Jul 31, 2011

Knock, Knock, Teremok!

Knock, Knock Teremok! A Traditional Russian Tale
Adapted and Illustrated by Katya Arnold

     A Teremok is a traditional pitched-roof Russian cottage.  In Knock, Knock Teremok!, a group of animals come to an abandoned teremok.  First came the Fly and since there was nobody living in the teremok, she made it her home.  Then came a mouse who also moved in, followed by a frog:

 Knock, knock, knock,
Who lives in the teremok?
It's me, the Fly, queen of the sky.
It's me the Mouse, who needs a new house.
Who are you?
I'm the Frog, from out of the bog.
Let's live together.

     The pattern continues, with each turn of the page adding a new animal and building on the length of the rhyme.  There is a duck, a fox, a wolf, a hair, and a pig.  And the all lived happily together until a bear came and there was no room for him.  He asked to stay on the roof and the other animals warned him that he was too heavy but he climbed up and squashed the house.  "Everybody barely escaped!"
     Knock, Knock Teremok! can be a fun read-aloud to use in the classroom.  It can be acted out or used to practice rhyming words (kids could add their own rhymes to go with each animal).  I need to add that there's definitely another layer that will escape elementary school kids, but that could be shown to middle-schoolers; as the animals move into the teremok, there's a very inconspicuous portrait of Lenin hanging inside the house. Also, the bear is a symbol of the Soviet Union.  The author/illustrator, Katya Arnold includes a note where she explains that she sees the story "as an allegory of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist ideal of disparate peoples living peacefully together."  Arnold's illustrations give a folksy feeling to the tale.

Jul 30, 2011

Doña Flor

Dona Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart   [DONA FLOR] [Hardcover]

Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Raul Colón

     "When Flor was a baby, her mother sang to her in a voice sweet as river music."  It made the corn plants grow tall as trees and when Flor heard it, it also made her grow and grow, until she became a giant.  At first children laughed at her because she was different, but soon enough they all realized how helpful she could be and how kind and generous she was.  She would make tortillas for the whole village and open her doors to every person, animal and plant.  She loved her village and they loved her back.  One day, Flor noticed that all the villagers had stayed indoors. She went around asking what was happening and they told her they were afraid because they could hear a huge mountain lion circling the village.  For days Flor tried to cheer up her friends but they were too worried about the mountain lion.  So Flor decided to go looking for it and when she finally found him, he was a little puma, who was roaring into a long, hollow log that made the sound echo down into the valley.  Doña Flor befriended the puma and brought peace back to the village.
     Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart is poetic, sweet and entertaining.  The illustrations by Colón are gorgeous.  There are words in Spanish intermittently included in the narration which ads to the feeling of the text.  Great read aloud to include in a multicultural curriculum and in any classroom/home for that matter. 

Jul 29, 2011

You Can't Take a Balloon Into The Metropolitan Museum

You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum (Picture Puffin)

You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum
by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser

     In this beautifully illustrated wordless book a little girl and her grandmother head to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The little girl is carrying a yellow balloon and she's told she can't bring it inside the museum.  A guard offers to keep it safe until they're done with the museum visit.  As the girl and her grandma head inside the museum the balloon gets loose and begins its own adventure through New York City.  The balloon's encounters around the city mirror the scenes of paintings and sculptures the girl and grandma see inside.  One of my favorites is when the balloon makes its way into an Aida performance at the Lincoln Center at the same time as the girl and her grandmother are looking at the Egyptian wing of the museum.
     The detailed illustrations are delightful and the parallels between the art and the urban landscape are very interesting.  This book would be a really good way of introducing the Met to students before going to visit it.      

Jul 28, 2011

Something Might Happen

Something Might Happen

Something Might Happen by Helen Lester
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

     "Twitchly Fidget trembled all over. No, nothing had happened to him. But it might."  Twitchly, the lemur, was afraid of everything.  He didn't eat cereal because the crunchy noise might startle him and cause him to jump and hit his head.  He  was afraid of putting on sneakers because if he put them on the wrong feet he might walk cross-legged for the rest of his life.  His house had no door, no windows (so no-one could get in), and no roof (because a roof could cave-in).  His friends kept trying to convince him to go out and play but he was too afraid or what might happen.  When his Aunt Bridget Fidget comes to visit, she forces Twitchly to face his fears and he realises that it's not as bad as he thought.
     Something Might Happen is quite witty.  The illustrations help create a quirky character who's fears have kept him from truly enjoying himself.  It's a great read aloud, full of humor and with a character a lot of young kids, afraid of being independent, will relate to. 

Jul 27, 2011

Charlie Cook's Favorite Book

Charlie Cook's Favorite Book

Charlie Cook's Favorite Book by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

     Today is my 150th consecutive day blogging about picture books.  So the decision to pick a book for such a special day wasn't an easy one.  I picked Charlie Cook's Favorite Book by Julia Donaldson because it's the kind of book you read and you say to yourself:  "This is genius, why didn't I think of it first?"  I've always like the idea of meta fiction, fiction within fiction and when you read this book, you see it done to perfection.
    By the way, I wanted to add that the number of you readers out there keeps growing and I would love to hear from you. So reply to this post and share a book you think I should include on my blog, OK? Now back to our scheduled programming...
     Charlie's curled up in a cozy chair, reading his favorite book, a book about pirates.  The pirates are looking for a treasure and when they find it it's a book. And this book is about a girl called Goldilocks who's found laying on little bear's bed reading her favorite book.  And her favorite book is about a knight who entertains a dragon by reading him his favorite book.  And the knight's favorite book is about a frog that hops all the way into a library and jumps on a book.  That book is about birds and one of them has made his nest out of pages of his favorite book.  And the bird's favorite book is about a girl that saw aliens and when she went to tell her mom, her mom ignored her because she was reading her favorite magazine.  Her magazine was about a thief that got caught and while he laid inside his cell, he read his favorite book.  Which was about and alligator that went into a bookshop and started to read an encyclopedia.  And the encyclopedia entry was about a giant cake that was so tasty that an astronaut took a slice of it to space.  The astronaut also brought his favorite book with him which was a horror tale about a ghost who put her head back on her shoulders to read her favorite book.  And her favorite book was "about a cozy armchair, and a boy called Charlie Cook."
     See what I mean? Charlie Cook's Favorite Book is a riot.  The illustrations are fantastic and at every page you'll find yourself transported to a "new" book.  This is a great read aloud for home and the classroom as well as a great sample to use for text innovation (where kids follow the format of a story and write their own tale following that framework).  Go to the library and check out every book they have by Donaldson. You won't regret it.

Jul 26, 2011

The World Champion of Staying Awake

The World Champion of Staying Awake

The World Champion of Staying Awake by Sean Taylor
Illustrated by Jimmy Liao

     It's little Stella's time to go to sleep, but her three stuffed animals are wide awake.  There's Cherry Pig, Thunderbolt the mouse, and Beanbag Frog and they all want to be the World Champion of Staying Awake.  Stella's rich imagination helps her tire them out one by one. She first makes them ride on her pillow and imagine they are sailing on a boat:

The pillow ship rocks
the pillow ship sways
the pillow ship sails 
across the waves

     The adventure on the boat is just what Cherry Pig needed to get tired and fall asleep. One down, two to go.  Next, Stella puts mouse and frog inside a shoe box and imagines they are on a train:

And as it chugs
and clatters and steams,
the train will carry you 
into your dreams...

     Thunderbolt Mouse is now exhausted and becomes the "world champion...of going to sleep."  And now that leaves Beanbag Frog. So Stella puts him on a basket and imagines he's flying on a hot air balloon:
The starship balloon
flies off and away
leaving behind 
the last of today

    Beanbag Frog is finally out. "Not a croak. Not a bounce. Not a hoppety-hop."  Stella carries them all to her bed, tucks them in, and might have become the world champion of staying awake...but she falls asleep as soon as her head touches her pillow.
     The World Champion of Staying Awake is a sweet bedtime story that combines prose and poetry.  The illustrations are beautiful and the main character, Stella, is creative and charming.  Wonderful book to include amongst bedtime favorites.

Jul 25, 2011

The Valiant Red Rooster

The Valiant Red Rooster: A Story from Hungary

The Valiant Red Rooster: A Story from Hungary by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Katya Arnold

     "Once upon a time a valiant red rooster lived with a kindly old woman."  The woman had always taken good care of the rooster feeding him daily, but she fell on hard times and had no money to feed the rooster or herself.  So the rooster headed out to find a way to feed them both.  Everyday, the valiant rooster would find enough wheat to turn to flour and bake into bread.  One day, while looking for wheat, the rooster found a diamond button.  He was heading to the market to trade it for what he knew would be enough food for a lifetime, when a greedy sultan saw the button and took it away from him.  The valiant rooster never gave up and no matter how many times the sultan and his helpers tried to get rid of him, the rooster came coming back.  Using all his smarts and amazing capacity for holding things inside his gizzard, he finally got the diamond back and traded it at the market.  The valiant red rooster and his owner were able to eat until they were never hungry again.
     The Valiant Red Rooster: A Story from Hungary is a folktale about justice and perseverance.  The resourcefulness of the rooster as well as the clever and funny ways he find to defeat the sultan every time, will keep young readers entertained.  The illustrations by Katya Arnold are very interesting: watercolors (mostly reds, pinks, orange, and ochre) are given some sharp edges with black line that was drawn over the watercolors.  It's a good folktale to use in the classroom for sequencing activities and for comparative studies since there are versions of the same story from different countries (The Good Master, Medio Pollito).

Jul 24, 2011

Lights Out

Lights Out

Lights Out By Arthur Geisert

     Piglet knows his parents are firm when they say that lights must be out by eight o'clock.  But he is really afraid of falling asleep in the dark. They told him "If you can figure something out -go ahead." So he did.  The little piglet is a master of engineering and what he creates is an amazing "mouse-trap" like contraption which starts with a cord he pulls at exactly 8 o'clock and travels all over his house (and backyard) until in ends up clicking the night-stand lamp off 20 minutes later -once piglet has fallen asleep.  Each page of the book shows in detail the different elements of his contraption.  Using dominoes, sand, pulleys, balls, bats, cords, strings, kinetic energy and tons of imagination, the little piglet is able to create a chain reaction that allows enough time to pass so he can drift asleep before the light goes out.
     Lights Out is full of wonder and ingenuity.  It's beautifully detailed illustrations draw you in to discover all the cause and effect of piglet's amazing contraption. Geisert has created a book to delight all ages and awake the inner architect/engineer in all of us.

Jul 23, 2011

The Troubled Village

The Troubled Village

The Troubled Village by Simon Henwood

     The people of the Trouble Village are always competing with each other to see who has more problems. "The longer the list of problems they had, the prouder everyone seemed to become." On a stormy night, people where running all over the place pulling off roof tiles and breaking their own windows, "trying to make it look as though the storm had done all the damage." Suddenly, more trouble than anybody expected came to their village when a large piece of sky fell. The villagers where amazed and when one of them leaned in to see a star up close, he fell in and one by one they all fell behind him. Thankfully, the last villager was able to hold on and pulled everybody back to safety. Realizing that they needed to work together, the villagers worked as a team and put the sky back up but they couldn't keep it up -"no glue or sticky tape would hold it place." The only solution was to hold it up with a stick, so from then on, the villagers took turns holding the sky up, "and any other troubles were soon forgotten."
     The Troubled Village is a clever and fun story. The illustrations are interesting and have an old feeling to them. It reads like a tale that could be used for storytelling.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Jul 22, 2011

Pete's a Pizza

Pete's a Pizza

Pete's a Pizza by William Steig

     Pete was in a really bad mood because, just when he was ready to go outside to play with his friends, it started to rain.  His father, noticing that Pete looked miserable, "thinks it might cheer Pete up to be made into a pizza."  Pete's father lays him down on the kitchen table and starts pretending that he's pizza dough, kneading him, stretching him, and even tossing him up in the air.  The game continues until the pizza has all the toppings (with a tickled session in between steps) and it's placed in the oven (the couch). "It's time to slice our pizza," said Pete's father. "But the pizza runs away," and as his parents capture him and hug him, Pete sees that the sun has come out so he can go outside and play.
     This entertaining story about pretending to be pizza dough is based on a game that William Steig used to play with his younger daughter.  I'll guarantee you that once you read it out loud at home, you'll be asked to play it as well.  The illustrations are simple with ink and watercolors over a white background which pair perfectly with the text.  Pete's a Pizza is also published as a board book, so you can share it with the youngest ones at home.  A fun game/tale by the amazing Steig.

Jul 21, 2011


Me . . . Jane

Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Caldecott Honor 2012

     Little Jane had a stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jubilee that she adored. She also loved spending time outdoors and spending her time observing nature. "She watched birds making their nests, spiders spinning their webs, and squirrels chasing one another up and down trees." She enjoyed reading all she could about the animals and plants she saw outside, but more than anything she wanted to observe them in action: like when she hid behind some straw inside the chicken coop to watch the hen lay an egg.  She connected with nature by climbing trees and laying her "cheek against its trunk" to "feel the sap flowing beneath the bark.  Jane read books about the jungles of Africa and dreamed about life over there, "a life living with, and helping, all animals."  At night, she would lay in bed with Jubilee and dream about it all, "to awake one day...to her dream come true."
     Me . . . Jane tells the story of the girl who would grow to become the famous Dr. Jane Goodall, "the primatologist, environmentalist, humanitarian, and United Nations Messenger of Peace."  The book's language and illustrations are beautiful.  It includes some original drawings from Dr. Goodall's notebooks and photographs of her childhood.  The moment that captivated me was the final page, when it goes from little Jane falling asleep with Jubilee to an image (photo) of an adult Dr. Goodall reaching to touch the fingertips of a chimpanzee.  The book also includes a letter from Jane as well as a short biographical piece.  It's a truly beautiful book.

Jul 20, 2011

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee

     In Paris, during the old adage, the Royal Palace was holding a Grand Contest of Art.  All the famous artists were there: Gaston du Stroganoff, Felicien CaffayOllay, even Alphonse LeCamembair (gotta love those names!).  There was also an unknown painter named Felix Clousseau.  When the judges saw Clousseau's painting, they were shocked because "they had never seen such a ridiculous painting."  It was a simple painting of a duck. But then, the painting quacked and the duck walked out of the frame. The judges were stunned and awarded Clousseau the Grand Prize.  Clousseau became famous and everybody wanted to own one of his paintings.
     "But soon there was trouble."  A baroness owned one of Clousseau's paintings, The Sleeping Boa Constrictor, and one night the snake awoke and attacked the lady.  All over the place, Clousseau's paintings were coming alive and creating chaos.  Clousseau was incarcerated and most of his painting were confiscated.  Meanwhile, a jewel thief was wrecking havoc all over Paris.  The thief tried to steal the King's crown but one of Clousseau's painting, a portrait of a dog, was hanging above the crown and when the King walked into his room, he found the thief "caught in the grasp of a ferocious dog." Clousseau became a hero, "went back to his studio...and returned to his painting."
     The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau is pure genius!  I've read all of Jon Agee's books at this point, and as much as a love them, this one jumps to the top of the list.  The illustrations are gorgeous and truly captures the old adage.  The story is brilliant, funny and original.  This is the kind of book I'll buy multiple copies of, to give as gifts, and to keep at home and in the classroom.

Jul 19, 2011

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-To-Be

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be by Mini Grey

     In this retelling of the classic fairy tale The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen, Mini Grey tells the story from the point of view of the pea.  This very smart pea knew, from the moment she was born in the Palace Garden, that she would be important.   The day when her and the other peas were picked to be used in the Palace Kitchen, the Queen herself saved her and placed it a little box.  The Queen needed the pea to place it under the mattresses as part of a test to find a real princess to marry the prince.  If the princess slept on the multimatress bed and was able to tell that there was a pea underneath it, she would be able to marry the prince.  All princesses that came where too polite to complain about the uncomfortable sleep arrangements and they were sent packing by the Queen.
     One night, during a storm, a small and wet young girl stood at the door.  The Queen decides to test and see if the girl could be the princess they've been waiting for.  The very smart peal, realizes that the girl is no other but the gardener that raised the pea from a seed.  So the pea climbed all the way up to the pillow and whispered all night into the girls ear that there was a "Large Round Uncomfortable thing in the bed" under her. The girl shared her insight with the Queen and the prince and they lived happily ever after.  The pea tells us that she then "became a Very Important Artifact" that's on display on a museum.
     The point of view switch in The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be works really well.  Mini Gray, gives a fresh take on the the classic fairy tale and her illustrations add tons of character and personality.  Excellent read aloud to use in the classroom to compare versions and point of view.