Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Art of the Picturebook

My favorite class so far since starting my children's literature master's degree is the Art of the Picturebook (and yes, it is "picturebook" - all one word!).  I learned so much and was exposed to many fabulous authors and books I'd never heard of before.  My only regret is that I don't have my own classroom where I can immediately take these books and share them with my kids.  I am hoping to take more time next year with my small groups of students and expose them to quality literature (the way the position I am currently in is structured leaves very little time for anything other than what we are required to use).  

During the course of this class, we spent most of our time talking about  the art of "close looking" (from the book Looking at Pictures in Picture Books by Jane Doonan) when reading picturebooks.  "Close looking" always begins with reading the book twice - the first time because everything about it is new to you and then a second time to really study the pictures and what they are saying/implying/enhancing/contradicting/etc. about the written text.  Again, this is one of those times that I wish I had my own classroom to use this amazing strategy.  Even as an adult, taking a second read of the book and making a conscious effort when looking at the pictures changed how will from this point on read picturebooks.  I bring all of this up now because I will reference "close looking" in some of the summaries I give for the books. 

Here you go...a few of my "new to me" favorite picturebooks!!

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel
Author: Siena Cherson Siegel
Illustrator: Mark Siegel
One lesson we had during the semester was on the graphic novel genre (to see my previous post on graphic novels, click here).  This autobiography is just one of the graphic novels we read during the week and I'm not sure I can convey how much I absolutely loved and adored this book.  In the teaching world, we try to get students to make "text-to-self" connections and this one connected with me in ways I didn't realize it would.  Growing up, I checked out the same nonfiction book on ballerinas each and every week.  I looked at the pictures so long I could probably still draw them from memory, even now.  As you can imagine, I wanted to be a ballerina - floating across the stage in flowy, gausy, pink material.  This book made me feel like I was that little girl, sitting on her bed looking at all of those photographs in that one book.  If you have a girl (or boy!) who likes to dance, there couldn't be a more perfect book in the world than this one.

What Pete Ate From A-Z
Author and Illustrator: Maira Kalman
If I was wandering down the aisles of Half Price Books or Barnes and Nobel, this is not a book I would have normally picked up without having read it first and that based on the cover and the fact that it's an alphabet book.  Talk about not judging a book by it's cover!!  If you are looking for a different slant on your typical alphabet book, I highly suggest picking up a copy in your public library.  It is so creative and you will find that there is much, much more going on between the covers of this book than first meets the eye - SO MANY reasons to use "close looking" when reading this book!!

When Sheep Can Not Sleep: The Counting Book 
Author and Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura
Unfortunately, this is another one of those books, like I mentioned above, that I probably wouldn't  have chosen if it were up to me.  Out of all of the books that we were exposed to during this class, this one has to be my favorite.  (A close second would be the To Dance book!)  This is a completely unique counting book and, in fact, if it didn't say "The Counting Book" right there on the cover you wouldn't even know that's what it was until the very last page.  This is fantastic book and the perfect book for "close looking". 

Come Away From the Water, Shirley
Author and Illustrator: John Burningham
This very simple and easy read picturebook has so much to offer.  You will find that the pictures tell the exact opposite story than the words say on the page.  It is an excellent contrast to just a "regular" picturebook where the pictures support the text and would be an fantastic book to use when thinking of creative writing/thinking outside the box.  I also secretly love that the author made the girl a pirate and not a princess!!

Now One Foot, Now the Other
Author and Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
We had one large end of the semester project that was 35% of our overall grade.  Each student had to choose an illustrator and create a Wiki page on him/her for all of our classmates to see and read.  I chose Tomie dePaola.  I had read many of his books prior to taking the class, but never realized just how many books he has written/illustrated (over 250 total - written and/or illustrated).  The thing I love most about his books is that ALL of the books he writes revolve around people and events that actually happened in his life.  This book is written from the perspective of Bobby (Tomie's younger brother) and his relationship with his grandfather, Grandpa Bob (Tomie's grandfather).  It is the most touching, heart wrenching, and sweetest book you will ever read.

1, 2, 3 to the Zoo: A Counting Book
Author and Illustrator: Eric Carle
It is very likely that parents and teachers who read with very young children already know about this book but it was completely new to me.  This is Eric Carles first children's book and is a wonderfully illustrated and perfectly simple counting book.  There is an element of "close looking" in that would be perfect for smaller eyes!

Author and Illustrator: Anthony Browne
This is a sweet story about a little girl who's father is too busy to spend time with her, so she imagines her stuffed gorilla comes alive and takes her on adventures.  This book is packed full of "close looking" opportunities - so look closely!

 The Day the Crayons Quit
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
In reading through the Wiki pages of my classmates, I was introduced to this tremendous talented and creatively unique illustrator, Oliver Jeffers.  Jeffers has written and illustrated several books.  This book is so cute and would be perfect for teaching perspective or persuasive writing.  There are many laugh-out-loud moments and times you feel empathy for the crayon.  I highly suggest checking it out from the library.

**All images are from

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Young Adult - Fiction and Fantasy

It's been almost a year since my last post and that year has flown by!  Last fall, I started at Penn State to get my master's degree in curriculum and instruction in children's literature.  In about a month, I will finish my second semester and fourth class.  Choosing this degree has been one of the best choices I've made.  I am loving these classes and what I am learning along the way! 

My first two courses were Fantasy in Children's Literature and Studies of Children's Literature.  Both of these classes were based on Young Adult novels.  I thought I would share my favorites from both classes!

**Note: These books are all Young Adult and I've looked up the recommended age/grade level for each book and listed it below the covers.  The subject matter and maturity level may not be appropriate for younger children.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson
Suggested Grades: 4-7
This is an excellent book based on actual events from a historic 1912 labor strike in the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile mills.  The story follows two very different children, Rosa and Jake, and how they overcome the obstacles of the time.

 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Suggested Grades: 9-12
This book follows the (fictional) story of a 15 year old boy with autism.  You will notice in the first few pages that the story feels broken, chapter numbers skip, and the emotions felt are raw.  As you read, you will fall in love and feel empathy for this unique little boy.

 Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
Suggested Grades: 7-10
One of the sections in my Studies of Children's Literature class was on Feminist authors.  Donna Jo Napoli is  a Feminist author who has rewritten several classics.  This book is really well written, however VERY dark.  Zel is Napoli's version of the Brother's Grimm story Rapunzel.

 The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
Suggested Grades: 7 and up
Typically, I steer away from talking animal books (and movies, for that matter!) and I only read this one because I had to for my class!  However, this book completely took me by surprise. It is funny and heartwarming.  Maurice is a cat who has a crew of educated rodents who help a little boy and girl save a small town.  It is also part of a series of books written by Terry Pratchett called Discworld. 

 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Suggested Grades: 5-9
Don't let the cover and title fool you!!  This is a very involved book with amazingly complex characters that isn't nearly as dark as the cover may lead you to believe.  Bod is a normal boy who lives in a graveyard and is raised by loving and kind ghosts.  He meets many characters and, of course, learns that not everyone in the graveyard is friendly!

 The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Suggested Grades: 7 and up
An outstandingly written tale that revolves around cloning.  It follows Matt from birth to age 14 where he realizes long the way that he is actually a clone of a very powerful, and evil, man. 

**All images are from

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What About My Older Children??

Most of my posts have been geared towards the younger reader.  I decided this post should be for those of you who have older children and are looking for something more mature to read!  Many of these books would be great as at-home read-a-loud for younger kids.  I have read all (except for one) of these books.  However, as always, regardless of your child's age or maturity level, you MUST be a active participant in what your children reads...especially as their book interests grow into more mature subject areas.  These books are no different.  I remember my mom being actively involved in the books wanted to read as I got older.  When I was a young teenager, there was a very popular series of books that I felt like all of my friends were reading and my mom was NOT going to let me read them.  The subject matter and maturity level of the book was something my mom believed was not appropriate and it didn't follow what we as a family believed to be the best moral example.  There was no getting around it.  If I was going to continue to read, I had to choose other books/series.  I lived through it and I thank my mom even more so now that she was so involved!! 
 This is the one book in this list that I haven't read.  I have SEVERAL of my higher reading boys who LOVE these books.  There are tons of books in this one series.  This author has written several book series (including the Lightning Thief and several others).  They all have a Greek mythology theme to them.  He has also written a few adult novels, which my mom really likes!
Of all of the series of books that Rick Riordan has written, I like this one the best.  This is his first children's novel series and (in my opinion) the most well written.  I hadn't ever read a children's book that was written around Greek mythology.  It is very well written and engaging!!  This would be a GREAT read-a-loud for younger kids!
 I LOVE, LOVE this series of books.  I hadn't read anything by this author until I found this book.  The main character goes to live with his cousins and finds a room full of cupboards.  Each door leads to a different world that are just begging to be explored!  Also a great read-a-loud for younger kids.
Kate DiCamillo is a FABULOUS author.  Her books tug at your heart strings and literally pull you in and make you believe you are the character (she also wrote Because of Winn Dixie).  If you have seen the Tale of Desperaux movie, please don't let that stop you from reading this book. The movie was a horrible interpretation of the book.  This is one of the books that I read to my students every year.  They LOVE it!! 
 The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is my other favorite by Kate DiCamillo.  This book is so well written and I cry at the end EVERY TIME I read it.  The illustrations are amazing.  If you buy it or check it out from the library, I STRONGLY suggest getting the hardback color copy.  The black and white pictures are great, but it just so stunning in color.  This book has a LOT of "higher level" words that would need to be clarified when reading it to younger children.  Depending on the make-up of my students, I may or may not read this to my class.
 This is the only book that I have ready by this author.  I love fantasy/science fiction/magic books and this is all of those things combined.  It is so different than anything else I have ever read and I think that's why I like it so much.  The wording is too higher level to read to younger children.
These next three books are all by Cornelia Funke.  She is a WONDERFUL children's author.  Her stories usually combine magic with a fantasy land.  The Inkheart series is one of my all time favorites.  I wouldn't read these books to my students because they are very long and some of the higher level wording would be very confusing.
Igraine the Brave is one of Cornelia Funke's book that I have read to my students.  They loved it!
Bud, Not Buddy is a wonderful, touching, and honest book.  Christopher Paul Curtis does an amazing job of creating this character that you can't help but fall in love and connect with right away.  Because of the subject matter, I would not read this to young children.
 The Mighty Miss Malone is so written by Christopher Paul Curtis.  As much as I loved Bud, Not Buddy, this book is hands down one of the best books I have EVER read.  You will instantly feel like you are walking in Miss Malone's shoes.  I promise, you will not be able to put this book down.  This book would be a good read-a-loud for fourth grade and older because of the subject matter.

 If you have a gifted child, this is a PERFECT book for him/her.  Mr. Benedict forms a society of gifted students (each child is gifted in different ways).  They work together to "fight the bad guy" and learn to become a family.  It's a GREAT book!!!

Last but not least, The Thief Lord.  Really good, yet dark, book.  I would not read this to younger kids.

Happy Reading!!!!
**All images are from

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Books...At Least New to Me!

Last week was like Christmas in January...for me.  The Scholastic Book Fair was at my school.  I'm not sure if I will be able to put into words how much I love the book fair.  The colors, the smell of the new books, the shiny covers just teasing me to open's intoxicating!!  Over the last few years, I've had to set a budget for myself whenever it's book fair week.  I've been known to spend WAY more than I should on books for my classroom.  It has a power over me that I can't resist!! 

Each year, the parents of my students spoil me with books from my "wish list" at the book fair.  This year was no different.  Here are the new books for my classroom.  They may not be new to you, but they are new to me!

 Bad Kitty is such a bad kitty!!  This series of books started out as a hilarious ABC picture book.  It has morphed into a graphic novel series that older kids/higher readers will love.  This is the newest of the graphic novels.  Bad Kitty is sent to "kitty school" because she is such a Bad Kitty at home! 
 This is an amazing book.  The illustrations are unique and really make the story of Booker T. Washington come to life.  This book taught me and the kids something new!!
 There's always room for Dr. Seuss!  Did you know that Dr. Seuss company writes nonfiction books??  They do!  This is the third or fourth nonfiction book that I have.  The other topics I have book for are the moon and maps.  These books are fantastic for getting kids engaged in nonfiction text!
 There are a few books that I SEARCH high and low in each and ever book fair to see if there is a new one in the series.  SCORE!!  I've mentioned Splat the Cat books in previous posts.  In this book, Splat and Seymour try to find Mr. Nobody...a beak stealing thief!
 It wouldn't be a book fair without a purchase from my favorite illustrator, Mr. Catrow.  Once again, the duo of Karen Beaumont and David Catrow hit a home run with their book "Where's My Truck."  The kids always love seeing what silly characters David Catrow has come up with!
 Like several books I've found over the years, the cover of this book jumped out and grabbed me.  I love the muted colors and hilarious expressions on the animals.  This sweet bear, Lucy, wakes up one day and tells her mom that she is going to make new friend.  Little did Lucy know how hard that would be!!
One of the most creatively written books I've ever read.  Amy Krouse Rosenthal has given the little exclamation mark a heart...and your heart will be pulled in with it!!   
Happy reading!!!

**All images are from

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Merry Christmas To All!

The Christmas season is in full swing!!  The decorations are hung in my classroom with care and the Christmas/Holiday books line the dry erase boards and FILL my "All-Star Books" crate.  Because there are SO MANY Christmas books to choose from (and more and more come out each year), there are certain standards I set for the Christmas books that I select for my classroom.  First and most importantly, the book MUST stir some sort of emotion from within me (other than boredom).  If I laugh out loud, have a connection to the character and WANT to keep reading, then I know that is a book I need to own.  The second...the illustrations.  If you've ready any of my previous posts, you know how important I believe the illustrations are to a book...maybe even more so are the illustrations in a Christmas book.  Kids have a mental image of Santa, the reindeer, his workshop and the elves...the illustrations are so very important in helping to continue to foster those thoughts and images! 

Here are a few of my favorite Christmas/Holiday books that I have in my classroom:

This is an author/illustrator that I have written about in earlier posts.  This is one of my favorite Christmas book and it is written and illustrated by David Shannon.  Each page of illustrations tell more and more about the story than just what is written in the words.  Great pictures.  Great story.  Great moral. 

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book.  A student gave this book to me several years ago and it has turned out to be one of my favorites.  This story features letters written back and forth between Santa and a little girl named Holly.  On the pages where Santa has written Holly a letter, you will find a small envelope with letters that you can take out and read.  Kids LOVE it!!!  One of my favorite things about this book is that the letters NEVER talk about what the little girl wants for Christmas.  She asks Santa about his reindeer, elves and talks about her brother.  Santa responds with letters, reindeer jokes and an ornament (all tucked inside tiny little envelopes).  I love reading this book as much as the kids do. 
 For my younger or struggling readers...Froggy's Best Christmas!!  You can never go wrong with a Froggy book!!

 He's back!!  My favorite illustrator...David Catrow!  One of Santa's elves knocks Santa out cold (with a toy he invented) on Christmas eve.  Now the elf has to find someone to take Santa's place and deliver the presents!  Enter Murry...owner of Murry K. Diner.  This book is written in rhyme and it makes me laugh right along with the kids.
This book is written by the same author (Mike Reiss) and illustrator (David Catrow).  Cute book about a make-believe place where it is Christmas every day, kids never go to school, the mail never gets delivered...except on the one day of the year - "Un-Christmas!"

 Junie B. Jones is is as funny and sassy as ever in her Christmas book.  It is laugh-out-loud funny!!
 I found this book while wandering through Barnes and Noble one day...and I immediately fell in love with it.  The first thing that caught my attention was the cover.  (This is one of those times when judging a book by it's cover paid off!!)  I loved everything about it...just from the cover.  The story, if it's possible, is even better than the pictures.  A little boy writes a letter to Santa and tells him that he wants a penguin for Christmas.  Santa gives the boy what he wants...but it turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for.  It is a sweet, sweet book that is beautifully written and equally beautiful illustrations. 
This book has been around a while (written in 1997), but I only recently bought it for my classroom.  Don't ask me what took so long to buy it...because I couldn't tell you.   Recently, this book was made into a make-for-TV movie.  It's not nearly good as the book.  Little Olive is a puppy who hears a song about her on the radio..."Olive the other reindeer..." She makes her way to the North Pole where she knows Santa is waiting for her to help lead the way on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts!

 Splat is one of my favorite Children's book series.  This book is no exception.  Splat and his pet mouse, Seymour, are funnier than ever in Merry Christmas, Splat!

Here he is favorite illustrator, David Catrow. (Is this the part where I confess that I have a small "illustrator" crush on him?!?!) This author/illustrator duo are back with HILARIOUS poetry written to the melodies of favorite Christmas songs. It is just as fun trying to sing the words to the melody as it is to read the poems!!
A really cute book about the eight nights of Hanukkah.
For younger kids, but still a great book to introduce Hanukkah.

 These two books are great for introducing and teaching kids about the meaning of Kwanzaa!
Merry Christmas and HAPPY READING!!!!

**All images are from 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spooky Fun Halloween Books!

Halloween is my favorite time of year for Children's books. (Yes, even more than Christmas!)  There are so many wonderful, funny, creepy, and beautifully illustrated books that are Halloween themed.  Here are some of the books I have in my own classroom!
 This one of my newer books Halloween books.  It's a spin on the "12 Days of Christmas".  It can been kind of I wouldn't recommend it for little kids!
Cinderella Skeleton is a version of (obviously) Cinderella. The illustrator is David favorite.  It's written in poem form and some of the words are REALLY big.  It would be perfect for upper elementary and higher.

 These "Black Lagoon" books started as a picture book series (Class From the Black Lagoon, Gym Teacher From the Black Lagoon, etc...).  A few years ago, they came out with short chapter books.  The kids love them!! 
 This book, by Jerry Seinfield, is HILARIOUS.  I read it to my kids, but it really is geared more to adults.  We've all been there...the costume mask with the wimpy piece of elastic that breaks 10 minutes into trick-or-treating, or having to wear our coats over our costumes which defeats the whole purpose.  It's truly a great book for kids and adults alike!!
 Poor Wiener dog...his owner puts him in a hot dog costume.  But he ends up saving the night!
 Cute, cute, cute book.  Great for those kids who are scared of a monster under their bed!!

 Junie B. Jones...a quick-read chapter book and so funny!
 This is my newest Halloween book.  Again, my favorite illustrator.  He takes the classic song and puts it in a book with fantastic pictures!!
This is a remake of the classic story.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the illustrations in this book.

 Rainbow Magic series: Trixie the Halloween Fairy.  Girls LOVE these books!!
Last but not least, my favorite fuzzy, funny, and spooky cat Splat!!  

**All images are from