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Grandma in Blue with Red Hat by Scott Menchin. Illustrated by Harry Bliss. Abrams, 2015

An art teacher asks a boy and his classmates touring a museum to consider why various pieces are on display: What makes them art? “Because it’s beautiful,” says Alice about one painting. “Because it came from somewhere far away,” says Thomas about another. “Because it’s different.” “Because it tells a story.” “Because it makes me feel good.” “Because it’s funny.” That night the boy thinks about his classmates’ observations, and about what the teacher said, “Anything can be in an art exhibition.” And then he thinks about his Grandma, who is different, funny, tells him stories, makes him feel good, and comes from far away. “I should give Grandma to the museum!” Alas, the museum director explains, they don’t accept Grandmas. A playful yet probing narrative is paired with illustrations blending cartoon styling with renditions of the real works of art that inspire the students’ thinking and creativity. The African American boy at story’s center goes on to paint a whimsical series in tribute to his Grandma.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Pre-reading: What is art?
  2. Do you recognize some of the paintings and sculptures in the book?
  3. Why do you think text appears in two formats?
  4. After reading this book, how has your understanding of art and making art changed?

I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos. Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. Henry Holt, 2015

The fly narrating this informative picture book is full of enthusiasm, not to mention knowledge, eager to convince a class studying butterflies that flies are just as worthy a subject. “Here’s how the story goes: My 500 brothers and sisters and I started out as eggs. Our mom tucked us into a warm, smelly bed of dog doo.” The fly’s impromptu lecture (it came in through the window during a science class) is followed by a Q-and-A session, with the fly dispelling misinformation about its species. Bridget Heos’s funny, factual narrative (well, except for the talking fly) is perfectly matched by Jennifer Plecas’s clean-lined, cartoon-like illustrations.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How does the fly show us the difference between facts and myths?
  2. What information about flies do you find most interesting in this book?
  3. In what ways are flies and butterflies alike? different?

Find more resources for Grandma in Blue with Red Hat and I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are at TeachingBooks.net!

Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick Press, 2015

Mia doesn’t speak Spanish well and her abuela, who has come to live with Mia’s family, doesn’t speak English well. They share a room, and Abuela watches Mia after school, but there is a lot of silence. Then Mia begins teaching her grandmother English words, even labeling things at home like they sometimes do in her classroom at school, and Abuela teaches Mia Spanish words. The locked door between them starts to open. It opens wider when Mia sees a parrot at the pet shop and the family buys it for Abuela, who had a pet parrot back home. By story’s end, Abuela is reading Mia her favorite book, and telling stories “about Abuelo, who could dive for river stones with a single breath and weave a roof out of palms.” A warm picture book story that has some lovely turns of phrase and integrates Spanish words into the English text is set against cheery illustrations.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  • Talk: How do you say hello, goodbye, and I love you without words?
  • Sing: Visit your library and listen to songs in Spanish.
  • Write: Draw a picture of yourself with a grandparent or a favorite adult.
  • Play: Visit your library and find more bilingual books.
  • Math or Science: Taste a mango! Is it sweet, sour, tangy?

One Family by George Shannon. Illustrated by Blanca Gómez. Frances Foster Books / Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015

An unusual, conceptually sophisticated counting book looks at the way the number “one” can be represented by a single object, a pair of items, or a group of things varying in number from three all the way up to 10. For every number from two to 10, “one” is also a group with that many members. “One is three. One house of bears. One bowl of pears … One is five. One bunch of bananas. One hand of cards.” The narrative works hand-in-hand with the illustrations, with each page spread featuring a scene in which everything named can be found and counted (e.g., a family of three walking down a street in which one building they pass has a bowl with three pears in the window and a toy shop with a window display featuring the three bears in a doll house). While the art has a nostalgic feel, there is multicultural and intergenerational diversity within and across the families, all of whom are shown together on the final page spread: “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.”  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  • Talk: Who is in your family? Name them all.
  • Sing: A counting song.
  • Write: How old are you? How many different ways can you show this number using different objects?
  • Play: Hopscotch
  • Math or Science: Count the groupings on each page. What kinds of groups can you find in your world?

The New Small Person by Lauren Child. Candlewick Press, 2015

Elmore Green enjoys being an only child. He doesn’t have to worry about anyone messing with his stuff, and “Elmore Green’s parents thought he was simply the funniest, cleverest, most adorable person they had ever seen.” When a “new small person” arrives, Elmore Green’s perfectly ordered life is turned upside down. “They all seemed to like it … maybe a little bit MORE than they liked Elmore Green.” As the new small person gets bigger, he disrupts Elmore’s things, he licks Elmore’s jelly beans, he follows Elmore around, he moves into Elmore’s room. It’s awful, until the night Elmore has a bad dream and the small person comforts him. Not long after, Elmore is arranging his precious things in a long line, and the small person is adding his own things to the effort. “It felt good to have someone there who understood why a long line of things was SO special.” And it turns out that this small person has a name: Albert. A fresh, funny take on a familiar family scenario features two brown-skinned brothers in droll, spirited illustrations that are a perfect match for the narrative’s tone. Lauren Child’s story is joyful even as it acknowledges the very real feelings of frustration and uncertainty that come with a new sibling. Honor Book, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  • Talk: Talk about your favorite things. Do you share them with others?
  • Sing: Choose a song. Sing it loudly. Sing it quietly. Sing it in a silly way.
  • Write: Draw a picture of your favorite things.
  • Play: Share your favorite toys with a friend.
  • Math or Science: How many are in your family? Do you think it’s a big or small family?

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Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown. Illustrated by David Diaz. Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2015

Little Maya loves her manta (blanket), which was made by her abuelita. When the edges of the blanket fray from use, Abuelita helps Maya turn it into a vestido (dress). They later make the vestido into a falda (skirt), which they eventually sew into a rebozo (shawl), before turning it into a bufanda (scarf), and then a cinta (headband). When Maya gets her hair cut, she turns the cinta into a marcador de libros (bookmark). When she loses her bookmark, Maya realizes she can write the entire story down. And when she is grown with a little girl of her own, she tells that story to her. Based on a traditional Yiddish folk song, this lively contemporary story is grounded in Latino culture and told in both English and Spanish. Monica Brown’s engaging cumulative narrative seamlessly integrates Spanish words into the English text, defining them in context, while the cultural details and a wonderful, warm sense of family as Maya grows are brought into full visual relief in David Diaz’s richly hued illustrations that are both heartfelt and whimsical. Highly Commended, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Share these early literacy activities with caregivers or add them in story time.

  • Talk: This book is in both English and Spanish. What other languages do you hear or speak?
  • Sing: Do you know any songs or poems in different languages? Sing one of these songs.
  • Write: Draw your favorite thing. Is it a blanket, pillow, or something else?
  • Play: Create a story about your favorite thing. Can you act out your story?
  • Math or Science: Make a blanket fort.

Squirrel Round and Round: A Bilingual Book of Seasons by Belle Yang. Candlewick Press, 2015

Squirrel Round and Round describes the changing landscape and activities of its inhabitants as a squirrel travels through the seasons of the year. The squirrel observes blooming camellias, noisy cicadas, ripe persimmons, and more as winter turns to spring then to summer and fall. The first frost and fresh tracks in the snow bring the squirrel back to winter. The book offers a rich vocabulary in English and Mandarin Chinese while attractive illustrations painted in impressionistic colors are simple yet detailed.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

Share these early literacy activities with caregivers or add them in story time.

  • Talk: What different animals live outside your house? Where do they live?
  • Sing: Listen for the sounds in your world. What sounds can you make? Do different languages make different sounds?
  • Write: Can you create Mandarin characters?
  • Play: Go outside and make some tracks.
  • Math or Science: How can you tell what season it is? Use all 5 senses.

Include some poetry: Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection: page 20 and Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Firsts section

For more bilingual titles, try the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) bibliography, 50 Bilingual and Spanish/English Integrated Books, or search on the CCBC website.

Find more resources for Maya’s Blanket/La Manta de Maya and Squirrel Round and Round: A Bilingual Book of Seasons at TeachingBooks.net.

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Wonderful Stories for Cold Days: January 2017 Primary (K-2)

December 15th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Primary (Grades K-2) | January - (Comments Off on Wonderful Stories for Cold Days: January 2017 Primary (K-2))

Amazing storytelling, endearing characters and warm illustrations make these books favorites for many kids, parents, librarians and teachers.

finding winnieFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick.  Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  Little, Brown, 2015

Honor Book, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award

Author Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, the Winnipeg veterinarian who purchased an orphaned cub at a train station while on his way to service in World War I. Mattick’s unique perspective and engaging style (punctuated with plenty of humor) make for an irresistible narrative that includes herself and her young son, Cole, as characters as she tells what is clearly a familiar and much loved story to the little boy. Harry named the cub Winnipeg (soon shortened to Winnie) and she charmed everyone. Winnie was full of affection and exploits, and it was hard for Harry to imagine leaving her behind in England when word came his unit was leaving for the front. But he took Winnie to the London Zoo and it was there, years later, that a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne first saw her. The conversational style of Mattick’s narrative is finely crafted and utterly charming. So, too, are Sophie Blackall’s warm illustrations, which are finely detailed and emotionally expansive, emphasizing the bond between mother and son, and man, child, and bear. An album of photographs of Colebourn, Winnie, Christopher Robin, and Mattick and Cole round out this winsome volume. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion questions:

  1. Pre-reading: What do you know about a bear named Winnie?
  2. What are the three different stories in the book?
  3. How do the illustrations add to the story? Do they add information, emotions, and/or movement to the story?
  4. In what ways, do the author and illustrator use the photos in the scrapbook in the text and Illustrations?
  5. Who would be on your family tree?

first caseThe First Case by Ulf Nilsson. Illustrated by Gitte Spee.  Translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall. (Detective Gordon) U.S. edition: Gecko Press, 2015

An engaging, character-driven mystery begins with an aging toad detective investigating the theft of nuts from a very upset squirrel. Detective Gordon can’t move as quickly or as easily as he once did. Then he meets a nameless mouse who is young and spry and eager and she quickly becomes his able assistant. First order of business: give her a name. He suggests one he’s always loved: Buffy. The interactions between Buffy–so bright and optimistic and open-hearted–and Detective Gordon–slightly world-weary but wise and buoyed by her presence—are warm and wonderful in a story full of understated humor punctuated by brighter, laugh-out-loud moments (often involving the squirrel). The duo inspects the scenes of the crime, gathers clues, conjectures based on what they’ve observed (clearly the suspect can climb trees, for example), then lays a trap and eventually capture the thieves. Beautiful design, including charming spot and full-page color illustrations, embellish a winning, winsome short chapter book. Add it to your read-aloud repertoire! (MS) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Describe how Detective Gordon and Buffy are different from and similar to each other. Why do you think Detective Gordon and Buffy work well together?
  2. Why do you think Detective Gordon handed the squirrel the mirror?
  3. What rituals and routines does Detective Gordon eventually share with Buffy?

Find more resources for Finding Winnie and The First Case at TeachingBooks.net!

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.

Family Fun: January 2016 Intermediate Titles

December 15th, 2015 | Posted by etownsend in 2015-2016 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | January - (Comments Off on Family Fun: January 2016 Intermediate Titles)

lulu and the cat in the bagLulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay. Illustrated by Icon for the Intermediate (Grades 3-5) readersPriscilla Lamont. U.S. edition: Albert Whitman, 2013.

Irrepressible, animal-loving Lulu is back in two new breezy outings. In Lulu and the Cat in the Bag, Lulu’s grandma, Nan, has come to stay with Lulu and her cousin, Mellie, while their parents are on vacation. Nan is decidedly not an animal lover, and the arrival of a breathing burlap bag on the doorstep has her in a panic about what might be inside. The marigold cat it proves to be isn’t too thrilled, either, and bolts when Lulu opens the bag. But she returns when Nan isn’t looking, making herself at home on Lulu’s bed. When the cat disappears, it’s Lulu’s turn to panic. The outcome of her search for the missing feline is surprising to everyone—perhaps Nan most of all. In Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, Lulu’s parents take Lulu and Mellie on a trip to a seaside cottage. After spotting a stray dog on the beach, Lulu is determined to capture the canine and take care of it. Mellie, meanwhile, is determined to build a kite from the complicated kit she has brought along. Hilary McKay, masterful at writing funny books about families and friends alike, once again offers up a cast of singular, delightful characters in two outstanding books for newly independent readers continuing the series about brown-skinned Lulu that began with Lulu and the Duck in the Park (U.S. edition: Albert Whitman, 2012).  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Resources from TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Before reading: What would you do if you found a cat on your doorstep?
  2. What role do pets play in the family in this book? What role do pets play for the main character?
  3. How is the grandmother different at the beginning of the story from the end of the story? Why did the grandmother change her mind about the cat?
  4. How does the setting affect the story? What setting might create a different ending for this story?

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy. misadventures of the family fletcher001Delacorte, 2014.

The multiracial Fletcher family is comprised of four boys — twelve-year-old Sam, ten-year-olds Jax and Eli (who are not twins), and six-year-old Frog — along with their adoptive Dads, whom they call Dad and Papa. Set over the course of a single school year, a warm, funny story in the tradition of classics like The Saturdays features wonderful family dynamics that will ring true to readers regardless of what their own family structure looks like. Over the course of the novel, each of the boys faces a dilemma. Sam, who has been single-minded about soccer, is taken by surprise at how much he enjoys acting in the school play and feels torn about where to put his energy. Jax chooses their crabby next-door neighbor as the focus of a year-long Veteran’s Project for school, but then finds it impossible to engage the unfriendly man. Eli hates the special school for gifted academic kids that he begged to attend, but now feels he has to stick with it. And Frog has a new friend, Ladybug, that the rest of the family assumes is imaginary, like the cheetah that lived under his bed. Their good-humored yet often exasperated parents and a variety of friends and neighbors all add to the fun of a story that is fresh, lively, and comforting.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Resources from TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How is each brother featured as a protagonist? How does that change the story?
  2. This book features messages and emails at the beginning of each chapter. How does that affect your understanding of the narrative? What do you learn about the characters from these notes?
  3. Why did Mr. Nelson appear to be grumpy for much of the story?
  4. Which character changes the most throughout the story? Why do you think this? Cite examples.