Monthly Archives: September 2016

Free Fridays: Home at Last


“Lester hasn’t really belonged to anyone or anyplace for a long time….”


Home At Last, written by Vera B. Williams and illustrated by Chris Raschka, is a heart-warming picture book that encapsulates the themes of adoption, family, and safety. Lester, the protagonist of the story, is finally being adopted after spending days in the children’s center since the unfortunate death of his parents and grandmother.


The new parents, however, are two dads: Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert. Both dads try to help Lester quickly adjust to their home environment, but no matter how hard they try Lester is unable to fall asleep in his new bed. This soon becomes an issue as the parents have to walk Lester back into his room every night. Although irritated at first, upon learning that Lester wants to sleep in the same bed as them, the dads are able to better help Lester calm his fears and grow more independent.

Raschka’s beautiful choice of watercolors not only compliment the plot, but helps bring out the story to life. Here he illustrates Lester’s fears about going to bed alone. Despite the comfy bed and numerous toys made available by his parents, he just does not feel safe in this new environment.


Home at Last can be a great starting resource for instigating discussions about inclusion, differences (of backgrounds), and making genuine efforts to get to know each other in a classroom setting. Questions such as “how do you think Lester might have felt in this situation?” and “how is Lester different from you?” can serve as points of initial discussion that delve into even more meaningful topics.

Sadly, Williams passed away prior to the publication of the book. According to a back matter, Williams and Raschka closely collaborated (often at Williams’ porch) and the illustrations are heavily based on Williams’ initial sketches.


By: Eunice Lee

Free Fridays: Among a Thousand Fireflies


new-doc-6_1Among a Thousand Fireflies by Helen Frost provides a quick snapshot into the life of a firefly who, despite the thousands of other fireflies around, attempts find a single one whose light best matches her own. Told in vivid, yet simple, language Among a Thousand Fireflies is the perfect bedtime story for the young kid in your life or even the young child in yourself. Reminding all of us about the beauty of nature, Rick Lieder’s stunning photographs evoke a mixture of innocent wonder at the lifeforms around us. In the busy fray of our everyday lives it is all too easy to be swallowed by the tide of texts, emails, errands, work and people around us, demanding our attention. But take a seat for a couple minutes. Prop your feet up. Open this book. And remind yourself how wonderfully exquisite the world around you is. It’s not necessarily stopping to smell the roses, but I can almost promise it’s


Post by: Stephanie Thompson

Traditional Thursday: King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub


kingbidgood1In 1986, when the Polar Express won the Caldecott, a royally funny runner-up grabbed an Honor Medal. King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, a story about a king who refuses to leave his bathtub and rule his kingdom, was written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by her husband Don Wood. The story is wonderfully imaginative, but most successful are the carefully illustrated spreads of wacky characters and detailed absurdities.

Over the course of the book, a full day passes, and every so often the Page of the castle cries the same phrase: “King Bidgood’s in the bathtub and he won’t get out! Oh, who knows what to do?” Various members of the court try telling the king it is time to do his duties, which include anything from battling to fishing, but the king insists on doing all these things in the tub. For many years, kids have loved the predictable nature of this story, and the repetition of the Page’s question is valuable especially for very young children. Additionally, because the bathtub is a place of imaginative play for many children, the king’s antics are highly amusing.

The illustrations draw the reader in with every page turn. Each illustration takes up an entire spread and plays with the use of color to reflect the time of day. At first, “when the sun came up,” the page is bright, the sky yellow outside the window and the royal court’s clothes lit by sunshine. The late afternoon spread is full of warm pink hues, while the evening spread is almost entirely shades of blue. Every page depicts the court of characters in incredible detail, down to their ostentatious neck ruffles. Their facial expressions are baffled, aghast, and always overly dramatic.

The real gem of this book is the bathtub pages. Looking down from above at the king and his ridiculousness, great attention has been given to making the tub appear to overflow with all the things that you would not usually expect to be in a tub. These too are colorful, elaborate and detailed. For example, the lunch in the tub is complete with a castle-shaped cake topped with a miniature bathtub.

"Today, we lunch in the tub!"

“Today, we lunch in the tub!”

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub is a perfect bedtime story from the past for kids who love to play in the tub. It is simultaneously funny and elaborate, topped off with impressive illustrations.


Marvelous Mondays: I Will Not Eat You


i-will-not-eat-you-1_1   “Theodore thinks everything is a potential meal. Until something new approaches his cave. A boy. Has Theodore found a new favorite food? Or something more?” This is the way Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon (the illustrator) introduce their new picture book I Will Not Eat You, as seen on the inside flap of the book cover. I Will Not Eat You is a book about an unexpected friendship, as Theodore, a dragon (although it is not revealed that he is a dragon until later in the book) lives in a quiet cave, but isn’t hungry. He passes up on the opportunity to come out and eat the bird, wolf, and then tiger that all stop by his cave, telling them, “I will not eat you.”


Later, however, a boy stops by and begins to pester Theodore, just as he is getting hungry, and provokes Theodore to come out of his cave and chase him, until the boy falls and starts to laugh. Next thing you know, Theodore begins to laugh as well, beginning a new friendship between the two.


I Will Not Eat You is a simple, but fun book about an unexpected friendship between two totally different creatures, making it an almost humorous book to enjoy. For example, the book ends with “‘I can always eat him later’, thought Theodore.” The book plays perfectly into a child’s playfulness and joyful attitude, making the boy a character many children can connect with. I Will Not Eat You also teaches a great lesson about stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, as Theodore was comfortable in his nice, quiet cave, but learned to step outside of it to fully enjoy the friendship and company of the boy.

This is also a great book that would help a child learn about animals. Children would enjoy learning and following along with the animal sounds made by the bird, the wolf, and the tiger. It may also help teach the relative sizes of these animals, as each animal that passes by gets increasingly large, and for older readers, the order of a food chain.

What makes this book fun to read is its repetition, and then the unexpected ending. Each animal that walks by has the same interaction with Theodore, giving the book a familiar, predictable structure for children to enjoy. What I love most about I Will Not Eat You is Magoon’s fun illustrations, and more specifically, his use of color. His use of different colors help add to the story and advance the plot, as he begins with a monochromatic pink-ish tone the early morning sunset, but later transitions through the yellow of the morning and the blue of the afternoon to get to the darker colors of the night. The best part, however, is the juxtaposition between his dark, red hues of the night, to the colorful, bright page that begins Theodore’s new friendship with the boy. It’s interesting to note that this is the first page that uses a whole variety of bright, vibrant colors, as most of the previous pages were characterized by monochromatic, single hues.


Fans of Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug and The Very Hungry Caterpillar will especially enjoy watching Theodore interact with the different animals that pass by, as Theodore is on the hunt for something to eat (almost like a blend of those two classic children’s books!). However, any child will enjoy this humorous story about friendship and animals, as told through beautiful colors and illustrations.

Post by Joyce Hwang

Free Fridays: Animal House



What would your dream home look like if you were a monkey? How about if you were a squirrel? Animal House, written and illustrated by Melissa Bay Mathis, is an imaginative and child-centered picture book that encourages readers to consider the idea of “home” from a variety of new perspectives.

The book begins with a group of children who want to build a tree house. As they begin to brainstorm, they decide to seek help from some animal friends, each of whom have a different opinion on what features would make for a perfect home. The pig’s home, for example, would replace traditional flooring with mud puddles. The finishing touch on the dog’s home would be a vending machine that dispensed bones, shoes, and other chewable goodies.


Each page in the book is written from a different animal’s perspective, presented through a playful rhyming verse that brings the characters to life. Next to each verse, there is a picture of the speaker, which will help younger children understand the idea of point-of-view.

As fun as this book is to read aloud, however, the highlight of Animal House is the detail in the illustrations. Accompanying every animal’s idea is a full-page spread showing the dream home in all of its glory. The illustrations in this book make read-alouds a truly interactive experience – children will be so engrossed in pointing out the witty details that they won’t want to turn the page!


After each animal has had a chance to speak, the group gets together and plans a tree house with everyone’s preferences in mind. The book ends with an extra-large pull out illustration of the finished product – a perfect model of how collaboration can ensure that everyone’s needs will be met. Every animal – tall or short, active or lazy – has a place in the tree house.


Animal House is a fun and crowd-pleasing picture book that children will want to read again and again.

Post by Sami Chiang

Traditional Thursday: Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town

Traditional Thursday: Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town

As a child, one of my favorite authors and illustrators was Richard Scarry. I would spend hours immersing myself in his fictional universe, Busytown, full of familiar faces and colorful places. I read many of his books revolving around the citizens of Busytown, and it was exciting for me to see those characters expand to television in the show The Busy World of Richard Scarry or to interactive electronic storybooks for my LeapPad (remember those?). One of the many Busytown books that in still available in bookstores is Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town. This colorful picture book, whose most up-to-date edition was released in 2000, allows readers a glimpse into the daily lives of the residents of Busytown.


Page depicting various chores around the house

Characters like Lowly Worm and Huckle Cat make appearances in this book that, though lacking a significant plot or conflict, fleshes out an intricate world of anthropomorphic animals that go to work, go to school, do chores, drive cars, and more. Each page has a central theme that is an aspect of life in Busytown, like transportation, housework, or jobs, and Scarry’s colorful illustrations depict residents participating in these everyday events. An added bonus is the vocabulary that Scarry incorporates throughout the book. He makes sure that his readers learn something from their experience by including various words related to the themes and topics. Richard Scarry finds a perfect balance between vocabulary words and narration that keeps young readers’ attention while also teaching them new words and phrases that relate to their own lives.



What I love most about Richard Scarry’s books are the busy illustrations. He mindfully uses the space of each page; sometimes he sprinkles various pictures around one page, and sometimes he uses a full two pages to draw a full-sized, detailed scene of citizens out and about in Busytown. There is so much going on in each picture that it’s almost like reading a Where’s Waldo? book. Each time you read you will notice something new because there are so many diverse characters and there is no one main protagonist that drives the story. Children can use the pictures alone to create new stories, so this book can never really get old.

Posted by Lexi Anderson

Winners Wednesday: Drum Dream Girl


title-pageMargarita Engle and Rafael López picture book, Drum Dream Girl, tells the story of a young girl who wants to play drums on the island of music but cannot because everyone says that only boys can play drums.  Each night she dreams about playing the drums and everywhere she goes in life she hears music.  She hears music in the birds.  She hears it in the people.  She hears music in her heart and knows she can make her own music, but everyone constantly reminds her that girls cannot play drums.   She tries to join an all girl band and is stopped by her father who later changes his mind and helps her find a teacher.  She learns so much from the teacher that eventually when she plays in a café, all the people enjoy the music so much that they change their minds. They think “girls should be allowed to play drums and both girls and boys should feel free to dream.”

Engle’s poem creates a rhythm like music that flows though the book mimicking the drums that Dream Drum Girl wants to play.  The reader can almost hear the music just as the Drum Dream Girl does in all parts of her life.  López’s pictures to life the feel of the poem and in many aspects encompass a dream like state as the Drum Dream Girl fights for her dreams. This story is based off the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who paved the way for girls to become drummers when in Cuba during the 1930’s females were not allowed to play. She along with her sisters preformed as Cuba’s first “all-girl dance band.”  Millo eventually became world famous and at 15 played for US President F.D. Roosevelt for his birthday.  Millo’s passion and determination to follow her dream changed the story for females in Cuba.  In the same way Engle and López use her story in a book to encourage other young ladies that they too can change the story of others by following their passion.  page-3

Posted by: Kirsten Nieman

Cleonardo: The Little Inventor


Mary GrandPré’s beautiful new children’s book, Cleonardo: The Little Inventor, is told from Cleonardo’s perspective and hinges on the upcoming Grand Festival of Inventions in her town.  Her father is the local inventor for the town, as was her grandfather, her great-grandfather, and all the great-greats before them. Cleonardo loves his marvelous creations that help the town and always wants to help him but he never uses her ideas. With the local fair approaching, encouraged by her Grandpa León, she strikes out on her own to make an invention for the festival. Cleonardo wants to make her father proud and show him that she can be help by creating the best and most important invention of the Festival.

Young readers get to experience her working through making the best invention and learn about family along the way. The lessons do not end with the children though as there is something within the story to be learned by the parents as well.

The magic of the story is added by GrandPré’s beautiful illustrations.  With so much detail, patterns and colors, they draw the eye and as much time if not more could be spent on her drawings. The fantastical style of her drawing nurture the feel of inventing and creativity that the book contains creating an enjoyable experience for both the little inventor and the parent.


Posted by: Kirsten Nieman

Luna & Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw



Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest, written and illustrated by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, is an informative narrative about a girl named Butterfly, and her bond with a redwood tree, Luna. When Butterfly first meets Luna, she learns that people are planning on cutting Luna down to make houses, but Butterfly wasn’t going to let that happen. With the help and support of her friends, Butterfly decides to pack her belongings and live within Luna’s branches so that the loggers wouldn’t be able to cut Luna down. Butterfly and Luna become fast friends, but as time goes by and the seasons change from summer to winter, it becomes increasingly difficult for Butterfly to live with Luna. Nonetheless, Butterfly perseveres and after two years of spreading the word and advocating for the preservation of her friend, she is able to protect not only Luna, but the rest of the forest as well. Luna and Me sends a powerful message of perseverance and the importance of caring for our environment.


The illustrations in this book were inviting and vivid. The drawings were incredibly detailed and featured representations of different drawing utensils (water color paint, marker, colored pencil, etc.). The illustrations were engaging and added incomparable depth to the story. I especially enjoyed how Kostecki-Shaw’s visual representations of nature and how she alternated between portrait and landscape.


I have no doubt that Luna & Me would prove to be an asset to the classroom when introducing ideas of environmental awareness. Kostecki-Shaw also incorporates a rich vocabulary that I feel would be appropriately challenging for upper elementary children.

-Posted by: Noelle Yoo

Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown


Flight of the Dodo, written and illustrated by Peter Brown, tells the story of a group of flightless birds called Waddlers, who want to fly.  Flying was a dream that none of them thought about seriously until one day, bird poop from a flying goose hits Penguin on the shoulder.  Furious, he rallies up his flightless friends- Kiwi, Ostrich, and Cassowary, to join him on his quest for flight.  The birds work together to create the “Dodo”, a vehicle that looks a lot like a hot air balloon, and they leave the ground for the first time in their lives!  Later in the story, the Waddlers fly into a bit of trouble, but with the help of Flappers (birds that can fly), they are taken back to the safety of the ground.  This book concludes with Flappers teaching the Waddlers all about safe flying, and the Waddlers eventually return to the skies, better equipped with knowledge about flying safely.


Peter Brown brings many wonderful elements into this book.  The subject of the book itself is humorously relatable- birds really do poop everywhere, and if it’s your unlucky day, you might just get some on your head!  And what kid hasn’t had the desire to fly?  The characters are relatable and the humor is perfect for young elementary school kids.  


What I really loved about this book were the simple, yet detailed and interesting illustrations.  Peter Brown illustrates the birds’ characteristics very well so you can tell the species of bird, even though it is in a cartoon style.  The colors are very eye-catching, and the different perspectives presented in each scene are stunning.  You really feel like you are flying with the Waddlers in this book.  


Additionally, for teachers, this book could be a fun way to introduce flightless birds to the children in your classroom.

-Posted by: Cynthia Vu