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Tag Archives: Language Arts

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: Bees!

Since there’s an extra week in here with September ending and October beginning I thought I’d thrown in a bonus post that goes back to the For Your Bookshelf theme. Today it’s all about books about bees as our hive gets itself ready to turn inward for the winter. For Your Bookshelf Banner

The Honeybee Man by Leyla Nargi and Kyrsten Brooker

This is a fabulous book about a man who keeps beehives on the roof of his apartment building. The story takes you through his summer as a beekeeper and provides some insight into what’s involved with keeping bees. The best part is the ending where he shares the honey he has harvested with his neighbors creating a community around the bees. 

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre

A factual book for those kids who like nonfiction. The Bumblebee Queen focuses not on honeybees, but on bumblebees and their life cycle. It’s still told in a story-like format following the queen as she emerges in the spring, makes a hive, produces workers and princesses and then dies in the late fall. The text is simple, but complete and features asides and tidbits on many of the pages for when your child wants more information.

Bee BooksBeekeepers by Linda Oatman High

A pitch perfect book about a grandfather and granddaughter who tend their hives together. The story is told in free verse that makes the story digestible even for very young audiences. Again, you get some insight into beekeeping and the tasks that are involved. The illustrations are also lovely and evocative and I think they match the language very beautifully. 


The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco

Mary Ellen is struggling with reading and when she gives up from fatigue and frustration her grandfather takes her on a bee tree hunt. They catch a couple bees in a jar and slowly release then follow them back to their hive. Along the way they pick up a bunch of neighbors who see them chasing after the bees. This is a story as much about community as about bees and it uses the honey as a metaphor for the sweetness of knowledge as Mary Ellen’s grandfather explains at the very end when he encourages her not to give up on reading. 

The BeeThe Bee (First Discoveries)

Cam loves these books. We have a ton of them. They feature these clear pages with pictures printed on them that you can flip over to give you another perspective on the illustration, often a peek inside something. In The Bee you get to see a swarm move, see inside the hive, and a few other things. The text features larger more prominent information that pairs with the picture and usually there is smaller text that you can skip or read depending on the mood of your audience. This is a great book for information about bees themselves and their behavior. 

The Honey Makers by Gail Gibbons

I am a huge fan of Gail Gibbons. She writes very matter-of-fact factual books for kids that answer all those burning questions they have about the world. The Honey Makers is a fabulous selection from her backlist. As the title indicates it is about honey bees and is filled with all kinds of information from the life cycle to how they make honey. The illustrations in it are good, although not especially detailed which is typical of her style. The sheer amount of information here makes this book best for breaking up or reading selections from. Don’t be afraid to read the information and paraphrase it for younger children using the pictures for support. 

Berlioz the Bear by Jan Brett

All I want to say about this one is that it’s a funny story where a bee plays a vital role. 🙂 As with all Jan Brett books the illustrations are incredible and the frames around the main pictures feature a side story.  


For Your Classroom: Letters and Postcards

About a year ago I subscribed to a couple of magazines for Cam, Ranger Rick, Jr. and High Five (Highlights for younger kids). While she has enjoyed the reading the magazines, recently she has really gotten interested in getting them out of the mailbox. Whenever she sees me check for mail she asks if she got a new magazine. I think everyone loves to receive mail. Not bills of course, but letters and cards and magazines. 

Letter writing and playing Post Office is a great way to encourage literacy and imagination. And your child doesn’t have to be writing or reading yet to enjoy “writing” a letter. They can simply draw a picture or scribble out “words”. You can write them letters, too. Just a card with their name inside will help familiarize them with what their name looks like written out. 

Letters & Postcards


The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond: I know I’ve talked about this book before, but I just love it. Cornelia Augusta finds a variety of hearts in a rainstorm and uses them to make Valentine’s cards for her friends which she then mails. It’s such a sweet story about how touching it is to receive a handmade card in the mail. 

The Seven Little Postmen by Margaret Wise Brown: An old classic Golden Book that is still in print. It shows you how a letter from a little boy passes through the postal system to get to his grandmother. The illustrations are funny and have a lot to look at (keep your eye out for the letter) and the story is really engaging. Some of the methods may be a bit outdated, but it’s still relevant. 

The Jolly Little Postman or Other People’s Letters by Allan and Janet Ahlberg: The jolly postman delivers letters to fairy tale characters then returns home at night to his own pot of tea and mail. Not only are the references to the fairy tales clever, but this book has the actual letters he delivers in it. Each time he visits a new person (or animal) there is a pocket that looks like an envelope that has a letter and often something else to pull out and read. So Cinderella gets a letter from her publisher and a copy of the book they are publishing for her. We love this book, and although you have to be a bit gentle with it, it is so worth that lesson. 

Angelina’s Invitation to the Ballet by Katherine Holabird: I am less familiar with this one, but it has the same format as The Jolly Postman, with letters to pull out and read. It would be good for those fans of Angelina or the ballet. It is out of print so you may have to find a used copy or check your local library system (which is where I found the copy I read).

*I am waiting on a few books from the library to read through and decide if I want to include them here. I will update as I get them in and reflect on them.

Update: 9/25/2014:

The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons: This has surprisingly little text for a Gibbons book, but there are tons of pictures which help tell the story of how the post office receives, sorts, processes, moves, and delivers mail. I like that the colors in it are red, white and blue like the post office and the limited palette in some ways focuses your attention in the drawings so you can read them. A good general information book. It may be a bit outdated (I’m sure there are more computers and automation now), but for the most part it’s still very current. 

The Post Office by David and Patricia Armentrout: This book is less detailed about the mailing process which might make it a slightly better fit for younger kids than Gibbons’ book. Instead of drawings The Post Office book features photographs for illustrations. It is clearly much more recent because it shows a more expensive stamp, an automated postage machine and new machines. There is a great two-page spread detailing how to address an letter. 

A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats: Another classic from Keats. Peter wants to invite his friend and neighbor Amy to his birthday party. To make the invitation more special he decides to make an invitation and mail it. On his way to the mailbox though, a gust of wind carries the letter off. Peter chases it around and catches it just as Amy rounds the corner. Unfortunately Amy is knocked down in the process and runs away crying while Peter slips the letter into the mail. Now he isn’t sure if she’ll be there for his party. A good story about why you might mail a letter as well as a friendship. 


Mail Carrier’s Song

(Sung to Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

Write, write, Write your cards,

and lots of letters, too!

I will bring them to your friends,

And maybe they’ll write back soon!

(Source: http://www.preschool-plan-it.com/post-office.html; You may want to visit this site they have a ton of ideas for a post office theme in a classroom.)

Dramatic Play Area Ideas

Setting up an area with supplies for a post office makes a great dramatic play area that also incorporates literacy. You could also use this as an opportunity to write thank you notes to friends and family if you have recently had a holiday or birthday celebration. Here are some ideas for things to include:

  • Postman Costume for dress up
  • A small canvas bag can become a mail sack for deliveries
  • Cards or stationary from the dollar store or the dollar bin (that way when they scribble on a lot of them, you don’t feel so bad)
  • Stamps (either one cent stamps or stickers that look like stamps)
  • Pens, pencils, markers
  • An example letter (so they can copy the format of the envelope and even the letter inside)
  • Address labels (I get a ton of those address labels from charities, I put those out for Cam to use)
  • A mail box (both for mailing and for receiving letters; we used an old mail box we found in our garage, but you could just as easily create one from a shoebox)
  • A few boxes for packages (the post office has official boxes, you can snag a few for free)

 DIY & Activities

DIY Cardboard Mailbox  If you have a large cardboard box laying around and feel motivated, this would be so awesome for posting letters. 

Writing Station from An Everyday Story I scaled this idea way down for Cam since she isn’t ready to actually write letters or word. A small pencil holder with stamps and stickers, pencils and a couple pens, and some cards and envelopes. 

Draw Your Own Postcard A printable postcard from the Picklebums blog that has a large blank space on the front so you can draw your own postcard. Alternatively you could simple cut some heavy cardstock down to the size of a postcard (approximately 4×6). What I love most about this printable is that the back of the postcard is included with the address lines, a place for the stamp and the line that separates the address and letter portion. 

For Your Bookshelf: Poetry Month

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I know April is almost over and I have already done one of these posts this month, but I decided I wanted to share a couple poetry titles for National Poetry Month.


Poetry seems to be one of those polarizing genres, you either love it or hate it. Plus it can conjure up some bad memories from high school English class where you had to analyze every line of some terrible (or terribly boring poem). But poetry is a really great way to introduce language- and word-play to children.

They may not seem like it, but those Mother Goose nursery rhymes are a form of poetry. And the rhythm and rhyme in them help kids hear letter sounds, find new vocabulary, and give them a sense that language can be fun. Nursery rhymes are also easy to memorize for you and your child so you can say them at any time. I like to use them for emphasis when we go places or see things. (“Diddle Diddle Dumpling” when Cam only has on one shoe or “To Market, To Market” when we go to the grocery store.)

We don’t just do Mother Goose, though. We read “real” poetry (it’s all real, but these are poems you would find in high school English class) often found in poetry anthologies for children. I have an old vintage Childcraft anthology that has poetry from Carl Sandburg to Emily Dickinson to unknown poets, but there are many collections for kids. There are also authors who have written poems for children and compiled them. Poems that are evocative and beautiful the way you would expect “adult” poetry to be. These kinds of poems are really wonderful for teaching children how to make pictures in their minds when they read (or are read to), a really important skill that all good readers do without thinking about.

So put those thoughts of the tortured, angst-y poems you wrote in your youth and the boring ones you read in English aside and give some of these titles a try with your child.

Poetry for Children

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman- I was really blown away by this book when I first picked it up. Obviously the illustrations are wonderful, but the poems are too. The thing is, they’re essentially non-fiction poems. They teach you something about nighttime nature which struck me as both clever and a great way to connect a younger child with science.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies- I love that this one moves through the year. It also gives you a wonderful appreciation for the outside world. It is even better for young readers because the poems are fairly short and very evocative of seeing, feeling or experiencing nature. The large format is also great for putting on the floor and poring over.

Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs – Another book I was totally blown away by. In some ways it makes me sad that people who write poetry for children don’t seem to get the same praise as people who write poetry for adults. This one is also incredibly evocative of the ocean and the beach and the language in it is so beautiful. It really shows what language can do. The watercolor illustrations also really add to the wonder of the poems.

Firefly July: A Year of Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko- This is another one that moves you through the year. I love that many of these are either famous poems or famous poets but they are incredibly short. They are also relatable poems for kids.

For Your Bookshelf: Gardening Books

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Where we live Spring is most definitely here. It’s actually a little early this year, but I am so itchy to get into the garden that it doesn’t matter to me. In honor of gardening that you may be doing or are planning to do in the next month or two, I pulled together a selection of books about gardens and gardening.

Garden Books

The Carrot Seed by Crockett Johnson: A classic that is both about the patience that gardening takes and about believing in yourself even when no one else does. I loved this book as a child and now my daughter is enjoying it. The simple, repetitive text would make it a great early reader.

My Garden by Kevin Henkes: What kid wouldn’t want this little girl’s garden full of chocolate bunnies, a jelly bean bush and plants that grow keys and shells. The imagination in this book is just so wonderful. I also think it encourages kids to look beyond your basic vegetable and flower gardens and see the garden as some where potentially magical.

One Small Square: Backyard by Donald Silver: This book is full of amazing details about what is in our backyards and it shows it to you by going through a square foot layer by layer. I know it isn’t techincally about a garden, but many of the same elements and ideas apply to our garden, including animals, soil, and natural cycles. This is actually one in an expansive series. They are all well done and I highly recommend checking any of them out.

Ruby Red Shoes by Kate Knapp: Okay this one isn’t strictly about gardening, but Ruby does garden and spends a good amount of time in her garden. Plus she has chickens. I absolutely love the illustrations in this book. They are so whimsical and compliment the gentle story about Ruby and her grandmother so well.

These are some of my favorites, but I’m there are many more. Are there any title you would add to this list?

Eight Great Books for the Deep Dark of Winter

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Winter Magic by Eveline Hassler: This is a story about the beauty of the world when it is deep in winter as seen by a young boy and his cat, Sebastian. It is such a magical story that celebrates a season and time of year that doesn’t usually get a lot of praise.

The Tomten & The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren: The Tomten, a small gnome-like creature that lives on the farm in the woods, cares for all the animals in the deep midwinter. When the fox arrives looking for a meal the Tomten offers to share his own food with the fox. I love the respectful tone of this book and the Tomten is always so magical.

Winter by Greda Muller: Another in the wordless board book series. More lovely and lively pictures appropriate to the season. Even though we don’t get snow, it’s easy to appreciate the cold weather and the delights of the idea of snow.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner: What do snowmen do when we aren’t watching? All kinds of silly things according to this book. I love how hilarious and silly the snowmen are, something we need after the holidays and the winter begins to drag on.

The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt: The classic tale of a lot of animals cramming themselves into a warm cozy mitten to escape the cold forest. Ultimately they don’t all fit and the mitten bursts apart. This particular version is the one I had as a child, and even though Jan Brett has done a beautiful edition, I love the simplicity of these illustrations. I also love how the book is set up as a story a grandfather tells his grandchildren and it isn’t clear to the child narrator if the grandfather was being completely truthful.

The Day it Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond: This is the story of Cornelia Augusta and her inspiration for the valentine cards she makes. Valentine’s Day can be so commercialized with roses and romantic love, but this is a book that celebrates doing something nice for your friends. Plus it would be awesome if it rained hearts!

The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss: This book celebrates the first flower and the joy it brings when you realize spring is near.

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

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Here is a selection of books for the holidays. I know Hanukkah is almost gone, but those books are well worth reading.

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel: In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe the local synagogue has been taken over by goblins who will not allow the townspeople to celebrate Hanukkah. Hershel takes on the task of convincing one goblin each night to allow him to light the menorah in the lonely old synagogue. Hershel is a clever guy and has some pretty creative ways that he tricks the goblins. However there is a catch, on the final night he must have the Goblin King, the biggest scariest goblin of all, light the menorah himself. The story is dramatic, suspenseful, and very funny at points.

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland: If you are familiar with Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot you will be familiar with the storyline of this one too. Sadie is given a magic pan that makes latkes. But in order to stop it you must say the magic words. Too bad her brothers don’t know those words and start up the pan while Sadie is out. I wouldn’t say the holiday features prominently, but it’s still a great story to read during the season.

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric Kimmel: This one is just plain funny and totally appeals to kids’ sense of humor. Baba Brayna is a bit hard of hearing and her eyesight isn’t so good either, so when a bear shows up on her doorstep lured by the smell of latkes she mistakes him for the rabbi. The bear enjoys a great meal and is even given the scarf Baba Brayna knit for the rabbi. As he leaves, the rabbi and Baba Brayna’s friends arrive and are rather surprised to find all the latkes gone. However, Baba Brayna simply whips up another batch of latkes.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett: Jan Brett creates such detailed illustrations that her books make great read alouds for even the youngest of children. They are also perfect read alouds for one or two children nestled in your lap. I especially like the message in this book of kindness, respect, and cooperation for and with animals. Tika has been entrusted to find and work with Santa’s wild reindeer this year and she takes her task very seriously. As she begins she tries to boss them around and is rather rough, but this only results in a fiasco. After a tangle up, Tika promises to listen to the animals and be gentle and kind. This works out quite well and the reindeer are ready to lead Santa’s sleigh.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle: Another story that shows kindness to animals. While we don’t get snow where we live, we still appreciate the thought of a white Christmas. In Dream Snow, a farmer wishes it would snow, but then dreams of snow covering his animals. He awakens to find that it really has snowed and he rushes out to deliver gifts to his animals.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto: Another story where the holiday is more of a backdrop, however it has a great message about honesty and is funny to boot. Maria is making tamales with her parents for their family Christmas celebration. Her mother removes her wedding ring to mix the masa, but Maria sneaks the ring on her finger. In the hustle and bustle of family arriving Maria forgets all about the ring and only later realizes it must have fallen off in the tamales. She and her cousins sneak into the kitchen and eat all the tamales in search of the ring, which, it turns out her mother had all along. Maria confesses to her mother and the family has a good laugh and sets out to make another batch of tamales. The look on the kids faces when they have to make more tamales is priceless.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs: This is a wordless picture book that details Santa’s Christmas routine. I know there is an animated version of it, but I love to pore over all the details with my daughter. There are some surprising and delightful things if you look closely.

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna Washington: I am a big proponent of introducing a variety of customs to my daughter, but it was hard finding a quality Kwanzaa book. So many of them are overtly didactic or informational with illustrations that just aren’t very engaging. I wish there were more stories about Kwanzaa in the vein of all the Christmas and Hanukkah books. In Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, Li’l Rabbit sets out to find a nice gift for his grandmother who is sick in place of the large happy feast they normally have. While out he tells all grandma’s friends that she is unwell, but doesn’t think he has come up with the perfect surprise. Until he gets home and realizes all the friends have pulled together and created the Karamu for Granna Rabbit. I liked that the principles of Kwanzaa are subtly worked into the story instead of being glaringly pointed to.

Eight Great Books for Autumn

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I’ve started noticing that some mommy blogs like to give recommendations for picture books (or chapters books) that go along with a theme or an author and I started to think, “Hey I could do that, I am a librarian after all!”  I have done a bit of suggesting here and there, but I thought maybe I could start making it a bit more of a regular series with several title suggestions instead of just one or two.

Without further ado, here are my fall suggestions:

Autumn by Gerda Muller: This one is a wordless board book with really beautiful illustrations showing some of the delights of the season. Our Autumns don’t look exactly like this (rain is scarce this time of year), but I think it captures the beauty of the season and the excitement the change in weather brings. The wordlessness makes it a great vehicle for building vocabulary and poring over with your young child.

Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins: This one is full of awesome photographs of leaves from a variety of trees. It’s definitely a non-fiction, but it is super accessible even for younger kids. If you are lucky enough to live where many or all of the included trees grow, it’s a lot of fun to make the connection between the book and the real world. We also bought a set of leaf rubbing plates that match most of the leaves in this book and had a good time making rubbings and comparing to the book. It’s out of print, so if you normally purchase books you may have to check with your local library instead.

Winter Lullaby by Barbara Seuling: I know this has winter in the title, but it’s really about the natural world getting ready for winter. The text is simple and written in verse that uses questions and answers which my daughter really responded to. But really this book is about the illustrations. They are stunning.

Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbel: This is one of my all time favorites. It starts with a boy making a jack-o-lantern, but it’s really a story about the life cycle of a pumpkin. I could also see some religious overtones in it too. While l love to celebrate one particular season when we are in it, I also really feel that to appreciate them you need the cycle of the seasons. Pumpkin Jack does a nice job of doing just that.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams: This isn’t strictly a Halloween book, but it works well for the holiday especially since there’s a scary pumpkin head. The story is totally ridiculous and repetitive, but that’s why kids love it. My daughter, at 26 months, is saying the refrain along with me and giggling hysterically. Doesn’t get better than that.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting: Another ridiculous story. I love that everyone is welcome at the Thanksgiving table and that it’s really a book about a play on the phrase “a turkey for Thanksgiving”. We read this one every year.

The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli: I reviewed this one last year and you can read that post here. The short version is, this is a story about embracing your family warts and all. We don’t all have perfect families, but simply being with them makes it a perfect Thanksgiving.

Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes: Another supermarket book table find and I love this one too. It runs through a number of things to be thankful for but many of them are not run-of-the-mill thanksgivings. There is school, music and art. There is hopscotch and slides and dress up. I like the variety and inventiveness of the things, but it still ends with bing thankful for our families. Plus the last page it open for you to record things you’re thankful for. This would be a great way to create a book that can be passed down and show the growth of your family through the years.

Those are my picks. There are tons more that we read, but if you’re trying to build up your collection at home or just need some suggestions for books to request at the library, these are where I would start. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments! I love to hear when other people love our favorites or introduce us to new ones.