Monday, October 31, 2011

Marvelous Picture Book Monday: Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

This story is one of a little girl Trisha, who is so excited to learn to read when she starts kindergarten, but who soon realizes that the process of learning to read is so much harder for her than she thought. She sees all of her classmates around her learning to read and enjoying the books, and she just cannot grasp the words. Trisha turns to art to escape and she has a true talent there. Whenever she is called on in class she tries to find ways to get out of having to read because the other students all make fun of her. School becomes a place of anxiety and stress very quickly for Trisha. Trisha's grandparents, especially her grandmother, were a source of relief and support for Trisha and when they pass away, school gets even harder. Soon thereafter, Trisha's mother gets a new job in California, and the family has to move. Trisha doesn't realize it in the moment, but that move will be the beginning of her journey to finally love school and learn to read. She meets her new teacher, Mr. Falker, who becomes her advocate when the other children makes fun and who recognizes both her beautiful talent in art and her difficulties with reading. Mr. Falker starts to work with Trisha every day after school and after finally something clicks inside her and she is able to read!
At the beginning of the book, right before she was going to be starting Kindergarten, Trisha's grandfather did a ritual that he had done with all of his grandchildren before:

The grandpa held the jar of honey so that all the family could see, then dipped a ladle into it and drizzled honey on the cover of a small book.
The little girl had just turned five.
"Stand up little one," he cooed. "I did this for your mother, your uncles and now you!"

Trisha is then asked to taste the honey from the book and responds to her grandfather that it tastes sweet. Her family replies to her,

"Yes, and so in knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book!"

At the end of the book, this scene is remembered again when Trisha finally is able to read. We see her holding the book that her grandfather had put the honey on, realizing that she finally could chase through the pages like he had dreamed for her. The repetition of this scene both at the beginning and the end of Trisha's journey shows how important this part of her journey is. The illustrations on each page are so clearly and intentionally places to assist and support in the telling of this story, and that is what makes this book so special. They are classically beautiful and contribute to the story as much if not more than the words themselves.

"Thank you, Mr. Falker" is a beautifully told, emotional story that many children can connect with. The story gives hope to the readers who may have a hard time in school and it can also be used to teach tolerance to children who may not have the same struggle of learning to read that Trisha has.
When Trisha is sad, the sadness is made more apparent in the illustrations of her and this really helps the reader to visualize and connect with her feelings even more. When Trisha is happy because reading is starting to click, the reader is taken from her sadness to her delight not only through the words but through the picture of Trisha finally reading with a joyous expression. The story itself is wonderful, but the illustrations in this book truly help the reader to connect with the emotions that come along with this book. The flow between the story and the illustrations is very apparent. This is largely due to the fact that Patricia Polacco not only writes her books, but illustrates them as well.

We find out at the end that this story is one that is very close to the author's heart. It is the story of when Patricia Polacco was a young girl and how after years of getting through school without being able to read, one teacher, Mr. Falker, changed that all for her. She writes at the end, "The rest of the year became an odyssey of discovery and adventure for the little girl... I know because that little girl was me, Patricia Polacco. I saw Mr. Falker again some thirty years later at a wedding...I told him who I was and how he had changed my life so many years ago. He hugged me and asked me what I did for a living. 'Why Mr. Falker, I make books for children... Thank you Mr. Falker. Thank you."

I grew up reading Patricia Polacco books. I remember many of them and their illustrations as well. She has been a very successful children's book author since she published her first book in 1987, "The Keeping Quilt." I would highly recommend this book to teachers, parents and caregivers. It has many valuable lessons and the story and illustrations alike help to teach these and instill them in the children reading this book! A must read!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Picture Books from the Past: Oh, The Places You'll Go!

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”

In this classic story by the fantastic Dr. Seuss, the triumphs and trials of life are clearly portrayed in a way that a younger audience can understand. It begins with the narrator praising the main character who turns out to be the reader. The story goes on to show the great successes that one will have but then points to the realization that sometimes, things don’t always work out the way we hope.

Published in 1990, this book is a fantastic gift for any child or for someone about to graduate high school or college because they are entering into a new chapter of their life. The message is motivating but also realistic.

“Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.”

It recognizes that no one is perfect and everyone, whether they are five-, fifteen-, or fifty-years-old has hard times when they do not succeed. You will go through “Bang-ups and Hang-Ups,” but in the end “you will succeed!” The overall message of the story is encouraging however, and promotes the need to pursue your dreams and desires and to never give up.

The illustrations are nothing short of extraordinary. Thehwhimsical nature and bright colors certainly draw the eye of the reader. They are wonderful two page spreads that draw the reader’s eye from left to right. The text of the story does not impede on the illustrations or vice versa. The classic rhyming of Dr. Seuss’s language adds an upbeat tempo that carries the reader through the story. Young children will absolutely love the rhythmical nature and with it, be able to gain valuable life lessons.

Overall, this is a fantastic book for readers of all ages and remember… “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

For activities visit the Seussville website!

To view a reading of the book click here!

Happy Reading!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Marvelous Picture Book: The Sea of Sleep by Warren Hanson and illustrations by Jim LeMarche

This picture book follows a mama otter and her child floating through a sea, The Sea of Sleep. It begins with the otters returning to the sea after a long day and shows the progression of the bedtime process. The illustrations and words foster a safe environment for the otters as a technique to project these feelings onto a child at bedtime. Bedtime can be a very stressful as well an anxiety filled process for a child. A resource such as this book creates a calming environment wherein the child can relax. This book is not only great at bedtime though, through the illustrations and focus on a safe environment it can be used simply as a calming book. Jim LeMarche conveys comfort and the process of falling asleep through the watercolor illustrations, portrayal of the otters falling asleep, as well as the interactions with nature. The color palette of the whole book follows what would be expected of the sea, light blues and calming purples. The whimsical brushstrokes enhance these effects by creating movement of the water. The book repeats the same paragraph three times within the book, accompanied by illustrations of the baby otter growing more tired.

Drifting. Floating. Lightly gliding

On the Sea of Sleep tonight.

Rocking. Swaying. Slowly sailing

On toward the morning light.

The repetition not only brings familiarity, but also sets the tone for sleep. It visually portrays another child (even if it is an animal) growing sleepy along with the child. The pictures also represent a safe and loving home through the otter’s home within the sea. The two otters float by dolphins, the moon, and families of fish all of whom make up their home.

This is a great read for children who do have a hard time calming down. Joy initially bought this book as a gift for someone she nannies for. She loved the story and thought it would be a good tool for nighttime. Without fail this book has proved her correct. Results have been seen first hand and this book is strongly recommended not only because of its story, but more importantly the marvelous illustrations.

Here is a link to watch Deirdre read this book.

enjoy! <3 Joy and Deirdre

Friday, October 21, 2011

Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet

Van Fleet takes alphabet books to a whole new level with this work. Children can explore the letters of the alphabet through a full sensory experience including touch, sight, and even smell!

Throughout the book, different animals (beginning with each letter of the alphabet) are described and depicted. Almost all of these descriptions incorporate some sort of interactive sensory experience which helps get children excited about exploring the letters and also helps them build conceptions of different adjectives and animals. From "wrinkly gray elephants," "bristly yellow bees," "octopuses sticky," to "smelly green stink bugs" (yes, readers can actually smell the stink!) children will not grow tired of this book easily!

While at first glance, the pages may seem cluttered, every single
aspect of the bright, busy illustrations serves a purpose. At the end of the book, a list of 3 more plants and/or animals that begin with each letter is given. Readers are encouraged to search for them as they revisit the pages of the book. Therefore, this exciting and interactive picture book can be used with readers of all different ages to teach many different skills and concepts.

When I first encountered this book I had so much fun exploring all of the different surprises within! I hope that you and your young readers will find this book just as engaging!


Some Extras:

This is a video review of this book. The video is great for seeing all of the different enclosed interactive sensory aspects of the book!

Here is an interview with author, Matthew Van Fleet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Picture Books from the Past: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

A mouse can be a rather time-consuming houseguest!

While they may mean well, sweeping the house and washing the floors, mice get distracted quite easily. Laura Joffe Numeroff’s children’s classic describes a day’s events in the life of a boy and the mouse that came to visit. While the visit starts with the mouse’s simple request for a cookie, the boy quickly begins to see that even small favors can lead to a considerably exhausting day of running back and forth.

But, wouldn’t you do the same for an exuberant little mouse in overalls?

Since 1985, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie has been loved by readers of all ages (although the suggested ages are 4-8 years). While it doesn’t contain much of a lesson to teach children, parents (and anyone that has ever interacted with a child, really) are liable to relate to the generous young boy as he scrambles after the zealous mouse. The endearing characters of the boy and his fuzzy friend will keep children asking for this bedtime story for a long time. However, if you get tired of repeating the same story, not to worry! Laura Joffe Numeroff has written a dozen other books featuring the energetic mouse and other animals in her If You Give A series.

"Then he'll want to look in a mirror
to make sure he doesn't
have a milk mustache."

The text and illustrations of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie are wonderfully incorporated and make the story come to life. Felicia Bond’s interpretation of the narration through her pictures adds so much to the delightful story, it’s no wonder the book has been a favorite for over 25 years! The bright colors and amount of detail within the illustrations captures the attention of the readers and keeps them excited for each new page.

Also, the size of the mouse in comparison to the objects around him gives a wonderful change of perspective. When I first read this as a child, I loved how the mouse took a nap in a box for face powder and used the fluffy brush as a pillow, and I thought it was too funny that the crayons he drew with were bigger than his entire body. Felicia Bond’s animated drawing of the mouse and the boy breathe life and humor into a story that I hope will remain on bedside tables and bookshelves everywhere for years to come. In fact, when readers look at the pictures, they may get so excited that they want to draw one of their own (just as the mouse does)!

If you’re looking to find some resources for using If You Give a Mouse a Cookie in the classroom or just to have some fun at home, the official If You Give A series website has tons of fun activities and items that can put a fresh spin on a classic. Just click here!

Happy Reading!

-Jill Dona

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marvelous Picture Books: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon

This week’s marvelous picture book is entitled All the World, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Caldecott Honor medalist, Marla Frazee. This story depicts the daily lives of individuals from the same community. From morning to night, the beach to the garden, and sun to rain, this book highlights the importance and value of everything the world has to offer. The pages alternate from descriptive words about particular situations to a more general theme about the world...

“Rock, stone pebble, sand

Body, shoulder; arm, hand

A moat to dig, a shell to keep

All the world is wide and deep


The book follows an AA BB rhyme scheme, and when read aloud sounds much like a poem. The descriptive words are known and relatable to all children and connect to the deeper theme about the world.

“All the world is old and new”

“All the world goes round this way”

“All the world can hold quite still”

“All the world is you and me”

The illustrations paired with the descriptive words allow for an easy understanding for children while still conveying the larger conceptual message.

On this page the image depicts an old man and young children. The children are climbing on a large, fully grown tree, while the old man is sitting with a new tree that has yet to be planted. This contrasts the ideas of old and new in a simple way for children. All of the other pages follow this depiction in a similar manner.

The illustrations are very literal, perfectly matching the text; any word that appears on a page is represented with an image. Colors are slightly subdued and fade into the edges of the page. The layout of the illustrations vary, some pages are a full page spread, while others have multiple and separate illustrations on the same page, all relating to each other.

Not only is this book an enjoyable read, but it also provides several educational aspects. This book has a wide range of vocabulary, spanning from body parts, to fruit and vegetables, to action words, all which serve as means to define and reinforce words that all children should have in their vocabulary. An overarching theme to this book is that all plans do not go perfectly and that it is important to understand that it is simply a part of life. This is a valuable lesson for all children to learn. Finally, this book demonstrates how all people live, work, and interact together, coming together to create the whole world.

“Everything you hear, smell, see

All the world is everything

Everything is you and me

Hope and peace and love and trust

All the world is all of us”

~Alex Rogers and Olivia Steinberg

Click here to watch a movie trailer for this book.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Books: Clever Jack Takes the Cake

What would you do if you were invited to the princess's birthday party, but you had nothing to give her? Maybe I wouldn't go. But not clever Jack!

"He traded his ax for two bags of sugar...
and his quilt for a sack of flour.

He gave the hen an extra handful of seed in exchange for two fresh eggs...

and he kissed the cow on the nose for a pail of her sweetest milk.

He gathered walnuts...

he dipped candles.

in the strawberry patch, he searched...
and searched...
and searched...

UNTIL he found the
most SUCCULENT strawberry in the land."

But will Jack's beautiful cake make it to the princess's birthday party? Or does he have a gift to give her that he doesn't know he has? There just might be blackbirds, TROLLS, dark forests, and dancing bears along the way.

Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas have combined their gifts of storytelling and illustrating to create this modern fairy tale. Boys and girls alike will enjoy this story of friendship and its delightful characters. While boys enjoy reading about trolls, gypsies, and bears, girls will love a story about a princess. A perfect choice for storytime!

Clever Jack has received several honors and awards. These are:

Booklist Editor's Choice 2010
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2010
Parent's Choice Recommended Book
School Library Journal Best Books of 2010


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Picture Books from the Past: Eloise

Eloise is a little girl that lives at The Plaza Hotel in

New York City. And she absolutely loves it!”

Kay Thompson’s Eloise has been delighting readers for almost 60 years. Originally published in 1955, the story of a sassy, self-proclaimed “city child” never fails to entertain both children and the young at heart. In this book, six-year-old Eloise gives readers a tour and full play-by-play of her daily life at The Plaza Hotel. Throughout her day, Eloise is rather busy as she encounters dozens of fascinating people (not all of whom seem to share Eloise’s enjoyment about their encounters) and gets into all sorts of mischief.

Eloise has quite the active imagination and it would seem, from her point of view, that The Plaza would not be able to function without her daily activities. It certainly would not be as interesting!

Kay Thompson’s writing is wonderfully appropriate for the six-year-old mind of Eloise. As is customary with a busy little bee like her, Eloise never punctuates her statements and is prone to bouncing around from one thought to the next with no warning. Other times, Eloise carries her thoughts right onto the next page with not so much as a pause. Especially those who enjoy getting into character while reading a book aloud,

Ooooooooooooooo you will absolutely love Eloise.

It’s rather difficult to keep up with Eloise flitting about the hotel, but thanks to Hilary Knight’s marvelous illustrations, the story is never confusing. For while the text itself is charming, the illustrations of Eloise are the true treasure of the book. Although Hilary Knight only chose to use shades of pink along with the customary black and white, the pictures are anything but boring.

"I have my own room
It has a coat rack which is as large as me"

Each page, whether it showcases one, two, or eight snapshots of Eloise’s adventures, keeps the reader smiling until the very last page. The expressions of Eloise and those around her add so much to the story (and often tell much more than what Eloise is trying to say…). There are dozens of details within each page that the reader notices a little more each time he or she picks up the book. Finally, the placement of Eloise’s thoughts within the illustrations brings the entire book together. The layout of each page is absolutely perfect and wonderfully dynamic to keep the attention of the reader.

Altogether Eloise remains, as it has for 57 years, a fantastic book for children of all ages. It brings audiences into a world of excitement and silliness that can only be attained by this privileged, pampered rascal. Be cautioned though, you or your young readers may pick up some mischievous ideas of your own.

Happy reading, everyone!

-Jill Dona

P.S. If you can’t get enough of Eloise’s playful spirit, don’t worry! There are six other stories that she has told. Click here for the full list!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Marvelous Picture Book!

Back of the Bus is a relatively new book (published 2010) by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. It was selected as one of the American Library Association's Notable Children's Books of 2011.

The book tells the story of Rosa Parks through the eyes of a young boy sitting behind her on the bus. He sits with his mom on the bus as "Mrs. Parks from the tailor shop" refuses to give up her seat.

"She don't belong up front like that,
and them folks all know it.
But she's sittin' right there,
her eyes all fierce like a lightnin' storm
like maybe she does belong up there.
And I start thinkin' maybe she does too."

Since the story is told from a child's perspective, it makes the book a great way to introduce
Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement to
children in a way that is relatable and easy to understand.

The suggested reading level for this book is ages 4-8
Younger readers will love the story the boy tells.
Older readers will see a deeper meaning in the book:

At the beginning of the story, the boy rolls a marble down the floor of the bus, and Mrs. Parks smiles and rolls it back to him. His mother tells him to put the marble away. When the bus does not move for 15 minutes because the driver has called the police, the boy takes the marble back out and plays with it again. Again, his mother tells him to put it away. When Rosa Parks is arrested, the boy notices something different about his mother-- "she's got Mrs. Parks' lightnin'-storm eyes now." And, because of his mother and Rosa Parks, the boy finds strength. He takes the marble out of his pocket, and holds it up to the light, "right out in the open" and "(the marble) shines all brown and golden in the sunlight, like it's smilin', I think.
'Cuz it ain't gotta hide no more."

The symbolism of the marble adds a dimension to this seemingly simple children's book, and makes it enjoyable for not only young readers but also older students.

To go along with the great story are wonderful oil painting illustrations by Floyd Cooper which are not only pretty pictures to look at, but also captivating depictions of the scenes described in the text and portraits of the characters. The beautiful two page illustration spreads capture the atmosphere and the emotions of the scenes. To see more of Floyd Cooper's books, and even his own original art, click here.

For more details on the book you can view it on amazon!
For more information about the author Aaron Reynolds, visit his website

Hope you enjoy this truly marvelous picture book!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Picture Books from the Past

The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

The Story of Babar was first published in 1931 by French author Jean de Brunhoff. It was the first of six written before his death in 1937. The stories of Babar the elephant were based of bedtime stories his wife would tell their children.
The French book cover
The first book told the story of Babar, a little elephant who ran away to the city after hunters shot his mother. There he meets a kind, old lady, who takes Babar in, looks after him, buys him clothes, and sends him to school. One day, when Babar was nearly grown, his cousins, Celeste and Arthur, came to look for him in the city. Babar was very pleased to see his family again. When Celeste and Arthur’s mothers came looking for them’ although he was sad to leave the kind old lady, he gladly went home to the forest with his elephant family. Meanwhile, the king of the elephants had eaten a funny mushroom and died. Upon Babar’s arrival home to the forest, all the elephants decided that Babar should be the new king because of how sophisticated he was. Babar also announced that he was going to marry Celeste, and there was a big party to celebrate their wedding and coronation.

In 1946 Jean de Brunhoff's son Laurent continued writing the Babar stories: 

“After World War II, I decided to carry on Babar’s adventures. Babar was like a brother to me, and I wanted him to live again. .... Now I have created many more Babar stories than my father and am older than he ever was, and that is sometimes and eerie feeling.” Laurent de Brunhoff

Now, eighty years after the first Babar story was published, there is still a huge franchise and culture surrounding the books. There are over 30 published stories, including Babar's USA, Babar Goes to School, and Babar's Celesteville Games, the latest Babar book, all of which were published in the 2000s. There have also been television shows and short movies based on the books. Also popular today is the children's show "Babar and the Adventures of Badou." It made the stories and characters more accessible to the next generation of Babar lovers. Children might also enjoy the website, which includes games, videos and activities.

Although not explicitly stated, the story does teach that those who love can take many forms, shapes, and sizes. This could be a good lesson to teach children as they begin school and start to meet kids who may be of a different ethnicity or religion. The story shows that the old lady and Babar loved each other even though one was human and the other elephant. All the books and subsequent Babar stories teach about loving each other, regardless of species. 

We hope that you will enjoy spreading the love of a little elephant with many children in your life.

Happy Reading!

~Claire and Melissa

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault is an alphabet book made fun for all ages. The entire alphabet pledges to meet at the top of the coconut tree until Chicka chicka BOOM! BOOM! All 26 letters fall out of the tree. Despite bumps and bruises, the letters don't lose their adventurous spirit. The story ends with the sun setting on the coconut tree and “a” challenging the letters to a race up the coconut tree.

Beginning with the end pages, illustrator Lois Ehlert does an excellent job capturing the child's attention. Each page is filled with bright, playful illustrations seeming to be made by shapes cut from colorful paper. The coconut tree often spans two pages (and even sometimes extends beyond the pages of the book) and a polka-dot border can be found on every page. At the same time, the pictures do not distract from the purpose of the story—to teach the alphabet. The easy-to-read text similarly lends itself to the teaching of the alphabet with each mentioned letter in bold.

A key component of this text is the jovial spirit created by the authors' use of rhyme. Rhyme is a critical component in the child's development of phonological awareness, an understanding of language sounds and patterns. Use of rhyme within this story supports the child's beginning understanding of letter-sound correspondence and also helps children feel connected to the text. Rhyming patterns are often easier for children to recognize and remember so that they may provide the next word in the story.

To watch a video of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with lyrics and music, click here.

I hope that you enjoy reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with your loved ones as much as I enjoyed it as a young child. Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Picture Books From the Past: Horton Hears a Who!

“On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool…”

Horton the elephant is just minding his own business when suddenly he hears a cry for help! from a tiny speck of dust. He is shocked to find that a small person is speaking to him. A sour kangaroo scoffs at Horton, not believing that there could ever be a person let alone a whole town living on such a tiny speck of dust. But Horton stands firm and protects his tiny friends from the teasing animals in the Jungle of Nool. One day the other animals can’t stand it any longer that Horton insists on protecting these people he can’t even see. The other animals steal the small speck of dust and Horton will do anything to get it back and save the little town of Whos. Through Horton’s valiant efforts we see that one person really can make a difference.

This classic, children’s picture book from 1954 still manages to
dazzle audiences of all ages. With a dynamic plot and even more dynamic illustrations, Dr. Seuss addresses pivotal issues still relevant in society today. Horton Hears a Who teaches children to value others’ perspectives and to recognize that all people should be treated equally. Horton says it best when he states,

“A person’s a person,

no matter how small.”

Though the illustrations are comprised of only three colors, their dynamic and multidimensional aspects still engage the reader. The timeless rhythm and rhyme of Dr. Seuss’ text carries the reader through the story without imposing on the illustrated narrative. For younger children, this book can be used to subtly familiarize them with time and numbers.

“And at 6:56 the next morning he did it.”

Horton Hears a Who
playfully incorporates differing sizes of text and “zooms” in and out from the Whos’ world to Horton’s to illustrate differing visual perspectives. To see a modern animated film interpretation, look below for the movie trailer directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino.

Happy Reading!
-Maryphyllis Crean and Jill Dona