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Oakley the Squirrel: The Search for Z: A Nutty Alphabet Book
Author: Nancy Rose
Anticipated Publication: June 22nd 2021 by Workman Publishing Company

Goodreads Summary: The letter Z is missing! Help little Oakley find it in this charming picture book with photos of real squirrels!

Oakley the Squirrel: The Search for Z is an alphabet book like no other. In it, we meet Little Oakley as he embarks on a quest to find the letter Z. He searches through an alphabet of human objects—looks beneath the Bed, claws through the Closet, digs through Drawers, examines his Easel, and so on. By the time he gets to a basket of yarn, Oakley starts to yawn, and soon falls asleep. And Z—as in, Zzzzzz!—appears!

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I wish I had recorded my two-year-old giggling on each page as we read this book. It is a clever way to engage kids and make them think about each letter individually. The photographs are just hysterical. I love squirrels, so I was laughing right along with my son. I’d love to use this book with kids to take photographs to generate their own alphabet books. This would be an incredibly fun class project!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Where are some of the places that Oakley looks for the letter z?
  • Which is your favorite letter page and why?
  • Choose one image and rewrite it. What does Oakley do differently in your alphabet page?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction books about animals; Alphabet books

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**Thank you to Sara at Skyhorse Publishing for providing copies for review!**

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Watercress
Author: Andrea Wang
Illustrator: Jason Chin
Published: March 30, 2021 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: Gathering watercress by the side of the road brings a girl closer to her family’s Chinese Heritage.

Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.

At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.

Andrea Wang tells a moving autobiographical story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage, illustrated by award winning author and artist Jason Chin, working in an entirely new style, inspired by Chinese painting techniques. An author’s note in the back shares Andrea’s childhood experience with her parents.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection!

Ricki’s Review: This book took my breath away. A girl’s family stops by the side of the road, and she is embarrassed as they fill paper bags with muddy watercress and eat it for dinner. Her mother shares a story of her childhood and talks about a brother who has passed on. I will be recommending this book over and over again. The story is stunningly written and captures painful memories that are passed intergenerationally. The author writes that it is “both an apology and a love letter” to her parents. I imagine the story would make her parents very proud. There is a bond between the family that reaches off the pages and pulls readers into the story. I highly recommend this book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to ask students to share moments that they were embarrassed about a family or friend situation. They might then add layers to that story–what do these stories tell? How do these stories reveal layers of their lives?

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author write about emotion? What feelings does the narrator have, and how do these feelings change?
  • How are stories passed intergenerationally?
  • What does the narrator learn, and how does this knowledge change her?

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Read This If You Love: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin; Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

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**Thank you, Sara, from Holiday House and Pixel+Ink for sending a copy for review!**

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The Rock from the Sky
Author & Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published: April 13, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Look up!

Turtle really likes standing in his favorite spot. He likes it so much that he asks his friend Armadillo to come over and stand in it, too. But now that Armadillo is standing in that spot, he has a bad feeling about it . . .

Here comes The Rock from the Sky, a meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Candlewick Press for The Rock from the Sky:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about The Rock in the Sky on Candlewick’s page.

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Using Similes and Metaphors to Spark Conversations about the Power of Empathy

One of the most important things we can do as parents and educators is encourage kids to be kind.  Not only does fostering a culture of kindness and empathy create a positive learning environment, but it also improves kids’ sense of well-being and agency. Besides, spreading kindness makes the world a little brighter. And who doesn’t want that?

How can you cultivate kindness, both in the classroom and at home?

One simple way to develop this much needed virtue is by sharing books that model kind behavior. My picture book, Kindness is a Kite String, does just that. The book starts with the words, “Kindness is like sunshine, it starts the day off right” and shows a child hugging his mom. This starts a wave of kindness that ripples through the community, connect diverse groups of people. As readers follow the story, they gather ideas for ways they can lift others with kindness.

Building Connections with Similes and Metaphors

Each action in Kindness is a Kite String is described using a simile or metaphor. For example, “Kindness is an open door to welcome others through,” and “Kindness runs like dominoes. Reach out and tip a tile.” As a writer and teacher, I know that similes and metaphors are powerful tools. They unlock readers’ imaginations and inspire mental pictures. Similes and metaphors build connections that promote understanding. They help kids comprehend something unfamiliar or abstract (like kindness) by comparing it to something they know well (like sunshine or an open door). In this way, similes and metaphors go hand in hand with kindness. When you act with kindness, you also bridge the gap between something familiar (yourself) and something that might seem new or different (others).

Kindness is a Kite String packs a double educational punch. Not only does the book help spark conversations about empathy, but it also provides models of similes and metaphors in action. That’s good news, considering knowledge of figurative language, including similes and metaphors, is part of the ELA Common Core Standards starting in grade three. However, this concept is often introduced with even younger kids.

Kindness is…

How can you use Kindness is a Kite String to reinforce the concept of similes and metaphors?

One way is by creating a collective “kindness poem.” I have found writing collective poems to be a very effective and engaging strategy to use with students. In a collective poem, each child contributes a line according to a provided prompt or rule. Collective poetry is a great warm-up writing activity because it invites all students to participate without the pressure of having to compose an entire poem from the get-go. It’s also an effective way to explore different perspectives on a topic, like kindness.

After reading KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING with your class, take some time to define and review similes and metaphors. The Authors Note at the back of the book will help you do this. Then provide the provide the prompts, “Kindness is  like…”(for similes)  and/or “Kindness is… (for metaphors.) If you’re working with students in person, you can write this prompt on the board. If you’re working with students remotely, try posting the prompt with an online program like Padlet or Flipgrid.  Ask students to think of something that they enjoy doing or something makes them happy. Ask them how this activity or object might relate to kindness. After modeling some possible responses, invite each student to contribute their own simile or metaphor to complete the prompt. String the student responses together and you’ll have a kindness poem to display in your classroom or home.

Here’s an example of a kindness poem I started with second and third graders:

Kindness is
a cuddly kitten-
it makes you feel warm and cozy.

Kindness is like
a trampoline
bouncing happiness from one person to another.

Kindness is
Lego bricks
because kind deeds build on one another.

Kindness is like
a bowl of popcorn
because it’s meant to be shared.

Not only will your kindness poem remind kids to act with kindness, but it will also serve as great student-created examples of similes and metaphors.

Continue the Kindness Chain

There are many other ways Kindness is a Kite String can spark conversations about the power of empathy. The front of the book includes prompts to use before, during, and after reading. For example, one prompt says: “The last line of the book is ‘When you catch it, pass it on.’ Ask your child what kindness they have caught. What can they do to pass it on?” A free Readers Guide, downloadable from my website,  also accompanies the book. It includes activities like a printable Kindness certificates and a kindness journal for kids to log their empathetic actions.

You can continue to reinforce kindness by exploring other recent picture books with themes of empathy, including Evie’s Field Day, by Claire Noland, Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller, The Big Umbrella, by Amy June Bates, and Scribble Stones, by Diane Alber.

I hope I’ve inspired you with some new ways to promote kindness with kids.  After all, as I say at the end of Kindness is a Kite String, “kindness is contagious. When you catch it… pass it on!”

Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy
Author: Michelle Schaub
Illustrator: Claire LaForte
Published April 1st, 2021 by Cardinal Rule Press

About the Book: Cultivating kindness is easy when you try. Spread a little kindness and watch empathy ripple through the community… spreading happiness like sunshine, connecting diverse groups like a footbridge and lifting hope like a kite string.

How can YOU lift others with kindness?

This compelling book illustrates simple, yet impactful ways, to spread kindness and brighten the lives of others. Through poetry, the inspiring words uplift young readers, planting seeds of empathy, kindness and community support.

The best book for positively teaching kindness.

Kindness is a Kite by Michelle Schaub carries the key message of kindness as well as how to teach similes and metaphors supported by the many advocates of positive parenting solutions. It’ll sit comfortably on your shelf alongside other books that focus on the power of kindness.

This book comes with a free Reader’s Guide for children. The guide is available for free download from the publisher website. Lesson plans, activities and discussion questions to allow parents, teachers and caregivers to explore the topic further and deepen comprehension.

READER’S GUIDE

COLORING PAGES

READ-ALOUD

SEE INSIDE THE BOOK

About the Author: Michelle Schaub is an award-winning children’s author and language arts teacher. Her previous books include Dream Big, Little Scientists, Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections, and Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud. Michelle speaks at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. Michelle lives near Chicago, where she loves finding creative ways to cultivate kindness.

Thank you, Michelle, for writing this book for kids. Kindness and empathy are what is going to change this world–thank you for opening up the conversation more!

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Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story
Author: Julia Alvarez
Illustrator: Raúl Colón
Published June 16, 2020 by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Already a Butterfly is a gentle picture book tale about self-soothing practices and self-confidence beliefs.

With so much to do in so little time, Mari is constantly on the move, flitting from flower to flower, practicing her camouflage poses, and planning for migration. She’s the busiest butterfly around. But does being productive mean she is happy? Mari couldn’t say. The only way she feels like a butterfly is by acting like one. Little does Mari know, the secret to feeling like herself is simply to focus her breath, find her quiet place, and follow her instincts. With the guidance of a thoughtful flower bud, Mari soon learns to meditate and appreciate that she was a butterfly all along.

Acclaimed author Julia Alvarez extolls the importance of mindfulness, reflection, and self-care for young children in this gratifying picture book, stunningly illustrated by award-winning artist Raúl Colón.

About the Author: 

Julia Alvarez is the author of numerous bestselling and award-winning novels including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies, collections of poems, and works of nonfiction as well as picture books. She has won the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.

Raúl Colón has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times-bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

Praise:

“Soft, textured illustrations full of floral elements match the gentle quality of the tale. In a world that can’t seem to slow down, this story reminds readers to trust their instincts and breathe.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This is a tale about learning to be joyful in a world that seems to demand more and more of individuals. Young readers will find the prose and the dreamlike pictures of Mari’s journey soothing—and something to meditate on.” —Booklist

“Alvarez pens this introduction to meditation with advisory zeal, focusing on explanations that will appeal to caretakers who seek to support young meditation practitioners. Jewel-toned spreads by Colón provide scope for dreaming: Mari’s distinctive features—her black braids, her elflike shoes, her golden crown—give readers a fantasy heroine to linger over.” —Publishers Weekly

Review: At first glance, Mari seems like the perfect butterfly. She is beautiful, busy, efficient… but is she happy? She is doing what she things she should do but is she embracing who she is? These are the types of questions that this book is asking.

To be honest, reading this book may have hit home more for me than for Trent. The book is about slowing down and taking the time to be happy. Trent is still young and knows how to enjoy time, but it is important for me to show him that I too have time for the small things and also help him continue to do so. But just like the book made me think about passions, being busy, and how we come off, it will do the same for most readers.

I really loved the backmatter as well, learning how the author was inspired by the Mariposa DR Foundation’s Center for Girls and her granddaughters. It truly brought the book together and shows how the ideas within the book can be used in the real world.

Now, take all of this beautifulness in words and story and add in Colón’s beautiful watercolor illustrations that bring Mari to life, and this book clearly is a must have when discussing mindfulness with all ages!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Already a Butterfly and the ideas in the “Growing Your Own Wings” backmatter to bring meditation into your classroom. A great day to introduce this would be World Meditation Day which is May 21st!

An extension reflection activity that would be fun is to have students make their own butterfly wings and write items, moments, people, etc. on their wings that make them truly happy. These wings can be a symbol to remind them to cherish those things.

Tips for Mindful Meditation: 

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the author choose Mari as the butterfly’s name?
  • How was the author inspired by her time with the Mariposa DR Foundation’s Center for Girls?
  • How could Mari’s story be compared to your life?
  • What did Bud teach Mari?
  • Why was Mari happier in her chrysalis?
  • Do you think what Bud taught Mari will make her happier?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: I am Peace by Susan Verde, Calm with the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, My Magic Breath by Nick OrntnerGood Morning Yoga by Miriam Gates

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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Chickens on the Loose
Author: Jane Kurtz
Illustrator: John Joseph
Published May 11, 2021 by West Margin Press

Summary: A happy-go-plucky rhyme adventure of chickens frolicking in an urban environment as they run rampant all around town!

Chickens on the loose.
Chickens on the lam.
Zipping from the yard,
As quickly as they can.

Chickens don’t just live on farms—they’re in the city too! In the store, on the street, they bring mayhem and excitement to all the surprised people. See where these mischievous chickens go in this brightly illustrated picture book told in verse. Also included at the back are fun facts and tips for the urban chicken farmer.

About the Creators: 

Jane Kurtz is an award-winning children’s book author, speaker, educator, and she is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Children’s and YA Literature. She is a co-founder of the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads, an organization that brings books and literacy to the children in Ethiopia, where Jane grew up. She also heads the creative team of Ready Set Go Books, a project of Open Hearts Big Dreams to create fun, colorful, local language books for people in Ethiopia. She is the author of many books for children, including River Friendly River Wild, winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite award for picture book text, and What Do They Do With All That Poo?, a finalist to the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Excellence in Science Books list; it has also been named to several state reading lists, voted on by children.

Author website

Instagram: @writerjanie

Twitter: @janekurtz

John Joseph is an artist, illustrator, elementary school teacher, avid gardener, and community leader. He earned a degree in visual arts from Colorado State University and a Masters from Lesley University, and has won the ACP Excellence in Publishing Award for Best Picture Book. He lives in Colorado with his wife, two sons, and a German shepherd.

Artist website

Meet Jane Kurtz and learn more about Chickens on the Loose

Praise: 

“Urban backyard chickens go on a madcap tour of the city in this rhyming romp. . . the narrative bounces off the tongue. The marker-bright illustrations are frenetic and filled with humorous details.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

“In jaunty pitch-perfect rhyme and splendiferous, chaotic color, Jane Kurtz and John Joseph combine forces to tell the story of recalcitrant urban chickens who burst forth from forced chicken coopery to explore a lively, diverse neighborhood rich with thrift shops, yoga studios, food carts, pet shops, and street art–all free for the pecking. At the end of an energetic day, the chickens-on-the-loose return to their henhouse, bedraggled but with plans for a rerun! Prepare for a rambunctious reading experience.” ~ Toni Buzzeo, Author of 28 picture books for children, including the 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, ONE COOL FRIEND

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love urban chickens! We have a town nearby (Oviedo) which has chickens that roam in their downtown, Jim has a cousin with chickens, and I have a past student with chickens. I love the idea of mixing farm animals and cities because it adds a bit of whimsy and quietness to the bustle and hustle.

Though in Chickens on the Loose the chickens definitely add whimsy but are not quiet–instead they add a bit of chaos. 😂

Reading this out loud was so much fun! The rhyming and rhythm added a musical element to reading the book. And within the rhymes there are great vocabulary moments, too! For example, some words Trent and I got to talk about were lam, peckish, and plucky.

Also while reading, Trent definitely saw that the book alludes to the gingerbread man story. It was fun listening to him share how the book is similar and different to The Gingerbread Man. There’s also a chicken Mona Lisa at the end that cracked him up! Great way to introduce allusion!

Additionally, the backmatter of the book gives information about keeping urban chickens and some fun chicken facts. It is a great way to connect the story to science.

The publisher also has an activity kit available for the book:

Discussion Questions: 

  • What would you name the painting the chick painted at the end?
  • Where do you think chickens would run to in your town?
  • Write your own rhyme that starts with “Chickens on the loose,…”
  • What new words did you see in the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: The Gingerbread Man by various; Other chicken picture books like Chicken Butt by Erica S. Perl, Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer, Little Chicken’s Big Day by Jerry Davis, Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman, Chicken Story Time by Sandy Asher, Pirate Chicken by Brian Yanish, Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, Chicken Little by Sam Wedelich; Follow that Frog! by Philip C. Stead; Nibbles series by Emma Yarlett

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides
Author: Anna Kang; Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Published: May 1, 2021 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: A tale about a cat and a dog who discover that even though they don’t look at things the same way, they can still be friends.

Hudson and Tallulah may be neighbors, but the fence between their yards isn’t the only thing that divides them. They can’t see eye to eye on anything. One day they venture out, and after nonstop disagreement, they realize something surprising: they don’t always have to agree to be on each other’s side.

About the Author and Illustrator: Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small as well as series titles That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends. They also wrote and illustrated Eraser, Can I Tell You a Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog, Hudson, the inspiration behind the character in this book. Visit them at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

Twitter: @annakang27 @ChristophWeyant

Instagram: annakangbookschristopherweyant 

Facebook: Anna Kang – AuthorChristopher Weyant

★“New Yorker cartoonist Weyant’s illustrations, which use gouache, graphite, and lots of white space, carry the day, filling the dog’s and cat’s reactions to what they encounter with plenty of comic details (like the bold lettering conveying the dog-park dogs’ frantic barking at the cat). Madcap fun.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Charming cartoons convey the nearly wordless story augmented with dialogue between the two rivals…An amusing exploration of how opposite personalities can learn to appreciate their unique relationship.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Aptly captured by married team Kang and Weyant (You Are (Not) Small), the unlikely friends’ comic path to camaraderie unfolds nearly wordlessly, with expressive gouache and graphite scenes that burst with physical humor, showing that even those who fight like cats and dogs can be friends.” —Publishers Weekly

Review: I was really excited to received this book because I love Kang and Weyant’s work. But there was a 4-year-old thief in my house. He stole the book from right under me and loved it so much that he hid it in his room. I still had a week until the review, so I was casually looking for it from time to time. One night, I heard uproarious giggles. Curious what was making my son laugh so hard, I peeked in his room. There it was! Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides!

Me: Buddy, I need to review that book!

4yo: But I love it so much. Look! The dog slides under the fence and says “SEE YA!” [Lots of giggling.]

Me: Okay, well can you leave it outside your door tonight when you are done with it?

4yo: Only if you put it back in my room after YOU are done.

Needless to say, this book is very well loved in my house. I will admit that I can’t read it from start to finish without giggling myself. The facial expressions of Hudson and Tallulah are so funny. The words are spread across the page in a way that they invite my 4yo to read them. Kang and Weyant are masterful in their ability to capture character, and their characters are so accessible to early readers. This book is simply fantastic, and I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:  This belongs in every Pre-K, K, and 1st grade classroom (at a minimum!). Readers of all ages will love it, but specifically, it is a book that encourages kids to read. The personification of the animals is magnificent, and it would offer a good case study on figurative language and humor.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How are Hudson and Tallulah different? How are they similar?
  • How do the author and illustrator each use personification to enhance the story?
  • Why do you take sides? When might it be valuable to avoid taking sides?
  • What makes a good friend? Are Hudson and Tallulah good friends? Are you a good friend?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant; That’s (Not) Mine by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant; It’s (Not) Perfect by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant; We Are (Not) Friends by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant; Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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