Monthly Archives: September 2015

Winners Wednesdays: Nana in the City


Nana in the City CoverThis Wednesday brings about another great winner: Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo. As one of the six Caldecott Honor Books from 2015, Nana in the City presents a relatively low-key and simple story of a boy visiting his grandmother in the city. The boy is afraid of the loud noises and big sights, but by the end of the story, he sees just how wonderful the city could be.
Nana in the City Park
The words and illustrations, both of which come from the imagination of Lauren Castillo, blend seamlessly together to create beautiful art. There is a combination of vibrant pictures that fill entire pages as well as illustrations that are more muted and include more white space. The pictures in the first half of the story seem to convey a colder and overwhelming view of the city since the boy is so afraid.

Contrastingly, when the boy is safe and sound in his grandmother’s home, the pictures become more subdued and peaceful with more white space to support more words. These moments of tranquility allow the boy to process his day and enjoy some time with his nana. The next morning, his nana gives him a red cape to make him brave. When the boy goes out with his nana and the red cape, the illustrations combine both the vibrant pictures with the more peaceful tone to create a welcoming view of the city.Nana in the City Cape

I think this story is best suited for children between the ages of 4 and 6. The language includes some words that may need explanation for this age group such as “bustling,” “rumbles,” and “extraordinary.” However, children would still understand the book and be introduced to new vocabulary.

Nana in the City also introduces the wonderful theme of stepping outside of your comfort zone to children. I would talk with a group of students about what they use or do to comfort themselves in new situations so that they can explore their own life and perhaps discover new techniques to handle novelty. Although some things, like going into the busy city for the first time, seem intimidating, children can see that being brave and taking this great step into the unknown could introduce them to something that they actually love. Everything is new at one point, but we shouldn’t be afraid of these new experiences. So pick up this book, and dive into the unknown with Lauren Castillo’s Nana in the City.40501ct34-35.tif

By: Mary Smith

Trendy Tuesday: Waiting by Kevin Henkes


Waiting by Kevin Henkes coverAnother Trendy Tuesday, another brand-new picture book! Today, I’m reviewing Waiting by Kevin Henkes, which was published less than a month ago on September 1st. Henkes is a very talented guy who both writes and illustrates his own books, and he has won the Caldecott Award (for Kitten’s First Full Moon) as well as a Caldecott Honor and two Newbery Honors.

His newest offering, Waiting, follows the story of five toys who sit on a ledge, well, waiting: an owl, a pig, a bear, a puppy, and a rabbit. Each of the five waits for something different. The pig, who wears a dress and carries and umbrella, waits for the rain, while the owl waits for the moon. However, each toy gets what he or she waits for in the end.

This simple but elegant picture book is definitely targeted to younger readers, pre-school to perhaps first grade. Waiting can be a tough concept for impatient young kids to understand, and this book offers an excellent example-in-action for young readers who are trying to figure out why they can’t do something right now.

The text uses repeating word patterns throughout to help kids keep track of the various toys and what they are waiting for, once again indicating that this book is targeted towards younger readers. The simple sentences are all short and declarative, with only a few running longer than about ten words, making it easy to read and understand.

As for the illustrations, Henkes uses a limited pastel palette based on the toys themselves. He draws the scenes in gentle, calming shares of brown, pink, blue, and green, complemented by a slightly off-white background. Most of the pictures stick to the restricted environment of the window and the ledge, and the limited palette contrasts with the bright, outlandish pictures of many other books.

Internal spread from Waiting

However, the restrained illustrations are a perfect match for a book that deals with a book about waiting (which is all about self-restraint, after all). The repetitive word patterns and calming color patterns make this a good option for a bedtime story — I definitely felt a little bit soothed as I read it myself, especially after paging through some other, more wildly illustrated picture books beforehand.

Waiting doesn’t seek to take on controversial topics or weighty historical events, but it does accomplish its goal successfully: demonstrate a hard-to-explain concept through charming illustrations and approachable text. If you have some impatient kids who simply can’t understand that they can’t have or do whatever they want immediately, turn to this book to help you explain what waiting is and why it’s important.

As a bonus, here’s an interview Kevin Henkes did with NPR just a couple days ago about Waiting and what it’s like to write children’s books:

By Kara Sherrer

Marvelous New Picture Books – Max the Brave



Max the Brave

By Ed Vere

“Max is a kitten who chases mice. But what is a mouse?”


Children of all ages know that cats chase mice. If they have seen Tom and Jerry, or some new age version of the same, they know this to be fact. But how is it that cats learn what a mouse is so they can fulfill this duty? Ed Vere addresses this age-old question in the adorable picture book, Max the Brave, which follows the lovable kitten, Max, as he repeatedly follows misguided advice in his quest for answers.max2

Vere is no stranger to children’s literature. In the past, he has been nominated for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and the Kate Greenaway Award. So it is really no surprise that his newest story caught my attention right away.

His endearing and uncluttered illustrations of a little black kitten, Max, are entertaining for readers of all ages. I found myself cooing and chuckling at the character’s heartwarming antics throughout the read.

His incredible use of “white space” (that isn’t really white) and text placement make the simple layout easy to follow while still beautiful to look at. It always amazes me how illustrators can capture such expression in an animal that is simply a black blob with eyes and a tiny, purple speck of a nose, however Vere does it impeccably.

The narrative is simple and repetitive, perfect for pre or early readers. It is a book young children can laugh at and even relate to as they discover new things in their world every day. While adults cannot help but be charmed by this charismatic kitten, children will no doubt be amused by his mistakes, and quite possibly identify with his determined search to learn about his environment and his place within it.

-Haley Ferguson

Free Fridays: A Book of Reverso Poems


When I first pulled A Book of Reverso Poems: Mirror Mirror off the shelf, the cover captivated me. Author Marilyn Singer and illustrator Josée Masse were able to master the ability of combining multiple perspectives into poetry and art.

A Book of Reverso Poems: Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josée Masse

A Book of Reverso Poems: Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josée Masse

Poetry is a tricky thing to write for young children and I think Singer did a wonderful job in making it accessible and interesting. Singer used fairy tales and princesses as the characters of each poem. I think this was smart because they are stories that children already know and have background knowledge for, but they now have put it into poetry. Poetry can be difficult for students to understand, so this helps aid them in the reading and comprehension. IMG_9857


When you read a reverso poem down, it is one poem like normal. Then when you read it up, slight changes in punctuation and capitalization allow it to become a different poem. This style was tremendous and brought a whole new dimension to poetry. The structure provided the perfect form for telling two sides of one story. It becomes like solving a puzzle, both provoking and fun.


The dual nature of these poems also demonstrates how there are always multiple perspectives in a story. This would lead to a great discussion with students about point of view or about learning to understand individuals who have different views or opinions.


Screenshot 2015-09-22 19.48.53

In children’s literature, I believe pictures are essential in aiding children as they are exposed to print and as they learn to read. Josée Masse’s illustrations, just like the poems, were split in half to reveal the double nature of the poems. This really helped emphasize the nature of the book/poems that they can go two ways and they were interesting to see and continually search for new clues within each poem and image. Every page kept me searching for new details as I tried to follow the story line that was being represented. Additionally, Masse’s use of color and shadow really helped emphasize the dual nature and emotions of each story.


This book would be great for a poetry unit and it could easily be modified for all different age ranges. Having students write reversos, their own “puzzles,” would be a great partner or small group activity. I loved that this book wasn’t your typical picture or poetry book, keeping things exciting and unique. I’m interested and eager to explore Singer’s other Reverso Poem books!

-Jordyn Margolis

So many fish in the sea…


So many fish in the sea…

But obviously The Rainbow Fish takes the cake!

By Hallie McQueeny

Eye-catching, glittering scales never fail to capture the attention of children, young and old!

Eye-catching, glittering scales never fail to capture the attention of children, young and old!

It may be true that there are so many fish in the sea but obviously The Rainbow Fish takes the cake! This classic was written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister and originally published in 1992 in Switzerland under the title of Der Regenbrogenfisch. J Alison James is responsible for translating Pfister’s masterpiece into English. The Rainbow Fish received The Christopher Award and The Bologna Book Fair Critici in Erba Prize, and was named an American Booksellers Association ABBY Winner and an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice title.

The book has sold millions of copies across the world inspiring the publication of five additional books: Rainbow Fish to the Rescue, Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale, Rainbow Fish and the Sea Monster’s Cave, Rainbow Fish Finds his Way, and Rainbow Fish Discovers the Deep Sea. The book’s popularity also inspired the adaptation into a television series furthering the characters, stories, morals, and lessons presented in Pfister’s original book.

All of Marus Pfister's illustrations utilized pencil, watercolor and holographic foil

All of Marus Pfister’s illustrations utilized pencil, watercolor and holographic foil

The beautiful pencil, watercolor and holographic foil pictures will never fail to capture the attention and awe of both children and adults alike. However the book is even better known for its universal lessons in vanity, sharing, individuality, acceptance and the best way to achieve happiness.

The beautiful illustrations and the important life lessons provide the springboard for classroom extension and expansion. A few of my favorite activities included one where the children retold the story by sharing shiny clothespin scales with their classmates. Another activitiy asked the students to apply the story to their life by writing the object which they would struggle to give up or share on the back of a shiny scale.

While Marcus Pfister teaches children to be unselfish, I’m going to take exception here in selfishly asserting that every student should read this book. Below I have attached some links to ideas for classroom activities but fortunately the themes of this book are so universal that many activities would be a good fit!

A fun way to retell the story and demonstrate sharing

A fun way to retell the story and demonstrate sharing

Winners Wednesdays: The Kissing Hand


An absolutely perfect book for back-to-school time is The Kissing Hand  written by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. Published in 1993, it has quickly become a classic children’s bookissinghandk. In addition to being a New York Times Bestseller and landing high on lists of recommended children’s books, The Kissing Hand  received the Ed Press award for excellence in educational publishing.

The story begins with a young raccoon named Chester who is extremely nervous about his first night of school. His mother sees his worry and lets him know that he will find lots of fun things to do at school. Most importantly, their family’s secret of the kissing hand will make him feel like he’s at home anytime he’s lonely. It will give him the courage to go to school without her.

She kisses his palm and shows him that all he has to do is press his hand next to his face, and he will be reminded of how much she loves him. The kissing hand works to make Chester feel better, and he even decides to give his mother her own kissing hand before he heads off to class, making the mother happier and more reassured doc 2_4

I think this is a wonderful book that I would read to students between the ages of 3 and 8. They can likely relate to Chester’s anxieties about being away from his mother and starting something strange and new that he doesn’t know if he will like or not. They can take comfort in knowing that even when they’re at school for what may be the first time, their parents still love them and are not far away from their hearts. The text is simple and straightforward enough for children of these ages to understand, and the watercolor illustrations help to engage the children and further their understanding of the emotions in the story.

The story obviously conveys that it’s okay for kids to be nervous when starting new things, but it also touches upon the fact that parents can get nervous too and need the love of their children to comfort them. Children don’t normally realize that parents can be vulnerable like them, and the fact that they can reassure their parents is empowering.

While the illustrations are certainly not Caldecott worthy, they are still colorful and illustrate the action of the book well. Additionally, there is a set of heart stickers in the back of the book that can be used by a teacher or parent to reinforce the idea of the kissing hand. I think the stickers are a fantastic way to remind children that they are loved, and the stickers could help comfort them in times of trouble.

The Kissing Hand‘s message of love and comfort is a heartwarming sentiment that readers of all ages can benefit from. Parents, teachers, and children alike can take something away from this story. No matter how old you are, it is clear to see that The Kissing Hand is an adorable picture book that can easily capture the hearts of all of its readers.










By Jenna Ravasio

Trendy Tuesday: Happy in Our Skin Review by Carly Meyers



In modern day, families come in all different shapes, sizes, and skin. However, it is common for children’s books to unknowingly aim for an audience fitting of the majority, unintentionally instilling a feeling of difference in the minds of young minority readers. In her children’s book, Happy in Our Skin, Fran Manushkin shatters the conventional “family” unit often displayed. Instead, her story splashes off the page with families of all different races and religions, calling out “bouquets of babies sweet to hold: cocoa brown, cinnamon and honey gold” along with “ginger-colored babies, peaches and cream, too”.

While the story centers on one biracial family in particular, Manushkin dazzles the neighborhood scenes with diversity. From a Muslim family to a girl in a wheelchair, the story includes characters that often don’t make it into children’s texts but will reach those children who can relate. The book also takes place in a city, adding a contemporary feel to a classic message: our skin is what makes us who we are.

Manushkin threads a message of self-love into the book by explaining first and foremost our skin’s crucial role in our biology, as “it keeps the outsides out and your insides in”. Approaching the broad topic of diversity in a tangible way, she chose skin color to teach children to have appreciation for their distinct looks. She even mentions scabs, birthmarks, and-my personal favorite-freckles. I’ve always had many freckles growing up (still do), and have never felt self conscious about them because my parents talked about how special and beautiful they were, and how they made me unique. This is the exact tactic Manushkin uses in her book and she does so in an approachable manner, throwing in phrases like “yes, we all have skin, but nobody is you” to reach children effectively.

Lauren Tobia, the illustrator of Happy in Our Skin, was crucial to the depiction of Manushkin’s message. Tobia’s drawings are believable, colorful, and not to mention adorable. In this book, diversity is the norm and, just like the families in the neighborhood, we should all take the time to appreciaA1VG+eMqvDLte the “bouquets of people…blooming and boisterous, brawny and thin, loving each day…happy in our skin!”

Marvelous New Picture Books- Can We Help?


Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, written/photographed by George Ancona, is a picture book that looks at real children who are making a real difference in their community by volunteering in many different ways.


Throughout this book readers will see children making hats and scarves for the homeless, training assistance dogs, cleaning up streets, delivering hot meals and many different activities that help out the communities that these children live in. It was very interesting to see children doing this with their parents, friends, or even by themselves because this allows every child to relate. Say a child and their friend want to give back to their community yet do not have time to help after school. They could be like the children in school who knit hats and scarves for the homeless. George Ancona does an amazing job showing different options that kids have if they want to volunteer within their community regardless of their age, which is important to point out. Many children may believe that they are too young to help but this book shows them the opposite and in a way encourages them to get involved.


One of my favorite parts in the book is when George Ancona talks about how some middle school kids mentor elementary students. The older students help the younger students with reading and mathematics and play word games. Then before everyone goes home they play fun games! This is important to point out because readers may be able to relate since many children may be part of programs like this in their schools.


As a reader, I found this book very inspirational because of how young some of these children are yet they are giving back to the community. I would recommend that parents get this book and read it to/with their child (grades K-4). After they read the book parents should discuss with their children how children can get involved in helping their community. Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities by George Ancona is going to reach out and connect with many children reading this book and they will be inspired to find ways they can help too. So why not go out and buy or rent this book and inspire children to help volunteer and give back to their community?

-Kendall Shaw



Free Fridays: Ivan, the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla


This book, written by Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, tells the true story of a gorilla who was captured and taken to America.


The book starts in a forest in Africa, where Ivan the gorilla is born. Ivan grows, plays, and learns, but unfortunately, not about the danger that humans pose. Ivan is taken halfway around the world, where he is raised like a human child.



When Ivan becomes too large, he is put into a cage in a mall. He spends his days watching people watch him. After several years, people begin to protest. After twenty-seven years in a cage, Ivan is moved to a zoo. After some time to acclimate to his new home, he finally gets to go outside and start a new life.

The story is simple but meaningful. The illustrations bring color and emotion to the text: Ivan’s world is initially green, but in his cage, the world is gray. Humans are often portrayed in these darker shades of gray as well, reminding us that the existence of humans in Ivan’s world is part of his sadness.


This book is a powerful story that deals with many tough issues. It is not often that humans are portrayed as the enemy in the story, yet it is important that we recognize our mistakes and share them so as to not repeat them. This book also tackles death. Another gorilla travels with Ivan to America, but dies soon after they arrive. The book addresses loneliness, the struggle of captivity for animals, and encourages compassion. Humans are the enemy in the story initially, but it is also the actions of human protesters that help move Ivan from his cage to a better home.

The end of this book has two pages with more information about Ivan, including websites to visit for more details. The picture featured on this page shows the two gorillas dressed in human clothes, a striking image of the tragedy these animals faced.


This book is an important book to read and covers many powerful themes for a picture book. The text and the pictures help the story become one that is powerful, but not heavy. This kind of meaningful text is something that should be incorporated into children’s literature because it has the ability to start the important conversations that remind children that they have the ability to make a difference in this world.

-Kate Tarne

Traditional Thursdays: Cinders, a Chicken Cinderella


cinders cover

Jan’s unique artistic style transports us to Russia (where she traveled before starting Cinders to get inspiration) for a quirky reimagining of the classic Cinderella story. Her attention to detail has always kept me interested in her artwork long after I am done reading the words on the page, and this book was no exception. Each chicken is made to look different and each wears elegantly unique outfits to the ball. The middle pages of the book even open up to reveal a magical ballroom scene to mimic the illusion of the godmother hen watching the ball from the outside, which is a great interactive feature for children.


Of course, the details in the written story are just as wonderful. Even though she uses advanced vocabulary and some Russian words, the book does not feel stuffy and the story can continue either through the use of contextual cues or by referring to the aforementioned details in the illustrations. The character names are silly (Largessa the mother hen and the two sisters Pecky and Bossy in particular), keeping the story light for younger readers (or listeners). Jan treats her characters lovingly and truly transforms ordinary animals into vibrant characters with personalities to rival those of any human.


In the end, it is left ambiguous as to whether the story was just a dream of the human girl who takes care of the chickens, but this only adds to the magic and wonder that Jan breaths into this classic fairy tale. To hear Jan talk about her trip to Russia and to see how to draw Cinders, watch this video from her blog!


~Reviewed by Katie Goetz