Monday, November 26th, 2012

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Join a fabulous group of readers who share their weekly reads from picture books to young adult novels by participating in Jen and Kellee’s meme. If you are looking for new book ideas, this is a fantastic place to start!

The reading and the blogging about my reading are guilty pleasures this week. I am supposed to be finishing report cards. The reports are coming along but the reading and celebrating cannot be sacrificed!

I read a lot of wonderful picture books this week. Most of them fit into one of two categories: sweet or humourous. And a few were neither or straddled both. This is how I categorized my top ten favourite picture books reads this week:

Picture books of the Sweet variety :

Spork written by Kyo Mclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault I am a big fan of Virginia Wolf written by this author/illustrator team but I had yet to read this earlier book. A lovely story about being meaningful when you are truly needed. Arsenault’s illustrations are as always, stunning.

Make a Wish Bear by Greg Foley Yes, this book does end on a kind of predictable note but all along the way it celebrates a bunch of “strategies” for making a wish come true. I am a sucker for wishing upon a star so I thought this book was pretty special.

Plantpet by Elise Primavera This book ranks up there as one of my all time favourite picture books. It was not a new read but an important “re-read”shared with my class. We savoured it and then we did some art (see below) to celebrate the wonder of Plantpet. I highlight how amazing this story is in this post. Plantpet enters Bertie’s life as a found little creature in a cage. When Plantpet’s digging seems to have no end, Bertie banishes him to a corner of the yard and soon finds himself all alone. When he recognizes how much he misses his friend, Bertie races to find him only to discover a withered little green being. The two revive their friendship in the most beautiful of ways.

Student art inspired by this story: Ode to Plantpet

Mine! written by Shutta Crum and illustrated by Patrice Barton This little book is almost wordless (so I am instantly a fan) . One word is used in a multitude of ways: “mine” Young siblings and a dog experience owning, sharing and exploring with some toys. A little love expressed happens along the way.

Books that tickle your Humour bones: 

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems This was a fantastic read aloud shared in my classroom this week. A twist on a classic tale that only Willems could deliver. My favourite comment from a student: “Why did the dinos want to eat Goldilocks so badly? I liked that Goldilocks.” This is a Goldilocks you really must meet.

Slightly Invisible by Lauren Child I really do like Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola books. They are so much fun for children to read aloud to practice dialogue reading and expression and I love the sibling relationship: Lola’s spunk and Charlie’s patience. I particularly love Lola’s “imaginary” friend Soren Lorensen. So the fact that this character has a kind of key role in this story, makes me an instant fan.

A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid I had seen this title on a number of blogs and booklists earlier this year and finally bought my own copy. This is certainly a book to own. Petunia wants a pet. A pet skunk. And when her parents cannot be convinced, my, oh, my does she react. Off she stomps to live in the woods where she happens to meet a real skunk. Let’s just say real life experience has a way of being a powerful teacher . . .

I’m Bored  written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi I’m Bored” – oh such tedious words that parents and teachers dread. This story’s power is in the hugely large display of “I will prove I am NOT boring” that the main character shows to us.

Kids are boring.” Those are fighting words!

In between:

Won Ton (A Cat Tale Told in Haiku) written by Lee Wardlaw and illustrated by  Eugene Yelchin Such a cleverly told tale of a cat finding his way into the home and hearts of a family who adopts him. Funny moments of cat quirkiness alongside tender images of a cat and “his boy.”

Something else entirely and so worth a read: 

Each Kindness written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis Reminiscent of The Hundred Dresses this beautifully illustrated picture book’s power is in the questions it suggests: What does it mean to be kind? How do our actions impact others? What does it feel like to be left out and ignored? What happens when we run out of chances? Each kindness has a chance to matter if it is in fact offered. Powerful.

I also finally finished The Search for Wondla written and illustrated by Tony Diterlizzi as a read aloud with my children. We took quite a while to read this because we so frequently find picture books and non-fiction titles to share together. But every time we picked it up after a few nights off, we fell right back into this very unusual science fiction/fantasy title. Stunning artwork. Interesting story. Not necessarily the best book I’ve read in a while but certainly made for lots of great discussion with my children.

Upcoming book adventures?

I just started reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio to my own children! I loved this title when I read it and can’t wait to share it.

Last week I finished reading Clementine and the Family Meeting to my class and we just started Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. I hope it will be a favourite for my students as it was for me!

The novel I am reading for myself is What Came from the Stars by Gary D Shmidt. Very intriguing so far.

Monday October 8th, 2012

It’s Monday! What are you reading? On this Thanksgiving Day weekend I am especially thankful for extra reading time and the community of readers that participate in Jen and Kellee’s meme each week to share what they are reading from picture books to young adult reads. I always learn so much about fantastic books by hearing about what others are reading and sharing.

I read lots of fantastic picture books this week, many discovered at my local public library.

Pssst! by Adam Rex was a lovely surprise. Having just visited the Seattle Woodland Zoo this summer with my children, this book helped me deal a little bit with my zoo “thing.” While I love that people are able to get up close and personal with the animals and that it fosters understanding and inspires awareness about the plight of many endangered animals, I also am uncomfortable about these animals being in cages and stared at all day long. This book is about a little girl wandering from animal exhibit to animal exhibit hearing from each animal about something that they need. It’s everything from tires to flashlights to bicycle helmets. Luckily there is a store across from the zoo that happens to sell everything she needs to grant all of these wishes. What these animals do with all of these objects I will leave for you to discover. But as I say, it calmed my zoo “thing.”

Squid and Octopus Friends for Always by Tao Nyeu. This book contains four wonderful little stories in one picture book. Gorgeous colours – muted blues and greens mostly with some sunny orange and yellow here and there. There is a nice mix of humour and a theme of friendship and I love the commentary by all of the other creatures in the ocean that is spread across the pages.

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey In this last year, I have developed quite the adoration for Mini Grey books. (Read more here.) The fabulous thing about the Traction Man titles is the focus on the celebration of play, the imagination and the just plain silly. This book is set at the beach and Traction Man has quite the adventure. One large wave draws him out to sea and he is eventually whooshed into a dark and scary cave. He is rescued by a young girl and brought to the Dollies’ Castle where he is decked out in a flowery ensemble and served raspberry ripple ice cream. How will he escape? Much of this humour may be more geared towards adults, but I think there is easily enough here to completely delight young readers as well!

The Retired Kid by Jon Agee Being a kid is sure hard work. Haven’t you heard? The child in this story heads to a retirement home, officially retiring from being a kid. At first all seems great. Lots of naps. Pool parties. Golf carts. Certainly better than spelling and violin practice. But soon aspects of retired life don’t seem so rosy. I love the image of the boy in Friday night swing dancing classes. Perhaps his kid life wasn’t so bad after all? A great book to illustrate the saying “The grass is always greener . . . “

Lines that Wiggle written by Candace Whitman and illustrated by Steve Wilson. This is a beautiful book celebrating the variety of lines that we come across in everyday life. Highlighted here in wonderful illustrations and raised off the page sparkly swirls that just begged to be traced with your finger, this book is a lot of fun to explore. Thinking of all kinds of art projects it might inspire . . .

Watch Me Throw the Ball by Mo Willems. I keep coming cross Elephant and Piggie titles that I haven’t read.  This one has the perfect message: bring fun to everything that you do! It’s all in the attitude!

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan We had friends come for dinner and one of them brought this to share as a read aloud for the adults while all of the kids (seven of them at best count) were running amuck. A beautiful story of hope reminding us to find beauty in the smallest of things. The illustrations could take one days to study. Simply so full of meaning.

I have also been reading and really enjoying Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day  George. In this busy fall, it has been more difficult to get time to read novels. This one was recommended to me by my daughter who loves George’s books. I hope to wake up early in the morning and finish it.

Row Row Your Bear

We always enjoy wordless books in our class. Such a fantastic opportunity to build oral language skills, share creative ideas, practice inferring from pictures and celebrate the power of a great illustrator.

This past week we fell in love with the talented Beatrice Rodriguez and her delightful books featuring a fox, a hen, a rejected rooster and some would be rescuers.

The first book we read was The Chicken Thief

It starts off with a dramatic kidnapping. Fox steals a hen and her friends race off in pursuit. Bear, Rabbit and Rooster are determined rescuers and Fox ends up deep in the forest, sleeping up in a tree for the night to stay ahead of the animals. He keeps Hen snuggled close.

As the sun rises, the chase resumes and Fox manages to hide away deep in a burrow for night number two. He and Hen spend the evening playing checkers. Students began to suspect that Fox would not have the heart to eat his new companion. The chase continues the next day with Fox rowing Hen over the sea in a row boat and Rabbit and Rooster rowing Bear! I made a quick comment that it was not Row Row Row your Boat but Row Row Row your Bear and we had to stop reading as students began to compose songs! There is nothing like spontaneous group song writing: sharing rhymes and giggles inspired by a wonderfully creative text. Two verses that we sang all day (both composed on the spot by students):

Row Row Row your Bear, Off to catch the thief!

Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily

We caught him! What a relief!

Row Row Row your Bear, Forgot to get an oar

Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily

Finally, we reached the shore!

This song writing sparked many funny comments: “We’re so poetic!” “Whoever made Row Row Row your boat is fired!” “Yeah, 0 stars for Row Row Row you’re boat! We’re so much better!”

Finally, we got back to the story. Bear, Rabbit and Rooster do eventually make it to Fox’s home and here they find Hen and Fox sipping tea by the fire. In a wonderfully peculiar twist, Hen leaps up and declares her adoration for Fox and the other animals seem to accept the news and leave Fox and Chicken to a life together. Although Rooster doesn’t look very pleased . . .

We then read Fox and Hen Together which continues the story of our two curious lovebirds.

The story begins with Hen snuggling an egg that seems to be hers while Fox stands at the refrigerator in dismay. The fridge is empty. What to do? Hen takes charge passing the egg delicately to Fox and she and Crab ( a new friend it seems) head out to solve the problem of nothing to eat with determined steps and a fishing pole. As one might imagine, there is nothing typical about this fishing expedition. At one point a huge eagle snatches up the fish that Hen and Crab have caught and the two of them end up in the eagle’s nest sharing space with ravenous eaglets. Yikes! They next encounter a ferocious sea serpent and narrowly manage escape thanks to some very creative fishing line tricks and twists by Hen. When Hen and Crab race safely to shore they find a frying pan and a cracked shell on the table. Hen initially suspects the worse of her mate but is overwhlemed with joy when she realizes that her baby has hatched! Fox, Hen and Crab celebrate the birth with a toast of something bubbly and a fish roast of epic proportions (sea serpent anyone?) Students spent quite a while trying to decide what kind of creature the baby might be. A Ficken? Foxen? Chickox? Endless possibilities!

FoxHenInterior-left

Luckily all of us “squawked” loudly and in such praise of these two books that our wonderful Teacher Librarian Ms. Sheperd-Dynes purchased these titles for our library and also picked up Rooster’s Revenge, the book that rounds out this imaginative trilogy. Of course we shared it in class the very next day!

We found this title to be much darker but in a wonderully fantastical way. We first pored over the cover noticing Rooster’s body language and expression. He looked jealous, angry, overwhelmed and dejected (this was my word, helping us stretch vocabulary) This book picks up from when Rooster, Bear and Rabbit row away in the boat, leaving Fox and Hen to themselves. They hit a storm and are washed ashore onto an island, landing on huge boulders. As we looked at the full page spread though, we realized those rocks were not really rocks but instead turtles! Turtles that escorted our shipwrecked characters into a cave.

Roosters-Revenge-Turtles

Inside the cave, Rooster spots a glowing something. Is it a stone? An egg? Clearly he is mesmerized. He snatches it in his wings and races away from his friends with an eerily evil expression on his face. “I think that’s a bad idea,” Khai warns as we turn the page. The next few pages have Rooster, Bear and Rabbit traveling through a strange landscape. Huge mushrooms. Glowing lizards. And then it is back out onto the open sea. (We began trying out a rhyme that began Row Row Row your Mushroom but found ourselves too caught up in the story). When Rooster reaches land, his stolen egg hatches. Our seemingly possessed Rooster is quickly charmed by this little baby dragon and he shows him off proudly to the hens back home. So it seems that this little quirky clan of animals will now be down a hen but up a dragon and all will live happily ever after. Until the next adventure?

I love these books for a variety of reasons. They are quirky. They are incredibly engaging. They provoke laughter, deep thinking questions and endless discussion. And. . . . the song inspiration was pretty incredible. “And you are going to like these books Ms. Gelson because they have a strange shape,” Catriona reminded me. Very true. I do have a penchant for rectangular books. We were so intrigued by this trilogy by Rodriguez that there were many mutterings of hope for Book #4.

Amazing reviews of these books can be found on these blogs: 32 pages and books4yourkids.com.

Love wordless books? You might also enjoy: Using Wordless Books in the Classroom,  Wonders of Wordless Magic and Few Words on Five Wordless Books.

Wonders of Wordless magic

I have a kind of love affair going on with wordless books. There is something magical about getting to the end of one feeling like you have read a very detailed story. Yet, not one word graced the page. Such potential for oral language and retelling . . . Some more of my favourite wordless books – both old and new. ( A recent post on wordless books: Few words on five wordless books can be found here)

Mirror by Suzy Lee

Fascination with our mirror image – from joy to despair.

Chalk by Bill Thomson

Does every piece of chalk hold amazing potential? What is really real?

Oops by Arthur Geisert

One disaster inevitably leads to another. Note to self: House built on a cliff? Maybe not the best idea!

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Shadow by Suzy Lee

A lightbulb, a child and a beautiful imagination create wonder.

Picturescape by Elisa Gutierrez

Let Canadian Art take you anywhere and everywhere!

The next two wordless picture books were sourced by my husband from used book stores and given to me over 15 years ago. They hold an important place on my book shelves! Unfortunately, it is as challenging to find images of these books as it is to find the books themselves!

The Yellow Umbrella by Henrik Drescher


Where in the world can a yellow umbrella take two monkeys?

Mighty Mizzling Mouse by Friso Henstra

The ultimate mouse chase. And the winner? Do you need to ask?

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Orange and yellow whimsy

After hours walking about in the dreary downpour that was Saturday morning in Vancouver, I found myself at the library drawn to specific picture books for their illustrations full of sunny yellow and orange hues. Four especially colourful books made it into my library bag.

My Name is Elizabeth written by Annika Dunklee and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe is a gorgeous book coloured in pale sky blues, orange and black.

Elizabeth is adamant her name is Elizabeth – not Liz, Betsy, Beth or any other shortened form of her name someone dreams up. She was after all named after a Queen, if you didn’t know! We follow Elizabeth through her day as she reminds us frequently that she loves her name. “And I like all the neat things my mouth does when I say it.” So, don’t even try to call her anything other than Elizabeth! She’s having none of that!

MyNameIsElizabethinside

Doodleday by Ross Collins is a colourful journey into a world taken over by doodles!

Harvey’s plans to spend the afternoon drawing are strongly discouraged by Mom. “Drawing on Doodleday? Are you crazy?” Unfortunately, boys often don’t listen to their mothers the first time around.

When Harvey does begin to doodle, everything comes to life. He tries to draw one doodle to get rid of another but he ends up with a whole bunch of giant sized creatures bent on destroying his whole block. What can be done? Who can save them all? If your money is on Mom, you just might be right!

The Enormous Potato retold by Aubrey Davis and illustrated by Dusan Petricic reminds us that when everyone contributes, no problem is insurmountable. Gorgeous bright yellow pages!

The farmer’s potato grows and grows. At harvest time, he realizes that getting this potato out of the ground is a job too big for him alone! Celebrating cooperation, perseverance and absolute silliness, this story has a very delicious ending!

Mechanimals created by Chris Tougas is a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

A farmer loses all of his farm animals in a tornado. The twister did however drop a heap of scrap metal and machine parts in his farmyard. He becomes determined to turn the “mess into a masterpiece.” The neighbours scoff. Our farmer turns out to be a kind of creative genius turning “junk” into mechanimals and filling his farm with helpers!

Enjoyment guaranteed

I love picking up a book at the library by an author/illustrator I know and love. Based on past interactions with the artist’s books, enjoyment is pretty much guaranteed. It’s like knowing you will love a wrapped present before opening it. It is all about settling into the book and preparing to be pleased. These three books I just found at the public library yesterday prove my point.

Wolf Won’t Bite by Emily Gravett


Three pesky (and very well dressed) pigs have captured a wild wolf! And no matter what they do to him: dress him in bows, make him dance a jig, shoot him through the air (yes, in a cannon!) he just won’t bite. Aren’t they clever? Aren’t they brilliant? Aren’t they trusting? But if it all seems a little farfetched . . . (poor wolf reminds me of the dog I had when I was 5 years old who loved to play dress up with me 🙂 Not! ) Well, let’s just say in the end, the pigs need to more than clever and brilliant. They need to be fast! There is a chase, and it doesn’t take much to guess who is chasing who!

You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt

I love how this book celebrates the relationship between reader and character and the interactions between the two. A book is nothing without its reader and the reader nothing without books. Oh how we depend on each other! Melanie Watt knows how to make us laugh out loud, snicker knowingly and read and reread because her books withstand multiple readings and just become more fun! Yes, little rabbit we are happy to be your readers and yes, you certainly entertained us! Are you sticking around or what?

Caramba and Henry by Marie Louise Gay

Be careful what you wish for Caramba. Little brothers of your dreams are very different from little brothers of reality. Dream little brothers cooperate, participate and share secrets. Real little brothers named Henry yell and howl and . . . maybe, fly? Caramba is the only cat that can’t fly and now that Henry is here and learning to do something that Caramba wants to do desperately, how could it be any worse? Yet, Caramba realizes that to be happy Henry needs to fly and in a very BIG big brotherly fashion, Caramba encourages Henry to learn this important skill. Caramba and Henry build their sibling relationship through trials, tribulations, encouragement and love.

How to Teach a Slug to Read (and maybe improve your own skills in the process)

Do you know this book? How to Teach a Slug to Read by Susan Pearson and illustrated by David Slonim.

How to Teach a Slug to Read

Find a copy and appreciate. Ms. Sheperd-Dynes, Seymour’s Teacher-Librarian passed it on to me. I was delighted and knew it had to be shared and quick!

My reading group had been busy brainstorming a list about what good readers do. It is important to reflect on things we might not even be aware of but also, a good time to check in – are there things on the list I could be doing?

IMG_1072What do good readers do?

We certainly had some great ideas. I love that daily, enthusiastic reading made it on there.

Good readers love to read after all and the more they read, the better they get at it!!

We also knew that we needed to use a variety of strategies: sounding words out, visualizing, and paying attention to context clues. Good readers also read from a variety of levels and a variety of genres.

A balanced diet of books.

My daughter saw this list and had something to add: “Good readers feel the emotions of the characters so they can feel what the author wants them to feel.”

Yes, she’s brilliant.

I then asked them to think about how they learned to read. I gave them strips of paper and felts and 10 minutes. Go write down everything you remember!

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Some more great ideas

 I then read them the very clever and delightfully simple How To Teach a Slug to ReadYes, it is all about how Mama Slug teaches her little slug to read, but it is not much of a stretch to apply it to early readers and developing readers everywhere. When we finished the story, I gave the students 10 more minutes to write any more “How to learn to read tips,” that they might have thought of after hearing this story. Here is what happened second time around:

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Some specifics

Be careful when you read.

Make it sound fun.

Have expression.

Be really into the book.

Make it sound interesting.

 

Another great idea

Other great ideas included: repeat favourite words, point out words in the text, label words in your world, learn from your mistakes, read poems, make it interesting, choose fun books, etc.

All in all some great learning and some careful summarizing of  important reading advice. We’re going to have great a year of reading.

“Why did we do this today?” I asked my students. “Well Ms. Gelson,” said Catriona, “It’s not like we know everything. There is still room for improvement! We have to keep thinking of ways to get better.”

They also told me that I should give this book to the Kindergarten teacher so she could use these ideas with her students.