Monthly Archives: November 2015

Marvelous New Picture Books: The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski


The Whisper by two-time Caldecott Honor winner Pamela Zagarenski is a book that explores the joy and creativity of stories! Zagarenski writes with the elegance of a masterful storyteller. The sentences flow together, and this picture book is definitely appropriate for both young and older elementary grades.  the whisper title

A little girl borrows a book from her teacher, excited to read it the moment she gets home. But when she races back to her home, the words literally fly out of the page!

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The words fly out of the book and into the net of a familiar fox…

Devastated to find no words in the book by the time she gets to read, the little girl suddenly hears a whisper. The whisper encourages her to make up her own stories based on the illustrations, reminding her there is no wrong in imagining a new beginning, middle and end:

“Dear little girl, don’t be disappointed.
You can imagine the words.
You can imagine the stories.
Start with a few simple words and imagine form there.
Remember: beginnings, middles, and ends of
Stories can always be changed and imagined differently.
There are never any rules, rights, or wrongs in imagining—
imagining just is.”

Each two-page spread that follows is an incredible picture of dynamic action, filled with rich colors and intricate patterns. This book is pure eye candy.
For each spread, our lovely protagonist begins to narrate her own story, but Zagarenski purposefully leaves it hanging so that her readers can continue the story using their own imagination. That being said, this book is appropriate for all ages and is welcoming — especially for struggling readers who become easily frustrated. This book is a great way to reinforce the love and joys of reading and stories!

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One of my favorite spreads found in the book. Do you see the fox hiding behind the trees?

This book also is a great resource to introduce more advanced literary devices for children. In each spread, the fox (from Aesop’s Fox and the Grapes) and a swarm of bees are hiding somewhere within the scenery. Additionally, as the girl gets deeper and deeper into the book, she receives a floating crown on her head– the same crown found on the book’s cover. Using these illustrations as examples, teachers may begin to discuss the aspects of symbolism, and how it can give a richer level of meaning to a story. (ie. The crown represents imagination and empowerment that comes through creativity and storytelling.) Teachers can also discuss the idea of allusion, especially with Aesop’s Fox interacting so heavily with the main plot of the story.

The Whisper is also the first picture book that I have seen use its end pages to provide an epilogue. Even though the girl’s story is finished, Zagarenski gives a snippet of the Fox’s ending:

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The fox also imagined her story differently + finally got her grapes!

In all, this book possesses a creative storyline that is accompanied by outstanding illustrations. The different format of the book is definitely worth looking into, and I think kids will love how unique it is! The girl’s love for stories and reading is almost infectious– and many children will embrace the freedom and empowerment this book gives them in constructing their own rules for storytelling.

By Sunny Kim

Free Friday: Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner


While walking through Barnes & Noble, Never ask a Dinosaur to Dinner’s bright cover caught my eye.

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Never ask a Dinosaur to Dinner is a lively picture book full of rhymes that is a perfect read aloud for young children. It is the story of a little boy trying to get ready for bed. At each step, he contemplates asking a wild animal to help him but then explains why that would be a bad idea.

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The child first explains that asking a dinosaur to dinner would end horribly because the dinosaur would have no manners and eat everything in sight (including the table!). He then moves on to talking about why you shouldn’t share your toothbrush with a shark, share the sink with a beaver, use a tiger as a towel, use a bison as a blanket, or let a barn owl in your bed. By the end, the boy realizes that the only animals you need at bedtime are a teddy bear to cuddle and a flock of sheep to count! He is finally able to fall asleep once he acquires these doc 8_1

This book is lovely! The rhyming text is cute and easy to follow, and it highlights the hilarity of wild animals doing human tasks. The consistent pattern of interaction between the boy and different animals keeps the story dynamic but enjoyably predictable. The only downside of the book is that some of the rhymes are kind of forced, like “And build a great beaver dam, and/fill that whole thing up with salmon”. These cause the flow of the text to become more awkward. Despite the few slant rhymes thrown into a text full of rhyming couplets, the overall writing style is solid because it is distinct and funny.

new doc 9_1The illustrations are very engaging; the colors are bright and bold. Even though there are a bunch of wild animals, they are drawn cartoon-like which keeps the tone more kid-friendly. There’s so much to look at in the illustrations! If you examine them closely, you can find a teddy bear on each page. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, the illustrations also add to the plot. The pictures contribute immensely to the humor and lightheartedness of the story and help clarify what is being said in the text.

I think this would be a great bedtime story since it perfectly follows a bedtime routine from dinner to sleeping. This routine in particular is just a little more absurd and filled with more wild creatures than your average bedtime! The realistic, cozy ending brings the story home and puts kids in the mood for going to sleep.

This story can also can be used for an educational purpose since it goes through a series of different animals. Seeing these pictures and thinking about what each animal might do with a human helps reinforce kids’ understandings of those animals.

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Never ask a Dinosaur to Dinner is a fantastic picture book! I would use it as a bedtime story for any kid between 2 and 6 because they would adore the story’s silliness. Plus hopefully by the end, they would be ready to cuddle their own teddy bear and fall asleep!

-Jenna Ravasio

Traditional Thursdays: Good Night Gorilla


gng coverFor today’s traditional Thursday comes a bedtime favorite of many children and parents. Peggy Rathmann presents a wonderfully simplistic story of a zoo and zookeeper heading to bed at the end of a day in her book Good Night Gorilla. Her story makes excellent use of the picture book format by relying on beautifully created illustrations to tell much of the story.

Instead of relying on a traditional narrative style where one person explains the events as they occur, Rathmann writes in a style closer to that of comics. While there is only one illustration per two page spread, all the text occurs within speech bubbles. While I have found many examples written within the past few years which integrate a comic type style into picture books, none seem to be done quite as well as Good Night Gorilla. These newer books often contain busy illustrations with many speech bubbles per page that are distributed in a way which may be hard for a child to follow on their own. While Rathmann’s Good Night Gorilla may be written for a younger audience than some of these newer books, limiting most pages to only one speech bubble makes the story much easier for a young reader to enjoy and follow along. There is much repetition within the speech bubbles, with the phrase “good night” appearing in almost every one. This repetition can be very fun for children by helping reading become an interactive process. They can easily chime in to help their parents read the story.

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Rathmann’s illustrations are beautifully done and of key importance to the story. They display the actions of a mischievous gorilla who follows the zookeeper around as he checks on all the animals. As soon as he leaves one, the gorilla releases it and they all follow the zookeeper like a parade into his home to go to bed.


The illustrations are created through warm soft colors with gentle thin lines. The expressions of the animals are nicely done and display very friendly faces. This helps make a story which could be viewed as scary (for who wouldn’t be frightened to find a lion in their bedroom?) into one with gentle humor. The illustrations contain many small details which help them tie together into a coherent whole such as a small mouse who carries a banana along as he follows the gorilla from page to page. Rathmann also makes excellent use of light and dark. The colors used places the story clearly in a nighttime setting without the heaviness of other darker illustrations. Areas of the illustrations which are illuminated by lamps or flashlights are very realistically and nicely done.


Darkness is also used nicely towards the end to emphasize all the animals which are in the room. Sometimes the lack of an image can say more than the inclusion of one.

Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night Gorilla is a story well remembered by many. It provides a humorous story with excellently done illustrations which is still be enjoyed by many.

Winners Wednesday: Flotsam



by David Wiesner

Flotsam by David Wiesner has been featured on Neely’s News before (Check out that post here) but a book this unique deserves another look.


2007 Caldecott Award Winner Flotsam is about a little boy who finds a strange looking camera washed up on the beach.  Intrigued by this unique device he asks around for more information.  Unfortunately, no one was able to tell the boy what or whose it is, so to cool his curiosity he takes the camera to have the photos developed.  The pictures reveal fantastical underwater worlds where octopi read books, pufferfish fly, and tiny aliens invade seahorse territory.  In addition to these incredible shots, there’s one of a girl holding a photograph.  Upon closer inspection, the boy realizes the girl in the photograph is holding a picture of a child holding a picture of a child holding a picture, and so on and so on, all the way down to the original black and white photograph of a young boy on the beach.


Finally the boy understands that this strange camera is meant to be passed on.  So he snaps a shot of himself holding the never ending photograph and throws the camera back to sea, where it’s off to more adventures before finding it’s next home with a different child.


But wait there’s more! I told you this book was unique, and here’s why: With the exception of the title pages, this book contains no words.  Yep, that’s right.  Wiesner crafts this exquisite story without a single line of text.  Now before you discount this book as outlandish or say it’s not a real children’s book, think of all the benefits of having a book with no words.  This book is not restricted to a certain grade level.  Without words, this book can be enjoyed by middle schoolers and preschoolers alike. However, it can still be useful in the classroom like for a discussion about context clues. Personally, I think the biggest benefit of this book not having words is that there’s more room for Weisner’s eye catching illustrations. The only downside to not having words is that this book probably isn’t an ideal choice for kids who are trying to learn to read, or parents looking for a book to read aloud to their children.

So the question is: A children’s book with no words; genius or worthless?  Decide for yourself with Flotsam by David Wiesner.

-Michaela Royer

Trendy Tuesdays: Pete the Cat


“Pete the Cat! Pete the Cat! I want PETE THE CAT!”

I can still hear Sam’s voice plead with me to read him Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, by James Dean and Eric Litwin, over and over again as we sat on the green carpet at the preschool. The other kids in the classroom loved Pete the Cat as well, and were eager to join in whenever he made an appearance. To these little toddlers, Pete the Cat was a celebrity.

What I was surprised to find out after some research was that Pete the Cat is actually a celebrity outside of picture books as well. In fact, Pete became famous far before he made his debut in children’s literature. It all began when an artist named James Dean began drawing and painting pictures of his cat Pete in the early 2000s. Dean portrayed Pete as a scrawny black cat who engaged in a variety of activities and adventures, from drinking coffee to traveling to outer space. Today, some of Dean’s original Pete the Cat paintings sell for over $2,000.

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So how did this strange obsession over one feline friend make its way into children’s books?

In 2008, Dean self-published his own children’s book called Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, which was created and illustrated by Dean and written by Eric Litwin. In 2011, Dean published the second book of the series, called Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes. In 2012, Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons was published, and most recently, in 2013, came Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses.



The most recent Pete the Cat picture books, including Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, come with links to the HarperCollins Publishers website, where you can download sing-along songs that accompany the books. On the website you can also find a Pete the Cat app, as well as printable activities and coloring sheets.

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In Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, Pete is first shown singing a catchy, albeit slightly repetitive song about his favorite shirt, which has “four groovy buttons” on it. image copy

The book goes on to show Pete’s journey as his buttons pop off his shirt, one by one, and he continues to sing about his “three groovy buttons,” his “two groovy buttons,” his “one groovy button,” until finally he is left with no groovy buttons. However, Pete does not cry when he loses all of his buttons, because in the end he finds….


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Pete continues to smile and sing, and the book ends on a positive note:

“Stuff will come and stuff will go, but do we cry? Goodness, no! We keep on singing. Buttons come and buttons go.”

This book, which targets preschool and younger elementary aged children, uses Pete the Cat’s happy-go-lucky attitude to emphasize the importance of staying positive despite circumstances and possessions. While the book itself is quite simple in its writing style and storyline, the contagious, carefree spirit of Pete the Cat himself is what has brought Pete the Cat to so many different media, from his original paintings to picture books to songs, apps, and more.

The series of Pete the Cat books not only gives us a look into how popular icons such as Pete enter the category of children’s literature, but it also shows us the rising popularity of interactive children’s books. By giving children the ability to see a character in a book, hear about that same character in a song, and then interact with him or her through an app or an activity page, children are able to experience a more enriching and engaging form of literature. And maybe, the more kids hear it, the more they will think of Pete the Cat’s enthusiastic reminder to keep on singing.

Marvelous New Picture Books : Thank You and Good Night


This weeks Marvelous New Picture Book is Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell. McDonnell is a New York Times bestselling author and Caldecott Honor artist. This is his first bedtime book which captures the magic of a sleepover and to cherish the little and simple things in life.


“It’s a very special night.

Clement, Jean, and Alan Alexander

are having a pajama party! But after

playing, dancing, and gazing at the stars,

everyone is getting sleepy……

Is it time for bed yet?


First, it’s time to say

thank you.”

This book tells a story about Maggie’s friend Clement and how she throws him a surprise pajama party. Two of Clement’s friends, Alan Alexander and Jean, come over and they do events like jumping on the bed, looking at the stars, playing hide and go seek, learning the chicken dance, and making funny faces. Eventually they get so tired that it was time for them to get ready for bed and listen to the bed time story read by Maggie.


The illustrations throughout the book were done in pen and ink, pencil, and watercolor on handmade paper. These illustrations were very cute and couldn’t help but make me smile. They may have not been the most extravagant illustrations ever seen in a children’s book but it was perfect for this book and to show the children the story. Some of my favorite pages were honestly the most simple and they were when the three friends learned the chicken dance, did a funny face contest and practiced yoga.


My favorite thing about the picture book was basically the end of the book right after they were told bedtime stories. Maggie says to Clement, Jean, and Alan Alexander: “Now, before we go to sleep, let’s all say what we were thankful for this day”. After Maggie asked them what they were thankful they came with a lengthy list then got their goodnight kisses and went to bed.

I think this is a positive lesson/theme that was shown in this book and I believe it should be shown through more books. Being thankful is an important lesson for everyone to learn and especially for children to learn it when they are young so they know how to be thankful throughout their lifetime. This can be taught through books, lessons, and just talking about it. Being thankful is something one should be everyday of their life regardless what happens and I believe this bedtime story is one of the ways a child can learn this lesson.

-Kendall Shaw