Thursday, April 30, 2009

National Card and Letter Writing Month

It's National Card and Letter Writing Month and believe it or not, there are some great books out there that are written in letter format! I've chosen two older ones that are somewhat well-known and one that's brand new (in paperback edition) and will be released sometime in May!

Stewart, Sarah.
The Gardener.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.
Guided Reading Level: L

As her family is feeling the impact of the Great Depression, Lydia Grace is sent to live with her Uncle Jim. Upon arriving in the city (and even before), Lydia begins sharing her journey with readers through a series of letters that she writes home to Mama, Papa and Grandma. Throughout the letters we learn that Lydia's uncle and his business (a bakery) are also being impacted by the Depression. Lydia sets out, determined to see Uncle Jim smile before returning and her letters share with her family, the steps that she is taking to try and see the smile appear on Uncle Jim's face... transforming the top of his skyscraper apartment building into a beautiful flower garden.

The illustrations alone are enough to depict the impact of the Great Depression on families. However, the solemness in the letters greatly adds to the illustrations, making the story come full circle. This is a wonderful story and shares with readers a sense of hope - if a child can overcome being shipped away from home during hard times, surely as adults, we can muster the courage to pull through as well!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

Orloff, Karen Kaufman.
I Wanna Iguana.
G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Guided Reading Level: J

Alex's friend Mikey Gulligan is moving and isn't able to take his baby iguana with him. In this funny story, Alex sets out on a mission to convince his mother to let him have the baby iguana. Through a series of letters written to his mom, Alex begs and pleads... promises to take care of the iguana by himself... use his allowance to pay for the iguana's food... and even teach it tricks. After Alex writes each letter to his mom trying to convince her, his mom responds with a letter of her own. In the end, can you guess who wins the letter-writing battle?

It's a great plot that kids are sure to love... and it's likely that this book will inspire them to be creative when trying to convince their own parents that they are deserving of something they want! This would be a great introduction to use when beginning a unit on letter writing!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities

Pattison, Darcy.
The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Guided Reading Level: M

Little Tameka sends her uncle a letter asking him to come visit - to go camping and fishing... and swimming. Unfortunately, Tameka receives in return a letter from Uncle Ray that he's unable to visit this summer because he's too busy building kitchen cabinets. Knowing that the family is unable to afford the trip to visit him, Uncle Ray offers to send his friend Oliver. Oliver, a woodman, (that I assume to be built by Uncle Ray) sets off on a cross-country journey from Rock Hill, South Carolina to Red Crest, California to pay a visit to Tameka. Throughout his journey, we learn of Oliver K. Woodman's adventures through the letters and postcards that are sent along the way. By the time Oliver finally arrives in Red Crest, California at Tameka's house, the family has decided they miss Uncle Ray too much and are going to make a few sacrifices to head to Rock Hill, South Carolina to visit... and they plan to take Oliver with them!

The book is great fun and the adventures are sure to keep children interested and listening... if not planning a few of their own adventures for Oliver K. Woodman! I think this is a great book to incorporate into a unit on letter writing and it'll definitely find it's way in my classroom someday! You can also check out the sequel to The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman... Searching for Oliver K. Woodman!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

Other Letter Writing Lesson Plans/Learning Activities:

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Astronomy Week

Astronomy Week is observed during the calendar week in which Astronomy Day falls, beginning on Monday and continuing through Sunday. Kids love astronomy so there's lots of fun activities included throughout this post, educational and just for fun!

Branley, Franklyn H.
The Planets in Our Solar System.
HarperCollins Publishers.
Guided Reading Level: L

This very simple text by Branley, another in the "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science" series, introduces readers (at the very simplest context) to the nine planets in the solar system. Kids are sure to love this because of the facts that are provided!

  • How hot is Venus?
  • Why are Neptune and Pluto the coldest planets?
  • Why is Earth called the "life planet"?
  • How many Plutos would fit inside Jupiter?

I think this book is definitely worth sharing with the kids!

Rabe, Tish.
There's No Place Like Space!: All About Our Solar System.

(The Cat in the Hat Learning Library).
Random House.

If the kids love Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, they're sure to love this as well! In true Tish Rabe fashion, readers are lead on an adventure that follows in Dr. Seuss' footsteps! In this edition of The Cat in the Hat Learning Library, readers set forth on an adventure through space. Their tour guide? None other than the cat himself!

Like Branley's book, this will appeal to children not only because of the well known characters leading the adventure, but also because of the rhyming text and the trivia that's provided! Children love to be able to quiz adults and see if they know something that an adult doesn't... this book provides perfect opportunity for children to show off just how much they're capable of learning and how much they know!

Lesson Plans/Learning Activities:

Other Space Related Activities

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Winner...

MJ has informed me that she won the book from another blog so I'm free to reach into the pot again... this time, the drawing resulted in me pulling Jenny's name from the pot! Jenny, if you can email me your mailing address, I'll get the book on it's way!

My, my, my...

Okay ladies... we all seem to be slipping here! I announced yesterday my winners for the Narhwal: Unicorn of the Sea and What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? giveaway, and it dawned on me today, that I said there would be 3 winners and I only chose 1! So, good news for 2 of you...

MJ of KinderGardenBlooms
are now 2 more lucky winners!

Ladies, email me your snail mail addresses by Friday, May 1st and I'll get these books on the way to you! Addresses not received by May 1st will result in another name being drawn from the pot!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Patricia Polacco Books

This week is Jewish Heritage Week and my quest for Jewish heritage related books ended up with only Patricia Polacco books. However, they are really great if you want to share with kids some aspects of Jewish heritage!

Polacco, Patricia.
Tikvah Means Hope.
Delacorte Press.
Guided Reading Level: P

If nothing else, this story will allow children to feel hope when times are trying! It is definitely an inspiration, but I feel that if children/students are truly going to understand the story, the author's note (from the last page) must be shared in some form (not necessarily just reading it to the kids, either, but really talking about it) so the message is clearly relayed.

Justine and Duane, two friends, spend much time with their Jewish neighbor Mr. Ruth, as he prepares for Sukkot, the Jewish Thanksgiving holiday by building the Sukkah (the place where the feast will be held). As the preparations begin, Mr. Ruth shares with the youngsters the reasons for having the celebration in a Sukkah, rather than around a table inside the house. As the day of Sukkot approaches though, gales of wind also approach in Oakland, causing fires that literally destroy the town. As the townspeople are driven out as part of an evacuation plan, Justine's kitty, Tikvah (which means hope in Hebrew) is left behind. The fire burns for days, destroying nearly everything in its path. When Justine, Duane (and their families) and Mr. Ruth return to Oakland they find their homes in ruins, however, hope is left behind as the Sukkah remains standing, unburned, and as the neighbors all gather for a barbecue, the small purring sounds of Tikvah also surface. These two small signs provide neighbors with exactly what they need to survive this tragedy - hope.

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

Polacco, Patricia.
Mrs. Katz and Tush.
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Guided Reading Level: P

This story introduces young readers to the Jewish celebrations of Hannukah and Passover. The celebrations are only briefly touched upon, but are definitely enough to allow children the chance to appreciate and respect Jewish heritage.

Larnel and his mother pay a visit to a grieving Jewish neighbor, Mrs. Katz, who's husband recently passed away and who is facing her first Hannukah and Passover without any family. Larnel quickly befriends Mrs. Katz and presents her with a kitten, hoping to brighten her spirits . Mrs. Katz agrees to care for the kitten, who becomes known as "Tush" (because of its lacking tail), but only if Larnel agrees to help her out (I think her real motive is in needing a friend)! As the two spend more and more time together, she shares with Larnel bits and pieces of her Jewish culture, allowing for him to experience them alongside his own, and to see the similarities between Jewish and African Americans. The story has a bittersweet ending, as Larnel continues sharing what he's learned of the Jewish culture with his own young family (his wife and children) by visiting Mrs. Katz at her burial site.

This book, like most of Polacco's has a deep story waiting to be told! It's going to take someone with the right amount of knowledge and ability to share this story in a way that children can relate to but it's definitely worth a read and would make for a great story as part of character education on diversity!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

Polacco, Patricia.
The Butterfly.
Philomel Books.
Guided Reading Level: NR

This is perhaps the deepest of all of Patricia Polacco's stories that I have read. Perhaps it is because of the content and information being shared... the Holocaust. I think this is a very difficult time period to teach to children, as it was one of the darkest times in our history. However, that being said, I think Polacco has handled the subject in a very appropriate and delicate manner that will give children a basic understanding of the Holocaust without making it a traumatic learning experience at a somewhat young age.

Despite the recent activity in her French village (Nazi troops terrorizing the area), Monique, a young girl, is quite shocked when "a ghost" visits her during the night. As time passes and Monique discovers that the ghost is not really "a ghost" but rather another little girl her same age, Sevrine, a Jewish child whose family has taken up residence in Monique's basement, seeking safety from the Nazi troops. The two become quick friends and appear to be like all little girls, playing - enjoying their life, even though Sevrine is sharing with Monique all of the trying times that her family has been through.

One day, as the girls are enjoying a butterfly at a window from the house, Sevrine is spotted and the family must once again set forth to a new destination to try and escape the Nazi forces. Monique, sad to lose her new friend and afraid of what Sevrine's future holds, gives Sevrine her precious cat, Pinouff as a parting gift - a way for Sevrine to remember Monique. Upon Monique returning to her home after seeing Sevrine off, Monique is giving a sign of hope - that leaves Monique feeling content and knowing that Sevrine and her parents are safe in their new hiding place.

This book definitely shares with children the aspects of the Jewish heritage that is most known to us. It does a good job of providing children with a child's view of the Holocaust and the impact that the Holocaust had on children... definitely worth a read, but I'd say that the Holocaust and World War II must be shared with students to some extent if they are going to take the most from this book!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities

Polacco, Patricia.
The Keeping Quilt.
Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Guided Reading Level: M

Love, love, love The Keeping Quilt. Love it even more since I've had the opportunity to experience one aspect of Jewish Heritage that focuses around a "keeping quilt" - a half Jewish wedding (my cousin, who's not Jewish, married a Jewish man and their wedding ceremony incorporated many important Jewish traditions)! It was an experience I'll never forget!

Polacco tells the story of when her great-grandmother came to America in The Keeping Quilt. Anna, a young girl, moves to America with her family. Like many immigrants there was little room to bring worldly possessions, and therefore, the only physical reminder Anna has of her life in Russia is her dress and babushka. However, she quickly outgrows them. Her mother, being quite handy, takes the dress and babushka, along with Uncle Vladimar's shirt, Aunt Havalah's nightdress and Aunt Natasha's apron and uses the material to make a quilt that will help Anna and her family to remember home for generations to come. As time passes, the quilt serves many purposes... a tablecloth, a picnic blanket, a wedding huppa, and a receiving blanket put to good use by many generations. The story ends as Polacco shares with readers that someday, her own daughter Traci Denise will have possession of the blanket so that she can pass it on to her own children and be able to share this part of Jewish heritage with her own family.

I think this is a really cool idea... definitely allows for the sharing of stories from generation to generation. Why not start a keeping quilt of your own with your family that will be a prized family possession for years to come?

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Monday, April 27, 2009

Giveaway Winners!

Thanks everyone for entering my two give-aways last week! Today, I have winners for you! Email me your snail mail addresses and I'll get your prize in the mail this week!

The winner of Narhwal: Unicorn of the Sea is Deanna H.

The winner of What Would You Do with an Old Red Shoes? is Andromeda Jazmon.

I've also sent emails to the winners about this. Any snail mail addresses not received by Friday, May 1st will result in me drawing another name for the giveaways!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Nancy Shaw's Birthday

Today marks Nancy Shaw's 63rd birthday! Shaw is most famous for her "Sheep" books, three of which are the focus of today's post!

Shaw, Nancy.
Sheep on a Ship.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Guided Reading Level: G

Sheep on a Ship takes readers on another hilarious adventure! The rhyming text will keep readers on their toes and alert at all times. This series of "Sheep" books seems as though it would act as a wonderful introduction to rhyming words and word families in the early elementary classroom!

The sheep have once again set out on an adventure, they're out to sea on the ship. During their trip, while the sheep are napping, a sudden storm comes up. As the ship shakes about, the sheep wake up, only to discover that they need to move quickly if they are to survive the sinking ship. Tearing down the masts, they quickly create a raft and jump off the ship. Luckily, they were able to out-ride the worst of the storm and can see land on the horizon and glad that that trip is behind them!

Shaw, Nancy.
Sheep in a Jeep.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Guided Reading Level: G

This book would be great for introducing word families or even for introducing the different way long vowel e words are spelled.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this first hit of Shaw's, a flock of sheep are out for an adventure - taking a ride in a jeep. However, the jeep has other plans in mind for the sheep instead of just a day out! The jeep winds up in a gooey mud pit before crashing into a tree and winding up for sale - cheap!

It's a funny book and is sure to have kids laughing!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

Shaw, Nancy.
Sheep in a Shop.
April 2009.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Guided Reading Level: G

I'm so glad to be able to add this book to my collection! It's not only the first Nancy Shaw book to go on my shelf, but also the first in the "sheep" series! The book has a lot that can be done with it, education wise - rhyming, word families, initial consonant blends... I would also add it to my birthday collection because a birthday is coming and the sheep head out to do some shopping for the party! This newest edition comes complete with a CD reading of the book, making it perfect for a listening center in an early elementary classroom!

The sheep once again set forth on an adventure... when we spend a day with the sheep, there's sure to be a full filled day! It's time to buy a birthday present, and once they arrive at the store, the five sheep find all kinds of mischief to get into - tennis rackets, rockets, blocks, clocks, trains and planes. They settle on a ball but not before climbing and causing a ruckus with the boxes!

It's funny for sure and is bound to have kids chuckling!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weekly Blog Plan, April 27 - May 1

Here’s the weekly blog plan! Again, please remember this is subject to change and is dependent upon whether or not my materials come in from the library as planned. I realize that this may fall too late for you to use in your classroom this year, but the activities will definitely swing from year-to-year! If you see something you really wanted to incorporate into your classroom, leave me a comment on this post or send me an e-mail, I’d be glad to provide you with the links I have, if nothing more!

Monday, April 27 – Nancy Shaw’s Birthday (63)

* Sheep on a Ship
* Sheep in a Jeep
* Sheep in a Shop

Tuesday, April 28 – Jewish Heritage Week

* The Keeping Quilt, Patricia Polacco
* The Trees of the Dancing Goats, Patricia Polacco
* The Butterfly, Patricia Polacco

Wednesday, April 29 – Astronomy Week (April 29-May 3)

* There’s No Place Like Space, Tish Rabe
* The Planets in Our Solar System, Franklyn Branley
* Glow in the Dark Constellations, C.E. Thompson

Thursday, April 30 – National Card and Letter Writing Month

* The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters, Janet Ahlberg
* I Wanna Iguana, Karen Kaufman Orloff
* The Gardner, Sarah Stewart

Friday, May 1 – May Day

* Miss Flora McFlimsey’s May Day, Mariana
* On the Morn of Mayfest, Erica Silverman
*The Rainbow Tulip, Pat Mora

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Just a Reminder!!! Last Day to Enter National Wildlife Week Giveaway

Just a quick reminder... you only have until 11:59 EST to enter in the National Wildlife Week Giveaway at a chance to win Janet Halfmann's newest non-fiction, Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea. Details can be found by clicking here!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

National Park Week

Okay, so this post was intended to post yesterday, but the weather was a little too nice to be sitting online typing up a review... and since it's called National Park Week, I decided I could hold off on posting yesterday! However, the weather's even better today, in the 80's... sunny and pleasantly breezy! So it's just going to be a quick review... I did want to be sure to get this out to you all, as it is an ARC I received, and was published in March and I've been holding off on a review because it fit so perfectly for a National Park Week post!

Chin, Jason.
March 2009.
Roaring Book Press.

A young boy riding on the subway finds a book that was left behind by a previous rider. The book, believe it or not, is titled, Redwoods. I'm sure he didn't know have any clue what was in store for him as began reading... his subway ride quickly turned almost magical, as he entered a Redwood Forest, to learn all about these tallest trees in the world. The journey he embarks on definitely makes this book worthy of a read!

Readers will quickly learn all about the growth of redwoods - from their roots to their ability to harbor other trees in the knots. Not only are readers learning about the trees themselves, but also all of the other wildlife that habituates in the branches and canopy of the redwood trees. As the book draws to a close, the young boy looks at his watch to discover he must quickly hurry on his way. As he leaves the subway, he leaves the book behind, allowing a young girl to find it and participate in a journey of her own, showing the need for the education of the importance of the redwoods!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Life Cycle Saturday #4 - Pumpkins

Nelson, Robin.
Life Cycles: Pumpkins.
Lerner Publications Company.

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Friday, April 24, 2009

Guest Post: Anna Alter - Why Is "Going Green" Important for Kids?

Thanks goes out to Anna for this special guest post!

Why is "Going Green" Important for Kids?

I was recently asked why Old Red Shoe is aimed at young children, when they are not able to make much of a contribution to our environmental predicament. Why teach them that their contributions make a difference, when in reality there are far greater changes that need to occur to really impact the direction our environment is going in? This question got me thinking about how we got in the situation we're in to begin with.

We live in a culture that values stuff. We work hard to make stuff, to buy stuff, to collect stuff. We sometimes measure our success by how much stuff we have accumulated, and who has more of it. Growing up in our culture, you can't help but be affected by these values, try as we might to teach kids that caring for others, generosity, and kindness are far nobler attributes.

I made Old Red Shoe not because I thought that kids turning cans into lanterns would change the world, but to make a simple truth plain and clear to its readers: we are responsible for the world we live in. The book is meant to be used as a tool to explain that concept and to get kids to think twice about what they throw in the trash and where it goes. It is meant to show them that we are responsible for our stuff.

I think you can't be too young to learn this and I hope the book introduces the concept in a useful way. We all know that many kids learn best hands on... rather than lecturing about the importance of the environment, I think showing kids simple things they can do makes more of an impact. I am thrilled to see other books for kids taking the same approach (see this round-up of environmental books for kids), its an honor to be included among them!

Some additional tips for kids and families (from the book):


* When you make a drawing, use both sides of your piece of paper, instead of two separate sheets.

* Use a lunchbox instead of a paper bag to carry your lunch to school.

* After you use a plastic bag, rinse it out and let it dry so that you can use it again.

* Save styrofoam food trays and wash them thoroughly. When they dry, use them as paint palettes, a surface to draw on, or turn them into stamps.

* Write to companies that make products with packaging that is not recyclable and ask them to change how they package their products, so that they can help the environment, too.


* Buy recycled products, such as toilet paper, stationary, and computer supplies.

* Avoid prepackaged food items, especially if the packaging is not recyclable.

* Take a cloth bag with you when you go shopping so you won't need plastic or paper bags.

* Use plastic or glass bottles to store drinks for kid's lunches, instead of juice boxes. Also, get reusable storage containers to hold the food in their lunchbox, rather than using plastic bags or aluminum foil.

* When you go to a restaurant, bring a reusable plastic or glass container to bring home your leftovers.

~ Visit ~
Just out: What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?
A green activity book
in bookstores now!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Author Spotlight: Anna Alter and a Give-Away of Her Newest Book!

Alter, Anna.
What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?
Henry Holt.

Old Red Shoe Blog (Just Launched!)

This book brings me back to my childhood so much! Some of the projects are things that I've done with my mom (weaving baskets out of empty berry baskets)... others are things I can imagine doing with my own children someday (making a glowing lantern for summer nights out of an empty tin can) or even using as projects and gifts in a classroom (making new crayons out of old bits of crayon)!

It's not only the green projects that make this book so worthwhile, but there's actually a real story for each page and that makes it super cool! Ben wore his bulldozer T-shirt all week....

On Monday, he spilled chocolate milk down the front.
On Tuesday, it caught in his locker.
On Wednesday, a thread got stuck in his desk.
On Thursday, it ripped during soccer.
On Friday, he fell in a puddle three times.
By Saturday, it was all covered in dirt.
So Sunday, his mom took it out of the closet and gave him a tractor T-shirt.

What can you do with a raggedy T-shirt?

Another thing I really love about this book is that the materials used, are everyday objects that are simply being reused. Not only are the projects good for the environment, they're great as money-saving activities that will keep kids and your pockets pleased! This is definitely worth adding to your bookshelf (or coffee table for easy access)!

And, if you've already invested in this book, read ahead to my interview with Anna to see what else she may have in store for us!

As an artist, I can see how you may have become inspired to illustrate children's books. What inspired you to begin writing them as well?

I've always known that making children's books was my dream job. I began my career working in the design department of a children's book publisher after graduating from art school; I thought getting to know the inner workings of a publisher would be a great way to get to know the industry. My experience there was a great education, and just confirmed that publishing was business I wanted to be part of.

At that point I was confident in my ability to draw and make illustrations, but hadn't really considered writing professionally. I soon discovered as I began submitting my paintings to different publishers, that writing your own books is a faster way to get your foot in the door. So I suppose my initial inspiration to write came as a means to an end, as a way be able to be an illustrator. Once I began working seriously on my writing, though, I found it deeply satisfying and still do.

Teaching was immensely helpful on this journey. One of the things that moved me the most was the opportunity to witness first hand, day after day, what a big and important role in kid's lives books can play. I watched child after child tote a book around like it was their best friend. It was also a great inspiration to observe issues present in the classroom that reminded me of my own childhood, and sparked story ideas about my own experience. That is how Francine's Day began. I witnessed many kids having a hard time transitioning from home to school, and remembered my own struggles with that issue. That's when I started fleshing out Francine.

Of all the books you've written, do you have a favorite?

This will sound corny, but each is special in its own way. Some I am fond of because I remember everything I learned while I worked on the project, and some I feel proud of because the book represents a creative breakthrough of some kind. What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? is a really different kind of book for me, and was an absolute delight to make on so many levels. I have another book coming out this spring, Abigail Spells, that I am equally proud of that was also a pleasure to create. I think these two books are my strongest and most favorite to date.

What about the books you've illustrated?

Again, the books that really stand out to me are the ones where I grew a lot as an artist and storyteller. Priscilla and the Hollyhocks stretched me creatively in terms of subject matter and art style - I'd say right now this is the favorite of my illustrated books.

I absolutely love how you tied little limericks into the story, What Can You DoWith an Old Red Shoe?. This definitely made the book stand out to me, more so than any other earth-friendly craft book than I've seen before. I would think this would make for fun reading (even just as a story) for a child as well. Do you have plans for any other books about recycling or reuse on the horizon?

I am in the process of putting together a proposal for a sequel to Red Shoe, about craft activities for groups of kids that could be done at parties. Fingers crossed it will be published!

Recycling art supplies! What a neat way to get started! What other ways do you recycle materials at home?

I am a big recycling nerd at home! I put everything in the recycling bin from shampoo labels to shopping receipts. We also try to reuse plastic containers as many times as we can- take out containers become cat food dishes and storage, plastic bags are washed and reused many, many times. It pains me to throw them away.

In a house of five people, there are always dishes being broken and stashed away in the cupboard awaiting the superglue (which is never to be found)! So, what can you do with a broken dish?

I too have had many a broken dish I can't bear to throw away. Here is what I do: break the whole dish into small pieces (this is a great activity to do when you get a parking ticket or have been listening to too much news about the economy), and put them in the bottom of a plant pot instead of rocks to help the plant drain. If you are not a plant person, you could always bring home a bit of plaster and make a mosaic. Or if you have a garden, use them to line a flowerbed...

And now... for the giveaway...

Anna's publishers at Henry Holt have offered to give away three copies of her newest book, What Can You Do With an Old Red Shoe? to three lucky blog readers. If you want to be entered in this giveaway, leave a comment on the post. As part of your comment, share with me the ways that your family and children participate in recycling activities. Do you find ways to craft with them? Recycling centers? Thrift shops? What other ways do you have that you recycle/reuse? You have until 11:59 EST on Sunday, April 26 to enter. The drawing will be held on Monday, April 27!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Thursday, April 23, 2009

National Coin Week

It's National Coin Week... So I've got books for almost all the coins! I couldn't find anything for the quarter, so I picked up The Penny Pot, as it focuses on counting coins in general.

Brennan-Nelson, Denise.
Penny: The Forgotten Coin.
Sleeping Bear Press.

Ooooh, how I wish I had a copy of this for myself! It's an incredible book but it's only out in hardcover edition... and that isn't in my budget right now... :( . This is really one of the cutest stories I've ever read and not to mention the wealth of information that's found within the pages! There's so much to learn and so many cool activities that could be done with kids!

John and Joey are out riding bikes when John spots a penny on the floor. Joey hassles John about picking it up, claiming,
Big deal! Dad says you can't do anything with a penny these days.
John ignores the tease and not only picks the penny up, but adds it to the other treasures in his blue jeans pocket. Now, Penny's being teased by the other treasures and it's making her feel sad. To try and mask her sadness, Penny begins to relive the good times in her mind (this is where there's so much to be learned)! Being clutched in Rebecca's hand at the penny store (the days of penny candy)... Visiting funny and unusual places (inside the pocket of penny loafers)... watching the races (from the penny rides)... Before she realizes it, Penny is able to recognize that she's not like all the other treasures, as the thoughts of the Red Cross "Every Penny Counts" campaign fills her mind. And then... John and Joey need a coin to toss to see who goes first... and that's when Penny discovers her place among the treasures inside John's pocket!

Some Activities I Have Created/Imagined Based on the Book:
  • Why not open a penny store with traditional penny candies? Places like BJ's and Sam's Club still sell that kind of candy!
  • Have an "Every Penny Counts" penny drive at school and donate the funds to a local cause.
  • Give the kids a piggy bank and encourage them to bank all their pennies. This could then be used on a rainy day or saved for a special trip.
  • Find an old pair of penny loafers from a thrift shop. Insert a penny into that pocket and have kids imagine one of the funny and unusual places that Penny has visited. Have them write about this place in the form of a diary entry. Join all of the entries together and title the diary "The Adventures of Penny."
  • Rather than telling kids what E Pluribus Unum means, use it as a bonus question and have kids research what the phrase means.
  • Create a wishing well of sorts in the classroom. Allow students to throw pennies in the wishing well, but for each penny they drop, they write their wishes in the form of one paragraph using proper grammer and punctuation.
  • Another bonus question could be take from the book as well. "The Lincoln Memorial was added to the back of the penny to mark Lincoln's 150th birthday. Do you know what year that was?" Have students do math to figure out what year would have been celebrating Lincoln's 150th birthday.

Morrison, Taylor.
The Buffalo Nickel.
Houghton Mifflin Company.
Guided Reading Level: S

This book is very informative, as it shares information that I didn't even know about until reading! Did you know that new coins can only be minted every 25 years? Or the work that goes into making a press for a new coin? My gosh, no wonder they're only minted every 25 years! While the book focuses on all of this, the story behind the Buffalo Nickel is really what the book is about!

Creator of the Buffalo Nickel, James Fraser is the focus of this book, as it follows his life - childhood through his adult years and the events leading up to his creation of the buffalo nickel. During his childhood, James lived with his parents and little sister in the Dakota region, facing herds of buffalo and Indians, the ultimate plan behind the Buffalo Nickel.

I think this book might seem a little distant to children, as many of them probably have no experience with or have ever seen a buffalo nickel. I don't even think I've seen one myself! If you could show students a buffalo nickel, they might express more interest in this book and it would be worthwhile, because it is a great story!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities

Ziefert, Harriet.
You Can't Buy a Dinosaur with a Dime.
Blue Apple Books.

This is a great book for teaching kids about saving money by using a bank.
Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink.
Clink, clink, clinkity!
Money saved in a bank
makes your brain think-thinkity!
Do you have kids who want every new toy or game? Or always want candy from the store? Why not get them interested in math and money by encouraging them to save change and then have that be their spending money once a month for shopping trips. They'll learn great skills, such as the worth of money, hard work and not to mention, learn counting money at the same time! This book is perfect for such a plan to make shopping trips more educational and not all about the kiddies!

Other Activities to use with You Can't Buy a Dinosaur with a Dime:

Murphy, Stuart J.
The Penny Pot.
HarperCollins Publishers.

Guided Reading Level: K

I'm really starting to enjoy these books that are part of the MathStart series! In this book by Stuart J. Murphy, students will have plenty of chance to practice counting coins up to fifty cents. I love these books because you can actually read the story as if it were a math problem children are trying to solve on their own. Read the story, don't show the pictures, and have the students solve the mystery on their own... Will Jessie find enough pennies in the penny pot to get her face painted (hint: she needs 11 cents)?

Jessie is at the face-painting tent at the school fair, anxiously waiting to get her face painted. The cost? Fifty cents... and Jessie only has thirty-nine cents because of that ice cream cone she bought earlier. As her friends show up to get their faces painted, they willing place their extra pennies into the "Penny Pot" so that someone in need will have the use of them. Each time, as the friends get ready to get their faces painted, they count their change (depicted as life-sized at the top of the page for readers) and deposit the extra into the "Penny Pot." Follow along as readers take this journey and practice counting money at the same time!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Murphy, Stuart J.
Earth Day - Hooray!
HarperCollins Publishers.

The students in Mrs. Watson's Save-the-Planet Club are planning an Earth Day Celebration that will take place at Gilroy Park. However, the park is in no condition for a celebration and the students must clean up the park and get it ready. Once they begin working on cleaning up the trash and recyclables, they decide the park needs some sprucing up. They come up with the idea of collecting cans that can be redeemed for money and spending the money on flowers to plant in the park. The adventure takes readers on the journey of the Save-the-Planet Club members while introducing/reinforcing the concept of place value.

Place value, from the experience I've had with it, is one of the hardest math subjects to teach... at any grade level! This book really does a great job showing the concept through the use of different sized garbage bags. I could definitely see myself using this in the classroom on Earth Day as a math activity (even if the place value unit has already been completed, there's always room for review and more practice)!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

Perez, Monica.
Curious George Plants a Tree.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Although it was released in March, I've been holding off on a review, as it seemed perfect for my Earth Day post... and it is! Someday, when I have one, I will be using this book as read aloud on Earth Day. The 20 tips for living green that are provided on the last page will definitely open up the door for discussion and allow students to start thinking about themselves living green!

It's been a while since I've read Curious George! And while this book wasn't written by Margret & H.A. Rey, Monica Perez did a wonderful job writing the same style! There's lots to be learned in this book as Curious George sets about participating in the museum's Earth Day Rally.

George and the man head out to the museum for a day of exploring and to check out the new special exhibit. When they get there, George naturally heads to his favorite exhibits first: the rocket room, the mirror maze and the butterfly space. Then they move on to the special exhibit... How YOU can take care of our Planet. The illustration for this section of the book really have the capabilities of allowing children to almost imagine they are there, seeing the exhibit first hand. And the facts to be gained? Wonderful!

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:

King, Stephen Michael.
Roaring Brook Press.

As I initially started reading the book, I was like, what? It made no sense to me... but, I stuck it out, and I'm so glad I did, because the ending is where it all happens! This is definitely a cute book for kids!

Mom's broken out the scissors and a little boy is now expecting a haircut. Knowing what's in store, he dashes away from his mother and hides in the bushes. While he's hiding, a bird plants a seed atop his head, which soon begins to spout. Eventually the boy can no longer hide from his mother and her plans for a haircut. When she cuts off his hair, he takes the sprout and plants it into the ground. As time passes, we see the sprout as it grows, aging with the little boy who turns into a teenager. Years later, as he has a family of his own, he returns to the tree he sprouted and shares his story with his own family.

This really was a darling story... it's not really something I could share in a classroom, as the book is somewhat small for sharing just the pictures as a whole-group deal. However, I think it'd make for great sharing as a family - you could discuss the changes that occur over time in a family... or look at the Earth Day possibility... how will planting a seedling have an impact on the Earth years from now?

Earth Day Lesson Plans/Worksheets

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two-Post Tuesday!

It's time for another two-post Tuesday!!!

Manushkin, Fran.
The Tushy Book.
Feiwel & Friends.

I'm only familiar with one other book that somewhat approaches the topic of the "behind." However, this book does a really good job at showing kids that it's not just something to chuckle about! Everyone's born with one... everyone uses it! It's really no different than the head!

I think this book would be a great way to show children that the tushy is really just another part of the body. It'd also be a great book to share with preschool aged children if you're trying to teach them about the parts of their bodies.

Tushy-related Books:
Other Body Part Books:

Mahy, Margaret.
Bubble Trouble.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The concept of this story is very cute and shows just how far an imagination can take someone!

A little girl finds simple pleasures in a bottle of bubbles. However, who knew how much a trouble a bubble could cause? Mabel's brother gets caught up in one of the bubbles and begins drifting away with the breeze. As Mabel realizes what's happened to her brother, she calls for mother and soon the entire neighborhood is involved in trying to rescue him. In the end, it's Mabel who is again responsible for her brother's actions, as she sling-shots a rock which pops the bubble and frees her baby brother.

Again, the concept is great and I love the use of imagination here. However, I had a hard time with this book. I felt that there was too much of an effort in trying to make the rhymes...
After them came Greville Gribble in his nightshirt with his novel
(all about a haunted hovel) held on high above his head,
followed by his sister, Chrysta (though her boots had made a blister),
then came Tybal, pulling Sybil, with the Scrabble for a sled.
There was vocabulary that appeared to be too advanced for the intended readers of this story (I even had a hard time with the vocabulary in certain parts). Because of that, I feel that the rhymes took away from the story being told and would be above the heads of many children!

If you've reviewed this book, please share your thoughts on it with me! Did you find the vocabulary intriguing? Was the book hard for you to grasp? Do you think children would be able to follow it? Let me know, I'm anxious to hear your thoughts!

McPhail, David.

Roaring Brook Press

This book has a powerful message, but consideration must be taken when discussing the book with children, as our country is experiencing a time of war and many children are impacted by this. However, at the same time, the book will open the door for a great deal of discussion about alternative ways to dealing with personal conflicts children may have with each other. I think this book would make for a good read when teaching different aspects of character education!

Only three words are found within the pages of this book... No! No? No! As a young boy sets out to deliver a letter, he is confronted with acts of war along the way. Buildings are being bombed. Airplanes are flying low. Tanks are being driven down the street. Soldiers are seen kicking down doors. Not only is war depicted on a world-wide scale, the little boy also faces acts of war against himself and other individuals. The president's face is being scribbled on. There's a bully waiting for the little boy at the mailbox. The end of the story works to reassure children that even during times of war, we are able to overcome the hard times... the familiy is together, presents are being exchanged, the little boy offers his hat to the bully who met him at the mailbox and in the very end, the two have become friends and are seen riding a new bicycle together.

Brown, Don.
Teedie: The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Teedie, as he was know as a child, grew up like many of today's children, suffering from asthma, which left him feeling as though he was drowning, near-sightedness (a problem remedied with a pair of glasses) and small, "delicate" size. He loved reading, climbing trees, spending summers in the country, and hunting frogs. At a young age though, Teedie expressed great determination and worked to overcome the obstacles he faced throughout his childhood. He founded the Roosevelt Museum of National History after discovering a dead seal on a slab of wood. Teedie overcame his childhood obstactles and then went on to Harvard University, wrote a book (the first of many), studied law, entered politics and began his political career when elected to the New York Assembly. From there, Teedie, now known as Teddy married and had a daughter, but not without facing more challenges. His political career eventually ended up with Teddy being elected 26th president of the United States.

This book is very educational about Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States and all that he accomplished during his time in office. The book will be appealing to children because it focuses on Roosevelt's childhood... it shows him as a child, in the eyes through which children will be able to relate and understand to. While also focusing on his political career as President, the limited amount of information does not make the book overwhelming for children to read, allowing them to stay interested and perhaps eventually seek out even more detail about Roosevelt. This is definitely a must-have for a classroom library for President's Week/Month!

Other Books about Teddy Roosevelt:

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Kindergarten Day

Hays, Anna Jane.
Kindergarten Countdown.
Alfred A. Knopf

There are seven days, just one week until kindergarten! Join in on this little girls excitement as she prepares spends her last days of freedom counting down the days until kindergarten. The rhyming text, in addition to her practicing school-related topics helps pass the days until it's finally the first day of kindergarten.

The excitement portrayed in this book will hopefully help your little one show a bit more eagerness in the week before kindergarten.

Davis, Katie.
Kindergarten Rocks!
Harcourt, Inc.

Dex is very excited about kindergarten! After all, his sister Jessica has told him everything there is to know about school, and he's sure that Kindergarten is really going to rock! As Dex prepares for the first day, we see the worries appearing, through the form of his stuffed dog. Dex wants to put on a brave front but really is a little nervous on the inside.

I think this book is really appropriate for children who will be entering kindergarten this fall. Kids want to be excited... they want to feel brave, but deep down, they're like most of us, nervous in anticipation but wanting to put on a strong front and appear at ease.

Carlson, Nancy.
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!
Guided Reading Level: J

It all sounds good and fun. Henry's looking forward to counting, singing, painting, writing, all the fun that comes along with kindergarten... until he gets to school, sees unfamiliar faces and faces the reality that Mom's not going to be there with him. Now he's not so sure he wants to stay. However, a loving teacher coaxes him in to the classroom, reminds him of the things he saw during kindergarten roundup and makes him feel at home. After meeting a new friend, Henry agrees to stay... at least for a little while!

This is a cute book and very appropriate for sharing with children who will soon be entering kindergarten!

Bergman, Abby Barry.
Learning Center Activities for the Full-Day Kindergarten.
The Center for Applied Research in Education.

This one's for the teachers out there! I came across this while browsing the library web-catalog and was interested... who doesn't love new teaching resources (well new in the sense that they're new to me). The book is older but it does have some great ideas for learning centers (block,housekeeping, science, listening, writing, classroom library, music, and art), as well as for conducting morning meeting.

It's worth checking out if you can find it at a local library! I know I'd find it handy if I had a classroom of my own right now (not only for kindergarten, but for all of early elementary classrooms)!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mailbox Monday... and a Wildlife Giveaway for You!!!

Halfmann, Janet.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by author Janet Halfmann, inquiring if I'd like to review a copy of her newest book, Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea. Eagerly, I agreed, after having read Little Skink's Tail, another book that she had previously authored.

Before reading this, I can honestly say I have never heard of a Narwhal. This non-fiction book for children ranging in age from 4-8 features a Narwhal. A narwhal is an Artic whale with a nine foot long tooth jutting from its head that resembles a unicorn's horn. Halfmann's newest book follows the Narwhal as it journey's from its summer home near land to its winter home deep in the Artic Sea.

The book is chuck full of information about the Narwhal and is sure to be of great interest for children who love wildlife and learning about new kinds of animals. Told in story format, children will find the reading easy, as the format is more picture-book than non-fiction. You know the information to be truthful and realistic, as the book is part of the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection! I'm definitely glad to be adding this to my (someday) classroom library! Children sponge up this information and will be sharing it with each other for days to come after reading!

Not only did Janet Halfmann personally contact me about sending a copy my way for review, she also included a paperback copy for me to give away to you! Here's what you've got to do: Leave a comment on this post no later than 11:59 EST by Friday, April 24. On the comment, share with me your favorite wildlife animal! For an extra entry, blog about the giveaway and leave another comment sharing your link! The winner will be drawn and posted on Saturday, April 25.

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to

National Wildlife Week

For those of you unfamiliar with Sylvan Dell Publishing, they feature science and math through literature. Previous to be introduced to them through my friend Amanda, of A Patchwork of Books, I was not at all familiar with them. However, they have quickly become quite possibly, one of my favorite publishers. The books they publish are of tremendous quality, have great educational purposes. Science and math content, character education qualities, and life lessons are taught in virtually all of the books I have seen so far. In addition to all of this, Sylvan Dell also puts out Teaching Activities to be used with all of the books - and they're available to everyone (you don't even have to purchase the books, but can simply borrow from a local library and share with your children/students) on their website.

This week is National Wildlife Week, and because of their great focus on science and wildlife, all of the books that I have reviews for today are from Sylvan Dell Publishing - four older books and three from the Spring 2009 line. I hope you find them as enjoyable as I (and the students I shared them with) did.
In 1938 the National Wildlife Federation created National Wildlife Week, a celebration to alert the public to the needs of wildlife and NWF's efforts to preserve wildlife and their habitats. NWF educates students, families and adults about wildlife conservation issues and encourages them to be environmental stewards. -The Teacher's Calendar
4 mini-reviews from previous years!

Pierce, Terry.
Blackberry Banquet.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

The lone blackberry bush in a forest doesn't remain lonely for long! Before you can say blackberry all of the forest wildlife is in on the snacking pleasures - a mouse, a bluebird, a squirrel, a fox, a deer. They're all sharing nicely and pretty much sticking to themselves, until a bear comes along! The bear sets off a string of dominoes...
Bear scares Deer! Deer frightens Fox! Fox shocks Squirrel! Squirrel bumps Bird! Bird muddles Mouse! Mouse flings berries!
And now, the lone blackberry bush is lonely again... and bare of all it's berries. Along with showing the relationship of how plants are the root of all food webs, this would be a good introduction about how animals feed off each other.

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:
Diehl, Jean Heilprin.
Loon Chase.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

This book is very informative about loons, while at the same time telling a story that will keep the attention of children. A young boy and his mom are out kayaking to collect berries for a pie. Their dog paddles alongside the kayak... until he spots the endangered loons and decides they'd make for a good snack. However, we learn quickly that the loon has defense mechanisms of its own, though and is able to rescue itself... at least from this dog!

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:

Giogas, Valarie.
In My Backyard.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

If you're trying to teach your little one numbers and one-to-one correspondence, this is the book for you... especially if they love the outdoors and wildlife! The book explores numbers through use of daily baby wildlife that one might find in their own backyard (especially if you live in the country)! Deer, squirrels, grasshoppers, skunks, and raccoon babies are just a few of the wildlife animals used in showing a relationship between numbers and quantity.

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:

Kurtz, Kevin.
A Day in the Salt Marsh.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

This book would be perfect to use as a time-telling practice activity. Readers visit the the salt marsh every hour, on the hour, from 8:00am to 6:00pm one day, showing all of the different changes that take place through the day teaching children a lot about the salt marsh... you might want to introduce exactly what a salt marsh is before reading though!
It's eleven o'clock in the salt marsh;
the tide is getting high.
Over in the tidal creek,
a blue crab skitters by.

The blue crab isn't picky
and will eat 'most any dish.
It even eats sea cucumber
or a stinky piece of fish.
This book would work perfectly to have children use a small clock and show you the time as you read about it. A great reinforcement/assessment activity when teaching about telling time!

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:

And the newest titles from the Spring 2009 line-up!!! I had a chance to share one of these with some 1st graders... the book was a huge hit!

Ring, Susan.
Where Should Turtle Be?
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

Little turtle is finally free! He's hatched from his egg and is now determined to explore the world around him. However, his new-found freedom eventually results in turtle getting lost and because he's so little, he doesn't even know where he belongs! As turtle explores his surroundings, the wildlife around him makes suggestions as to what he is and where he belongs. He gives each a try, but eventually moves, finding it not for him. Eventually he figures out that he's a sea turtle.

I would think this story would open the door for discussion that one shouldn't give up in the world, as there's always a place for everyone, sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find out where you really belong!

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:
Love, Donna
Henry the Impatient Heron.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

Henry is a very impatient heron, as the title might alert you to! He's unable to stand still... for anything! Everyone in is family is upset with him because of his inability to stop moving long enough. One day, after being separated from his family and coming to the realization that he has to figure out how to get food for himself (an impossible task for an impatient heron), Henry enlists the help of The King. The King teaches Henry what to do - to look like a stick. Under water, a heron's legs looks like a stick and everyone knows that fish aren't afraid of sticks but are definitely afraid of herons. In the end, Henry's hard work and efforts pay off and he's able to catch a large fish.

I had to opportunity to share this book with a group of 1st graders and they absolutely loved this... enough that they wanted to hear the story a second time! They loved the illustrations - the favorite in the class was when Henry's bill hit the bank when he was trying to catch a salamander. The kids also loved the page when Henry turned himself into a stick (one of them had actually guessed this was how he was going to catch a fish)!

The story teaches children that hard work and effort pays off in the long run. I could see myself using this story to teach children about patience, as that is an important aspect of everyday life that children need to have a concept of (any teacher or parent knows that children need to have patience as we can only do so much at a time)!

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:

Hutmacher, Kimberly.
Paws, Claws, Hands and Feet.
Sylvan Dell Publishing.

Along with Henry the Impatient Heron, I also had a chance to share this book with the same group of 1st graders. They enjoyed this book, but they still deemed Henry the Impatient Heron their favorite. However, this was by far my favorite! It was the realization drawn from the ending that made me love the book so much! I'm not going to give away the ending, but I am going to urge you to head out to the local library and borrow a copy or just click on the image and head to and order a copy for yourself today!

Two young children set off on an adventure with all kinds of wildlife - monkeys, spiders, lions, elephants and more! Waking, shaking, feel the beat, paws, claws, hands, and feet... The illustrations take readers to the habitat of each of these wildlife animals, and allows for readers' imaginations to go wild!

Check out the following resources from Sylvan Dell to make the most of this book as a learning experience:

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to