Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (Kathryn Gibbs Davis)


Title:  Mr.Ferris and His Wheel



Illustrator:  Gilbert Ford

Target Ages:  6 and up

First Lines:  “It was only ten months until the next World’s Fair.  But everyone was still talking about the star attraction at the last World’s Fair.  At eighty-one stories, France’s Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building.  Its pointy iron and air tower soared so high that visitors to the top could see Paris in one breathtaking sweep.”

Publisher Summary:  It was a bizarre idea, presented by an eccentric young engineer.  Yes, it might be showy, but would the flimsy contraption collapse?  Wouldn’t it be undignified?  Or frightening?  Finally, the young inventor was told he could try—but only with his own money and with barely enough time. 

Evaluation:  Growing up, I loved going to Cedar Point.  They were always coming out with the next best thing—the fast ride, the tallest hill, the steepest drop.  I could not wait to go each summer to try out their newest innovation.  You might say that George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. started that craze.  After his introduction of the Ferris wheel, there was a competition around the globe to duplicate it—only taller.

The storytelling in Mr. Ferris and His Wheel is brilliant.  I enjoyed every minute reading this fascinating story, not once—but twice.  Outside of the main narrative, there are many sidebars of additional facts that give a greater context and historical background.  The muted drawings capture the nineteenth century landscape as well as add to the drama and tension of this underdog story.

What I love most is that at the heart of the story is the American story.  The very essence of America, the founders, and millions of people who came after is that of innovation and perseverance.  Ferris demonstrated both. 

As a young civil engineer, he was an innovator. Not only did his idea dazzle, but it moved!  His wheel was innovative in another way too.  It had thousands of tiny electric lights on it during a time when most people still did not trust electricity.  His invention proved to many that electricity was safe. 

Ferris was perseverant. He saw the contest for building the starring structure at the World’s Fair as a matter of national pride.  Determined to outshine the Eiffel Tower, he worked tirelessly to build this wheel during a brutal winter and through many set backs.  People mocked him.  They joked it would fall over with the slightest bit of wind. He ignored the noise of the masses and the faithless of the Fair’s planners.  Instead, he put his efforts into making sure every part of the process was perfectly planned and executed.   

This story would work well for a study of great Americas, character education on perseverance, STEM objectives related to electricity, building, and innovation, or American history.

Two additional fascinating connections are related to other magical places—the Emerald City and Disneyland.  You will have to read to find out more on those links. 

Check out Mr. Ferris and His Wheel during your next trip to the library or book story.  You might just inspire a young innovator for tomorrow.   


Raindrops Roll (April Pulley Sayre)



Photographer/Illustrator:  April Pulley Sayre

Target Ages:  5 and up

First Lines:  “Rain is coming.  Can you feel it in the air?”

Summary:  Beginning with the darkening of the sky and ending with a drying of the drops, the mystery and beauty of a rainstorm is explored. 

Evaluation:  Sayre gives readers a window into the world of insects, plants, and other creatures as they experience a rainstorm.  The vivid and stunning photographs capture the marvel of it all.  For instance, images depict insects like a firefly, a grasshopper, and a fly taking cover while the rain thuds down and washes all the plants and animals. 

Raindrops are shown up close globbing together on a daisy, clinging to the curves of a web, magnifying the surface of a plant, and reflecting the wonders of nature.  Each photograph is a sight to behold.  You will want to look at them each, again and again. 

Raindrops Roll illustrates a part of the water cycle—precipitation and, briefly, evaporation.  Many books cover this topic.  Sayre takes it to another level by showing in minute detail how the natural world experiences the rain and its aftermath. 

In the “Splash of Science” section at the end, readers will learn more about the science of the water cycle and raindrops.  I highly recommend Raindrops Roll, which encourages inquiry and wonder about this amazing world.


Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
  • Preparation for a Storm:  Before reading, discuss how people prepare when they know there will be a storm.  Ask:  How do you think insects and animals might prepare?  Most kids have probably not thought about that question.
  • Predicting Weather: Talk about the smells, sights, sounds, and the feel of the air the next time a storm is moving into to your area.  Ask:  How do people know a storm is coming (other than from a weather report)?  This activity helps kids observe the world around them and see patterns.  For older kids, you can also discuss how meteorologists predict weather and storms.
  • Experiencing the Rain: Take kids out during a warm spring/summer rain (with no thunder and lightning, of course).  Allow them to have fun playing in the rain.  Then take some time to observe what is happening in nature.
  • Post Rain: Walk around a park, playground, yard, or the woods after a rainstorm. See how many of the sights from the book you can find as well as some of your own. If possible, take photographs together. You can also bring a sketchbook to draw pictures or a journal to write down observations.
  • Writing:  Compose a poem or story about your rain exploration experience. 
  • Weather:  Check out other books in the library about the weather or the water cycle.  I love Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fairy Tale Spotlight: Little Red Riding Hood (Modern & Fractured Tales)

According to the article “1st-Century Roots of 'Little Red Riding Hood' Found,” Tehrani, a researcher, discovered “that ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ likely branched off 1,000 years ago from an ancestral story that has its roots in the first century A.D.”  Versions from ancient European oral traditions, including one where the girl outwits the wolf by leaving to use the bathroom, and “The Tiger Grandmother” (from Asia and Africa) are connected to it. Tehrani discovered that the tale appears to have descended from the ancient narrative "The Wolf and the Kids” (from Europe and the Middle East). 

Why does this story continue to be rewritten and recycled with each generation?  Some have suggested it is because of the universal themes, which center on venturing out into the adult world and surviving varying degrees of dangerous situations.  Authors continue to retell this story with their own imaginative plot elements and creative twists. Here are just a few modern retellings and fractured fairy tale versions: 


Author:  Joan Holub
Illustrator:  Melissa Sweet

Publisher Summary:  Once upon a time in pencil school, a teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, “Today we’re going to write a story.”  “Yippee!” Said the birthday pencil. “Slammin’!” said the basketball pencil. “Sharp!” said Little Red. So begins a hilarious and exuberant retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” in which a brave little red pencil finds her way through the many perils of story-telling, faces a ravenous pencil sharpener (the Wolf 3000)…and saves the day.

Why I Chose It: This book is ideal to begin an activity or unit on story writing.  Many elements of narrative writing as well as the process of putting it together are depicted. There are also many puns, multiple meaning words, and other fun word play that can be discussed formally or informally. In some parts, where she is putting her story together quickly—due to danger, there are run on sentences and choppiness. Another instructional idea would be putting those parts up on an overhead and then discussing where to add punctuation and transition words.  Finally, the story ends with a strong teachable moment. Red believes she is not brave because she was scared while working to defeat the Wolf 3000.  Principal Granny says, “Even heroes get scared, but they do brave deeds anyway.” There are so many layers in the text and illustrations that with every reading you could focus on different area each time. 


Author/Illustrator:  Melissa Sweet

Publisher Summary: “Don’t dilly dally,” said Carmine’s mother. “Go directly to Granny’s.” And, as Carmine takes off on her bicycle with Rufus, it is just what she intends to do. But Carmine is a dreamy painter, always in search of capturing just the right hue in her drawing, and this drawing—the one she begins in a lovely forest clearing just off the path to Granny’s—must be her best yet.

Why I Chose It: One of the best parts of the book is the illustrations.  In some of them are embedded subtle references to other fairy tales and nursery rhymes like “Three Blind Mice,” “The Three Pigs,” and “Little Jack Horner.” Sweet maximizes her story telling opportunities with lots of action and activity on each two-page spread. Carmine’s artistic, dreamy side gives the character an interesting dimension that many will relate to. This version leaves out Red’s interaction with the wolf. Instead, he communicates with her dog that tells him everything he needs to know. Granny is simply pushed into a closet while the wolf steals the bones she has laid out for soup.  Another unusual technique is the use of 26 key words—one for each letter of the alphabet—which are incorporated into the narrative.  Many are common words.  Some, however, will be new to children. This idea could easily be incorporated in an extension activity by providing children with words—focusing on vocabulary, a part of speech, or random words—and allowing them to write their own version of this or another tale.


Author: Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrator: Laura Huliska-Beith

Publisher Summary: Little Red Hot loves red-hot chili peppers. She eats them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When her grandmother catches a cold, Little Red makes her a hot pepper pie that will “knock those cold germs right out of her!” But before Little Red shares her pie with Grandma, she meets Senor Lobo—and this pie comes in very handy when the wily wolf tires to trick her into thinking he’s her grandmother.

Why I Chose It: Little Red Hot is one spunky character! This version is full of fun exaggeration reminiscent of a tall tale. This version could be used to teach hyperbole. Children can practice writing their exaggerations related to this story or in a different one. Instead of the woodsman, Pecos Bill and his crew make a cameo to warn her about Senor Lobo (the wolf) and again at the end. (Read a Pecos Bill tale and/or teach about tall tales.  Compare the characteristics to this book.) When Red confronts Senor Lobo at Grandma’s house, she goes through the “what big” encounter. One of the most memorable parts is when she says, “What big teeth you got! Now don’t say another word, ‘cause I know what they are for.” She has the perfect solution for him! The vivid and energetic illustrations compliment this riotous ride! 


Author: Corey Rosen Schwartz
Illustrator: Dan Santat

Publisher Summary: This wolf just can’t catch a break!  Every since the three little pigs started teaching everyone Ninja skills, huffing and puffing just hasn’t been enough to scare up a good meal. Wolf’s craving for meat sends him to classes at the dojo, and soon he’s ready to try out his new moves. A little girl and her granny should be easy targets—right?

Why I Chose It: The story is mostly told through the wolf’s perspective, rather than Red’s. During their meeting at grandma’s house, he moves to eat her. However, she whips off her cloak to reveal she has been training as a Ninja too! There are several inventive twists as the narrative comes to a conclusion. The snappy poetic verse format makes Ninja Red Riding Hood perfect for reading out loud. The illustrations have an animated graphic novel look. Kids are sure to get a kick out of this creative fractured fairy tale. 


Author:  Gail Carson Levine
Illustrator:  Scott Nash

Publisher Summary: Betsy is finally old enough to take cupcakes to Grandma all by herself—with the company of her faithful sheep, of course.  And although wolves aren’t good for grandmas, Betsy lets her best friend, Zimmo, come along too. But will Zimmo’s wolfish instincts make Grandma the tasty treat instead?

Why I Chose It: This fractured fairy tale takes some interesting turns. First, Betsy is a shepherdess who has a wolf (Zimmo) helping her with her sheep. Keep in mind that Zimmo has always been “good” to the sheep, but he (because he is a wolf) is a threat to grandmas.  When she is sent with cupcakes to her Grandma’s house, Zimmo begs to go! She finally agrees. Next, The sheep add a lot of humor. They often make silly comments on their way, including comparing the eyes, arms, and teeth of grandma and wolf and make mischief. Then, Zimmo runs ahead, causing Betsy to become concerned. The ending is an original twist. Nash utilizes every surface for his lively illustrations. 


Author/Illustrator: Lisa Campbell Ernst

Good Reads Summary:  It's the story of the girl in the red hood--with an unpredictable plot twist. She pedals over to Grandma's with a tasty treat a hungry wolf wants for himself. But, he soon discovers that broad-shouldered, sharp-eyed, tractor-driving Grandma has no patience for pesky predators.

Why I Chose It: The wolf is not interested in eating Little Red or Grandma.  Instead, he wants her muffin recipe. When he meets Grandma though, he is the one who is scared!  The “what big” encounter is reversed. Grandma is the hero of the story. She stands up to the wolf and, eventually, tames him. Grandma’s muffin recipe is included. Make mini-muffins for the class or bake together at home.  Perhaps compare it to another favorite recipe. 


Author:  Susan Lowell
Illustrator:  Randy Cecil

Publisher Summary:  Little Red Cowboy Hat has saddled up her buckskin pony and is off to Grandma’s house with fresh bread and a jar of cactus jelly.  It’s rattler season in the desert, but Little Red has more to worry about than snakes. A big gray wolf in a tall black hat is lurking behind cactus, and he’s got a hankerin for a Little-Red lunch.  Getting ahold of this cowgirl won’t be easy, though, because he’s got to get past Grandma first.

Why I Chose It: This version stays fairly close to the traditional tale in structure, but the desert setting and colorful southern-style language set it apart. The end also has a modern twist. Both Red and the Grandma are the ones who chase off the wolf. The lesson at the end is “A girl’s gotta stick up for herself.” Fun onomatopoeia throughout make for an opportunity to add some dramatic flare and to encourage child participation. 

Post Reading
  • Pick two or more tales with different characters who “save the day.”  Compare and contrast how the characters resolve the conflict.  Which is most effective?  How would you resolve it?
  • Break the story up into parts, like beginning, traveling to, arriving at Grandma’s house, and resolution. Take different parts from two or more versions. Rewrite a new tale. Can be done as a class, with a parent, with a peer-partner, or independently. 
  • Rewrite the tale using a new premise like being in space, in the future, on a boat, or some other creative setting. 
  • Read a traditional version (like Grimm’s) or multicultural one.  Compare and contrast with one of the modern versions.

Activities and Resources for Lesson Plans

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt)


TitleThe Day the Crayons Quit      

Author:  Drew Daywalt

Illustrator:  Oliver Jeffers

Target Ages: 2-6

First Lines:  “One day in class, Duncan went to take out his crayons and found a stack of letters with his name on them.”

Publisher Summary:  “Poor Duncan just wants to color.  But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing:  We quit!  Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown.  Blue needs a break from coloring all the water, while Pink just wants to be used.  Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other.  What is Duncan to do?” 

Evaluation:  Readers will never look at a box of crayons the same way!  Each crayon has a personality and a problem, making for a humorous and imaginative read.  The letters are written in crayon using a child-like handwriting.  The pictures sprinkle a little digital art in, but they mostly look like something a child drew and color. This approach to storytelling is engaging and inventive.  I highly recommend The Day the Crayons Quit and its sequel The Day the Crayons Came Home.

The Day the Crayons Came Home Publisher Summary:  “Boy, Duncan’s crayons sure are a colorful bunch of characters.  Having soothed the hurt feelings to one group who threated to quit, Duncan now faces a whole new group of crayons asking to be rescued.  From Maroon Crayon, who was lost beneath the sofa cushions and then broken in two after Dad sat on him; to Turquoise, whose head is now stuck to one of Duncan’s stinky socks after they ended up in the dryer together—each crayon has a woeful tale to tell and a plea to be brought home to the crayon box.” 

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:

Younger Students
  • Identify the colors.
  • Discuss the colors of objects both on the page and in real life.
  • Point out the parts of a letter (greeting, body, salutation, signature).
  • Write a letter to someone/something together—either imaginatively or realistically.
  • Practice the proper way to care for and to store crayons and other supplies.
Older Students
  • Practice the letter-writing format by writing to a friend or family member.
  • Write an imaginative letter from the perspective of a crayon color, other household object, or character.
  • Teach about the literary technique of personification and use these books to apply the concept to.
  • Read through each letter carefully.  Pick one character quality or emotion that each color depicts like sassy, optimistic, frustrated, or sad.
  • Identify the tone of each letter and how the author creates it.
  • Evaluate the problem that each crayon has and how it is solved (see Duncan’s new picture).
  • Take a class survey on one or more aspects such as the color each student uses most and/or which letter is their favorite.  Make a class graph that depicts the responses.
Visit Susanna Hill for Perfect Picture Book Friday where you will find suggestions from around the web for story time in your classroom or home.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Must Read Inspirational Conservation Stories

The following non-fictions are inspiring stories that teaching children about aspects of conservation related to tree planting, endangered animals, and recycling projects. In addition, each story has one or more inspirational people whose desire to make a small impact often went far beyond what they imagined or expected.  Share these stories with children to encourage them to make a positive difference in their communities and to be more conscientious of ways to keep the planet healthy.


Authors: Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore
Illustrator: Susan L. Roth

Publisher Summery: For a long time, the people of Hargigo, a village in the tiny African country of Eritrea, were living without food for themselves and their animals.  The families were hungry, and their goats and sheep were hungry too.  Then along came a scientist, Dr. Gordon Sato, who helped change their lives for the better.  And it all started with some special trees.  Learn how Dr. Sato’s mangrove tree-planting project transformed an impoverished village into a self-sufficient community. 

Why I Chose It: This story has two layers. There is a cumulative poem that is repeated as new lines are added on each 2-page spread, similar to “This is the House that Jack Built” format. The first time through, especially with younger children, this poem could be the narrative that is read.  On the facing page is the non-fiction story about Dr. Sato’s tree-planting project. This story is noteworthy for several reason. First, Dr. Sato had to overcome difficult circumstances that could have paralyzed or jaded him, but he did not let them (See Afterward for photos and facts on the doctor and his project). Instead, he helps whole communities overcome their impoverished situation by providing them with education and tools to take care of themselves. In addition, I love how the women, a largely disenfranchised group in most third world countries, were the ones being taught how to care for the seedlings and trees. They, in turn, used the money they earned to help their families. Finally, by enacting his tree-planting project, he helped everyone—animals and humans, rich and poor—because trees make for healthier air and environment. The textured, collage illustrations have an organic feel perfect for this inspiring story.

Related Story: The Tree Lady (H. Joseph Hopkins)


Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

Publisher Summary:  Wangari grew up in the shadow of Mount Kenya listening to the stories about the people and land around her.  Though the trees towered over her, she had loved them for as long as she could remember. So strong, so beautiful, how the trees made her smile. Wangari planted trees one by one to refresh her spirit. When the women came to her for help with their families, she told them to do the same. Soon the countryside was filled with trees.  Kenya was strong once more. Wangari had changed her country tree by tree. 

Why I Chose It:  Mama Miti is one part conservation challenge and one part female empowerment. By planting trees, the women who took Wangari’s advice were able to do everything from feeding their families, to purifying water for drinking, to curing illnesses, to providing wood for shelter and fire, to strengthening their villages, to bringing back the beautiful landscape. Napoli convenes a strong sense of pride and community in the text while Nelson’s illustrations effectively depict the vivid colors and strong people of Kenya. Wangari’s life illustrates the power and influence an ordinary person can have. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and helped inspire the Green Belt Movement.  Her work “is the embodiment of the Kenyan notion of harambee—the spirit of pulling together for the common good.”

Other stories about Wangari: Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace (Jen Cullerton Johnson) & Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai (Claire A. Nivola)


Authors: Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore
Illustrator: Susan L. Roth

Publisher Summery: For centuries beautiful, raucous Puerto Rican parrots and the settlers on the island of Puerto Rico hunted for food, survived hurricanes, raised their young, and protected their homes.  But then things began to change, and in time the trees in which the parrots lived were destroyed.  By 1967, only twenty-four Puerto Rican parrots were left in the wild.  Humans had nearly caused their extinction.  Could humans now save the parrots?  Discover the fascinating history of Puerto Rico and the intertwined story of the rare parrots that line in the island’s treetops. 

Why I Chose It: This real-life conservation story begins with some fascinating history of the island and the birds. Children learn about a place that is rarely covered in school curriculums and many different cultures. The authors work to intertwine the lives of the people with those of the birds, showing the interconnectedness and interdependence.  As the shift moves to the reasons for the declining population, readers learn about various factors that can impact specifies populations—natural and unnatural. The extensive efforts by a group of scientists are documented to reveal how quickly a population can become nearly extinct but how slowly it can be to bring it back to a healthy number. The pages are designed to capture the habitat of these amazing birds with textured designs and vivid colors.


Author: Miranda Paul
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher Summery: Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use.  But what happens when a bag breaks or is not longer needed? In Nijau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way.  One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens.  They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change.  Isatou Ceesay was that change.  She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community.

Why I Chose It:  What an inspiring story!  Isatou’s solution cleaned up the environment, decrease the mosquito population (and with it disease), and saved livestock and gardens.  It was not without resistance. While Isatou and some other women worked on a solution, they were called names and laughed at.  Once they began selling their new recycled purses, the naysayers changed their tune.  The women were able to make extra money from this new venture that helped their families buy necessities like livestock.  Eventually, they began contributing their earnings toward an empowerment center where people receive free health care and education.  The center became the home of the region’s first public library.  Their innovation and perseverance has made a positive impact beyond conservation.    

Related Story:  Bag in the Wing (Ted Kooser)


Authors: Anna Alter
Illustrator: Anna Alter

Publisher Summery: In this “green” craft book, children can appreciate that recycling is a part of everyday life, and with a little creativity, exciting projects are only a few steps away. Turn a worn flip-flop into an art stamp, a ripped shower curtain into an apron, and an old T-shirt into a pillow. These activities are just a few of the many crafts to be explored. With easy-to-follow instructions, this interactive book will challenge kids to come up with clever recycling ideas of their own in no time!

Why I Chose It: Since the topic of the post is conservation, I thought this book would be a practical way to bring greater awareness.  Each craft has an animal character and short poem. Then, using every day items (most of which end up in a landfill), the characters illustrate with pictures and directions how to make each project. The book ends with a list of additional ways kids, adults, and families can support reuse and recycling.

For the Adventurous (and Imaginative) Reader

Author: Janet S. Wong
Illustrator: David Roberts

Publisher Summery: Anyone can dive for treasure in the ocean, but Steve dives for it in this neighborhood dumpster! As he delves into the trash each weekend, Steve encourages his young neighbors (aka the Diving Team) to see the potential in what other people throw away.  With a little imagination, trash can be transformed into treasure—and as the Diving Team discovers, it might even help a friend in need.

Why I Chose It: Wong does not idealize dumpster diving. As soon as Steve gets in, beetles and spiders splash out. Yuck! Then, the kids spray him (and the items he collects) with a hose when he gets out. Parents do not have to worry about their children begging to dumpster dive.  What I liked about this book is the emphasis on taking discarded items to create new, useful things.  Steve and the Diving Team often use their new creations or what they find to help others.  When the kids need to make a project, they ask for items people are not using (a good alternative while prompting similar results). The Dumpster Diver is an entertaining story that encourages imagination, resourcefulness, and exploration.