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Friday Five: Houses

Here’s a list of five picture books on a theme. I’m going to start doing this series regularly so readers can have a few suggestions for books that might pique the interest of their children or might tie in with something that is already interesting their children. This week I chose a house theme, primarily building them. Feel free to share other titles in the comments. 

A House in the WoodsA House in the Woods written and illustrated by Inga Moore

From Goodreads: One little pig has made a little den for herself in the woods, and another little pig has a small hut next door. One morning they return from a walk to find that their big friend Bear has moved into the den and an even larger Moose into the hut. CRASH! With both homes collapsed, they’re all in a pickle—but what if they find a way to build a house in the woods that all four of them can share?

We love this book. It’s such a sweet friendship story and what kid doesn’t wish they could live with their best friends at some point. 

How a house is builtHow a House is Built written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons

From Goodreads: Describes how the surveyor, heavy machinery operators, carpenter crew, plumbers, and other workers build a house.

For the nonfiction fan. I bought this book for Cam when she was fairly young. You can edit the text as you read to tailor it to younger audiences. Classic Gail Gibbons, it follows exactly how a house is built from foundation to moving in. Also great for those kids that love how-tos and are interested in building. 

Building Our HouseBuilding Our House written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean

From Goodreads: In this unique construction book for kids who love tools and trucks, readers join a girl and her family as they pack up their old house in town and set out to build a new one in the country. Mom and Dad are going to make the new house themselves, from the ground up. From empty lot to finished home, every stage of their year-and-a-half-long building project is here. And at every step their lucky kids are watching and getting their hands dirty, in page after page brimming with machines, vehicles, and all kinds of house-making activities!

This was a fantastic birthday present for Cam from some good friends. We have done some major remodeling on our house ourselves (and I do mean ourselves) so the story really resonates with our family. But more than that it looks at house building from the perspective of a child and examines how you make a house a home. The book is actually based on Bean’s experience as a child, but instead of the year and half of the story it took five years. 

Stanley the builderStanley the Builder written and illustrated by William Bee

From Goodreads: What a job for Stanley – he’s building a house for his friend, Myrtle. He will need his digger and his bulldozer and his cement mixer! He will also need his friend, Charlie to help. But will they manage to build the whole house?

Oh, Stanley. We love that little hamster. The book is really for young audiences (2-5ish), but the pictures are so wonderful. They’re really basic, but there’s something so modern about them that they don’t feel childish. In this book Stanley and his friend Charlie build a whole house. Lots of great illustrations of construction equipment. 

 Peter's old housePeter’s Old House written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow

From Goodreads: Peter lives in a shabby old house in the village. He builds boats for the children, shows visitors around in ten different languages, and is the village doctor and handyman. One day an official tells him his house must be mended or pulled down.

It’s hard to go wrong with Elsa Beskow. A lovely story about a man who helps his community and is helped by them in return. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Decolonize Your BookshelfThose ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

From Goodreads: All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. But Jeremy’s grandma tells him they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” and what Jeremy needs are new boots for winter. When Jeremy’s shoes fall apart at school, and the guidance counselor gives him a hand-me-down pair, the boy is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy comes to realize that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

I think almost all kids have experienced what Jeremy does in this book. There is something new and shiny and it seems everyone has it, but them. And their parents, for whatever reason, won’t buy it. 

I think it’s incredibly impressive that Jeremy decides to spend his own money that he’s saved up on the pair of shoes he finds at the thrift shop. This is another layer of values added to the story. If you really want something you can rely on yourself to provide it instead of going to your family with an open hand. 

My only complaint about the book is that it shows an African American family having money trouble and it often seems like when there is representation of African Americans in children’s literature they are poor. It’s compounded by the fact that the author is white. Obviously this is not always the case. There are wealthy and middle class African American families, just like there are poor white families. However, I like that the book is not about being a poor African American, it’s just about wanting to fit in and have those shoes, but not being able to. 

I think the message of the book- that you can’t always have the latest and greatest- is a powerful one for kids no matter their socio-economic status. My own daughter is growing up middle class and she can’t have every toy, book and piece of clothing her heart desires. And that’s okay! But I think seeing that reflected in a book is very resonant. I also think for my own daughter seeing that other people struggle more with money than we do is also incredibly important. It’s good for her to look beyond outward appearances. 

For Your Bookshelf: Loose Parts by Lisa Daly & Miriam Beloglovsky

Loose PartsLoose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, photographs by Jenna Daly

From GoodReads: Loose parts are natural or synthetic found, bought, or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. Alluring and captivating, they capture children’s curiosity, give free reign to their imagination, and motivate learning.

The hundreds of inspiring photographs showcase an array of loose parts in real early childhood settings. And the overviews of concepts children can learn when using loose parts provide the foundation for incorporating loose parts into your teaching to enhance play and empower children. The possibilities are truly endless.

I came across this book through a couple of Australian blogs that I follow. I had recently read Beautiful Stuff and wanted to learn more about how to employ the loose parts theory. I was surprised to find, once I got a copy of the book, that it was written by two professors here in Sacramento. They used the child care center out at the community college in Fairfield. Small world. 

The book was incredibly inspiring and had tons and tons of high quality pictures. The text is short, but deals with the theory of loose parts and then discusses different areas that are developed by using them, i.e. sound, creativity, and action. It’s easy to read and understand and doesn’t have a lot of jargon or overly academic language. I know right now I appreciate that in a book. I just don’t have the mental capacity to read something dry and technical at the end of the day.  

I did keep going back and forth wishing there was a bit more writing and discussing of the theory of loose parts and simply appreciating that there wasn’t much direction. I think I was hoping the pictures would be more like a documentation panel. I struggle getting Cam to engage with the materials. They can sit out for months and she won’t touch them. Then one day she’ll pick them up and find something to do with them or I’ll need to direct her. And I don’t want to direct her, I want it to come from her. On the other hand, having too rigid a set of documentation might not have helped me find good materials and set ups. Part of the point of loose parts is that they can be used in open ended ways and should be tailored to the interests of the child and to the environment. And often the pictures spoke for themselves. 

All in all, this is a worthwhile book both for the information on loose parts and why you should use them and for the pictures that will give you unlimited inspiration for materials to try out and how to set them up in provocative ways. My copy is riddled with sticky notes directing me to provocations and to loose parts I want to set out. I think a second reading of the book is in order to review the theory behind the materials. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Decolonize Your BookshelfLast StopLast Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

From GoodReads: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

This book is getting a lot press not only because the characters are diverse, but also because it shows a less than desirable part of town. After church on Sunday, CJ and his grandmother hop the bus and take it down to the soup kitchen where they help serve a meal. Along the way CJ is full of questions, some easy and some hard. His grandmother has an answer for all of them and they are often wise answers. 

I was glad to find the book because of our resolution this year to give regularly to the food bank. Last year when I was researching effective ways to give I wanted to start a conversation with Cam and being the librarian I am I went in search of picture books that could help me do that. I don’t recall any specific titles, but I do remember not being able to find many and that of the two or three I found they were not particularly engaging or were too long and complex for a three year old. Last Stop on Market Street is perfect for sharing the idea of giving to the needy, and especially the hungry, with younger audiences (and older ones too, if you’d like). And repeat readings of the book have brought deeper meaning and reflection for Cam. She notices new things each time we read it and she asks new questions about the answers CJ’s grandmother gives to him. It’s been a great conversation starter and entree into talking about how we give to our local food bank. 

In the end of the story, and after some grousing, CJ admits to his grandmother he’s glad they came to the soup kitchen after all. This is the perfect ending as it is so true to how a child might feel about the whole experience. It acknowledges that there are other things CJ may want to be doing and that the journey feels arduous to him, but that there is a pay off in making friends with people you would not normally know and feeling good about helping them out. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Draw! by Raul Colon

Decolonize Your BookshelfDraw!Draw! illustrated by Raul Colon

Here is the review I wrote on my library  blog: 

I had a really emotional reaction to this book. It is such an incredible story and told entirely without words. It reminds me of some of the best visual storytelling you see in movies (the opening credits of Watchmenand the tear-jerker montage in Up to name two) which is not easy to do well.

While in his room a young boy, possibly Colon, sits on his bed reading a book. The mood strikes him and he picks up his sketch pad. As you leave the world of his bedroom for the African continent the art style changes and the new style, a more lush, layered and colorful style, comes into view through a series of panels that grow in size indicating how they slowly fill the room and the boy’s mind. The effect is done in reverse when the boy returns from his adventure. In the fantasy you see small details included from the room. The backpack of bread slowly empties as the boy shares it with the creatures he meets. He wears the same clothes. It becomes apparent that the elephant is his guide through the savannah. It’s these subtle details that really make the story effective and more complex and therefore interesting.

The story, while about a boy drawing, is really about how art can transport you. And not just drawing but books as well. It’s the book the boy was reading that inspired him to pick up paper and visually represent what he had been reading. I think this book is great for quietly perusing, but is also a great inspriration for kids who love to draw, paint, and create. It would also be a good discussion starter for classes learning about art and inspiration. I know a lot of parents think picture books are for young children, but this book would be wonderful for any age as the story is so timeless and universal.

I want to address that last part of my review. Don’t discount wordless books (or picture books) for any age! They are great for learning visual literacy. They are great for storytelling. I love to ask Cam to help me interpret the story when we look at these types of books together. They are great for looking at details without the distraction of an author telling you the story. They are also wonderful at allowing the reader to add their own spin, interpretation, and experiences to the story. Kids will read picture books at any age so long as you, as the adult, aren’t telling them they are for younger kids, which they often aren’t. I know this doesn’t apply to wordless books, but picture books often have higher reading levels than those chapter books so many parents push on their kids and they require the added visual literacy piece of interpreting and meshing the pictures with the story told in words. Draw! is such a beautiful book and can be enjoyed in your collection for years to come. 

Here’s a great little article on The Horn Book blogs that talks about using wordless picture books in the classroom which could just as easily be done in the home (there are no grand activities to accompany the books, just the books themselves). 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 2 Issue 3

Just two links this week:

This first one is to Lee and Low Book’s February booklist. It includes tons of book titles for Black History Month, Rosa Parks’ birthday and more. All diverse title, too. 

Here’s a great post from Eltern Vom Mars, a German Montessori blog. They are working on initial sounds with their toddler and we’re starting to do that too. This post shows a sorting game that reinforces initial sounds and it quite clever. Note that the blog is in German so the sorting is not for English words, but German ones. 

For Your Bookshelf: Friendship

This year for Valentine’s Day I thought I would compile a list of our favorite books about friendship. There are a lot of different kinds of love and while Valentine’s Day tends to be about romantic love, I think kids click more with friendship. 

I tried my best to get books that have been tested extensively by my focus group (Cam) and that feature diversity either in their authorship or in the story. I have to admit Cam and I are naturally drawn to books featuring animals as the characters, but there are a couple in there with people too. Last year I posted my two all-time favorite Valentine’s Day books which you can see here. I still love them, but for the sake of keeping with diversity and in order not to repeat myself I did not include them here. 

Valentine's Books 1

Hooray for Hat written and illustrated by Brian Won

A sweet story about cheering up when you feel grumpy. The end twists when lion says he can’t feel happy when their friend giraffe feels bad, so all the animal friends come up with a way to make him feel better. 

Little Elliot, Big City written and illustrated by Mike Curato

I think this is a pretty deep story and the illustrations are stunning. On the surface, though, this is a story about finding a friend in a big city. One who is small like you and understands how hard it is to be small, but together you make a team.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster written and illustrated by Mo Willems

 Leonardo may be a terrible monster, but after scaring someone (finally!) the little boy begins to cry. Leonardo makes a decision to be a terrible monster, but a good friend. Mo Willems always turns out wonderful stories and this is no exception. 

Hug Me written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

A quirky friendship story. Felipe the tiny cactus lives with a prickly family. All he really wants is a hug, but no one in his family understands that. After an incident with a balloon, Felipe sets out on his own, deciding he’s fine without friends or family. But one day he hears someone crying and when he finds a sad little rock, well, he knows just what to do. End papers begin with Feilpe’s austere and imposing family tree and end with snapshots of the two new friends, Felipe and Carnilla. 

Valentine's Books 2 The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

From the award-winning Jacqueline Woodson, a subtle and beautiful story about friendship crossing racial boundaries. While the story of two girls meeting and striking up a simple friendship is quiet, the message is incredibly profound. I think the story is fine for all ages, but certainly with older children you can talk about the symbolism of the fence. 

One Love written by Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Newton

A beautiful little book that celebrates community. Neighbors comes together to build a community garden. The words are adapted lyrics from Bob Marley’s song “One Love”.

Best Friends for Frances written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

I adore Frances. She operates with perfect kid-logic and this story showcases that beautifully. Albert has excluded her from some of his games so Frances decides she’ll exclude him and she and her sister Gloria set out to have a picnic. Albert gets wind of the picnic hamper and wants to come along. Frances decides to let him join in, because things are always more fun with friends. 

The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc

This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s nearly wordless, but has the most wonderful illustrations that convey a range of emotions. When Bird is hurt, Lion takes her in for the winter. The two become fast friends, but when spring returns Bird wants to return to her flock. Lion lets her go, but is still sad. Fall brings Bird back to Lion and they enjoy another winter together. It’s such a gentle story, but it’s incredibly powerful with themes of the power of the friendship bond. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Puppets and Blocks

Decolonize Your Bookshelf

The two books I have to share this month are STEAM related, meaning they tap into art and science themes, concepts, and ideas. They are less about explicit diversity, but are excellent examples of incidental diversity, where they feature diversity without focusing on it. 

I would also like to mention that Lee & Low Books, a publisher that puts out high quality, diverse children’s books, is compiling monthly lists of diverse children’s literature for each month. Here is the link to the January list, it includes books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and diverse titles for National Hobby Month. It’s a really fantastic list and highly recommend checking it out. 

 PuppetsAshley Bryan’s Puppets by Ashely Bryan, pictures edited by Rich Entel

Ashely Bryan’s Puppets is a collection of poems Bryan wrote to accompany the puppets he creates from beach trash. Bryan combs the beaches near his house for bits of natural and manmade garbage- from cloth to bones to shells to glass- and then uses them to create these amazing puppets. He gives each one a name and has written a poem that both addresses what their components are, their personality, and their story. Names are all of African origin and there is a list at the end where he talks about what the words mean and which language and people they are from. 

This book has a lot of directions it could be taken in with provocations. Cam is really interested in using recycled materials to make our own puppets and using the book as a model and inspiration for our project.Puupets 2 There is also the them of ocean pollution (for older children see the Scientists In the Field book Tracking Trash), ocean currents and how they push trash around, and ocean clean-up. The book could also lead to exploration of African folklore, culture, and diversity on the continent. And of course there is the poetry. 

The book is laid out with two page spreads that feature a group portrait of a handful of puppets. These spreads are followed by individual portraits and their corresponding poems. Bryan has intentionally included two or three puppets that do not have names or poems to encourage readers to write their own. Bryan’s poems are simple yet powerful and they give a lot to talk about. Through descriptive, symbolic language he links the pieces that compose the puppets to their personality and invented histories. There is plenty to talk about with the use of language and symbolism in these poems, yet they are simple enough that young readers can connect with and understand them. 

An outstanding book. 

Dreaming UpDreaming Up: A Celebration of Building written & illustrated by Christy Hale

Dreaming Up is another amazing poetry book. This one pairs illustrations of children playing with traditional toys (blocks, stacking rings, sticks, sand) and a picture of a famous building. The pictures are paired with a shape poem about the building the children are doing, meaning each poem is shaped like the building or toy. 

Again you could place this book out with some sort of provocation to play with blocks or toothpicks and gumdrops or even a basket full of sticks. Seeing the interplay between children’s play and adult work, as well as the inspiration they can give each other, is quite powerful. 

Of course the book could, with slightly older children, make a great poetry study. The poems take different forms in regard to rhythm and rhyme, but there is also the physical form of them to pore over. Placing this book out with transparency sheets, pictures or other notable architecture, and pens might invite budding poets to create their own shape poems. 

The end of the book features information about all the buildings seen in the book and about their architects. The list of architects is surprisingly diverse as well with only a few white male architects. These brief biographies may serve as jumping off points for children interested in learning more about the field of architecture. Dreaming Up 2

The children and their quiet play scenes in the illustrations remind me a lot of the scenes in Greda Muller’s seasons books with the exception that these children come in all different colors. 

Another excellent addition to children’s bookshelves.  

Series Reboot in 2015: The Diverse Bookshelf

Once again I’m shaking up my series where I share book titles on the blog. This year I am making a concerted effort to be reading, reviewing, and buying books that feature diversity. There was a big campaign last year called #weneeddiversebooks that really brought a lot of attention to the lack of diversity seen in children’s publishing. If you haven’t heard of this I highly recommend you visit their site and read their mission and about why they got started.

The long and the short of it is that children deserve both windows and mirrors when they read. They deserve to see themselves and see people who are different from them. Sadly this is not happening largely because publishers claim that people won’t buy those books. While the U.S. (and the world) is getting more and more diverse children’s publishing, already low on representation, is staying the same. Here is an infographic put together by the fabulous publisher Lee & Low who does champion diversity that hits home this point:

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

Now, diversity doesn’t necessarily mean race. It can be gender, sexuality (although this is primarily an issue in literature for older kids), family structure (single parents, two moms, two dads, etc.), disability, and a lot more. It also means showing diversity as incidental. Not all books with African-Americans in them should be about the slave experience. Not all books with Japanese should be about the internment during WWII. Those books are important, and there are a lot of good ones out there, but diversity is all around our kids. Cam is the only fully white kid on our street. There are four other kids who live on our block and they all are all mixed race. Her world doesn’t look like the homogenous world of most children’s books. 

Diversity in publishing also doesn’t have to mean diverse characters. There is a push to publish more diverse authors and to get some diversity into the actual publishing industry. Both of these would make it more likely that diverse characters appear in books without them being flat, stereotypical or tokenistic. 

I really agree with this movement both as an educator and as parent. We are lucky to be white middle class because of the inherent privilege that comes with that and I don’t want Cam to be unaware of that privilege like I was. I want her to see the world as it is instead of defaulting to seeing it as white and I think one way to do that is put books in her hands that reflect the world she lives in and to talk to her about it when they don’t or when the representation is problematic.

I’m making a commitment to be sure that I am supporting diverse books when and where I can and one great place I can do that is here on the blog. I’ll be using this series to review and feature diverse titles that we love (I’ll still share our provocations, but they’ll be in the first week of the month). I’m going to try and have new titles in the column, but I am at the mercy of what is in at the library so I may have to look at some older titles.

I may not buy enough books to make difference and I may not have a loud voice, but I want to use the voice I have to say that #weneeddiversebooks.  

For Your Bookshelf: Beautiful Stuff by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini

Beautiful StuffBeautiful Stuff: Learning Wtih Found Materials by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini

From GoodReads: Encourage your kids to express their creativity as they discover, collect, sort, arrange, experiment, and think with found and recyclable “stuff.” The real-life experiences of teachers and children will inspire ideas that you can try at home: choose objects and turn them into a display, transform materials into a face, build and glue wood scraps to make constructions. Appropriate for children four years of age and older.

At it’s heart Beautiful Stuff is a piece of documentation. The teachers at XX began by having students collect a small bag of materials at home and bring them in. They suggested recycled materials, broken jewelry and anything the kids were drawn to.

After bringing their bags to the classroom, the kids were invited to sort the materials. This went on for some time as they sorted by color, type, and various other attributes. It was incredibly fascinating to see how the kids viewed the materials and chose to sort them. Some of their distinctions were quite impressive. Shiny objects sorted out when sorting by color, for example.

After finding a good place to scale back on sorting activities, the materials were placed in a creation corner of the room. Sorting was allowed to continue, but not as a whole class project. The class went on to make several art pieces with the materials, self portraits and wooden structures. While working on these projects they moved from one language, or medium, to another, making a line drawing of their wooden structure for example. This really got the kids to think about their process and look closely at their work. 

The book details the process and thoughts of the children and teachers. The teachers offer thoughts on what they did right, what didn’t go as they planned, and how the project evolved over the year. There are pictures of the children working, the teachers interacting, and the creations of the children. And there are plenty of quotes and summaries of what the kids said. Each chapter ends with reflection of the teachers, their thoughts on what the kids learned and what they did. 

This could certainly serve as an introduction to what project-based, Reggio-style learning looks like and how it unfolds. It can also be a manual for how to do this specific project, although I would say you may have to tweak it for your child or particular group of children. I think this is a particularly good example of how Reggio teachers introduce topics to the kids and still let them run with where the project will go. Sometimes it can seem that Reggio has no curriculum and is completely student driven, which isn’t exactly the case. 

My only complaint is that the production quality of the book is so-so. I could have stood to have better design. Some captions and text blocks were, not exactly confusing, but distracting in their placement and didn’t help the flow of the text. The pictures were clearly all taken with a flash and were often grainy and dark. It think this was in part due to the fact that they were taken on film, but I think it speaks to the importance of taking better pictures. All in all, though, this was minor and the content was so overwhelmingly excellent.  Highly recommended as a guide and as an example.