Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Historical Humpday (Wednesday) - Just 2 for Today

I have chosen today to review two picture books relating to Slavery and the Underground Railroad. These books would be wonderful additions to most upper-elementary grade classrooms. I have used them myself in several different 4th grade classes in NY.

Starting out with a note about the story that provides important background information, Follow the Drinking Gourd focuses on the attempts to free slaves in the 1840’s. The story is based upon the famous song “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” which through the lyrics, told slaves the directions needed to follow the Underground Railroad, helping them ultimately find freedom. This particular story follows the hardships that Molly, James, Isaiah, Old Hattie and George as they make their escape north to Canada. With the sheet music provided as well, this book would certainly enhance a unit on slavery.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Separated from her mother as a result of the slave trade, Clara plans to reunite with her mother someday. Hearing two slaves talk about the Underground Railroad, Clara uses her quilting knowledge to begin constructing a map of the landscapes that would eventually lead her and her mother north to Canada and freedom via the Underground Railroad. When the “map” is finished, Clara sets off, leaving the quilt behind for other slaves planning an escape. The illustrations support the story, portraying slaves as they were – hard workers who had to sneak around when planning if they wished to escape.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Tale of Desperaux, Book the First: A Mouse is Born

Typically, when I have finished reading a novel, I'll reach for the next adult novel in my TBR pile. However, I've been watching The Tale of Desperaux as it somehow seems to keep appearing at the top and last night, I reached for it! After all, I kept reminding myself that if Alexis, Hannah, Leah, Joel, Collin and Aaden of TLC's Jon and Kate Plus 8 would sit through a chapter book, there must really be something to it! Anyways, I was only going to read for 30 minutes before I succumbed to sleep... however, Desperaux Tilling reeled me in and sure enough, I finished "Book the First: A Mouse is Born."

In, "Book the First: A Mouse is Born," the setting is quickly set for readers - a castle, vividly described in the pages that follow. Characters come to life despite our knowing that mice don't really talk. The Tale of Desperaux immediately set my adult mindset back into a time when the world of make-believe truly did exist!

Desperaux, born the last child to his moter and father, the sole survivor of his mother's last litter, quickly received his name for the "sadness and despair" that surrounds Antoinette in the castle where the Tilling family resides. From the very get-go readers are told that Desperaux has something wrong with him - he's too small, his ears are too big, his eyes were open at birth when they shouldn't have been... the list goes on and on. His family is certain that Desperaux will not survive because of all the oddities surrounding his arrival.

However, Desperaux shocks them all, indeed surviving not only the minutes and hours following his unusual birth but living days! Desperaux leads readers on a journey through forbiddent territory, falls in love with Princess Pea while exploring the "smell of honey" and ultimately winding up before the Mouse Council and facing the dreaded "red thread."

The thoughts and questions posed by the narrator kept me intrigued and longing for more, while also allowing me to easily see how this novel could be used in any elementary classroom, captivate the students' attention and interest them in any number of comprehension activities!
For example:
  • "At least Lester had the decency to weep at his act of perfidy. Reader, do you know what "perfidy" means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure." (DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux, p. 45). This would be a perfect journal topic for students in grades 2-5. Ask them to look up the definition of perfidy in their dictionaries and to make a journal entry with the definition. Next, students could explain how Lester's act was an act of perfidy.

  • "Do you know the definition of adieu? Don't bother with your dictionary. I will tell you. Adieu is the French word for farewell." (DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux, p. 65) Again, this narration would make for an interesting journal topic. The narrator tells readers that adieu means farewell, but I'm willing to bet, in any classroom there will be at least a handful of students who are unfamiliar with what farewell means. Once students have determined the definition of farewell, they could be asked to imagine something else that Desperaux would want to hear from his mother, something different than what the narrator suggests, "Take me instead."

  • "Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light. And because Desperaux wanted very much to live, he said, "Once upon a time..."" (DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux, p. 81) Again, this would be a wonderful journal topic for students in any grade level! Ask them to write the story that they can imagine Desperaux telling Gregory.

That's it for now, as my own adventure with Desperaux Tilling is on-going. However, check back for more, as Book the Second, Book the Third, and Book the Fourth are sure to provide much more reading pleasure!

Truthful Tuesday - 3 Reviews for Today

Today's post brings to you non-fiction books about three very different topics: the Civil Rights Movement, Flotsam, and Nouns.

I included The School is Not White!: A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement because as we draw nearer to inauguration day, January 20, I believe that we are going to see issues of Civil Rights matters once again surfacing as Barack Obama takes office as the first African-American president of the United States.

In this true story, Rappaport retells Constance Curry’s Silver Rights in a language familiar to children. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court having declared segregation illegal, Mississippi schools remained segregated in 1965. The “freedom of choice” plan opened the doors for the Carter Family children to sign up for and attend the local all-white school. Despite the resilience they felt, the children showed courage and other black children began registering in the all-white schools. Great resource for teaching about the Civil Rights Movement.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

The second review for today is, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion. This would make a great companion to go along with David Wiesner’s Flotsam, a book that I have previously reviewed. Curtis Ebbesmeyer is an oceanographer who studies the trash that shows up in the ocean (flotsam). This particular story by Burns describes the May 27, 1990 in which a cargo ship carrying Nike sneakers and bath toys dumped a load of the cargo into the ocean and began showing up along Seattle beaches. The book goes on to explain how Ebbesmeyer used the information and objects collected along the Seattle beaches to track ocean currents using a computer program known as OSCURS. Ultimately, the book is trying to make readers aware of the dangers of ocean pollution and the need to protect the environment.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Last but not least, and perhaps my favorite, If you were a Noun, by Michael Dahl. As one book of the “Word Fun” series, Dahl attempts to help students learn about nouns – singular, proper, plural. Dahl has readers entering space in this edition. Students are sure to quickly catch on that a star, an astronaut and a spaceship are singular nouns. They will start considering themselves proper nouns when asked to give an example of one. The book also introduces the concept that nouns would answer the questions: who, when and where. This is a must have for any elementary classroom!

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:
Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun?, Brian P. Cleary
Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day, Robin Pulver

Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Challenges

As a fairly new book blogger who hopes to draw readers to my blog, I have decided to participate in 3 challenges for 2009.

The first is the 100+ Book Challenge, hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.

The guidelines are as follows:

  1. You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.
  2. This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.
  3. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.
  4. All books count: children’s, YA, adults, fiction, non-fiction, how-tos, etc.For complete rules and to sign up, go HERE.

The second challenge is the 2009 1st in a Series, again hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Guidelines for 1st in Series Challenge 2009:

  1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
  2. Read 12 books that are the first in any series. You may read & list your chosen books any time during the year.
  3. Challenge begins January thru December, 2009.
  4. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

The third challenge, 2009 Young Adult Book Challenge, is also hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.
Guidelines for the 2009 Young Adult Book Challenge:
  1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
  2. Read 12 Young Adult Novels. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.
  3. The challenge begins January thru December, 2009.
  4. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

1st Miscellaneous Monday - Author Spotlight

Today I have chosen to spotlight author and illustrator, Jan Brett. Since 1980, Brett has written, illustrated and retold over 30 children's stories. Some of her most popular works include The Mitten, Annie and the Wild Animals, and The Hat. My five reviews today come directly from my home bookshelf: Honey... Honey... Lion!, The Umbrella, Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?, The Mitten, and Gingerbread Baby. All are wonderful picks and will be enjoyed by children and teachers alike.


In this African tale, children will be sure to learn a lesson! Honeyguide, a small, sparrow-like bird, and Honeybadger, resembling a skunk have always worked together to reap the rewards and share in tasting the sweetness of the honey that Honeybadger breaks free from the beehive that Honeyguide leads him to. One day, Honeybadger turns selfish and decides not to share with Honeyguide after she leads him to the beehive. In return, Honeyguide decides to teach Honeybadger a lesson – leading him across the African plains, ultimately leading Honeybadger face-to-face with a lion. The moral of the story? If someone helps you with something, you should certainly allow them to enjoy in the reward!

The typical watercolor and gouache artwork that Jan Brett is famous for brings life-like characteristics to the African animals and vegetation allowing a true portrayal of African wildlife. Not only will children love the story, they will also be captivated by the artwork!

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

In The Umbrella, Jan Brett takes readers on an adventure to the Monteverde Cloud Forest located in Costa Rica. Carlos, a young boy in search of tropical animals acts as the tour guide. Finding no animals on the forest floor, Carlos drops his umbrella to pursue his search among the fig trees. The abandoned umbrella soon becomes a resting place for the many tropical animals that habituate in the cloud forest. Suddenly a monkey flings the umbrella into the river and the real adventure begins! Even though Carlos exits the forest disappointed that he spotted no animals, readers certainly won’t lack spotting them as they practically jump off the pages.

The combination of airbrush, gouache and watercolor styles used by Jan Brett portrays the true essence of the cloud forest wildlife and vegetation, allowing readers to feel as though they truly did visit this Costa Rican forest.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

In this unique Christmas story, Kyri, a young girl who resides far north of the Arctic Circle prepares the family’s Christmas Eve meal. Nervously she anticipates the arrival of some very unwelcome Christmas Eve guests. However, after a young boy from Finnmark arrives at her front door, Kyri’s evening takes an unexpected turn and the unwelcome visitors are sure to never return by the time the young boy from Finnmark and his bear leave.

The illustrations display the beauty of the Northern Lights and give readers a true picture of Scandinavian culture from the characters clothing to the objects found amongst the little hut in which Kyri and her father reside.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

A young Ukranian boy who is in need of a new pair of mittens wishes more than anything for them to be white. His grandmother, Baba, hesitates, knowing what that Nicki will likely lose one of them in the snow. As Baba expected, Nicki does indeed lose one of his mittens. The lost mitten goes unnoticed by Nicki, but a slew of woodland animals quickly spot it and decide that the white mitten would make a wonderful place to get warm out of the winter’s harsh air. The mitten quickly fills with a variety of animals but before long, the meadow mouse tickles the bear with her whiskers and the animals wind up scattered in all directions, the mitten flying through the air! Will Nicki find the mitten and return home to please Baba? Check out this folk tale to discover the entire adventure yourself!

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

In this take on the traditional tale of the “Gingerbread Boy,” Brett tells the story of a young boy and his mother. Together, the two have baked gingerbread men. Matti is so anxious to have the gingerbread men be baked that he opens the oven door early and one of the gingerbread men, a baby, escapes from the oven. A chase begins with the forest animals to catch the runaway gingerbread baby – through the countryside. At home Matti sets to work constructing a gingerbread house, which he eventually places at the edge of the woods. As the gingerbread baby runs ahead of those chasing him, he spots the house and runs inside to hide.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

It's Storybook Sunday!

With the New Year approaching later this week, I have decided to focus on storybooks that teach will teach our children some lessons that will help make 2009 their best year yet! - Stories about:
  • being a good citizen

  • teamwork

  • understanding and appreciating the feelings of others
As a substitute teacher being in and out of classes at all grade levels, all the time I see instances where students are being teased, picked on, left out, or being singled out because they are different. Starting at an early age, children need to understand that while they may not like everyone, they need to respect everyone. After all, isn't being different what makes us all individuals? By teaching our children about being a good citizen, the importance of teamwork and the understanding and appreciation of others' feelings, respect of others will come more naturally to today's children.

Using their typical writing styles, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell again try to show kids what it means to be a good person – stopping to help others, trying your best… Teaching a character education lesson, Is There Really a Human Race would be a good opener at the beginning of the school year to introduce the concept of cooperative learning, hard work and good citizenship.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Today's third review is of Jane Yolen's Raising Yoder's Barn. Yolen attempts to show the relationship among members in a tight knit Amish community is a success in Raising Yoder’s Barn. A lighting bolt hits the barn of one Amish family, burning it to the ground. This story will show children that hard work and teamwork pays off, as the Amish community pulls together to “raise” the family a new barn so they can continue on with their lifestyle.

And the third review for today is When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry... This book focuses on Sophie, a little girl, who experiences the same emotions as other humans. Sophie gets angry because one of her toys is taken and she trips over another. A variety of actions are taken on Sophie’s part as she works to overcome her anger. This book would fit in well when teaching about feelings to early elementary students.

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Longtime in the Making! Science Fiction Saturday...

Upon his impending return to school, Elmo is given a haircut that he hates and is afraid everyone will laugh at him. As he’s watching TV the night before school starts, Elmo wishes things could happen as easily as they did in Big Slimy Things from Outer Space, the show he was watching. Within minutes Elmo is being whisked off to visit Moog-Moog in hopes of a better hairstyle. Despite an unsuccessful attempt visiting an intergalactic barber, Elmo returns to school only to discover that his friend Buford was having the same problem.

The very colorful artwork is sure the capture the eye and attention of young readers!

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any premade lesson plans or book activities to go along with this book!


In this science fiction novel, ten-year old Katie Welker realizes just how different she is from everyone else when neighbors start questioning who she is and why she “does what she does.” Katie has known for years that she has had a special power that other people don’t have – the ability to move things just by looking at and thinking about them. After setting out to find out just who she is and why she has these special powers, Katie discovers that her silver eyes and telekinesis powers are the result of exposure to a chemical or drug from a company her mother worked for when she was pregnant with Katie. Half way through, the discovery was made that there were three other kids who were just like Katie, and she sets out on a quest to find them.

This isn't a book I would typically gravitate to or even read. However, I will admit, once I got started with this one, I couldn't put it down!

Lesson Plans/Book Activities:

Again, I was unable to find any premade lesson plans or activities to go along with the novel.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

1st Storybook Sunday and 2 Reviews!

I know, I know... it's 11:00 and I'm just now getting to the daily reviews. However, this is how it'll be most of the time, due to this crazy "lifestyle." So, without any hesitation...

The first review for the week is Flotsam by David Wiesner. In this wordless picture book a young boy goes to the beach and collects flotsam; things that float, may get washed ashore, or something that someone finds and shares with someone else. The wordless painted watercolor illustrations provide students with an opportunity to create their own story. So many students are tremendous writers if they only have a little something to get them started. Wordless books provide them with exactly that. A must have in any classroom!

The second review for my first Storybook Sunday is Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor. O’Connor tells the story of Nancy, a little girl who loves to be fancy. Not only does Nancy dress fancy and act fancy, she even uses fancy language. Although this text is written for children aged 4-7, it could be used in an upper-elementary classroom in teaching students to use a thesaurus for using “fancy” words, or synonyms in their writing pieces.

Weekly Reviews

Each week, as mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm planning to review at least ten books from a variety of genres. I'm hoping to stick to a schedule for these reviews, as follows:

Storybook (Realistic Fiction) Sunday, on Sunday
Miscellaneous Monday
Truthful Tuesday
Historical Hump Day
Fairy Tale (Fable) Friday
Science Fiction (Fantasy) Saturday

Hopefully this all pans out as I'm planning, but you may see a few differences here and there! Look for the first reviews later on today!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A New Season... A New Blog

The arrival of a teacher's summer vacation also brings out the much anticipated reading lists! This year, along with the typical books from the newspaper's summer reading lists and the library sponsored Book Pages, I'm hoping to branch out from the adult books I tend to read and fill in with an equal mix of children's literature.

This is important to me because as a teacher, an important part of the curriculum involves relating the material to the children's every day lives. Children's literature provides this tie and so much more!

My goal, in the coming weeks of Summer 2008 is to read and review at least 10 children's books each week from a variety of genres. My intentions at this time are only to be writing the blog reviews based on the children's literature. However, since I am planning to read from my own adult summer reading lists, if I do come across something spectacular worthy of sharing, I will certainly do that as well!