Our November 2016 titles make great conversation starters for civic and community engagement discussions. Coached in historical fiction, biography, and graphic novels, themes of social justice and freedom run through many of the Read On Wisconsin November books. Check them out below! Click on the title below to read the annotation for the title. Find discussion questions and other resources below or in the Resources tab above!






war that saved my lifeRhythm-Ridebetter nate than ever






out of darknessdrowned city
















each kindness cover


A book trailer throwback in honor of the Charlotte Zolotow lecture by Jacqueline Woodson this week! Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson graced the Read On Wisconsin Primary list back in 2013-2014. Click the book cover to view the book trailer of Each Kindness made by Madison and Middleton Middle and High School students from Simpson Street Free Press.

Watch the video, read the book!

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2012


Alphabet SchoolIcon for Babies Toddlers & PreschoolersAlphabet School by Stephen T. Johnson. A Paula Wiseman Book / Simon & Schuster, 2015

Stephen T. Johnson brings his artist’s eye to a school environment to locate letters of the alphabet in ordinary objects and scenes. The shadow of a school bus mirror forms the letter B. Two flags on a pole make an F. Remnants of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich curl into a G. A flipped-up toilet seat is an almost perfect U. Johnson’s striking full-page, realistic paintings have a tinge of grittiness with their speckled texture, looking like well-worn photographs. The imperfections amplify the realism, and while these are surely images drawn from one or more specific places, there is also a universality, as if this could be any school. It’s hard to imagine children not being inspired to look closely around their own classrooms, hallways, gymnasiums, and playgrounds to see what letters might be lurking, and some will surely want to create images and books of their own.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these literacy activities after reading Alphabet School

  • Talk: Talk about the shapes within the letters. Which letters are curvy? Which are straight?
  • Sing: Sing the Alphabet Song. Try singing the alphabet to a different tune.
  • Write: Use different objects from around your house to form the first letter of your name.
  • Play: Go on a letter walk and look for the first letter of your name.
  • Math or Science: Make a cutout of the first letter of your name. Bring it with you on your letter walk.

i dont like snakesI (Don’t) Like Snakes by Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Luciano Lozano. U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2015

When her puzzled, snake-loving family asks a young girl why she doesn’t like snakes, she points out that snakes slither and have “slimy, scaly skin” and “flicky tongues.” They also stare. In response to these and other points, her dad, mom, and brother have an explanation—and sometimes a correction (e.g., snakes aren’t slimy; their skin is dry)—expanding the girl’s understanding of and appreciation for snakes. This picture book deftly blends the appealing fictional story and its blithe illustration style with factual text and images about snake biology and behavior. A brief bibliography and an index conclude the volume.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these literacy activities after reading I Don’t Like Snakes

  • Talk: Find another book with snakes. Compare the snakes in the two books.
  • Sing: Can you hiss like a snake? Can you hiss like a snake? Try to “sing” a song by hissing.
  • Write: Can you draw a snake? What will your snake look like? Is it long? Is it curvy? What is your snake doing? Sleeping? Eating?
  • Play: Without using words, act out how you show that you don’t like something or do like something. Have someone guess which is like and which is dislike.
  • Math or Science: Snakes shed their skins. What else sheds its skin? Do you shed your skin?


moving blocksMoving Blocks by Yusuke Yonezu. U.S. edition: Minedition, 2015

A book offering a plethora of possibilities for interaction (color concept, spatial reasoning, prediction, and types of transportation for a start) begins with a page spread showing a rectangular pattern of yellow, green, blue, and red blocks with die-cuts suggesting a shape. The text asks, “What are you building? What can it be?” A page turn shows the die-cut shape surrounded by white against the block pattern on the previous page to reveal a vehicle made of blocks: car, bus, train, ship, rocket ship. The full rectangle of blocks and two questions repeat on every other spread before the next reveal, giving a sense of pattern and order to the book as a whole that is also visually suggested by the repetition of the block shapes in this clever, developmentally appropriate board book.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these literacy activities after reading Moving Blocks

  • Talk: Name the shapes. Talk about curves and straight lines in the shapes.
  • Sing: The Wheels on the Bus
  • Write: Draw shapes in the air.
  • Play: Create vehicles out of shapes and pretend to go on a trip.
  • Math or Science: Make shapes out of blocks. Count how many blocks you used for each shape.

Don’t forget this poem from Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow: page 30

Find more resources for Alphabet School, I (Don’t) Like Snakes and Moving Blocks at TeachingBooks.net!



last stop on market streetPrimary Icon of a White-Tailed DeerLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. Putnam, 2015

As he and his nana take the bus across town, observant young CJ is full of questions and more than a little wishful thinking: Why don’t they have a car instead of having to take the bus? Why do they always have to go somewhere after church? How come that man sitting near them can’t see? Why is the neighborhood where they get off the bus so dirty? In response, his nana points out everything they would miss if they weren’t right where they were at each moment, from the interesting people they get to see and meet to the realization that beauty can be found everywhere. Rather than telling CJ about what community means, she’s showing him that he’s a part of it. After an event-filled ride, they arrive at their destination. “I’m glad we came,” CJ says looking at the familiar faces in the window of the soup kitchen where they both volunteer. Wonderful descriptive writing (“The bus creaked to a stop in front of them. It sighed and sagged and the doors swung open.”) full of abundant, child-centered details propels an engaging picture book set against marvelous illustrations that have a naïve quality while reflecting the energy, vibrancy and diversity of a contemporary city. Honor Book, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the text make us feel the sights, sounds, and smells of the city? What are some verbs and adjectives that the author uses to convey these feelings?
  2. In what ways do CJ and Nana see the world differently?
  3. How does CJ’s mood change throughout the book? How does the weather reflect CJ’s moods in the beginning and at the end of the book?

trombone shortyTrombone Shorty by Troy Andrews and Bill Taylor. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Abrams, 2015

Growing up in Tremé, a New Orleans neighborhood, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was surrounded by music. It was in his house as his brother played trumpet, in the streets, in the air all year long, but especially during Mardi Gras. And he loved it. Wanting to create musical “gumbo” of his own, he used homemade instruments and paraded behind his brother before he found a broken trombone. His brother gave him his nickname, and Andrews was still smaller than his trombone when Bo Diddley called him up to play on stage at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Today the young man is a performer around the world, but he always returns to New Orleans. The musical energy and vibrancy of that city burst from every page of a dynamic picture book written by Andrews and featuring the pulsing images of Bryan Collier. A photo essay at book’s end, also by Andrews, expresses more of his appreciation for the city and people who nurtured him.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the Tremé community shape or influence Trombone Shorty’s passion for making music on the trombone?
  2. This book talks about New Orleans gumbo as food and as music, how do the illustrations remind you of the cooking (food) and composing (music)? How are the illustrations like gumbo?
  3. What do you think “Where y’at” means? Do you know different phrases that have a similar meaning?

Find more resources for these Last Stop on Market Street and Trombone Shorty at TeachingBooks.net!



war that saved my lifeIcon_Intermediate1The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Dial, 2015

Ten-year-old Ada was born with a club foot that was never fixed and her abusive, financially struggling mother has kept her isolated all her life. The evacuation of London children during World War II gives Ada and her little brother, Jamie, a chance to escape their grim life. The two end up in a small village at the home of a woman named Susan Smith. There is not necessarily anything extraordinary or unpredictable in this satisfying story in which the three become a close and loving family except for the telling itself, which reveals refreshing complexities of characters and situations. As Ada, Jamie, and Susan adjust, it becomes clear that Ada, despite many seemingly idyllic elements of her new life, feels immense anger and grief over a mother who could not love her. Susan, too, is grieving—her former housemate died the year before and though it’s never stated, it’s clear the two women were a couple. Susan is also figuring out parenting and caretaking, tasks made more difficult by the children’s abusive history and the temporary nature of the arrangement. A nearby RAF airfield, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the bombing of London all come into play in a story that also offers honesty regarding the hard truths of war but is ultimately full of the hope that comes with kindness and connection.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Ada and James have quite a lot of freedom in Kent. Talk about times when you get to make your own decisions.
  2. The children find some great friends in the adults around them. Do you have any intergenerational friendships? How or why did these friendships begin?
  3. What is it about Stephen that allows him to more easily befriend people that society views as different?
  4. How did the war save Ada’s life? Do you currently see war impacting lives around you?

lilliansrighttovoteLillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Schwartz & Wade, 2015

“A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It’s Voting Day, she’s an American, and by God, she is going to vote. Lillian is her name.” An informative picture book covers an expanse of history and emotion as 100-year-old Lillian ascends the hill, reflecting on African Americans and voting. Her great-great-grandparents were sold on the auction block in front of a courthouse where only white men could vote. Her great grandfather, her grandfather and uncle, her parents, and Lillian herself lived through times when the right to vote existed in theory but was denied in fact or pursued with great risk. Lillian remembers struggles and losses of the Civil Rights Movement, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after which she cast her first ballot. Her ascent is a metaphor in which the struggle is tangible, palpable (“my, but that hill is steep”). Her encounter with a young man whom she asks, “Are you going to vote? … You better” is one of many powerful moments. Shane W. Evans’s layered art skillfully distinguishes present from past and is full of its own rich symbolism.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How do the illustrations of the current story differ from the illustrations of the past? Why do you think the illustrator chose these two different styles to represent present day actions and past memories?
  2. What are some examples of hope in the story? Show evidence from the book.
  3. How has the right to vote continued to be an uphill battle? How is this uphill battle conveyed in the illustrations and text of the book?


better nate than everBooks for Middle School AgeBetter Nate Than Ever! by Tim Federle. Simon & Schuster, 2013

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom. from the publisher

  1. How does the author use imagery to create a sense of being in New York City?
  2. The author doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in this story. Why do you think the author ended the story this way? How would you finish this story?
  3. How does Nate break the rules of what is expected of boys’ identities?

Rhythm-RideRhythm Ride: A Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Roaring Brook Press,2015

From award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney comes the story of the music that defined a generation and a movement that changed the world.

Berry Gordy began Motown in 1959 with an $800 loan from his family. He converted the garage of a residential house into a studio and recruited teenagers from the neighborhood-like Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross-to sing for his new label. Meanwhile, the country was on the brink of a cultural revolution, and one of the most powerful agents of change in the following decade would be this group of young black performers from urban Detroit. From Berry Gordy and his remarkable vision to the Civil Rights movement, from the behind-the-scenes musicians, choreographers, and song writers to the most famous recording artists of the century, Andrea Davis Pinkney takes readers on a Rhythm Ride through the story of Motown. from the publisher

  1. How was the creation of Motown Records an act of promoting social justice?
  2. How did Berry Gordy’s experience at the Ford assembly line affect his work at Motown?
  3. Berry Gordy created a hits-making machine with Motown Records. What contributed to Gordy’s success?
  4. Would an “Artist Development Department” (finishing, etiquette, etc.) be successful today? Who are artists that could use this help? Which artists already know these things and would be qualified to teach it?




out of darknessIcon_HighSchool1Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. Carolrhoda Lab, 2015

A gripping work opens with the explosion of the white school in New London, Texas, in 1937. The fictional story, woven around the facts of this actual event that killed almost 300 students and teachers, examines racism, sexual abuse, religion, and the powerful pull of family. At the center is the love between two teenagers, Mexican American Naomi and African American Wash. Much of the novel is in flashback. Wash befriends Naomi and her younger half-siblings, twins Cari and Beto, after they move to town. Naomi’s white stepfather, Henry, sexually abused her years before when her mother was dying. She told no one. When it becomes clear Henry’s intent, at the suggestion of his pastor, is to marry Naomi, she is desperate to leave, but she won’t go without the twins. Wash is determined to run away with them, despite his own family’s plans for him to go to college. Then the school explodes. In the aftermath, an angry and grieving white community is looking for someone to blame, and Wash is in their sights. Vivid, complex, and nuanced in both characters and telling, this novel is also incredibly forthright, building to a brutal climax. The violence is horrifying, but to make it anything less would be to undermine telling the truth of racism and sexual violence. But there is a thread of hope in one survivor’s determination to tell the story whole.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Fire is a recurring theme in the book. Why do you think the author repeatedly uses fire and how does it affect the story?
  2. What role does gossip play in the story? Does it affect the outcomes of any of the characters in the end? What purpose do the chapters from the point of view of “The Gang” have?
  3. This story is based on a historical event. Why do you think most people have never heard of such a tragic event?

drowned cityDrowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

An informative and deeply moving chronicle of Hurricane Katrina opens as “a swirl of unremarkable wind leaves African and breezes toward the Americas. It draws energy from the warm Atlantic water and grows in size.” As he did in The Great American Dust Bowl, Don Brown offers a factual account that makes brilliant use of the graphic novel form both to provide information and to underscore the human impact and toll of a disaster. As the storm builds and unleashes its power, it wreaks havoc—on levees and on neighborhood and on people, so many people. Some of those affected wouldn’t leave the city of New Orleans; most of them couldn’t, and this becomes an integral part of his narrative: all the failures that pile up one after another. Empty Amtrak trains leaving the city before the storm when Amtrak’s offer of transport was ignored; thousands of people in misery at the convention center with FEMA seemingly oblivious to their well-documented plight; some police deserting their posts, even joining the looting. The travesties go on and on. But there is courage and compassion, too, including many who risked their lives to help others. Brown pulls no punches in a book offering a clear and critical point of view. The straightforward presentation of grim and sometimes shocking facts paired with emotionally rich images results in a work that is powerful, poignant, and sometimes haunting. There is clear documentation with an extensive list of source notes for this notable work. (MS) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. What lessons have we learned from the many failures of the response to Hurricane Katrina? Are we more prepared to help people in the event of another natural tragedy?
  2. Clearly poverty played a role in the tragedies of Katrina. How do you think things would have played out differently in a more affluent city?
  3. What were some of the stylistic choices made by Don Brown when he illustrated this book? How did choices affect your reaction or further your understanding?



dumplinIcon for High School AgeDumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2015

Willowdean routinely introduces herself as a fat girl, but her feelings about her body are much more complicated than this forthrightness suggests. The daughter of a former beauty queen, she’s rarely allowed to forget she isn’t thin. Still, Willowdean makes no apologies for her weight. She decides to enter the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant for her beloved late aunt, who lived largely in seclusion because of her weight. She’s also doing it for the girls she’s convinced to join her—three other teens at school who don’t meet typical standards of beauty. Together, she tells them, they can make a statement. But when Willowdean’s pretty best friend Ellen signs up with them, Willowdean feels betrayed. Meanwhile, Willowdean is growing close to Bo, on whom she’s had a longstanding crush. But she recoils when he puts his hand on her waist while they’re kissing, worried what he’ll think of her fat. She can also imagine what people at school would say if they see the two of them as a couple. It’s easier to picture herself with Mitch. Like Bo, Mitch is an athlete. Unlike Bo, he’s on the heavy side. Both boys genuinely like her. Bo is the one she’s attracted to. Mitch is the one she’s convinced herself makes sense, although she knows she’s not being fair to Mitch in letting him think she feels more. Willowdean’s ultimate struggle isn’t accepting herself; it’s accepting the love of others in an insightful, honest, funny novel that comes with a big ol’ riotous dose of Dolly Parton.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Willow Dean is simultaneously confident and insecure. Can she both proud of her body and afraid to show it in public? Do you find this realistic?
  2. How does perform in beauty pageants? Who are the pageants for?
  3. Who do you think one the pageant? Does it matter? Why do you think Julie Murphy does not tell the reader who won the pageant?

hoodooBooks for Middle School AgeHoodoo by Ronald L. Smith. Clarion, 2015

Eleven-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher has a bad feeling about the Stranger in town, with good reason. The man is a servant of the devil after something he calls Mandragore, or Main the Gloire—“the one that did the deed.” To Hoodoo’s dismay, his own left hand is what the Stranger is looking for. Hoodoo’s father, lynched years before, tried to escape into his young son’s body but succeeded only as far as his hand. Hoodoo knew none of this before the Stranger’s arrival. Determined to face the Stranger on his own in order to protect his family and friends, Hoodoo goes in search of spells and knowledge beyond the conjuring his family already knows. He finds answers following clues in an old book of his father’s, and he finds great, just power in his left hand. Author Ronald L. Smith takes his time—in a wonderful way—establishing setting (a small rural African American community in Tuscaloosa County Alabama in the past) and characters in a story that deftly balances real-world and otherworldly scary but never feels heavy or heavy-handed, in part because Hoodoo is such an appealing, smart, and often funny narrator who never loses his sense of goodness, or even innocence, in spite of all the knowledge he gains of darkness in and beyond this world.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How does Hoodoo grow into his name?
  2. Who does the stranger represent in this story? What evidence helps you figure this out?
  3. Why does the author use italicized writing throughout the text?
  4. Why does Hoodoo reject the help of his family and insist on pursuing the challenge on his own?



hiawatha and the peacemaker

Icon for the Intermediate (Grades 3-5) readersHiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson. Illustrated by David Shannon. Abrams, 2015

Hiawatha is consumed by thoughts of revenge after his village is burned and his wife and children killed by Onondaga Chief Tadoaho. Then a leader called the Peacemaker convinces him that unity, not fighting, is the path to take, and asks Hiawatha to help him carry his message of peace among the nations of the Iro-quois. They travel in turn to the Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, and finally, the Onondaga. On the journey, the Peacemaker meets skepticism and anger with quiet courage and soft-spoken wisdom and his cause is championed by the Clan Mothers. Eventually, Hiawatha’s thoughts of revenge are replaced by forgiveness. He meets his former enemy with understanding, helping Tadoaho defeat the evil that possesses him. Robbie Robertson’s emotionally rich retelling of the origin story of the Iroquois Confederacy he first heard as a child visiting his Mohawk and Cayuga relatives is vivid and compelling. Punctuating the longer narrative is a slightly varied, repeated refrain that gives the story the rhythm of a cumulative tale, this one drawn from history. A historical note explains that Hia-watha and the Peacemaker, a spiritual leader named Deganawida, are thought to have lived in the 14th century. The story is set against strong, beautifully rendered oil illustrations by David Shannon that respect rather than romanticize the characters.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. What did you know about Hiawatha before reading the book? What do you know about Hiawatha after reading the book?
  2. How do the illustrations help tell the story? How does the music enhance this story?
  3. What message did you get from this story? Is peace possible without forgiveness?

funny bonesFunny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams, 2015

José Guadelupa Posada’s etchings of calaveras (skeletons) are a cultural treasure in Mexico. Posada, who was known as Don Lupe, began creating them to illustrate short, funny poems called literary calaveras in the late 19th century. Duncan To-natiuh combines biographical elements about Posada with a history of the calaveras he created, including his artistic mentors and the printing process he used. Tonatiuh discusses the cultural importance of Don Lupe’s calaveras and their connection to El Día de los Muertos. He moves seamlessly through these elements in the narrative while going back and forth visually between his own distinctive art style and reproductions of a number of calaveras created by Don Lupe and an earlier artist named Manuel Manila. Don Lupe’s calavera images included social and political figures, and Tonatiuh ponders their meaning, and also imagines what subjects Don Lupe might choose if he were alive today. A volume that is playful, admiring, and informative is also visually arresting across the two styles of art. A substantial author’s note provides more information on the Day of the Dead, Posada, and calaveras.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How did Posada express his political opinions through art? Why did you decide to do this? Was it effective?
  2. What makes Posada’s original work timeless?
  3. Compare the book’s illustrations with Posada’s. How does this affect your perspective on all the ways skulls are used now?
  4. Day of the Dead and Halloween are celebrated within a day of each other in different cultures. In what ways are they similar? Different? Why are the differences between the holiday’s important?



Primary Icon of a White-Tailed Deer

These books work well for learning about character and narrative. We see emotions and actions well as satisfying resolutions from both Penny and Elinor. 

penny and her marblePenny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books / HarperCollins, 2013

When Penny finds a marble in her neighbor Mrs. Goodwin’s yard she can’t resist taking it home. Later she sees Mrs. Goodwin looking for something outside, and Penny begins to worry. She hides the marble in a drawer. She stays close to Mama all afternoon. She isn’t very hungry at dinner. She dreams about the marble that night. The next day, she puts the marble back, only to discover Mrs. Goodwin had left it out hoping someone like Penny would see it and take it home. “Penny rolled the marble between her fingers. It seemed even more shiny and smooth and blue than before.” Kevin Henkes is so adept at translating the emotional world of young children into entertaining stories that bring a smile and a sigh of satisfaction that it can be easy to forget how much skill goes into them. The latest “Penny” book for advanced beginning readers is as winsome and appealing as the others.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How does the author/illustrator let us know that Penny feels that she has done something wrong by taking the marble?
  2. Why do you think Penny’s mother tells her she can only go as far as Mrs. Goodwin’s?
  3. What does Penny see or dream about that she compares to the marble? How does the author/illustrator convey this information through illustrations or text?

poem in your pocketA Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Schwartz & Wade, 2015

The students in Mr. Tiffin’s class featured in two prior volumes (How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?, The Apple Orchard Riddle) spend the weeks leading up to “Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day” and a school visit from poet Emmy Crane learning about poetry, reading poetry, and writing poems of their own. Overconfident Elinor is sure she’ll write more poems than anyone. But time and again she gets frustrated when the idea in her head doesn’t come out right on paper. She wants perfection. Instead, she’s the only one without a poem to share for Emmy Crane. The poet reassures her, saying, “No poem is perfect.” And when Emmy Crane asks Elinor to talk about her ideas, Elinor’s recitation of all the things she’s seen and felt over recent days is like a poem, of course. Margaret McNamara again hits just the right tone in looking at a classroom learning experience in an engaging, nurturing picture book blithely illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Highly Commended, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Pre-reading: What are some different kinds (forms) of poems that you know?
  2. What do you think made it difficult for Elinor to write her poem?
  3. How do you think that Emmy Crane helps Elinor?
  4. Which kind of poetry in the book do you like best?



bear ate your sandiwch

Icon for Babies Toddlers & Preschoolers

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Knopf, 2015

“It all started with the bear.” An unknown narrator weaves an impossible story to account for someone’s missing lunch in a picture book pairing a straightforward narrative with beautifully realized illustrations made whimsical by their impossibility. The bear, it seems, fell asleep in the back of a truck full of berries and ended up in a new forest (a city), where he found “climbing spots” (e.g., fire escapes, clothes lines between buildings), “good bark for scratching” (a brick-sided building), and “many interesting smells” (garbage cans). Eventually the bear got hungry, and there was the sandwich, all alone in the midst of leafy green (on a bench in a park). An already delightful story takes an even more waggish turn in its final pages when the identity of the speaker and subject are revealed: a small black dog (somewhat bear-like) pouring out the tall tale to a now lunch-less little girl. The warm, colorful acrylic and pencil illustrations are superb, their realistic accounting of the bear’s adventure will be a source of glee for young readers and listeners, as will the play between narrative and art. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  • Talk: Talk about the differences between the forest and the city.
  • Sing: Bear crosses a bridge to the city. Sing London Bridge.
  • Write: Make sandwiches and cut them into shapes of bears or into the letter B.
  • Play: Can you move like the bear? Can you stretch and sniff, can you climb and scratch? How else does the bear move?
  • Math or Science: Can you make a bridge? With another person? What else can you make a bridge with?

hoot owlHoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor. Illustrated by Jean Jullien. Candlewick Press, 2015

Unconventional Hoot Owl concocts one outrageous costume after another as he attempts to bag his evening meal. But just as his carrot disguise doesn’t fool a rabbit, his ornamental birdbath get-up fails to result in a pigeon dinner. Undaunted, Hoot Owl moves from one lost opportunity to the next, finally nailing an inanimate pepperoni pizza while wearing the white jacket and toque of a waiter, complete with a mustache penciled below his beak. Despite his repeated failures, this bird of prey remains unfailingly confident (“I swoop through the bleak blackness like a wolf in the air”) as he invokes his flamboyant descriptive powers (“The shadowy night stretches away forever, as black as burnt toast.”) Bold black outlines and saturated, flat colors add dramatic flair to Hoot Owl’s nighttime escapades, while his melodramatic prose extends the humor of his plight. After scarfing his pizza, Hoot Owl flies off “into the dark enormousness of the night. “And the world can sleep again.” Honor Book, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  • Talk: Talk about all the ways that Hoot Owl moves in the story. Point out the verbs or action words in the book.
  • Sing: Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Write: Practice the letter O in pudding or shaving cream
  • Play: How can you disguise yourself? Who or what can you become?
  • Math or Science: Talk about what owls eat. What does Hoot Owl eat? What do you eat? How are alike or different?


Try these poems about food:

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection: page 32

Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Food section