Wednesday, June 29, 2016

But It’s Not My Fault (Julia Cook)

Author: Julia Cook

Illustrator: Anita Dufalla

Target Ages: 3 and up

Genre: Realistic Fiction

First Lines:  
“My name is Norman David Edwards…but everyone calls me ‘Noodle.’ Sometimes things happen to me that get me in trouble.  But it’s not my fault.”

Publisher Summary:
This first book in the new Responsible Me! Series, follows Noodle through a very rough day at school. It just isn't his fault that his brother's game ran late and he didn't finish his homework. Or that his mom forgot to remind him to turn in his library book. Or that Mary Gold got in his airspace and hit his arm with her head... Join Noodle on his journey as he learns not to blame others or try to find fault; but instead practices accepting responsibility, and turns his very rough day into a very good NEW day!”

As Noodle goes through his day, he has an excuse for every poor choice and behavior. He consistently blames someone or something else. When he gets in trouble, he exhibits a “poor me” persona. 

At the end of the day, he has a talk with his teacher. She tells him:  “I’m not talking about whose fault it is…I’m talking about whose responsibility it is.” This response is perfect!  I love how she changes the focus to get at the heart of the problem. 

She goes on to tell him, “You are responsible for the things that you do….Blaming others is a reason, but it is not an excuse.  If you keep playing this game, you surely will lose!”  Wow!  More excellent insight for children as well as the parents and educators guiding them.  The game metaphor is effective because children tend to love to play and to win at games.  It is a concrete way for them to understand the consequences of their choices.

When Noodle gets home, his mother reinforces the guidance his teacher offered him. She separates the behavior from the person.  He made some mistakes, causing him to have a rough day.  However, he is in charge of his body and mouth, so he must “own up and become more responsible for the choices” he has made. However, it is clear that he is not a “bad” kid. 

Finally, his mother focuses on teaching him to be a problem solver. She explains that mistakes can be used as a learning experience. Blaming others robs him of a chance to learn.  She tells him to say, “I did that! Now what can I do to improve my situation?” 

The next day when Noodle runs into a problem, he takes responsible.  He learns there are both consequences and benefits of doing so. 

Rounding out this book is a list of 9 effective suggestions for parents and educators to help them teach children to avoid the blame game and take responsibility. 

It’s Not My Fault is an excellent teaching tool for home or the classroom.  I HIGHLY recommend it as a means to help refine and refocus your approach as well as a springboard for discussion with your child. 

Boys Town Press has dozens of books and resources to help parents and educators.

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
  • Book Talk:  Discuss each one of Noodles problems and ways he could take responsibility. For instance, he could leave himself a sticky note to remind him to put his library book in his book bag or complete his homework before the game begins.
  • Cause and Effect:  Introduce or reinforce cause and effect.  Make some causal chains or maps to show how one choice impacted many others. 
  • Dramatic Play: Role play common issues of “blame” your child tends to display. For instance, you can be the child (person) blaming others.  Have your child “teach” you about taking responsibility.  OR Use 2 dolls, action figures, or stuffed animals to play scenarios out. 
  • Problem Solving Slogan:  Come up with a way to help you child remember to take responsibility. With older children, have them help you. For instance, make up a snappy saying like “Stop. Drop. Solve.”  Stop talking/whining/complaining.  Drop the blame game.  Solve the problem.
  • Reward Jar: Instead of penalizing a behavior (think swear jar), create a reward jar.  Each time you see your child taking responsibility, allow them to pick out of the reward jar, which can include favorite activities or treats. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 06/27/16

I am working on a list of favorite books on animal habitats and one on undesirable behaviors common in early childhood.  Not sure what to call that last list.  It is on areas like temper tantrums and feeling grumpy.  Any creative ideas on a title for the list?

I need to start some new chapter books this week. Here are a few I am considering…
Somewhere Among
A Tangle of Knots
The Great Hunt
Fish in a Tree
Love That Dog

Visit This Week’s Posts…

A Few of My Favorite Picture Books From My Weekly Library Run…

Dear Yeti by James Kwan
Two young hikers search for Yeti.  When they cannot find him, they begin to leave him letters.  Even though Yeti is shy, he communicates back—in his own way.  The hikers run into mean grizzly bear.  However, Yeti reveals himself  in time to help out his new friends.  Dear Yeti is a sweet book about friendship and adventure.    

I Don’t Like Snakes by Nicola Davies and Luciano Lozana
A young girl lives in a household of snake lovers. She is not too keen on them though because they are slithery and scaly.  Besides, who wouldn’t be creeped out by their flicking tongues and unblinking eyes?  Her family asks questions about her fears and teaches her several fascinating facts about snakes, such as types of slithers, why they flick their tongues, and how they catch their prey. Will the facts change her mind about these creeping creatures?

My Pen by Christopher Myers
The author takes the idea of the power of the pen to new levels. He illustrates just some of the ways a pen through art or words can make a differences. This book is sure to help young people feel empowered to action. It ends with this quote, “There are millions of pens in the world and each one has a million worlds inside it.  So if you have a pen, see what you can do—Let those worlds inside your pen out.” 

Ollie’s Class Trip by Stephanie Calmenson & Abby Carter
This humorous call-and-response text teaches social skills and positive classroom behavior.  It is ideal for teachers preparing young children for a class field trip.

Among a Thousand Fireflies by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder
Frost’s beautiful free verse poem gives readers insight into the life of fireflies (lightening bugs). The stunning photographs by Lieder perfectly compliment the poem.  You will never look at fireflies the same way again. 

For more reading inspiration, visit Unleashing Readers for It’s Monday, What Are Your Reading?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

10 Picture Books That Will Make You Smile (and Laugh)

This list is for everyone who loves an twisty, turny, funny, ironic, laugh out loud picture book. Each one is sure to warm your heart as you snuggle with your little ones during story time, share in your classroom, or read independently because you are a picture book junkie like me. Be sure to check out these 10 picture books on your next trip to the library or bookstore. They will make your day a whole lot brighter as well as elicit smiles and giggles from the kids in your life.  

I Am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz
Publisher Summary:
“This is Bear.  He was bare.  Now he’s wearing…purple hair.  His favorite thing is playing tricks. He makes trouble just for kicks. “

What’s to Love: 
This book had me laughing out loud.  The rhyming text is quick and snappy. The humor is primarily in the discrepancy between the words and the pictures (situational irony).  For instance, Bear says he does magic which prompts a pile of fish to appear.  However, it is clear that the wand has a fishing line on it.  He reveals his favorite game is cops and robbers, but it is quite different than what the reader expects. Kids may not fully understand irony, but they will recognize the humor.  (Do not hesitate to identify the ironies to young listeners.  They will likely catch on to this concept quicker than you think.)

Publisher Summary: 
“Everyone likes hugs, especially when Bear gives them!  Everyone, that is, except for Skunk.  Bear really gets on Skunk’s nerves.  He’s too happy…and he’s always giving way too many hugs!  Skunk has the perfect plan to keep Bear from giving any more hugs.  Will it work?”

What’s to Love: 
Skunk tries three different tricks on Bear, each with a hilarious and unfortunate end—for Skunk.  Kids are sure to giggle as Skunk gets skunked. Bear continuously offers Skunk a hug, but he adamantly declines it.  Bear always replies, “It’s okay.  I’ll save you one for later.”  When Skunk finally changes his mind, Bear really wants to save it for later—and for good reason. 

Publisher Summary: 
“Clemmie the Cat knows everything about how to catch a mouse—and she would prove it, too, except that she’s never actually seen a mouse! Perhaps, she thinks, they’re all afraid of her.  But wait…is that a pink tail? And a whiskery nose?” 

What’s to Love: 
Clemmie sees a long pink tail.  She creeps up, thinking it is a mouse.  Instead, it is a ribbon on a hat.  The same sequence happens with two round ears (a stuffed bear) and whiskery, pointy nose (a spider).  She is convinced she has scared away all mice.  However, there is a mouse lurking around craftily.  This story has potential for interaction as children look for and guess along with Clemmie as well as point out the sneaky mouse.  The ending is a fun surprise. 

Publisher Summary: 
“Sandwich?  What sandwich? Oh, that sandwich. Right. Um. Well. It all stated with the bear…”

What’s to Love: 
The bear’s journey from the forest into the “jungle” of a city is worth the read.  The illustrations add so much energy and humor as the bear scratches his back on a tree (light post), squishes in the mud (wet cement), and finds interesting smells (trash cans).  His experience finding, eating, and retreating is a rollicking fun time.  What got me, though, was the end.  I laughed out loud (but I won’t ruin the surprise).

How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder and Stephanie Graegin
Publisher Summary: 
“The perfect thing to do on a chilly day is to make a cave.  But, of course, a comfy cave never stays empty for long.  What’s a boy to do when a bear takes over his cave?  Try to distract him with a trail of blueberries?  Some honey? A nice long back scratch?”

What’s to Love: 
The protagonist comes up with several solutions to his “bear” problem, showing resourcefulness and creativity.  The illustrator does an excellent job with blocking, so the reader does not see what is really going on until the end.  This imaginative text is so sweet you will not be able to help but smile real big. 

Publisher Summary:
“Meet Max.  Max the Brave, Max the fearless,  Max the Mouse-catcher.  But, in order to be a Mouse-catcher, Max needs to know what a mouse is.”

What’s to Love:
Following a similar format as “Are You My Mother?” Max asks each animal if he is a mouse.  The hilarity begins when he actually meets Mouse.  After a couple quick twists and turns, there is a satisfying and clever ending. 

Publisher Summary: 
“Two bears. Three yaks. Four seals. Six cats. All of them have one thing in common: They hate to share. But here comes a pack of twenty pigs—count on them to prove that sharing makes everything twice as fun.”

What’s to Love: 
This concept book teaches counting and number words while illustrating the importance of sharing in a comical way.  It is the most energetic concept book I have seen.  Word play includes onomatopoeia, alliteration, and rhyme.  The illustrations are fantastic.  Sharing and underwear are taken to a whole new level. 

Publisher Summary:  
“I am my own dog.  I fetch my own slippers, curl up at my own feet, and give myself a good scratch.  But there’s one spot in the middle of my back, that I just can’t reach.” 

What’s to Love:  
This story is told through the dog’s perspective, mimicking many of the phrases associated with them, but in unexpected ways.  The “little guy” who follows him home is the man pursuing the dog.  The ones “yapping” are the people as the dogs looked annoyed.  Of course, he has to clean up all the man’s messes.  Dog lovers will smile and chuckle at this inversed story full of irony and humor. 

Publisher Summary
"It's race day, and once and for all, it's time to determine the better feline:  little cats or big cheetah.  Cheetah might be bigger, taller, stronger, faster...but the little cats have some tricks up their sleeves, so don't count them out." 

What’s to Love: 
Cheetah is, let's say, an over-achiever.  He has to win and to be the best at everything!  The sly little cats let him win several challenges but have an ulterior motive.  While Cheetah has no clue, the reader can infer what is really going on.  Full of humor and action, this story will be a winner with readers or all ages.   

How to Cheer up Dad by Fred Koehler
Publisher Summary
"Little Jumbo's dad is having a bad day. Little Jumbo has no idea why.  Luckily, he does know just how to cheer up Dad with some of his--ahem, his dad's--favorite things!"

What’s to Love: 
This endearing story about a boy and his loving dad is sweet.  The adorable pictures capture the mischief and energy typical in preschool-aged children.  I laughed in a couple places and smiled all the way through. The pictures and the words convey different ideas, making this one ideal for teaching inference and irony.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Author Spotlight: Chris Gall

I discovered Chris Gall’s work only recently when I came across one of his Dinotrux’s books. Struck by his amazing style, I checked out several of his other books.

Chris Gall has been working as an illustrator for more than 20 years.  With close to a dozen picture books published so far, he has already made an indelible mark on the industry. Working as both author and illustrator on most of his books, he has shown innovative vision and extraordinary talent. His style has similarities to other beloved illustrators like David Wiesner, Steven Kellogg, and Chris Van Allsburg.

Like Wiesner, he has an amazing imagination. Gall brings the ordinary and the fantastic, mashes them together, and creates a captivating experience. For example, in Dear Fish he takes the ideas of pen pals and company visiting to hyperbolic and astonishing levels. Substitute Creature begins with every day occurrences in the classroom and moves them to outrageous flights of fancy.

Like Kellogg, he utilizes every space, including end, copyright, and title pages. Gall uses his illustrations as much as the text to move the storytelling forward and make little detours of humor. For instance, in The Revenge of the Dinotrux the bots escape after being “civilized” by school and books. Left in the tracks is the book Escape from Alcatraz. Also, there are often bits of irony and pun included. In Dear Fish, puns are abundant, such as when a school of fish invades a classroom and swordfish help a carpenter with his work. 

Like Van Allsburg, he is a profound storyteller.  Gall’s stories are not about animals or Dinotruxs.  Instead, his characters are often metaphors or symbols. The unruly Dinotruxs symbolize undesirable behaviors often found in children like impatience, thoughtlessness, and selfishness. Dog vs. Cat represents a blended family though it could be more universally connected to learning to get along with others. 

Gall’s illustrations are bold. They often have a three-dimensional appearance.  Sometimes, he employs techniques commonly found in graphic novels like blocking and multiple scenes on a page. A variety of mediums work together to create each illustration.  He frequently uses more traditional means like clay-engraved art or colored pencils with digital effects. Other books have revolutionary tools. Dinotrux was created using bearskins and stone-knives while Substitute Creature utilized bat wings, toad juice, and the bundled whiskers of a black cat. :)

Finally, his books often have a twist at the end. In Awesome Dawson the final scene depicts Dawson using one of his inventions to help in an alien invasion while Dinotrux simply has the eyes of one of the bots flash on. These types of endings prompt a discussion of inference and provide opportunities for creative writing. 

Like a great literary fiction, there are layers and layers to unpack in his books.   Look closely at the illustrations as well as their interconnectedness with the text. Chris Gall's books will surprise you with new insights and small treasures with each reading.

Peter Alan writes a letter to the fish, places it in a bottle, and throws it out to sea. The next morning he wakes up to find the fish have taken him up on his offer to visit. They are everywhere—in the bathtub, at the baseball game, in the yard, and at the rodeo.  After numerous disruptions, he writes the fish another letter to encourage them to go back home.  Eventually, life returns back to normal.  Until, Peter Alan finds a note on the beach. This one is from the fish! 

Teaching Connections:  Puns (primarily in the illustrations), Onomatopoeia, Strong Verbs, Letter Writing, Inference 

Dawson spends all his time repurposing toys and household items into new imaginative and useful creations.  Hating to do chores, he comes up with a solution—that ends up causing so much trouble, he wishes he was at home doing chores!  Dawson stops the “monster” machine, but he does not stop coming up with ways to make chore time go more quickly and efficiently.  

Teaching Connections: Simple Machines, Robotic, STEM, Recycling, Problem Solving, Inference

When a riotous class gets an unexpected substitute teacher, they think it is an opportunity for mischief and mayhem. Their substitute is not what they expected—nor what the audience thinks either. As he presents hard cases from past classes of daydreamers, doodlers, and paste-eaters, the audience is treated to highly imaginative and disastrous consequences that ensue.  Students are not fully convinced though until the substitute creature reveals his own past delinquency. 

Teaching Connections:  Inference, Irony, Creative Writing, Poetry, Rhyme, Hyperbole

Cat and Dog are far from being two peas in a pod. Dog is a playful mess.  Cat is seriously organized. Their idea of fun could not be more different. When trying to co-exist peacefully doesn’t work, it becomes an all out war.  An unexpected event prompts a truce though.  Will the peace last?   

Teaching Connections: Sibling/Step-Sibling/Friendship Relationships, Problem Solving, Puns, Hyperbole

Dinotrux, part-truck, part dino demolition dynamos, ruled the world millions of years ago. Rude Rollodon, greedy Garbageadon, and edgy Dozeratops were just a few of the disruptive Dinotrux.  Ironically, they are so uncivilized that even the cave people are fussing at them! A terrible storm causes most of Dinotrux to rust and sink down, down, down into the mud.  The smart ones migrate south where they slowly lose their misbehaving ways and ancient features. Now they are always on the job and never quit working hard.  A prehistoric discovery may change everything though!

Teaching Connections:  Manners, Dinosaurs, Onomatopoeia, Irony

After spending decades in a museum being poked, prodded, and mistreated, Tyrannosaurus Trux leads the other Dinotrux out into the modern world. Reminiscent of a Godzilla take-over (with lots of humor and irony), they wreak havoc on the town. The mayor sends them to school to learn “how modern trucks behave.”  School seems to be helping to tame their wild ways…at least until they are on the loose again. When the Dinotrux are tracked down deep in the woods, everyone is afraid to see what is causing all the commotion.  

Teaching Connections:  Manners, Dinosaurs, Onomatopoeia, Irony, Problem Solving

Gall has two new books premiering later this year. Nanobots will be released in August 2016. The Ninjabread Man with author C.J. Leigh is due out September 2016.

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

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