Monthly Archives: March 2018

Free Friday: The Curious Garden


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A story of how the efforts of one person could help to change the world. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown follows the dream of one boy to transform an old railway into a beautiful garden.

The illustrations work cohesively with the text to represent the transformation that occurs at the hands of Liam. In the beginning, the illustrations consist of drab, dreary coloring with browns, greys, and beiges with Liam a small insignificant figure found in the bottom corner. Furthermore, the front endpaper is dominated by gray, consisting of rocks and only an insubstantial little corner of greenery. However, the power of one person grows throughout the story along with the color.

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After finding some wildflowers on a forgotten railway, Liam becomes determined to take care of the flowers and begins gardening the area. Soon the garden grows and the colors of the illustrations follow. With blooming flowers and grass spreading across the railway, the illustrations include pops of red, green, and blue, transforming the dreary town into a beautiful spectacle.

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The following spring, after a winter of studying gardening, Liam returns to his garden, helping the plants awaken from their winter sleep and soon the garden refuses to be confined to the railway, spreading its roots all across the town. Plants pop up around town and along with the new gardens comes more people to help preserve the area. By the back endpaper, those first notes of gray are long gone and that little speck of greenery has taken over the entire page. What started with one person became a community effort to bring nature back to a city. The evolution of the illustrations throughout the story really epitomizes the impact what one person can make in the long-run.

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At the end of the story, the author writes a note informing the reader how a garden really did begin to form on an old Manhattan railway, giving way to wildflowers and trees. This just shows that something as small as a few flowers could lead to something much bigger. This would be a perfect book to include in classroom curriculum to promote the importance of nature and to inspire students to take action, no matter how small their idea may be. Nature is integral to our lives and this story serves to embrace that notion with the readers and makes them think about what they could start themselves. What change could they make in the world?

-Maddi Bernards


Traditional Thursday: The Kissing Hand


This week for Traditional Thursday, I will be reviewing The Kissing Hand by Aubrey Penn with illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. Originally published in 1993 by The Child Welfare League of America, The Kissing Hand is here to stay. This book is a classic choice for parents looking to soothe nervous kids before the first day of school or summer camp. The Kissing Hand, however, has an underlying message of the importance of love that makes it appropriate to read all year round.


The story begins with Chester Raccooncrying at the edge of the forest because he does not want to go to school. He begs his mom to let him stay home with her. Mrs. Raccoon comforts Chester, and reminds him that, sometimes in life, “we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”


Mrs. Raccoon then tells Chester a secret that has been passed down the generations of their family. The secret is called the kissing hand. When Mrs. Raccoon kisses Chester’s palm, he feels the warmth of her love spread throughout his body. Mrs. Raccoon tells Chester that whenever he feels lonely or afraid, all he needs to do is press his palm to his cheek to remember that his mother loves him.


In a touching moment that makes this book a parent favorite as well as a child favorite, Chester asks his mom for her hand right before he runs off to school. He kisses her hand so that she has a kissing hand too, and can remember his love for her when he is away.


The last page of the book features a simple illustration of the kissing hand. In this illustration, the raccoon’s hand is making the sign for “I love you” in American Sign Language.

Strangely enough, this book is based on a true story. When Aubrey Penn was travelling through Wheaton, Maryland on a train, she saw a mother raccoon touch its nose to a baby raccoon’s paw and then watched the baby raccoon touch its paw to its face. Penn asked a park ranger about the exchange, and he explained that mother raccoons transfer their scent to their babies to comfort them. Combined with the illustrations of Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak, Penn transformed this natural ritual into a charming children’s book.


Because of its touching message and warm illustrations, I believe that The Kissing Hand will continue to ease the nerves of students for years to come.


Rebecca Baldwin

Winners Wednesdays: Charlie & Mouse


The book I chose to look at for this Winners Wednesday is Charlie & Mouse written by Lauren Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Charlie & Mouse is an early chapter book with four chapter, Lumps, The Party, Rocks, and Bedtime Banana.

The first chapter, Lumps, is about first how Charlie’s brother Mouse is a lump beside him in their shared bed because he is half asleep. Charlie then gets Mouse excited to wake up because he tells them that they are going to a party. Mouse and Charlie then go to their parents’ room where they fine that the two of them are lumps. Mouse and Charlie then proceed to wake their parents up.

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The second chapter, The Party, is about how Charlie and mouse have decided that there will be a neighborhood party that day. On the way to the party they see their friends playing outside and invite them to join. When they all end up at the empty park together they make their own party.

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The third chapter, Rocks, is about how Charlie and Mouse decide that in order to make some money they are going to sell what they have at their disposal, rocks! They go around to some of their neighbors but instead of paying for their rocks, the neighbors offer to pay for Charlie and Mouse to clear the rocks from their house instead! The boys end up spending all of their money on ice cream and bring home a lot more rocks then they left with.

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The fourth chapter, Bedtime Banana, is about Charlie and Mouse’s bedtime routine. First they want a bedtime story, then they want a bedtime song, and finally they ask for a bedtime banana. Their mother obliges and the boys then re-brush their teeth and decide that the next night they are going to ask for a bedtime popsicle instead.

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This book was the 2018 Medal Winner of The Geisel Award. This award was named after Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, and is “recognizes the author(s) and illustrator(s) of a book for beginning readers who, through their literary and artistic achievements, demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading” according to the Association for Library Service to Children.


This award was noted for its sense of inclusion in both the story and in the different characters featured throughout the story. Charlie and Mouse’s friends are all of ethnicities and they all have their own distinct style in going to the party. The neighbors featured in the book also include an older lady who appears to live on her own and two men who live in a house together. The book doesn’t focus on any of these differences but they are just accepted as part of the world of Charlie and Mouse. The inclusion is also shown in the fact that all four stories in the book are very relatable to all children regardless of their background. All children have either dealt with someone who doesn’t want to get up and chooses to be a lump or have been that lump themselves. All children have wanted to be creative and just have fun playing with friends. All children have wanted money for some reason and have taken different steps to get to their goal. There are also definitely many children who have then spent their earnings quickly only to end up with no more money at the end of the day. All children also have some type of bedtime routine and it is fun to see Charlie and Mouse be creative with theirs.

Overall, this is a great early chapter book to have for all children because it is relatable and shows a version of the world that agrees more with how the world actually is today in terms of diversity. The illustrations work with the text to create an invitation in Charlie and Mouse’s fun and creative world.


Trendy Tuesday: Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years


new doc 2018-03-11 17.53.56_1I’ve noticed as I begin to enter the teaching world and really examining children’s literature, that there is both a greater variety and more educational picture books than what I was exposed to. From my own childhood, the only educational picture books (and I’m not even sure they would classify) were the The World Encyclopedias series and National Geographic Kids books. These were very factual, and I loved reading them on specific topics such as dogs or the Olympics, but those mostly tailored only to higher reading levels and may not hook children who are not frequenters of non-fiction. Not only have I noticed this trend, but I have recently encountered many picture books that personify objects, such as Love, Triangle by Marcie Colleen and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. The book Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years encompasses these two trends, using a personified object, The Earth, to tell its own biography, while encompassing a new style of nonfiction writing.

This personified biography about The Earth was written by Stacy McAnulty and is illustrated by David Litchfield. The duo creates a memorable story of Earth’s history, including vibrant illustrations and factual information woven into a story. I can see both young children and older children alike enjoying this book both to learn from it as well as to enjoy the portrayal of the planets through the beautiful and fun illustrations.

The story unfolds as The Earth explains its life from its birth to present day. The Earth introduces itself, its aliases, and its family, which not only includes our solar system, but the billions of other planets in the universe.

A variety space topics are introduced in this story including the Earth’s rotation, the Earth’s revolution around the Sun, and the moon’s revolution around the Earth, the birth of a planet, formation of islands and continents, the history of life on Earth, changes in Earth’s climate, the (find word for mantle, crust, inner core) of a planet, and even the introduction of human life on Earth.

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A nifty timeline of Earth’s history is even included!

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One of the greatest aspects of this book is that the Earth notes both the good and the bad of humans habiting Earth. The Earth says “No other species has ever been interested in learning about me.” But on the next page, addresses…

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The fact that the authors chose to highlight the current damage and treatment of the Earth is crucial. For changes to be made in sustainability and if we expect to live on Earth for the rest of time, we, as a human race, have to remember to treat Earth well. Specifically, the personification of Earth and the phrases used, “share,” “play,” and “clean up after themselves,” are all phrases used with children that they understand. By explaining real world problem in language that children are used to using and hearing, they can understand the mistreatment of the planet and how they can help, by practicing principles they use in everyday life.

The Earth ultimately states that despite the harm humans cause, it hopes that humans will amount to greatness.

McAnulty includes more information on the continents, location, and life of Earth in the back of the book, which can be accessed independently by older readers. Overall, the story and information in this book is presented well and can be enjoyed, and can teach readers of all ages!

-Annie Leck

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Sail Away Dragon


The picture book that I have chosen for Marvelous Monday is Sail Away Dragon written by Barbara Joosee and illustrated by Randy Cecil.

This fun, “light and breezy” tale is about a girl and her friend dragon who share the same dream: to travel to the “far-est Far Away “. They both seem a little tired of the sameness of home, the girl in her very same castle where “she forever slept in the same little bed” and dragon in his very same dragon lair where “every night was the same as the rest”. One day Girl and Dragon decided it’s time to sail away! They pack a bag full of sweets and treats and head off into the ocean with Dragon as the ship and Girl as the crew.


On their journey to the farthest Far Away, Girl and Dragon see many fun sights including dolphins, and whales, and “Bad Hats” Vikings with a cat who abandons ship! One year and one day later, they finally find the Farthest Far Away and there was nothing they couldn’t do! They ate gumdrops and danced around, blew a horn and wrote a message in a bottle. But, that night when Dragon and Girl laid down to sleep, they again shared a dream. As fun as being in the farthest Far Away was, they both dreamed of home.


Sail Away Dragon is actually the third book with Girl and Dragon written and illustrated by the same team.


IMG_2077I really love how fun and silly Barbara Joosse’s story was. Using funny word that younger kids might use in everyday speech to make the rhymes of this book fun to read, but it also made the reader slow down and appreciate the words on the page. You would think you might know what words were coming next based on the rhyme pattern, and then she would completely surprise you with a word that didn’t seem like it belonged, but actually brought the words together in a new way! Randy Cecil’s use of oil paints and line drawings along with the muted colors work extremely well in the book to create the distinctive, fanciful world Girl and Dragon get to explore. His use of gentle blues, greens, and grays allow for seamless transitions between land and sea, giving the reader more space to focus on the fun distractions the friend pair spots on their journey (the cat and the owl in the boat singing to the moon for example).



Cecil’s hazy illustrations also allow for some racial ambiguity in the main character. The princess cannot truly be narrowed down to one racial identity, allowing for more readers to be able to self-identity with the main character and picture themselves sailing across the ocean with their dragon buddy. This book is a really fun story with almost poetic, spell-like lines that cast a sense of contentment and protection over the reader as they get ready for one last adventure before bed. Any imaginative readers picking up this story will be comforted by the fact that no matter how far we travel, there’s nothing quite like the comfort of coming home to someone you love.

posted by Haley 


Free Friday: The Invisible Boy


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A heartwarming book about kindness. The Invisible Boy follows the story of Brian, a quiet young boy who goes unnoticed by his teacher and his classmates until a new student arrives. The illustrator implements blurred brushstrokes, resembling sketches, reminiscent of Brian’s artistic abilities within the story. While the overall illustrations are bright and colorful, to emphasize Brian’s invisibility, the illustrator chose to leave him in black and white, emphasizing the contrast between him and the other characters. He truly does get lost in some of the pages, much like he gets overlooked by those around him.

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Then, enter Justin. Justin is the new student. After Justin is made fun of at lunch time, Brian reaches out to Justin, extending some kindness because he knows how it feels to be ignored. He can’t imagine if it’s worse to be ignored or laughed at by the other classmates. After showing this compassion towards Justin a friendship begins to unfold and the boy who was once invisible is invisible no longer. With Justin’s reciprocated kindness, Brian begins to be included in group projects and doesn’t have to sit alone, unnoticed, at lunch. To reflect Brian’s development throughout the story, he progressively gains more and more color truly changing him from invisible to a bright, colorful boy, recognized for the awesome kid he is.

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Other elements of the story work to further push the importance of this development. The front endpaper is dominated by white space with Brian positioned in the corner, bland in color and drawing with his chalk alone. However, by the back endpaper, Brian and the page itself is full of color. In the scene Brian has drawn pictures for his classmates and there is so much more joy expressed in the illustration, emphasizing the evolution of the story. 

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One of my favorite parts of the book, though, is the inclusion of discussion questions found at the end. The questions address key points in the story and relates it to the children reading the story. This makes The Invisible Boy the perfect material for teachers, counselors, and parents to open up a conversation. This story is important because there ARE students who tend to be more quiet and less outspoken, which leads to difficulty making friends and a sense of loneliness or misplacement. Reading this story and opening a discussion can make readers feel more normal and work towards reaching out to others. It can also inspire children to reach out to those less spoken and create new friendships with those you never would have imagined. Together, it helps to foster a community which is such an important element inside and outside the classroom. 

-Maddi Bernards

Traditional Thursdays: Classic Books on the Big Screen


       I love reading. It was a big element in my home. My parents read to us. My older sister read to me. I read to my younger sisters. It was family practice to read and share stories with each other. I feel like this was the basis for our other big family hobby which is watching movies. We absolutely love to watch movies, any and all kinds. If someone were to ask me why I like them so much, I would probably say it’s because of the stories they tell. It’s like watching imagination come to life. Galactic empires, underwater kingdoms, talking animals, whole worlds are created and invite the viewer into them. Watching a movie, for me at least, is like watching a book come to life. It gives me as much enjoyment as reading a book and a sort of shared imagination with the others who see it.

       There is a big trend of making movies based on books. Some don’t do the books justice. Others depict everything you thought that fictive world would be and then some. As I was making a mental list of books made into movies, I stated to wonder which I preferred. For those movies that capture a book’s essence so well, did it make me like the book more? Less? Then I started thinking about what I learned in class about the importance of a child’s engagement and enthusiasm with books. A question formed of how useful can these movies based on books be in promoting reading. Would viewing and reading them together take away or add to the experience? I have no set answer for this question, but I did pick two traditional children’s books with movie counterparts as starting points for that conversation.

          The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf tells the tale of a bull more interested in smelling flowers than fighting with other bulls. Due to a bee sting, Ferdinand exhibits a rare display of ferocity and is selected in be in a bullfight. Despite a crowd expecting a grand show, Ferdinand’s unwillingness to fight and gentle nature prevail and he is sent back home to live in peace smelling the flowers. Ferdinand the movie just came out in theaters past winter. Ferdinand’s character was not much different; he still had no proclivity for fighting and a penchant for smelling flowers, but he was given more back story. Also, his world was greatly expanded and a variety of other characters were added. Some things, like the fact that bulls selected for the bullfights were killed, were more obvious than in the book. However, the central message of a bull just being who he is, even if it’s different from everyone else is still there.

        Going back to the question, will watching this movie inspire kids to read the book? Could it be used as link between parents and their children? Adults who take their children to see the film might want to share with their own experience with Ferdinand (this most likely having been reading the book). Comparing the two could be an exercise in critiquing, an opportunity for a child to form and express her/his opinion. The movie also just brings the book to life, from black and white to vibrancy of color. Even that could be worth discussing with kids. A chance to ask them if different tones and shades of color affect the feeling of a book.

        How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss has a pretty self-explanatory title. The Grinch whose heart is to small hates Christmas and decides to steal it so the Who’s can’t celebrate. It is a classic story and very popular during the winter season. The movie stuck to the basic plot elements of the book, but as before a large world with more characters and backstories was created. I would be a little hesitant to use this film as a companion to the book. As many children’s movies are, it is riddled with adult humor in efforts to engage older viewers. Most would go unnoticed by a child, but I feel that aspect of the film would detract from the memorable simplicity of the book.

There are still some parts that can be useful though. Color again can come into play. So much color and detail went into Whoville that a lot time could be spent just noticing what is there. Or you could ask how it compares to what they imagined.  Even the Grinch himself is worth discuss. When and why did he become green?  Also, there is, of course, the fun of motion. To actually get to see the Grinch scurrying away with a Christmas tree is comical and also brings that part of the book into reality. You can actually see the book moving.


I still don’t know how I feel about the relationship between books and movies. I love both forms of entertainment, but I would never want movies to replace reading. Reading is important. But there is still some things that can be gained from introducing the movie format. A kid I was reading with got really excited about the book he was reading. It wasn’t a great book, but he was so hyped to read it because it was about superheroes from a show he watched. I think there is room for movies to be companions to books, but importance and joy of reading should never fall by the wayside.

Raquel Molina