Thursday, March 31, 2016

Perfect Picture Book: Bear Sees Colors (Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman)

Title:  Bear Sees Colors   

Author:  Karma Wilson

Illustrator:  Jane Chapman

Published Date: 2014

Suitable Ages:  1-6  

Themes/Topics:  colors, rhyme, friendship, forest animals, predicting skills


“Mouse and Bear are walking;
they are chitter—chatter—talking.
So much for them to do.
And the bear

Brief Synopsis:  Bear and Mouse take a walk through the woods meeting friends and spotting colors all through the forest. 

Links to Resources:

Why I Like It:  I am a HUGE fan of Karma Wilson’s and Jane Chapman’s picture books. Chapman’s illustrations are always brilliant and vivid while the animals are animated and endearing. She does an outstanding job drawing attention to the focal color as she stays true to the forest setting. Wilson introduces each color with a snappy rhyme that leaves the reader guessing what the color will be. This technique allows the children to make a prediction before turning the page. Parents and educators can help with the guessing by identifying for the listener(s) the key (sometimes slant) rhyming word in the introductory lines (do/blue, ahead/red, bellows/yellow). Some of the colored items on the page are identified in the text. Children can point to them and find others.  At the end of the narrative, the animals all gather for a picnic.  Bear Sees Colors celebrates discovery, colors, and friendship. 

Check out other blogs featuring Perfect Picturebooks at Susanna Hill’s

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Time for Bed, Fred! (Yasmeen Ismail)

Fred is a mischievous and playful dog.  Once bedtime hits, he bolts away—trying everything he can to avoid the inevitable from rolling in the mud to climbing a tree.  He eventually agrees to a bath, but afterwards he continues to hide and to play.  Once a bedtime story is agreed upon—he wants to sleep everywhere expect his own bed!  (Anyone have a child like Fred?) Eventally, he calms down and goes to sleep.  Sweet dreams, Fred!

I am a huge fan of stories about bedtime. There is just something comforting and soothing about this time of day.  Now that my kids are grown, I miss reading bedtime stories and tucking them in.  (sad face)

This story follows the typical ritual of bath, story, bed—which will be familiar to young readers.  What I loved about this book is how the author uses a dog to illustrate what many kids do at bedtime—avoid it at all costs, no matter how tired they are.  I see this book being an amusing story to help reign in playful children who like Fred, just do not want to settle down at night.  They can live vicariously (let’s hope) through Fred while being in the position of the authority telling him, “Time for bed, Fred!” Even children who go to bed easily will delight in this mischievous dog’s bedtime antics. 

The watercolor illustrations are full of motion and animation.  Children will delight in each of Fred’s “tricks” to get out of bed.  I high recommend this book for ages 1-6.  You will likely find that Time for Bed, Fred will become a new bedtime favorite in your home. 

For a list of some of my favorite bedtime stories, click here and here. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

X Why Z Animals (by Mark Shulman & James Buckley Jr.)

Summary of X WhyZ Animals (by Mark Shulman & James Buckley Jr.)
X Why Z Animals is written for inquiring young minds.  This non-fiction book is broken into 8 sections, each a different class of animals—mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, arachnids, sea animals, birds, and dinosaurs.  The sections begin with a brief description of each class, including a description of characteristics unique to them.  Then, there are questions that kids commonly ask like:

Why do chameleons change color?
Why do snakes stick out their tongues?
Why do baby deer have spots?
Why do roosters crow in the morning?
Why do dolphins make clicking sounds?
Why do fish swim in schools?

The questions have a short explanation in child-friendly language.  There are also “X Why Z Facts” interspersed throughout, which are fun tidbits about animals.  Colorful photographs compliment each page of this “Time for Kids” book. 

The book is oversized with big print and vivid photographs.  The information is laid out well and the questions are engaging.  It is ideal for sitting with young children and reading out loud.

X Why Z Animals could be used in a classroom to accompany units on different classes of animals.  The only downside is that each animal class is not dealt with equally.  For instance, there are 20 pages devoted to mammals, but only 2 for amphibians. Granted it, children may be more interested in mammals because of their interaction with them at home, on farms, and in the woods.  However, I feel the coverage could be a bit more equal. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I recommend it for kids ages 3-8.  They will enjoy the pictures and dialogue about some of their favorite animals. 

The X Why Z series includes books on space, the human body, and general questions.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tiny Little Fly (Michael Rosen)

Summary of Tiny Little Fly (Michael Rosen)
As Tiny Little Fly dashes through the jungle, he encounters various large animals (elephant, hippo, and tiger).  Each animal becomes annoyed by the fly and determines to squash him.  However, each time “My, oh my, Tiny Little Fly” darts away.  In a last attempt to catch the fly, the enormous animals are left in mayhem and mud (shown in a 4-page fold out).  The fly wizzes off with a self-assured wink of the eye and a “Bye, Everyone, Bye.”  

In this whimsical narrative, a fly (tiny and ordinary) out smarts and gets the better of large African animals, which is sure to delight young readers. The illustrations are appealing. The muted background and minimal accents of the digitally enhanced pencil-and-gouache pictures focus on the exotic animals and fly.

This book is full of enjoyable, educational opportunities. There are several repetitive phrases like “My, oh my, Tiny Little Fly!” and “I’m going to catch that fly!” Children will quickly catch on and want to “read” along with you each time the phrases come up in the cyclical narrative.

Next, when each animal is introduced, the reader only sees part of it, giving children the opportunity to guess each one.  When you turn the page, a large-scale view of the animal spanning the two-pages is revealed. Guessing the animals is great for interaction, but it is also teaching an essential critical reading skill—prediction—that pre-readers will need later. 

Also, each sequence involves rhyming.  For instance, “Tiny Little Fly sees great big toes…Tiny Little Fly sits on Elephant’s nose.”  Children can practice saying and identifying the words as rhyming, but also it allows for children in later readings to predict what word comes next when they hear the first one, both reinforcing rhyming words and prediction skills. 

There are vivid action words in each sequence, such as “Swoop! Snatch! Swoop!”  These words are repeated twice in the story corresponding to the same animal each time.  Listeners can anticipate and participate in saying them with the prompts in the book. 

Tiny Little Fly is an ideal read-out-loud book for pre-school to kindergarten-aged pre-readers.  Children may also move from being active listeners to eventual readers with the simple, repetitive vocabulary and large print of this endearing picture book.

Extension Activities
  • Reading:  Prediction, rhyming, and sight words.
  • Science:  Learn about African Animals or insects such as the fly.  Discuss the differences between the mammals and insects. 
  • Geography:  Identify Africa on a map and learn some additional facts about the continent. 
  • Art:  Draw with pencil and then paint a large picture of one of the animals (older children) or give a stencil or cut out pieces to create a large scale version of an animal (younger).
  • Story Retelling:  Give several children a part to practice in the story.  Then act it out. The audience can act as a chorus repeating the key parts. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: The Dreamer (by Pam Munoz Ryan)

Summary of The Dreamer (by Pam Munoz Ryan)
As a young boy growing up in a Chilean village, Neftalí stands out from his peers.  His shyness and timidity cause him to spend most of his time alone with his imagination and books.  He stutters, but loves words so much that he writes them on pieces of paper and saves them.  While outside, he explores nature and collects interesting objects—shiny keys, beautiful stones, sea glass.  Stories come alive in his mind with the sights and rhythmic sounds around him of the forest, the rain, the ocean, and even his backyard.  

To Neftalí, family is vital.  He has a loving stepmother and inspiring progressive uncle who both encourage him to pursue his dreams.  His younger sister is sometimes a playmate, but always a loyal supporter.  However, his authoritarian father ridicules and often frightens Neftalí while attempting to encourage him to follow a traditional path of manhood and life. 

From harrowing days forced in the rugged ocean to an alarming fire in his uncle’s newspaper to witnessing racism toward native Mapuche, Neftalí finds his voice and path.  He grows up to become Pablo Neruda, a great poet and essayists. 

Using elements of Neruda’s biography and literary license, this story of truth and magic realism comes alive.  It is a story of compassion, perseverance, and splendor. The Dreamer, the 2011 Pure Belpre Award winner for fiction, is illustrated by the awarding winning Peter Sis.

The Dreamer is beautifully written. Pam Munoz Ryan does the fictional biography of a poet justice with her dreamy and vivid language.  For instance, when Neftalí first sees the ocean the author states, “He had never imagined the height of the white spray breaking against the rocks, the dark sand, or the air that whispered of fish and salt.”  

In addition, occasional poetic bits are intertwined like “I am poetry, prowling the blue, tempting my prey with fish, shell, and sky.” and “I am poetry, surrounding the dreamer.  Ever present, I capture the spirit, enslave the reluctant pen.”  These poetic elements represent Neftalí/Pablo’s calling to be a writer and poet. 

While the story is primarily realistic fiction, it floats into magic realism with Neftalí’s imagination.  For instance, he opens a window:  “A carpet of rain swept in and carried Neftalí to the distant oceans he had only seen in books.  There, he was the captain of a ship, it prow slicing through the blue.  Salt water spraying his cheeks.  His clothes fluttered against his body.  He gripped the mast, looking back on his country, Chile.”  These imaginative muses often accompany creative illustrations.  The novel is an excellent opportunity to discuss with children the difference between fantasy and reality in literature.

Most of the family relationships are positive and typical of a middle grade novel.  The only exception is the boy’s relationship with his father who is rigid and narrow-minded.  He has unreasonable expectations of his children.  Also, he is far too interested in his image than the well-being of his family.  Unfortunately, some children do have this experience. 

The majority of the book focuses on Neftalí as a boy and young teen, but readers also get a glimpse at what becomes of him when he leaves for university.  Overall, the novel is engaging to read.  Because it is so imaginatively created, it leads to many extension activities in reading, art, science, geography, and history.  

I recommend this book for children 9-13.  You can see a preview of the book here. 

Other Teaching Ideas
Art/Prediction Skills:  At the beginning of each chapter, there are 3 small simple pictures that preview what will occur in the narrative.  They are ideal for practicing predicting skills.  Show the pictures to the children and allow them to guess what might happen based on each one.  At the end of the chapter, revisit the pictures and evaluate the guesses.  I love this idea for other books as well.  After listening/reading to a chapter, students can draw 3 pictures that represent the major events that took place.   

Journaling/Writing:  Interspersed are some profound and imaginative questions which are perfect for creative or journal writing.  Like a poet, children can muse about abstract ideas like:  “What wisdom does the eagle whisper to those who are learning to fly?” and “Where will the waves take the debris abandoned in the freckled sand?”  

Poetry/History:  Pablo Neruda is a Nobel Prize willing poet.  Some examples of his poetry are included in the novel.  Older children can read additional poems by Neruda and even practice writing their own poetry.  They can also learn about his life and activism in his country.  (There is a brief overview at the end of the novel.)

Research/Social Studies: The Dreamer represents an authentic Latino voice and story to expand children’s experience of multicultural literature and lives.  Children may compare and contrast life in their communities with the Neftalí’s life in Chile.  In addition, use the novel as an opportunity to expand knowledge of Chile, other Latino American countries, the rain forest, and the ocean by doing further research to share or allowing students to do it for class projects. 

Scholastic has some discussion questions and links for additional educational opportunities.

Check out other Middle Grade Monday titles at Ramblings of a Wanna Be Scribe

Thunder Underground (Jane Yolen)

Title:    Thunder Underground Author :   Jane Yolen Illustrator :     Josee Masse Target Ages :   5-10 Genre :   Poetry Publi...