Monthly Archives: April 2019

Winner Wednesday: A Ball for Daisy


I recently read A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, and even brought it in for one of my practicum experiences at the children’s hospital, which was very interesting to see the reactions of the children.

I found it interesting that another wordless picture book could have such a profound impact on me. I was very suspicious of wordless picture books before taking this class, but since reading more this semester, I have grown more of a fondness for them. In my experience of reading them, as well as reading them to children, I think it allows for a lot more creativity on the reader’s side, as they can develop their own story without an explanation on every page. Raschka himself said that he felt as though if he added words it would take away from the illustrations because it would simply just be a description of exactly what had been drawn out, which he deemed unnecessary. I certainly believe that there are a lot of books that fit into this realm, and could certainly be wordless had the author chosen to do so. 

This is likely why this book distinguished with the Caldecott Award in 2012, as it is a very detailed book that conveys Daisy’s emotions without using any words. I really enjoyed the vibrancy and brightness of the pictures, which adds a youthful undertone and makes it more attractive for younger ages. It certainly attracts individuals who are dog or animal lovers and is incredibly relatable to me, and I’m sure many other dog owners.


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With all of the books that I have been reading, I have actually become more partial to wordless picture books, as I feel they can say more than those with words. The story was so well told with the images that there were no words necessary. As well, similar to the other wordless picture books, the lack of text opens the story up for some interpretation, which I have grown very fond of, as it allows children to use their imagination and creativity and create, to some degree, a story of their own.


The book is very heartwarming following Daisy’s sadness for her lost ball, but when she gets a new ball, the reader is able to truly feel Daisy’s happiness. Raschka is able to create illustrations that clearly distinguish Daisy’s emotions–be it sadness, nervousness, or happiness–which is an incredibly difficult thing to master, especially with an animal.



-Julia Ham

Free Friday: Animals with Insecurities


Again, I know it’s not Friday, but alas, my blogs haven’t been posting.


When I came into Vanderbilt, I came in with the intention of double majoring in elementary education and psychology, as I believed that combination would make me more valuable as a teacher. At some point, I may pursue an advanced degree in psychology to help better understand how psychology can be applied to education. In my career, I’d like to explore what early intervention or screening for mental health issues could look like in the public school system. While I don’t think requiring all teachers to be psychologists is the answer, I think that teaching the importance of social-emotional learning should be a critical part of a child’s educational experience. While academic learning is important, there needs to be a focus on mental health in order to further academic success as well as provide tools for trauma-affected individuals. In my own experience coming into middle school and high school, I was entirely unprepared for dealing with my emotional and mental well-being, and struggled a lot with the trauma I faced in my younger years. I hope to combat some of these consequences for pre-adolescents, so that they aren’t forced to face the same issues that I did in a period of such difficult transition. 

While my goal of double majoring in education and psychology has since changed, I still believe that books like Animals with Insecurities by Nathan Catlin, can be utilized both within and outside of the classroom. I would certainly use this book in my own office as a licensed psychologist. If this class has given me one thing, its an exposure to books that address mental health issues.

The book goes through a series of animals, who all have various insecurities that very distinctly make that animal what it is. For example, the elephant hates his large ears and the hippo complains about how large he is.


While the reader can clearly tell that these traits are what make these individual animals so great, the animals themselves cannot see why they are so amazing. This could very well be relatable to many children, especially those with low self-esteem. Especially since the animals eventually come to terms with their unique traits and abilities, it is a great lesson to children to embrace what makes them special. For example, the elephant realizes that his large ears release heat, which keeps him cool on warm days. The hippo makes a similar realization that his blubber keeps him warm so that he can swim all day.


The book prompts these animals to their eventual acceptance of themselves, and could be an amazing tool to use in a classroom or therapy situation.



I recommended this book to my older sister to read to her Kindergarten class, and she has since ordered it on Amazon and added it to her personal classroom library.


-Julia Ham

Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: Crab Cake


I realize it’s not Monday, but I’m not entirely sure why my Neely’s News haven’t been posting, but I just realized that now! All mine are going to be posted really close together I guess.

I discovered this book thanks to Emily Bean during a blog discussion. Immediately after class, I went on Amazon and order Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi because I was so intrigued by the topic, but especially by the astounding illustrations. I was super excited when it arrived, after having pre-ordered it before its release in February, because I could tell immediately that it would be in my future library and I would share it with my own children–be it in a classroom or therapy situation.

I was instantly drawn into this book just by seeing the cover. When Emily showed us some of the illustrations, I was in complete awe of the amount of pure detail that Tsurumi included on every single one of the pages. It is astounding how much work she was able to put in to create this very realistic underwater world. I have always been very partial to any story that takes place under the sea, but these illustrations really sold the book for me. While the writing is interesting, it is truly the illustrations that tell the story that the book hopes to get across. Everything is in such detail and truly looks as though an underwater scene one might come across while scuba-diving or snorkeling perhaps.


The stark contrast from the bright, luminous pictures at the beginning, to the all-of-a-sudden dark, gloomy illustrations when the trash is dumped into the ocean brings great attention to the seriousness of the situation and forces the reader to pay attention to what is happening.


The book is able to address a huge conflict that the world is currently facing right now with poise and humor. Without sounding accusatory or lecture-like, Andrea Tsurumi is able to introduce the idea of pollution and habitat loss in a way that children can easily understand. Throughout the effects of pollution, Tsurumi creates an underwater community that is supposed to represent the community that we as a whole society need to create in order to make any changing impact on the environment. Tsurumi seemingly hopes to warn individuals of the dangers of ocean pollution while trying to hint at the fact that we need to work as a community to change the effects that we have all put into action. Rather than forcing an environmental-conservation agenda, which can seem overwhelming, the book introduces the idea of conservation more light-heartedly, but still impactfully, which people will be more responsive to.

 There is nothing particularly special about the writing, which in turn, makes the writing somewhat special, because it is so unique from other books. The book is merely trying to get across a message about the effects of pollution on marine life. Rather than trying to sugar-coat the scenario, or make it fancy in any way, Tsurumi very directly and explicitly tells the situation the way that it is in real life. I think it is important that such a complicated subject be simplified for young ages, as it is something that should be implemented very early on in education to have a bigger impact on the individuals that affect the ocean.


Overall, I would recommend this for pretty much any age, as it is incredibly versatile in its message, and is easy to read.


-Julia Ham


Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: A New Home


Tania de Regil’s newest picture book for young children, A New Home, is unique in the sense that the exact same story has also been published in Spanish, Un Nuevo Hogar.

A New Home 1A New Home 2

This book tells the story of two young children, who have to move away from their current home, to a new city, New York City, and Mexico City. The story describes the aspects and experiences of the children’s current city that they will miss such as cheering on their home sports team, or nights out to a concert or show in the city.

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The story is told as if one child is speaking, but through the illustrations you can see the lives and story being relevant to both children as both New York City and Mexico City is portrayed. Through the text, the reader understands the comfort and loyalty each child has to their home city, and through the illustrations you understand the different cultures of each city and how they’ve affected the child in different ways.

This story is a perfect one for parents to read to their children who might be moving, as a way for the child to understand that other children go through a similar experience, and it is okay to miss what you have grown to love, but that there are also similar experiences and opportunities in your new city!

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The informational page about New York City and Mexico City in the back of the book provides a great resource for teachers who might be doing a lesson on different cultures or aspects of different cities that might be similar and different. The informational page provides explanations and descriptions of some of the scenes talked about in the story, which makes the book even that much more meaningful to learn about someone else’s culture and why it is so special to them.

-Sarah Ockenhouse

Winner Wednesday: Planetarium


In schools, it is quite common to distinguish between disciplines. For example, students have a math block which is separate from their reading block which is then separate from the science block, and on. When deciding which text to use during a lesson, educators make decisions about what text is appropriate for which students. Specifically looking at the English Language Learner population, often times these decisions result in choosing texts that limit student engagement and talk down to them. The book Planetarium written by Raman Prinja and illustrated by Chris Wormell, is a text that many would not consider to be useful to read with early to young readers.

This book is large in size, and is designed to be a portable museum that individuals can carry with them. The text of the content uses challenging and advanced vocabulary, which is why many would not use it for a mentor text with young readers. I agree that the text, introduced without the proper scaffolds, may present difficulties when young readers engage with it.

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However, the illustrations of this book are where the strengths of it lie. As many in the education field argue, such as Lambert, the text of a book only composes a part of the reading experience. Other parts of the book such as illustrations, covers, end pages, and color schemes all contribute to the reading experience, and that is how Planetarium can be used as a text to engage young readers with concepts such as space and science, with artistic expressions, and reading literacy.

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For example, with the illustration above of the entire universe, the teacher could stimulate conversations regarding what students are seeing. Potential topics for discussion can include: size, relativity, colors, detail, shape, space, and any other interpretation the reader may see.

An example of a young reader engaging with this text can be seen below.

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This young reader has interpreted the images and expressed in writing what attracts his attention the most, and what specifically about them he likes. Children’s imagination will create the stories we want them to tell, all educators have to do is provide them with the opportunities. The young reader, whose writing is represented above, has made connections between these images of space and the universe with art and color. This is demonstrative of children’s sense making abilities, as they strive to connect and use what they know when approaching something unfamiliar.

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Overall, Planetarium is a great text which can introduce young readers to concepts in science such as space and relativity. The size of the book, which is very large, engages the reader as they get a sense of immersion into the text and images. The illustrations are exquisitely detailed, which entrance and captivate the readers’ attention. Much discussion can be drawn out from this text, all that is needed now is to give the children the opportunity to engage with these complex texts.


Maria Aguilera

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: When Sadness Is At Your Door


Cover of book

In this new picture book by Dutch author, Eva Eland, the topic of conversation is around sadness and the emotion that everyone feels, but one that children often don’t understand or know how to control. The author sets up this idea of sadness as a physical object in this book, as something that can just come out of nowhere and follow you around. The author does a really good job of normalizing sadness so that children reading this book will realize that they are not alone in their emotions or this thing, sadness, that might haunt over them at times.

The author then incorporates coping strategies for how to deal with your sadness, giving young children ideas and solutions to how they are feeling and letting them know that they don’t just have to sit with the sad feeling.

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This children’s book is not only relatable but informative for children. When children read this book they see that they are not alone and that others experience similar feelings. Children also though can learn from this book, about ways to help themselves or help their friends who might be feeling sad. This book would be a great tool for school counselors teaching a lesson on emotions, or helping a student who is having trouble controlling or handling their emotions.

The illustrator’s depiction of sadness shows how the feeling can loom over you, and sometimes never leave you.

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This is an important and powerful book to have in any classroom library and a good resource for all teachers or counselors!


-Sarah Ockenhouse