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Do you read aloud much nonfiction with your children? If they're reluctant, try reading them Marissa Moss's terrific picture book biography Nurse, Soldier, Spy -- The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero. Our students LOVED the way Moss drew them into Sarah's story with unexpected twists and turns. They especially commented on John Hendrix's art and design.
At age nineteen, Sarah Edmonds disguised herself as a man and joined the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. She took the name Frank Thompson, and headed off to battle the Confederacy with her Michigan regiment. Frank, as Sarah was known, was an outstanding soldier, brave and true, risking his/her life to help others.
My students loved the way Hendrix showed the battle scenes, using both color and dramatic lines to bring readers right into the scene.
Hendrix also makes the words pop out from the page with his dramatic design. My students found this particularly effective. I was very interested to learn from Elizabeth Bird's Fuse 8 post in the School Library Journal that "Hendrix takes his hand-drawn letters from the illustrated letterforms found on broadside posters from that era."
You might want to share with older children Marissa Moss's novel A Soldier's Secret. I have not had a chance to read this, but here is the publisher's description:
Historical fiction at its best, this novel by bestselling author Marissa Moss tells the story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who masqueraded as a man named Frank Thompson during the Civil War. Her adventures include serving as a nurse on the battlefield and spying for the Union Army, and being captured by (and escaping from) the Confederates. The novel is narrated by Sarah, offering readers an in-depth look not only at the Civil War but also at her journey to self-discovery as she grapples with living a lie and falling in love with one of her fellow soldiers. Using historical materials to build the foundation of the story, Moss has crafted a captivating novel for the YA audience.
As a child, I was in awe of Helen Keller. She overcame so many difficulties, but kept persevering, learning and reaching out to people. At my school, children are still drawn to her story. I love sharing Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares's stirring biography with them.
Doreen Rappaport gives readers a clear sense of Helen's whole life, from the illness that left her blind and deaf as a child, to her years with Annie, and then her accomplishments as an adult.
Throughout it, Rappaport highlights Keller's own inspiring words in large, bold print. Young readers will be inspired not only by how Helen overcame her own disabilities, but how she used her voice to speak up for justice and equality for all.
I remember when I went to the theater and saw the play The Miracle Worker, which focuses on the early relationship between Helen and her teacher Annie Sullivan. The most electrifying moment in the play, and in the biographies of Helen Keller, was always the moment at the water pump, when Helen connected the water flowing over her hand with the word that Annie was spelling into her other hand.
That moment reminds us of how we learn, and the power of learning; the more we understand things, the larger our world becomes. Annie Sullivan opened up Helen Keller’s limited, dark, silent world; it grew and grew until it truly became a big world.
Clara Barton bravely tended to soldiers during the Civil War, and became known as the Angel of the Battlefield. After the war, she founded the American Red Cross, an organization that continues essential relief during emergencies. Patricia Polacco, one of my favorite authors, has just written a book about Clara Barton's childhood. It provides a lovely introduction to this remarkable woman.
Like Polacco herself, Clara was painfully shy as a child and often teased. She found safety and comfort in animals on her farm, often treating them when they were hurt. When her beloved brother Davie was dreadfully hurt falling off the barn roof, Clara tended to him day after day, determined to help him heal, seeing to his wounds and providing comfort and encouragement. My students were fascinated by the historical context of this story, especially how much medical treatment has changed since the 19th century.
Want to find out more? Head over to Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Louise Capizzo, a children's librarian from Maine, and I are writing about how to help children learn more about Barton's life. We think that Polacco's book will inspire children to learn more about this remarkable woman.
I am excited to see my kindergarten class today and introduce them to a woman I truly admire: Jane Goodall. I will read aloud the wonderful picture book Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell, but first I want to tell them a bit about Jane's life. I will share this video from the Jane Goodall Institute to introduce students to her life work:
Little Jane carries her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee around with her everywhere - reading stories, exploring outside, climbing trees.
Right from the beginning, children can relate to having a favorite stuffed animal. Jane loves exploring the outdoors - and so she spends most of her time either watching animals and plants outside or writing in her journal about facts she's discovered. Children can easily imagine keeping a journal with questions and observations about the animals around them.
Is there a scientist you look forward to telling students about during Women's History Month?
The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work helping women throughout Africa planting trees to improve the environment and their quality of life. As we celebrate Women's History Month, I make sure to introduce students to women from throughout the world who have worked hard to improve their communities.
Although it was unusual for girls to receive formal education in rural Kenya, Wangari’s parents agreed to send her to school. Wangari’s determination and hard work continued as she went first to high school in the city, and then to university in the United States to study biology.
Wangari returned to Kenya to teach and inspire women scientists, but became concerned when she saw the environmental damage that was occurring throughout the country. Maathai established the Green Belt Movement, bringing about environmental and economic change in Kenya by helping local women plant over thirty million trees.
International Women's Day, March 8th, is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women's Day is a national holiday. Are you celebrating International Women's Day with your children?
The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
The flowers all around us astound me at this time of year. It makes me remember hiking through the California hills with my mother, noticing all the different flowers around us. These memories drew me to this picture book biography about Lady Bird Johnson, but what makes it stick in my mind is how it shows us the way that each one of us can make a difference by taking action, starting with small steps and moving larger.
This picture book biography weaves together two tales, one of Miss Lady Bird Johnson's life story, and the other of her passionate work to spread wildflowers and beauty throughout our country.
Lady Bird grew up in eastern Texas in the early 20th century, finding solace in the wildflowers and bayous after her mother died. I loved the image of her as a young girl holding ceremonies for the first daffodils that bloomed each spring. Appelt writes,
"It was as if Aunt Effie's flowers became companions and helped take some of Lady Bird's loneliness away."
After Lady Bird moved to Washington, D.C. when her husband was elected to Congress, she realized that the city parks were dingy and had few flowers. Appelt quotes Johnson as telling a friend,
"It is important for a child to plant a seed, to water it, to nourish it, tend to it, watch it grow, and when he does, and when she does, they themselves will grow into great citizens." -- Lady Bird Johnson
Johnson followed this passion by urging Congress to pass the Highway Beautification Act, and later in her life, establishing the National Wildflower Research Center. Have you ever noticed wildflowers growing along the side of a highway? Or traveled to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms? Or marveled at a city landscape with native flowers? Much of those are the direct result of Johnson's efforts.
The scene that stands out in my mind is how she stepped in front of her neighbor's tractor on her Texas ranch, imploring him not to plow under a field of pink evening primroses. It's this gusto, this initiative that captures her energy, creativity and determination to keep wildflowers growing throughout our land.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
What draws friends together? Is it that you both love the same music or flavor of ice cream? Or is it that you make each other laugh? Friends understand one another, love spending time together and make each other happy. Kids -- even young kids -- totally get this. And they're going to love Odd Duck, a new graphic novel that celebrates friendship, with all its quirks and eccentricities.
Theodora swims with a teacup balanced on her head, flavoring her meals with mango salsa, and stays put for the winter. She knows exactly what she likes and is happy with everything going as planned.
When Chad moves next door, Theodora is not quite sure about this new duck. His feathers are askew, he has strange sculptures in his yard, and absolutely no manners! "Theodora could not relate to a single thing that he said. But she knew one thing was certain ... she and Chad would not be friends."
Castellucci and Varon develop this delightful story from here, showing how the two bond over their love of stars, but then fall apart over an argument over which one is odd. The illustrations are charming -- quirky, sweet and sunny. Kids will love the way the two friends come back together in the end, realizing that they really do like each other just the way they are.
Here's what my nine-year-old wrote:
"Of course, every duck can't be perfect, but these ducks are more than just not perfect. They're odd. And in this book both of them have never had a true friend, so they are put up to the challenge to make a true friend."
Kids do get it. They understand what it means to be a true friend. Odd Duck will make them laugh, smile and remember how much they value their own friends.
I really enjoyed reading this interview with Cecil Castellucci in the LA Times. It was also really interesting to read about Sara Varon's process creating the artwork, in this guest post at the First Second blog. Cecil originally proposed this as an early chapter book with spot art, but when the two began working together they realized that it might be even more effective told primarily through pictures.
An essential role for school libraries is providing developing readers with increasingly complex books that build on their previous knowledge. We want to help young readers discover that books can feed their natural curiosity, providing them with more and more information as they become experts on their chosen interests. Common Core IRL will highlight books that ladder up in text complexity on a high interest topic.
For our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs today to read about:
For 3rd and 4th grade readers who are fascinated by frogs, I would suggest a combination of interesting just-right books to read by themselves and some engaging read-aloud books that provide even more information. Today, I'll share two books to read on their own. Tomorrow, I'll share two wonderful books to read aloud.
Gail Gibbons is one of my go-to authors for clear nonfiction for newly independent readers. She clearly explains how frog spawn changes to embryos, then to tadpoles, young frogs, and finally, mature amphibians. Short sentences are easy to read, and yet she provides plenty of details to fascinate young readers:
"These eggs do not have shells. They are inside jellylike coverings. As they float, the jelly lets the sun's warmth come through to the eggs inside."
The text is clearly easy to read, but detailed enough to make it appropriate for a 3rd grader. The book is designed with relatively large font and plenty of white space. Readers will be engaged by the details Gibbons provides. For example, the section on frogs enemies explains different ways frogs ward off predators:
"A sudden leap is a quick escape from danger. For protection, some frogs have skin glands that make them taste bad or make them poisonous. Sometimes their skin color hides them from enemies. This is called camouflage."
Gibbon's distinctive watercolor and ink illustrations are appealing and clearly labeled. The illustrations are closely connected with the text, providing clear explanations for the main ideas and important terms. A double-page spread at the end presents a labeled illustration comparing frogs and toads. Kids will find it interesting to draw the comparisons themselves.
Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a frog and a toad? Is it just that a toad's skin is dry and bumpy and a frog's is smooth and moist? Did you know that a frog has teeth in its upper jaw, but a toad has no teeth? I particularly like the way that Rockwood frames this book around a central, interesting question.
Rockwood addresses a slightly older audience, beginning right away with an explanation of the scientific classification of frogs and toads. You'll notice that the sentences are longer than in Gibbon's book, and the vocabulary is more complex.
"Frogs and toads are amphibians that belong to a scientific order, or grouping, called Anura. This is the most widespread order of amphibians. There are around 4,000 species of amphibians in this order."
I was particularly fascinated by the way that frogs' and toads' legs are similar and different. While both have hind legs that are built for jumping and are longer than their front legs, frogs jump much farther. In fact, some frogs can jump 20 times their body length! Toads, on the other hand, have shorter legs designed for walking, with occasional short hops.
Kids will be drawn in by the colorful, sharply focused photographs of many frogs and toads. The photographs are accompanied by detailed captions, but are not labeled in the same way as Gibbon's book. A table of contents, glossary and index provide children with experience using these important text features to access information. PowerKids provides a website with links for further reading.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.8 Describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text (e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2 Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
Please check out the other Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries posts to see how you would ladder up to these books, and what you might follow them with. Tomorrow, I will share two wonderful books to read aloud to students who are fascinated by frogs.
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.
Our children are fascinated by the world around them, soaking up information about so many different things. I clearly remember how excited my daughter was to learn that birds, snakes and crocodiles are all oviparous, or egg-bearing animals. We can foster this sort of enthusiasm by reading aloud picture books that delve into different nonfiction topics. As the Common Core standards state in ELA Standard 10,
"Children in the early grades (particularly K–2) should participate in rich, structured conversations with an adult in response to the written texts that are read aloud, orally comparing and contrasting as well as analyzing and synthesizing, in the manner called for by the Standards."
"One cannot stress enough the importance of reading aloud. You will want to read aloud to teach children discipline-based concepts that are integral to social studies and science.You’ll also read aloud to create a sense of community and to show children why people love to read. And you’ll read aloud to teach children vocabulary and higher-level comprehension skills. As you conduct a read-aloud session be sure that it includes opportunities for accountable talk." grade 2, page 6
As part of our new series the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we would like to suggest two excellent nonfiction picture books all about frogs that we like to read aloud to students. These books will have different language and text features than those we provide to children to read independently. They might use more figurative language, longer sentences, higher vocabulary. But they will engage students, laying important background for their own reading, and lead to many discussions about these interesting animals.
Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson illustrated by Gennady Spirin Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2013 read aloud: grades 1-3 independent reading: grades 4-5 Lexile 950 AD (adult directed) Amazon your local library
This gorgeous picture book explores eleven different frog species from around the world, from Australia to Borneo to Chile. Each spread focuses on a different species, with a wonderful illustration and an engaging description that focuses on one interesting aspect of that species. Guiberson uses descriptive text to hook readers:
"In Chile, the Darwin's frog sings in the beech forest. Chirp-Chweet! The male guards 30 eggs in the damp leaves for three weeks. When the tadpoles wiggle, he scoops them into his mouth. Slurp! They slither into his vocal sacs, where he keeps them safe and moist for 7 weeks. Then he gives a big yawn, and little froglets pop out."
This book would work very well as a read aloud for 1st through 3rd grade, either to a whole class or a small group. Older children might love reading this as they explore different types of frogs, but I really see this as working best as a read aloud. Guiberson ends the book with an interesting summary of the different species, and a note about how frogs are in trouble from environmental pressures or pollution. I do wish that she included a map identifying where the different species live, providing that geographical context for young readers.
Teachers and school librarians will be interested in this helpful reading guide for Frog Song. Another book for reading aloud that would complement Frog Song is Hip-Pocket Papa, by Sandra Markle.
Sandra Markle and Alan Marks have teamed up to write several engaging narrative nonfiction books about animals throughout the world. These books follow one animal, telling the story of that animal's life. Readers can clearly identify the beginning, middle and end of the story, much like they do in fiction.
Set in an Australian rain forest, Hip-Pocket Papa follows this tiny frog as they watch over and protect their eggs, and then the babies from tadpoles through maturity. Once the eggs hatch, the male scoops the tadpoles up and keeps them safe in hip pockets until they have developed lungs and turned into froglets. The text is both poetic and fascinating, as it follows one father's hazardous journey raising his young. Markle uses long sentences with complex vocabulary to paint a picture with her words:
"Finally, the eggs hatch!The jelly surrounding them turns to liquid -- a birth puddle for the twelve teeny, tiny tadpoles, swimming up and out onto the surface of the forest floor. Her job done, the female crawls away. The male stays. He has an even bigger job to do."
Alan Marks' detailed, realistic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are perfect for showing to a whole group. The rich colors and close-up scenes draw readers into the forest setting, focusing close up on the tiny frogs and the miniature drama happening each moment. The only problem I had is really getting a sense of the true size of the frogs. Since narrative nonfiction books usually do not have text features like diagrams or labeled illustrations, readers must use the descriptive text to figure out this information.
Check out this preview of Hip-Pocket Papa available through Google Books:
Common Core Standards
Below you can see how standard 3 for reading informational text develops from 1st grade through 3rd grade, as students describe a process like the metamorphosis of a frog, or comparing two different frog species. Both of these books could be used to have students delve into a discussion about frogs' development, either examining the development of one species step-by-step, or comparing and contrasting different species.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
This post is part our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs to read about:
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.
When I look for a great counting book, I am looking for a book that pulls young readers back to read it again and again. It has to have clear, dynamic illustrations and text that invites the adult to interact with the child while they read together. Mark Lee's debut picture book Twenty Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street is a fantastic new counting book, perfect for little kids wowed by huge, towering trucks.
A little boy watches as an ice-cream truck rumbles down the street. When the ice-cream truck breaks down, it blocks middle of the street. This leads to a chain-reaction traffic jam, with truck after truck getting stuck in the street. Lee's rhyming text is wonderful to read aloud, adding interest for parents and children. He uses the page turns perfectly, building suspense along the way.
"A mail truck stops, so now there are two. Their drivers don't know what to do.
Watch out! Two trucks are in the way. They stop a third truck carrying hay."
We start realizing the pattern just as the little guy on his bike starts counting the trucks. Kurt Cyrus, veteran picture book author and illustrator, captures our attention with bold digital illustrations.
I love how Lee and Cyrus each layer in many aspects to this counting book, inviting repeated readings. Some kids will spend hours naming each type of truck, while others will notice all of the different items the trucks carry.
Cyrus keeps the little kid on the bike as part of each picture, helping kids see themselves in this busy traffic jam, but he switches up the perspective throughout, zooming in and out of the scene. My favorite spread is near the end, looking down at the whole big mess, when you can count each truck that's piled up waiting for the ice cream truck to move.
Best of all: the little kid comes up with the final solution!
Next week, Americans celebrate Constitution Day and honor the signing of the U.S. Constitution. I've enjoyed finding resources that help students and teachers explore the Constitution, and wanted to share them here.
This year marks the 226th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. This document establishes the basic structure of our government, the responsibilities of each branch of government, and the basic rights afforded all Americans.
PRIMARY -- young students (gr. 1-3): These resources help introduce the Constitution to young students for the first time.
I'd like to embed the video from the American Bar Association here. I found it very moving:
Federal law requires that all schools receiving federal funds hold an educational program for their students on September 17th.
Tomorrow I'll share resources for middle school and high school students, grades 6 - 12. They will include more primary resources. I'd love to hear about resources you like to share with students to help them think about the importance of our constitution.
One of my favorite memories has to be watching little kids go to the local fire station for the first time. They look up at the huge fire fighters and their trucks in such awe and amazement. Laura Murray has created a rollicking fun read aloud to celebrate this adventure.
The pint size hero of The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School returns for a class field trip to the local fire station. After their teacher announces they’ll be riding the bus to meet the fire fighters, Sophia reassures the Gingerbread Man that she can take him along in the pocket of her backpack.
But just as the class reaches their destination, the little cookie falls out of his hiding spot and falls right on top of Spot, the hungry Dalmatian. Readers familiar with the traditional tale will relish the similarities as the Gingerbread Man evades being eaten, shouting,
"I'll run and I'll dodge, As fast as I can. I'm not a dog bone! I'm the Gingerbread Man!"
The ensuing chase leads throughout the fire house, into the truck, up the shiny pole, through the bedroom and into the kitchen. When the alarm sounds, the fire fighters rush to the truck and the Gingerbread Man hops aboard, riding to the rescue.
Murray’s bouncing rhythms keep the story moving at a quick pace, and are matched by Lowery’s action-packed cartoon-style illustrations. In the end, female Fire Chief Anne rewards the little hero and his classmates with helmets, paralleling many children’s own trips to the fire station.
Read a fun interview with Laura Murray over at Mr. Schu's Watch.Connect.Read. What a great school visit this would be!
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Growing up, I used to think that our outlook on life was shaped (in part) by the landscape you saw driving to work or school. I felt so lucky to drive through open, grass-covered hills dotted with oak trees. I immediately felt a kinship to Kate Sessions, when I read The Tree Lady, by H. Joseph Hopkins. It's a wonderful picture book biography that shows a woman taking action to improve her environment.
After becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, Kate Sessions took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman single-handedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.
Sessions was determined to pursue her passion and find solutions to problems she saw. She was a trail-blazer thinking about sustainability, important issues especially in California. Want to learn more? I especially liked Lisa Taylor's review over at Shelf-employed.
Kate Session arrives in San Diego
Balboa Park, San Diego, 1915
Do you want to share more with kids? I think they'd be interested in this video from the San Diego Historical Society.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Today marks the Year of the Snake in the Chinese calendar and I would like to share a special book, Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine. This book particularly spoke to me about the ways a grandfather reached out to his grandson, stretching across cultural differences. Compestine's story rings true for many families, and it is one that children will appreciate.
Like many boys, Vinson loves martial arts and is eager to show off his fastest kicks and punches. When his grandfather visits from China, Vinson watches his grandfather practice the ancient art of tai chi.
"His hands moved like gliding birds. He crouched like a tiger; he drew an invisible bow; he lifted a foot like a rooster and stood still."
Vinson wants to learn tai chi himself, and his grandfather starts by teaching him a standing meditation. This quiet, disciplined form is definitely a challenge for Vinson, and he almost gives up. He can't understand how tai chi build strength. But when his grandfather brings him to the New Year's parade and asks him to lead the dragon with the cabbage, Vinson is full of awe and respect for his grandfather.
Compestine captivates young readers with this portrait of a family's cultural identities, as the generations reach out to one another. She conveys young Vinson's embarrassment and growing respect for his grandfather as he comes to see and understand him. The illustrations are quiet, until the climatic scenes, matching the narrative journey nicely.
Combine this with Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith's nonfiction Celebrating Chinese New Year, which follows Ryan, a young Chinese-American boy in San Francisco, as his family prepares for Chinese New Year. For a simpler book, look for The Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Kate Waters and Maeline Slovenz-Low, which shows how 6-year-old Ernie performs his first lion dance. In simple, easy-to-read sentences, Ernie describes the way he and his family prepare for Chinese New Year. While the photographs are not very crisp, this book is still engaging and worth seeking out.
The review copy of Crouching Tiger was kindly sent by the publishers Candlewick Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Each year I turn to the Cybils Awards to learn about books that kids are really going to like, and that are really well written. These awards specifically choose books that meet both criteria. As they write on the Cybils website,
"If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious."
For the past two years, I have had the great honor of working with the Cybils team to organize the Cybils Book App Awards. We have carefully considered over 80 nominated books apps, looking at storyline, interactive features, narration, illustrations, and overall child appeal. This award stands out for considering the literary merit of book apps, not just their technical achievements.
Today, the winning books are announced and I couldn't be happier! Our round 1 judges chose an excellent panel of finalists, and the round 2 judges agreed that one app rose to the top:
What would you paint if you had a magic paintbrush? Would you paint all the riches you might want? But what might happen if an evil lord tries to steal this away? Dragon Brush takes children into this scene, using interactive features to draw children along but never overwhelming the story.
Dragon Brush embodies all that the Cybils stands for: an excellent story that draws children back to it again and again. Children are fascinated with the interactive features, revealing the intricate paintings that magically come to life, and finding each of the hidden inkpots.
All of the Cybils winners are fantastic. Take some time to peruse this wonderful resource and find great books to share with your kids. Read about other book apps here on my blog, Great Kid Books.
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Students at our school are fascinated to learn about the Underground Railroad. We use historical fiction and nonfiction to pull our students back in time. Three picture books stand out for me, because of the way that they help young children feel the tension and drama of this time in history.
With sparse text and powerful imagery, Evans brings young readers into the world of a family escaping from slavery. A family gathers to escape, only their wide eyes showing in the blackness of night. They run barefoot through woods, at each step watchful for the patrollers looking for runaways. Use this powerful picture book as an introduction to the Underground Railroad. Evans' powerful illustrations help young children put themselves in the situation, connecting with the intense emotions, drama and tension of the experience.
Young Lindy fiercely clings to her rag doll, Sally, through hard days and nights with her family as slaves on a plantation. The doll Sally tells this story, sharing how Lindy's mama Miz Rachel made her out of "no more'n a bunch of rags" and carefully stitching her face on. When Lindy's father is sold after trying to escape, Lindy hugs Sally "so hard I think my insides'll bust" - and young readers will know how much this doll brings Lindy comfort.
Sally tells of the night when Lindy and her mother escape to freedom, meeting their father and crossing over the river. Sally's voice is at once familiar and colloquial, helping readers connect emotionally to the story. I particularly liked the way that the doll helped readers understand the frightening situations that children went through, while emphasizing the hope and comfort family can bring.
This wordless book makes you think at each step of the way, as you unravel and make sense of the story. A young girl crosses to the barn to do her chores, and she's startled by a noise in the corn husks. But as you look more closely at the corn, you realize that a person is hiding among the stalks. The young girl courageously brings food packages out to the barn, but the two never speak. She knows it's a tense time - she's seen a group of mounted Confederate soldiers pass by, and bounty hunters bring reward posters to the farm.
As the pieces of the puzzle came together for my 2nd graders, they were amazed at the young girl's kindness and courage, and the runaway slave's daunting challenge escaping to freedom. We talk all the time about "reading is thinking" and Henry Cole asks his readers to do just this. On our first read, some of my students were frustrated that we never see the full face of the African American hiding in the corn stalks. But as we talked about it today, those same students talked about how much this story stayed with them. Cole's pencil drawings evoke the girl's emotions and the setting of Civil War Virginia, creating tension and mystery within this quiet book.
The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
"Determined!" "Independent." "Thoughtful." "He stayed true to himself." These were my students' words about Horace Pippin, an inspiring African American painter. I loved sharing A Splash of Red, Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet's new biography of Horace Pippin, with our 3rd graders. Pippin's inner strength and creativity shone throughout this book. Share this book as you study African Americans and read about American artists. But most of all, read this book to connect with an inspiring individual.
Born over 100 years ago, Horace Pippin loved to draw as a child - everyone asked him to draw pictures for them. But life threw many hard times Horace's way. He quit school after eighth grade to work and support his family. He fought valiantly in World War I, but he was wounded and never regained full use of his right arm. When he returned home, Horace's "fingers itched to draw all the colors and textures he saw," but his right arm was too weak to lift.
Bryant shows young readers how Pippin, through sheer determination, learned how to draw and paint again, using his left hand to guide his right. My students were filled with hope and inspiration as they heard about how Pippin stayed true to his dream and visions, even though painting was difficult for him. One of the aspects that really stuck with my students was that Pippin thought carefully about his paintings before he started drawing, because the act of drawing was so difficult. I loved how Melissa Sweet hand-lettered quotes from Pippin throughout, giving readers a real sense of his beliefs.
"If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself..." -- Horace Pippin
The mixed-media illustrations convey Pippin's warmth and spirit, combining drawings and printed elements with watercolor and gouache paints. Melissa Sweet writes in her illustrator's note that she was "inspired by Pippin's deep, rich colors." Like Bryant's words, Sweet's illustrations fill readers with a sense of Pippin's heartfelt artwork, simple on the surface but thought through at every step.
Finish reading this by taking a careful look at the end matter and endpapers. Bryant and Sweet each write insightful notes and provide helpful resources for further reading. We ended wanting to learn more about Pippin's work. This video, created by students in Philadelphia, lets students see many of Pippin's paintings. Find more resources at the website A Splash of Red.
I fully agree with this starred review from the School Library Journal:
"Bryant’s meticulously researched, eloquent text makes this a winning read-aloud, while Sweet’s vibrant, folksy illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, portray the joys and hardships of the man’s life, using his trademark palette…with just a splash of red."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Alfred A. Knopf / Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
I have admired Helen Keller since I was a young girl. And so I was thrilled to read both Doreen Rappaport’s and Deborah Hopkinson’s new picture book biographies: Annie and Helen AND Helen's Big World. I especially love the way these two books complement each other, helping young readers get a fuller picture of this remarkable woman.
Focusing on the relationship between Annie and Helen, Deborah Hopkinson shows the remarkable transformation that happened in an incredibly short space of time. I was particularly struck by how Hopkinson and Colón used primary source documents to give young readers a real sense of Annie and Helen.
Doreen Rappaport gives readers a clear sense of Helen's whole life, from the illness that left her blind and deaf as a child, to her years with Annie, and then her accomplishments as an adult. Throughout it, Rappaport highlights Keller's own inspiring words in large, bold print. Young readers will be inspired not only by how Helen overcame her own disabilities, but how she used her voice to speak up for justice and equality for all.
Deborah Hopkinson and Doreen Rappaport are two nonfiction authors I admire tremendously for the way they convey their passion about their subjects to children. I had the great pleasure of interviewing both of these remarkable authors over at the blog Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Here are a few tantalizing excerpts:
Doreen Rappaport tells us that "Helen Keller’s life is the story of empowerment and possibility, a journey from powerlessness to power, from helplessness into helpfulness, from ignorance to knowledge... I realized that kids react emotionally to her struggles and conquering of her extraordinary disabilities. Her life confirms for them that even under the most difficult circumstances people can triumph."
Deborah Hopkinson says, "Although the moment at the water pump is now so well-known, actually it’s what happened in the months after that I found most fascinating. It seemed natural to use the details in Annie Sullivan’s letters in my story... Annie’s own excitement and Helen’s amazing progress are palpable in her correspondence."
I would like to say a special thank you to Deborah Hopkinson and Doreen Rappaport for their time and thoughtfulness in this interview. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House and Disney / Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Every child I know has loved building things out of materials they find everywhere - whether it's stacking a huge tower of blocks, or making a pillow fort, or using toothpicks and green peas to make a pyramid. If you have a little builder at home, definitely look for Christy Hale's new book, Dreaming Up.
Christy Hale imaginatively pairs drawings of young children building forts, sandcastles and more with photographs of fascinating architectural structures that mirror the children’s creations. Each comes with a concrete poem that will bring a smile to your face. Here, children are building toothpick creations, alongside the Montreal Biosphere. The concrete poem reads,
"Easy peasy as can be / toothpicks joining / One, two, three."
Hale's comparisons and poems are accessible to young preschoolers, but they'll also intrigue seven and eight year olds. My daughter says, "I *love* that book! The thing I love most about it is that it can be for all age groups. It does not matter if you're a grandma reading it to your little grandchild or if you're a middle school kid who's fascinated by buildings."
I especially appreciate the way Hale carefully included so many different children, architects and types of buildings throughout Dreaming Up. As you can see, the children have a range of skin tones and ethnic backgrounds. In the back, you can read about architects ranging from Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi woman who designed the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, to Simon Velez, a Columbian man who designed the Bamboo Church in Columbia.
Children will adore the way Hale celebrates their creativity - just look at the building that looks like a child's pillow fort! Older children will be interested to read that Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (pictured above) is located on a river, and that it often gives the impression of looking like a fish or a ship. Children who are interested in learning more will appreciate the extra information Hale includes at the end of the book, especially the quotes and pictures of each architect.
On her website, Christy Hale shares six creative projects that engage children in building. She includes plans to make a paper pyramid with tubes of rolled paper and tape, and shows children how to build an ever-expanding labyrinth from interlocking cardboard boxes. You might also have fun checking out two Pinterest sites Hale put together:
Laughter is one of the best ways in to reading. I love sharing joke books, silly books and books with word play and puns. But you know what? These are great for developing reading skills, too. Many jokes and puns revolve around double meanings. In order to understand jokes, kids have to have sophisticated reasoning and reading skills.
Most of these books are meant for kids ages 7 and older, in 2nd grade and up. They work best for kids who have already learned to read and can get the jokes.
Here some of my favorite books to share on April Fools Day, or any day I want to hear kids laughing.
Kids still love this classic wordplay book which uses single letters and numerals to make sentences 4 U 2 decode. Steig's clever humor, combined with drawings that give just enough clues, is X-L-N fun. Can you figure out "I N-V U" or "D N S 5 X"? Just in case, there's an answer key in back - but no P-K-N!
“Wri10” and “illustr8ed” by Rosenthal and Lichtenheld, Wumbers will delight kids as they figure out these words cre8ed with numbers. These word puzzles work much the same way as Steig's CDB! -- you'll find yourself saying them aloud to hear the words and figure out the puzzles. The puzzles are fun, just right for 3rd and 4th graders to figure out.
If you like word puzzles, you'll love Agee's collection of palindromes - words and sentences that read the same forwards as backwards. Just try it with the title - go on, I'll wait. Now try these easier palindromes: "Star rats." "Wonton? Not now." With each, Agee pairs a simple, comical drawing that amplifies the humor perfectly. Plenty of white space gives young readers the time and ability to figure out these puzzles. Perfect for making flexible thinkers who have fun with words! I also love, love Jon Agee's out of print Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp? and Other Oxymorons. Brilliantly funny, and perfect for kids (find it still at your library here).
Although this collection of Halloween-themed riddles is over ten years old, almost all of the jokes will still make kids crack up laughing. Veteran joke writers Hall and Eisenberg please kids with jokes such as “What do witches like to eat for dessert? ... Ice scream!” and “Why did Granny Monster knit her grandson three socks? ... Because she heard he’d grown another foot.”
The layout and design helps young readers, with only one joke per page, written in large font. The illustrations help children think about the word play and understand the joke. Schindler’s cross-hatched illustrations might remind parents of Edward Gorey’s classic cross-hatched drawings, but they will also appeal to new readers, with just the right amount of gross details to elicit groans and laughs.
Do you have any favorite joke books to share? I love finding new ways to make kids laugh and hook them with reading at the same time!
The review copies came from our local library and our home collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
There are times a story fills you with inspiration and love so much that you just have to reach out and share it with a friend. As soon as I read Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean, I knew this was exactly the perfect story for our friend Ry and his family. Recently he asked me if I knew any books to share with his sons who love building things, watching their dad work on construction sites, and plan their own building projects. This book not only shows all the steps of building a house, but it's full of love and warmth in a way you'll want to read it over and over again.
A young family buys a plot of land in the country and sets about building their home from the ground up. Right from the beginning, you're brought into the oldest daughter's perspective, and you can feel this family's excitement.
Children will be fascinated by each step of the building process. I just love this picture below, and how the little girl is studying the house plans right along with Mom and Dad. The whole family works together to build their house.
For all the great construction details, this story is ultimately a celebration of a family’s love. The drawings radiate with warmth, as everyone works together through thick or thin. Their friends come from all over to help build the frame. But then the family works piece by piece through the seasons to finish each detail.
Jonathan Bean drew on his own childhood memories to create this story. As he writes in the author's note, his own parents built their own house when he was a small child. The photographs Bean includes help bring this story to the next level - letting kids know that this really can happen, that a family can work hard towards their dreams, and that it takes everyone working together.
So how did Ry and his family like it? It was a huge hit. Here's what Teyo (age 4) said:
"I like this book because I love building and I want to build a house with my dad."
You just know that this is a book he's going to read over and over again with his family. Fills my heart, this does, knowing how much a book can connect with a kid and his dad.
Last week, our students were thrilled to spend time with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, learning about her writing process and hearing her passion for her work. As we read books by different authors, we try to think about an author's purpose in writing a story or a piece of nonfiction. We dig into the ideas authors layer in their work. Our students really appreciated hearing directly from Ms. Nelson about her many books.
"Bass Reeves was a true American hero. I felt that everyone should know about him." Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Our students had all read Bad News for Outlaws before meeting Ms. Nelson. She really talked with them, asking them questions and making them an active part of the discussion. This really extended their thinking beyond just listening to the book or hearing her presentation. They could feel just what she meant when she said,
"Bass was honorable; he had integrity; he was strong, smart and clever."
Ms. Nelson told our older students about her newest book, No Crystal Stair, which tells the story of her uncle's bookshop in Harlem. She talked about how he wanted to establish a bookshop that helped African Americans learn about their history, their stories, their literature. We are all looking forward to the picture book which Ms. Nelson is writing about her uncle's bookstore.
Our 2nd and 3rd graders talked with Ms. Nelson about her picture book Almost to Freedom, a story about a young girl's escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She started off by talking about why she writes.
"I know it's because my parents read to me every night. My siblings would argue about going to bed, but secretly I was dying to get into bed because my mom would read the next chapter of our book. My dad loved poetry and would recite poetry from memory to me."
Her parents taught her not only to love stories, but to love words and to understand their power. Our students love Almost to Freedom because it's told from the perspective of a doll. Ms. Nelson really creates the voice of this doll, and students can connect to that voice.
Ms. Nelson talked about how when she looked at the dolls in the museum, she started wondering,
"If those dolls could talk, what would they tell me?"
I loved a 3rd grader's question: "When you write, do you start feeling how your characters are feeling?" Yes, she does very much -- because she needs to feel what it might be like to run away through the forest at night hiding from the slave catchers, to be able to share those feelings in her words and create them for her readers. She brought her collection of African American dolls to share with our children.
Enjoy this Animoto slideshow of our visit with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
I want to thank the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California for sponsoring Vaunda Nelson's trip to the Bay Area. For a wonderful resource of materials about sharing history with children, check out ACL's resources from their recent Institute. I would also like to thank the Emerson PTA for sponsoring Ms. Nelson's visit to our school. Our children appreciate your support and enrichment. But most of all, I want to thank Ms. Nelson herself for her time, energy and enthusiasm sharing her passion for stories with our children.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Children are eager to explore the world around them. Many love to read about animals, learning about different species, their habitats and life cycles. I've often wondered how we help young children learn about problems caused by pollution, habitat loss or global warming without making children too worried or sad. Melissa Stewart's A Place for... series of picture books look at environmental problems, but focus on ways people can change them and help animals live and grow.
Turtles live in all sorts of different environments, but many have faced challenges brought about by environmental problems. Melissa Stewart introduces young children to specific problems that turtles face, such as habitat loss caused by invasive nonnative plants, but does so in a clear, simple way. Throughout, she emphasizes that we can all help change these problems.
"Some turtles have trouble building nests when new kinds of plants spread into their home habitat. When people find ways to control the new plants, turtles can live and grow."
Stewart balances this clear, simple narrative with sidebars that provide more details on different species and the challenges they face. These specific examples add detail and interest, especially when combined with Bond's detailed acrylic illustrations. For example, Stewart writes that the bog turtle's wetland habitat has been threatened by invasive purple loosestrife that is growing too thickly. Families will find it interesting to talk about different projects that communities are undertaking to improve life for turtles.
I have greatly enjoyed following Melissa Stewart's blog: Celebrate Science. - she shares her passion for science, animals and the environment in many different ways. She has been thinking deeply about how to connect information picture books to the Common Core, and has many helpful ideas for teachers and librarians.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Peachtree Publishers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
There's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stories, imagining her past and feeling connected to a history larger than myself. The Matchbox Diary captures this special moment, when a great-grandfather shares his stories with a young girl. It's a wonderful picture book to share with children as they start to get to know their own grandparents' stories.
When a young girl meets her great-grandfather, he tells her to pick something and he'll tell her its story. She picks an old cigar box that holds dozens of tiny matchboxes - his diary. The grandfather explains, "When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember but I couldn't read or write." So he started collecting little things to remember each experience.
As they peek inside each box, the grandfather shares his memories from his childhood. They find an olive pit from his home in Italy. As a very young boy, his family was very poor. "When I'd tell my mother I was hungry, she'd give me an olive pit to suck on." Different mementos remind him of his journey across the Atlantic to join his father in America, a frightening inspection at Ellis Island, and his first years in the United States.
As we turn each page, we are swept back into the grandfather's memories. Ibatoulline's illustrations are full of warmth and capture the emotion of each memory. They are large enough to work well reading aloud, and yet full of details that children will love pouring over. The sepia tones of the paintings reflecting the grandfather's memories help children identify that these are flashbacks. Here we see the grandfather working as a typesetter in a printing press.
Children are very aware of how small items carry many memories. My own children can tell you where each stuffed animal came from, where they got a certain bottle cap, which pen came from a special friend. I love the way that Paul Fleischman helps children connect with the stories their grandparents can share, in such a universal way.
Young children will absorb the warm feelings of family, but older children will be able to think about different themes in this story. I particularly like the way the grandfather values writing as a way of preserving memories and stories. "Books are like newspapers. They show you where you've been."
Pair this with Patricia Polacco's The Keeping Quilt in a unit about family stories. Younger children who enjoy this might also enjoy Rosemary Wells' illustrated chapter book Following Grandfather, where a young mouse remembers her grandfather's childhood immigrating from Italy to Boston.
Check out these other great reviews:
Bookends Blog - I especially like the way Cindy ties this book to the importance of family storytelling, and her memory of Alex Haley at the National Storytelling Festival
Librarian's Quest - I absolutely agree with Margie that Paul Fleischman had me hooked with the first two sentences! Margie made me think about how Fleishman told the whole story through dialog between the young girl and her grandfather. That dialog added a real heartwarming touch to the story.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. Teachers should check out the teaching guide and author's note on the Candlewick site. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.