Author Archives: etownsend

Perspective and Perseverance: January 2017 Intermediate

December 15th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | January - (Comments Off on Perspective and Perseverance: January 2017 Intermediate)

marvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick. Scholastic Press, 2015

Almost the first two-thirds of this hefty novel is told through black-and-white illustrations depicting generations of the Marvels, a theater family in England, from 1766 to 1900. A jump to 1990 begins the prose narrative in which Joseph, cold, wet, and sick, arrives on the doorstop of his Uncle Albert’s Victorian home in London after running away from boarding school. He doesn’t really know Uncle Albert, but Joseph’s parents are traveling outside the country, so he stays. Uncle Albert’s neighbor, a girl named Frankie, strikes up a friendship with Joseph, and the two of them begin trying to string together information about a famous theater family, the Marvels, who clearly once lived in the house, which is a living museum in their honor. There are personal belongings and even letters to be found in rooms that are staged like tableaus. Uncle Albert won’t talk about them, which makes Joseph and Frankie even more curious: How are the Marvels connected to Uncle Albert, and to Joseph? When finally revealed, the answer is bitter for Joseph. But for Joseph and for readers, too, it becomes bittersweet, and then wonderful, a tribute to the power of story, and the gifts of imagination, friendship, and love. Brian Selznick moves back and forth between prose and visual narrative in the final third of a novel that concludes with an extensive and fascinating author’s note about the two men and the house that were the real-life inspiration for the story.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do Joseph’s actions affect his uncle’s life?
  2. How does perspective in the illustrations help tell the story? (Distance: close-up and far away)
  3. How do the different characters deal with death?
  4. Brian Selznick chose to tell this story in alternating illustrations and prose, or text. Why do you think he uses both mediums? What story do each of these mediums tell? Why do you think he alternates between the illustrations and the text?

irasshakespearedreamIra’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Lee & Low, 2015

Ira Alridge’s dream of performing Shakespeare was difficult for a young African American man to achieve in early 19th-century America. Despite his obvious talent, his father urged him to forgo acting and put his vocal skills to use as a minister. Instead, Ira became a cabin boy on a cargo ship heading to South Carolina, where he narrowly escaped being sold into slavery. Ira signed on as a valet to British actors James and Henry Wallack for their voyage home. Once in England, he worked in theaters running errands and as an understudy, all while studying acting. His perseverance paid off, and by the 1840s he was considered “one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors in Europe.” He spoke out against slavery in the U.S. and encouraged audience members to financially support abolitionists. Oil wash illustrations employ warm earth tones and soft edges to follow the evolution of Alridge’s career from eager school boy to mature professional, a welcome account.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Pre-reading question: Who was Shakespeare?
  2. How does perseverance help Ira achieve his dream?
  3. What problems does Ira want to solve by acting?
  4. Find examples in the story of individuals who take chances on Ira and protect him along the way.

Find teaching guides and other resources for The Marvels and Ira’s Shakespeare Dream at TeachingBooks.net.

Get Kids Talking with These Books! January 2017 Middle School

December 15th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Middle School | January - (Comments Off on Get Kids Talking with These Books! January 2017 Middle School)

fatal feverFatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek/Highlights, 2015

Sanitary engineer and chemist George Soper functioned as a “germ detective” in the early 20th century. After a typhoid outbreak in Ithaca, New York, in 1903 infected local residents and Cornell University students, Soper tracked the contamination source to a creek and recommended better practices in outhouse siting and maintenance, as well as construction of a city water filtration plant. When six members of the Thompson family of New York City fell ill with typhoid in the summer of 1906, the family hired Soper. Through a meticulous process of elimination Soper determined that a cook, Mary Mallon, was the most likely source of the bacteria. When public heath doctor Sara Josephine Baker tracked down Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary, Mallon refused to believe she carried typhoid. Mallon’s case became a civil rights issue when she was quarantined against her will on Brother’s Island off the coast of Manhattan. Finally released if she promised not to work again as cook, she was returned to the island after another typhoid outbreak was traced to her. She lived there the rest of her life, even as it was acknowledged she was surely far from the only typhoid carrier in the city. Soper’s rigorous methodology, Baker’s doggedness, and Mary Mallon’s unfortunate story illustrate the confluence of science, detective work, and social attitudes during the early decades of the 20th century. This captivating, well-researched volume is augmented by numerous photographs and back matter that includes source notes, a timeline, and bibliography. (MVL) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How was Mary Mallon treated fairly? unfairly? Why?
  2. What would a germ detective like George Soper be investigating today?
  3. This story was told from a medical perspective. Whose side or perspective of the story would you like to hear?

orbitingjupiterOrbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. Clarion, 2015

Jack is in sixth grade when his parents bring a foster child to their small farm in Maine. Fourteen-year-old Joseph is from an abusive background and got into trouble for attacking a teacher. He is also a father, of a baby girl named Jupiter whom he’s never met. A chronic runaway from juvenile detention placements, Joseph arrives withdrawn and uncommunicative. Taking his cue from how the farm’s cows respond to Joseph, Jack is loyal to his foster brother from the first day they go to school together. While most of the kids and teachers assume Joseph is bad news, a few look deeper and see a boy who is smart and kind, but deeply hurt. Eventually Joseph learns to trust Jack and his parents enough to share his whole story. How he met 13-year-old Madeleine and how the time they spent together was solace from the rest of his painful life. How Madeleine ended up pregnant and was sent away. How she died but the baby lived. Now Joseph is aching to see his daughter, who is in foster care with her status in limbo because Joseph’s father—a volatile and violent man—will not sign off on the papers allowing adoption. Hauntingly real characters and disciplined writing that maintains a tight and true emotional core centers Joseph’s dramatic tragedy within Jack’s perspective.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What challenges would an 8th grader face if he or she was a parent?
  2. How do the adults in Joseph’s life help him? How did the adults hold him back?
  3. How do you feel about the conclusion of this book?

Find more resources for Fatal Fever and Orbiting Jupiter from TeachingBooks.net.


Timely and Resonant: January 2017 High School

December 15th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | High School | January - (Comments Off on Timely and Resonant: January 2017 High School)

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book / Atheneum, 2015

Coretta Scott King Book Awards, Author Honor, 2016

Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, 2016

Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely put the issues of police bias and violence against Blacks and white privilege front and center in this novel that alternates between the voices of high school students Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins. African American Rashad is brutalized by a white police officer who makes a snap judgment of a scene and assumes Rashad was harassing a white woman and stealing at a neighborhood store where he’d gone to buy potato chips. Quinn, who is white, shows up as handcuffed Rashad is being pummeled by the cop on the sidewalk outside. The officer is his best friend’s older brother, a man who has been like a father to Quinn since his own dad died in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the beating, hospitalized Rashad deals with pain and fear, and his family with fear and anger and tension, especially between Rashad’s older brother, Spoony, and their ex-cop dad. As the story goes viral, Quinn is feeling pressure to support Paul but can’t stop thinking that what Paul did to Rashad is wrong. He begins to realize that saying nothing—he slipped away from the scene before he was noticed—is also wrong. Silence, he realizes, is part of the privilege of being white, and it’s part of the problem of racism, something too few are willing to acknowledge, including school administrators and some teachers in the aftermath. Rashad and Quinn and their classmates are singular, vivid characters—kids you feel you might meet in the halls of just about any school in a novel that is both nuanced and bold as it explores harsh realities and emotional complexities surrounding race in America. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why did the authors write this book together? Does it make a difference that one author is Black and one is White?
  2. Both Quinn and Rasheed feel powerless in their situations. What do they do to gain control of their lives again? Who influences each of them most?
  3. In this novel, characters need to decide how they are going to react to Rasheed’s beating. At what point is doing nothing actually choosing a side?

Find more resources for All American Boys at TeachingBooks.net.


December 2016 Titles: End this Year, Start the New Year Sharing Great Books!

November 22nd, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers | Primary (Grades K-2) | 2016-2017 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | Middle School | December | High School - (Comments Off on December 2016 Titles: End this Year, Start the New Year Sharing Great Books!)

Whether celebrating the arts, the seasons, community, family, friends or ourselves, the ROW December 2016 titles are great books to read and discuss. Check them out below. Find discussion questions here and other resources at TeachingBooks.net!

global baby bedtimes


happy in our skin small








song within my hearthanahashimotoweb

dragons beware small














Another Perspective: December 2016 High School

November 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | December | High School - (Comments Off on Another Perspective: December 2016 High School)

Icon_HighSchool1girls-like-usGirls Like Us by Gail Giles. Candlewick, 2014

A 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Winner

We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first “real world” apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.  From the publisher

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What lessons do other characters learn from their interactions with Biddy and Quincy?
  2. How are Biddy and Quincy’s lives after graduation similar to most young adults? How are their lives different?
  3. What rights does a mother have after she has given her baby up for adoption?
  4. What does the duck symbolize? Why? Does this help you make sense of Biddy’s story?


This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, 2014

A 2015 Caldecott Honor Book
A 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Early adolescence is a fluid and challenging period of awakening and discovery and in-between-ness in this graphic novel that beautifully and keenly captures that time. In this summer of tension and change, Rose and her parents are at the cottage they have gone to for years. Rose is between child and teenager, more mature in some ways than her younger friend, Windy, even as Windy’s innocence helps ground them both. At the store where the girls go to get videos on languid days, Rose is drawn to the local teenage clerk. She picks out horror movies to impress him, and is intrigued by the drama surrounding the boy and his girlfriend who, she learns, is pregnant. Windy is still sure enough of herself to see and state things in a refreshingly straightforward, uncomplicated way, and calls Rose out for her sexism in blaming the pregnant girl. Meanwhile, Rose’s mother is battling depression and something else Rose doesn’t understand. Rose’s parents are tense and often fighting, and Rose thinks her mother can and should just choose not to be sad. Everything feels profoundly connected in this story that illuminates that time of adolescence when young teens are just starting to open their eyes to the world in new ways; when their interests outpace their experience or their understanding; and when their ability to understand can mature at an astonishing rate.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What was your first reaction to the cover and the illustrations of this book? How does this reaction compare to your reaction to the novel after reading it?
  2. What characters did you most identify with? Why?
  3. What aspects of Rose’s life drive her urge to grow up?
  4. How do the illustrations and texts work together and apart to tell this story? What do the illustrations add that the text leaves out?

Find resources for Girls Like Us and This One Summer at TeachingBooks.net!





Life Changing Friendships: December 2016 Middle School

November 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Middle School | December - (Comments Off on Life Changing Friendships: December 2016 Middle School)

Books for Middle School Agefriends-for-lifeFriends for Life by Andrew Norris. David Fickling Books/Scholastic Inc., 2015

A timeless and uplifting book about friendship, filled with humor and heart.

When Jessica sits next to Francis on a bench during recess, he’s surprised to learn that she isn’t actually alive — she’s a ghost. And she’s surprised, too, because Francis is the first person who has been able to see her since she died.

Before long, Francis and Jessica are best friends, enjoying life more than they ever have. When they meet two more friends who can also see Jessica, the question arises: What is it that they have in common? And does it have something to do with Jessica being a ghost?  From the publisher

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What do you think makes the adults turn to a 13 year-old like Francis to solve their parenting problems?
  2. Why do you think Andi risks being expelled to defend Francis?
  3. How do the three friends change after meeting Jessica?

Find more resources for Friends for Life from TeachingBooks.net



Fight Dragons or Fighting the Cold? Try our December 2016 Intermediate Titles

November 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | December - (Comments Off on Fight Dragons or Fighting the Cold? Try our December 2016 Intermediate Titles)

dragons beware smallIcon_Intermediate1Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre. Illustrated by Rafael Rosado. First Second, 2015

She’s back! Still the “act first, think later,” wooden-sword wielding fighter introduced in Giants Beware, bold Claudette is itching to protect her town from the menacing sorcerer Grombach and his army of gargoyles. With her best friend, Marie, and little brother, Gaston, at her heels, Claudette follows her father on his quest to reclaim his powerful sword and face their foe. Grombach’s true identity is revealed, a cursed hag provides a helpful tool, and a sword-swallowing dragon is convinced to return his plunder (albeit in a disgusting vomit-manner). Drawing on a combination of courage, luck, and a dose of cooperation and diplomacy, the three kids again save their community from looming disaster. Appealing characters and large doses of humor (like the seven hopeful princes trailing after Marie) complement the non-stop action of this full-color graphic novel.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. The heroine, Claudette, is a fighter. She likes to “act first, think later.” How does compromise work better than force in this story?
  2. The children’s father has physical limitations. How does he persevere?
  3. How does this book challenge gender stereotypes? Have you ever felt that because of your gender you should or shouldn’t do something?
  4. If you could play a character in this book, who would you want to be and why?


Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman. Illustrated by Rick Allen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Tundra swan, snake, snowflake. Bees in their hive, a vole under snow, the fly-high raven and the earth-bound wolf. The lives of these and other creatures in winter are the subject of poems by Joyce Sidman that crackle with cold and sing with warmth. “We scaled a million blooms / to reap the summer’s glow. / Now, in the merciless cold, / we share each morsel of heat, / each honeycombed crumb…. / Deep in the winter hive, / we burn like a golden sun.” (From “Winter Bees”) Sidman’s evocative, lyrical poems are paired with brief factual information written to resonate with an illuminating the imagery by showing how it is drawn from what the poet knew about each of her subjects. Gorgeous, stylized linoblock and digitally rendered art by Rick Allen is an elegant backdrop to a lovely and inspired collection. (MS)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think the poem “Winter Bees” was chosen for the title? Which poem would you have selected and why?
  2. The author pairs poems and informational text to describe animals and their habitats in the winter. Why do you think the author chose to use both formats? Do you like the poems or the informational text better, or do you like them both? Why?
  3. What role do you think the fox plays in the illustrations?
  4. What Wisconsin animal would you add to the book?

Find more resources for Dragons Beware! and Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold at TeachingBooks.net!



Community, Family and Arts: December 2016 (K-2)

November 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in Primary (Grades K-2) | 2016-2017 | December - (Comments Off on Community, Family and Arts: December 2016 (K-2))

hanahashimotoPrimary Icon of a White-Tailed DeerHana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki. Illustrated by Qin Leng. Kids Can Press, 2014

Hana’s decision to enter the school talent show is met with derision by her older brothers. “It’s a talent show, Hana.” “You’ll be a disaster.” It’s true she’s only had three violin lessons. But on their summer visit to Japan, their grandfather, Ojiichan, played for them every day. Hana’s favorite was the song about a crow calling for her chicks. “Whenever Ojiichan played it, Hana would feel a shiver of happy-sadness shiver through her.” She also loved the way he could make his violin sound like crickets or raindrops. She practices every day for the show, and when the time comes to step onto the stage, the sixth violin performance of the night, she’s nervous but determined. She begins with three “raw, squawky notes” to mimic the caw of a crow, followed by a “the sound of my neighbor’s cat at night” as she drags the bow across the strings in a “yowl of protest.” Hana also makes the sound of buzzing bees, squeaking mice, and croaking frogs before taking a bow. Not everyone can be a prodigy, but in a warm, refreshing, beautifully told and illustrated story, loving what you do is enough of a reason to share it.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do you think Hanna’s performance at the talent show differs from the other five violinists? How does her performance surprise her brothers?
  2. In what ways does Grandfather’s playing of the violin inspire Hanna?
  3. How does Hanna overcome her stage fright at the talent show?

song within my heartThe Song within My Heart by David Bouchard. Illustrated by Allen Sapp.  Red Deer Press, 2015

A grandmother guides her grandson through his first pow-wow. He hears the beating of the drums and the singing, but does not understand what they are saying. By urging him to listen and hear, the grandmother gently directs her grandson until he finds the stories and an understanding of his culture. With her warm presence and thoughtful words, the boy’s grandmother, his nokum, grounds her grandson in the history and present of this First Nations experience as well as leads him into his future, encouraging her grandson to own his “stories, songs, and beating heart.” Written in both English and Cree, this story showcases the stunning, brilliant colored and evocative artwork by renowned Cree artist Allen Sapp. Poetic, tender, and informative, the paintings and text are based on Sapp’s memories of being raised by his grandmother on the Red Pheasant reservation in Saskatchewan.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think the story is written in two languages — English and Cree? Why do you think the larger grey-colored words are included?
  2. How does the beating drum tell the story of an individual boy and of his people? How do the illustrations and captions improve your understanding of the story?How does listening to the CD increase your understanding of the story?
  3. Why do you think Nokm tells her grandson to value the songs and stories more than toys, clothes, jewels, or cars, and other material things?

Find more resources for Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin and Song Within My Heart for TeachingBooks.net.


Look Around in Wonder: December 2016 Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

November 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers | 2016-2017 | December - (Comments Off on Look Around in Wonder: December 2016 Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers)

happy in our skin smallIcon for Babies Toddlers & PreschoolersHappy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Lauren Tobia. Candlewick Press, 2015

“Look at you! You look so cute in your brand-new birthday suit. This is how we all begin: small and happy in our skin.” And skin, whatever beautiful color it comes in “keeps the outsides out and your insides in … When you fall, your skin will heal with a scab, a perfect seal.” A simple, rhyming text affirms both universality and uniqueness within the human family when it comes to skin: how it looks, what it does. The joyful narrative’s message is amplified by illustrations focusing on a mixed race family as part of a diverse-in-every-way, vibrant community. The light-skinned parent in the family is a woman; the Black parent’s gender is open to interpretation.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Talk: Name your skin color. For instance, are you cocoa brown, cinnamon, honey brown, ginger, peaches and cream or something else entirely?
  • Sing: Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
  • Write: Draw a picture of yourself.
  • Math or Science: Explore your 5 senses, especially touch.

waitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2015

Childhood is full of waiting. It turns out childhood toys spend a lot of time waiting, too. An owl with spots waits for the moon, a pig with an umbrella waits for the rain, a bear with a kite waits for the wind, a puppy on a sled waits for the snow, and a rabbit with stars looks out the window in which they all sit, happy to be just be watching. Some waiting is easily fulfilled—the moon shows itself often. Some waiting stretches on and on. But there are always new things to see, occasional visitors, and sometimes delightful surprises. Kevin Henkes’s lyrical picture book is a graceful and perfect interplay between words and images. The finely paced narrative expresses and extends the sense of possibility in waiting, whether attached or unattached to expectation. The soft, muted illustrations expand on that possibility, further illuminating how the quiet between big moments is as important as the moments themselves. Time is measured in the repeated refrain of a four-paned window, through which seasons change and change again. Highly Commended, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Talk: What are each of the toys waiting for? Are they waiting for different things or the same thing?
  • Sing: If You’re Happy and You Know It. Replace “happy” with a word that describes one of the toy’s feelings.
  • Write: What shapes can you find in the clouds? What shapes can you find (or make) in the snow?
  • Play: Play Mother, May I? How long do you have to wait to do what you ask to do?
  • Math or Sciences: Play the waiting game. Count while you wait. How long do you wait for snack? For friends? For holidays?

global baby bedtimesGlobal Babies: Bedtimes by Maya Ajmera. A Global Fund for Children Book. Charlesbridge, 2015

Babies love seeing other babies. So what could be more appealing than the sight of one sleeping baby? How about a book that shows 18 sleeping babies from countries around the world? Following the format of earlier books in the Global Babies series, this board book features a photograph of a sleeping baby (and in one case, twins) on every page. A very brief rhyming text points out that babies everywhere sleep, whether in a crib or on a floor, on the back or in the arms of someone who loves them. Every photograph is labeled with the country in which the baby pictured lives.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Talk: Where do you sleep?
  • Sing: Sing a lullaby
  • Write: Tell a story about one of the babies in the book.
  • Play: Tuck a baby doll into bed.
  • Math or Science: Explore textures. What’s soft? What’s scratchy?

Try these poems:

Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Bedtime section

Find more resources for Global Babies: Bedtimes, Waiting and Happy in Our Skin at TeachingBooks.net!




In Case You Missed It!

October 21st, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in Primary (Grades K-2) | Book trailer | 2016-2017 - (Comments Off on In Case You Missed It!)

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


Excellent Concept Books for Early Literacy: November 2016 Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

October 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers | 2016-2017 | November - (Comments Off on Excellent Concept Books for Early Literacy: November 2016 Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers)

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!



Community Engagement: November 2016 Primary (K-2)

October 20th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in Primary (Grades K-2) | 2016-2017 | November - (Comments Off on Community Engagement: November 2016 Primary (K-2))

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!



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