Category Archives: classic

Winner Wednesdays: Make Way for Ducklings

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Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, was the recipient of the 1942 Caldecott Medal, and is still praised to this day for its detailed charcoal illustrations, effective pacing, and deviation from standard gender norms at the time of publication. Despite being published nearly 80 years ago, McCloskey’s merry tale has withstood the test of time, making this book a fitting story for Winner Wednesday.

Make Way for Ducklings follows Mr. and Mrs. Mallard as they scour the greater Boston area looking for a suitable home to raise their duckling flock. After a series of trials and errors in finding the perfect place to live, the Mallards settle on a quiet and safe island situated in the middle of the Charles River in downtown Boston.

Shortly after the ducklings hatch, Mr. Mallard decides to set off on a trip down river to explore the surrounding area. Mrs. Mallard agrees to meet Mr. Mallard in the pond in Boston’s Public Garden at the end of the week, and in the meantime, she teaches her ducklings to swim, dive, walk in a line, and avoid the perils of the bustling urban metropolis in which they call home. At the week’s end, Mrs. Mallard, with her line of eight ducklings in tow, leave the comfort of their quaint island home and fearlessly begin their trek through downtown Boston, heading towards Public Garden.

With the help of the city’s policemen stopping traffic, Mrs. Mallard marches her flock of ducklings across the city, much to the amazement and delight of the Boston residents, all the way to Public Garden. The Mallard family is reunited with Mr. Mallard, who they find waiting on the island in the pond, just as he had promised.

One of the most captivating features of this book is the attention to detail in McCloskey’s charcoal illustrations. Not only does McCloskey depict the Mallards in a realistic way, but he also captures Boston’s architecture and the city’s residents in a way that truly captures the essence of the time; we see examples of 1940s automobiles and clothing throughout. The illustrations today feel like a time hop back to a different world, showing the readers the vibrant city of Boston in an antiquated light. The book’s black and white color scheme reinforces the story’s historical setting.

The pacing used in Make Way for Ducklings is also noteworthy. McCloskey’s use of single sentences per page leave readers turning to the next page quickly, which reinforces the idea of movement throughout this book. We feel as though we are following along with Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings in real time as they strut down the sidewalk.

Additionally, Mrs. Mallard quickly distinguishes herself as a leader in the story, which shatters the gender stereotypes that dominated the 40s; she has the final say in deciding where the family will live, she singlehandedly raises her eight ducklings in Mr. Mallard’s absence, and she leads her line of ducklings fearlessly across the city by herself. She emerges as an example of a strong female character and a symbol of decisiveness and bravery amidst a world of metropolitan chaos.

With its setting in the 1940s, this book could be an effective tool for teachers to use to compare the past and present. Throughout the book, it is apparent in the way buildings, cars, and clothing are depicted that this is not a story set in present-day. While reading this story, teachers could have students observe the illustrations and notice similarities and differences between the way things look in the book, and the way things look now. Teachers could ask students to infer, based on the illustrations, when they think this book was written, and how they can tell. Once established that this book was written decades ago, teachers could even have students create their own illustrations, set in present-day, to go along with the story’s timeless words.

This story is an enduring classic that delights readers with its simple premise, and captivates the audience with intricate illustrations. The readers follow Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s journey as they try to find the perfect community to raise their family, but Make Way for Ducklings serves as a reminder that our communities are what we make of them, and sometimes our communities can surprise us in the very best of ways.

Traditional Thursday – Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

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Frog And Toad Are Friends coverLooking at this classic book’s cover can almost transport me back to my elementary school library. Frog and Toad Are Friends is the first book of four beloved books written by Arnold Lobel that detailed the adventures of two very good friends, Frog and Toad. I had not read these books, again, since I was a child, but as I was reading this one for this review, I found it just as amusing as I always had. Lobel is able to write stories that are clever and funny, while also being a heartfelt representation of friendship and love.  

One of my favorite moments is when Frog and Toad decide to go swimming. Toad does not want to come out of the water because he thinks he looks funny in his bathing suit. Unfortunately, others keep arriving because they heard Toad looks funny in his bathing suit. Eventually, he has to come out and all the other animals laugh at him including Frog. Admittedly, this is not very nice of everyone. If I were reading this with children, I would want to have a discussion about this kind of behavior. But on the next page, Toad asks Frog what he is laughing about. Frog tells him, “I am laughing at you, Toad, because you do look funny in your bathing suit.” And Toad just responds, “Of course I do.” I think this highlights a very realistic part of friendship, where you can laugh at each other in silly situations out of good nature. It shows that Frog and Toad really are close friends. And if you look at the image, he does look quite funny in his bathing suit. 

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The structure of these books is also interesting because it resembles a chapter book where the text is the primary feature. The pictures just seem to be inserted in the story. Despite this, the pictures are incredibly important to the story, as you could see in the story about the bathing suit. His illustrations convey Frog and Toad’s emotions and their bond really well. 

Lobel also uses different techniques for the pictures, which can be seen on this page. 

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Some images have a very clear border like this picture on the left, and others seem to blend into the page. It has this effect of making the reader feel like an outsider looking in sometimes and other times feel immersed in the story. This seems to convey that, as readers, we are outsiders looking at Frog and Toad’s friendship and the bond they share, which is only between the two of them. But we can also share in some of the emotions they feel because we can relate that to our own friendships. 

The book ends on a very positive note of friendship and leaves a very warm feeling that captures the essence of these books. Frog and Toad are just two friends, sitting there, feeling happy together.  

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Karima Raharjo

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies

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     The 1985 classic If You Give A Mouse A Cookie stole the hearts of readers the world over with its cheerful illustrations and simple and memorable circle story. If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, the fifth book in the “If You Give” series, is also a circle story. This means that its plot creates a cycle where the first line is the same as the final line, implying that the tale will begin again with a loop of the same actions. In this story, the circular line is again the title phrase. It follows the same young boy buying movie theater popcorn for the same tiny mouse, where they find a popcorn string kit and eventually perform all sorts of holiday activities. These include building snowmen, singing carols, and decorating a Christmas tree.
New Doc 2017-10-20_8     While the simple story line helps children understand that a book’s plot is fluid and connected, the illustrations are an equal factor in helping the book shine. Drawn in the same crisp, thinly outlined cartoon style of the classic original, but with more deep blues and greens and hints of red, this is clearly a wintry tale. There are still wide expanses of white instead of detailed backgrounds, as there were in the original, which draw the reader’s attention to the two main characters. It is interesting that the mouse, much smaller than the boy, has more detail in his representation, with intricately shaded ears, a detailed mouth, and the teeniest pink nose. His companion has only a few lines representing his entire face, which often leads to a profile shot of a nose a single dot for an eye. In this way, the mouse is almost more personified than the little boy, making him the focus of the story.

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     Part of the magic of the original book lies in seeing the experiences of everyday life from the perspective of the mouse. Witnessing the unique way he must interact with his environment: tiny jelly-bean sized snowballs, for instance, or singing into the boombox microphone that is almost his height, are amusing and warm. New Doc 2017-10-20_3new-doc-2017-10-20_4.jpg     When reading this book to a preschooler this week, we both stopped in awe of one particular page. The little boy shared a sweet little smile as he said, “That mouse sure looks comfy!” The warm light cascading on the pristine blanket that envelops the little mouse makes the scene look heavenly.

New Doc 2017-10-20_5     There are an abundance of small details in addition the the gorgeous whole illustrations that are just as eye-catching and enthralling. The mouse’s hat with ears, the glitter on the young boy’s nose after the whirlwind ornament-making, and the minuscule snowballs stuck to the boy’s back after the snowball fort fight are a perfect opportunity to ask children to make inferences about purpose and cause-and-effect relationships.

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   This book offers a twist on a classic, and successfully fulfills this promise by providing the same comforting patterns with an added holiday glow.

 

Trendy Tuesday: If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

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It’s hard not to be cliché on Trendy Tuesday, but I couldn’t resist reviewing this classic picture book. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie is the first book of Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… series and was illustrated by Felicia Bond. The storyline (if by chance you’ve never read it or have forgotten over the years) is circular, where the mouse asks his owner for a cookie, then wants a glass of milk to go with it. Then he wants a mirror to check if he has a milk mustache, and the domino effect continues until he decides he wants another cookie.

The illustrations in this book are vibrant and full of color. They are done in colored pencil. There is also a lot of white space, which makes the illustrations smaller on the page and less distracting. Bond uses interesting perspectives in some of her drawings that exaggerate some parts of the story. You can see in this illustration the bright colors of the grass and the boy’s jeans, and then the depth used to show the sidewalk up to the house.
img_0416Some of the written text will end like a cliffhanger. This is a fun characteristic of the book because it leads the reader or listener to the next page in anticipation. It also makes the book a little more unpredictable, because some continuations of text are just small additions that tack a funny ending to the sentence.img_0417

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This book is very fun to read with children and not difficult to follow. It is definitely still a trendy tale, even if it was released over 30 years ago. I would read this story to any age level and there are so many fun classroom or at home activities that can be created from this book. There is even a board game on the back cover of the Special Edition that I looked at! If that’s not the cutest thing ever, I don’t know what is.

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Post by: Jenna Adamczak

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

Winner Wednesdays: Arrow to the Sun

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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

 

 

 

 

Traditional Thursdays: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

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I have always loved Louis Sachar’s zany book – ever since it first crossed my school desk circa the fourth grade. Seeing the play interpretation at our local children’s theatre in a later field trip was a delight, and reading it years later to my dormmates as a college kid was like revisiting one of my funniest old friends.

What makes this story so timeless? Sachar’s ’78 classic is a crazy kooky and sidewayscoverfun read that brings in the ridiculous and unbelievable and makes it perfectly normal.

A teacher who thinks her students are so cute they must be monkeys?

Ice cream that tastes like your personality, but you can’t taste it?

Dead rats sneaking into school?

A boy who just can’t stop kicking things?

Just a normal day in a school that was accidentally built 30 stories high (without a 19th)!

Sideways Stories is a chapter book that collects 30 stories, each one starring a different member of the Wayside School community. Each chapter is about four pages long, and has a different tone, determined by the character.sidewayspaul

Some are driven by narration, some by action, some by descriptions – something for every type of reader. Paul, for example, engages in intense debate with Leslie’s pigtails over whether or not he should pull them. Sharie, on the other hand, is asleep her entire chapter.

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What I most like about this story is its snappy wit. The children all have their youthful good-natured (and sometimes self-serving) naïveté, but so do the adults. And everyone states the obvious…except the obvious just happens to also be hopelessly silly. I would highly recommend this as a read aloud or a silent chuckle-aloud!

 

By: Julia McCorvey

Traditional Thursdays- A House for Hermit Crab

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When discussing great children’s literature, Eric Carle is certainly an author who comes to mind.

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While everybody has read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, there are so many other amazing Eric Carle books out there! I picked Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab for today’s “Traditional Thursday” because it was one of my favorite books growing up. A House for Hermit Crab is a classic example of how Carle is able to use his distinct, bright collage-style illustrations to entertain children while also educating them.

The story starts with a hermit crab who has outgrown his shell and needs a new one. He finds a shell but thinks it’s too plain. He plans to try to spruce it up a bit to make it feel more like a home.

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The next month he stumbles upon some beautiful sea anemone and asks if one of them would like to live on his shell. A sea anemone agrees to and he gently picks it up and places it on his shell. This pattern of interaction repeats every month throughout the year with other sea creatures including sea urchins, coral, lantern fish, star fish, snails, and pebbles until his shell is full and beautiful.

However, by November he realizes that he has grown throughout the year and his house is now getting too small for him again! The sea creatures on his shell have become like family to him and he doesn’t want to leave them. He then meets a smaller hermit crab who says he would love to live in and take care of hermit crab’s shell. Hermit crab agrees to give his home to him and finds a larger, plain shell for himself that he plans to decorate all over again.

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I think A House for Hermit Crab is a wonderful book to read to early elementary school students, especially when they’re going through some sort of major change. Hermit crab shows children that change can be a positive thing and you can do your best to make the most of the necessary changes in your life. Hermit crab also demonstrates that when you are kind to others, they will help you out and you can create friendships for life.

Additionally, this book is a fantastic educational resource. The text includes lots of sea-life vocabulary words, including a glossary of terms at the end of the book. This book would fit wonderfully in a curriculum that includes learning about the ocean and aquatic animals and would help reinforce a lot of terminology. It is also useful for teaching kids about the sequencing of months and passage of time. The story unfolds throughout a full calendar year, and having a repetitive pattern every month makes the timeline easy to follow for children.

Although the color scheme of the illustrations can be kind of plain and boring, it just makes it that much more pronounced when color is added as the shell gets increasingly more decorated with each page.

Overall, I would say that A House for Hermit Crab is a wonderful picturenew doc 12_1 book that can be utilized for both entertainment and education in an elementary school classroom. The themes of accepting change and creating friendships are powerful sentiments that help make learning facts about sea life more accessible and engaging. In Eric Carle’s vast collection of children’s books, A House for Hermit Crab is a hidden gem that the children of today should definitely get a chance to read.

-Jenna Ravasio

Traditional Thursdays: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

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Some may not consider Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to be along the classic genre of children’s books. However, this was a book I grew up with and it is very endearing to me. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom was written by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. It was published in 1989 by Little Simon which is part of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Company.

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Children were unaware as they were reciting along with the book in its rhythmic cadence that they were actually learning the alphabet. As a child, I loved the competition of which letter would get to the top unaware that I was learning the alphabet.

The book is about a group of friends going on an adventure that ends up with them racing to the top. The reader experienced anticipation to never knowing which additional letters was eventually going to crash the tree. So again it drew on children’s imagination which lead to discussion with the reader and the child.

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The illustrator made the book bold and colorful while relating it to the reader by providing some human elements to the letters. For example, when they fall out of the coconut tree the letters had injuries like any other child might experience. So some of the letters ended up with injuries like “skinned-knee D and stubbed-toe E and patched-up F.”

An important lesson this book teaches is being inclusive. The reader sees throughout the book that no letter is ever left behind not even “tag-along K.”

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This book allows any child’s imagination to imagine the adventure always begins anew each day even if “A is out of bed.”

P.S.: For all of you teachers or aspiring teachers out there. There are some different lessons, crafts, activities on Pinterest that go along with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom if you want to use the book in your classroom.

-Kendall Shaw

Winner Wednesdays: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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Throwbacks usually happen on Thursday, but this Wednesday’s winner is an oldie but a goodie. This Wednesday, I’m talking about Mildred D. Taylor’s novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. 

Published in 1976 and winner of the 1977 Newbery Medal, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of the Logan family in 1933 Mississippi during the Great Depression. Unlike many of the other black families in this area during that time, the Logan family owns their own land. However, this ownership does not stop the family from being subjected to racial injustice.

Cassie, the narrator, protagonist and second oldest Logan child learns about racism in various manners, be it riding the bus to school or hearing about another lynching in the community. Papa, Cassie’s father, sets fire to his own land, hoping to distract the lynch mobs coming for T.J, a friend of Cassie’s oldest brother Stacey. Cassie awakes to see her black and white neighbors working together to fight the fire.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is an excellent book for older children. The book can be read individually or in a classroom settings. The text allows for conversations with parents and teachers about the historical Great Depression, discrimination in the South, family and friendship.

I loved this book; I was Cassie’s age when I got involved in the series and I enjoyed how much I could still relate to her and her family although we were separated by 70 years, and the amount I learned about history. Once you read it, you’ll fall in love with the Logan family, so Mildred Taylor has prequels and sequels to keep you involved! This Wednesday, throw back time with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. You’ll be surprised about how much you learn and can relate.

 

–Shae Earl