Welcome, Readers!

The contest Save the Picture Book has ended. Telling people about funny, informative, beautiful, or generally awesome picture books continues. I also share middle grade books, book apps, and educational apps that my kids and I like.

Monday, November 28, 2011

December: Save the Snow Angels! (and the Picture Book)

Here in Kansas City, much ado is made about snow. Usually, we only get a couple small snowfalls. The news people report to their stations, whether it's a windshield in the parking lot, or the shovel aisle of the hardware store. Everybody gets into the spirit. After a few inches, school comes to a screeching halt. Judging by the crowds, it's so that the children can go sledding. We drive two miles per hour to the sled hill. In our defense, we do not freak out over summer heat waves, or even call them heat waves. They are our way of life.

This is why I'm so interested in places where snow blankets the ground for half the year. Where children bring snowsuits to school and are allowed to actually play in the snow. (For some reason, our children are not allowed on the snow.) Whether snow falls often or rarely, I like how the first snow turns everybody into a kid again. Many of our books this month are about the science, nature, and fun of snow.

They're also about holidays. In La Noche Buena: a Christmas Story, a girl travels from snowy New England to balmy Miami, where she'll spend the holiday with her dad and his side of the family. She is in for a treat, as her cousins, aunts, and uncles spend three days preparing a feast for La Noche Buena, a Cuban celebration of Christmas Eve. It's fun to read about how different religions and cultures celebrate holidays, and December is the perfect time to talk about that.

I hope you like this month's selected books. Remember, students can review them--or other picture books about snow or December holidays--to win books for the classroom. The review worksheets are part of this downloadable flyer:


Animal Heroes

Kids love stories of heroic animals...and so do grownups!

They'll find several in Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories by Sandra Markle (Lerner, 2009.) One of my favorites is the story of Binti Jua, the gorilla mother who came to a boy's rescue when he fell over the railing at the Brookfield Zoo. Not only did she cradle and protect him from the other gorillas, she also had the good sense to leave him outside when the group, sprayed by zookeepers hoping to isolate Binti and the boy, traveled inside. Amazingly, the little boy survived.

Children will enjoy stories about family pet heroes. They'll also be surprised to read about a heroic cow, whose determination helps a woman escape a flooded river, and dolphins who protect swimmers from a stalking shark.

Next we have The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy (Knopf, 2011.)

This book is actually about two heroes. First, it's about Balto, the Alaskan sled dog who traveled through 50 below zero temperatures to deliver medicine to snowed-in Nome, where people were suffering from diptheria. At first, Balto is celebrated. But eventually, he becomes a poorly cared for sideshow. Enter the next hero: George Kimble, who spearheads a fundraising campaign to buy Balto. Money raised, Balto is restored to the hero life he deserves.

McCarthy's friendly illustrations are a perfect fit for Balto's life story. Children will be charmed by this book, which proves that sometimes heroes need saving, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Heroes Have Always Been...

Heroes fall into many categories (or rather, leap): ordinary person rising to an extraordinary circumstance, just leader, brave rescuer, fierce defender. Some risk their lives. Some simply do what others refuse to do. Mostly, heroes are optimistic. (Much like children's books.) They act, believing their actions matter. And a noble act, no matter how small, does matter.

For this reason, our first hero books are about small acts.

Superdog: the Heart of a Hero, by Carolyn Buehner, ill. by Mark Buehner, depicts my favorite theme in books and movies: the character whose heart is bigger than his natural ability. Nacho Libre beautifully describes the heartbreak of this condition when he asks, "Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?"

This character always always always stays the course of his or her dream, which is always in the service of others.

So Dexter, a.k.a. Superdog, works out to get strong, but also does small acts of heroic kindness, such as stopping purse snatchers. Of course, what he would really like is to fly. Like all earnest dogs, he is derided by a cat who is both lazy and too cool for school. No spoilers as to how those last two items dovetail beautifully.

Next, we have an ordinary boy caught in an extraordinary situation: Hurricane Katrina. A Storm Called Katrina, by Myron Uhlberg, ill. by Colin Bootman, is about Louis Daniel. His family decides to ride out Hurricane Katrina, believing it to be just another storm. They wind up, like so many others, in the Superdome, where the family is separated. That's when Louis does a small but heroic act to reunite his family. This is a great picture book for older kids and would pair nicely with the chapter book I Survived Hurricane Katrina, by Lauren Tarshis.

Finally, Imogene's Last Stand, by Candace Fleming, ill. by Nancy Carpenter. You gotta love a girl who uses her show & tell time to present a lecture series on women in history. Actually, that had me at lecture series. Imogene stumbles upon a town historical museum, which has fallen into disrepair. She lovingly restores it, only to learn that it will be demolished so that a shoelace factory can take its place. She leads a rally to save it...but no one comes to her rally. Read the book to find out how she gets people interested in the town's history--and her own protest. Really well-told story. For students of picture books, this is a textbook example of how intricately plot lines can be woven in just 32 pages of sparse text.

It has a special place in my heart because my great grandmother operated the historical society and museum in her town of Paola, Kan. As a historical note, she also won the political race for Clerk of the Court as a divorced, single mother (in the 1930s), and a Democrat (in a Republican county.) This just a short time after a car accident required her to have her leg amputated. She needed a job...she ran for office. Needless to say, my family is quite proud of Ethel J. Hunt.

Also, if Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec had a favorite picture book (and let's do make that happen, NBC,) it would be this!

Small acts make big differences. Save the Heroes! (and the Picture Book.)

Teachers, learn how to Save the Heroes! And the Picture Book! and Win Books! for Your Classroom! in the previous post.

Friday, November 4, 2011

November Theme: Save the Heroes!

This month, we're celebrating heroes, real and pretend. On the printable flyer below, you'll find veterans of war, alligator wrestlers, superheroes, a girl who fights city hall, and more. Kids can review the hero picture books for a chance to win more picture books their classrooms.

Teachers, this would make a great Veteran's Day lesson or an activity to celebrate Picture Book Month (which is November.) All the info you need is in the flyer below.

Thank you for Saving the Heroes! (and the Picture Book.)

November Save the Picture Book Flyer

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kid Reviews: Monsters and Marsupials

Fifth grade is a great age to read and review picture books. For October, our two classroom prize winners are fifth grade classes. Both are from Sunflower Elementary in Paola, Kansas: Miss Clark's and Ms. McDaniel's classes. They reviewed several monster and marsupial books, including:

Monster Museum by Marilyn Singer, ill. by Gris Grimly, (Hyperion, 2001.)

From this book, Alexis said she learned "that if you see a werewolf, scream then RUN!!!" Here is her beautiful picture of a monster you can't run away from: Medusa.

Maggi depicted the lament in "Frankenstein's Monster:" That he is referred to as the scientist who created him!

Tanner said that what he liked best about the book was the rhyming. He drew a picture for the poem "Count Dracula."

Asked what she would change about the book, Emma said, "I wish the glossary should be in the front so when you read the book if you didn't know what a monster was you would know." Not a bad idea for any book. Editors, take note! I love her bubble gum pink blob!

Where's My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi, ill. by John Manders, (Candlewick, 2008.)

Mallory said she liked this book because "It's so cute!" and made her feel "very happy inside." Her mummy is very cute, too!

Here is Tanner's cute picture of a little mummy:

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, ill. by Bruce Whatley, (Clarion, 2003.)

Selena said that in Diary of a Wombat, she liked "that when he/she wanted carrots, he/she would go and beg for carrots. When they wouldn't give him/her any carrots, he/she ate through the door." Here is her colorful picture of the wombat and his/her people home:

I love the many colored homes in the student's wombat drawings! Here is Allison's:

Heebie-Jeebie Jamboree, by Mary Ann Fraser, (Boyds Mills, 2011.)

Here is how Evyn's life is different from Daphne's in Heebie-Jeebie Jamboree: "Daphne goes to a big festival on Halloween, and our neighborhood does this hayride trick-or-treat thing." It's always fun for kids to learn how different kids celebrate holidays. She drew The Rolling Bones:

Thank you for saving the picture book, fifth graders! You did a great job. Packages of books are headed your way!