Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Picture Books About Books

Lately, I have come across some entertaining books about books.  Some celebrate the importance and love of reading while others challenge us to think about books as an art form.   Each selection is a fun way to begin a new school year or to share during story time at home.

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)We Are in a Book! (ages 3-8) by Mo Willems  
The two protagonists (an elephant and a pig) know they are in a book.  Then, they realize that someone is looking at them:  The Reader!  The duo is thrilled that they are being read, so they begin to interact with their audience.   We Are in a Book! is a perfect opportunity to discuss audience and parts of a story—characters, plot, conflict—with even the youngest readers.  Early readers will enjoy reading this book on their own.  Older children may create their own interactive books. 

It's a BookIt’s a Book (ages 7 and up) by Lane Smith 
There are three characters:  A mouse, a monkey, and a jackass (donkey).   The jackass and the monkey carry on a witty (and thoughtful) conversation about the book the monkey is reading.  The jackass tries to understand the concept of a book using the contemporary digital framework the younger generation is growing up with.   He wants to know such things as:  Do you blog with it?  How do you scroll down?  Where is the mouse?  When the monkey reads a short passage to him, the jackass does some revising—text message style. The ending (which I won’t reveal) gave me a hearty chuckle.  There are some fun puns, which is an opportunity to explore multiple word meanings.  Even though It’s a Book is a simple story with straightforward vocabulary, it is an ideal introduction in to a discussion about how the digital age has changed how we get information and view the world. This book delights me every time I read it.  That being said, I’d advise parents to read it first.   Older children and adults will understand the humor and the complexity best.

Dog Loves BooksDog Loves Books (ages 4-9) by Louise Yates
Dog loves everything about books—their smell, their feel, their stories.  He loves them so much that he decides to open up a book store to share his passion with others.  He carefully makes all the preparations.  At first though, no one shows up who is interested in books.  To pass the time, Dog does what he loves best—read.  After a while, people begin to come to the store where Dog’s love of books is infectious.  This story is sweet not only because it celebrates books and reading, but also because it exemplifies that a person should not give up on his dreams.  Dog was persistent even when things were less than ideal.  Children can talk about being persistent even when there are obstacles. 

The Wonderful BookThe Wonderful Book (ages 2-7) by Leonid Gore 
A rabbit finds an object in the forest that he uses as a cozy little house until…a big grumpy bear comes along.  The bear uses the object as a hat.  He happily struts around with it on his head…until he stops for a snack and sets it down on the ground.  A family of mice finds it and makes it a table for their dinner.  This pattern continues as other animals come along until a boy finds it (a book) and begins to read it out loud.  All the animals soon gather around to listen to their “story” being recited for them.  Everyone agrees, “It’s a wonderful book.”  This narrative is a fun opportunity to predict outcomes and consider how each person has his own story.  Students can be prompted to write a narrative from their lives and share these “wonderful” stories with their classmates. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ancient World (Greek Myths): Cupid & Psyche (by M. Charlotte Craft)

Summary of Cupid and Psyche
Many refer to the ancient Greek myth "Cupid and Psyche" as the original “Beauty and the Beast.”  It shares some qualities of the early versions of the fairy tale.   Psyche, the youngest of three sisters, is so stunningly beautiful that men travel from afar to offer her gifts and prayers.   Venus (Aphrodite) feels her own splendor is being challenged though Psyche in no way invites the tributes of her many admirers.  As a result, the Goddess of Beauty and Love send her son, Cupid (Eros), to punish Psyche.  While on that mission, he accidently nicks himself on his own arrow and falls instantly in love with Psyche!   The next day Psyche journeys to Delphi to ask the oracle of Apollo her fate.   She is told to journey to the top of the nearest mountain where she will marry “a creature feared by the gods themselves.”   Psyche obeys the oracle's instructions and climbs the mountain.   Swept away by a gentle Zephyrus, she is taken to a castle of “every imaginable luxury.”   As night descends, the torches sputter out and plunge the room into darkness.   Paralyzed by fear, the young beauty awaits her fate.  To her surprise, she is greeted by a kind voice and a loving embrace.   So begins her life of endless nights with her unseen husband and days of pampering in her exquisite home.   Though Psyche begs to see her true love, he tells her, “I would rather that you love me for what I am, not for what I appear to be.”   She promises not tell her family about him and to accept his wish.  When her sisters come for a visit, they goad her into revealing her life with her husband and convince her to sneak a peak of him since he must be a beast.   Giving into the pressure, Psyche waits until he is asleep and lights a lamp in their chamber.  She is astonished to not see a hideous beast, but instead, the magnificent god of love—Cupid.  He wakes up and flees because of her lack of faith in him and their love.   Psyche goes on a quest to regain Cupid’s love which she eventually succeeds in.

I love Greek myths and history. The story of Cupid and Psyche is no exception. Author M. Charlotte Craft retells the story with much grandeur and eloquence. The illustrations by K.Y. Craft are stunning oil over watercolor paintings with brilliant detail and expressive emotion.   This book is a must experience!

Teaching Opportunities:
·         Comparative Literature:  Compare this story with early “Beauty and the Beast” tales.  How are they similar?  Different?  Are there any similarities to “Cinderella”?
·         History:  Use this story in a unit study of ancient Greek history.
·         Epic Trials:  Discuss why she had to go through the various trials.  What did each one teach or prove?  What are some other stories with similar trials? 
·         Mythology:  Compare the experience in Hades to other descriptions of the Underworld.  Connect it to other stories where a hero or lover had to journey there:  Odysseus, Hercules, Perseus, as well as Orpheus and Eurydice.
·         Poetry:  Compare a famous love poem to this story (such as Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43).  How do these characters illustrate or not illustrate the love described in the poem? 
·         Writing:  Compose a love poem inspired by Cupid and Psyche's story.
·         Love:  Study other narratives about love in Greek mythology.  How do the ancient Greeks appear to define love?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Picture Book: Nighty Night (by Margaret Wild)

Summary of Nighty Night! 
The young barnyard animals are at play.  The sun begins to set, so they are sent to bed.  They do not want to stop playing though.   As the animal parents go to tuck their little ones in, they find the children have done a switch-a-roo!   Once they are finally matched with the correct parent, there are requests for stories, kisses, and final drinks.  The parents eventually send them off with a final, comforting good night: 

No more tricks now.
Settle down.
Snuggle up.
Sleep tight.
Nighty Night!

Margaret Wild and Kerry Argent have created an enriching and soothing bedtime story.   The author (Margaret Wild) utilizes pre-reading elements, such as repetition, alliteration, animal sounds, and patterning naturally within their narrative.  With much pleasure and entertainment, children are subtly learning even as they are settling down for bed.   The story originates where many parents first begin their challenge at bedtime:  With children wildly energetic and reluctant to settle down.  Even after the ruckus the children initially cause, the parents gently redirect them and meet their bedtime needs.   Young listeners will enjoy the trick the baby animals play and identify with their bedroom routines.  The rich illustrations (by Kerry Argent) begin with much energy and uproar but transition well into placid and tender images.   I recommend Nighty Night for ages infant to 6. 

Teaching Opportunities:
·         Alliteration:  Emphasis the alliterative phases like “precious piglets” and “darling ducklings.”  Guide children into recognizing they are they same initial sound and learning to name the letter that makes it.  Older children may try to create their own alliterative phrases—perhaps with their own names. 
·         Animal Sounds:  Practice saying and matching them to the correct animal.
·         Repetition:  It is an essential pre-reading skill.  Younger children can be invited to expand their speaking opportunities by participating.  Older children can begin to identify the words repeated in the same sequence on each page. 
·         Predicting Skills:  In the first half of the book, a two page spread shows each animal parent looking for his/her children while the next pages reveal the switches.  Children can begin predicting after the first one which animals might be lurking on the next page ready to surprise the adult.  Later readings children can be prompted to remember the pattern.  In the second half of the book, each group of children requests something in a typical bedtime routine.  Children can make predictions and later remember the pattern here as well.
·         Counting:  There are different numbers of animals in each group.  Point at each one and count them. 

     It is Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.   Check out favorite Read Aloud book suggestions from around the blogosphere and/or add links from your blog. See "comments" if the list is not in the blog post yet. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

NonFiction Monday: Built for Cold, Arctic Animals

Built for Cold: Arctic Animals is another amazing series by one of my favorite non-fiction publishers:  Bearport.  There are six books in this collection: 

·         Arctic Wolf: The High Arctic
·         Caribou:  And Reindeer Too
·         Polar Bear:  Shrinking Ice
·         Sled Dog:  Powerful Miracle 
·         Walrus:  Tusk Tusk  
·         Wolverine: Super Strong   

While reading about both exotic and familiar animals, student will also learn about the frigid Arctic temperatures and habitat.  The sizeable, lively photographs are appealing while the text is enticing.  The authors balance personal stories and experiences with general interesting facts.  The independent reading level is third grade, but children of all ages will enjoy these remarkable book.  I read two books in the series:

Sled Dogs: Powerful Miracles (by Stephen Person) 
I was already familiar with sled dogs, but I learned so much more in this selection!  By beginning with a anecdote about a sledding dog who went blind, I was immediately engrossed. Then, there is a shift to the history and physical attributes of these amazing creatures. The final sections are on contemporary racing preparations and experiences with several specific heroic and remarkable stories (miracles) sprinkled in. 

Wolverine: Super Strong (by Joyce Markovics) 
I learned a lot about the mysterious and fascinating wolverine.  Since they are solitary animals, they are rarely spotted in the remote, frozen places they roam non-stop.  These scavengers serve a vital role in the frozen tundra.  There are some wonderful sections on their habitat, relatives, physical characteristics, communication, mating & young, and finally, their future. 

Each book is finished off with some fast facts on the animal.  More Arctic animals are briefly highlighted to foster and to expand interest in a variety of related creatures.  Finally, a glossary, bibliography, and reading suggestions round the books out.   Visit the Bearport Publishing site and click on any of the title links for a sneak peek into the books to further illuminate their excellent photographs, engaging text, and impeccable layout.  This series is an excellent accompaniment to a formal unit or a causual study of animals, geography, or the Arctic. 

Celebrate Non-Fiction Monday by checking out other great selections at Apples with Many Seeds. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fairy Tales: Rapunzel

The tale of Rapunzel can be traced back to 1634 where it was recorded in the popular Arabic fiction The Thousand and One Nights.  It was called Petrosinella.   In 1697, the story found its way into European literature as Persinette and evolved through various oral and written retellings into The Grimms’ Rapunzel.  The story has no doubt increased in popularity with Disney’s recent movie Tangled.  Multiple authors have retold this story in both picture book and chapter book forms, often adding modern elements or more in depth character development.  Visit the valuable and comprehensive site SurLaLune for more information about the history and various versions of this fairy tale.  After reading several books, there are three that stand out to me as favorites. 

Rapunzel (by Sarah Gibb) 2011 
This version is my favorite by far!  I love the soft medieval inspired pictures that vary from two –pages glorious spreads to smaller decorative elements around the text.  The colors shift from dark and harsh to soft and vibrant to reflect the action and internal feelings of the characters.  The narrative stays true to the Grimms’ version, but there are some important differences that set it apart for me.  First, the time the prince and Rapunzel spend together is innocent.  They talk, laugh, and have tea.   Next, the animals (who are Rapunzel’s companions) help both of them while wandering in the forest which gives a semi-plausible explanation on how they survive and eventually find each other.  Finally, it goes into some detail about what occurs after they meet again, including what happens to the witch.  There is a real sense that these two people are partners and friends as well as “happily ever after” lovers.  I was truly delighted by Gibb’s retelling.   It has all the charm and excitement of the original without the sexual overtones.   The illustrations are a wonderful compliment to the text.   I would love a copy for my personal library.  

Rapunzel (Paul O. Zelinsky) 1997 
Zelinsky’s picture book has been a favorite of mine for a while.  I love the stunning Italian Renaissance paintings he uses to illustrate the text.   He captures beautifully the tone and mood of the narrative and the characters.  Each picture is intricately detailed to look like a vibrant snapshot.  He follows the Grimm’s story more faithfully in the climax and conclusion.  The witch finds out about the prince’s visits because she notices that Rapunzel is pregnant.  While there is no mention of romps around the tower, they apparently occurred though.   The prince eventually finds her taking care of their twins.  They live “a long life, happy and content” back in his kingdom.  Extensive notes chronicling the historic development of fairy tale are summarized in the back.  For parents and educators who want to stay true to the Grimm’s version and don’t mind a “PG” rating, Zelinsky’s book is magnificent. 

Rapunzel (Rachel Isadora) 2008 
I chose this version for its more concise text and non-traditional illustrations.   The story is whittled down to its most basic elements.   As a result, it is an ideal version for younger listeners or beginning readers.   Like Zelinsky, the pregnancy and twins are part of the narrative.  The vivid, eye-catching pictures are a combination of oil paints with a collage of print and palette paper accents.   Isadora places the characters and action into an African setting.  The villain looks like a tribal witch doctor; the characters have dark hair and skin.  The dominate rich, neutral colors are a beautiful contrast with dashes of brighter ones.   The pictures are the most child-pleasing and multi-cultural of the selections. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Picture Book: Mommy Whispers (by Jenny Lee Sulpizio)

Mommy WhispersMommy Whispers, by Jenny Lee Sulpizio, is a celebration of mothers, daughters, and women.  It begins with the birth of a new baby girl.  The new mother sees her daughter as a “true miracle.”  Watching her sleep, she whispers in her little ear, “You are God’s gift to me, forever you will be.”  Though each significant stage—toddlerhood, school years, high school, college, marriage, and finally, motherhood—the mother whispers those same words to her daughter while praying for her growth into the unique woman God wants her to be. 

As a mother, this book reminds me of the importance of valuing and savoring each developmental stage and on praying your children through it.  I love that it is about mothers and daughters because it is a relationship that is often strained, especially during the turbulent teens.  It is also a vital relationship to the healthy growth of any young woman.   Mommy Whispers is one small way of passing on to a daughter her significance as an individual, but even more importantly, as a strong, confident woman.   The book exemplifies the importance of nurturing, encouraging, and honoring our girls. 

The soft illustrations, by Peg Lozier, reflect a calm, loving, and gentle tone that compliments the text well.   The portraits of mother and daughter often depict tender gestures, such as hugging, holding hands, and cuddling, reminding us of the value of a healthy physical connection with our children.   I recommend Mommy Whispers to any mother who has a daughter she wants to feel cherished. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Picture Book: Otto Carrotto (by Chiara Carrer)

Otto CarrottoSummary of Otto Carrotto:
Otto thinks:  Rabbits have strange quirks.  For instance, his sister will only wear red shoes and his best friend always has on his blue roller skates—even in bed at night!   Otto believes he needs to have his own quirk, so he decides he is only going to eat carrots.  Carrots and nothing else!  He consumes them at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even, snack.  He loves them fried, baked, raw, and cooked.  Not to mention that there are lots of delicious recipes—carrot soup, carrot pizza, and, of course, carrot cake.  His friends and family become worried with his obsession with this vegetable which even induces him to imagine daily items made with it—airplane, house, rocket, boat, and more.   Slowly, Otto begins to take on some of the characteristics of carrots, like carrot-shaped ears! At school he is teases and harassed, so he decides to give up his obsession for carrots.   The spirited rabbit decides he only wants to eat spinach now—strained, baked, fried.   Why?  Because Spinach is the best!

Otto Carrotto was originally a popular book in Austria, which has just been introduced in America (May 2011).  The book provides us a glimpse into the European style.  Before my Art of the Picture Book course, I would have probably overlooked this title.  It does not fit into my narrow view of a good picture book.  I like cute and cuddly with a side of a good lesson or witty, ironic ending.   I viewed this selection from a revised lens though.  Instead, I recognized Otto Carrotto as a slice of life—a look into the mind and experience of a preschool aged child.  This age group often becomes obsessed with something whether a food, a super hero character, or a favorite game.  They are also quick to change their minds and be sensitive to peer influences.  Author Chiara Carrer realistically captures this energetic transitional stage.  Another noteworthy aspect of the book is the illustrations.  They are a combination of rough sketches, collage, drawings, and paint accents.  They reflect more the imperfect artistic world of a small child rather than pristine realm of the adults.  Dramatic emotions and playful activities are depicted often in a hodgepodge layout.  Unlike many popular books, Otto does not learn a lesson like how to be moderate and balanced.  Few children do after a first misstep though.  Instead, he quickly moves on to another passion.  The narrative, illustrations, and ending all reflect back an authentic child experience.   I recommend Otto Carrotto for ages 3-7 as well as for people who enjoy a distinctive and genuine picture book experience

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Picture Book: The Doghouse (by Jan Thomas)

Summary of The Doghouse
Who is brave enough to go into THE DOGHOUSE?  A group of animals will soon be put to the test!  As the story opens, a cow, a pig, a duck, and a mouse are playing a game.  The ball bounces into the doghouse.  The foursome cowers at the bottom of the page with only the tops of their heads peeking out and showing terror in their eyes.  Who will go in?  Mouse replies:

Cow will!
Cow is BIG.
Cow is BRAVE.
Cow is STRONG.

Cow responds “Moo?”  Despite his apprehension, Cow goes into the doghouse…but he does not come out.  Following the same framework, this cumulative narrative builds up a playful scary scenario as each animal enters and does not return!  Mouse, now all alone outside the doghouse, asks, “Can’t you come out, Duck?”  A fearsome dog yells, “No! Because I AM HAVING DUCK FOR DINNER.”  Mouse panics!  Suddenly, the illustrations shift to reveal what is really going on inside the doghouse—a friendly dinner with all the animals. 

I LOVE narratives that follow a consistent framework, promoting opportunities for student participation and anticipation.  The Doghouse is an ideal example of this story type.  I fell in love with it on my first read through.  The author/illustrator Jan Thomas does a brilliant job with simple text and lively illustrations to build up suspense.  A brief summary cannot convey the charm and excitement because it needs to be experienced firsthand. The playful ironic ending is satisfying and thought provoking.  This story is one children will want to return to over and over again.   I highly recommend it for ages 2-8. 

Teaching Opportunities:
·         Onomatopoeia:  Younger children can identify the animal sounds in the book and share other ones they know.
·         Language:  Using the “Cow will” stanza structure (recorded above), children can create their own stanza with other animals or characters.  Use it as an opportunity to learn or reinforce parts of speech--nouns, verbs, and adjectives. 
·         Illustrations: Point out how the illustrator begins and concludes the story in the end pages.  Chat about why an author might begin there and how the pictures in those places add to the text narrative.  In addition, identify ways that the author/illustrator conveys the emotions (especially fear) in the story.
·         Word Meaning:  The dog states that he is “having DUCK for dinner.”  This phrase can mean he is eating duck/Duck or that he is having Duck over to share dinner with.  Brainstorm other common words and phrases that have multiple meanings that might be misunderstood.  
·         Irony:  I don’t think it is ever too young to discuss irony.  Most children recognize it, but do not necessarily have a word to describe it.  If you begin to casually identify it with your children/students, you will likely be amazed when they start using the word themselves!  Irony is the source of much of the humor children encounter in books and in TV/movies.  Point out irony in the the story.
·         Character Education:  Children often have lots of fears, especially of the unknown.  Talk about common fears, how the characters deal with their fears, and how people can cope and overcome their own. 

This post is linked up with Book Talk Tuesday at Lemme Library.   Click on the title to check out other fantastic books to share with your children or students. 

Top Ten Tuesday: Trends You'd Like To See More of/Less of

It is Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Today’s topic is Top Ten Trends You'd Like To See More of/Less of.    Mine is a combination of the two: 
1.     More strong female characters who are not defined by men
2.    Less dysfunctional female protagonists in co-dependent romantic relationships
3.    More fiction that captures our imagination and instills important values (heroism, courage, perseverance)
4.    Less paranormal fiction that feeds unrealistic expectations about relationships and life
5.    More fiction that makes us ponder life and the big questions
6.    Less fiction that is just escapist, feeding unattainable romantic notions
7.    More fiction with positive parental figures (a la the Taylors of Friday Night Lights)
8.    Less fiction with moronic or disconnected adults
9.    More fiction that challenge our views on beauty, conformity, popularity, and other relevant issues
10.  Less fiction that perpetuates stereotypes and glorifies superficial values
Click HERE to check out all the Top Ten lists in the Blogosphere this week. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Up Close and Gross Microscopic Creatures

Bearport Publishers has introduced a remarkable and intriguing new series called Up Close and Gross:  Microscopic Creatures by author Ruth Owen.  Four books make up this exciting collection:  Creepy Backyard Invaders, Gross Body Invaders, Icky House Invaders, and Disgusting Food Invaders.  I have previewed one of the books in the series—Disgusting Food Invaders.  The book is full of amazing close-up photographs of creatures captured in graphic detail, both visible and invisible to the naked eye.  For instance, children can see a fruit fly 55 times its actual size, so the hairs that cover its body and the amazing eyes can be examined.   Food invaders like bacteria and mold are shown as well as lesser known intruders like thrips and cheese mites.   The stunning pictures consistently set Bearport’s non-fictions series apart, but they also have educational and fascinating facts about these creatures.  Readers will learn how some of these invaders are harmful while others are seen as beneficial.  The informative text has the student audience in mind.  Engaging and concise, it is written on a third grade reading level, making is accessible to children of all ages to read independently or to listen enthusiastically.   

I highly recommend the Up Close and Gross series for parents and educators to add to their personal libraries.  On the practical side, readers will walk away with a further awareness of the importance of washing their hands and protecting their food.  In addition, their insight and knowledge of invisible worlds within their own will be widened.  The books are a great addition to a science curriculum or as enrichment.

Check out other enriching books at NonFiction Monday hosted this week at Lori Calabrese blog.

A Tale of Two Castles Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Tracy Smith,
A Tale of Two Castles Giveaway Winner!
Thanks to Everyone Who Entered. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Five Great New Fall Releases! (Enter to Win!)

Sylvan Dell Publishing will release five educational science or math-themed children’s picture books Aug. 10, 2011.  As with all Sylvan Dell books, these new titles offer a complete reading experience with exceptional prose, art, and free educational features both in the back of the book and online at   Sylvan Dell holds all books to state educational standards, making them a valuable tool both in the classroom and at home.   Click HERE to learn about these titles and to enter to win.

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Title:   Freedom Over Me:  Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life Author :   Ashley Bryan Illustrator :   Ashley...