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.


Thunder Cake

I am a huge fan of author/illustrator Patricia Polacco. Her book Thunder Cake helped us continue our discussion about how to be courageous and how to manage our fears.

The little girl in this story is very afraid of thunderstorms – hide under the bed afraid. Grandma soothes her explaining that summer storms full of thunder and lightning are made for baking Thunder Cake. The mention of ThunderCake gets some attention and Grandma is able to explain how to count seconds when you see lightning and stop counting when you hear the thunder to help figure out how far away the storm is.

My students loved counting along and then laughing when I read out Polacco’s different versions of thunder:




It was all very exciting and almost like a storm was descending on us as we read through the pages.

This whole Thunder Cake idea seemed quite intriguing. I asked what magical ingredient it might contain that would take away fear? We had watched our little character collect eggs from the mean Peck-Hen and milk from Kick Cow and then chocolate, sugar and flour from the dry shed. What was going to be the magic fear dissolver? Well, maybe it was something else entirely going on? It didn’t take long for someone to talk out their thoughts on this:

It is really just a normal cake but because she had to go get the ingredients from things that scared her (the hen and the cow) she started to realize that she is actually brave

“Yeah,” someone else agreed. “She is trusting herself to be brave.”

“The ingredients aren’t special! It is making the cake that helps her realize that thunder is just a sound because she stops worrying about it. She wants to ice the cake!”

We had a great discussion about how once we don’t hide from our fears, we can face them and realize they don’t have power over us. Sometimes being brave isn’t doing some amazingly courageous act. Sometimes being brave is just being calm and thinking about something else.

An ideal book to let us look at something that is often very scary and remove the “fear” by watching our character have success in celebrating her ability to be brave. And saying KABOOOOOOOOM in a really loud booming voice sure is satisfying!

Louder, Lili

We have continued to read books that help us explore what it is to be brave. Louder,  Lili written by Gennifer Choldenko and illustrated by S. D. Schindler was the perfect book to help us talk about what motivates us to stand up and be brave.

Lily has a voice that is so soft, it just doesn’t ask to be heard. Lili often gets missed and often feels alone. Some students connected to her immediately. Shae-Lynn commented, “I used to be like Lily in my old school. It’s a scary feeling. I learned now that I don’t have to be shy.”

In the story, Cassidy begins selecting Lili to be her partner for everything but Cassidy’s version of sharing doesn’t seem very fair. She has Lili do the work and she takes the credit. When they share, Cassidy takes the cake and gives Lili all the carrots. My students were on to Cassidy pretty quickly!

Purity commented, “I think Cassidy is using Lili. She takes stuff and gives nothing back.”

Catriona pointed out, “Lili doesn’t say no to her.”

Shae-Lynn had a prediction. “Maybe, Cassidy might make Lili so mad that she might yell so she will realize that she can be loud.”

Jacky wondered, “Maybe Cassidy will use her and blame her.”

When Cassidy took Lois the guinea pig out of her cage and gave her a hair cut, everyone was very upset.

This story really had Shae-Lynn thinking. “I don’t think Cassidy has respect for anyone which means she doesn’t have respect for herself.”

When Cassidy suggested putting glue in Lois’ water bottle, Lili yelled. So loud that everyone stopped. In the classroom, all of us also quieted too and just let the moment of Lili’s outrage resonate.

Then all hands were up wanting to share how Lili had been courageous.

“She was courageous to take care of the guinea pig.”

“Courageous to talk so loudly finally!”

“Lily learned that she could be loud when she wanted to be.”

“Sometimes it takes love to make you courageous.”

And after that, what else needed to be said?

A little fish in the deep blue sea

I LOVE Leo Lionni‘s books. Swimmy is a perfect read aloud to share as we read and talk about what is courageous.

Swimmy is a little black fish who manages to escape when a large tuna fish swims up and devours all of his brothers and sisters. He swims off – sad, lonely and afraid. His solitary swim through the ocean takes him past many beautiful sights: a forest of seaweed, a medusa made of rainbow jelly, and sea anemones who looked like pink palm trees swaying in the wind. (Lionni’s images depicted visually and in text are just amazing)

Swimmy surrounded by all of his brothers and sisters

Swimmy eventually comes across a school of little fish just like his own hiding amongst the rocks and weeds. They are too afraid of the big fish to come out and play and explore. Swimmy could not accept that they would just hide forever. “We must think of something,” he insisted. Eventually he had a very clever idea. The fish would swim together like a big fish with Swimmy being the black eye. All together as one, they chased away the big fish and reclaimed the freedom to swim in the sea back for themselves.

What did we learn from this story? The answers were very thoughtful.

  • If you lose your friends and family, you can move on and find others.
  • To lead, you need to be courageous
  • Being brave sometimes means being a leader and teaching others
  • Helping people not only makes you brave, it makes you helpful (Indeed!)

Leo Lionni - photo courtesy of Random House

Leo Lionni was a prolific writer of beautiful children’s books. To learn more about his life and works, check out this site from Random House Children’s Books.

When is it brave . . . ?

We had an interesting discussion about courage today. Is it courageous to do something scary if it actually doesn’t scare you? Does being brave mean facing your fears? Is courage a personal thing depending on your own individual qualms? Hmm . . . We decided that we should start with figuring out and writing down some of our own fears. I started and shared some of mine – losing my children in a public place (the classic Mommy nightmare). Mice. In my house. Being in a small motorized boat on the open sea – the speed, what lurks in that deep dark water, being stranded far from land, ahhh! Scary!

Many students were able to share fears easily – fire, the dark, robbers, rats, dogs, getting lost, a family member getting sick. Lots of honesty, lots of discussion. Some students claimed they are not afraid of anything. At all. Not the dentist? Monsters? Talking in front of a crowd? Nope. Nothing. Interesting. This makes me wonder about the fear of admitting our fears and about the posturing denying it involves.

Are the bravest of us those who confess all of our fears readily? Are some of us truly fearless?

We read a book to remind us that there are all kinds of scary things.

Some Things are Scary (No Matter How Old You Are) written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Jules Feiffer is full of examples of everyday potentially frightening things. Super easy to connect to – the class was full of “Eeews” and “Ahhs” and “Oh yeah, scary” as they listened.

From the story:

“Roller skating down hill when you haven’t figured out how to stop – is scary”

“Finding out your best friend has a best friend – who isn’t you – is scary.”

“Telling a lie – is scary.”

Heide’s simple statements and Feiffer’s delightful illustrations allow us to fill in the blanks and really imagine how scary some of these things might be. Yes, we are reminded of many fears but also reassured that we all have some. (Well, except, a few students of mine who are apparently fearless!)

The first of many books we will be reading on the theme of courage.

How to Steal a Dog

I just finished reading one of my favourite books ever – How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor to my own children and it was like coming home after a long trip. That lovely secure feeling – like everything is how it should be. There are so many things I love about this book. It is one of my favourite books to read aloud in the classroom because of all of the great discussion it inspires. Kids love this book and talk about it for a very long time. Check out a summary on my top ten read alouds list (it is # 9)

Because I have endless reasons for loving this book, I will limit it here to my top 3 lines in the book. They have a way of sticking with you.

1. “Sometimes the trail you leave behind you is more important than the path ahead of you.” Mookie’s motto, page 132

2. “Sometimes, the more you stir it, the worse it stinks.” Mookie’s other motto, page 134.

3. “I guess bad times can make a person do bad things, huh?” Carmella to Georgina – page 164.

Anyone looking for a great read this summer? This is your book.

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.

Emily’s Art

What a powerful book to read to children! I first read Emily’s Art written and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto with my daughter and she burst into tears part way through. We talked for a long time about the story events and how different characters acted and felt. I knew this was an important book to share in the classroom and the resulting discussion confirmed this and then some.

This book begins with a sneak peak into Emily’s classroom. Ms. Fair is explaining to the students about an upcoming art contest where a judge will decide the winner. Catalanotto does a fantastic job of portraying the open, honest and sometimes impulsive comments made by students in a class discussion. Students ask questions about the judge, winning and losing and how exactly things are decided. From Emily: “Does the judge know which is better?”

The story then skips ahead to the days leading up to the contest. Everyday students get painting time. We watch Emily painting and fielding questions about her pictures. Looking at her picture of her family having breakfast (where we see a mother cooking, eating, packing lunches and changing a lightbulb), Stephen asks, “Why do you have four mothers?” Emily explains that there is only one, “She’s just very busy.” Everyday Emily paints a different picture. Her best friend Kelly paints a butterfly day after day.

The night before the contest, Emily cannot settle. She has questions for her mother about which is best and all night she worries about what might be better. Winter or summer? Pink or purple? The sun or the moon? My students were reminded of other stories with characters being unable to sleep because of worries. “That’s like Wemberly Worried!” “Howard B. Wigglebottom!” “Seymour Slug Starts School!” We sure connect to those sleepless worrying nights!

At the contest, the judge is overwhelmed by Emily’s art: “What a gorgeous painting. What a beautiful rabbit!” When Ms. Fair explains that the picture is actually of a dog, everything changes. “A DOG??!!” screeched the Judge.”I was attacked by a dog once! I hate dogs.” She turns and awards the blue ribbon to Kelly’s butterfly.

“I love butterflies,” she announced.

Emily’s heart twisted. My class was irate! And deeply impacted.

Jena: “That judge is judging her painting by what she thinks about dogs.”

Alyson: “Maybe she shouldn’t be a judge! What does she know?”

Emily took her painting down and vowed to never paint again. Miami, now in Grade 3 shared a memory from kindergarten: “At my old school, my teacher was mean to me. She said “What is that?” when she looked at my picture. “You can draw better than that. I know you can.” I always felt sad when I was at home.”

Emily ends up going to the nurse’s room, needing to mend her broken heart. She falls asleep and when she wakes, Kelly is on the cot beside her.

I ask the students why Kelly might be there?

Scott: “She is so sad for Emily.”

Alyson: “She feels sad that Emily didn’t win. She would have won if the teacher hadn’t said it was a dog.”

Hajhare: “Kelly’s heart feels sad because she thinks that Emily must hate her.”

“Wow” Kelly whispered. “You’re a good artist.”

The girls begin talking and Kelly shares that she doesn’t know how to draw anything but butterflies. Because she won, everyone expects more of her. Can Emily show her how to draw a dinosaur? The girls feel better and head back to the classroom where they are having an art party to celebrate all of the wonderful work!

Kevin: “It’s a happy ending. But the middle was the sad part.”

Miami: “I’m connecting. Lots of movies have sad middles but then, happy endings.” The class agreed.

More reactions:

  • “She should know her own opinion of her drawing so she won’t be sad. Like positive thinking.” (Lisa)
  • “Don’t always agree with other opinions.” (Annie)
  • “It is emotional, because if you think of a time like that – like getting rejected, you connect to the sadness of it.” (Alyson)

We talked about how strong words can be.

  • “What the judge said was mean.” (Kevin)
  • “People should think before they speak” (Alyson)
  • “Words can be really strong- something mean said can make you feel like a punch in the stomach.” (Jena)
  • “Punches can hurt outside, but words hurt inside.” (Kevin)
  • “That’s clever Kevin.”¬†(Hajhare)

For more ideas of how this book might be used in the classroom, check out these questions from Philosophy for Children. I just discovered this website and will certainly be revisiting it!

Let’s Do Nothing . . . (but read?)

Favourite books I found at VPL today. The public library is a perfect place to hide out with one (frozen) child while the other plays soccer (in this snow!!? Only in Vancouver!) What did we find?

Animator¬†Tony Fucile’s first picture book Let’s Do Nothing has a very alluring title. Nothing? Ah, such a comforting idea after a busy, busy week.

Frankie and Sal are two bored boys. What to do? How about nothing? Great idea! They each sit in a chair committed to exactly that – the act of doing nothing. But, how possible is it? ¬†I read this to my son who hooted at Frankie’s hopeless attempts at doing nothing as his overactive imagination always caused him to do something. (There’s a part about a tree and a dog with a raised leg . . . that was absolutely hilarious to him) ¬†Can’t wait to try this book out on my class. Will they think it is impossible to do nothing? We practice mindful breathing three times a day. Is breathing something or does it count as nothing? ¬†This will be an interesting conversation . . .

Tina Matthews is the author and illustrator of Out of the Egg, the Little Red Hen story – reinvented. We still have all of our “Not I” animals, too busy being lazy to help out. But in this story our Little Red Hen not only plants and nurtures a beautiful shade giving tree, she also has a lovely little chick hatched out of a perfect white egg.

Out of the egg hatched a little red chick.

And this little chick has something new to offer the story – a dose of forgiveness. My daughter read the book and announced to me, “I thought this was going to be a what comes around, goes around story, but the little chick didn’t let it be.”

Giora Carmi made a beautiful book РA Circle of Friends Рall the more powerful in its simplicity because it is wordless. A little boy shares his snack with a homeless man sleeping on a park bench.

A shared snack for someone who might need it

The man sprinkles crumbs on the bench for the birds nesting in the tree above him. In the end, the little baby bird drops a seed in the window box of the boy. And soon, a beautiful sunflower grows. Each page is sketched in black and white with one highlight of colour. ¬†All about the circle of kindness inspired from one gesture. My daughter commented, “Mama, this is also a what comes around, goes around book, but in a nice way.” Absolutely!

Happy Reading!

Just . . . How big is the world . . . anyway?

Britta Teckentrup’s How Big is the World? certainly inspired us to ask that question and many more as we followed little mole on his journey to discover just how big the world is by asking all of the creatures he meets on his important journey to find his answer. From spiders to whales, all of the creatures give him an answer but each one is different.

how big is the world

Some questions we began to wonder as we read this book:

Does everyone have their own thoughts about the world and how big it is? (Jena)

Will the little mole ever find out? (Truman)

Will the mole have another big question after this question? (Lisa)

Does the world ever end? (Sergio)

I wonder if you want the world to end, if you have to go off the world? (Jenny)

Well then how big is space? (Jeremiah)

Litle Mole does have an answer for his Papa when he returns.

“How big is the world?” whispered Papa. “As big as you want it to be,” said Little Mole quietly and he went to sleep.

This made lots of sense to some of us. ¬†“That’s because each animal had a different answer!” “It depends on who you ask!” “The animals could only talk about what they knew.” But Catriona wasn’t satisfied. “That isn’t true,” she said shaking her head. “It is a specific size.”

Britta Teckentrup is also the author/illustrator of Grumpy Cat and Big Smelly Bear which are very popular books in our picture book bins.