Monthly Archives: March 2016

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


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


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.


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.


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

Little Critter’s Traditional Thursday


By Kathleen Stevens

Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books are great for parents and teachers of young children to have handy. The small readers feature a family of friendly “critters” and follow Little Critter as he confronts the many changes that accompany growing up into a “big critter.” Mayer describes these events from the perspective of Little Critter, making the stories accessible for young readers.

I just forgot 2Mayer’s watercolor illustrations are whimsical in the combination of their realistic detail and the humorous expressions of his memorable imaginary creatures. His critters are approachable, friendly figures for young readers. Young readers will also enjoy locating the small mouse or spider that feature in every picture, whose placements and expressions contribute to the genuine playfulness of the stories.

I just forgot

I Just Forgot describes the innocence of forgetting from a child’s perspective. Little Critter narrates the chores and tasks he forgets to do throughout the day, as well as those he remembers. He also offers his self-assured explanations for events such as forgetting to shut the refrigerator door or forgetting to use soap, which he claims to have done purposefully. Mayer effectively captures a child’s thoughts and reasoning by pairing things remembered with things forgotten, such as remembering to get ready for school in time but forgetting a lunch box. The story offers a playful alternative to frustrations children may experience when they forget or make mistakes. It is also a helpful reminder for adults that sometimes we “just forget” and that is totally fine.

Other favorites in the series include Just Go to Bed and I Was So Mad, describing, respectively, the often unpleasant event of getting ready for bed and the frustrations of being told “no” in the familiar voice of Little Critter. Just go to bed

I was so mad

New Tradition Thursday


Children and adults alike thrive off of routine and tradition. Predictable days are the9781554986927 easiest, while days with surprise disruptions tend to be more difficult. Change in routine is often a challenging transition, especially for children. In her autobiographical book A Year Without Mom, Dasha Tolstikova chronicles change on many levels. She writes of change in Russia during the last years of the Soviet Union, change in a young girl’s social life as her friends grow apart, and change in the same girl’s life when her mother leaves for America to study journalism. These changes are difficult, and Tolstikova’s beautiful illustrations and insightful voice provide true insight into what it is like when your traditional world crumbles around you.

Dasha is 12 years old in 1990. She lives in Russia with her mom and grandparents, has two best friends, and excels in school and art class. Her world is turned on its head, however, when her mother moves to America for a year to pursue a Master’s degree in journalism. Before her mother leaves, Dasha sits with her family in the living room: “It’s tradition – before a trip everyone sits down quietly and silently wishes the traveler well. Then the oldest or the youngest person gets up and the trip begins.” As they wait for the elevator, Dasha and her mother hold hands. Dasha thinks about her mom’s hands and then suddenly bites her finger.

For the young child reading this book, the finger biting is a sensible action. Dasha is sad and angry about her mother leaving, and perhaps does not know how to best handle these emotions, so she acts out. The book is filled with several other relatable scenarios. Dasha meets an older boy who she finds intimidating, yet immediately falls head over heels for him. Any reader who has loved from afar can appreciate the heartbreak when Dasha sees him kissing another girl. Similarly, readers can relate to Dasha missing her mother and feeling abandoned and lonely. The middle school audience of this book will especially appreciate the pages on Dasha’s changing friendships as her and her friends grow older.

7222098_a-year-without-mom-a-gorgeous-graphic-novel_td204b77cTolstikova describes the change happening in Dasha’s life in a very relatable way. The book is framed as Dasha’s diary, so the reader has access to her inner monologue and observations. This makes the political change described in the book easier for a reader unversed in history to understand. For example, when Gorbachev is removed from power in the USSR, Dasha explains,

one morning we wake up and Gorbachev, the president of Russia, is taken prisoner by some bad people and there are tanks rolling down the streets of Moscow…No one knows what to do. We are in the country and the telephone service is spotty. All the grown-ups wander around with worried looks on their faces. They barely look at each other.

Soon, “Good guy Yeltsin, who we learned about at school last year, comes to the rescue and new life begins in earnest.”

While it is hard, Dasha adapts to her new life and new traditions. Just as she becomes comfortable and settled, however, her mother returns with the news that Dasha will be joining her in America for the next year! Dasha rejects this news; hasn’t she already done enough to accommodate her mother? She has no choice in the matter, however, and soon goes to America to begin a new, new life. Dasha is nervous about life in a new country that she does not like. The book ends on a hopeful note, however, as Dasha and the reader come to realize that change and new traditions can be good things after all.

-Allia Calkins, 2016

Winner Wednesdays: Arrow to the Sun


CM_arrow_sunArrow to the Sun: a Pueblo Indian Tale is the 1974 Caldecott winner by Gerald McDermott. Focusing on a folktale belonging to the Pueblo Indians, fans of mythology will be very familiar with the story. It has a similar structure to Hercules, following a son who endures trials to prove himself worthy to take his rightful place as the son of a god.

The narration style is reminiscent of old storytelling, but most striking about the story are the illustrations. Brilliant golds and oranges nod to the red-gold glow of adobe, which is the main ingredient in the houses of the Pueblo people. The angular lines also mimic the style of the buildings of Pueblo villages and give direction and action to the story, giving the eyes lines to follow and previewing the direction of the protagonist to come.

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The story tells of the powarrowsunelderer of self-direction. Driven to find his father by bullies who tease him, the protagonist (called The Boy) asks for help, but is given very little to go on. The only elder to pay him an attention makes him into an arrow to send him to the sun where he can meet his father. After that, he is left to his own devices to confront the trials put to him by his father, the Lord. When he completes all that is asked of him, the whole town celebrates.

The story is an easy read, good for anyone studying other cultures or mythology, and dynamic to look at. It was simultaneously developed by the author as a short film, so here is the story professionally narrated, directed, and animated, with music:

-Julia McCorvey





Trendy Tuesdays: The Princess and the Pony


Kate Beaton’s picture book The Princess and the Pony shows its readers that strength can be found in the most unexpected sources.  Princess Pinecone, the smallest warrior in her kingdom, dreams of a gift like a shield or helmet that will give her success in battle.  However, Princess Pinecone keeps receiving birthday gifts that are soft rather than hard: a whole assortment of cozy sweaters. Finally, Princess Pinecone decides to ask for a strong, fast racehorse so she can compete with the other warriors.

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On her birthday, instead of a racehorse, Princess Pinecone receives a little, round, soft pony. The pony isn’t what Princess Pinecone wanted: it’s “too small,” “too round,” and sometimes cross-eyed.  As the upcoming battle comes close, Princess Pinecone is frustrated by her inability to teach the pony to be a “real warrior horse” and to help her hold her own against the larger, tougher warriors.

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But ultimately it is the pony that gives Princess Pinecone her biggest victory in battle: the other warriors are so overwhelmed by the adorable pony that they put their weapons aside to admire its roly-poly cuteness. “We warriors don’t often get to show our cuddly sides,” they tell Princess Pinecone, who then surprises them with a gift of cozy sweaters for them all!  The Princess and the Pony is a story of companionship, gentleness, and the idea of looking at the world from a new perspective.  It shows children that winning doesn’t always mean having the strongest armor, but showing people that they can treat each other with kindness and care.

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-Katherine Sowa