Friday, January 31, 2014

OINK-A-DOODLE-MOO Perfect Picture Book Friday

     This was an exciting week for children's literature with so many major award winners announced. I didn't pick the winners, but my choices were among the honor books, so I don't feel too bad. If you didn't see the award list, Kathy Temean posted a succinct compilation.
    I was especially excited to see that Bryan Collier's Illustrations for Knock, Knock got the nod for Coretta Scott King illustration.

     Now on to this week's selection for review--
     This book didn't win any awards.
     Most books don't.
     But I chuckled all the way through, and sometimes that's the kind of book you're looking for to lighten the mood in these long dark cold winter days.
     Author/Illustrator: Jef Czekaj
     Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012
     Theme: Wordplay, Read aloud
     Opening: Psst. I have a secret.
     Synopsis: An earnest looking pig shares his secret with a nearby rooster and tells him to pass it on. What's the pig's secret? Oink. Of course, since roosters don't say "oink" he muddles the message and it gets passed again and again with similar results that tickled my funny bone. The jacket flap calls this a "barnyard game of telephone." I remember it as whisper down the lane. Either way, it's an evergreen kid pleaser.
     Why I liked this book: After the first spread or two, there isn't much tension in whether or not the message will be passed correctly. It's clear that it won't be. The fun is in guessing how the words will be jumbled. It makes for a hilarious read aloud guessing game. And look at the vibrant colors in the illustrations! Full-bleed, edge to edge happiness.

     Activities/Resources:  This is probably obvious--but play "the telephone game" yourselves. The larger the group, the more fun it will be! Check out the book trailer for Oink-A-Doodle-Moo. Visit a barnyard/farm/zoo and practice animal sounds. Personally, I like to caw at crows and howl at full moons (you can blame the huskies down the street that "taught" me for the second one). Finally, read more of Mr. Czekaj's books [Cat Secrets (2011) breaks the fourth wall and "talks to" the reader.]

This review is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday. On her blog, Susanna Leonard Hill keeps an ever-growing list of books that have been reviewed, with all the links. Thank you, Susanna! 

     Thanks for stopping by. What are you doing to keep warm this winter? (Or cool, for my friends in the Southern hemisphere!)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Red Kite, Blue Kite - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

    This book is already on the Perfect Picture Book Friday list.
     So why am I posting about it again?? 

     Well, I don't know about the other bloggers, but I sometimes write two or three posts in advance. It all depends on when I discover great books that I think deserve notice. Some weeks at the library, I don't find anything I would rave about. Sometimes, I hit the mother lode. And although I had already written this post, another #PPBF blogger, Pat Tilton,  introduced this book December 9, 2013. (the last week we had #PPBF). Usually when this happens, I sigh, think "shoulda posted sooner" and hit the delete button. Then I thought, I'll post on December 20th, not realizing that #PPBF was cancelled until January 2014! So, it's been awhile, and maybe you all ran out to read it already. But maybe you didn't. And you should. And Red Kite. Blue Kite links to another book I wrote about. So, I hope you don't mind reading about it again! 

Title: Red Kite, Blue Kite

Author: Ji-li Jiang

Illustrator: Greg Ruth (AWESOME website BTW!)

Publisher: Disney/Hyperion, 2013

Audience: 5-8 years of age

Themes: family, absent parent, China

Opening: I love to fly kites, But not from the ground. My city
             is crowded, and the streets are skinny. Baba and I fly
            our kites from the tippy-top of our triangle roof.

Synopsis: Tai Shan and his father enjoy the feeling of freedom they get from flying kites from their rooftop. At first when Tai Shan and his father are separated during China’s Cultural Revolution, his father is able to return for weekend visits. When those visits are curtailed, they agree that they will each fly a kite every day, high in the sky and visible over the miles, to “see each other.” Tai Shan’s mother died during childbirth so while father is gone Tai Shan has to stay with a local farmer, Granny Wang. Granny is a loving figure who lets Tai Shan ride her buffalo and comforts him, but she can't take the place of Tai Shan's father. The book includes a historical note about the Cultural Revolution in the 1960's.

Why I like this Book: After I read DanielBeaty’s Knock Knock I began looking for more books about absentee parents and came across Red Kite, Blue Kite. I feel that Knock, Knock does a fantastic job of addressing a child’s resiliency under difficult circumstances. What Red Kite, Blue Kite adds, and hits out of the park in my opinion, is to capture what the illustrator’s note describes as “the irrepressible power of love and hope in difficult times.” The author does a tremendous job showing how life gets worse and worse for this father and son pair without showing any overt abuse. Simply being away from each other is punishment enough. And finding their own special way to express love is enough to see them through the dark times.

Activities/Resources:Fly a kite! Make a kite. The My best kite website has a laundry list of styles to try. Wiki How has directions for a simple kite made from a plastic bag (note: I had trouble getting the tape to hold the sticks when we tried this :) Be sure you have duct tape!) Talk about how other ways a parent and child can stay connected when separated by miles, whether it's just for a short time like a business trip or a much longer period of time. Maybe make a picture or note to put in mom or dad's briefcase or lunchbag! The kites were a secret signal between father and son. Brainstorm different secret signals your family could use--Carol Burnett's ear tug comes to mind. Older readers may want to discuss what happened during China's cultural revolution. The publisher has a 12-page teacher's guide for Red Kite Blue Kite

This review is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday. On her blog, Susanna Leonard Hill keeps an ever-growing list of books that have been reviewed, with all the links. Thank you, Susanna! 

I hope you enjoyed the review. Let me know if you've read the book yet!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Pencil - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     If you're still looking for a book for the upcoming MLK holiday, check out last week's PPBF post-- then come right back here!
     I have read a lot of buzz about 2013's wordless picture book by Aaron Becker titled Journey. And rightfully so. Journey's lush illustrations take children on an imaginative trip through space and time. When the main character picks up a red marker and draws her way out of her world, my first thought was of Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon. But Becker's detailed, colorful drawings are a new beast.
     Even with all of it's beauty, I have to say that I missed some of the emotion of Johnson's classic masterpiece in Becker's book. And I began to think of another book I had read before but never reviewed. That book, Allan Ahlberg's take on the imaginative "drawn" journey, is my pick for this week's picture book review.

TITLE: The Pencil

AUTHOR: Allan Ahlberg


PUBLISHER: Candlewick Press, 2008

THEMES: Creation, Creativity, Identity

OPENING: (Before the title page) Once there was a pencil, a lonely little pencil, and nothing else. It lay there, which was nowhere in particular, for a long, long time. Then one day that little pencil made a move, shivered slightly, quivered somewhat. . . and began to draw.

SYNOPSIS: When a pencil draws itself a world, with people and animals, the new inhabitants of its world aren't perfectly happy with how they've been rendered. And so pencil introduces eraser. But pencil has to come up with a new solution when eraser starts rubbing out everyone and everything that pencil has created.

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK:  I'm drawn (pun!) to the quirky humor of this book. The lonely pencil's creations push boundaries, demanding names. Eeven insects and inanimate objects want "people" names (Don't you smile reading about a paintbrush named Kitty?!). The black and white illustrations are especially childlike in quality, capturing the pencil's innocent spirit perfectly. By the time the eraser turns on its creator, I felt the tension, believing anything--good or bad--could happen in this world. And quoting from the book "of course, of course!" there is a happy ending.
Pencil's first "creations"

Activities/Resources: For older readers, compare and contrast the three books I talk about in this post. Discuss which is their favorite, and why. Classroom ideas and activities covering the areas of English, Math, Art and Science for ages 3-12 are found on Walker Book's website here in a curriculum guide. Learn how pencils are made at This site also has a host of pencil-related lesson plans to check out including history, drawing, math and recycling/art. Someone posted a Youtube video of themselves reading The Pencil. It was a bit shrieky in places for my taste, but you can "read" The Pencil here. The book is 48 pages long so the reading takes ten minutes. The Art of Education website has posted a video describing a simple art activity to do with this book (as well as two others). There is a flash video 2 minute interview of Allan Ahlberg by the BBC that I enjoyed tremendously. I think readers of all ages can enjoy taking a pencil and seeing where it takes them--would it be words? Images? A combination? Tell the pencil's story, then your own!

Thank you for stopping by! If you know these three books, do YOU have a favorite? Is there another you would add to the compare/contrast list?
I appreciate your comments. :)

Friday, January 10, 2014

We March - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

This book took my breath away. Genuine goosebump time. If you're looking for a book to go with Martin Luther King Day or any time during Black History month, look no further.


Author/Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
(note his website doesn't appear to have been updated since 2006.
He set up a separate website for a book project called Olu's Dream
 that he completed in 2009. We March is not on either website.)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2012 (MacMillan)
Historical FICTION

Audience: 4-7
Themes: Civil Rights, African Americans

Opening: "The morning is quiet."

Why don't I give you more text? Because, except for one, each of the spreads in this 32 page book has five or fewer words on it. If I typed the first fifty words, I'd be posting the entire text!

Synopsis: An un-named African American family (father, mother, boy and girl) wake, visit their church and head by bus to Washington, D.C. and march to the Lincoln Memorial. While his name isn't mentioned in the text, Martin Luther King, Jr. is clearly recognizable and a partial quote from his "I Have a Dream" speech fills the background of the final spread. The author's note at the end of the book indicates that the book was based on the historic 1963 march but meant to represent all the organized marches when people have walked together to focus attention on a goal.

What I like about this book: The spare text and the muted tones in the illustrations are the perfect accompaniment for the subject of peaceful demonstration. As the story progresses, hints of a golden sun glow in the background until finally the sun is revealed behind Dr. King. The short sentences propel the story forward with a quiet energy that pulled me into the story. This book makes the subject of civil rights accessible to even the youngest readers. My only issue with the book is that in the illustrations the parents are always organized father/son and mother/daughter. I'm not sure why it bothered me, and perhaps this is an accurate portrayal of family life in 1963, but the separation distracted me. It doesn't take away from the powerful message, however.

 Activities and Resources: There are no activity pages specific to this book, however the Southern Poverty Law Center has a civil rights activity book available for download courtesy of the Civil Rights Memorial Center. The University of Wisconsin also has an activity guide for kids on the topic of civil rights. I did feel that many of the activities were better for slightly older children than this book is targeted toward. There is an extensive amount of material available about African American history online and this post is obviously not meant to be exhaustive in this regard! The Family Education website has some civil rights figures coloring pages available for free download. Some of the other "free" sites asked for credit card information.
         The Horn Book published a very personal profile of Mr. Evans written by his childhood friend, the author of "Chocolate Me", actor Taye Diggs. The author describes his 2009 book Olu's Dream on Youtube. The publisher, MacMillan has a slide show of 8 spreads from the book available for view. The book is a great jumping off point for any project involving kids who want to oppose the status quo. Perhaps you can make signs and organize a march on a topic important to them.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Thanks for stopping by! Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another Auld Lang Syne - Goal setting

No end in sight, it's all about the journey
     I'm not sure why New Year's has such significance. After all, the calendar is an artificial construct. I'm more than a little bit jealous of the folks in the Southern Hemisphere who get to celebrate in warm summer weather instead of bone-chilling temperatures. In fact, if anyone wants to petition our government to move the calendar back six months, I'd be all over it. It's as good as an idea as many of the other ones I see floated in DC.
     Regardless of the reason, it feels right to stop and mull over my goals occasionally and this is as good a time as any. 

     So what are my goals for 2014?
     1. Do my best. (stole this one from the Cub Scouts)
     2. Try to enjoy each moment (this one is from a life with dogs)
     3. When I fail at #1 or #2---let it go. Look to the future.
     So, that's it. I'm not setting a number of words to be written every day. I know from experience that the stuff I grind out isn't close to as good as the words that burst forth, clamoring for my attention, refusing to let me forget them. But I know that isn't going to happen every day and I'm not going to set myself up for failure. There's enough to feel bad about in the world without adding to it.
     This doesn't mean I'm not ambitious or competitive. Just talk to my kids after board game night.
     I just recognize that my ambitions aren't fully within my control. And who wants to "lose" at something they have no control over? Not me. So I have decided to keep goals and ambitions separate. 

  I would like to thank everyone who has ever critiqued my work for me. Every criticism has helped me improve. Every word of encouragement has helped me persevere. Every comment has let me know I'm not alone. It has all been much appreciated.

     I think I might use this goal list for every year going forward. Do you have any goals to share?