Monthly Archives: March 2016

Traditional Thursdays: A Chair For My Mother

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A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams, first published in 1982, is about a family who works hard to save money to buy a beautiful chair covered in velvet with roses all over it.

The daughter, Rosa, helps her mother out at the Blue Tile Diner after school. Her mother comes home exhausted most days and in need of a place to rest. Her grandmother is old and needs a spot to prop her feet up. Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother all work hard day after day, saving their coins and adding anything extra to a big jar. Once the jar is full, they will shop for a new chair!

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Rosa tells the reader about how, about a year before, her family had lost everything in a fire. They had to start over completely. Thankfully, they were welcomed graciously by their new community. The neighborhood came together to provide spare furniture for their family – extra chairs, a bed, a table, curtains, a rug…everyone was so kind.

Finally, after saving and saving, the jar was full! Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother were finally able to buy their beautiful chair. 

f49299a2a7f65dcb55c3bce8b08874c0This book was written for children 4-8 years old, but it can be enjoyed by both children and adults. This touching story contains some darker themes such as loss and stress, but also emphasizes the importance of community, family, kindness, and love. This book features a more diverse family experience compared to most children’s books; this family is a blue collar family, the mother works at the Blue Tile Diner, and Rosa often helps out with the family chores after school. It is important for children to be introduced to different family experiences and to see families like their own in literature.

This picture book has beautiful illustrations and was awarded a Caldecott Honor award. The illustrations are detailed, colorful, and bright. They are whimsical and appeal to the eyes of a child, but are not messy. The image of the chair covered in velvet with roses all over it is memorable and meaningful. The chair symbolizes a family’s love and the comfort of a home. This story is touching and beautiful, and it can be enjoyed by children ages 4-99! I highly recommend this wonderful story to any family.

-Madi Goeringer

Winner Wednesdays: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

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If you are looking for a great story to read out loud to children, The Gruffalo is the book for you. The Gruffalo was written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler in 1996, and won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 1999. The Smarties book prize was a prestigious UK award given to the “best work of fiction or poetry by a British author for children in three age categories (up to 11).” The prize was awarded annually by Booktrust from 1985-2007. The Gruffalo won the Gold Award in the youngest category, for children ages 0-5. More information about the Smarties Book Prize can be found here.

The Gruffalo is a comical story about a mouse who outsmarts hungry animals with his quick wits. Donaldson writes in flexibly metered verse that (in my experience) keeps children engaged with its lilting rhythm. Scheffler’s illustrations envelop the reader in the lush, earth-toned woods. Set against a realistic woodland background, Scheffler’s animals have clearly defined lines and are more cartoon-like in style. With the exception of the Gruffalo, all of the critters have endearing underbites. As the titular monster of the book, the Gruffalo will make children laugh rather than scream because his appearance is so silly in its eclectic nature.

 

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As readers, we follow mouse through the woods as his journey is relayed by an unnamed narrator. Immediately, the mouse encounters a hungry fox, and invents the creature of the Gruffalo to escape the fox’s lunch invitation (which he sees as an invitation to be the fox’s lunch). Mouse describes the Gruffalo with characteristics that are particulary scary to a fox, and then subtly states that the Gruffalo’s favorite food is “roasted fox.” The fox runs off, and the process happens again with an owl and a snake. Imagine the mouse’s surprise then when he walks straight into a Gruffalo! The beast has every strange characteristics the mouse has dreamed up: “He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes/ And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.” To keep the Gruffalo from eating him, mouse has to come up with his smartest plan yet. I won’t spoil the ending, but the story ends well for the mouse.

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I would highly recommend this book for children ages 3-7. The book is perfectly suited for reading aloud, especially if the reader gives the animals different voices. Children I have read the book to have made up games based on the book, and a park ranger I met in England takes children on Gruffalo walks through the woods. Needless to say, children love this book, and I bet you will too.

Rebekah Moredock

Trendy Tuesdays: Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson

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Cover page #0Can you have too much of a good thing? Not according to Rabbit. He loves carrots so much that he begins hoarding them, and soon there is no space for him to live in his little burrow. Tortoise sees Rabbit’s plight and offers to share his shell with his homeless friend. Within the fantastical world of children’s literature, this suggestion would have worked well, if only Rabbit hadn’t brought so many carrots 2016-03-29 00-10 1 page #0

with him. The friends take a tumble down a hill, and Tortoise’s shell gets fractured. Now both friends need a place to sleep. Rabbit continues to bring too many carrots to his friends’ homes, and proceeds to break the homes of Bird, Squirrel, and Beaver.

With his helpful friends now without homes and downcast, Rabbit is forced to consider how his selfishness impacts those around him. Realizing that he still has both his home and his carrots, Rabbit finally conquers his selfishness and sees that “carrots weren’t for collecting — they were for sharing!” The friends have a cozy party in the now spacious burrow as they eat carrot pies, juices, and cupcakes.2016-03-29 00-12 page #0

Too Many Carrots is the perfect addition to any child’s easter basket. Hudson’s vivid watercolors and endearing animals will catch children’s eyes and keep them engaged. The brightness of the book’s beginning is contrasted well with the gloomy rain and flood later on, giving young readers a visual depiction of the pain selfishness can cause. As children head out to Easter egg hunts, Too Many Carrots will remind them that kindness and sharing are vital parts of friendship. I would recommend this book to children from 2 to 6, and I know it will be a book I return to often.

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Rebekah Moredock

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

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When a boy arrives at Pet Club with his tiny elephant, he is dismayed. All of the usual sorts of pets are allowed, but the sign on the door says “Strictly No Elephants.” Although he is sad when he leaves, he soon meets a new friend—a girl with a pet skunk who was also not welcome at Pet Club. They realize that they can create their own club, where friends and pets of all shapes and sizes are welcome.

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is told in first person, and it is clear how much the boy cares for his little elephant. When the elephant is nervous stepping over the sidewalk cracks, the boy always goes back and helps him over “Because that’s what friends do: lift each other over the cracks.” The refrain of “because that’s what friends do” is repeated throughout the story, teaching a lesson that goes beyond just how to care for an elephant.

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Lisa Mantchev’s writing never talks down to children, and her sentences have a gentle flow that would make this great as a bedtime story. Taeun Yoo’s friendly, rounded illustrations bring the children and pets to life with texture and rich colors. They are also detailed and rewarding for observant readers. As the boy walks along the street with his elephant, other unusual pets—who will later become members of the new club—peer out the windows of the apartments in the background.

-Marianna Sharp

Free Fridays: The Thing About Jellyfish

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The cover is stunning. The book is even more beautiful. The Thing About Jellyfish is Ali Benjamin’s debut Middle Grade novel about a young girl named Suzy who’s best friend Franny dies in a drowning accident. Scientifically minded Suzy believes that there is no way her friend could have drowned- she was such a good swimmer- and has a theory that her friend may have been stung by a venomous jellyfish. Suzy is filled with guilt over the last time she saw Franny and puts all of her energy into research to prove her theory of how Franny died. In this National Book Award finalistBenjamin explores grief, fitting in, guilt, science (as there are many great jellyfish facts!) and the changes that come with growing up.

 

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One of the most unique aspects is Benjamin’s ability to weave science into the every day life  of a middle school girl. The book contains memories Suzy has of her time with Franny, especially from when they began to grow apart in the year prior to Franny’s death. It is also filled with facts about jellyfish, and somehow Benjamin is able to combine these perfectly in a way that will make any child or adult think deeply about relationships and growing up. Here’s an example:

“Having venom doesn’t make a creature bad. Venom is protection. The more fragile the animal, the more venom it needs. So the more venom a creature has, the more we should be able to forgive that animal. They’re the ones who need it most.”

Another thing Benjamin is a master at is getting us into Suzy’s head. Suzy’s voice is honest and thoughtful, and you will definitely need a box of tissues as you read. She questions everything and relies on her family and teacher for guidance. You or a pre-teen you know will not be able to help loving Suzy’s family as she does- her parents are divorced but loving and on good terms, her brother is gay but completely accepted by their family, and her teacher encourages her when she needs it most. They are some of the most honest and lovable characters I have encountered in a Middle Grade novel and readers of all ages and interests will enjoy visiting their world.

“There are so many things to be scared of in this world: blooms of jellies. A sixth extinction. A middle school dance. But maybe we can stop feeling so afraid. Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all creatures on this Earth are made from stardust.”

 

– Rebecca Bendheim

 

Traditional Thursdays: Elmer by David McKee

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Elmer by David McKee, published in 1968, is a timeless tale about a patchwork-colored elephant named Elmer. He is yellow and orange and red and pink and purple and blue and green and black and white. But, all the other elephants were the same grey “elephant color.” Elmer felt different.

Just because Elmer was different didn’t stop him from always making the other elephants laugh with his silly jokes. However, he was unhappy. Elmer wanted to be like all the other elephants! He didn’t want to be different anymore!

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So, Elmer ran away, covered himself in elephant-colored berry juice with berries he found in the forest, then returned to the elephant herd. Finally, he looked just like all the other elephants. The herd was quiet and serious, they were no longer laughing and having fun. They missed Elmer!

Suddenly, it started to rain, and Elmer’s berry juice was washed away! All of the other elephants laughed and laughed at Elmer’s biggest joke yet! And now, every year, there is a day dedicated to celebrating Elmer, and all the other elephants color themselves in beautiful colorful patterns and have a parade!

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Elmer was written for children ages 4-8. It is loved by all children because of its silly story and bright, colorful images. The writing style is simple, but the story contains a deeper message – that we should love and celebrate who we are! We are all unique, and that is something to smile about! Children and adults alike should be proud to show our “true colors” and “patchwork” selves. This wonderful, happy story can be read and enjoyed universally to children of all cultures, races, and backgrounds.

– Madi Goeringer

Winner Wednesday’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave

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What does it mean to shine a light in a world full of darkness? What does it mean to bring hope to the world through something as small as making pottery and writing poetry? These are the ideas rooted deep in the children’s book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. 

This children’s book is not so much a story as it is a vision into who Dave was as an artist and poet. The reader gets to catch a glimpse of what the dirt, clay, and pots mean to Dave as a sculptor. We get a to witness the details of his process, and it feels like magic. We get to witness Dave etch poetry into his pots and create beauty through the written word.

While the text gives the book its weight and substance, the award winning illustrations bring it to life. Awarded the Caldecott Award and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2011, Bryan Collier’s illustrations for Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave set this book apart. Collier creates exquisite watercolor and collage compositions on 400lb Arches watercolor paper. This background paper that the text lies on is almost as beautiful as his collages. The aesthetic of the torn paper makes one want to reach out and touch the pages. Textures are beautiful, and the minute details take each page to the next level.

The illustrations captivate, and the themes of the book inspire. This book is an excellent way for young students to begin thinking about slavery in America in the mid 1800’s. There are so many questions that could be posed and researched by students. In addition, students can learn about the process of making pottery. They can discuss what makes someone a poet and what makes someone an artist. This intersection of a real man’s bondage and powerful art is filled with hope and should be discussed in schools and homes today.

-Flora Neuhoff

Trendy Tuesdays- “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds

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For a lot of children, art is unnecessarily hard, mainly due to criticism and assessment from their teachers. Young kids are turned away from creativity because they are focused on a “right” or “wrong” way of doing things. Ish took on the bold challenge of addressing this negative stigma by proposing the idea that art can be messy and abstract but still be “right”, as long as it is what the artist wants it to be.

Ramon, an excited, interesting young boy, is discouraged by his failure to draw a vase the way it looks in real life. After throwing away many versions of his vase, he finds an incredible surprise that sends him on an “ish” journey. Everything can be ish! Writing, reading, and art can all be molded to what the creator wants it to be. Ramon teaches the all-important lesson of accepting your talents for what they are and learning to love what you create. In addition to addressing the topic of pride in your work, Ish, offers two different sibling relationships. We see a “too cool for school” older brother and an admiring younger sister, and it is up to Ramon to decide which sibling he allows to influence his art.

 

Ish is a fun and easy book to read, but it has so much to offer developing children who are becoming self-conscious of their talents and abilities. School is designed to build students up, but more times than not, it tears certain students down, especially in the art classroom. Ramon goes on a journey to learn to accept the ish-ness of his art, which makes his story relatable to students who are struggling with their own artistic and academic development. I think this book should be a staple in any classroom, and I know that I will use it in my future teaching.

-Tyler Knickerbocker

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: The Magical Fantastical Fridge

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In The Magical Fantastical Fridge, written by Harlan Coben and illustrated by Leah Tinari, a young boy named Walden finds himself on an adventure within the pictures, drawings, takeout menus, and invitations on his family’s refrigerator.  Walden is initially bored as his mother asks him to set the table for their weekly dinner with his extended family.  “I don’t set boring tables in boring houses,” Walden says to his mother, “I need ADVENTURE!”

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And he finds his adventure as he fights off a crayon monster with a slice of pizza, transforms into a bite of fried chicken, travels in time to see his grandparents years before he was born, and jumps into an aquarium tank. Coben’s picture book shows the many worlds available to explore just from the collage on a family fridge – each photo, ticket, and coloring page offers a new experience and a new sense of wonder.

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However, as Walden becomes further trapped in the fridge – borrowing a pirate’s sword, hiding behind the bowling pins on a birthday party invitation – he begins to miss his family and their weekly routines, spending time all together.  “The refrigerator is fun, but I really miss my family,” Walden reflects, watching his parents, grandparents, sister and cousins as they cheer at the televised football game.

 

Coben, a bestselling author of adult thriller novels, writes Walden’s perspective with a childlike wonder and charm.  Tinari’s illustrations are both detailed and true-to-life while staying imaginative in the theme of the book – her typography and illustrations of water are particularly striking.  The Magical Fantastical Fridge is a great read for parents and children alike, with good read-aloud potential!  It’s an opportunity for families to look at their own “fridge adventures” and see what artifacts of exploration they have available in their own homes.

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-Katherine Sowa

Free Fridays: Water is Water

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In Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle, author Miranda Paul and illustrator Jason Chin effectively combine poetic textual elements with realistic watercolor illustrations to take the reader on a narrative journey with a brother and sister through the seasons. During each season, the brother and sister experience water in its various forms: fog in the air on their way to school, rain when they step off the school bus, and falling snow in the winter.

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Paul uses poetic elements such as rhyme and onomatopoeia to create a rhythmic, sensory experience as the characters experience water in all of its forms. “Drip. Sip. Whirl. Swirl. Patter. Splatter.”  Paul effectively evokes visual and auditory imagery to familiarize the reader with water in its various stages. Rather than using explicit academic language to explain the water cycle, Paul allows children to explore it for themselves by engaging them with familiar experiences and ideas about water in its stages.

While this is an informational text with the purpose of extend children’s learning about the water cycle, the content pertains to children’s familiar experiences with water in all of its forms to present the information in a way that is relatable and meaningful to children. Additionally, Chin’s realistic watercolor illustrations paint the story in a way that focuses on the brother and sister and their experiences with water and nature rather than focusing on the technical, scientific concepts surrounding the water cycle, thereby making ideas more accessible and meaningful to children.

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As a future educator, I would recommend using this book in the classroom to begin teaching about the water cycle. The rhythmic text works in conjunction with child-centered illustrations to create a narrative about a brother and sister’s experiences with water throughout the year, and could provide a foundation for students thinking about their own experiences with water and how water changes from one form to another. The scientific content depicted in the book, when expressed through the lens of children’s experiences, becomes much more accessible and meaningful to students.

-Sarah Williams