Monday, November 18th, 2013

It’s Monday! What are you reading?


Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read! This is always my favourite way to discover what to read next.

The picture books I enjoyed this week:

999 Tadpoles written by Ken Kimura and illustrated by Yasunari Murakami

My, oh my, a lot can certainly happen on route from one pond to another. The illustrations in this book are highly engaging – it’s a lot of fun to imagine what 999 growing tadpoles might look like. The story is not that complex but it is an amusing book to let students explore. What happens when one pond becomes too small and very cautious Parent Frogs need to move their quite humongous family to a bigger water hole?

999 Tadpoles #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague

My students were delighted by this very charming version of the classic Three Little Pigs story. Student reviews are shared here. We particularly loved the clever third pig and how she handles both the wolf and her not so focussed siblings.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Oscar’s Half Birthday by Bob Graham

There isn’t a huge amount of story here, no action filled plot. Rather there is a whole lot of moment. Family. Time together. Celebration. A Park. A picnic. Lots of community. And . . . love the multiethnic parents depicted! Takes me back to the slower pace of having little ones still in babyhood.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Dream Friends by You Byun 

I had to read this title twice as the first time I was just entranced by the illustrations. A sweet little story about dream friends and the challenges for shy children to connect with others. Would love to read this with a young class and see the reaction.

Dream Friends #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Picture books I LOVED:

Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom by John Rocco

So first, I adore John Rocco. Second, a few pages in is an illustration of our big haired hero and his equally hair blessed friends marching across the page as “unstoppable!” Wow. And then the “station wagon capture” scene. Maybe this took me back to my own childhood full of those boat like station wagons, bell bottoms and big hair . . . Yes, this book definitely had the nostalgia advantage. But, I also loved the story of a little guy who equated his hair with superpowers and sees the world as a series of adventures and rescues where heroes fare best. Truly sweet. Big points for the illustrations. Would love to see another Caldecott next to Rocco’s name for this!

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett and illustrated by Matthew Myers

This title gets full points for its highly appealing “revision” to make a book absolutely kid appreciated. Mind you, not just kid, as my husband read it and instantly wanted to buy a copy for his father for Christmas! It is the creative license that this book celebrates – the humour, the scribbles, the reinventing of a character . . . that I love. Also worth noting – I showed the book trailer to my class and they ask me about 15 times a day if I have bought the book yet! (Can’t wait to book talk this tomorrow and let this book loose into the hands of my classroom full of readers who will energetically devour it!) I think this book delivers the message that we can all be writers and imagine characters that we can bring to life. SO MUCH FUN.

BattleBunny #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

I have also been reading through some new purchases for my “almost ready for chapter book” set.

Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard

I remember reading many Mr. Putter titles when my children were younger and have a real soft spot for all of these characters! This book gives Mr. Putter’s tummy a starring role. Oh what midnight walks do for the digestion!

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard

I giggled through this entire story of Mr. Putter in his long socks and baggy shorts doing his training for a Senior’s Run. Very funny.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa Spring Babies by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Betsy Lewin

One of my little readers so loved the first Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa title. She read it to me. She read it to the principal. She keeps it in her book box as a kind of treasure. These early readers are a perfect stepping stone to longer chapter books. This title is particularly wonderful to let children explore the miracle of babies on a farm.

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

I also finished and loved Living with Jackie Chan by the brilliant Jo Knowles

Knowles just has vulnerability and raw emotion down. I was one of those readers of Jumping Off Swings that wanted to know more about Josh. This novel certainly delivered. A beautiful story of family, of healing, of facing mistakes and figuring it all out (sort of). Loved all of the characters in this story. Now my only problem is that I’ve read every book Knowles has written. Looking forward to anything else she might do!

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Next up? I just started reading If you Find Me, a YA novel by Emily Murdoch and can’t put it down.

Developing visual literacy skills

The CLoud SPinner

What is visual literacy?

As defined by WikipediaVisual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text . Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of reading.

So how do we go about teaching students to use observation to notice the details and nuances in illustrated stories? As we learn how to ask questions and to infer to deepen our understanding of stories, I also want my students take time, slow down and really focus on their observation skills with the illustrations in picture books.

What do we see when we look closely at an illustration vs. quickly flipping the page? I remind students that these books are picture books for a reason – the story is told through a partnership between author and illustrator. Both pictures and words are important – together they make the story whole.

Wordless books are great to practice these visual literacy skills with but I wanted to have students use these strategies with picture books with text. The trick? Cover the text! So armed with sticky notes, and some fantastic picture books, we began to practice paying close attention to the illustrations and asking questions, inferring and predicting based on what we noticed.

Note: What is described below is what took place over a series of lessons with my Grade 2 reading group

We started with two picture books that I shared with my reading group and I charted our observations and questions as we discussed what we saw. Then the students went through the same process working with a partner and writing their own questions/predictions/inferences. It is always so interesting to go back and read the text to see how close our predictions were and which questions got answered.

The first picture book we practiced with was The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay. This book has so much going on in the pictures – we could have spent half the class just on the cover. Students wondered about the birds flying in all different directions. They wondered whether the boy was making clouds from his loom or making fabric/material from the clouds themselves. We noticed a castle in the background, birds flying in multiple directions, things looking one way but actually not what they initially seemed (for example the faces on the hillsides that are just objects temporarily grouped a specific way). Students had many questions and each wrote a prediction about the story before we sat down to read the book with both text and illustrations. Many of the children commented that we might have missed some details in the illustrations that were clues had we just read the text.

Next we used Gorilla by Anthony Browne. This title is the perfect book to use when Gorilla Anthoney Brownhaving students practice their ability to infer – even more powerful when we explored just the pictures.

With this story, each student had their own notepads to list their questions as we explored the pictures and we stopped frequently to discuss what we thought might be happening with this story.

For those who don’t know this classic Anthony Browne tale, a quick summary: In this story, Hannah wants to see a real live gorilla at the zoo but her busy father never has time to take her there. He gives her a toy gorilla on the night before her birthday. Hannah is upset and disappointed. But in the middle of the night, Hannah and her “toy” gorilla have an amazing adventure.

Some of the students questions included:

  • Does Hannah have a Mom?
  • Did her Mom die?
  • Does Hannah’s Dad have a job? Is he worried because he doesn’t have one?
  • If he does have a job, does he work too much?
  • Does her Dad never have time for her?
  • Is the gorilla lonely too?
  • Does the gorilla love Hannah?
  • Does the gorilla have magic?
  • Will the Dad freak out if he finds out Hannah is gone all night?
  • Will the gorilla save all of the apes and monkeys at the zoo?
  • Why does the gorilla seem sad?
  • Is this just all a dream?
  • Is it just in Hannah’s imagination?
  • Why are they out dancing in the middle of the night?
  • Did the Dad and Gorilla change places?

At the end, even when we read the story, we realized that the author does not tell us what is actually real. “Well,” one clever child observed, “if the author doesn’t tell us, we can choose. That’s the magic of books.” Again, students felt that we got so much more from the story by focussing first on the details in the pictures, asking questions and talking about what might be happening. Students loved listening to the story after this to see how close their idea of the story was to what actually happened.

Now we were ready to begin to go through this process with more independence! Working in partners, the students chose a picture book, markers, chart paper and scrap paper to cover the text and got to work exploring just the pictures and noting down their questions. These students used the book Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by Lee Harper.


Questions started out quite simple, but as the children began to have a sense of the story, they started asking more complex questions. the questions below are about the book Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester.


The story A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham inspired a lot of questions! There was so much in the details of what was happening inside and outside of this bus. The students who used this book read it two times through after exploring the illustrations.


I was impressed by how focussed the students were. All of them were engaged with their books, their partner and the discussions that they were having.


Snippets of conversations I heard as I circulated:

  • “Quick! Cover the text!”
  • “We have so many questions I can’t believe it.”
  • “We know so much!”
  • “We’re sure predicting so much stuff.”
  • “Look really closely. You will notice more.”
  • “I think I see better when I don’t get distracted by the words.”
  • “I think this makes us smarter.”

Really . . . what more do you want to hear during a lesson?

As I share picture books in whole class lessons, I have noticed that students who are in my reading group are raising their hands to share details they notice in illustrations. This keen attention to detail has become contagious and the whole class has been paying more attention to pictures. We have to stop frequently to share with those around us what we notice and what we predict! I love all of the talking this has inspired!

A Bus Called Heaven

Our latest BLG treasure: A Bus Called Heaven written and illustrated by Bob Graham, read to us by Bill

We were excited as soon as we saw that Bill had a Bob Graham book as we are definite fans of Graham’s work. How to Heal a Broken Wing was a book we used during our kindness unit and April and Esme Tooth Fairies was a BLG book from last spring that often makes it back to our classroom via our library book basket.

What happens to a community when an abandoned bus gets parked in its midst? Well . . . People start talking. They do some exploring. They begin to take ownership. Soon that bus is pushed into a front yard. It is cleaned and scrubbed. It gets a paint job. And people begin to congregate. They play and interact. They eat and laugh. The old bus has new life. And when a tow truck arrives to tow the old bus away, the community has new purpose.

This story tells the story of a community coming together and of a little girl with a lot of gumption. We read this book and looked around to see everyone smiling. A feel good story perfect for rereading.

Our student reviewers report:

Truman: I liked the part when Stella won with no goalies and bought the bus back with all the kids who were energetic and the adults who were exhausted!

Carmen: The book started with a girl named Stella. She saw a bus and made a bus be like a house. They had a party and music. One night, guys came and sprayed black paint and wrote Street Ratz!

How to Heal a Broken Wing

How to Heal a Broken Wing written and illustrated by Bob Graham is the second picture book we have read on our theme of kindness.

This book is not wordless, but words do the least work. It is the illustrations – multiple panels on some pages, a full page illustration on another that tell this lovely story of kindness, hope and compassion.

A pigeon hits a tall skyscraper and falls into the busy streets. Nobody notices until Will happens by with his Mom. Maybe he is more observant? Smaller and more focussed on the ground perhaps? But he is the only one to notice the hurt pigeon. We noticed right away how Graham paints Will in bright colours while the rest of the people walking the streets are in dull greens, browns and greys, nothing that stands out. We came back to the page where Will first notices the pigeon and decided that Will made an important decision here – to pick up the bird or to walk away.

“It’s a decision to be kind or not.”

“If you don’t want to be kind, it’s okay, but you should . . .”

Amongst a busy street scene, crowded with people, Graham shines a light on little Will picking up the bird with the broken wing.

“The light on him makes us look much more closely and think about what is important about what he is doing.”

Will takes the injured bird home and despite his parents initial reservations, they help him to begin to care for the bird. Absolute silence as students studied the panels showing Will and his parents bandaging the wing, setting up a box for the bird and settling him in for the night. We follow the picture panels that show us the bird gaining mobility, eating and drinking and looking longingly out the window at the sky.

What has Will’s family given to the bird? We listed off what we had noticed: food, water, rest, a cage to protect him, shelter, care, hope and kindness. In time, the pigeon healed and Will’s parents take Will back to the city streets to let the pigeon fly free.

Two important things we learned about kindness from this book:

  • We need to notice when kindness is needed
  • It is a choice to be kind.

So – how aware are you? What choices do you make every day? This book is a story that reminds us to look at ourselves and think about what we do and what we don’t do everyday.

April and Esme Tooth Fairies

Our BLG reader Bill walked into an eager pyjama wearing audience today. It was a mini Camp Read at Seymour school. Bill might have been dressed in a suit but he had the perfect book to fit right into our pyjama theme! It featured sleeping people, comfortable beds and lots of characters dressed in their PJs! The book? April and Esme Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham.

This is a story about two little tooth fairies and their first tooth fetching venture. Graham has created a completely modern setting and feel to the story while at the same time giving us a whimsical sense of magic. We have cell phones, texting fairies and a ponytailed Dad doing the laundry. Yet, this is intermixed with pictures of toadstools, dandelion flowers and floaty white wings.

April and Esme spring the news on Dad

Despite their parents concerns about their “tooth fairy readiness”, April and Esme head off to claim Daniel Dangerfield’s lost tooth. When they find his room, they realize that Daniel has left his tooth in a glass or water and April has to dive down to the bottom to retrieve it. Oh dear – soggy wings! Daniel stirs and the girls panic. April texts Mom for advice! What to do? Whisper in Daniel’s ear: “We’re spirits of the air Daniel. You dreamed us. You did not see us.”

Scott blurted out: “That’s freaky! Is this non-fiction?  I wish it is!”

When Daniel woke up, he was convinced it was a dream. Meanwhile, our little fairies drift off to sleep exhausted from their tooth/coin exchanging adventure.

Such a fun story.

Our student reviewers report:

Kevin: It was a great book! It was funny because everyone had wings – even the dog!

Alyson: I liked the part where they were dreaming. It seemed like they were really doing it. Or . . . was it a dream?

Ricky: That was a great book you read! I always dream of being a fairy. I could make the things I want. Thank- you Bill for reading that book.