Thursday, May 25, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – SEA MONKEY & BOB by Aaron Reynolds and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I was excited when this book arrived just as my students developed an interest in exploring whether sink or float! It’s great to have a fun story to connect with this popular topic that comes up every year in my kindergarten classroom. I’m also thrilled to share this book because Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of my writing buddies.
Summary from the publisher:


Two delightfully anxious friends learn that they can overcome anything—even gravity—in this humorous and heartwarming picture book from bestselling author Aaron Reynolds and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Bob the puffer fish and his best buddy Sea Monkey may be little but they’ve got one ocean-sized problem. Sea Monkey’s terrified he’ll sink straight to the bottom of the ocean. After all, he’s heavy, and all heavy things sink, right? Bob on the other hand is worried that his puffed up frame will float up above the surface. He’s light, and all light things float! How will they stay together when the forces of gravity are literally trying to pull them apart? By holding hands, of course! Sea Monkey and Bob learn that sometimes the only way to overcome your fears is to just keep holding on…

Sea Monkey & Bob was written and illustrated by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. It was published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

Opening:

“Hi. I am Bob. I am a Puffer fish.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is a good example of a story told through a conversation between two characters.  The design of using different fonts in different colours right from the first page makes it easy for a reader to use a different voice for each character.  The text and illustrations worked together well to tell a fun story about sinking and floating, but there was another level of story about fears and how friends can help you when you feel afraid.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I read this book to my kindergarten students a few times during our exploration of sinking and floating. I really liked how some of the materials included in the story were items we could actually test (e.g., feathers, tennis balls).  The theme of how a friend can help you through a scary moment provides a good opportunity for a discussion about ways to cope when you feel scared. 

With the big, bold illustration style, even the kids in the back of the group could see what was happening during a read aloud. The style of bright colours with a dark line around the outside would be fun to use as a model for creating under-the-sea art.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: PreK - 3

Themes:  fears, friendship, sinking & floating

Activities:

Do all heavy things sink? Do all light things float? Collect some different materials and experiment to find out! Make a chart to show your results.

Take on a boat-making challenge: Can you make a boat to hold something that might normally sink?

Draw a picture of a time you felt afraid. Do you have a favourite friend or stuffed toy to help you feel less alone? Add your friend to the picture!

What is your favourite sea animal? Create a drawing using the style of bright colours with a dark outline. What do you think your animal might be afraid of?


Check out this video that shows how to draw the characters of Sea Monkey and Bob:



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – I AM NOT A CHAIR by Ross Burach

This story is so preposterous it might make you laugh out loud! That's what happened to me. It reminded me of how, when my daughter was little, sometimes a ridiculous thing would strike us funny and we'd laugh hysterically together.  

Summary from the publisher:


Grab the best seat in the house with this funny, touching picture book about a giraffe who keeps being mistaken for a chair!

From the acclaimed author-illustrator of There’s a Giraffe in My Soup, Ross Burach, comes a curious tale about finding one’s courage and standing up for oneself. Full of vibrant and playful illustrations and hilariously absurd logic, kids will want to read it again and again.

Could there be anything worse for Giraffe? Maybe being sat on by a skunk or smooshed by two hapless hippos, or worst of all—cornered by a hungry lion? No one seems to notice that Giraffe is not standing around just to be sat upon. Will he be able to find his voice and make his friends realize who he really is?

I Am Not a Chair was written and illustrated by Ross Burach. It was published in 2017 by HarperCollins.

Opening:

“On Giraffe’s first day in the jungle, he felt something wasn’t right.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is a great book to study if you are learning about plot – the main character makes several attempts to solve his problem and there’s a fun twist at the end when the character finally does take the step that solves the problem. It’s also a great one to study for humor and pacing. I loved the personality of the main character . The text and illustrations worked together so well to tell the story. And then there was a deeper layer with a theme about speaking up for yourself. I think this book has many of the elements of a perfect picture book.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I thought this book would be too silly for me, but I was wrong. I really liked the underlying theme about speaking up for yourself. The way it’s done with animals is quite clever. The character of the giraffe really captures how a quieter, shy or nervous child feels, to the point of being nervous even about asking to go to the bathroom. I liked the line: “I need to be me.” Lots of discussion possibilities for young children. Of course, giraffes don’t live in jungles—but then they aren’t used as chairs, either.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 2

Themes:  sense of self, feeling afraid, individual differences, funny stories

Activities:

Think of a time when you felt afraid but couldn’t speak up for yourself. How did you feel? Draw a picture or share in a discussion if you wish.

If there was another page to the story, what do you think the turtle would do or say? Draw your idea!

What is your favourite page in the story? Why?

The book trailer is a lot of fun:






Thursday, April 20, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – THUNDER BOY JR. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

Have you ever thought about having a different name? Why is your name just right for you? I really liked the way the character in this book took time to think about his name.

Summary from the publisher:


Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name...one that's all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn't want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name...Lightning! Their love will be loud and bright, and together they will light up the sky.

Thunder Boy Jr. was written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. It was published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company.

Opening:

“Hello, my name is Thunder Boy. Thunder Boy Smith. That’s my real name.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

There is a strong voice in this book, since it’s written as though the main character is talking to the reader. I really loved all the fun possibilities the main character comes up with for choosing a new name. This is another good example of a story with different layers and an important message about being yourself.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book would a great addition to a classroom and school library collection. Not only does it reflect the perspective from a native American culture, it also shows a strong relationship between a son and his father. I would be so great to read early in the school year when students are getting to know each other and learning about each other’s names. I love the line: “I want a name that sounds like me.” Discussing all the possibilities for a new name would provide lots of opportunities for students to talk about some of their accomplishments and experiences.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: family, names, sense of self  

Activities:

List at least five experiences you are proud of. What names could you make up for yourself?

Choose an important adult in your life. What things do you love about him or her? In what ways do you want to be different?


Here’s the book trailer:




Sherman Alexie discusses the book:




Monday, April 17, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT by Linda Oatman High

If you're looking for a book to help cope with feelings of sadness or grief, this might be a good choice. I like animal stories, and I really liked the chance to think about a situation from the perspective of an elephant.


a story about a girl and and elephant finding their way through grief togetherDescription from the publisher:

A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.

Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.

One Amazing Elephant was written by Linda Oatman High and published by HarperCollins in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a touching, emotional story of a girl making friends with an elephant and learning to love each other in the face of their fears and sadness. I didn’t expect part of the story to be told from the elephant’s perspective, and it took me a little while to get used to it, but I thought it was an interesting way to tell the story. I feel so sad for Lily, having to cope with her grandfather’s death as well as the way her mother treated her. Along with Queenie Grace, I really liked Lily’s new friend Henry Jack, who stuck by her side when she needed someone.

“Don’t worry,” says my new friend, and his voice is like a warm, fuzzy blanket thrown over me when its cold.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is an interesting book to study if you’re considering writing from the perspective of an animal. The story is told using a first person point of view in present tense, which brings a feeling of immediacy to the story events. I admired the way the author created so much emotion though the rhythm of the language.

“I run and run, tears gushing down my cheeks, through the empty and quiet trailer park, not caring what anybody thinks or says or does.”

If you’re a teacher…

There are possibilities for class discussions about animal cruelty, animal emotions and how humans care for animals would capture student interest. This book might pair nicely with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, another story written from an animal perspective.

Opening line:

“I’m finally riding the elephant, my grandpa Bill’s circus elephant, Queenie Grace, and it feels kind of like I’m riding the universe.”

Other info:

In an interview with Kathy Temean, Linda talks about the novel:
“It is my hope that ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT not only raises awareness about the plight of elephants not as lucky as Queenie Grace, but that it helps readers to get inside an elephant’s head.”



Thursday, April 6, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – ARE WE THERE YET? by Dan Santat

A great choice if you're interested in interactive picture books. Or wanting something to read on a long car trip!

Summary from the publisher:


"Are we there yet?" Every parent has heard this classic kid question on a long car ride--and after reading this astonishingly inventive new book (that even turns upside down for several pages!), you'll never look at being bored the same way again.

Let's face it: everyone knows that car rides can be boring. And when things get boring, time slows down. In this book, a boy feels time slowing down so much that it starts going backward--into the time of pirates! Of princesses! Of dinosaurs! The boy was just trying to get to his grandmother's birthday party, but instead he's traveling through Ancient Egypt and rubbing shoulders with Ben Franklin. When time flies, who knows where--or when--he'll end up.

Are We There Yet? was written by and illustrated by Dan Santat. It was published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company.

Opening:

“The car trip to visit Grandma is always exciting! But after the first hour, it can feel like an eternity.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Dan Santat has taken the classic “joke” of a long car trip and turned it into an entertaining story. I loved the expressions on the character’s faces and the interactive element of turning the book to “go back in time” is so clever! The detailed illustrations invite the reader to take their time and the comic book style frames with speech bubbles were so cool! I also really liked the deeper layer of meaning that is hinted at: “And you never know where life may take you…”

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

It would be fun to talk about the different time periods shown in this story. This book could also be used as a starting point for discussing different modes of transportation. An interesting project might be to look at a few of the different books Dan Santat has illustrated to study his illustration style.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: family, imagination, car trips,

Activities:

If you were in the car on the way to Grandma’s house, what “side trip” would your imagination take you on. Draw a picture to show where you’d travel.

Create a paper book with a few pages and try to recreate the cool reversal that happens in this story to see how it works. Use arrows to show where the story goes.

What is your favorite scene from the story? Explain why.

Check out this fun book trailer:


Monday, March 27, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – HIDEOUT by Watt Key

I couldn't put down this adventure story. The tag line "Two boys with too many secrets" is a good description, because I was really worried about what would happen to these boys! 

Description from Amazon:


In this riveting middle-grade adventure, the son of a Mississippi policeman finds a boy living on his own in the wilderness. Twelve-year-old Sam has been given a fishing boat by his father, but he hates fishing. Instead he uses the boat to disappear for hours at a time, exploring the forbidden swampy surroundings of his bayou home. Then he discovers a strange kid named Davey, mysteriously alone, repairing an abandoned cabin deep in the woods. Not fooled by the boy’s evasive explanation as to why he’s on his own, Sam becomes entangled in his own efforts to help Davey. But this leads him to telling small lies that only get bigger as the danger increases for both boys and hidden truths become harder to conceal.

Hideout was written by Watt Key and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a fast-moving adventure story of a boy who wants to prove himself but ends up getting in over his head.  I liked Sam’s personality. He wanted to be independent and solve his own problems and he tried to stay loyal to his friends, even through difficult situations. Now I want to read more books by Watt Key.

“Even with stars everywhere overhead, the swamp was darker and louder and spookier than I expected. I couldn’t even imagine spending a night alone there.”


If you’re a writer… 

You might be interested in reading this book to study the pacing and development of tension. The main character’s choices and sometimes poor judgment get him more and more embroiled in the problem. I also admired how the author wove in setting details

“The foliage looked like a jungle, but I heard no bird or animals sounds. It was quiet and still. I heard nothing but my heart beating heavily into my chest and up into my ears.”


If you’re a teacher…

This book would be a good class read aloud and might lead to interesting discussions about honesty, trust and decision-making. Sam starts by telling small lies, but they end up growing as he gets more involved and the situation becomes more dangerous.

“If all else failed, I could wade along the outside edges of the creek, but I knew I needed to stay back from the water if I was to avoid moccasins and alligators.”


Opening line:

“I slowed my skiff at the mouth of Bluff Creek and stared over the Pascagoula River.”


Other info:

Watt Key has written several other books including FOURMILE and TERROR AT BOTTLE CREEK.
You can read an excerpt of HIDEOUT on the website www.criminalelement.com.
On his own website, Watt Key talks about writing: “To this day I am still practicing my writing. I take nothing for granted, and I’m grateful each time I am able to sell a story.” 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – LITTLE RED by Bethan Woollvin

I really loved this - so succinct and clever in the way it plays with the traditional fairy tale. But be warned. It's a little dark, especially the ending!

Summary from the publisher:

Little Red Riding Hood meets a wolf on her way through the woods to visit her sick grandmother. The wolf is hungry, and Red Riding Hood looks tasty, so he hatches a dastardly plan, gobbles up Grandma and lies in wait. So far, so familiar. But this Little Red Riding Hood is not easily fooled, and this big bad wolf better watch his back. In this defiant interpretation of the traditional tale, the cheeky, brave little girl seizes control of her own story (and the wolf gets rather more than he bargained for).

The perfect gift for fans of darker fairy tales, complete with tree-shaped cover flaps that make this a sumptuous sight to behold.

Little Red was written by and illustrated by Bethan Woollvin. It was published in 2016 by Two Hoots.

Opening:

“One day, Little Red Riding Hood’s mother called to her.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really loved this clever take on a classic story. With just the original characters and a simple text, the author has created a darkly humorous and very entertaining story. I loved the repetition of “Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.” The careful use of colour (black, white and red) and size really enhances the darker moments in the text. The importance of the expressions shown in the character eyes reminded me of the “Hat” books by Jon Klassen. 

I’d study this one carefully to see how the text leaves room for the illustrations, and also how the text and illustrations leave room for reader interpretation.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

Although I really admired this one, I think it might be a bit scary for a couple of my younger kindergarteners. For slightly older kids, it would be great to contrast this book with the classic story and highlight Little Red’s more progressive and active role in dealing with the wolf.

Ages: 3 - 6

Grades: K - 3

Themes: fairy tales, fears, self-confidence

Activities:

Create puppets to represent the grandmother, wolf and Little Red and act out the story.

Draw a picture to show what Little Red’s plan might have looked like.


Why do you think the author left out the woodsman character from the original story? Discuss.