Category Archives: Grades K-2

Smooooooooth Jazz

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new-doc-2_3Take a trip back in time with Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Using a collection of original poems, writer Roxanne Orgill tells the stories of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk, Rex Stewart, and Maxine Sullivan who all gathered one day on  126th Street.

This story started with an idea—all the good ones do—and this idea was a spectacular one in its own right. As told in the book’s introduction, Art Kane, in 1958, decided to take a picture. But not just any picture mind you, but rather a picture containing as many American jazz musicians as possible. Not even owning a camera, Art Kane partnered with Esquire magazine to help make this photograph a good one.

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Armed with the Francis Vallejo’s tantalizing artwork, Orgill tosses us lightly onto those sun-bathed sidewalks, surrounded by laughter, chatter, and smiles. We are no longer viewing the book from 2016, because we are standing next to Rex Stewart as he passes a small cornet to a little boy named Leroy. We are standing next to a group of men wondering where Duke Ellington is at the moment. We are comforting a frantic photographer who is attempting, without prevail, to get everyone’s attention.

This is a great book to remind kids that history isn’t dead. Instead history is in the poetry found between the covers of a book, or in Vallejo’s exquisite illustrations, or in the smooth jazz that they might hear in an elevator, or even in a single photograph.

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Post by: Stephanie Thompson

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Trendy Tuesdays: Painting Pepette

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Painting Pepette, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Claire Fletcher, sends young readers on a fantasy-like journey through the streets of Paris in the 1920s. Set almost 100 years before its publication in 2016, the book breathes child-like wonder into art history, a topic generally reserved for more sophisticated readers.

Painting Pepette tells the story of a young girl named Josette, who lives in a quaint Parisian home with her family and her best friend, a stuffed rabbit named Pepette. Inspired by the magnificent family portraits framed in her home, Josette takes to the streets of Paris to find an artist willing to paint Pepette’s warm and genuine spirit.

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As the duo travels through Montmarte, they encounter an assortment of artists, each of whom paint Pepette in his own unique style. Adult readers familiar with the great artists of the Golden Age of art may recognize some familiar faces and styles: Dali paints Pepette with an aura of surrealism, while Matisse uses vivid colors to portray the beloved stuffed rabbit.

Josette feels that while each of the artists have painted wonderful works of art, none of them have truly captured Pepette. Empowered by each artist’s personal style, Josette herself paints a perfect portrait of Pepette.

Children will be immediately entranced by Fletcher’s dazzling illustrations, which capture the gentle yet bustling streets of Paris. The detail of the illustrations gives young readers a glimpse into a time and place unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

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Painting Pepette also provides an enchanting view into the often dull world of art history. Though the text does not mention specific artists by name, the book would be a perfect addition to a unit on famous artists, providing insights not just into the art, but into the place where the art was created.

Finally, Painting Pepette sends a positive and inspirational message about art itself. When Josette comments that the paintings do not look much like Pepette, one of the artists proclaims, “But through art we can see the world any way we want.” The appreciation of subjectivity sends an important message to young artists – that art is not about accuracy, but rather, about individual expression.painting4

Post by: Sami Chiang

All Hail The Water Princess!

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new doc 1_1Based on a true story comes the picture book The Water Princess by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Taking place in an African village, Reynolds’ illustrations cause us to feel the sand underneath our bare feet and the approaching sunrise whispering over the horizon. However, it is Verde who turns us into a Princess, or more specifically into Princess Gie Gie, a young girl who despite her wonderful array of powers—which includes taming wild dogs, dancing in the grass and playing hide-and-seek with the wind—cannot bring the murky, and faraway, water any closer to her village.

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And it is this combination of delicate prose and stunning artwork that we begin to feel Princess Gie Gie’s thirst. However, while I, the reader, can easily get up and grab some Dasani from my fridge, Princess Gie Gie and her Maman must wake up before sunrise to go and get water from a well.

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However, even after the journey to get the water ends, the relief is only short-lived as Princess Gie Gie is reminded that she must once again make the trip to the well in the morning. The heartfelt ending reminds me of how fortunate I am to live in a place where not only is most of my water clean but rather easily assessable as well. With the promise of “Someday . . .” Princess Gie Gie reinstates within us a fiery burning dedication to our homes, one so strong that no amount of my crystal clear Dasani will quench.   the water princess_4

Note: This book will be released September 13, 2016. We hope you read and enjoy it!

Post by: Stephanie Thompson

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: Chester’s Way

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“Chester had his own way of doing things…”  chesters_way

From the title and these open words of Kevin Henkes’ beloved book, Chester’s Way, one would not guess that this is actually a story about childhood friendship.  Instead, perhaps, the book could be more aptly named “Chester and Wilson‘s Way.”  

In this classic story, Chester and Wilson are inseparable best friends.  Henkes portrays their friendship through the many details one would expect characterizing a close friendship between young children-“two peas in a pod”-who have the same likes, dislikes, and habits, as they do everything together, through thick and thin.  Even if that means Chester has to risk growing a watermelon plant inside himself because his friend accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed first.  They are content to be exactly as they are, and are certain nothing could ever change. That is, until…  

 

 

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… the unexpected introduction of a new kid into their neighborhood.

What will happen when this new kid, Lilly, arrives on the scene?  She is a bit wild and unique, even somewhat intimidating to these two boys who find comfort in sticking to their familiar routines.  

Without giving away too much about the story, it can be said that Henkes is willing to break some stereotypes in this book, especially through Lilly’s character.  For those who are not already acquainted with Lilly through Henkes’ other books, she is definitely not your “typical” sweet little girl.  Rather, she has a variety of fun quirks and is simply full of surprises every step of the way.

“‘She’s something else,’ said Chester.  ‘Looks like it,’ said Wilson.”

To find out how her arrival in their neighborhood affects the boys, their friendship, and even the new girl herself in ways no one could have expected, enjoy this childhood classic today.

This book will prove accessible for a variety of young children, as it speaks to the common experiences of friendship and change in childhood.  Furthermore, it shows kids that making new friends- even when it can be challenging or require them to go outside their comfort zone- can be a delightful and tremendous adventure far beyond what they could have ever hoped for.

-Reviewed by Octavia White

Trendy Tuesdays: Searching for the Spirit of Spring

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Trendy Tuesdays: Searching for the Spirit of Spring

The need for multicultural books and books with female protagonists is rising exponentially as more minority and female children enter the educational system around the world. The book Searching for the Spirit of Spring, written by Mosa Mahlaba, illustrated by Selina Morulane, and designed by Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, is a story of a brave young girl named Nkanyezi who journeys to bring the spirit of spring back to her village in Swaziland. Nkanyezi’s favorite day of the year is the day that her entire village gathers together to celebrate the spring festival. The festival, which is meant to welcome in the spring season and to unite the community is filled with joy, laughter, music, and dance. When Nkanyezi overhears some of the village elders gossiping about how the villagers are not excited for the spring festival this year, she decides that she must act. “The people of Ndlovu have lost their spirit of celebration. How can we have a Spring festival in a village that has forgotten how to celebrate?” With the well wishes of her elders, she adventures off to search for items that can help replenish the spirit of celebration for her village and family. Nkanyezi crosses rivers, climbs mountains, and treks through forests as she journeys across Swaziland in search of this spirit.

 

While on her quest, Nkanyezi encounters people from other villages who offer her special items that will help her find the missing spirit. Through these encounters, she learns about happiness, generosity, and community, and how the three intertwine. Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 11.03.21 PM.png

One of the most fascinating elements of this book is how it was created. It was written and illustrated in June of 2015 in only twelve hours! The creators of this book are part of an organization called Book Dash (an organization that creates and gifts books to children). In June, Book Dash hosted an event with another organization called African Storybook (an organization that promotes multilingual literacy expansion) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together, they arranged teams of forty volunteer writers, illustrators, and designers, to create African story books that are then printed and distributed to children in need for free! This book is also unique in that it is posted for free public use and print . The wonderful people in this organization host book dashes every few months, with their ultimate goal being that “every child should own a hundred books by the age of five.”

This is a fabulous book about a courageous, motivated, and strong young girl who goes on an adventure to bring happiness to people that she loves. It’s a great story for children ages three to six, although children older can still benefit from its beautiful portrayal of selflessness and generosity. The illustrations are beautiful and accurately depict the village of Ndlovu (which is a real village in Swaziland).

If you’re interested in more African story books written by South African authors to introduce in your classroom or to read to your children, they are periodically posted here as they are written. Some of my personal favorites are: Londi: The Dreaming Girl (a girl with a huge imagination), Why is Nita Upside Down? (a girl learning to love herself), and Sizwe’s Smile (the tale of a contagious smile).

-Devyn O’Malley