Sunday, March 31, 2013

Penny returns

PENNY AND HER MARBE by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow, 2013.

Penny is back. In her latest story, Penny finds a marble on Mrs. Goodwin's front lawn. She takes it, but is riddled with guilt worrying about whether or not the marble might belong to Mrs. Goodwill herself. Is Mrs. Goodwill missing her marble? How can Penny return it? Always at the heart of the books in this series is the child's heart and mind. Perhaps that is why kids love Penny so much and are eager for her next adventure.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Black and Blue

IKE'S INCREDIBLE INK by Brianne Farley. Candlewick Press, 2013.

Ike needs just the right ink. How can he possibly gather the ingredients he needs? As the inside picture belwo indicates, Ike is dedicated to finding just the perfect formula.

MY BLUE IS HAPPY by Jessica Young with illustrations by Catia Chen. Candlewick Press, 2013.

Blue does ot always mean sad. Sometimes grey is comforting. And all the other colors can have lots of meaning as our young protagonist discovers in this book that explores how we decide which colors relate to which feelings, events, etc. in our lives.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Red Hat

RED HAT by Lita Judge. Atheneum, 2013.

hat happens when a defenseless red knit hat is left drying on a clothesline? It goes on an adventure, of course, aided and assisted along the way by various animals. Tie this one to Jan Brett's THE MITTEN.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What we have here is a failure to communicate

PIRATES VS. COWBOYS by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by David Barneda. Knopf, 2013.

When pirates hit land searching for a place to bury some excess treasure, they encounter some problems. It seems they have ended up in a cowboy town and since the two groups speak such different languages communication is garbled. Thankfully, there is a solution on the horizon in the form of one Pegleg Highnoon. Soon Black Bob McKraw and Burnt Beard are no longer at odds with one another.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

exploring culture in picture books

NINO WRESTLES THE WORLD by Yuyi Morales. Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

Nino battles all sorts of monsters from La Llorona to Los Hermanitas in this wonderful flight of fancy. Donning a Lucha Libre type mask provides Nino with the powers he needs to defeat monsters and even baby sisters.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE YAKYU by Aaron Meshon. Atheneum, 2013.

A young boy loves baseball no matter if it is the baseball of his American or Japanese family. Terrific way to have kids examine the things that we celebrate no matter where.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Getting to know you

Picture book biographies of two individuals demonstrate concretely how words and illustrations differ from topic to topic. Examine the differences between the biography of Albert Einstein and Tito Puente. Even before sharing them aloud, readers should be able to make some comments about the lives of the two individuals whose stories are being told here.

ON A BEAM OF LIGHT: A STORY OF ALBERT EINSTEIN by Jennifer Berne with illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky. Chronicle Books, 2013.

This book is not just about Einstein, it is about how ideas came to him (on a beam of light once actually). As the double page spread demonstrates, Einstein is portrayed as a real person and not as some scientist with whom kids could never identify.

TITO PUENTE: MAMBO KING (REY DEL MAMBO) by Monica Brown with illustrations by Rafael Lopez. Rayo/HarperCollins, 2013.

Meet young Tito, a boy destined to become Mambo King. This bilingual picture book, complete with the onomatopoeic sounds of rhythm instruments is bold and colorful (see the double page spread from this book below and compare it to the DPS from the Einstein picture book).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Treasury of ideas

THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY: POEMS FOR THE SCHOOL YEAR WITH CONNECTIONS TO TEKS (Middle School Edition) by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Pomelo Books, 2013.

Poetry is often the most overlooked of the literature studied in school. Vardell and Wong can remedy that for middle school teachers (and there is already a companion anthology for elementary grades) with this anthology. They provide a poem a week for each of the weeks of the school year (for grades 6, 7, and 8) along with ideas for sharing the poems with the kids and activities which could be used to enrich the listening experience. Poems are by names which will be familiar to many, contemporary poets: Salinger, Holbrook, Wong, Yolen, Fraco, Bruchac, and many more. A foreword makes some broad suggestions for sharing [poetry (why and how and when) and an appendix provides even more resources. Any teacher looking for ways to incorporate poetry into their classroom need look no further.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hair today, gone tomorrow

TOWERING by Alex Flinn. HarperTeen, May 2013.

Flinn has woven fairy tale characters and themes and motifs into several of her novels. Here, readers will meet a modern-day Rapunzel named Rachel, a young woman who has been locked into a tower by her "mother," who insists it for her (Rachel's) own protection. Enter Wyatt, a teen sent to live with an elderly relative who lives out in the country, distant from internet and phone signals and the bad memories that haunt Wyatt still. How the two lives intersect is magical, reminiscent of the best fairy tales with a bit of a darker bent. Missing teens, strangers who seem seductively dangerous, and more weave reality and fantasy seamlessly into a novel sure to win legions more readers. And, teachers, be sure to direct teens to the 398s in the library and suggest they read some of the other variants of fairy tales including the new Philip Pullman, FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM (Viking).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Here's hoping

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainboww Rowell. St. Martin's Griffin, 2013.

They are the unlikeliest of friends. When Eleanor boards the school bus that first day and is confronted with hostility, it is Park alone who makes room for her to be seated. He is subtle about the move so as not to call attention to himself and suffer the same sort of peer rejection as befalls Eleanor with her crazy hair and even crazier clothes, clothes that conceal a huge secret in her life. Over the course of a school year, Eleanor and Park move from seatmates to soulmates. Each discovers the secrets of the other; each learns to trust perhaps for the first time. Of course, love never runs smoothly, but Eleanor and Park can hope for a first, right?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Quick on the Trigger

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick. Little Brown, August 2013.

Quick (author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK gives readers an inside look at a teen pushed beyond the fringe, tottering on the edge of life. On his birthday, Leonard Peacock hides a gun in his backpack and heads off to school. Today is the day he has selected to kill his former best friend and then himself. What else can he do? His mother is more than absentee, and his closest relationships are with his Bogart-loving elderly neighbor and his history teacher who is instructing less-than-enthusiastic kids about the Holocaust. Quick spins out the story of Leonard and how he has come to believe suicide is the answer in short bursts of information, always leaving the reader guessing and wanting more (sort of like Leonard himself who is trying best he can to figure out his path in this world). Leonard is a kid readers will come to admire: his sharp mind and quick sense of humor are winning. Because of that, readers will stick to this story hoping that somehow Leonard will find redemption and salvation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


DODGER by Terry Pratchett. Harper, 2012.

Winner of a Printz Honor Medal, Dodger takes readers into a sort of familiar past. Meet Charles Dickens, Disraeli, Queen Victoria, and Dodger. Dodger has been living by his wits (and some finagling and some petty theft perhaps, too). Now, though, he is becoming respectable because he rescued a damsel in distress (he also manages to defeat Sweeney Todd, but that is another part of our story). Pratchett, master storyteller that he is, has penned a novel that is history and fantasy seamlessly and artfully combined, a mash-up if you will of the actual and the imagined. I would hope that high school teachers might consider this as an alternative text or a companion text to some of the novels set during this same time period. More importantly, I hope that many teachers read this and enjoy the references, the sly humor, and the twists and turns of plot. Huzzah for DODGER!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Huffing and Puffing

SCARLET by Marissa Mayer. Feiwel and Friends, 2013.

This sequel to CONDER centers on Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood anyone?) and her grandmother. Yes, there is the requisite wolf, a whole pack of them to be exact. And they are not your typical lupines either. As Cinder is escaping from prison where she awaits transport to certain death at the hand of Levana, Scarlet discovers that her grandmother has kept some things hidden from her for years. Those secrets are putting Scarlet's life and that of her grandmother in danger. Cross continent adventure, non-stop action, and more will thrill readers even if they have not read the first book in this series.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


THE PASSOVER LAMB: BASED ON A TRUE STORY by Linda Marshall with illustrations by Tatjana Mai Wyss. Random House, 2013.

When Snowball gives birth to three lambs, it is up to Miriam to nurse the third. But it is time to attend the Seder at her grandparents' house. What can Miriam do to make certain the smallest lamb gets the care it needs?

THE LONGEST NIGHT: A PASSOVER STORY by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Catia Chen. Schwartz and Wade Books, 2013.

One by one the plagues hit the land. A girl and her family must pack up and leave to follow Moses to freedom.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Animal Fare


Can two goldfish find love in a bowl? When Bernadette arrives, she shows Paul the world beyond the confines of the bowl.

THERE, THERE by Sam McBratney with illustrations by Ivan Bates. wick Press, 2013.

Sometimes we all need a little comforting. A hug and a "there, there" can work wonders for young and old alike.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Odds and Ends, Part Two

MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER by Dawn McNiff with illustrations by Kate Willis-Crowley. Chicken House/Scholastic 2013.

Mommy's cute monster
Leaves him with baby sitter
He is not happy. <713>

NORA AND HER CHICKS by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Kathryn Brown. Candlewick Press, 2013.

Nora wants something
Of her own to take care of
Her chicks are her friends. <714>

THE VERY BEARY TOOTH FAIRY by Arthur A. Levine with illustrations by Sarah S. Bran

Life lessons

As I did yesterday, I am forgoing a simple recitation of the contents of the picture book biographies below. They represent people who have made contributions in a variety of fields. Some are key players (Mandela) and some may be unknown to readers (Lodner Phillips). However, there are a couple of approaches to using this set of books:

1. Have students create a reading ladder with them. The ladders could be organized from simplest to most complex text or from least to most important contributions. This can be done in a group or individually. Ladders would then be displayed in the walls or on the classroom blog.

2. Use these as a jumping off point for older students. They can select one to read. Make notes. Then as them to pursue other sources of information (this might just prevent Google or Wikipedia from being the initial contact for information).

3. Compare and contrast these picture book biographies from an artistic perspective. Why certain color palettes? Why different media and techniques?

4. Compare and contrast cover design and talk about how each "sells" the book.

5. Have students locate other books by these authors. Do they write biographies exclusively? What observations can me made about the author? Perhaps, an author study?

WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN: DJ KOOL HERC AND THE CREATION OF HIP HOP by Laban Carrick Hill with illustrations by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

FLYING SOLO: HOW RUTH ELDER SOARED INTO AMERICA'S HEARTS by Julie Cummoins with illustrations by Malene Laughsen. Roaring Brook, 2013.

NELSON MANDELA by Kadir Nelson. Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2013.

PAPA'S MECHANICAL FISH by Candace Fleming with illustrations by RIS Kulikov. FSG, 2013.

THE BOIY WHO LOVED MATH: THE IMPROBABLE LIFE OF PAUL ERDOS by Deborah Heiligman with illustrations by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook, 2013.

Under Ground

UNDER GROUND by Denise Fleming. Beach Lane, 2012.

Start with the gritty looking collage art made from materials Fleming creates. Add some wonderful word play: "squirm-ways and worm-ways", and the combination is this book about what goes on underneath the surface of the ground. Back matter includes a list of the animals in the book and information about each. Great for an introduction to soil, plants, animals, gardens, and more.

Frighteningly Wonderful

SCOWLER by Daniel Kraus. Delacorte, 2013.

The author of ROTTERS returns with an intense psychological examination of the long term effect of abuse on kids. Now 19, Ry Burke endured years of abuse (and also witnessed the abuse of his mother) by his father who is now in prison. As a child, after his father nearly caused his death, Ry became attached to the three toys that he believes saved his life: a stuffed bear names Furrington, a rubber statues of Christ, and Scowler, a stitched and stuffed object. When a meteor crashes into the prison where his father is being held, the family prepares to flee. However, before they can reach safety, dear old Dad has returned seeking revenge. Kraus writes lyrically of even the most horrific scenes in Ry's young life. The story drives forward, relentless in its intensity, unremitting in the fear and horror created by the events and the characters who are struggling to survive.

WILL AND WHIT by Laura Lee Gulledge. Amulet, 2013.

Dark and light, friends and family, past and present: these are not dichotomies in the hands of Gulledge. Instead, they are two sides of the same coins. It is in the darkness that light can shine; and in the light, a slice of darkness stands out for all to see. In this visual medium, the story of Will (Wilhemina) an artist who struggles with her fear of the dark. The WHIT in the title refers to Hurricane Whitney, a force not unlike Will: she needs to be reckoned with.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Embrace the Darkness

IN DARKNESS by Nick Lake. Bloomsbury, 2012

This winner of the 2013 Printz Award features two unforgettable narrators in Shorty a teen gang member in contemporary Haiti and Toussaint L'Ouverture, former slave and liberator of Haiti in 1804. In chapters titled THEN and NOW, the two stories move forward. Both protagonists are in darkness: Shorty is buried in the rubble of a hospital after an earthquake. Toussaint is confined in an underground cell. As the stories move back and forth, readers will certainly draw parallels between the two. Though the violence and devastation are intense, the writing is incredibly lyrical.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Big Easy

OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. Philomel, 2013.

New Orleans in the 1950s is a fascinating time period: brothels, bookstores, gangsters, Mardi Gras. What more could one want in a book? How about a heroine who is caught between two worlds? A series of nefarious characters? Some snobs? Unusual friends? Morris Finalist (Between Shades of Grey) Sepetys spins the tale of Josie, the daughter of a prostitute. Josie fled "home" early and now resides over the bookstore in which she works in the afternoons. Each morning, though, she returns to Willie's brothel to clean up after the wreckage of the preceding evening. When her mother runs off with the ne'er do well Cincinnati, Josie hopes her life will settle down a little. What follows is not quite what Josie hoped. A death, perhaps a murder, a friendship that might be more, threats, opportunities, and more combine in this coming of age story with an incredibly eccentric cast of characters.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Any questions?

THE NOUSE WITH THE QUESTION MARK TAIL by Richard Peck with illustrations by Kelly Murphy. Dial, July 2013.

He is a small mouse, a mouse without any memory of his birth, his mother. He lives with his Aunt Marigold who is the head mouse seamstress. Called Mouse Minor because of his size, his entire life has centered around the question of his parentage. Now, he is being packed off to the Royal Mews Mouse Academy. Unfortunately, his term at school does not last long. And thus begins a series of adventures, near disasters, and hair-raising escapes. Mouse Minor hopes that perhaps Queen Victoria might be of help. This is her jubilee so perhaps he can find his way into her presence? Peck has fashioned a warmly funny mystery/adventure populated by a few humans and a large cast of mice, the ones who keep Buckingham Palace running. Clever, fast-paced, and engaging: middle grade kids will love this book. Short chapters make it perfect for reading aloud as well.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Extreme Fun

EXTREME BABYMOUSE by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Random House, 2013.

Babymouse is back and hitting the slopes in the latest in the series by the Holms. Babymouse has visions of being a world renowned boarder, but reality is, of course, a little disappointing. Black and white and pink, this GN series is a huge hit with kids. Who would not want to be Babymouse, at least the vision she has of herself despite the reality?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Early Readers

PETE THE CAT: PLAY BALL by James Dean. Harper, 2013.

Meet beloved picture book cat, Pete. In this early reader, Pete's team plays against another one in the league. What happens when Pete does not play well? This book in intended to be shared with early readers.

WEDGIEMAN TO THE RESCUE by Charise Mericle Harper with illustrations by Bob Shea. Random House, 2013.

Wedgieman, the hero of several chapter books, moves into the early reading series. He defeats Bad Dude in this easy to read early chapter book.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A reading ladder, maybe a step stool

NONI THE PONY by Alison Lester. Beach Lane, 2012.


NIGHTSONG by Ari Berk with illustrations by Loren Long. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

All three of these picture books have a scene where the main character (horse, cowboy, and bat respectively) has a fear of the dark. All three are different in terms of color palette, design, artistic approach. This makes them ripe for a short reading ladder, a step stool if you will. Read all 3 books and talk with kids about the similarities and differences. This simple exercise with young children is helping them to make connections between and among books, something lifelong readers do subconsciously.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Laugh Out Loud Baby

LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BABY by Tony Johnston with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Simon and Schuster, 2012.

Gammell's trademark colored pencil illustrations are a perfect match for this celebration of a baby's laugh. When baby laughs for the first time, Mom and Dad decide to invite everyone to come and witness the sheer joy of its beauty. Relatives and neighbors come from far and wide to kiss the sweet child and awaits it chortly giggle. Pair this with THE RELATIVES CAME by Cynthia Rylant.

Friday, March 8, 2013


BEAR SAYS THANKS by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Jane Chapman. McElderry, 2012.

Bear wants to have his friends over for a meal but his cupboard is empty. Not a problem as each of them arrives at the den bearing items to share. Bear, though, fears he has nothing to share until his friends assure him he has one thing they do not: stories to share!\

BOOT AND SHOE by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane, 2012.

Boot and Shoe share beds, food dishes, a home. However, Boot prefers the back porch and Shoe the front. Enter one mischievous squirrel who turns their worlds upside down.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


OLIVIA AND THE PRINCESSES by Ian Falconer. Atheneum, 2012.

Olivia is miffed because suddenly everyone wants to be the same thing. Where is the individuality?

OLIVIA DANCES FOR JOY by Iam Falconer. Simon Spotlight, 2012.

Olivia would love to win the dance competition but her dancers cannot move in a synchronous fashion at all. What will she do?