May 31, 2011

Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

     The Bus driver has to leave for a little while and there is one thing he asks of us; "Can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!"  Here come the pigeon, all cute and persuasive, trying to convince us, the readers, to let him drive the bus.  The pigeon is hilarious and clever.  The best thing about Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is reading it out-loud to kids, the larger the group, the better.  And the more you read it, the more interactive it becomes. since the kids feel like they really need to take their job of keeping the pigeon away from the bus seriously.  Check out all the other books in this Pigeon series. Mo Willems rocks!

May 30, 2011

Press Here

     Press Here

Press Here by Herve Tullet

     I was at a bookstore today with my family and from very far away I saw this cover of a book on the children's section.  Simple, white with a yellow dot in the middle and the words PRESS HERE.  I couldn't resist. I walked directly up to it and called my son over to sit down and read it with me.  What a find!  Press Here is one of the most original and entertaining picture books I've seen in a long time (it's a French import and its original title is actually Un Livre).  
     As you open the book, you are immediately asked by the writer to become and active participant and follow his commands.  By the way, at the end of the day all kids enjoy following specific commands -it gives them a sense of order and security-. especially when the commands create a sort of magic result, as it's the case in Press Here.  

(Press Here and turn the page)

(Great! Now press the yellow dot again.)

     As you go through the pages, more dots appear, with different color and sizes and they seem to dance around the pages as a result of the interaction between the writer and its obedient reader.  Rub the yellow dot three times and it turns read in the following page; shake the book and the dots scatter all over; tilt the book, and the dots seem to be about to fall of the edge.  My son was completely captivated.   When the book cheered him on and congratulated him on following the steps, he was excited and eager to continue...and to read it again and again. This is the interactive book for the iPhone generation. It really is fantastic!

May 29, 2011

My Name is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?

My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?

My Name Is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry
Illustrated by Mike Litwin

     Isabella is the coolest girl character I have found in a while.  She dares to dream of becoming anything she chooses, a different exceptional woman every moment of her day.  Just as her mom wakes her up with "Good morning, Isabella", she answers "My name is not Isabella!"  "Then who has been sleeping in my daughter's bed?" asked the mother. "I am SALLY, the greatest, toughest astronaut who ever was!"  Isabella is imagining she is Sally Ride, the first US woman to travel to space.  As her day moves along, Isabella imagines being Annie Oakley, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Elizabeth Backwell, and finally her own mother.
     My Name Is Not Isabella is a perfect book to show girls that there's no limit to what they can accomplish, that they have the capacity to become whatever the set their minds to.  The best thing about My Name Is Not Isabella is that it conveys this message without being "preachy" or overly educational; it's a delight to read and a lot of fun as well.  The illustrations are wonderful and the play/changes on the typography really adds to the story and its message.  At the back of the book there is also short biographies on the amazing historical women that Isabella has dreamed of being.  This is a book to share with all the girls in your life!

May 28, 2011

Go Away, Big Green Monster!

Go Away, Big Green Monster!


     Die-cut pages allow the reader to construct and deconstruct a  big green monster in this engaging book.  The first page shows only the big yellow eyes; the next page adds the long bluish-greenish nose; the third page adds the big red mouth with sharp white teeth...and so on until we have constructed page by page the whole green monster. Then comes the kicker: we get to yell at the monster and make him go away: "...YOU DON'T SCARE ME! So GO AWAY"  And now, page by page, we get to deconstruct the monster: first the scraggly purple hair goes away, then the squiggly ears, and the nose...all of it, until the monster is gone. "GO AWAY, Big Green Monster! and DON'T COME BACK! Until I say so."
     Not only is Go Away, Big Green Monster! a great read-aloud, one that the kids soon memorize and join in the read, but it's also a go to book when they are scared and need a way to face their fears.  By constructing the monster and then being able to deconstruct it, they gain the power over their fear.  I'll have to check out the other books by Emberley.

May 27, 2011



Argus by Michelle Knudsen
Illustrated by Andrea Wesson

     Sally's class is working on their new science project.  When the teacher, Mrs. Henshaw, hands them each an egg, Sally complains that hers looks different.  "Don't be difficult.  Some eggs just look different," says Mrs. Henshaw to Sally.  Different is an understatement.  While all the other eggs hatch and cute little chicks start running around the classroom, Sally's egg hatches to reveal a green dragon.  She names him Argus.  Not quite sure yet if she likes her "chick", Sally goes along with all the different parts of her science project: measuring weight and size and graphing the results, taking Argus out to eat in the school's yard, creating a growth chart...but Argus keeps causing all sorts of trouble -like trying to eat all the other chicks and the children - and Sally now must sit by herself during recess keeping Argus away from the other children and chicks.  She's not enjoying standing out and being different all the time.  One day, after recess, Sally turns around to look for Argus to bring him back inside and he's gone.  Sally expected to feel relieved and "waited to feel happy," but instead she felt sad and worried.  Sally, Mrs. Henshaw and her classmates search around the neighborhood until they find Argus. Back in the classroom, Sally looks at the new pie graph she created about Argus; it looks totally different from the other kids' graphs and that's just fine with Sally.
     Argus is a very special book.  I'm glad to see that Argus didn't become something he was not to gain Sally's acceptance, and instead it was Sally who learned the value of being different.  As much as I like Argus as a character, I've got to say that my favorite was Mrs. Henshaw.  I loved how she seemed to ignore the obvious fact that Argus was not a chick, and would tell Sally to relax and just deal.  I especially loved the scene when, after finding Argus at a neighbor's yard -where he has destroyed the lawn- as the homeowner begins to complain about the damage done to her property, Mrs. Henshaw simply hands her an orange emergency cone and says, "Don't be difficult." And walks away.  Brilliant! Some adults should be treated just like children...

May 26, 2011

The Boy Who Loved Words

The Boy Who Loved Words

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
Illustrated by Giselle Potter

     Selig was a collector or words. He loved everything about words "-the sound of them in his ears (tintinnabulating!), the taste of them on his tongue (tantalizing!), the thought of them when they percolated in his brain (stirring!), and most especially, the feel of them when the moved his heart (Mama!)."  Selig would stuff his pockets and socks with words, literally.  He would carry his words everywhere and eventually, people at school began to call him Wordsworth and Oddball, which made him feel lonely. Selig had a dream where a Genie told him he needed to go and find his purpose.  Selig leaves home and weighted down by all the words in his pockets, he takes them off and hangs each one from a branch in a tree where he lays down to sleep.  That night, a poet looking for the right words to write about the moon, comes across the words Selig has hung from the tree.  The poet completes his poem using Selig's words and Selig realizes he has found his purpose: "spreading the word -sharing his words with others!" From then one, Selig became Wordsworth.
     The Boy Who Loved Words is a beautiful tale about the love of language and the power of words.  The vocabulary used in the story is a wonderful tool to use in the classroom as well as at home. It can  be used to teach figuring out meaning of unknown words from context.  At the end of the book, there is a glossary with all the advanced vocabulary included in the story.  It's a treat for those who love words as much as I do.

May 25, 2011

The Secret Box

The Secret Box (Lehman, Barbara)

The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

     Today at work, I had a conversation with a fellow ESL teacher about the power of wordless picture books.  We are both fans and have used them in our classrooms as teaching tools.  Wordless books are a wonderful source of writing starters, sequencing activities, descriptive writing and class discussion.  And of course, there are usually stunningly illustrated.  That's definitely the case with The Secret Box.
     A young boy waring knickers hides a box.  The box is hidden under the floorboards of a school's attic for decades until three kids discover it.  Following clues and a map they find inside the box, they find a path leading them to a magical place in a pier.  The Secret Box is a surreal story about time travel.  Lehman's illustrations are beautiful and captivating.  Kids and adults alike will enjoy flipping back and forth between pages to discover the changes in the landscape of a city as well as the little details that uncover the mystery of The Secret Box.

May 24, 2011

365 Penguins

365 Penguins

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental
Illustrated by Joelle Jolivet

     "On New Year's Day, at nine o'clock in the morning, a delivery man rang our doorbell. I opened the box - a penguin!"  There was no sender's name on the box, just a note that said: "I'm number 1. Feed me when I'm hungry."  Next day, another package arrives with another penguin. The next day another and by week's end, 7 penguins are running around the house.  And the penguins keep coming, one a day, every day, for a whole year...365 penguins.  
     I love this book.  Maybe it's the fact that it has a math component to it; the family keeps finding ways to organize the penguins by dividing, calculate the new costs of living by multiplying, and packing the penguins in by calculating area. What else can a Math lover like me wish for in a picture book?  Now add to that the clever illustrations, the enlarged format, and the thrill of looking amongst hundreds of penguins for a special one with blue feet, and you have found a perfect book for me.   As a teacher, it's a great book to explore math concepts, calendars, but also science since there is an environmental discussion that arises from the premise of penguins being displaced because of global warming.  This is one of my new favorites!

May 23, 2011

My Friend

My Friend

My Friend (Mon Amour) by Beatrice Alemagna
Illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna

     "I am a most unusual animal. I have fur like a dog and I'm shaped like a sheep. But no one seems to know just what I am."  It doesn't know what it is, but it knows what it isn't. Everybody tries to figure out what kind of animal it is, but they never get it right. It isn't a cat, nor a monkey, nor a rat, nor a pigeon. Some thought he might be a lion, but again no. It isn't a dog, a beaver, or a hippo either.  The problem is that it can only define itself by saying what it isn't but it truly does not know what it actually is.  One day, another strange looking animal approaches him and asks if he would like to play with him?  "Don't you want to know what I am?" says our it. To which the other animal replies: "I know what you are. You are my friend."
     The idea behind My Friend is very sweet. It's a book for all the kids that have ever felt different, like they didn't quite fit in, to show them that true friends will find them and love them regardless.  The illustrations are mixed media and the animals are made up of fabric scraps, buttons and thread.  They are very interesting to look at, but I thought they were a bit confusing as well; since the fabric used to "draw" the main character doesn't remain consistent, it's hard to keep track of whether we are looking at the same character or at a new one.  Sweet story nevertheless.

May 22, 2011

Russell the Sheep

Russell the Sheep

Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton
Illustrated by Rob Scotton

     It's the end of a long busy day and all the sheep are getting ready to go to bed.  Soon, everybody is asleep except for Russell.  "No matter how hard he tried, Russell could not fall asleep."  He tried covering his eyes with his hat to make it darker, but it was too dark and it made him afraid.  He thought he might be too hot so he took off his wool, but then he got too cold.  He tried going for a walk to find a new spot but everywhere he went was either too cramped or too creepy. What if he tried counting things? His legs? No. The stars? Nope. Sheep? Finally!  Russell fell asleep counting sheep...too bad it was already dawn and all the other sheep were waking up.
     Russell the Sheep is a very cute bedtime story.  The best part for me are the illustrations.  Every time I read this book I'm captivated by the beautiful illustrations.  The wool seems so soft you just want to touch it, and the blues of the night are dreamlike.  And they are also funny! There's a little frog companion that shows up unexpectedly in some of the pages and it just cracks my boy up.  Russell rocks!

May 21, 2011

Just a Dream

Just a Dream

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

     Last night I had the pleasure of being one of 500 people selected to spend all night inside the New York City Library.  We took part on an special event called "Find the Future."  It was a sort of scavenger hunt where we had to find 100 artifacts hidden all over the library,  and each time we found one, it would unlock a writing prompt on the game's website.  The goal was for all of us to collectively write a book overnight.  And we did it! They book will forever be kept at the library and if you're ever in NYC you can go check it out at the 42nd street library branch.  It was one of the most memorable nights of my life and one of the points we kept going back to was thinking about the future: where we'll be, what we'll have accomplished, what our hopes and dreams about the future are.  On that note, Just a Dream is a good pick for my book log tonight.
     Walter is on his way home and after finishing his usual afternoon doughnut, he throws away his napkin on the street.  Right before he walks into his house, he sees his neighbor Rose planting a tree she has just received for her birthday.  Walter makes fun of her and her gift and hope he is "not getting some dumb plant" for his upcoming birthday.  That evening, Walter takes the trash out but doesn't separate the recyclables and just dumps it all in one can so he can run inside to watch TV.  At night,  Walter falls asleep thinking about how much he would love to live in the future, with robots and personal planes...but instead of dreaming about that future, Walter starts having multiple dreams about a horrible place.  There are no trees because they are all chopped down to make toothpicks, fisherman cannot catch enough fish because the ocean is so polluted, his old neighborhood is completely covered with trash, smokestacks are everywhere and there is a Hotel on top of Mt Everest.  The next morning, Walter runs out in his pajamas, picks up the garbage, separates the recyclables and is thrilled to get a tree for his birthday.  In his next dream, he sees a future with luscious yards and beautiful trees.
     Here it to finding a future where we have learned to take better care of out planet!

May 20, 2011

What Pet to Get?

What Pet To Get?

What Pet To Get?by Emma Dodd
Illustrated by Emma Dodd

     Jack had an idea, he wanted a pet.  So he asked his mom if he could have an elephant. Not very practical. What about a lion? Well, too hungry and he might attack the mailman. A polar bear?  He won't really enjoy the central heating. A T-Rex? Extinct. A giraffe? A bison? A Shark?  Too exotic.  How about a puppy?  So Jack and his mother go to the pound to pick a new puppy...who turns out to be gigantic.
     What Pet To Get?is a fun book to read aloud to the little ones.  They'll love the silly situations created by Jack's pet ideas.  The illustrations highlight the crazyness of trying to have polar bears, elephants and even bisons as pets in the city.  The final picture of the dog is a fold out with ads to the drama and hilarity of the final resolution.

May 19, 2011

Dinosaurs Love Underpants

Dinosaurs Love Underpants

Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman
Illustrated by Ben Cort

     The reason why dinosaurs became extinct is still not quite clear. But Dinosaurs Love Underpants offers and interesting theory.  In this funny rhyming book, we learn that dinosaurs were all wiped out because they were fighting amongst themselves over pairs of underwear.

It all began when caveman
Felt embarrassed in the nude.
So someone dreamed up underpants
To stop them from looking crude

     One day, as the caveman were walking outside the forest, the scariest and meanest of all dinos, the T-Rex, saw them and starting chasing them. But not to eat them, he just wanted their underpants.  Of course the underpants were not quite his size so they ripped and made him trip.  Soon, underpants fever spread through dino camp and all the dinos where running wild chasing after caveman to steal their underpants. When they couldn't get anymore from them, the dinos started fighting each other during The Mighty Underpants War.  "The fighting got so crazy, all the dinos were wiped out!"

So when you put your undies on.
Always treat them with great care.
Don't forget briefs saved Mankind.
They're not just underwear!

     Dinosaurs Love Underpants is a crowd pleaser, especially for with all those dino obsessed kids out there.  They'll get to see all their favorite types of dinosaur as well as some very entertaining illustrations.    Definitely a fun one.