Feb 28, 2012

Blog Anniversary

     I started blogging a year ago today. It was my midwinter break and I was reading a book on writing children's books. At the end of the first chapter it gave me some "homework": to read a bunch of picture books and find one that I really liked, one that I didn't and explain why.  I soon realized I couldn't verbalize the reasons why some picture books appealed to me and some just didn't.  I also noticed that books that were being regarded as classics, I had never read. Granted I didn't grow up in the US, but still, for somebody that loved children's literature as much as I do, it was embarrassing to admit that there was so much I had never read or even heard of (I won't forget the look of utter disbelief in a friend's face when he asked me if I had read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and I said that I hadn't).  And so this blog was born out of the desire to educate myself about what was out there in the picture book world, what worked and what didn't.  
     In the process, I have fallen in love with picture books...completely in love.  I no longer like picture books. I love them. I need them.  I get a rush out of my weekly trips to the library, excited to see how many books are waiting for me in my hold pile (I'm pretty proud of the fact that I request so many books a week, that my lovely Peekskill librarians don't even bother to put my books in the "hold's drawer," but keep them on a separate pile).   
     I have learned so much during this past year. This "thing" has changed me completely.  Let me count the ways:
1. Going to my town's library multiple times a week made me feel like a much more active part of my community.  I got to know my librarians and I feel a lot more connected to my town. 
2. I'm a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club. The daily emails have become a part of my morning routine and the constant book recommendations have exposed me to new writers and new favorites.
3. I have connected with an amazing Twitter community.  I'm constantly learning from them and I feel like I have friends all over the place. I've never met any of them face to face (not yet), but I think of them as dear friends.
4. I've become a better teacher. Reading so much has allowed me to share a lot more with my students, connecting them with books and opening new lines of dialogue.  
5. I've met writers and illustrators, and even interviewed a couple of them. Now, for a book nerd like me, that has been as cool as going backstage to see your favorite rock band.
    So there you go.  I thought after a year I would stop writing this blog but now that seems completely impossible to me. This is such a big part of my life that I can't imagine not doing it anymore. I might not post everyday as I've done so far, but I'll be here most days. I have to. I want to.

Feb 27, 2012

Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published by Balzer + Bray

     "In a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys," a little girl and her dog found a box with yarn of every color.  Anabelle first knitted herself a sweater, and then one for her dog Mars too. "But there was still extra yarn."  So Anabelle begins to knit something for everyone, and everything, bringing color to her drab town.
     Extra Yarn has it all:  fantastic design and tale full of wonder, magic, even an evil archduke.  Jon Klassen's illustrations are wonderful (Oh! how I've missed you Bear and Rabbit...who needs a red hat when you can have multicolored hand knitted sweaters?).  This one is an early favorite for this year's top books.

Feb 26, 2012

And Then It's Spring

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Published by Roaring Brook Press

     Winter is loosening its grip and outdoors everything is brown.  A boy and his dog (and a rabbit and a turtle) head out carrying a bag of seeds.  And then they wait. They wait for rain and sun.  "And it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown."  And they wait a bit more, looking for any sign of green. They worry about the little seeds and what could have happened to them to keep them from growing. Wait some more.  And then it's spring.
    And Then It's Spring is delightful, lyrical, and sweet. It's about patience and dedication.  It reminded me of one of my favorite picture books, The Carrot Seed,  and that's a really good thing.  The illustrations by the Caldecott Medal winner Erin E. Stead are gorgeous and feel as delicate as the little seeds fighting to bring the green into the picture.  Can't wait to share it in the classroom. Just beautiful!

Feb 25, 2012


Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans

     Madeline was awarded the Caldecott Honor in 1940.  I start by saying this because it's one of the few picture books published during the 1930s to have receive that honor and still feel like a current book and have as much appeal now as it did back then.
     Madeline is the story of a brave and spunky girl who attends a Catholic boarding school for girls in Paris.  She was the smallest of her class of twelve but she was the most spirited of them all.  A bit of a trouble maker, she always knew how to frighten Miss Clavel with her antics.  When one night Madeline wakes up screaming in pain, she is rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.  When her classmates came to visit her at the hospital, Madeline proudly shows her new scar.  Back at school, Miss Clavel must send to bed the rest of the girls who are all now wishing to have their own appendixes removed.  "And she turned out the light- and closed the door- and that's all there is- there isn't any more.
     If you have only known Madeline through her more modern portraits and editions, do yourself a favor and grab this 1939 one.  The yellow and black illustrations are wonderful and the flow and rhythm of the text are delightful.  Love Madeline!

Feb 24, 2012

If You Lived Here. Houses of the World

If You Lived Here. House of the World by Giles Laroche
Illustrated by Giles Laroche
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

     If You Lived Here: Houses of the World is a non-fiction picture book that describes different types of homes and dwellings from all over the world. Each page spread explores a different type of home, all starting with "If you lived here" and continuing with a description of what your home would look like.  Giles Laroche has included specific information about each kind of house under the headings: House Type, Material, Location, Date, and Fascinating Facts (did you know that logs from trees felled in winter were thought to last longer than those cut in other seasons?).  You'll learn about Chalets, Dogtrots, Pueblos, Fujian Tulous, Palafitos and Yurts, as well as other more common types like trailers and townhouses.
     The intricate bas-relief cut-paper collages created by Giles Laroche are incredible, beautiful.  This is the kind of picture book that could be in a classroom library, in a home bookshelf, or in a coffee table, and feel at ease in either one.

Feb 23, 2012

Just in Case. A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book

Just in Case. A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales
Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Published by Roaring Brook Press

     Señor Calavera couldn't wait to get to Grandma Beetle's birthday party. He had ironed his tie, put on cologne, dusted his hat (which now sits on top of his cover of A Hundred Years of Solitude -a hint of the magic to come), and prepped his bike.  On his way there, he heard "a moan from beyond the grave."  It was Zelmiro the Ghost, a friendly looking ghost of an old man.  Zelmiro reminded Señor Calavera that he needed to bring Grandma Beetle a gift.  "You surely must know, the best present to give a friend is the thing she would love the most."  So Señor Calavera packs up un Acordeón (an accordion), Bigotes (a mustache), Cosquillas (tickles), and un CHiflido (a whistle).  Zelmiro celebrated Señor Calavera's choices but he wondered out loud, "are they what Grandma Beetle would love the most?"
     Señor Calavera ends up collecting a gift for each letter of the alphabet -except the Z- but it has taken him so long that he's now late for the party and in his rush, he ends up crashing his bike and dropping all the presents. He couldn't believe his misforture. He had no more time and no presents at all...except for the person Grandma Beetle had loved the most: Grandpa Zelmiro!
     Just in Case is a delightful trickster tale.  Yuyi Morales has done a wonderful job of incorporating a bilingual alphabet book into the thread of a truly entertaining tale.  The illustrations are gorgeous, filled with traditional Mexican images (starting with Señor Calavera, and complete with the classic Mexican lottery game) and plenty of fun details to savor over multiple reads.  And you gotta love the ending!

Feb 22, 2012

Happy Pig Day!

Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
Published by Hyperion Books

     Piggie is beyond excited. She runs to her friend Gerald to share with him the thrilling news: "Today is the best day of the year!"  It's Happy Pig Day! Gerald had never heard of such a day, so Piggie explains how you get to sing and dance, eat pig food, and play pig games. She's even brought some of her friends along to celebrate.  But how can Gerald, an elephant, join in all the fun? He doesn't look anything like a pig!
     Once again, Mo Willems has given us a delightful early reader, full of clever dialogue, overly dramatic line deliveries and tons of fun.  Happy Pig Day! is a wonderful reminder of finding ways to celebrate the joy of friendship.  I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Don't miss the Elephant and Piggie books!

Feb 21, 2012

The Wooden Sword

The Wooden Sword by Ann Redisch Stampler
Illustrated by Carol Liddiment
Published by Albert Whitman & Company

     "One starry night in old Kabul, the good shah couldn't fall asleep."  He looked out his window and wondered if the people in town were happy or sad, "rick or poor, foolish or wise." So he dressed up as a servant and left the palace to find out for himself without anybody recognizing him.  When he reached the poorest section of the poorest street he looked inside the window of a home from which sounds of laughter and singing emerged.  He saw a young couple happy together, sharing "nectar of sweet raisins by the light of their two Sabbath lamps." Wondering how poor people could be so happy, he knocked on their door and was immediately invited inside by the young man, who offered to shared his food -although he had very little.  The young man explained to the shah that he was a shoe maker and that every day he earned enough to buy food for dinner. The shah was curious and questioned him "But what if one day you can't earn enough puli?"  The shoemaker, while giving the shah his largest apricot, explained that he just didn't worry about that sort of thing. "If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should."
     The shah left that night impressed and wondering how strong the shoemaker's faith might be. So he decided to test it while ensuring no harm would really come to the young man.  He decreed that repairing shoes was illegal and the shoemaker found a way to work as a water delivery man that day, therefore still providing food for dinner. The shah then made delivering water illegal as well, so the young man found a new job. Nothing the shah tried seemed to shake the young man's faith and optimism.  Eventually, the young man ends up as a royal guard.  How will he do when he's asked to become an executioner?
     The Wooden Sword is a delightful retelling of a classic Afghani Jewish folktale.  It's a tale about faith, optimism, and resourcefulness to overcome any obstacles.  The illustrations by Liddiment are vibrant and offer an insight into a time and culture unfamiliar to most readers. Excellent addition to the folktale library.

Feb 20, 2012

The Quite Contrary Man: A true American Tale

The Quite Contrary Man by Patricia Rusch Hyatt
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
Published by Abrams

     Before Abraham Lincoln sported his beard, there lived a man named Joseph Palmer.  Since he was a little boy, he just did things his own way and his mother wondered what would become of "her pigheaded son." He was a Quite Contrary Man.  During those days, people liked to look and act like each other, "which meant looking plain and acting proper." Women all wore their hear up in tightly twisted topknots and men shaved their faces bare. "No one dare to stand out from their neighbors." Except Joseph Palmer.
     Joseph Palmer dared to grow a beard.  And not just any beard! His beard "flowed from chin to belly and from elbow to elbow." When he walked around town, the wind would make his beard fly behind him and soon her earned the nickname of "Beard" Palmer. The townsmen considered him un-american.  But his family adored him; he was fun to be around, original, and stood by what he believed in.  One day, a group of townsmen tried to assault him to cut his beard and though Palmer fought them off, they ran to the judge and said they had been attacked by Palmer first.  The judged fined Beard Palmer more than earned on a year, so he refused to pay and was sent to jail for a whole year.  While in jail, Beard Palmer refused to shave and always found ways to defy what he considered unjust rules.  When his release date arrived, they gave him a bill for the food he had consumed, so he refused to leave the jail! You won't believe the solution the sheriff and jailer came up with.
     The Quite Contrary Man is a wonderful tale about man ahead of his time, who dared to stand up for civil liberties in a time when no one dared to be different.  The author's note at the end of the book offer the historical background and what happened with Beard Palmer later on in life.  I found myself wanting to know more about him and wished the book had kept going.  It can be used to open up great classroom discussions about civil liberties and civil disobedience.  Excellent addition to any classroom or non-fiction library.

Feb 19, 2012

The Big Bad Wolf and Me

The Big Bad Wolf and Me by Delphine Perret
Illustrated by Delphine Perret
Published by Sterling Publishing

     A boy on his way home from school runs into a lonely figure sitting against a wall. At first he things it's a nice dog, but then the figure talks back and says that he is the Big Bad Wolf ("You know, the really scary one). The problem is that Wolf is not scary at all. In fact, he looks kind of scrawny. "Nobody believes in me anymore. I don't scare anyone. I'm done for."  So the boy grabs him by the hand and brings him home. The boy hides Wolf in his bedroom and begins his new job as the wolf's teacher, training him to become a true Big Bad Wolf.
     The Big Bad Wolf and Me is hilarious.  The dialogue and the scenes that take place between the wolf and the boy are truly funny.  I especially like their discussion around the wolf's name (the boy wants to name him Zorro, but the wolf insists that his name is Bernard -which won't work for the boy since that's the name of his great-uncle who smells like soap). Or this one:
Hey, what's the matter?
I just tried to eat you sister.
That's great! Go for it! She's a real pest.
     There is also a great detail on the inside papers. The front cover one has a picture of the boy roaring and the wolf cowardly covering his head with a pillow. And the back cover has a now "reformed" wolf roaring and the boy running away in utter terror. I loved the minimalist character of the illustrations, and the perfect blend of picture book, short chapters, and comics:

I'm really in love with this one. This unlikely friendship will captivate readers.Don't miss it!

Feb 18, 2012

The Library

The Library by Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by David Small
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

     The Library is the story of Elizabeth Brown, a girl born to read. When she was little, she didn't like to play with dolls or play outside. All she wanted to do was read. She read everywhere, all the time.  When she left for college, she brought with her a steamer trunk loaded with books, and in class she sat daydreaming about entering a readers' olympiad.
She manufactured library cards
And checked out books to friends,
Then shocked them with her midnight raids
To collect the books again.
Elizabeth preferred books to going out on dates, or dancing with her friends. She moved to a little town and lived a life devoted to her love of books.  Eventually, she accumulated so many books that "she had to face the awful fact, she could not have one more," so she ended up donating all her books to create The Elizabeth Brown Free Library.
     The Library is a beautiful book in every sense of the word.  The character portrayed by Stewart is funny and lovable, and the gorgeous illustrations by Small add to Elizabeth's loveliness. I love the way Small framed the images and added ink designs to accompany the rhyming verses.  I especially liked those pages where the illustrations cannot be contained by the frames anymore, and books end up spilling all over the page.
     There is an underlying quirkiness about Elizabeth and readers get a glimpse of it with hilarious lines (with illustrations to match) like:
She made a list of groceries
And tucked it in her book,
Then lost the list among the fruits
And left with nothing to cook.
She read about Greek goddesses
While vacuuming the floor.
Attending only to her book,
She'd walk into a door.
      I dare you not to fall in love with Elizabeth Brown. This is one of my favorite picture books. Enjoy!

Feb 17, 2012

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso!

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

     Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! explores Picasso's early years as a painter.  We learn about his amazing abilities since he was a young boy in art class, where "in the time that it takes them [older pupils] to do a sketch, Pablo has completed a large oil painting." Picasso never stopped evolving as an artist.  "In the time it takes other people to admire the exquisite beauty of his art, young Pablo has moved onto some other style." Though art patrons asked him to focus in the type of art that sold well, Picasso kept pushing the envelope, saying that "to copy yourself is pathetic!"  The book takes us on a journey of the evolution of his art all the way to his cubist stage.
     The illustrations by Hawkes are bold, colorful and play with perspectives while also portraying some of Picasso's most famous works.  There are some wonderful images illustrated by Hawkes like where we see Picasso literally exploding into the art scene, jumping into the middle of a realistic painting of an idyllic landscape.  Also, there are some very nice transitions between his different stages like the tail end of his matador cape as he moves from museums to bullfight arenas.  Or the foreshadowing of his blue period while in France, announced by the deep blue used to color the underbelly of the Arc de Triumph in Paris.
     Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! is a non-fiction picture book that shows the courage and brilliance of Picasso.  There is an extensive author's note adding to the historical context and importance of Picasso.  Fantastic addition to a biography or nonfiction library.

Feb 16, 2012

In the Time of the Drums

In the Time of the Drums by Kim L. Siegelson
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Published by Hyperion Books for Children
"In the long ago time before now, on an island fringed by marge meadows and washed by ocean tides, mean and women and their children lived enslaved. This was the time when giant live oaks trembled with the sound of drums and, say some, it was a time when people could walk beneath the water."
    So begins this incredible tale.  A boy named Mentu, born in the island, lived with his grandmother Twi, who had come from Africa. "There, she had learned powerful root magic" and whites and blacks all feared her.  But Mentu had known nothing but kindness from his grandmother. "Some said his first breath had come from her own mouth. That as a new babe he had been still until she whispered the secret of life into his tongue." From Twi, Mentu learned how to play the drums, how to be strong, and the songs and stories from her Africa.
     One day, a large ship arrived carrying slaves.  When the slaves heard the sound of the African drums welcoming the ship, they thought they had made it back to their land, but as they emerged bound and tied, they didn't recognize the island.  As the slave traders hit them with their whips, the slaves began chanting a song in their own language.  Twi let Mentu know that his time to be strong had arrived, that the song from the slaves talked about going home, "say the water brought'em cross the passage and it can take'em back, fe true."  As Twi ran towards the ship and the water that would take her and the slaves back to their home, her body transformed into the young woman she had been when she had left Africa many years before.  She held hands with her people and as many times as the slave catchers tried to slip ropes around their necks, nothing could hold them back.  They walked beneath the water chanting "the water can takes us home. It can takes us home."
     Years later, the islanders stoped casting their nets in the area "for fear of pulling up those chains sunk deep in soft gray mud." And Mentu grew strong and played the drums with his children. He told the stories Twi had taught him, "so rich that they wondered if he had lived in Africa himself."
     In the Time of the Drums is one of the most powerful picture books I've ever read.  Siegelson masterfully tells the story, with gorgeous details and beautiful language. And the illustrations by the incredible Brian Pickney are, as usual, mesmerizing.  This one will stay with you long after you finish reading it.  Spellbinding.

Feb 15, 2012

White Snow Bright Snow

White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
Published by HarperCollins
Caldecott Medal 1948

     I know it's been a unseasonably warm winter here in the US, and I would normally not complain. In fact, for someone who grew up by the Caribbean Ocean, a warm winter is a great winter.  But then you read White Snow Bright Snow, and the gorgeous text by Tresselt makes you wish you could look out your window and see the world covered in a snow blanket.
Softly, gently in the secret night,
Down from the North came the quiet white.
Drifting, sifting, silent flight,
Softly, gently, in the secret night.
     The postman, the farmer, and the policeman felt the snow approaching and each prepared for it accordingly.  The postman put on his rubbers, the farmer grabbed his snow shovel and the policeman buttoned up his coat. Suddenly "the air was filled with soft powdery snowflakes, whispering quietly as they sifted down." The children tried to catch the snowflakes on their tongues. That night, "silently, the frost made pictures of ice ferns on the window panes."
     Tresselt's beautiful descriptions of the snowy day continue:
[In the morning]
Automobiles looked like big fat raisins buried in snowdrifts.
Houses crouched together, their windows peeking out from under great white eyebrows.
      As the days start getting warmer, and spring starts making his way, "fence post lost their dunce caps, the snowman's arms dropped off, and running water gurgled in gutters and rain pipes." "And the children watched for the first robin to tell them Spring had really come."
      White Snow Bright Snow is a book to savor one line at time.  Unfortunately, for me, the illustrations don't capture the beauty of the text.  In fact, in the printing I read, there were instances where the grays of the background made it difficult to read the text.  But take may word for it, there is enough beauty in Tresselt's words to transport you to a winter wonderland. Just beautiful!

Feb 14, 2012

Cybils Awards Announced!

     My heart belongs to Picture Books and what better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to share the wonderful news that the Cybils Awards for 2011 have just been announced!
     As you may already know, I was lucky and honored to be a Round 1 Panelist Judge for the Fiction Picture Book category this year.  We read over 250 picture books and ended up selecting 5 finalist. From those five (drum roll, please), here is your 2011 Cybils Award Winner:

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

Click here for my review of Me...Jane

     Please visit Cybils Awards for 2011 to see all the other winners in categories such as: Book App, Nonfiction Picture Book, Early Chapter Books, Easy Readers, Poetry, Graphic Novels, and more!

Feb 13, 2012

East Dragon, West Dragon

East Dragon, West Dragon by Robyn Eversole
Illustrated by Scott Campbell
Published by Simon and Schuster

     "East Dragon lived in a palace. West Dragon lived in a cave."  They lived on opposite sides of the world and they didn't think too kindly of each other. "West Dragon thought East Dragon was a snob. East Dragon thought West Dragon was a slob."  They weren't quite sure who was stronger or fiercer, so they were a little bit afraid of each other and "kept a world between them, just in case."
     East Dragon lived a peaceful life with his eight brothers and sisters inside the emperor's palace, who loved having them around for good luck and wise advice.  On the other hand West Dragon was not treated kindly by the King and knights who were a total nuisance. They would barge into his cave "waving their silly swords," interrupting his naps.  So when West Dragon gives the king a map to guide his knights to a land far East full of treasure and adventures, the two worlds are set to collide.  What will happen when the two dragons meet?
     East Dragon, West Dragon is a wonderful twist on "The City Mouse and the Country Mouse" story.  Its  filled with humor and wonderfully paced.  The watercolor illustrations by Campbell add to the whimsical feeling, full of details and clever anachronism (Karaoke, piñatas, video-games and pizza!). Wonderful way to bring two worlds into a classroom discussion with tons of fun, but also the possibility of a serious conversation about stereotypes and preconceptions.  Loved it!

Feb 12, 2012

Aggie Gets Lost

Aggie Gets Lost by Lori Ries
Illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
Published by Charlesbridge

     Ben took his dog Aggie for a walk in the park.  He took the leash off to play fetch and threw his red ball as far as he could.  Aggie went running after it and Ben lost sight of her.  He waited and waited, but Aggie never came back. His parents helped him look for her, made signs and called the neighbors, but that night Ben went to bed sad, not knowing if he would ever see his adored dog again.  When he returned to the park the next day, a blind man showed him how to see with his other senses, and soon enough Ben heard the calls coming from Aggie, deep in the forest.
     Aggie Gets Lost is organized in three short chapters: The Bad Day, The Awful Night, and Found! What I found to be special about Aggie Gets Lost is that it is an early reader book, with simple text, but nevertheless, it captures the pain and feelings of loss that someone who looses a pet faces.  Excellent addition to any Early Reader's library.

Feb 11, 2012

When Blue Met Egg

When Blue Met Egg by Lindsay Ward
Illustrated by Lindsay Ward
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

     "One snowy morning, Blue was awakened by something extraordinary flying through the air."  Below, unbeknownst to her, a group of kids were having a snowball fight, and one of the snowballs had landed right on her nest, on a big tree in Central Park.  Blue packed Egg inside a bucket and immediately began her search for Egg's mother.  With Egg in its bucket, Blue traveled all over Manhattan visiting all the spots where she had seen other birds hang out. She looked all over Central Park, along the street cart vendors, and even atop skyscrapers, but no bird seemed to be looking for Egg. She even made flyers announcing she had found Egg, but no luck. As the days went by, Blue spent the winter enjoying Egg's company, playing in the park, visiting the Metropolitan Opera House, and Guggenheim.  But the weather was getting warmer, and it didn't seem to be siting well with Egg.
     When Blue Met Egg is lovely. Truly lovely.  It's a story of friendship, companionship, loss, and new beginnings. As the reader, your heart aches as soon as you realize Blue will eventually loose Egg forever as soon as the winter cold ends.  Ward found a wonderful way of providing an uplifting ending and a new companionship that will forever connect Blue and Egg.  The illustrations using paper collages and mixed media are fantastic. I found myself looking for all the little details hidden in the type of paper that Ward was using. By the way, I give extra points to Ward for having found a fantastic way of turning those dreaded answer sheets that schools use for high stakes testing into beautiful art.  Also, the fact that the story takes place in NYC gives it an extra touch, finding something as small and sweet as Blue, making her way through such a big place and just owning it.  When Blue Met Egg is definitely going to be on my favorites of 2012 shelf. Don't miss this one!

Feb 10, 2012


Bittle by Patricia MacLachlan & Emily MacLachlan
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Joanna Cotler Books

     Nigel the cat and Julia the dog, led a happy life with their owners. Nigel spent his days chasing mice in the fields and scratching rugs, and Julia relaxed and thought about bones and treats.  When their owners start repainting a room, buying booties, and bringing in new furniture, the pets realize that a baby is on its way.  The day the baby girl moved in, Julia commented that it didn't smell like anything she knew. "What good is she? She's just a little bit of a thing."  That's why Nigel decided to name the baby Bittle.  At first the pets were hesitant and didn't know exactly how they should feel about Bittle. But little by little their whole world starts to revolve around the baby. They played together, cuddled up to take naps together, and even shared their meals. So by the time Bittle is ready to say her first words, it becomes evident what a big part of her life Nigel and Julia have become.
      Bittle is a tender tale about the bond that's created between young children and their pets.  The illustrations by Yaccarino are bold and bright over their white backgrounds.  Children with pets will identify with Bittle right away, and those with no pets might be asking to get a dog and a cat as soon as they read Bittle.

Feb 9, 2012

Slugs in Love

Slugs in Love by Susan Pearson
Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Published by Marshall Cavendish

     Marylou had never talked to Herbie because she was too shy.  But she loved everything about him, "how his slime trail glistened in the dark, how he could stretch himself thin to squeeze inside the cellar window, how he always found the juiciest tomato."  Thinking of Herbie always inspired Marylou and she started to write poems to Herbie and leave them all over the garden.  Herbie was intrigued, and little by little, Marylou's poems captured his heart.  Unfortunately, every time Herbie left a note for Marylou, something would happened that would prevent her from seeing it. And even worse, Herbie had no idea who Marylou was or what she looked like.  Will those romantic slugs ever find a way to meet face to face?
     Slugs in Love is a very sweet love story, perfect for a Valentine's Day read aloud.  The little poems the slugs write to each other with slime are little samples to be emulated by kids while writing their own Valentines.  Who would've thought slugs could be so likable?

Feb 8, 2012

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald No Combina

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald No Combina by Monica Brown
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
Spanish translation by Adriana Domínguez
Published by Children's Book Press
Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Books 2012

     Marisol McDonald doesn't match, that's what everybody tells her.  She has brown skin and red hair, wears green polka dots with purple stripes, and likes to write part of her name in print and part in cursive.  She's Peruvian-Scottish-American and when she speaks she likes to also mix English and Spanish.  She's happy the way she is, but others keep complaining, so Marisol decides to try to match, to combine her clothes and conform.  Thankfully, one of her teachers let's Marisol know that she's loved just the way she is.
     Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald No Combina is a delightful story about loving yourself for who you truly are without trying to fit into any mold.  The story is written in English and Spanish (wonderful translation) and one of my favorite parts in when she mixes the two languages, and you can see the text mirrored in both side of the page -on the left in English with some words in Spanish, on the right in Spanish with some words in English.  Palacios' illustrations are beautiful and fresh.  Great book to open up conversations about multiculturalism in the classroom.

Feb 7, 2012

Dear Hot Dog. Poems About Everyday Stuff

Dear Hot Dog by Mordicai Gerstein
Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Published by Abrams

     Dear Hot Dog is a collection of poems about everyday items and experiences.  The collection starts with poems related to the early hours of the day, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, having breakfast.  Among this first group of poems, my favorite is Shoes:
You swallow my feet
for breakfast.
You love to run
and though I'm fast
you always
want to run faster
and faster.
Do you wish I were a horse?
Do you want to be
when you grow up?
     The middle group of poems concentrates on topics like playing outdoors (Kite, Air, Water), snacks (Hot Dog, Ice-Cream Cone), and the weather (Summer Sun, Leaves, Rain). There are some great images in those verses:
Where I imitate dolphins
and sharks till I flop
on the hot concrete
and you lick
me dry  (from Summer Sun) 
Wash away
the ordinary,
everyday world,
and in your flooded
gutters, I'll sail off
in my newspaper boat
to the land of mossy
rocks and gigantic ferns (from Rain)
     The final group of poems, include nighttime topics: Bear (about a teddy bear), Light, and Pillow.
Where do you go
when its dark?
Back into lightbulbs

      Dear Hot Dog will be a good introduction to poetry for the younger readers and early elementary classrooms.  It includes familiar topics and accessible text and offers a great opportunity to have students create their own odes to everyday objects (and you might as well throw in some of  Pablo Neruda's odes...his ode to the artichoke is one of my favorites).  The illustrations by Caldecott Medal Winner Mordicai Gerstein will delight readers who will find themselves reflected in one of the pages of the multicultural children.

Feb 6, 2012

Another Brother

Another Brother by Matthew Cordell
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Published by Feiwel and Friends

     "For four glorious years, Davy had Mom and Dad all to himself." He had their undivided attention and everything he did brought tears of joy to his parents.  But then Davy got a brother, and another, and another...In fact, Davy ended up having 12 whole brothers. Talk about change! Davy went from being an only child to being one in a baker's dozen.  And being the oldest brother was hard.  Whatever Davy did, his brothers would imitate. Wherever he went, his brothers would follow.  Poor Davy was going bonkers. His parents explained that it was only a phase, that soon, "your brothers will have their own interests" and they would stop copying him.  But when you've gotten used to a crowd following you around and doing everything you do, and then suddenly they stop, well, then you feel... lonely.  If only there could be a new baby at home to emulate Davy again.
     Another Brother is a delightfully funny and tender picture book.  The story of adjusting to a new sibling has been told many times before, but I love the way Cordell focuses on the frustrations of the older sibling being copied.  The illustrations are cartoon like, with plenty of funny details to savor at each page turn.  Wonderful addition to the library of any soon to be older brother/sister.

Feb 5, 2012

We Are in a Book!

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
Published by Hyperion Books for Children

     It's been a while since I've written about Elephant and Piggie, two of my favorite characters.  I just couldn't miss the opportunity to share with you We Are in a Book!.  It is simply brilliant. I love when books play with metafiction and this one does it in such a fun way that I ended up enjoying it as much as my son and my students.
     Elephant and Piggie notice that somebody is watching them: the reader.  That's when they decide to have fun with the reader by making him say whatever they want to aloud, in this case, "banana."  The best part comes when Elephant and Piggie realized that if they are in fact in a book, then that book will soon come to an end. And then, what will happen to them?
     The format of the Elephant and Piggie books, with its cartoon speech bubbles, is perfect for early readers.  The text is short, quick witted, and fast paced.  As I've said before in previous blogs, I've yet to meet a kid who doesn't love those two characters.  They are great books to read aloud, for partner reader, and even for quick reader's theater in the classroom. Check them out!

Feb 4, 2012

CelebriTrees. Historic & Famous Trees of the World

CelebriTrees by Margi Preus
Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Published by Henry Holt and Company

     You know you have found a special non-fiction picture book, when you keep saying, "Wow!" aloud and you look around for somebody to share with all the amazing things you just learned. That's exactly what happened to me as I read CelebriTrees.  This wonderful picture book profiles fourteen trees that have been labeled "Celebritrees" for their global fame and historical significance.  There is Methuselah, a Bristlecone Pine in Inyo National Forest in California that is around 4,800 years old.  Or General Sherman, a Giant Sequoia who's branches are "bigger than any tree growing east of the Mississippi River." The Bhodi Tree in Sri Lanka, said to be the tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.  Or maybe your favorite will be the Major Oak in the Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood and his men used to hide from pursuers. Each tree in this collection is more captivating than the next.
     The illustrations by Gibbon capture the grandeur and beauty of each of the trees.  At the end of the book, there is more information about each of the trees profiled, as well as environmental science resources and ways to help protect and grow new celebritrees.  This a truly captivating non-fiction book that belongs in all classroom libraries.

Feb 3, 2012

Henry in Love

Henry in Love by Peter McCarty
Illustrated by Peter McCarty
Published by Balzer + Bray

     Henry woke up to the smell of delicious blueberry muffins that his mom had made for him to take to school.  Henry is a boy of few words, especially when it comes to his lovely classmate Chloe. Chloe can do awesome cartwheels, and she's not shy at all.  And today of all days, the teacher has moved Henry's seat so that he's right next to Chloe! And it's snack time.  He has saved the muffin all day and as he takes it out, Henry gives his beautiful blueberry muffin to Chloe.
     Henry in Love is a beautiful book.  The cream color pages and gorgeous illustrations by McCarty, set the perfect mood for Henry's love.  When he thinks about Chloe, the pages fill with flowers.  Henry in Love will appeal to even the shyest kid, with a sweet school crush. Perfect for Valentine's Day!

Feb 2, 2012

Keeper of Soles

Keeper of Soles by Teresa Bateman
Illustrated by Yayo
Published by Holiday House

     Colin was a dedicated shoemaker and a very generous man. While he made a lot of money selling his shoes to the richest people in the kingdom, he used that profit to make shoes for those who couldn't afford them.  One night, there was a knock at his door, and when Colin opened the door he found a tall figure wearing a long black cloak. The figure spoke and said that it was Death, "with a voice that spoke of graveyards and dark, starless nights." Death had come to take Colin's soul. Colin though about all the shoes he still had to make, about "all the feet that would go cold and bare." And that's when he noticed that Death was barefoot.  Colin finds a way to distract Death from its mission by making him a pair of sandals.  A confused Death walks away with a plan to return in four weeks to try on his new shoes.  Time after time Colin is able to distract Death with new pairs of shoes. Years go by and Death keeps taking soles instead of souls.
     I loved Keeper of Soles. It has a great plot --the kind that allows for oral retellings-- and the illustrations by Yayo are whimsical and brilliant.  There are details to be savored over multiple readings, especially the amazing shoe designs Yayo has come up with.  While the topic of Death at the front door might be a bit dark for the youngest readers, Colin's wit and good heart make it a bright and delightful book. Great find.

Feb 1, 2012

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Paul Yalowitz
Published by Bradbury Press

     "Mr. Hatch was tall and thin and he did not smile." He was quite unsociable. Then, one day the postman delivers to him a gigantic box of chocolates in a heart shaped box with a note that read, "Somebody loves you." It was Valentine's Day.  He was shocked to realized he had a secret admirer! "And then he did something he had never done before: He laughed. He laughed and danced and clapped his hands."  And his joy was contagious. He suddenly became friendly, helpful, generous.  He baked for the neighbors and lent a helping hand everywhere he went.
     Months later the postman returned and admitted he had made a mistake and the box of chocolates was never supposed to have been delivered to Mr. Hatch. It was the wrong address. Mr. Hatch was heartbroken.  But, when you give so much, all that love comes back to you. And this time, there was not one, but a whole town of admirers of Mr. Hatch ready to show him how much they loved him.
     Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch is without a doubt my favorite read aloud to share for Valentine's Day.  It's a great story, with a great plot, and with a long text perfect for the upper elementary grades.  Great book to open up a conversation about showing others your appreciation and love.