A Few Blooms for Your Spring Collection

A couple of weeks ago, Preschooler and I planted flowers in our porch flowerpots.  This has led to an interest in all things flower-related, and the reading of several books about flowers and spring. Just in case you’re doing the same at your house, here are a couple worth checking out.

For the tiny sprouts:

Maggie’s Colorful Garden by Salina Yoon

Yoon’s simple but brightly illustrated board books are perfect for small hands.  In Maggie’s Colorful Garden, readers discover green cabbage, purple eggplant, blue berries, and a whole wheelbarrow full of fruits and veggies.  Piggy Toes Press (2008).



For the blossoming middles:

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Henkes is perhaps best known for his famous mice.  In this whimsical story a young girl’s imaginary garden comes to life on the pages.  It’s a place where seashells grow and chocolate bunnies abound, where flowers come in all shapes and colors, even patterns.  Preschooler, who insists on planting rocks in our front yard so that she can grow more rocks, wants to hear this repeatedly.  And the illustrations?  GORGEOUS.  Beautiful pastel colors that I wish would leap out of the page and into my own garden attempts.  Greenwillow Books (2010)

For the flourishing flowers:

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

I first read this book about 8 years ago, and it has never let me go.  Set during the Great Depression, the story revolves around Lydia Grace Finch, a young girl who has been sent to live with a cranky relative in the big city.  How she cheers up her new home and friends is somewhat predictable, and yet still touching without feeling cliche.  Small’s illustrations, which won him a Caldecott Award in 1998, make the story complete. Macmillan (1997).

Can you add to my list?  Any books for the sprouts or the flourishers that you’re reading in your house?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Joining up with Jen from Teacher Mentor Texts to share what we’ve been reading in our household this past week.

Mom is reading:

I finished reading The Lions of Little Rock.  I’d read several rave reviews and wasn’t disappointed.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to teach a whole classroom full of Marlees?

The book is set in Little Rock in 1959, at a time when young girls of different races could not be friends, and ignoring that rule was dangerous for everyone.  It’s a quick read, but a good one.

Next up is an adult novel, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  I haven’t even cracked this one yet.  Hoping to get it read over the next two weeks, but we’ve got two birthdays, Easter, and a baptism on the horizon, so that may be too optimistic.

Kiddo is reading:

Reading to Peanut by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Amanda Haley

This book had the potential to be really cute.  The story follows a girl’s quest to “learn to read and write” for a very special purpose revealed at the end.  Throughout the book, the little girl and her family members write/spell out words on signs and place them all throughout the house on the corresponding items (a great strategy, by the way).  Despite the cheerful illustrations and positive lesson about learning to read, this just didn’t keep our interest.  A swing and miss at our house.

 Silly Baby by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

I’m recommending this one for preparing very young children for the arrival of a new sibling.  I didn’t think the “silly baby” phrase repeated throughout the book quite corresponded with the examples (even though I understand what the author was trying to do), but the story does give a clear, concise understanding of what it means to have a new baby in the house.

Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin

 This is the same team that brought us Click, Clack, Moo
(my personal favorite), Duck for President, and Giggle, Giggle, Quackamong so many others.  This was not my favorite read, especially by this author/illustrator team, but there’s nothing wrong with the story, either.  Just not my personal preference.

Mo’s Stinky Sweater by David Bedford, illustrated by Edward Eaves

Saving the best for last!  This book made it into our library bag because my daughter loves monkeys, and the cover grabbed her right away.  The bright illustrations continue throughout the pages, and any parent with a child who has become obsessed with wearing the same item of clothing day after day after day will appreciate the predicament Mo’s mother finds herself in. Consider this my “get thee this book” recommendation for the week.

That’s been our week. What are you reading?  Anything we should add to our library list for our next visit?

Spotlight: Henri, Egg Artiste

Every once in awhile, I stumble upon a book that’s just unique or particularly worth mentioning.  It’s not always the newest or best-reviewed title, but one that just somehow caught my attention and is worth sharing.  Today’s spotlight is on:

Henri, Egg Artiste

written by Marcus Pfister, translated by J. Alison James

NorthSouth Books (2005)

The Preschooler is a Rainbow Fish fan.  So we’re well-familiar with Mr. Pfister.  And not just with the Rainbow Fish character.  We’ve expanded beyond that most famous fish to enjoy other Marcus Pfister works as well.

However, when we came upon this book at the library, it was new to me.  Preschooler had expressed a desire to find an Easter book with “bunnies and eggs”, and this one fit the bill.  Plus, it was by an author we were familiar with and had enjoyed in the past, so I slipped it into the library bag without reading or even skimming through the pages.  We finished our visit and went on home.

When she pulled it from the library bag and brought it to me later, I settled in for a story about Easter, and friendship, and making good decisions (a common theme among Pfister stories).  This one, however was a little different.

In this tale, egg painter Henri has grown tired of painting the “same old painted eggs, year after year.”  But Henri is famous for his eggs and knows that the children will expect to find painted eggs in their yards come Easter morning.  In a moment of inspiration, Henri begins painting designs like he’s never painted before.  His friends and family worry that the children will be disappointed, but Henri sticks with his plan.  Come Easter morning, the eggs are prominently displayed throughout the yard, just waiting for the children to wake and come upon them.

So a fairly typical Easter story, right?  What was it that caught my attention?

The designs that Henri “creates” are replicas of famous paintings throughout history.  16 different artists and styles are represented, from Dali, to Matisse, to Warhol, to Munch.  A blurb at the back of the book then identifies each painting represented throughout the story, as well as information on the artist.

Now, my 3yo was a little young to truly appreciate the artwork.  She doesn’t recognize it as anything other than illustrations in the story.  But for older readers, this would be a fantastic opportunity to combine a seasonal story with a little learning.  Some of the images, such as Munch’s The Scream, or da Vinci’s Mona Lisa may already be familiar.  But other images, such as Rothko’s modern Orange and Yellow or de Saint Phalle’s Nana may be entirely new.

A quick look online showed that this book is no longer in print.  However, there are still copies available in libraries, and through secondhand resources.  It’s worth digging around for.

Got a story that deserves a place in the spotlight?  Let me know!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

(Okay, okay, it’s actually Tuesday. Shh!! Don’t tell!)

Joining up with Jen from Teacher Mentor Texts to share what we’ve been reading in our household this past week.

Mom is reading:

I finally finished reading The Book Thief.  Amazing.  Powerful.  I’ll be thinking about that one for awhile.

In the meantime, I’m moving on to The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine.  I haven’t gotten far enough into this to have anything to say about it yet, but I have high hopes!


Kiddo is reading:

I’ve Got an Elephant by Anne Ginkel, illustrated by Janie Bynum.

This fun, rhyming, counting book was a hit at our house.  In fact, we read it several times in a row (as in, I closed the cover, and Preschooler announced, “Again, please!”).  The text has a pattern that allows children to participate in the story by predicting the next scene.  We also took the time to count the elephants on each page. This one is Preschooler approved!

 Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray

The classically styled illustrations and simple color scheme in this book are visually appealing.  The writing is creative, weaving a story as you progress through the alphabet.  Some of the vocabulary was a little advanced for my 3yo, but still a wonderful example of an alphabet book.

Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist

Bear is ready to settle down for a long winter sleep, but his friends want him to come out and play just one. more. time.  Fun story, and could be a jumping off point for a conversation about hibernation.

The Very Fairy Princessby Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, illustrated by Christine Davenier

Yes, THAT Julie Andrews.  Fans of Pinkalicious or Fancy Nancy might like this alternative series.  Some of the text is overdone, but the message of every little girl having her own “sparkle” inside is a good one.

Love, Mouserella  by David Ezra Stein

I enjoyed Mouserella’s voice in this one.  The plot isn’t captivating, but it’s cute and might inspire your child to letter-writing.  The book was recommended by Danielle at There’s A Book.  You can read her thoughts here.


Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff

My favorite part of this book are the illustrations, but the text is wonderful, too.  Baby Bear wakes up from hibernation and as he begins to explore the world outside, he is introduced to all the brilliant colors of spring.  Preschooler  caught on to the story’s pattern quickly and was soon “reading” along with me. This book was recommended to me by Susan at The Book Maven’s Haven.

That’s been our week. What are you reading?  Anything we should add to our library list for our next visit?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Joining up with Jen from Teacher Mentor Texts to share what we’ve been reading in our household this past week.

Mom is reading:

Still reading Mark Zusak’s The Book Thief.  It’s still gripping, but my personal reading time has been limited this week, so I’m still not quite halfway.  I have to say, though, the man is a master at foreshadowing.  Which is, in part, what keeps me reading.  He’ll reference an upcoming event, but it may be another 50 pages (or more!) before that event comes to fruition.   Smart, Mr. Zusak, very smart.


Kiddo is reading:

Continuing with our Mo Willems theme, we read Elephant and Piggie’s Should I Share My Ice Cream?  The Elephant and Piggie series have a long “shelf life”.  The simple text is appropriate not only for read alouds with young children and short attention spans, but also for beginning readers who are just starting the process of reading to themselves.  And no matter what, Willems books always make me smile.


While at the library this week, Preschooler selected this one to read. I Don’t Want to Go to Schoolby Stephanie Blake would be a cute book to prepare a little one for his/her first school experience. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the illustrations, but the superhero style character would appeal to both boys and girls. And I could relate to the way Rabbit’s parents responded to the oft repeated refrain of “No way!”  Small kids at home, anyone?


I love, love,lovethis book. Ella Sarah Gets Dressed  by Margaret Chodos-Irvine is a must for any parent who is tempted to say “no” when your child wants to walk out of the house in a superhero costume, or princess gown, or Punky Brewster-style ensemble.  I don’t know what else to say about this.  If you haven’t read it– please do.

Karen Katz has long been one of my favorite authors for the baby/toddler set.  At almost 3, Preschooler is just about too old for Katz’s books (sob!).  BUT!  She loves to sing, so when I saw this on the library display, I scooped it up.  The illustrations are bright and cheerful.  The text includes some of the well-known verses to “The Wheels on the Bus”, but also has some new and original verses mixed in.  We actually sang this one at bedtime and I know it was a hit because I then heard Preschooler singing it to her babies after I had tucked her in and shut the door.

That’s been our week. What are you reading?  Anything we should add to our library list for our next visit?

Odds and Ends from the Library Bag

I shared recently my reason for being a little lacking on the blogging front, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been visiting the library or reading here at home!

The books I’m sharing with you today have no particular common theme, but are just some we’ve enjoyed recently and thought you might enjoy, too. Some of them are ones that have made a big splash in the children’s lit world, others I just think are worth reading.

In no particular order…

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems (HarperCollins, 2010)

Okay, well this is Mo Willems, who I will always recommend.  His most recent success comes from his Elephant and Piggie early reader books, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Knuffle Bunny.  And this one?  This one hit home.  Maybe it’s because I have a 2yo who has a special lovey of her own.  This stuffed toy is a MUST at bedtime, and while I cannot imagine her giving it up sometime soon, I know that one day she’ll outgrow this stage.  Knuffle Bunny Free packs a slight emotional punch for parents…but in a good way.  Ages 3-7.

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick Press, 2010)

This 2011 Caldecott Honor Book reminds me a little of Jon Sciezka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.  While the (snippets) of fairy tales found within will be familiar, you’ll never read the whole fairytale as young Chicken just cannot help but insert her own thoughts.  If you’ve never read with a young child, this book will ring true.  Ages 4-8.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2010)

I have to admit, that just looking at the cover, I probably would not have grabbed this year’s Caldecott Award winner off the shelf.  And yet somehow, as you read the short, simple, story, the classic pencil and woodblock illustrations seem the perfect complement.  I was even more surprised when The Toddler, who is usually attracted by bright and shiny objects and colors, brought this book to me to read.  And then brought it back again and again and again over the course of the next several days.  She loved pointing out each of the animals, loved watching them board a city bus, loved the simple, classic, illustrations.  I guess there’s something to be said for the timeless after all, huh?  Ages 4-8.

Silverlicious by Victoria Kann (HarperCollins, 2011)

Joining Pinkalicious (2006), Purplicious (2007), and Goldilicious (2009), this newest installment is just as much glitzy, glammy, girly fun.  But as always, there’s a message.  In Silverlicious, our young heroine discovers exactly where sweetness comes from.  Features cameo appearances by Cupid, the Easter Bunny, Elf #351, and Tootheetina the Tooth Fairy.  Ages 4-8.

Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010)

There’s a book, to be released next month, that has been circulating the literacy and social media circuit.  Due to the profane nature of the title, I’m not posting it on this blog, but if somehow you’ve missed it, you can find it (and the buzz surrounding it) here.  While there’s some truth and humor to the title and the story within, it’s not a book I would personally want on my shelves.  Fortunately, Amy Krouse Rosenthal has penned a G-rated version.  This one still expresses the universal truth of toddler bedtime, but does so in a fashion that both parent AND child can enjoy.  Ages 4-8.

What’s in your library bag this week?

Book Review: Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys

Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways that Will Change Their Lives by Pam Allyn 

Published by Scholastic Teaching Resources (2011)

176 pages

ISBN: 978-0545204552

When I received an email asking if I would be interested in reviewing Best Book for Boys, the classroom teacher/librarian in me jumped at the opportunity to read something so relevant to literacy instruction today.  Those who have spent time in the classroom can attest to the fact that young, male readers often represent a struggling population.  Recent studies suggest that elementary and middle school boys express more negative attitudes towards literacy and independent reading than their female peers.  This, in turn, manifests itself in lower test scores, higher drop-out rates, and an overall higher illiteracy rate among young adult males.  Why? Certainly not because our young males are less intelligent, or less capable of grasping new skills.  Rather, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents, need to recognize that our young boys possess unique literacy needs, needs not always being met in the classroom.

Enter Pam Allyn, and Best Books for Boys.

The Breakdown:

After a brief introduction, this resource breaks down into the three main parts.  The first focuses on the need for identifying books for boys.  Allyn discusses various studies and outcomes which suggest that the literacy needs of young males are not being met in today’s curriculum and literacy instruction.  Understanding these specific needs will increase literacy success among boys.

The second part, a Q & A, identifies 24 common questions.  These topics include determining the specific needs of male readers, creating a positive reading climate, selecting appropriate material, and meeting the needs of all students in a classroom environment.

While the first two components provide valuable information, it is the third component, “Pam Allyn’s Best Picks for Boys: A Thoughtfully Annotated List”, that makes this resource so invaluable for classroom teachers, librarians, and parents.  Allyn identifies 19 specific genres, from adventure, to the arts, to poetry, to mathematics.  Each genre offers specific titles, complete with brief summaries.  Each title is also labeled according to the reading level, and some even include “talking points” to help generate discussion amongst readers.  Also included are websites and magazines specifically geared towards boys, and the topic of male readers

The Verdict:

Allyn has compiled a resource I’d recommend to any classroom teacher or parent of a young male reader.  Her writing style is clear and informal, avoiding the textbook-type nature of some professional resources.  The annotated list takes much of the leg-work out of selecting materials for male readers.  Let’s face it, children’s literature is a huge market, and identifying quality, age-appropriate, interesting titles can be daunting. A resource such as Books for Boys, means that busy classroom teachers can support the literacy needs of young male readers in their classroom through the selection and implementation of materials, while still having the time to focus on the most important part of education: the students themselves.

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this title for review.  I receive no monetary compensation for this review, or any of the links therein.  All opinions are my own.

Tried and True Selections for National Poetry Month

When I was going through school, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.  Books, magazines, comics, you name it.

But poetry?  Not on my radar.  I mean, I knew of the genre, but had zero interest in absorbing it.  I’m sure it came up periodically throughout my public school education, but to be honest, I don’t really remember it being part of the curriculum until I was in high school, disecting epic poems and preparing for the AP exam.

Fast-forward to my first year of teaching.  I was assigned a fifth grade classroom.  Lo and behold, not only was “elements of poetry” part of the curriculum, it was a main component on the almighty standardized test for that year.

Alright.  If I have to teach it, I have to teach it.  But there had to be a way to make the unit fun, and not the dry, analytical approach to poetry I’d been exposed to in the past.  So I set out to gather materials that would appeal to my fifth graders.

And discovered a whole new world.

In the following years, I further developed my poetry unit, and then began including poetry in our reading selections throughout the year.  My students loved it.

Below are some of the the selections I used in my classroom.  They are just a tiny drop in the ocean of poetry books out there.  If you’re interest is piqued, there’s no better time to dive in than National Poetry Month.

Every Day’s a Holiday: Amusing Rhymes for Happy Times by Dean Koontz, Illustrated by Phil Parks (HarperCollins, 2003)

Yup, that Dean Koontz.  But if you’re anticipating thrill and suspense, you’re in for a surprise.  Here, Koontz displays his funny side with a collection of 64 holiday poems.  The subjects range from the familiar (Halloween, Kwanzaa, Rosh Hashanah), to the more obscure (Diwali, Sakura Matsuki).  If you’re looking for a way to incorporate poetry year-round, this one deserves a place on your shelf. Ages 8-12.

Here’s What You Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe (Ingenious Inventions for Pesky Problems) by Andrea Perry, Illustrated by Alan Snow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003)

This collection of 12 poems offers solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.  From finding a lost shoe, to stopping animal odors, to building homes for bugs, poet Andrea Perry has covered it all.  Whether I read these poems aloud, or gave students copies of the book so that they could enjoy Snow’s amusing illustrations, this book was always a hit.  I used these poems in both my fourth and fifth grade classrooms as examples before students wrote their own “problem-solving” poems.  Ages 8-10.

Awful Ogre’s Awful Day by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow Books, 2001)

It’s just a given that if you’re teaching poetry to young students, Jack Prelutsky is on the list.  Combine this with illustrations by Caldecott award-winning Zelinsky, and you can’t go wrong.  This series of poems follow the poor Awful Ogre from the moment he rises to be attacked by a rattlesnake, buzzard, and tarantula, to the moment he falls back asleep in his bed, only to be haunted by a dream of a beautiful day complete with kittens and butterflies. Ages 6-10.

Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Illustrated by Karen Barbour (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004)

While contemporary poets often provide a hook when introducing students to poetry, it’s important that students also receive some exposure to the classics.  This collection of poems inspires students to write and create, using the words of poetry greats such as Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, and Nikki Grimes.  The bright, bold illustrations are worth perusal, too.  Great selection for incorporation into Writer’s Workshop.  Ages 6-10.

Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters, Illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 1994)

The sheer amount of information my fifth graders were expected to cover in order to prepare for the standardized test in May was overwhelming.  Poetry was a large part of the Reading exam, but students also needed to be familiar with specific elements of a wide variety of genres, including fairytales, folktales, science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction… you get the picture.  Books like Cinder-Elly are a teacher’s best friend–a way to combine 2 genres into one lesson. Many times, students hear the traditional versions of stories since kindergarten.  This modern-day, urban retelling of Cinderella is refreshing, while still maintaining the elements important to the genre. Ages 6-10.

“I Could Do That!”: How Young Girls Become Brave Women

I’m almost too late to share these stories for Women’s History Month, but there’s nothing to say you can’t read them any other time of year, right?

I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

“I could do that!” is Esther Morris’ motto.  From taking care of her siblings, to running her own business, to claiming land and settling a homestead, Esther Morris never lets tragedy or the skepticism of others stand in her way.  Which is why Esther leads the charge to get Wyoming women the right to vote…a charge that begins in her own home, discussed over a pot of tea.  Ages 5-10.

The Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter by Bonnie Christensen (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

Nellie always stood out from the crowd.  As a child, it was her frilly pink dresses.  As a young woman, it was her fearlessness, and determination to succeed as a journalist, during a time where women only wrote society pieces.  On November 14, 1889, Nellie sets out to travel the world in less than eighty days, a feat accomplished only by Jules Verne’s fictional character, Phineas Fogg.  It doesn’t take long before Nellie Bly becomes an international sensation.  Ages 6-12.

Brave Harriet by Marissa Moss, Illustrated by C.F. Payne (Harcourt, 2001)

Harriet Quimby experiences many firsts on that April day she sets off in her plane –her first time flying by compass, her first time flying over water, and her first time flying over the English Channel.  When she lands, Harriet feels triumphant, already picturing the newspaper headlines.  She is, after all, the first woman to fly over the Channel.  Unfortunately, the day is April 16, 1912, and the world has just learned of the terrible fate of the Titanic. Harriet’s story never makes the newspapers, let alone the headlines.  Ages 6-10.

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss, Illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004)

Jackie Mitchell always wanted to play professional baseball.  On April 2, 1931, she gets her opportunity to pitch at an Chattanooga Lookouts exhibition game against the New York Yankees.  Can a 17-year-old girl strikeout out the great Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig?  A great book for opening day! Ages 5-8

Anybody raising girls see a little of their daughters in these women?  I do!  While that makes for some interesting days in toddlerhood, it’s a trait I hope she carries forth into her adult years.