Book Recommendation: “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs” Retold By Mo Willems

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I love reading different versions of fairy tales.  It was one of my favorite units that I used with my fourth and fifth graders.  Authors have the ability to tweak a story that the audience is familiar with in new and often comical ways.  In this version of the traditional story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Mo Willems does just that.  He plays with the plot line of the traditional story, by featuring hungry dinosaurs that are somehow familiar with the past behavior of Goldilocks.

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“Dancing in the Wings” By Debbie Allen

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This is another one of my favorite books (I, know, I say that a lot)! I read “Dancing in the Wings” to my fourth and fifth graders AT LEAST twice a year for different purposes.  The text is a bit long, and there is some name-calling and teasing in the book, so elementary-age children may be able to enjoy this book more than younger children.

Sassy, the main character, is a tall, big-footed, young woman who loves to dance.  Due to her height, she is unable to participate in recitals because she is too tall for the boys to pick up and would stand out too much if she danced in a group.  She is forced to “dance in the wings.”  To make matters worse, she is teased by her brother and her fellow dancers.  She sticks up for herself, however she feels discouraged.  An opportunity arises and Sassy is able to try out for an important ballet.  After some encouraging words from her uncle, Sassy gains the confidence to put her best big foot forward.

Debbie Allen wrote this book based on some of her own experiences which gives this book its authentic feel. I am assuming that she had a brother because the back and fourths between Sassy and her “big forehead lookin’ like a street lamp” brother are right on. I love how they tease each other, yet when Sassy needs it, he is there to cheer her on.

The illustrations by Kadir Nelson are beautiful.  The details in the way that the ballerinas stand add to the charm of the book.  There fingers and toes always seem to be standing perfectly, just like a ballerina.  Also, I like the Degas-type paintings in the background of the dance studio.  Nice touch!  Enjoy!

“Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” By Patty Lovell

I can tell my daughter all day long how beautiful I think that she is and hope that it sticks with her and helps her self-image now and in the future.  Unfortunately, later in life, I know that she will face times where her self-esteem is going to be challenged.  I want to prepare her as best as I can, early, to help reinforce in her the feeling of positive self-worth.  Therefore, I want to read her books that have a message of confidence and self-worth.  I want her to see characters, just like her, that believe in themselves no matter what.  I think that sometimes kids can relate and connect to characters in books better than “real” people.  It is like a friend that is always safe and available to them whenever they want to visit.  In books with the theme of self-esteem, children can see situations play out with characters that they grow to love and trust.  They watch as they stand up for themselves, appreciate their own uniqueness, and persevere.  I strongly suggest incorporating books with the theme of self-esteem into your home library. One of my favorite confidence-boosting books is entitled “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” By Patty Lovell.

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At the beginning of “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon,” we meet Molly Lou Melon that is “the shortest girl in the first grade.”  She also has buckteeth, an interesting voice, and can be very clumsy.  All along, her grandmother tells her to stand up for herself and to let her unique style shine.  Molly Lou ends up having to move away from her grandmother and to a new school.  There she is met with a bully, Ronald Durkin, who makes fun of her and calls her names.  She doesn’t let the teasing get to her and she continues to follow her grandmother’s advice.

I have to mention the illustrations by David Catrow.  They add to the charm of this book.  The characters all have crazy hair and funny faces.  Molly Lou Melon is adorable.

“Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon,” like sooo many other picture books, can be used with a large age range.  I read it to my three-year old, but I have also read it with my fifth graders.  With my daughter, I talk about how Molly Lou has special qualities that make her special.  With my fifth-graders, I talk about self-esteem and bullying.

“Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus” By: Mo Willems

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I have to admit that I have loved this book for quite some time.  The first time that I read it, I couldn’t stop laughing, I thought it was so cute and funny!  The book features simple language and illustrations.  It begins with a bus driver telling the reader not to let the pigeon drive the bus while he is away.  When done correctly, a book that speaks directly to the reader can be a really fun and engaging experience for the reader.  In this case, the reader is responsible for following the driver’s instructions to not let the pigeon drive the bus, no matter what the pigeon says or does.  The pigeon tries really hard to change the readers mind. He is very convincing.  He begs and pleads.  The author obviously has experience with begging kids, because the way that the pigeon begs is SPOT ON!

I read this book to my daughter and she like it.  She hasn’t fallen in love with it like I expect her to at some point.  I’m pretty sure that she sides with the begging pigeon and feels bad for him (go figure!).

Overall, I recommend this book for preschool to elementary school aged children.  It is a really fun read!!

Web Resources:

  • Here is a website for the book that has  links to the awards, sequels, and more information.
  • Here is an animation of the book with a child narrating (This would be really fun to do once the kids get a bit older)

Book Review: “Not A Box” By Antoinette Portis

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“Not a Box” is a simple tale of very few words.  A Rabbit has a box and the reader is asking him about it.  Instead of calling it a “box,” the Rabbit replies with different ideas of what it could be, such as a mountain.  It encourages the imagination in a child by using an object that they are familiar with and have probably played with before.  My daughter really liked it and I am sure that I am going to find her “reading” it to herself.

Some Thoughts and Extensions on “Not a Box”:

-It is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. Check out my other post here for award info

-It uses an object that you can easily access and actually act out the suggestions in the book and have your child think of more

-This is an unique book in that it can appeal to both younger and older children.  My daughter, for example, is three and likes to look at the pictures where kids a bit older can appreciate and connect to the imagination of the little bunny.  I had to kind of explain  what the pictures meant to my daughter.

-I was going to suggest to use your child’s imagination with other objects around your house, but the author seemed to beat me to it!  She also wrote a book entitled “Not a Stick.”  You and your child could read both books and then choose a different object and create your own book and draw your own pictures-how fun!?!?  You could even extend the “Not a Stick” and “Not a Box” books with more ideas from your child.

-This book would make a great gift, just make sure you wrap it in a big box 🙂

Here is an animated representation of the book:

Other Resource:

And the Winner is….

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I picked up a book the other day and it had a medal on it.  The medal said that the book had received a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor.  I had no idea what that meant.  It didn’t look like any Dr. Seuss book that I had ever seen.  It got me thinking.  It would be helpful to know just how a children’s book earns different honors and awards.  I decided to check it out and here is what I found….

Award Name

Who gets it?

Who gives it?

How often?

Some past winners…

The Randolph Caldecott Medal -The artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year American Library Association,Association for Library Service to Children Division Every Year -“The Lion & the Mouse” by Jerry PinkneyThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Newbery Medal -The most distinguished American children’s books published the previous year American Library Association,Association for Library Service to Children Division Every Year -“Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos“Moon over Manifest” by Clare Vanderpool
Michael L. Printz Award -The best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit American Library Association, YALSA Every Year -“Looking for Alaska” by John Green“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang
Coretta Scott King Award -The outstanding African American author and illustrator (2 awards a year) of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values American Library Association Every Year -“One Crazy Summer” Rita Williams-Garcia, author“Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave” Bryan Collier, illustrator
Theodor Seuss Geisel  Award -The author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year American Library Association,Association for Library Service to Children Division Every Year “Tales for Very Picky Eaters” written and illustrated by Josh Schneide“Are You Ready to Play Outside?”  by Mo Willems
Robert F. Sibert Award -The author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. American Library Association,Association for Library Service to Children Division Every Year -“The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain” by Peter Sís
Margaret A. Edwards Award -The author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. American Library Association, YALSA Every Year Lois LowryWalter Dean MyersJudy Blume

Sources of information:

So, next time you are checking out a book and it has a nice big medal on it, hopefully you will remember this post! Enjoy!

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Spotlight On: Patricia Polacco

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Patricia Polacco holds a special place in my heart because it was one of her books that first made me love picture books.  The book is entitled “Thank You, Mr. Falker.”  I discovered it during my first year teaching.  It is about a little girl who has trouble learning in school and is really embarrassed because her classmates tease her.  Eventually she ends up in Mr. Falker’s class.  Mr. Falker takes the time and effort to discover what is holding the little girl back.  This story is so real and touching.  I had a hard time getting through it for a while without crying, because I found the teacher so inspiring.  A lot of Patricia Polacco’s books are similar.  They are usually personal narratives that have a way of pulling the audience in by connecting them with the experiences and emotions of her characters.

According to her website, Polacco was born in Michigan and spent most of her time with her cherished grandparents on a farm.  She then moved a couple of different places before setteling in California.  Her parents divorsed and she would spend the school year with her mom and the summer with her dad.  The neighborhood where she grew up was very diverse.  Polacco had a very hard time in school and didn’t learn to read until she was 14.  The reason that all of this information is relevant is because the characters of her books have similar experiences.

Another aspect of Patricia Polacco that is important is her passion to help children learn to read and write.  She visits about 300 schools a year to help encourage students!

Here are a few examples of her work:

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  • “Emma Kate” is about a little girl with an imaginary friend
  • “Mr. Lincoln’s Way” features a boy, who is a bully,  and he has prejudice thoughts regarding his African-American principal
  • “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” is about siblings who learn an important lesson
  • “The Bee Tree” shows a close relationship between a little girl and her grandfather in an exciting chase around town.  There is also a lesson learned
  • “The Keeping Quilt” is another one of my favorites!  I used to read this to my class every year.  It is about a family’s effort to represent their family by creating a family tresure.  Here is Polacco reading the book at a school with the ACTUAL quilt!

Web Resources:

  • http://www.patriciapolacco.com/ – This is Polacco’s site.  It features write-ups on all of her books, her upcoming speaking engagements, an interview with her regarding her book “In Our Mothers’ House,” and more.  She has a lot of teaching connections to her books as well.

Christmas Book Review- Part Two

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“The Christmas Magic” By Lauren Thompson

My daughter just turned three so this is her first Christmas that she is starting to understand.  I am so excited about introducing the beauty and magic of the season.  “The Christmas Magic” fits the bill for books that portray Christmas in a loving, mysterious light.  It is a beautifully written and illustrated (watercolors, maybe?) book.

I picked it up at the library because I liked the cover (am I allowed to say that??).  The cover features Santa wrapped in a blue cloak looking up at the stars.   He has his reindeer by his side and star on his hat.   Inside, Santa has a pointed moustache and is wearing bunny slippers

The Scholastic Website characterizes the text as “quiet” and I completely agree.  The story takes the reader through Santa’s preparations as he waits for the magic of Christmas to arrive.  Santa prepares the gifts for the children “for Santa loved them all.”  I personally prefer the gifts being given to children out of love and not in a threatening manner.

Web Resources:

http://www.scholastic.com/browse/book.jsp?id=1275060 -This is the Scholastic Website that has the interest level listed at Pre-K-2.  It also features a book trailer if you would like to get familiar with the book

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“Auntie Claus” By Elise Primavera

“Auntie Claus” is a fun holiday book featuring a bit of mystery as well.  The story begins in New York City, with the “Kringle” family who is so obsessed with Christmas that they keep “a Christmas tree up all year round.”  The daughter, named Sophie, is the main character.   Sophie grows increasingly suspicious of her Auntie Claus who disappears after Halloween and returns on Valentine’s Day of every year.  She says that she is going on a business trip.  Certain events transpire and Sophie learns a secret about Auntie Claus and learns a lesson about Christmas.

This book is geared toward older children.  I read this one with my daughter and she really liked looking at the pictures, but I do not think that she understood the entire story.  Some of the vocabulary and humor are better suited for elementary-aged children.

Web Resources:

http://www.eliseprimavera.com/books/auntie-claus This is the author’s website.  It features interesting artwork, audio excerpts, and a quiz.  It also gives information on the sequels of “Auntie Claus.”

– Here is an interview with the author, Elise Primavera.

Spotlight On: Author Allen Say

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Allen Say is an author who many people are not too familiar with, but should be.  He has written and illustrated many picture books, primarily geared toward elementary-age children.  Many of his books can also be used to teach upper elementary and middle schoolers important life-lessons and historical diversity.  His artistic style is so unique with its rich and vivid tones that his books are easily recognizable.  Say’s subject matter is usually semi-autobiographical.  He was born in Japan in 1937.  His father was a Korean orphan raised by a British family and his mother was Japanese, born in California.  Say’s books often feature Japanese characters in cross-cultural situations and experiences.

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Some of Allen Say’s work:

  • Tree of Cranes (Review to Come)
  • Allison
  • Emma’s Rug
  • Grandfather’s Journey-1994 Caldecott Medal Winner (Review to Come)
  • Home of the Brave
  • Stranger in the Mirror
  • Tea with Milk
  • The Boy of the Three Year Nap (Illustrator)- 1989 Caldecott Honor

Additional Web Resources:

Holiday Book Ideas, Part One

My family started a new tradition last year for the holidays.  Every year, we will buy a brand-new, hardcover holiday book and give it to the kids on Christmas Eve to read that night.  This is great for many reasons. Cheap-o Mom and Dad actually shelled out enough dough for an ACTUAL hardcover, we read together as a family, and the book then can be added to our holiday book bin for next year.  I thought that I would share with you a couple of ideas for different holiday books that you could read with your family or buy as gifts.  There are so many to choose from, so I have broken this post into different parts-Enjoy!

Here are some of the criteria that I look for in Holiday Books.

  • I love the Holiday season!  It is such a special time of the year. Therefore, I think that holiday picture books, in particular, need to be extra special.  I love beautiful and creative books that can be marveled, while in snuggling position in front of a crackling fire (Just so you know, I am well aware of how cheesy this sounds, but don’t care!)
  • I also like feel-good books! It is the holiday season after all!  I love underdogs and heroes and sharing and caring and all that jazz.  I love books about the importance of family, giving to others, and other important life lessons.
  • I like holiday books to hold some sense of tradition.  Now, don’t get me wrong, some aspects can be changed, but it can’t get too crazy
  • I am not a huge fan of “character” Christmas books.  Let me clarify….I may love, love, love, a character, such as Alf (don’t laugh), but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am going to love his book.  It still needs to impress me the same as any other book.

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The first book is entitled “Oh What a Christmas!” by Michael Garland and it is pretty much everything I look for in a good holiday read.   The cover, book, and end pages feature large, vivid, cartoon-y illustrations of elves, animals, and Santa.  I know obviously end pages aren’t the most important part of the book, but so many books skip this step, so I wanted to show my appreciation.  The story starts with Santa on his way to hand out presents on his sleigh with his reindeer.  After a mishap, Santa ends up landing his sleigh in a barn without his reindeer.  Who will help Santa deliver his gifts now???  This book is really cute and has a lot of sound words that will be really fun to read with the kids.  It also features some animal heroes that save the day!  This book is recommended for a fun, beautiful, holiday read.

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The next book is the book that we bought last year.  It is entitled “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore and paintings (yes, paintings) by Eric Puybaret.  This book fits most of my criteria and more.  It tells the traditional story that I am used to of the night before Christmas, however, the paintings are completely modernized in a very interesting way.  At first, I thought that it may be too dark for my liking, but upon further investigation, I fell in love.  I mean the reindeer are so fashionable with their little top hats and green and yellow cloaks!  I think that you could read this book several times and discover something else new and beautiful that you never noticed before.  This book is also special in another way in that it comes with a CD performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary reading the story and other songs.  This book is recommended for a modern twist on a very traditional story, plus the musical narrative is fun.

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I already mentioned this book here, however, I think that it is worth repeating.  This is a beautiful book and would make a great gift.  It shares the story of The Nutcracker that I am familiar with.  There are a few different versions.  I think that the soft-illustrations capture the magic of the story through its attention to detail and changing the point of view of the audience.  I love the side cut out views of the mansion where you can look into all of the different rooms of the house, not just the ones involved in the story.   I highly recommend this book to teach the beauty-and-the-beast-type story of The Nutcracker.

I wanted to mention that part of our new holiday tradition is to buy the next years’ book just after Christmas.  This is nice for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it is WAY cheaper.  We bought the “Oh what a Christmas” book for over half-off at Barnes and Noble.  Second, it seems that no matter what, we are so crazy busy during this time.  It is nice already having this done.  We don’t have to rush the decision.  Happy Holidays!