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Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
Author: Stephanie Roth Sisson
Published: October 14, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press

A Guest Review by Brittany Brown

Summary: A curious boy living in a small city apartment finds the world astonishing. He wants to know about light bulbs, inch worms, and rocket ships. Carl sets out on a journey to find answers, but finds bigger, even more powerful questions. Through his research and studies, Carl eventually earns the title of Dr. Carl Sagan and spends his life seeking knowledge and understanding about the universe. This young

boy’s contributions to science and education have inspired many children everywhere to question the world around them. His story will resonate every child who has ever wondered “how” or “why” or spent an evening looking up at the night sky.

Review: I am constantly looking for books which will inspire my students and get them excited about learning. This book, which is brought to life with beautiful illustrations and the great mysteries of the universe, did that for myself as an adult, too. After reading it, everyday life is once again imbued with the magic and novelty it had in childhood. In Sagan’s eyes, there is no phenomenon too mundane to investigate. The curiosity which most adults leave behind drove Sagan to be the lifelong learner that all teachers hope to foster in their students. Reading this book shows that science is all around us, that we all belong here in the universe, and that in everyone there is a scientist. I absolutely loved reading this book, and as a new teacher building my classroom library, this is the first one which I will be purchasing multiple copies of to share with my students.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story would pair well with any science or biography unit. It would also serve as a great example of narrative nonfiction.

The most obvious use for this story is in a science unit. I would love to use this book to open up a discussion at the beginning of a unit on the solar system. Not only would it generate excitement, it would also begin to build some vocabulary and background knowledge. It would make the information in the unit more personal and relevant to kids, and would be a great launching point to encourage students to come up with their own questions about how the world works.

This book is also a wonderful book to use for mini lessons in writing. Using this book as an example, a teacher could lead a discussion on how to choose which life events to include in a biography, how to sequence and organize it, and how to incorporate quotes from a historical figure into a writing piece. It also shows how to include facts and achievements in an engaging way, and how to demonstrate a person’s impact on history.

Finally, this book would also be a superb example of narrative nonfiction. Despite containing lots of scientific facts, it reads like a storybook and the illustrations do much of the talking. Students will be captivated with the descriptive narration, and discussions could explore their experiences as readers or how they may be able to attempt this style in their writing.

Discussion Questions: What are your big mystery questions? Where would you go to try to find answers to them? What character traits helped Carl on his journey? What impact did he have on the world? Who does he remind you of?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada, I Wonder by Annaka Harris, You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Edros by Deborah Heiligman, Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, a Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh

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Thank you, Brittany!

RickiSig

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SPLATypus
Author: Sudipta bardhan-Quallen
Illustrator: Jacki Urbanovic
Published April 4th, 2017 by Two Lions

Summary: Lonely Platypus wants to play, but where should he go? Should he jump with the kangaroos? Leap with the possums? Fly with the bats? Every time he tries to find out—skipping, hopping, dipping, dropping—he winds up going splat instead. Can a SPLATypus find a place where he belongs? This rhyming, rollicking story is perfect for reading aloud.

Review: Everyone is searching for their place in the world. Starting at a very young age, we want to be accepted and know that we belong. Kids will love the platypus story because it is about him figuring it out; however, even though the message is quite serious and will lead to important talks, it leads to this topic in a very fun and humorous way. The platypus’s adventure is just so silly that readers will be mesmerized by it and the colorful illustrations! This story is a win-win for teachers, parents, and kids!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The most important way this book will fit into most classrooms is through read aloud and the classroom library. Like I shared above, it really does lead to conversations about identity and fitting in but does so in a non-preachy way. Additionally, the text could be used as a mentor text for writing a narrative animal story in a similar style. Maybe OOPSephant or KangaNO or GOrilla filled with onomatopoeias and rhyming.

Discussion Questions: When is a time you haven’t felt like you fit in? What did you do to make your situation better?: What words in the story rhymed?; What onomatopoeias did the author use in the text? Why do you think they were included?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: Leaping Lemmings by John BriggsHoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie HelakoskiThe Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai DotlichA Big Surprise for Little Card by Charise Mericle HarperThunder Boy Jr. by Sherman AlexieAfter the Fall by Dan Santat, Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney, Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

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**Thank you to Al at Two Lions for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Author: Matt Phelan
Published: September 21, 2016 by Candlewick

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Review: Matt Phelan reinvented the “happily ever after” with this retelling. I identify as a Disney Classic enthusiast but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. The illustrations are gorgeous with distinct intentionality. More mature themes such as death, assassination, murder were evaluated within a historical context to create an incredible murder mystery story at the level of a middle grade reader.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent text to hand a more reluctant reader. There is limited text the reader is asked to interpret the illustrations and structure. In literature groups, students could potentially discuss the use of metaphor, oenomania, author/illustrator’s choice, and compare/ contrast the original fairytale with the retelling. This is also a text I would recommend to a student who has shown an interest in the graphic novel genre to read independently.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the author choose to use red in selected illustrations? How did this choice influence you as a reader?; Why do you think the author choose to break apart the chapters this way?; Even though there were few words, how did you interpret the mood, tone, and voice of characters?; Did you find yourself needing to interpret the illustrations to understand the plot? What was that experience like for you as a reader?; How is this retelling of the classic fairy tale of “Snow White” different than the original? What did you notice is similar?

Flagged Passage: “My name is Snow White, but my mother didn’t call be that to be funny. She would say that the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful” (Ch. 10)

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

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Thank you, Emily!

RickiSig

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The Dark
Author: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published April 2, 2013 by Little, Brown

Guest Post by: Nichole Pitruzzello

Summary: Laszlo is afraid of the dark. But is the dark afraid of Laszlo? They live in the same house, with the same creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs. But the dark mostly stays in the basement…until one night, when it doesn’t. Laszlo walks through his house, as the dark converses with him, on a journey to overcome his fear.

Review: In his unique writing style, Lemony Snicket takes an eerie childhood fear and personifies the dark in a soothing way. John Klassen’s illustrations are a wonderful compliment to the story of Laszlo, using black space and warm colors to enhance the mood. I’m very impressed by the way they take a concept that many children fear, and transform it into a friendly, calming presence. I cannot wait to add this book to my library!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers can use this book as a mentor text for a variety of mini lessons. Lemony Snicket personifies the dark, uses vivid language to talk about Laszlo’s house, and creates suspense through a blend of dialogue and narration. In addition, it’s an excellent book to teach a lesson about overcoming one’s fears. There’s so much that this book can add to a classroom!

Discussion Questions: What are some places that you are scared of, and why are they scary? Was the dark really scary? How did the dark help Laszlo? Why shouldn’t we be afraid of the dark? What should we do when we are afraid of something?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly, Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, 13 Words by Lemony Snicket

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The Case of the Stinky Stench
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Brendan Kearney
Published May 2nd, 2017 by Sterling Kids

Summary: “Uncle,” Crossaint said, “the fridge is in trouble!
A mystery stench turned a whole shelf to rubble!
I’m the last hope or the fridge will be lost!
Help me or else we’ll be cooked, served, and sauced.”

There’s a stinky stench in the fridge—and our favorite foodie friends must solve a smelly mystery! Sir French Toast’s nephew, Inspector Croissant, begs him and Lady Pancake for help in finding the source of the foul odor. Could it be the devious Baron Von Waffle? A fetid fish lurking in the bottom of Corn Chowder Lake? Featuring the same delectable wordplay and delicious art that won critical raves for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast—there’s even an actual red herring—his fun follow-up is an absolutely tasty treat for kids!

About the Author: Josh Funk is from MA where he spends his days writing computer language and his free time writing picture book rhymes. His first published picture book was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling) and he is the author of Pirasaurs (Scholastic), Dear Dragon (Viking), and the upcoming Albie Newton (Sterling, 2018).

About the Illustrator: Brendan Kearney is an illustrator from the UK. While studying architecture at university, he realized he didn’t like rulers. He then discovered that it wasn’t essential to use a ruler when illustrating children’s books. Now he specializes in illustrating children’s books, bringing his own chaotic style and ideas to any project. He is also the illustrator of the first Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and Bertie Wings It (both Sterling).

Kellee’s Review: I love that Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are friends again and working together with Inspector Croissant to solve the mystery of the stinky stench. Their story promotes prediction, friendship, and problem solving in a fun refrigerator adventure! In a way that only Josh Funk can, he rhymes his way through the story without even one rhythm hiccup. The story, filled with humor, throwbacks to the first book, and a sweet ending, is just as funny as the first one with jokes for kids and adults alike (watch for the Red Herring and Spuddy Holly). 

Ricki’s Review: If you follow this blog, you know that we absolutely love Josh Funk’s work. His books are smart, cleverly crafted, and engaging. They have a special quality to them in that they appeal to both adults and kids. My son is allowed to pick his bedtime books, and my inner voice squeals whenever he picks one of Josh’s books because I know that the story will be fun to read aloud. We got this book a week ago, and we’ve read it over a dozen times (by my son’s choice!). Who doesn’t love a book about a stinky stench?! There is so much to talk about, and so many great foods and vocabulary words to discuss. The words dance across the pages—and this makes for a beautiful read-aloud. I am always wary of sequels and companion books, but Josh nailed it. This is a great adventure that can work well with the first book and also stand alone. Teachers, if you don’t have this book or Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, I recommend them highly for your classrooms. Parents, this one is a no-brainer. I will cross my fingers that a third Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast book is in the works!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of Josh Funk’s amazing ability to have perfect rhyming throughout the book, The Case of the Stinky Stench and the first Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast book are perfect at looking at rhyming and rhythm. Students can find all the rhyming words and discuss how they know the words rhyme and think of other words that rhyme with the words they found. Also, while reading, to discuss rhythm, students can clap along with the words to hear the rhythm that Josh Funk has created. Alternatively, students might design their own Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast pages to display around the classroom.

Activity Kit:

Can also be found on Sterling Publishing’s Stinky Stench website: https://www.sterlingpublishing.com/9781454919605

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat, Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schulz

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**Thank you to Sterling Kids for providing a copy for review!!**

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
Authors: Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth
Illustrator: Ekua Holmes
Published March 14th, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award–winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, present original poems that pay homage to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder. Stunning mixed-media images by Ekua Holmes, winner of a Caldecott Honor and a John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, complete the celebration and invite the reader to listen, wonder, and perhaps even pick up a pen.

A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree offer a glorious, lyrical ode to poets who have sparked a sense of wonder.

Review: This anthology is beautiful. Alexander, Colderley, and Wentworth beautifully pay homage to each poet. Their tribute poems are impeccably written and not only do the poems follow the style of the poet but also teach us about the lives of the poet. And Holmes’s artwork pushes the book to another level. I also adored the diversity of the poets, as well as the types of poems, chosen.

And Out of Wonder can definitely be a perfect mentor text for a poetry unit, and I can definitely see it being paired with Love That Dog to expand what Creech started.

Teaching Guide with Prereading Activities, Discussion Questions, and Classroom Extensions (by teacher Mary Lee Hahn): 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech; Poetry by any of the poets honored in the book: Naomi Shihab Nye, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Bashō, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Emily Dickinson, Terrance Hayes, Billy Collins, Pablo Neruda, Judith Wright, Mary Oliver, Cwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, William Carlos Williams, Okot p’Bitek, Chief Dan George, Rumi, or Maya Angelou

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Cowboy Car
Author: Jeanie Franz Ransom
Illustrator: Ovi Nedelcu
Anticipated Published: April 11, 2017 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: A little car with a big dream…

Ever since Little Car was knee-high to his daddy’s hubcaps, he’s wanted to be a cowboy. Cowboys get to drive the range, wear big hats, and sleep under the stars. Everyone tells Little Car that cars can’t be cowboys, but he can’t stop dreaming of rounding up lil’ dogies by day and talking around the campfire at night. So Little Car packs his trunk and heads Out West. Vroom! Can he prove he has what it takes to be a true cowboy? Join Little Car as he zooms into the hearts of kids everywhere.

Ricki’s Review: A car that dreams of being a cowboy! This was a fun story to read with my boys. The illustrations are quite charming, and Little Car made me smile. He refuses to give up, despite the obstacles he faces. My three-year-old asked a lot of great questions while we were reading the book, and we were able to talk about the car’s perseverance. I particularly liked all of the puns in the book. While the puns were completely over my sons’ heads, it made the reading even more enjoyable for me. This book has a theme that we constantly try to relay to our students—not to give up despite what the world throws at you. It would be a great addition to any classroom.

Kellee’s Review: What a cute story about following your dreams even when everyone doubts you! This is a message that is so important to share with kids because throughout their life there are going to be those who doubt them; however, I want Trent to know that as long as he works hard, wants something enough, has a good plan, is realistic about speed bumps ahead, and goes for it, he can live his dream. This is a theme that is found in picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels because kids need to be reminded of this. Life shouldn’t be about what others expect of you but what YOU expect for you. Little Car embodies this message by doing something that everyone doubted he could do and he did it his own way. I know this story will be one that teachers and parents will want to share with their kids (and their kids will love it because who doesn’t love cars and cowboys!).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to connect the theme of this story to real-life individuals today or in history. They might consider other people who have faced struggles and who have persevered. It would be neat to have each student learn about a different person of their choosing. This would add variety and remind students that they should not give up in the face of adversity.

Discussion Questions: What challenges does Little Car face? How does he overcome them?; What do Little Car’s parents think? How does he respond?; What other people (current or historical) have faced struggles? How did they overcome these struggles?

Flagged Passage: “‘Cars can’t be cowboys,’ everyone told Little Car.”

Read This If You Love: Race Car Dreams by Sharon Chriscoe; Race Car Count by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; Busy Trucks on the Go by Eric Ode and Kent Culotta; Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by by Sherri Duskey Rinker; The Racecar Alphabet by Brian Floca; Alphabeep: A Zipping, Zooming ABC by Debora Pearson; The Three Little Rigs by David Gordon; Ten Little School Cars by School Specialty Publishing

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**Thank you to Al at Amazon for providing copies for review!**

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