Sunday, September 25, 2005

Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems

Roemer, Heidi. 2004. COME TO MY PARTY AND OTHER SHAPE POEMS. Ill. by Hideko Takahashi. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805066209 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-2]

“She jumps barefoot, I wear socks; Spring’s the new kid on the block!” The opening line of the poem “Jump-Rope Jingle” sets the tone for this collection of energetic concrete poems. Organized by seasons, these poems celebrate the wonders of nature and common events in children’s lives. Some selections are written in simple rhyming nonsensical verse (e.g. “Rumple dimple dumplin’ pumpkin patch! / Buy a perfect pumpkin—mix and match.”), while others use more complex descriptive language (e.g. “We reach up to snatch waltzing leaves as they flutter.”).

The text of each poem is so descriptive and rhythmic that it could stand alone and still be enjoyed as a read aloud. However, in combination with the clever and colorful illustrations, the selections become a double treat. Consider for example the poem titled “Evening View” where the lines of the text for a giant V to illustrate geese in flight. In addition, the letter “V” found in some words of the poem (“voices,” “overhead,” “valiant,” “vanish”) is accentuated to represent individual birds. The color combinations used are appropriate to each poem. In “Dandelions,” the text used to form the flower is white while the words that form the stem are green. This is a collection of poems that will stimulate both sight and sound. Young readers will respond to this imaginative collection.

Some poems lend themselves beautifully to audience participation. Invite children to participate in reading aloud poems such as “The Happy Gardener” and “Special Delivery.”

Children can choose a favorite season and illustrate an activity they enjoy doing during that season.

Other collections of concrete poems:
Janeczko, Paul (Ed.). A POKE IN THE I. ISBN 0763606618

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Friday, September 23, 2005

Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America

Robinson, Sharon. 2004. PROMISES TO KEEP: HOW JACKIE ROBINSON CHANGED AMERICA. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439425921 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-9]

This photobiography by Jackie Robinson’s daughter makes the personal history of her father also an informative look at how racial attitudes were evolving in twentieth century America. There are many personal family photographs from the Robinson family which end up telling how America came to be two very separate worlds for whites and blacks. Even for nonreaders the charts and boxed texts with information will be very informative. Robinson’s career as a star athlete did not mean he automatically was treated differently than many other African Americans. Incident after incident of how racism was so entrenched throughout the nation will be discussion generating to young readers. This fact should be eye opening to young people who have grown up in a post civil rights era. The book ends with the description of the Robinson Foundation whose mission is to develop the talents and leadership of young adult racial and ethnic minorities. The website for that foundation should have been included in the text.


Using the Robinson book readers can create a time line with two levels. One can note separate events in Robinson’s personal life while the other highlights national events which paralleled the emergence of a 20th century civil rights movement in the United States.

Interview someone who grew up in the era of the civil rights movement (i.e. late 1950s-1960s). Use the background information from the Robinson book or other books about growing up in that era to come up with appropriate questions. Watch sections of the PBS documentary “Eyes on the Price.”

Books on growing up black during an era of segregation in America:

By Andrea L. Williams

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America's First Naturalist

Ray, Deborah Kogan. 2004. The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0374345899 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]


Billy Bartram was America’s first botanical artist. This picture book biography is told in first person journal entries, beginning when he is just eight years old. We are treated to his interest in plants and drawing, as well as the world of colonial America. The entries are told from his personal viewpoint making the story immediately accessible to the audience and assist in establishing the intimate tone of a diary. Not only does Billy love natural plants of all kinds, but birds and animals as well. Billy’s passion for his subject is obvious in his writings and results in the reader sharing his interest. The journal entries continue until he returns home from his travels to share his findings with his beloved father, John.

Reading Billy’s journal is also enjoyable from an historical view. His father’s best friend is Benjamin Franklin who explains electricity to him. His father is appointed Royal Botanist to King George III. Billy becomes a great friend of the native peoples and they nickname him “Puc Puggy,” which means “flower hunter”. He also witnesses the war of independence, but only from afar when he is exploring Florida.

The illustrations are gorgeous watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils mostly in a warm earth-toned pallette. Not only do we get the feel of days gone by, we also feel the warmth and beauty of the natural world that Billy and his father, John, loved so well. The text blocks are depicted with a darker edge giving the feeling of an actual, old journal. The endpapers are elegant maps of the United States and show where the Bartrams traveled.

Take a nature walk around your school or neighborhood to gather plants and flowers. Press the leaves in a flower press or between heavy books. Try sketching the leaves that are found. Look up the names of the plants in a field guide and label them with their common name and/or their Latin name.

Other books about naturalists: Armentrout, David. JOHN MUIR. ISBN 1589520556
Burleigh, Robert. Into the woods: John AUDUBON. ISBN 0689830408

By Cay Geisler

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Circle Unbroken

Raven, Margot Theis. 2004. CIRCLE UNBROKEN. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 03743122893 [Suggested Grade Levels K – 2]

“Now you’ve asked me, child, how I come to sew. Well put yourself in Grandma’s arms and listen to a circle tale from long, long ago…” With these words, a young girl begins to learn about her African heritage as her grandmother teaches her how to weave the sweetgrass or Gullah basket. This is a charming story of love and heritage. With poetry and grace, the aged grandmother describes the different generations of the family, beginning with the “Old-timey grandfather” who learned to weave the baskets in Africa before being captured by slavers. She continues through the Civil War, the World Wars and finally to present day where she is passing on the knowledge to her granddaughter.

The text is lyrical and although it only rhymes sporadically, it still flows nicely. For example: “‘The basket starts here,’ they said/and taught his fingers to talk,/to make a knot first. A coil./A circle unbroken.” The watercolor illustrations reflect the mood of the text. When the people are happy and content, the colors are strong and bright. When things are not going well, such as when the slavers come, the colors are muted and dull. The illustrator uses many shades of greens and browns to depict life on the Sea Islands with one striking exception of a page almost entirely of blue when the Yankees come during the Civil War. A book designed for slightly older children, this can provide children with a taste of life in the Gullah culture of the south. Raven provides historical notes and a bibliography at the end. This is a cultural book to be enjoyed by all.

Children may want to discuss the importance of the baskets in the African cultures and how traditions are passed from one generation to the next. They can discuss traditions passed down within their own families.
Children can learn how to weave their own baskets using different kinds of materials such as paper or straw. Having an expert come in to demonstrate and teach them would be especially meaningful.

Other books about baskets and culture:
Belton, Sandra. BEAUTY, HER BASKET. ISBN 0688178219
Ray, Mary Lyn. A BASKET MOON. ISBN 0316735213

By Ellen Reed

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Impudent Rooster

Rascol, Sabina, Trans. 2004. THE IMPUDENT ROOSTER. Ill. by Holly Berry. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525471790 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-3]

THE IMPUDENT ROOSTER is a retelling of a Romanian folktale. In this version an old woman and an old man are neighbors. The woman has prospered while the old man has just enough to get by, but does have a devoted pet rooster. The old man in a pique of exasperation tells the rooster he wishes he were a hen and could lay eggs. The rooster in turn decides to ease on down the road and find a way to help his master. He finds a little money which attracts the bad attention of a greedy nobleman who is determined to get it no matter how small. This meeting sets up a battle of wits between the bird and the greedy man. The bird throughout these battles keeps telling the noble,”Cucurigu, my greatest lord! Give back the pennies you stole.” The nobleman tries to kill the bird by drowning, by burying, by burning it, etc.. to no avail. The rooster finds a way to not merely escape but to prosper in the bargain. By the story’s end the rooster not only has had the purse of coins returned, but has found a way to ensure his master wealth and good fortune.

This story has dramatic qualities inherent in it as the rooster, and the nobleman have definite personalities. Repeated phrases such as Cucurigu as well as “What could the rooster do” add to the freshness of the material. The illustrations showcase Romanian folkart in style with a bold cocky little bird showcased throughout. Shades of yellow and orange in the bird as well as the various gold coins the nobleman will not let go of help the drawings parallel the text.


This story would be an excellent reader’s theater event where children with a bit of costuming such as head gear act out the main characters’ repeated phrases with an adult or older child setting forth the major narration.

Other stories where roosters are the stars:
Conrad, Pam. THE ROOSTER'S GIFT. ISBN 0060236043
Dallas-Conté, Juliet. COCK-A-MOO-MOO. ISBN 0316605050
Pearson, Tracey Campbell. BOB. ISBN 0374399573
Stevens, Janet. COOK-A-DOODLE-DOO! ISBN 0152019243
Wormell, Mary. BERNARD THE ANGRY ROOSTER. ISBN 0374306702

By Andrea L. Williams

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Imagine That! Activities and Adventures in Surrealism

Raimondo, Joyce. 2004. IMAGINE THAT! ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES IN SURREALISM. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0823025020 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-6]

In the first of a new series meant to inspire artistic impression, Raimondo tackles perhaps the most difficult of artistic concepts – surrealism. Youngsters are exposed to surrealism by examining art from five different artists. One famous piece from each artist is shown and highlighted with intriguing, interactive questions for the reader to ponder. Activities designed to re-create the style of the artist follow, along with photographs of children’s completed projects.

Large easy-to-read text on pages of various colors entices the reader to have confidence to try the techniques and enables understanding of the artistic concepts. Explicit photographs help explain the processes involved. A succinct biography on each of the artists at the end of the book provides additional information for the true art-lover. Together, the book is a stimulating interactive piece that begs to be read and “played with” again and again. Even adults will want to experiment with creating a “Dali-style” collage or an “Ernst-inspired” frottage! Fun, fun.

Create an illustrated glossary of the new terms discovered in the book.

Decide on a theme. Invite children to create one theme-based piece using a technique from the book. Display in gallery style throughout the library.

Use the “Me and My World” activity as a means of introductions at the beginning of a school year.

Other interactive books about art:
Boutan, Mila, ed. ART ACTIVITY PACKS: MONET. ISBN 0811813355

By Rebecca S. McKee

Saturday, September 10, 2005

If Not for the Cat

Prelutsky, Jack. 2004. IF NOT FOR THE CAT. Ill. Ted Rand. New York: Greenwillow. ISBN 0060596775 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]


“If not for the cat, / And the scarcity of cheese, / I could be content.” So opens, and provides the title, for a haiku picture book that captures the simplicity and grace of the poetic form. Each two-page spread pairs the spare 5-7-5 syllable haiku format with an exquisite full-color illustration to perfectly capture the essence of a different animal, seventeen in all. The jellyfish, for example, are depicted as, “Boneless, translucent, / We undulate, undulate, / Gelatinously.” In six words, Prelutsky manages to expertly capture both the image of a jellyfish and its motion through the water. Rand augments this with an illustration of an underwater jellyfish that itself appears to undulate in shades of blue.

Each haiku acts as a riddle, asking children to guess the animal described by using the verse and illustration. A “Who is Who” list at the end of the text lets children confirm their guesses. While the text is simple enough to appeal to children as young as the first grade, this collection of haiku will also attract older readers who can further appreciate the skill with which Prelutsky crafts his deceptively simple verses.


Read the book first without showing the illustrations and let the children guess which animal is being described. Then, give a second reading while showing the illustrations and compare the mental images that the children have conjured with Rand’s interpretation.

Discuss the 5-7-5 syllable format of haiku and the way in which Prelutsky uses this format to describe different animals. Children can then write haiku poems about animals of their choice and illustrate their poetry. When the children are finished, their poetry can be collected and made into a book to be displayed in the classroom or library.

Other haiku books:
Gollub, Matthew and Kazuko G. Stone. COOL MELONS -- TURN TO FROGS!: THE LIFE AND POEMS OF ISSA. ISBN 1880000717

By Erin Miklauz

Wednesday, September 7, 2005


Pennac, Daniel. 2004. DOG. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763624217 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

DOG is a really warm and tender dog’s point of view book about a canine named Dog and how he tames a human girl child. He eventually learns to trust life with those hard to understand humans. Dog’s early canine history is full of much mistreatment. He manages to have two dog friends named Black Nose and Woolly who influence him as a puppy and who give him the courage to keep looking for a place where he can thrive as a pet. Short chapters make the journey of Dog as homeless abandoned pup to lap dog a story that makes you want to finish this book. Dog’s mistress, Plum, is also in need of learning a few life lessons along the way. In her own opposite fashion she has been coddled, pampered and indulged and alternately ignored by two hapless parents. How the girl child and the canine help each other learn about treating other creatures makes this book both funny and touching.

The only section that does not quite ring true is when Dog travels with Hyena to a place called the Dog Cemetery. He encounters a “secret” kingdom where dearly departed pets are memorialized. Since Dog throughout this book encounters one grueling experience after the other with the fickle state of humanity, the cemetery is supposed to be a counterweight but to what effect is unclear. The chapters devoted to the cemetery seem clumped together. What works better is how Plum’s love for him forces her to be something not so erratic, so headstrong and so self-possessed. After Dog escapes from her fickle clutches, the scene where she pleads for a second chance is both melodramatic and very moving to the reader.

Discuss with readers if they think dogs dream. Compare and contrast several books with dog heroes. How do they stack up in behavior with their human owners? Have children who have pets of any kind bring in photographs of their animals and discuss why they do or do not agree that their pet is like a member of the family.


Some books that have a dog as hero:
Gardiner, John Reynolds. STONE FOX. ISBN 0064401324
Morgan, Clay. THE BOY WHO SPOKE DOG. ISBN 0525471596
Wallace, Bill. GOOSED! ISBN 068986681X

By Andrea L. Williams

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Moo Who?

Palatini, Margie. 2004. MOO WHO? Ill. by Keith Graves. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060001062 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-3]

Due to a brief case of temporary amnesia, Hilda Mae Heifer, cow extraordinaire, tries to rediscover her identity. An unlucky hit in the head has resulted in her losing her soulful, sing song quality “moo,” consequently starting the fun for Hilda Mae as she quests to find herself again. With the encouragement of friendly animals, she tries to mimic all the animal sounds in the barnyard until she finds the one moo sound that feels just right.

The concept of this book is simple, but the humor and illustrations are modern and quirky and will keep the interest of older readers. MOO WHO? is written well with patterned language and structure. When Hilda Mae tries out the series of different animal sounds, each animal steps up tell Hilda Mae why she is not that particular animal. For example, when Hilda Mae tries to honk like a goose, the goose and the cow go through a question and answer session discussing why Hilda Mae is not a goose. He asks such questions as, “do you have webbed feet?, do you have two feet?, do you fly to Canada every year?” Hilda Mae always thoughtfully answers no. Children will have a blast making the animal noises along with the characters in the book. Readers will also enjoy the slightly rhythmic and sing song quality of the book, reminiscent of Hilda Mae’s moo.

Hilda Mae Heifer and friends are portrayed as colorful, cartoon characters. Create a fun barnyard of your own by having each child draw or create an exaggerated barnyard animal. Draw on paper or make paper sack puppets of each animal. Discuss what sounds each animal in the barnyard makes.

Older children will enjoy the simple story of Hilda Mae Heifer that is told in an advanced and humorous way. Let students chose a simple topic and write their own amusing stories, complete with illustrations. Include rhyming or other patterned language such as words with the “ow” sound.

Other stories about cows:
Crebbin, June. COWS IN THE KITCHEN. ISBN 0763621293
Most, Bernard. COCK-A-DOODLE-MOO. ISBN 0152012524
Speed, Toby. TWO COOL COWS. ISBN 0698115996
Wheeler, Lisa. SAILOR MOO: COW AT SEA. ISBN 0689842198

By Lisa Erickson

Friday, September 2, 2005

Skateboard Mom

Odanaka, Barbara. 2004. SKATEBOARD MOM. Ill. by JoAnn Adinolfi. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0399238670 [Suggested Grade Levels K-5]

“You better ask your mom what surprises she has up her sleeve….” So states a cat on the back cover of this surprisingly energetic book about a mother who can’t contain her hidden talent any longer. Written by the founder of the International Society of Skateboarding Moms, this is the story of a boy who receives a skateboard for his birthday, only to have it confiscated by his mom. She’s not angry about it – she’s skateboard crazed! She was a champion skateboarder in her younger years, and she can’t resist the temptation to hop aboard and skate away from the birthday party. The son realizes how good his mom is on a skateboard, but he wants his board back. A surprise ending finds the family is full of awesome skateboarders!

The rhyming and rhythmic verse makes this title an enjoyable read-aloud. Bold colors and topsy-turvy perspectives of the full-spread illustrations enhance the feel of a skateboarder whizzing by. This is a charming piece that encourages kids to discover the interesting lives their parents may have led when they were younger.

Readers can draw connections to the family in the story by interviewing their own older family members about extraordinary things they may have accomplished earlier in life.
Gather informative materials about skateboarding. Create a group montage of skateboarding pictures and facts.
Create a 3-D skateboarding mom. Don a large stuffed body form with a helmet, knee pads, tennis shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt. Pose the body atop an actual skateboard for a fun display in the library.

Another book by Barbara Odanaka:
Books about skateboarding:
Werner, Doug. SKATEBOARDER’S START-UP. ISBN 0689820879
Eckart, Edana. I CAN SKATEBOARD. ISBN 0516243705

By Rebecca S. McKee