Sep 30, 2011

The Sniffles for Bear

The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

     Bear and Mouse are back (see A Visitor for Bear).  This time around, Bear has a dreadful cold, so bad he thinks he might not make it.  Mouse arrives to do everything he can to help, but he's just too cheery for Bear who feels like he doesn't appreciate the gravity of the situation.  Mouse reads, sings, plays the banjo and helps Bear climb back into bed.  Mouse cooks a hot spinach soup for Bear, who by now is feeling so ill he dictates his will to Mouse. Finally, exhausted, Bear falls asleep and when he wakes up he finds Mouse sitting next to him.  Bear feels better now but mouse, well, he doesn't look so good. "His eyes were watery, and he made sniffly sounds."  Their roles have switched.
     The Sniffles for Bear is a wonderful addition to the adventures of these two unlikely friends.  Bear's overly dramatic attitude is balanced by mouse's joy for life.  Denton's  watercolors are beautiful and the portrait of mouse celebrating Bear's decision to leave him the roller skates in his will, brought a smile to my face. It perfectly captured all of Mouse's joy de vivre.  A celebration of friendship, and a great read aloud.

Sep 29, 2011

The Problem with Chickens

The Problem with Chickens by Bruce McMillan
Illustrated by Gunnella

     In this humorous tale set in small village in Iceland, a group of women bring chickens from the city so they can lay eggs.  The chickens lay tons of eggs at first but then they "forgot they were chickens" and "started acting like the ladies."  Whatever the ladies did, the chickens copied: from picking blueberries and singing to the sheep, to gardening and dancing.  The ladies come up with a singular plan, and eventually solve the problem with the chickens and are able once again to have as many eggs as they need -with the new added benefit of having chickens so strong, they can carry the women all the way to the city.
     The Problem with Chickens is a fantastic read aloud.  The text is concise but never choppy and the illustrations by Gunnella are joyous.  This one will stick in readers minds long after their first read.

Are You Awake?

Are You Awake?

Are You Awake by Sophie Blackall

     As soon as I opened Are You Awake? and saw the image of a boy leaning over his sleeping mom and propping her eyelid open with his index finger, I was completely hooked.  Been there...and if you have young kids, I know you've been there too.  Edward rises in the middle of the night and wakes his mother up with the classic question:

Mom, are you awake?    
  MM-MM. No.
Why aren't you awake?
  Because I'm asleep.
Why are you asleep?
  Because it's still nighttime.
Why is it still nighttime?
  Because the sun hasn't come up yet.

     Edward has hundreds of questions ready to keep the conversation going all night, including "What does your face look like when you're asleep?" Eventually, his mom switches positions and begins asking the questions: "Do you like yellow?" "Why is it your favorite color?" "What are some yellow things?"

And my favorite part:

Dogs are yellow.
  No, they're not.
Yellow dogs are.

     Finally, mom goes on and on talking about things that are yellow, including a synesthesia-like description: "Some names sound yellow to me, like Peter, and some letters and numbers, like E and 3."  As she moves down the list, Edwards eyes slowly close, just as the yellowest thing begins to come through the window.

     Are You Awake? is tender and funny.  Parents will relate to the situation immediately and young kids will find themselves depicted in Edward's questions and movements around the bed.  Sophie Blackall's (Big Red Lollipop) illustrations are gorgeous with a classic look about them that match the topic and tone of the book beautifully.  This one gets added to my favorite books of the year bookshelf.

Sep 27, 2011

Squish Rabbit

Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby

     Squish was a little rabbit, so tiny he sometimes got overlooked or stepped on -"which is how he got his name"-  Nobody listened to his stories either and that made him feel truly lonely. So Squish sewed himself a friend with whom to play. "But pretend friends can only do so much."  He then tried to play with a tree, but that didn't quite work out either, so Squish threw a little tantrum.  In the middle of his tiny meltdown, Squish kicked an apple and a little squirrel hiding atop the tree, thought Squish was playing.  A new friend in tow, our little rabbit realizes that friendship makes him feel bigger.
     Squish Rabbit is lovely.  The deceptively simple text flows and it's accompanied by beautiful illustrations with ink and collage.  Squish is an adorable character that manages to express in his tiny, uneven dot eyes all the pain of being lonely and the joy of finding a friend.  This book is a great addition to any young reader's picture book collection.  

Sep 26, 2011

The Boy Who Longed for a Lift

Product Details
The Boy Who Longed for a Lift by Norma Farber
Illustrated by Brian Selznick

     A boy's family welcomed a baby into their home, and as the parents focused on the new arrival, the boy embarked on a solo journey.  He walked a long way and as he got tired he cried, "Who'll offer me a ride? Who'll carry me far and wide?"   A brook carried him first, followed by a boat, a trout, a snail, a horseman, a gull and the rain.  Finally, he decided to continue his journey afoot until he made his way back home. "His father ran out, strong and swift, and gave the boy a lift." (This time around, the baby is the one being ignored.)
     The Boy Who Longed for a Lift is told in rhyme.  The illustrations by Selznick are wonderful and there are many hidden details to discover during careful readings; there are world landmarks drawn in some pages as well as clues as to what the boy will ride next.     The repetition and rhyme, as well as the adventure theme, make this a nice read aloud.

Sep 25, 2011

Robot Dreams

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

     Robot Dreams is an almost wordless graphic novel.  A dog receives a build-yourself robot in the mail.  After putting it together, the dog and the robot become inseparable, going to the library, watching movies and reading together.  On a trip to the beach, the robot is not quite sure about swimming in the ocean, but the dog convinces him.  They have a great time playing in the water, but once dried, the robot realized he's now unable to move.  Not quite sure what to do, the sad dog leaves his friend behind laying on the sand.  As the summer days end, and the beach closes for the season, the dog begins his quest for a new friend, still missing the robot and feeling guilty about what happened.  Meanwhile, the robot lays trapped on the beach, dreaming of freedom while being abused by the weather and other characters, eventually being dismembered and thrown out into a scrapyard.  A raccoon who was trying to fix a radio, uses the robot parts to complete his project.  Alive as a radio now, Robot sees his old friend outside his window, walking by with a new robot he has built.  Robot plays his music loudly and the dog unconsciously and unknowingly reconnects with his old friend as he walks away humming the song Robot has just played for him.
     Robot Dreams is one of the most surprising graphic novels I've ever read.  It's bright and cheery illustrations didn't prepare me for the depth of feelings it provoked.  There is friendship, loss and abandonment, longing, guilt and acceptance.   It's a really quick "read" but I guarantee you it will stay with you long after you've finished it.  Just wonderful!

Sep 24, 2011


Bedhead by Margie Palatini
Illustrated by Jack E. Davis

     Oliver woke up and brushed his teeth.  Then he looked at his reflexion in the mirror and was shocked to find he had a horrible case of bedhead.  There was hair going in every direction, up, down, left, right...there was even one "clump of hair way at the back of his head that looked just like a cat's coughed-up fur ball."  His mom, dad and sister tried to help him, but no matter what they tried, nothing worked.  After many attempts to get his hair under control, Oliver ends up putting on his baseball cap and heading to school.  The baseball cap would have been the perfect solution, except for the fact that he has to take it off as soon as he gets to school because today is...picture day.
     Bedhead is a great read aloud.  The hilarious illustrations, the repetition of phrases, and the onomatopoeias, will keep the kids entertained and coming back for multiple reads.

Sep 23, 2011

Some Things are Scary

Some Things are Scary by Florence Parry Heide
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

     Jules Feiffer adds his wonderful illustrations in this edition of Parry Heide's 1969's text.  When you're little, some things are truly scary.  Like holding someone's hand thinking it's your mother's when it isn't, or seeing a big warning sign but not knowing how to read what it says, or getting scolded, or "being with your mother when she can't remember where she parked the car," or ... It's all scary.  Or "thinking you're never going to get any taller than you are right now," or climbing a tree and not knowing how to get down.  It's all scary, but not as scary as "knowing you're going to grow up to be a grownup. Now that's scary!
     Some Things are Scary has a timeless sense of humor.  Feiffer's drawings of the boy's facial expressions are captivating.  Children will relate to many of those fears and the book will also give them a space to add their own lines and share their own fears.  The book could also be used in the classroom for students to share their fears and create a group text.  

Sep 22, 2011

The Ant Bully

Ant Bully (Scholastic Bookshelf)

The Ant Bully by John Nickle

     Lucas wears a dorky hat and funny glasses.  A lot of kids made fun of him, but Sid was the worse. He bullied Lucas constantly.  Since Lucas couldn't confront the much bigger and stronger Sid, he took it out on the ants.  Lucas uses his water gun to shoot the ants, flooding their colony.  One day, the ants got tired of it and attacked Lucas, pushing him inside their ant hole.  The Ant Queen put him on trial for destroying in seconds what took the ants hours of hard work to build.  He was found guilty and the shrunk him to ant size and made him work in the colony.  Lucas spends his days working with the ants and the Queen asks him one day to steal a human candy as part of his final test.  As Lucas and two other ants are about to steal the candy from his parent's kitchen, his father sees them and he's about to crush them. Just then, Lucas jumps at his father's face so his ant friends can escape.  When he returns to the colony, he's rewarded with going back to his regular size again.  When Sid sees Lucas, he's about to start bullying him again but the ants protect their new friend and Sid ends up shrunk.
      Although the text doesn't flow with ease, the adventure and bullying theme, make it a good read to share in the classroom.  This book was turn into a movie of the same title.

Sep 21, 2011

Madam President

Madam President by Lane Smith

After reading a book about U.S. Presidents, a little girl imagines/pretends to be Madame President. There are executive orders to give ("More waffles, please"), lunch to approve (brown bag school lunch), babies to kiss (an unexacting baby in his carriage), treaties to negotiate (getting a cat and dog to shake hand), and increasing security during recess. A good president must be diplomatic ("which is why I'm not commenting on that hat"), and tackle press conferences with grace ("C'mon, Tiffany, get real! No comment"). A president has special privileges, like the power to veto bad school cafeteria food, lame school musicals and everything else she feels is just not good enough for the "Head Honcho, Big Cheese!" At the end of a busy day, which also included averting a major disaster (a messy bedroom), the girl lays in her bed exhausted. "Sometimes even a president gets pooped."
Madam President will entertain old and young alike. Its main character is a determined little girl with a lot of knowledge and spunk. Smith's illustrations are great as usual. There's a lot of humor in its pages. I especially like the two page spread with the cabinet which includes Mr. Potato Head as the secretary of agriculture. Great read aloud to introduce the executive power in the lower grades.

Sep 20, 2011

Willoughby & the Lion

Willoughby & the Lion by Greg Foley

     Willoughby Smith has just moved and hates his new house.  It is much smaller than this old house and it's in the middle of a field, too far from any possible friend.  The landscape is bare except for a large rock right in the middle of his back yard.  One day, Willoughby finds a golden lion sitting on the rock.  The lion grants the boy ten wishes but warns him that "unless you wish for the most wonderful thing of all, I'll be stuck on this rock forever."  Willoughby's first wish was for a larger home.  The lion closed his eyes and when he opened them again, a castle-like mansion sat where Willoughby's house used to be.  Willoughby wishes for giant roller-coasters filled with children, gigantic cakes, shoes that'll make him super fast (followed by other shoes that would make him even faster), a hot-air-balloon-submarine, and even books with all the answers to any kind of homework.  His backyard is packed with crowds coming to see Willoughby and his enchanted lion.  After nine wishes though, Willoughby still hadn't wished for the most wonderful thing of all, and he found the lion crying slouched over the rock.  The lion told him how much he missed being free to roam the fields with other lions.  As the boy tried to cheer the lion up, they spent hours playing together.  As darkness fell upon them, Willoughby whispered in the lions ear.  In the morning the lion was gone, and everything looked just as before the wishes, except that on top the rock there was now a golden coin that read: TRUE FRIEND.
     Willoughby & the Lion is a tale of friendship.  The illustrations are black and white and metallic gold.  At first, everything is drawn in black and white lines, except for the lion who is gold.  Every wish granted is painted gold. Wish by wish the gold takes over the pages.  The glossy white of the pages makes the gold pop. When Willoughby sets the lion free with his last wish, the landscape goes back to normal, and now the sunrise is decorated with golden rays.  I love the fact that aside from learning about friendship from the Lion, Willoughby wakes up to see everything under a different light. The house he thought was tiny and awful, he now sees as "a cozy house" in the "middle of an open yard."  The coin he finds laying atop the rock is an actual keepsake that comes with the book.  This is a very special book.

Sep 19, 2011

Duck Duck Moose

Duck, Duck, Moose

Duck Duck Moose by Dave Horowitz

     Moose, wearing his awesome "I Love NH" t-shirt, is enjoying the cool weather. His two friends, the ducks, are definitely not.  It's time for them to head south.  Duck and Other Duck invite Moose to go south with them, but all Moose wants to do is get himself some pancakes.  Moose goes to Bear's Cave to invite him to have pancakes but Bear is already hibernating.  He checks out his favorite restaurant, Pancake Hut, but it's close for the season.  So Moose decides to join the ducks.  They get in a car and start their trek along the eastern seaboard.  They reach Florida and they have a blast together, hanging out at the beach, orange picking, golfing, even watching a shuttle launch. Winter is now over and it's time to go back home...and Moose cries all the way back. He now loves the warm weather and is proudly wearing a new t-shirt: I Love Florida.
     Duck Duck Moose is a hilarious road trip/family vacation tale.  The Moose is an adorable character that kids will surely embrace.  The details and little jokes included in the illustration will delight adults as well.  Its text is easy enough for young readers without losing it's read-aloud potential.  Great book to introduce migration and adaptations as well.

Sep 18, 2011

The Adventures of Polo

The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller

     Polo is an adventurous dog.  He leaves his tree island with his backpack stocked full of everything he might need for an adventure. And what an adventure he has!  He walks tight rope over the ocean, climbs magical ladders up to the sky where he rides clouds as cars. He sails across the seas and dives for an underwater adventure. He rides a whale, visits the North Pole, plays music with monkeys, and even flies up to space.  All along the way, he's making new friends.
     The Adventures of Polo is a wonderful wordless picture book.  Actually, it's more of a wordless graphic novel since it's 80 pages long.  What I love about Polo is how easily it transitions from setting to setting as if in a dream. It almost feels like stream of consciousness where nothing is impossible.  The illustrations are enchanting and it will captivate early readers.  I've become a big fan of picture books since it leaves room for young children to become narrators and add their own interpretation to the story.  There are other Polo books, so I'll be enjoying those soon.

Sep 17, 2011

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee

     Eamon and James are staying at Eamon's grandparents house for a week so they can attend Nature Camp.  As the week goes by, the boys spend more and more time indoors, playing video games and eating banana waffles. They start acting as one, to the point that Bill -Eamon's grandfather- nicknames them Jamon.  The two friends become inseparable and they only discover their love for the outdoors on their last night together, building with shells, rocks, and logs, a diorama of Antarctica (Bill's favorite place in the world).
     A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever is hilarious.  A lot of the comedy comes from the contradictions between the images and the text, like when we read that James was very sad to see his mother drive away, but we see him smiling happily and waving goodbye.  Or when we read that Bill teaches the boys a lot of new vocabulary words during their drives together and we see in the picture that he's actually cursing.  There is also the instance when Bill hands the boys binoculars to do some bird watching and we see the boys pointing them at each other and commenting through dialogue bubbles: "His freckles are HUGE," "Yeah, and his tongue is GROSS." Frazee is able to portray two boys being boys, picking video games over spending time outdoors, and it never feels like she's passing a judgement on them.  The boys friendship is infectious.  The illustrations are fun and delightful and offer a lot of insight into the boys friendship and adventures.

Sep 16, 2011

Mr. Maxwell's Mouse

Mr. Maxwell's Mouse

Mr. Maxwell's Mouse by Frank Asch
Illustrated by Devin Asch

     Mr. Maxwell, the cat, has just been promoted.  The elegant and well educated cat decides to celebrate by dining at his usual restaurant, the Paw and Claw.  Since this is a special occasion, Mr. Maxwell decides to be daring and instead of ordering bake mouse as it is his custom, he orders raw mouse.  His mouse arrives alive, laying atop a rye piece of bread.  From the instant he's presented as an entree, the mouse engages Mr. Maxwell in conversation.  The mouse is quite verbose and manages to delay his impending death and distract Mr. Maxwell long enough to trick him and replace himself with Mr. Maxwell's own tail.  As the cat cuts into his tail, chaos ensues and the mouse is able to free his fellow mice and run away from the restaurant.  Soon after the incident, while recuperating at the hospital, Mr. Maxwell receives a letter from the mouse: "I sincerely regret any distress I may have caused you. I'm sure you would have taken similar measures had you found yourself in my position."
     Mr. Maxwell's Mouse is deliciously creepy.  It's not for the squeamish.  I enjoyed the language, its pompous tone, and its dark and stylish illustrations.  It's macabre and entertaining.  What a great find.  

Sep 15, 2011

Darkness Slipped In


Darkness Slipped In by Ella Burfoot

     "Daisy was thinking of a game to play when Darkness slipped in at the end of the day."  She was inside her bedroom, playing around and dancing, too distracted to notice Darkness coming in through the window and spreading out on the floor. "Pretending he wasn't there, he slid along the wall. But Daisy had seen Darkness and she wasn't scared at all."  Darkness took over the room and covered up the light, but Daisy never feared. She had a plan.  She reached and grabbed him by the wrist and made him dance the twist with her.  "Now Darkness comes in every night to dance and laugh and play" until is time to say good night and he lays Daisy down to bed.
   Darkness Slipped In is a beautifully designed bedtime story.  The contrast between the bright pinks of Daisy's room and the slick blacks of Darkness are striking.  Daisy's ability to disarm the Darkness and control her fears are a powerful example for all kids afraid of "lights out" time.  The book's rhymes flow with ease making it a very enjoyable read aloud.  Darkness' characterization and illustration is never scary and its shiny appearance and smooth texture is quite appealing.  Daisy is adorable. This is a wonderful book to share before bedtime.

Sep 14, 2011

The Plot Chickens

The Plot Chickens

The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

      Henrietta is a hen that loves books.  She checks books out at the library and takes them back to the chicken coop to read the stories aloud to her aunts. One day, Henrietta decides that as much fun as reading is, writing books must be "eggshilarating."  So she checks out a book at the library about writing.  Following the rules she reads in the book, Henrietta writes her own story.  When her finished story is rejected by publishers, she decides to self-publish. The reviews are horrendous, and she's even embarrased to go back to the library. But when she finally does, she discovers that her book has been voted "Best Book of the Year" by the story hour children.  
    The Plot Chickens is a very funny picture book.  The mix of oil paints and digital art make the illustrations pop.  There are dialogue bubbles throughout the story that add little jokes to the main text.  The way Henrietta builds her own story, step by step, following what she reads in the book about writing, makes The Plot Chickens a great book to use as a guide during the Writer's Workshop in the classroom.  It covers the topics of characters, developing the plot (problem and solution) and even using sensory details to make the story better.  Great addition to the classroom library as well as a fun read aloud for home.

Sep 13, 2011

Grumpy Bird

Grumpy Bird

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

     Bird woke up grumpy.  So grumpy in fact that he didn't feel like eating, or playing, or even flying. So he decided to walk.   With a scowl on, the grumpy bird begins his walk and along the way runs into Sheep, Rabbit, Raccoon, Beaver and Fox.  Each one of them asks Bird what he's doing which only seems to aggravate him even more: "Let me give you a hint [...] You do it by placing one foot in front of the other."  "WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT TO KNOW WHAT I'M DOING [...] I'm just walking, okay?"  All the animals join the grumpy bird on his walk and it eventually becomes a game of follow the leader.  Bird walked, they walked. Bird stopped, they stopped. Bird stood on one leg, they stood on one leg. As the walk turns into a game, Grumpy Bird's frown turns into a smile and he ends up inviting his friends to fly back to his nest for a snack.
     I love Grumpy Bird.  It's a fantastic read aloud with great illustrations.  My son identifies with bird right away....let's just say he's not really a morning person.  This one you'll read over and over again, I promise.
PS: Thanks to the marvelous Heather E. Ryan for introducing me to Grumpy Bird.  

Sep 12, 2011

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Viking Kestrel Picture Books)

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Lane Smith

     "Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do."  These are the opening lines of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  In this fantastic retelling, we hear the story from the point of view of the wolf.  According to him, he was trying to bake a birthday cake for his grandmother and he ran out of sugar.  He was suffering from a terrible sneezing cold but since he really wanted to bake for his grandma, he decided to go and try to find some sugar.  His closest neighbor was a pig, and "he wasn't too bright." "I mean who in his right mind would build a house of straw?"  He was knocking on the door when his nose started to itch. He felt a sneeze coming and he huffed and snuffed, and sneezed and the whole house fell down.  "Right in the middle of the pile of straw was the First Little Pig -dead as a doornail."  To wolf, it seemed like a shame to waste "a perfectly good ham dinner lying there on the straw." So he ate it up.  Something similar happened with the second pig and by the time he got to the third pig, and  this one bad mouthed the wolf's grandmother, wolf tried to break in and that's when he was arrested by the cops.  But see, it wasn't his fault, he was just a wolf with a bad cold in need of a cup of sugar.
     The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings.  The clever text by Scieszka is complemented beautiful by Lane Smith's illustrations (author of the wonderful books Grandpa Green and It's a Book).  Aside from being a truly enjoyable read aloud, it's also a great book to use in the classroom to show point of view (narrated in first person).  One to have at home and in the classroom library as well.

Sep 11, 2011

9/11 Books that make me happy

     I've spent the last couple of days worrying about my blog post for today.  It's been ten years since the 9/11 attacks and it feels like yesterday.  Before 9/11 I was just somebody who lived in NYC, but on that day and in the following months, I became a New Yorker. I fell in love with the city, its resiliency, and passion...and I felt home, part of a new family.  That day changed my life in more ways that I can say.  I changed careers and reevaluated my whole life.  I'm a teacher today because of 9/11 (as were many of the New York City Teaching Fellows I met that year).
     Getting back to the blog...on the days that followed the attacks I found myself glued like a zombie to the television newscasts.  I needed to find something to keep my mind occupied so I turned to books, looking for ones that would make me happy and bring back good memories.  So today, I'll just show you some of those books in no particular order:

Mafalda & Friends 1 (English edition)     The Phantom Tollbooth     The Little Prince     The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 3: The Crab with the Golden Claws / The Shooting Star / The Secret of the Unicorn (3 Volumes in 1)   

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE BY ROWLING, J. K.(AUTHOR )PAPERBACK ON 01-JUN-1999     A Margarita Debayle     Asterix the Legionary (Asterix (Orion Paperback)) (Book. 10)     The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Neverending Story     Alice in Wonderland     Charlie and the Chocolate Factory     Like Water for Chocolate A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes Romances and Home Remedies 1994 publication.