there, students will have fun recognizing all of the Goldilocks elements: Goldy finds three bowls of congee (finishing the last), three chairs (breaking the third), and then three beds (falling asleep in Little Chan's futon that's "just right").
“Then she slurped some congee from the plastic bowl. ‘Mmm … just right!’
Before she knew it, she had eaten it all up.”
I especially love the way Natasha Yim and Grace Zong incorporate elements of both Chinese New Years and the Goldilocks tale. Kids will love spotting all the different references. But even more, I love the way Yim changes up the ending.

Goldy runs away embarrassed, but then she thinks about what she's done and goes back to help the Chan's put things back together. It's a moment that I appreciate -- we all make mistakes, but it's what we do afterward that really matters.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Charlesbridge Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. Using wordless books in the classroom

It is easy to underestimate wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books. At first glance, they can seem simplistic and their educational value can seem limited since so much focus is placed on reading in the classroom, but if used in the right way they can contribute to a number of learning objectives across a wide range of grade levels. The books below illustrate some of the types of wordless books that are available and offer some suggestions for how to make them part of your lesson plans.

arrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
This book tells a universal tale of immigration through pictures of a man travelling to an alien world in search of work and a better life. The retro-futuristic setting, sepia-toned images, and alien language will make this book relatable to any reader. Geared towards middle school or older readers, this book could be used in a social studies or history class while reading about the immigrant experience in the U.S. and could just as easily be used in a literature class to teach students how to “read” images.

Robot DreamsRobot Dreams by Sara Varon
It might seem surprising to say that a wordless book about a robot and a dog who are friends packs an emotional punch, but that is certainly the case here. Varon successfully uses images to pull readers into the story and vividly convey emotions without the need for dialogue. The bright colors of the drawings will make this book appealing and accessible to readers in third and fourth grade, where it can be used to prompt discussions around friendship and how art can prompt an emotional reaction.

harris burdickThe Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
Though not completely wordless, this book from famed writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg is definitely not a typical picture book. It consists of a series of drawings, each of which has a title and a caption and no further words associated with it. While the drawings all share an odd, off-kilter quality that makes them mysterious and not quite of our world, they are not explicitly connected to one another. As such, they make ideal short story prompts for virtually any age. This book could be used as inspiration for creative writings projects from grade school through high school. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than the new version of the book published in 2011 under the name The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, which included a story written by a best-selling author to accompany each of the pictures.

mirrorMirror by Jeannie Baker
Here the wordless format is combined with a unique physical format that has readers unfolding each side of the book to reveal side-by-side images of two families, one living in Sydney, Australia and the other living in a small town in Morocco. This layout juxtaposes life in these two locations, showing readers the differences but also the important similarities between the two families. This is an ideal book for younger readers from preschool through early grade school, who will delight in pointing out the similarities and differences between the images. It would work well for teaching vocabulary related to the images as well as for larger discussions about cultural differences around the world.

I hope these ideas will encourage some readers to reconsider the place of wordless books in their classes, but beyond this, I would also love to hear how readers have already been using them. I hope you’ll consider sharing your favorite wordless books and how you use them in your curriculum in the comments!

 

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