Beautiful birds

Division 5 continues to study birds. This week we enjoyed Robins: Songbirds of the Spring by Mia Posada.




We enjoyed learning how these birds make their nests, care for their young and about how the fledglings learn to fly. Posada’s robins are lovely – and it sparked an interest in bird body parts. We spread out bird books on all of the tables and students made lists of all the important parts of the bird: beak, breast, feathers, wings, talons or feet, etc. Students then drew and coloured their own birds. Our bulletin boards are now covered in gorgeous birds designed by the students and inspired by a variety of real birds in nature.

First students made pencil sketches.




We then added colour using crayons, oil pastels and pencil crayons.



Finally we shaded around our bird’s outline and cut them out. Some finished pieces:







An Egg is Quiet and so Much More

We are studying birds but I am very mindful of student interest as we decide on what to learn more about. Last week we read a book about birds and their nests and students were fascinated by the stunning blue of a robin’s egg. Most students wrote about it when asked to write about something new they had learned. So. . . I decided that Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long‘s exquisite book An Egg is Quiet was a must read.


Students were fascinated to learn many new things about eggs – including that many creatures hatch out of an egg, not just birds (reptiles, insects, fish, etc). Sylvia Long’s gorgeous illustrations had everyone mesmerized. With many pages we just gazed at the pictures and chatted to our neighbour about our observations and questions. Sharing was fascinating and we all learned to look at eggs a little differently from each other.

Colours, specks, stripes! Eggs can be so different! We saw eggs that looked like chocolate (a paradise riflebird), eggs that looked like they were covered with sand (a scarlet tanager), eggs that shone (Atlantic salmon) & eggs that looked to be entwined in vines (a common murre). Then . . . fossilized eggs and tubular eggs and eggs that are perfectly round (Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle).

After sharing the book together, students completed a modified sheet from Adrienne Gear‘s Reading Power Non-Fiction book: connecting new learning to what they already knew (New-Knew Connections)

This is Catriona‘s completed sheet:


Carmen shared what she already knew.


Markus shared his new learning:


What I love about this activity is that sharing on the Knew/New sheet allows students to honour prior knowledge, acknowledge new knowledge and start from anywhere. There are no right answers or essential facts – just a sharing of a knowledge base being extended. We spent over an hour with this book and doing our writing and everyone was very engaged. Later, I saw students reading the sheets posted up on the bulletin board and talking about what other students had chosen to highlight. An exciting afternoon learning about how unique, beautiful and fascinating eggs can be!

A wall of learning shared!

A wall of learning shared!

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?

Our BLG reader this week was Bill. He read us Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree? written by Jennifer Blomgren and illustrated by Andrea Gabriel.

evergreen tree

There was lots to learn from the text of this book: all about nurse logs, the life cycle of trees, the amazing creatures that inhabit the forest and the wonder of every layer. The book ends with an invitation to come into the forest and discover more for yourself. But it is the illustrations that pull you deeper – the lush vibrant greens, the dripping rain, the spotted wingspan of the owl . . . Wow!

Such a gorgeously illustrated book. Students also kept referring to the pictures and how beautiful they were.

Would love to use this before a forest walk. Or after and connect our learning . . . .

Our student reviewers report:

Catriona: Its illustrations were very very interesting because they were probably painted and they looked real. I could easily connect to it.

Truman: I like the drawings and the rhymes and the details. I like the page that has the pine martin on it because of the snow and how the pine martin is jumping.

Khai: The illustrations are great because they were nice and colourful. They reminded me of another book about a forest.

Deandra: It was really cool. I saw a squirrel gliding to a big tree. I liked it so much I loved it.

Owl Moon and inspired Owl Artists

One of my favourite books to read aloud in the cold dark days leading up to winter is Owl Moon, the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr. This book fits in with our theme of Courage that we are exploring through various picture books but also allowed us to have a wonderful springboard for some gorgeous owl art.

A little girl goes owling with her father for the very first time and we, the readers, get to creep along with this pair over hard packed snow illuminated by the moon. We breathe the cold air, feel our own cheeks burn and marvel at the wonderful sound of crying out “Whoo-whoo-whowho-who-whoooo,” and then feeling the silence (heavy and full of wonder) surround us. Yolen’s text is poetic and the illustrations magical. A treat for the senses! When an owl is finally discovered, all of us gasped at the huge wing span and bright yellow eyes depicted in the pictures. A gorgeous book and one I never tire of reading with a class.

We discussed why the little girl in the picture was so courageous even though she was out on a dark night deep in the forest. Some insightful suggestions from the group:

  • She was too excited to feel fear
  • Being with her Dad made her feel safe and secure
  • Watching and listening for the owl distracted her
  • She pushed her fear away because she was doing something (going owling) that she had been waiting a long time to do

After the story, Ms. Gelson led a mini “how to draw an owl” lesson inspired by this wonderful blog¬†post from Art Lessons for Kids.

And wow, did students get engaged with making beautiful owl scenes to fill up our room!

First we drew owls on plain paper and added details and colour. Hailey did a lovely job of filling up her whole page with an adorable looking owl and baby.


Catriona drew her owl in flight!


Some owls seemed to be waiting to jump into a picture book as the main character of an exciting story. Purity‘s owl is very dramatic.


Students then cut out their owl (s) and glued them to black paper making a scene. Khai made a whole family of owls perched on a branch.


Carefully positioning owls on the page.


Sergio was very clear that his owl was pregnant and put an awaiting nest on the branch. Many debates began whether an owl could be pregnant if it lay eggs. Some people thought an owl should be called “ready to lay eggs” and not pregnant. Sergio made it clear he liked his idea best and made a label on his picture pointing to the owl’s belly “pregnent” ūüôā


Truman made lightly grey owls with beautiful ear tufts. Striking against the black background and yellow moon.


The Prince of the Pond

We started out first (novel) read aloud today. I am so excited to introduce this class to one of my all time favourite books to read aloud – The Prince of the Pond written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner.

I explained that Napoli is wonderful at taking well known tales and giving them a unique twist. Some students were able to figure out from the cover and the title that this story would be based on the story about the prince who gets turned into a frog by a witch and must be kissed by a princess to regain his human form.

Today we met the curious frog who can’t seem to hop very well or communicate in any way that makes much sense. We met the horrid hag who transformed the Prince into a very confused frog. Do we think we know where this story is going? Maybe. . .

I happen to know we are well on our way to being entertained by a master story teller and to learning all kinds of amazing facts about frogs. I also know that my students are in store for a lot of laughing and many surprises. Let our story begin . . .

The Raft

This week we read The Raft by Jim LaMarche and practiced asking deep thinking questions vs. quick questions (inspired by Adrienne Gear‘s Reading Power). We know that a quick question is quick to ask and usually we find the answer in the text. With deep thinking questions, we are often inspired to ask new questions and our thinking goes on long after we have closed the book.

the raft

The Raft tells the story of Nicky who has come to spend the summer with his grandmother. He isn’t very eager to do this (bemoaning being away from television and any kids all summer) but it doesn’t take long before Nicky finds himself fascinated by his summer locale. A raft covered in leaves and branches floats up and bumps against the dock Nicky is fishing on. It is covered in drawings of animals and it completely captures Nicky’s imagination. Where did it come from? Who painted the animals? What does it mean? Soon he and his grandmother are spending lazy days poling down the river. An array of animals keep Nicky company – foxes following him along the shore, birds hitching a ride, a great blue heron snacking on crayfish. Nicky often takes the raft out alone and sketches all of the animals he sees. Somehow the raft seems to draw the creatures to him.

The students noticed the changes in Nicky.

Miami: “He’s been transformed. He was so grumpy when he came to his Grandma’s and now he’s not.”

Hajhare: “I think he was set up. Do you know what I mean Ms. Gelson? His Dad tricked him into liking his summer. His Dad knew he was going to like it all along.”

Finally,  Nicky adds his own animal to the raft for a very special reason. Students were lulled by the beauty and magic of this book and eagerly wrote down questions as I read.

I then gave the students a task: Choose 2-5 of your deep thinking questions and list them in your notebook. Choose one and try to answer it (You will need to infer)

Kevin put his hand up. “But I can’t just put 5. Each question leads to another question so I’ll need to write 10. I “inferenced” as I thought them so I included them when I did my writing.” (Yippee! Learning!)

Some samples of student thinking.

Jena: Are all of the drawings adventures of how people saved animals? Maybe yes and the raft was made and passed on from generation to generation.

Lisa: One of my questions before was that are the animals from the raft going to come alive. Maybe if Nicky visualizes, they will come alive to him.

Ricky: Who drew all of these animals on the raft? Why is Nicky’s Grandma called a river rat? Did she also save an animal on the river? Maybe a rat? Is Grandma part of nature?

At the end of the book, Scott sat back and said, “That book was awesome.” When I asked him why, Eddy piped up. “It’s really making me think thinking stuff.”

I think this should be our new measure of success when we judge a reading experience – did we think thinking stuff? Does book really inspire our thinking voice? The Raft did and then some. It left us talking with each other, following a question into an inference and going back into the story to try and find clues, having “but what if. . . ” discussions all around the room. A wonderful book.

A little taste of Africa

Bill, our BLG reader this week, brought us two very different picture books that allowed us to step into the African savannah for a small part of our day. First he read Help Me written and illustrated (beautifully!) by Paul Geraghty.

Before Bill began the story he read the students an important line from the summary on the back of the book: This extraordinary picture book is based on real, documented animal behaviour. Students were advised to listen carefully with this in mind. Help Me takes place in and around a waterhole in Africa. As a herd of elephants lumbers by in the moonlight, an old thirsty tortoise heads down to the waterhole for a drink. She trips on the steep bank and flips onto her back. When she feels the ground shudder with the movements of the elephants, she hides inside her shell. Yikes! The picture shows our tiny tortoise inside her shell and gigantic elephant feet all around her, one poised to come down right on top of her. “Oh no!” everyone shrieks. The text reads Then a great foot rose up and came down on top of her. . .

Nobody breathes. Bill flips the page and reads ¬†. . .¬†and carefully rolled her over onto her feet “Whoa!” “No way.” ¬†Phew. Relief.

So starts a series of surprising animal interactions. A huge crocodile encloses a little hatchling turtle in its jaws. Amidst the gasps and sighs and covered eyes were mutterings from our new experts on crocodiles (“Are those really crocodiles?” “Check the teeth” “Yep”) The crocodile sets the baby free in the water. “What?” “That’s weird.”

An impala is chased by a pack of wild dogs and stumbles exhausted into the waterhole. The dogs started splashing toward him when a huge hippopotamus steps between them and bellows at the dogs. He comes in closer, jaws over the impala. Why? To help it get warm and strong again.

Someone called out “Why do they all help each other?” Everyone is quiet, thinking.

“Symbiosis!” Miami exclaims knowingly. Heads start to nod as we wonder if what we just experienced in this book is connected to the learning we have been doing as we’ve read Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s book How to Clean A Hippopotamus. These are the moments we live for as teachers – where you can almost see inside heads and watch the thinking happening!

Next Bill read The Sticky Doll Trap by Jessica Souhami. This is a story based on the West African stories of the trickster hare and a sticky doll. The best known version of this tale is the Uncle Remus Story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby told by Joel Chandler Harris. However Harris’ version is based on the stories that came over with the African slaves and it is this African “version” that Souhami honours with her retelling.

This is such a fun story and Souhami’s colours are bright and beautiful. Students were totally engaged from page one. This is the tale of the rascal Hare who is too lazy to help the thirsty animals dig a waterhole to quench their thirst in the midst of a drought. When the animals find the precious water they decide to protect it from thieving animals that did not help dig for it. Every day a different animal will stand guard. Hare hops up with his empty calabash and is told there is no water for him. But utilizing his trickster ways, he manages to fill his calabash and sneak away while the animal, eyes closed, awaits the treat Hare has promised.

What is the Sticky doll trap? The result of the annoyed animals creative thinking – a trap to trick the trickster! The perfect revenge. And how well it works! Yet, in the end that rascal Hare proves himself to be the ultimate trickster! The animals throw him into the spiny thorny bushes as he begs them not to, convinced that they are inflicting the ultimate punishment. Moments later, Hare is taunting them from up on the hill. Off he hopped to continue his tricks!

At the end of the story Ricky clarifies, “Hares can’t be hurt by the thorns?” Bill reiterates that no, the hares are used to the thorns. “Okay,” says Ricky, “So this is kinda nonfiction?”

I love how we are trying to bring meaning to how these stories are created and understanding that facts are interweaved throughout fictional tales. Ah, the wonder of books! Thanks Bill for choosing such great titles this week!

Our student reviewers report:

Jena: I liked the book Help Me because first one of of the animals are in danger by another animal and then a totally different animals comes and saves the animal that was in trouble. It was like they had a symbiotic relationship.

Annie: I like the part in The Sticky Doll Trap where he got stuck when he touched the doll but got away because he was tricky.


Last night I read a really wonderful picture book to my children: Albert, written by Donna Jo Napoli (her first picture book after many award winning novels including one of my favourites The Prince of the Pond and illustrated by Jim La Marche.

Albert is an interesting man. Everyday, he eats his breakfast, reads the comics, gets dressed and thinks about going outside. Everyday, something convinces him it is not the day to venture out. It might be the damp weather. It might be the noises – the not good noises like arguing or rumbling garbage trucks. If we really want to call it, I think Albert experiences some quite serious anxiety about the outside world. Not an easy place to be.

The lovely thing about this book is that Napoli arranges the outside world to come to Albert. ¬†In the form of a twig, that becomes a nest, that hosts little eggs and a perching cardinal all on his outstretched hand. For Albert, who finds the outside world too overwhelming, he is gently (but insistently) forced to get one foot firmly planted on the ground – in the form of a hand carefully suspended in the air. Albert keeps his hand with a bird’s nest on it stretched outside his window because . . . ¬†how can he not? For days and days. Really! Of course my adult brain wonders how does he go to the bathroom? How does he not drop the nest when sleeping? How does he survive without food or drink? (This is addressed actually when father bird starts dropping berries in his mouth) My children though just got caught up in the magic of it. “He’s so kind!” my son exclaims. My daughter is a little worried. “Mama, Albert doesn’t have a job. How can he get money?”

In the end, the birds fly away and Albert who has been interacting (through the birds) with the outside world realizes that the world is a wonderful place – full of all kinds of noises and experiences. He puts on his hat and goes for a walk.

I asked: “What do you think the birds taught him?”

My daughter had lots to say: “Helping others helps you.¬†You should go outside and fly your heart away!”

Yes, indeed.

Five Fantastic Fictional (mostly) Frogs

Lately I’ve had quite the thing for fictional frogs – not the frogs who turn into princes or have just been princes, although those guys are pretty great too. ¬†But no, a thing for the hoppy, happy, stretchy, leapy unpredictable green frogs that make the books they jump into particularly delightful.

My top 5: Books about frogs

1. Stick by Steve Breen

I just found this book at my local library. Stick is¬†Steve Breen’s first picture book (but his talent for words and visual images has not been missed – he won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartoons twice!) How far can one little frog travel? And how? Find out what happens when little Stick happens to get his long tongue stuck to a dragonfly. Up, up and away . . . Silly, delightfully preposterous and gorgeous bird’s (in this case frog!) eye view of town, city and swamp.

2. City Dog, Country Frog written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Jon J Muth

I kept eyeing this book at the library, noticing names Mo Willems and John J Muth and thinking to myself, “I have got to read this book.” Something about the cover picture spoke dog to me and I kept missing the frog, even when I eyed the title I saw dog instead of frog. Finally, I looked a little closer and spotted the frog so perfectly plopped on the dog’s head and I pulled the book off the shelf. ¬†How could I have missed this? I was missing so much! Inside illustrations are mellow, gentle and ahh, what greens. Together with Willems’ simple text, pictures and words tell the tender story of ¬†friendship, the passage of time, young curiousity and calm wisdom. To make up for the months I haven’t been reading this book, I need to read it over and over and over again.

3. Growing Frogs written by Vivian French and illustrated by Alison Bartlett

Such an amazing book to teach about how frogs grow from tadpoles and how exciting this change can be to watch. I call a book like this an “information storybook” – a definite fictional story yet so much factual information it bridges into the non-fiction category. A little girl and her Mom collect frog spawn from the pond and carefully tend to the tadpoles, then frogs who grow. This book took me right back to my eight year old self and my ice cream bucket full of pond water and tadpoles. How I loved it and how sad I was to return my little frogs to their pond again. I love that French points out how carefully you must care for your growing frogs – always using pond water, changing it regularly etc. Allowing children to have important nature experiences respectfully.

4. A Frog Thing written by Eric Drachman and illustrated by James Muscarello

frog thingI have a real soft spot for Frankie the frog in this story. Told by his parents that he can do anything, he sets his mind to flying. Ahem, darling, “that’s a bird thing” explain his parents. He does try very hard to soar through the air but to no avail. One day he sees a baby bird fall helplessly into the pond and swims to its rescue. The grateful mother demands – “How can I repay you?” Well . . . We soon see Freddy flying through the air clutching a twig held by two birds. Finally flying! Exciting, yes. But Freddy realizes that doing the frog thing will suffice for him after all. Beautifully illustrated. A wonderful read aloud to share.

5. Fine As We Are by Algy Craig Hall

Wow, is it great to be a little frog. Having Mama frog all to yourself. Sigh. . . happiness. So what are all of these black spotted blogs in the water? Why do they have tails? Now legs? Oh my! Little frogs. All belonging to Mama. Life with many new siblings is quite the adjustment for our little frog. Annoying at first – how much leaping and tumbling about can these little frogs do? But then, oddly “just right.” The perfect book to explore how life changes when a new sibling (or siblings) arrives.

Jealousy is just a stage, right?

Hop through some frog books this Spring!

What a beautiful world!

Spring! Finally! In Vancouver, spring sunshine is often chased away by rain showers so all the more reason to delve into books which help transport us into nature and wonder with just a flip of a page, a beautiful illustration or a perfect written image. We found three perfect books which do just this on our library visit Saturday.


I adore this book. All the World is a Caldecott Honour Book illustrated by Marla Frazee and written by Liz Garton Scanton. Simple rhyming text pays tribute to the small simple things our world has to offer like a tomato blossom or a fire to take away a chill. But it also celebrates through Frazee’s absolutely gorgeous illustrations, the majestic purply sky at the edge of the ocean or a thunderous downpour that comes out of nowhere. The images are comforting, saturated with details and evoke our own memories attached to the experiences suggested by each picture. These pictures are so easy to connect to, I felt like I had taken a journey through some of my own most happiest of memories. Climbing a tree in childhood. Visiting a farmer’s market and eating plump berries with my children. Racing through a rainstorm on a summer’s day in search of shelter.

Janeen Brian and Stephen Michael King, the author and illustrator of Where does Thursday go? have created a lovely little tale of wonder and whimsy. An important question is posed, if Friday is coming, where does Thursday go? What happens to it during the night?

Where Thursday

Bruno doesn’t want his wonderful birthday day to end. He wants to say goodbye to it. He finds his friend Bert and they traipse through a blue star filled night looking for Thursday to say goodbye. When the moon rises up big, round and bright like Bruno’s birthday balloons, the two friends feel like they have found Thursday. They creep back into bed until the sun brings Friday. Sweet, illustrations on blue filled pages. Lovely. I especially like the image of the two friends on the beach at the edge of the sea where ocean and sky meet in swirly blues and whites.

the_curious_gardenThis book appeals to the urgency I feel when spring flowers begin poking through the earth. Tend. Nurture. Clip back. Transplant. Compost. Appreciate. Wow, can I connect to the main character in this story who nurtures a struggling garden into a majestic green world. ¬†Liam, the little boy in Peter Brown‘s The Curious Garden resides in a dreary city where everyone stays inside. Not Liam. On one of his rainy day walks he finds a few wildflowers and tiny plants on some abandoned railroad tracks. He cares for this garden over several seasons – appreciating its natural tendencies to spread and travel and helping it along a bit too (hooray for guerilla gardening). Years later he can appreciate an entire green city, tended by a multitude of gardeners.

Peter Brown includes an author’s note at the end of the story which explains his inspiration for the book.

Escape into Spring with a poking about walk to the library and discover all the places you can find signs of Spring.