Category Archives: Children’s Books and Media

Bink and Gollie, Two for OneBink and Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant! Text and illustrations are perfectly paired in this funny, sassy, warm story of two friends visiting the state fair.

View all my reviews


Stay cool, now…

Over 10,700 bloggers have joined in a global conversation so far today, and the number is still climbing as I write this.  It’s Blog Action Day–and the topic is climate change.

I spent some time this afternoon looking at kids’ resources on climate change.  Now, if I have a pet peeve about the publishing world, it’s the continuing lack of quality nonfiction for early elementary kids.  There have been some marvelous strides forward, don’t get me wrong–things have improved greatly in the last ten years.  But I still find myself at purchase order time, swearing under my breath as I scan library periodicals, publisher catalogs and vendor websites trying to find excellent nonfiction for my young students.  Science books in particular are a challenge to find–some authors dumb down material to the point that the material is erroneous or incomprehensible.

So it’s a pleasure to discover some great print resources on climate change for the K-6 crowd.

  • Spend some time reading the I.N.K. Blog: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids and you’ll find lots of children’s nonfiction to celebrate.  Marfe Ferguson Delano blogged on INK about her new book, Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World (National Geographic, 2009), describing the decisions she made about how she presented the facts of global warming.  The book scored a starred review from SLJ.
  • For a younger crowd, there’s the picture book format Polar Bear, Why is Your World Melting? by Robert Wells (Albert Whitman & Company, 2008).  One third grade teacher I know used this book last winter as part of a persuasive letter writing project–kids wrote letters outlining their ideas for cutting back on carbon emissions.
  • Another nonfiction picture book: Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming, by Anne Rockwell (Harper Collins, 2006.)

Heaven knows there’s a ocean of information on the web about climate change–umm, a rising ocean, thanks to the melting of polar ice.  Here are a few rafts to cling to:

Stay cool, y’all.

UPDATE:  I should have mentioned two other website / blogs:  Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears:  An Online Magazine for K-5 Teachers and, the blog of Ohio State professor Jason Box.  I also just picked up the children’s picture book, Once I Was a Cardboard Box…But Now I’m a Book about Polar Bears! by Anton Poitier.  It just happened to be in the Scholastic Book Fair we’re hosting.  It’s a cute concept–the book is printed on paper made from…well, a recycled cardboard box.  The text has two “stories” side-by-side: the story of the life and threatened extinction of the polar bear, and the recycling of the paper on which the book is printed.

The official Blog Action Day count was 13,398 blogs from 155 countries.

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Worth 1000 Words

image courtesy of MorgueFile

image courtesy of MorgueFile

I spent the morning unpacking several boxes of new books.  It’s one of my favorite tasks of the year–all those shiny new covers, each suggesting 1000 ways they could be shared with kids.  A gorgeous picture books about Alexander Calder will be perfect for the art teacher introducing sculpture.  There’s a contingent of (yes, mostly male) kids who are just going to flip over the new series of books on snakes and the biographies of NASCAR drivers.  And a couple of copies of The Butterfly House and Monarch and Milkweed should make the third grade unit on butterflies even richer.

What really caught my eye today, though, were the wordless and nearly wordless picture books.  Wordless stories offer a perfect opportunity for kids to invent stories, to try out the cadence and delivery of the storytelling voice, and to use new vocabulary.  Using pictures as clues to unfamiliar words is an important strategy for new readers.  Young kids love these; our school library has some well worn copies of the immortal Mercer Meyer’s A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog; older kids love poring over the details of David Wiesner’s Free Fall and Tuesday. And children’s publishers have given us some magnificent new titles recently.

The top of my list is the charming, softly colored The Wave, by Suzy Lee, in which a little girl interacts with a playful wave during a visit to the beach. The story is a perfect choice for an ocean storytime or a unit on water. With a  funny, comic-book feel to the pictures, Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug will pull in the early primary school set.  Author Mark Newgarden draws (yeah, pun intended) us in to the silly and unexpectedly sophisticated story of a dog who follows a bug.  Falling in the “nearly wordless” category are the Wow! books by Robert Neubecker.  The stories feature exuberant, enthusiastic Izzy, exploring schools, cities, and America.  Wow! City and Wow! School! can be “read” by the pre-literate child because the pictures give plenty of clues to the text–a page that says, “Wow! Books!” shows a busy group of kids, all with books in hand.  (Young kids reading Wow! America! need some grown-up help, since “Capitol”, for example, isn’t in every child’s vocabulary.)

My favorite wordless books of the last few years are five Owly books by Andy Runton.  The stories feature Owly the owl and his animal friends; their adventures are illustrated comic-book style, several panels per page, with the occasional full-page spread.  Children can easily decipher the story from the illustrations, especially from the expressions on the character’s faces.  “Dialog” appears in speech bubbles above the characters’ heads, but–and here’s the best part–it’s mostly pictures, not text.  When Owly is surprised, the speech bubble will have only an exclamation point in it.  When the little worm is asking about his parents, we see a speech bubble with a question mark and little pictures of Ma and Pa Worm. The books are as long as many grade-school chapter books–100 pages or more–and require a longer attention span and therefore an older audience than The Wave or the Wow! books.  This makes them a perfect choice for kids who aren’t quite ready for chapter-length books but are like, totally done,  Mrs. Gordon, with the baby books! on the picture book shelves.  My first graders ate them up–whenever they could get them away from the second and third graders.

Wordless pictures books are a valuable addition to classrooms and library shelves. Pick one up and hand it to a child.  If you ask nicely, he might tell you a story.

Meeting standards with a crayon


photo by chantelle1113 on

This is one of those mornings where two of my favorite things, stories and crafting, came together. I have a professional blog, where I write about tools and projects for teacher-librarians, and a craft blog, where I write about the sewing or knitting or whatever projects have been refreshing my soul. This morning a post on The Crafty Crow reminded me that there’s plenty of literature for young kids that almost effortlessly suggests where young readers should go when the story is over: straight to the art supplies.

The book featured in the Crafty Crow this morning was An Awesome Book, by Dallas Clayton. It’s all about the power of dreams. Click on the link and take a look at the story and illustrations. This would be a lovely book to pair with a biography on Martin Luther King, Jr. Younger kids would be jazzed about drawing a picture about a dream that could change the world: save the polar bears! end pollution! Older kids, who have learned how impossible the dream of ending segregation seemed at the time of King’s immortal speech, would understand even better the poignant message of the book.

I love doing hands-on projects with my young students. Sometimes it’s exhausting trying to fit all the important things into 40 to 60 minutes of time with 4-8 year-olds, especially when classes come back-to-back to the library. Sometimes the next group is standing in the hall while I’m chivying the current group to the door. But some books just cry out for the crayon baskets!

Drawing, papercraft, sewing, and any other craft need not be simply a “sponge” activity to soak up the time until library is over. When properly planned, the humble crayon (or origami square, or needle and piece of felt cloth) helps meet learning standards. When my kindergarten students created “What happens next?” pictures for the story Flotsam, we were actually meeting the NYS standard that calls for students to “listen, speak, read, and write for critical analysis and evaluation,” to “actively engage in the processes that constitute creation and performance in the arts,” and to “respond critically” to works of art. When we sewed quilt squares with second graders, we were meeting ELA, Social Studies, and Art standards, and when my third graders drew life-size penguins, they were meeting Science standards. It’s like a two-for-one coupon deal at the grocery store!

Here are a few books that absolutely require the crayon boxes:

An Awesome Book / Dallas Clayton.  The children can draw their hopeful dream for the future.

Flotsam / by David Wiesner. Have the children draw the picture the mysterious underwater camera takes next. My kindergarten classes did this, and then we made a PhotoStory movie of their art work.

Swimmy / by Leo Lionni. A powerful story about what can be achieved when everybody works together. The kids love drawing their own little fish to add to the group, and watching the “big fish” grow.

Not a Box / by Antoinette Porti.  An absolutely perfect book about thinking outside the box, (ha!) the kids who read this book are immediately inspired to start imaging their own uses for a cardboard box.

Harold and the Purple Crayon / by Crockett Johnson (Would you believe it? Harold is 50 this year!)  A perfect storytime recipe: equal parts Harold, purple crayons, and a huge sheet of paper. Mix well.

There are literally (today’s the day for bad puns, I guess) thousands of children’s books with pictures that naturally suggest art projects, either through the medium of the pictures themselves, or through the subject of the text: origami (Yoko’s Paper Cranes / Rosemary Wells, or Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes / Eleanor Coerr); quilting (Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt / by Lisa Campbell, or anything illustrated by Faith Ringgold); or sewing (Joseph Had a Little Overcoat / by Simms Taback.)

Sometimes what the kids make ends up going home in their hot little hands; sometimes it ends up on the bulletin board, and more and more, it ends up on the web, particularly via VoiceThread (which I’ve written about before, and is currently my favorite medium for sharing what young kids draw, photograph, and record.) In any case, making something is the key to putting the ideas into their heads, and getting back out what their brains have processed. I work with a great art teacher who is willing to collaborate on lessons. We’re currently working on a Europe project in which the kids draw landscapes including accurate representations of famous landmarks they researched with me. Very cool!

Long live the humble crayon.