Today I was invited to read Valentine’s Day books to a Kindergarten class, and since I always struggle to find holiday books I actually like, I thought I’d share the ones I read. Although none of them specifically mention Valentine’s Day, they all fit the theme of love and friendship. The kids seemed to enjoy all of them, and when I asked them to vote for their favorite at the end, all four books got at least a few votes.
Hilarious rhyming story about a prince who calls up to Rapunzel to “let down her hair.” The problem: he’s too far away for Rapunzel to hear, so she tosses out underwear, dirty socks, a cantaloupe, pancake batter, and finally, her maid. I started out by asking the kids about the Rapunzel story, to make sure they would get the joke. The twist at the end got lots of “Ohhhh’s!”
When Love Monster returns from vacation, he is surprised to find a box of chocolates on his doorstep. Although he is dying to open the box and eat them, he can’t decide if it would be better to share them with his friends or keep them for himself. Finally, he decides he has to share, only to discover that there’s only one chocolate in the box: the ones his friends have saved just for him as a welcome home present. The story is similar to Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems. This book works well for preschoolers too.
When Z, the robot, finds a bottle with a message inside that says “Love, Beatrice,” he asks the other robots what “love” means. But none of them can explain, so he sets off to find the answer. Along the way, he hears lots of different descriptions of love, and, when the other robots worry and come looking for him, he discovers it’s a feeling he’s known all along. Very sweet book with adorable illustrations.
Mr. Hatch is a lonely man who keeps to himself, until the postman delivers an enormous box of chocolates with a note that says “Somebody loves you.” Excited to find that somebody loves him, Mr. Hatch begins to open up and do kind things for the people around him. When he learns that the chocolates were meant for somebody else, he is sad, and goes back to his lonely ways, but all the people he has helped join together to let him know that everybody loves him. I love this book, and it’s perfect for elementary school. I would have read it today, but all of the copies in our library system were checked out.
Splat has made a special Valentine for Kitten, even though she doesn’t seem to like him at all. Even worse, Spike, another cat in his class, also likes Kitten. But when Kitten finds the Valentine Splat has thrown away, he learns that she actually really likes him too. Cute story with adorable illustrations.
It’s Valentine’s Day and Nate the Great and his dog Sludge find themselves faced with two mysteries: who left the mystery Valentine on Sludge’s doghouse, and what happened to the Valentine his friend Annie made for her brother? His investigation reveals that the two mysteries are connected in a surprising way. Funny addition to the Nate the Great series of early chapter books, with jokes and activities at the end.
What are your favorite Valentine’s Day books (for elementary school or other age groups)? Please share them in the comments below. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Every week during the school year, I read to all of the second grade classes at a local elementary school. It’s usually the highlight of my week. The kids are so happy to have a break from their normal routine, and they are old enough to point out aspects of the story or the illustrations that even I hadn’t noticed.
Stretches for Elementary School
I usually read for half an hour, so I try to build in a couple of easy activities to help the kids refocus between books. Here are two of my favorites, which I learned from a Library Explorers camp we offered two summers ago:
Tell the kids to close their eyes, and take a deep breath in, stretching their arms out to either side and then up over their heads. As they raise their arms, they should imagine a big bubble around their heads that is filled with their favorite color. When their arms are just above their heads, tell them to clap their hands together, and imagine the color spilling down all over them. Repeat two or three times.
Tell the kids to pretend they are an elevator inside a tall building. Squat down low to the ground (say “first floor”), then slowly stand up, announcing each “floor” of the building as you go. When you get to the tenth floor, stretch your arms up high, and stand on your tiptoes. Then call out different floor numbers at random, moving up or down to demonstrate each one. The kids always love rapid changes, like moving from the tenth floor to the first floor. If you have time, it’s really fun to have the kids take turns calling out the floor numbers (in the camp, the kids loved to come up with challenging floor numbers, like “negative fifth floor” or “one millionth floor”).
Favorite Books to Read-Aloud
This week was my first time reading to this particular second grade, so I started with some of my all-time favorite picture books for that age group. I’ll add more of my favorites to this list throughout the year, so watch for updates.
Hilarious story about a T-Rex named Penelope who discovers that it’s hard to make new friends at school, because she keeps eating her classmates (luckily, the teacher always makes her spit them out). But when she tries to befriend the class goldfish, she learns firsthand what it’s like when someone tries to eat you.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen
This story about Annabelle and her magical box of yarn always holds the kids spellbound. They also love the illustrations, especially as Annabelle’s sweaters gradually cover everything in the town.
This book always generates lots of excitement in our area, because many of the kids have seen Claude in person at the California Academy of Sciences. Even if they haven’t, they are usually excited to learn that the story is true, and to see the photograph of Claude at the end. I often use this book to discuss the difference between fiction and nonfiction, and to introduce the idea of a biography. If you aren’t familiar with Claude, he is an albino alligator, who lived in a zoo in Florida before being moved to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The book describes how the biologists originally tried putting him with another alligator named Bonnie, but she bit Claude so badly that he lost his pinkie toe. But afterwards, he made friends with the five snapping turtles who share his enclosure.
If I had to name one surefire hit to read to an elementary school class, it would be this one, which always gets the whole class laughing hysterically, and begging for me to read it again. As the book explains, even though it may seem like no fun having someone read you a book with no pictures, the rules of reading mean that whatever the book says, the person reading the book has to say. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Second graders are the perfect audience for this book, which asks the kids to guess the answer to a rhyming riddle, accompanied by the silhouette of the person or thing in question. At first, the riddles seem so easy that even a preschooler could guess them, but the answers are always surprising, and hilarious!
This one is so much fun to read aloud, especially if you like to do different voices for the characters. It’s bedtime for the Little Red Chicken, but every time Papa tries to read her a classic fairytale, like Hansel and Gretel, she interrupts the story to give it a better ending. The kids always laugh when the little chicken says, “I’ll be good!”
Most of the second graders are very familiar with the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. So I like to share some of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading books, which are written by other popular authors. In this one, a tiger explains that he’s not afraid of anything…except WORMS! In fact, his fear of worms leads him to break a flower pot, throw away an apple, and leave a book on the ground that looks like it might be about worms (but is really about tigers!). This one always gets big laughs.
This is the second book in the Our Universe nonfiction series. In it, the Sun provides facts about himself, using kid friendly analogies and descriptions, and large, bright illustrations. This generated a lot of discussion about why Pluto isn’t a planet any more, and other bits of space trivia that the kids were eager to share.
Stay tuned for more favorite read-alouds for second grade. In the meantime, please share any of your favorites in the comments below.
When Bob the jellyfish and his crew of squid film a television special about sharks, they are shocked when Shark appears to be about to eat a fish “in front of the people!” But, Shark says, they misunderstood, he was only showing the fish his new tooth. Several other “misunderstandings” occur, including a group of beachgoers running from the beach thinking Shark is planning to eat them. But, Bob says, “you are far more likely to be bitten by another person than bitten by a shark.” I love the way this book folds facts about sharks seamlessly into the story, and the kids always laugh at Shark’s explanations.
Like Sun! One in a Billion, this conversational picture book with simple facts about the Earth generated lots of questions and comments, especially about dinosaurs and how the continents split apart. I love the timeline of Earth’s history, and the subtle environmental message at the end, followed by a hopeful message. This series does such a great job of conveying basic information in a fun, readable, kid-friendly way.
I love to introduce second graders to beginning chapter books and series they may not be familiar with, and I always have fun reading this one aloud. In this mystery, King, the dog, is upset when Kayla assumes that he ate three of the freshly baked peanut butter dog treats that she made for her friend Jillian’s new puppy, Thor. Luckily, Kayla figures out that it couldn’t have been King because his breath doesn’t smell like peanut butter. But who did take the treats? And why does King smell an intruder in the house? The kids love the way King declares everything he eats to be “my favorite food!”
This week, in honor of Earth Day on Tuesday (April 22), I did books about nature, gardening, and recycling. An exciting thing happened though: one of my regular participants, who is now in Kindergarten, asked if she could read Biscuit Goes to School by Alyssa Capucilli aloud to the group. There were a few minutes before storytime started, so I said yes. She did an amazing job, even holding up each page so the other kids could see the pictures. Afterwards, one of my other regulars asked if she could read I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems, so I told her she could read at the end of storytime, just before the craft. She did a wonderful job too! I was so proud of them both, for their developing reading skills, and especially for their bravery. I told them I know a lot of adults who would be too scared to read to a group like that, and it’s true.
One of my favorite folktales to read-aloud and perfect for Earth Day. Gecko complains to Elephant that he can’t sleep because the fireflies keep shining their lights on and off all night long. When Elephant confronts the fireflies they say they have to shine their light because Buffalo leaves poop in the road that someone might step in. But Buffalo says he is filling the holes that Rain washes out, and Rain says she is making puddles so there will be mosquitoes for Gecko to eat. The part about poop in the road always gets appreciative giggles, and the kids like joining in on the Gecko’s repeated cry of, “Geck-o! Geck-o! Geck-o!” Great story about the interconnectedness of things in nature. I love the last line, “Some things you just have to put up with.”
Another favorite of mine, and one my daughter has asked to hear over and over. Bob, a caterpillar, and Otto, a worm, are best friends who like to play together at the base of big tree. But one day Bob decides to climb high up into the tree. Otto doesn’t want to follow. Instead he digs deep down under the tree and crawls all around the roots. When the two friends meet again, Bob has transformed into a butterfly. Otto wishes he had followed Bob, so he might have grown wings too instead of just being a “big fat worm.” But Bob tells him that all his digging is what made the tree grow leaves, so he could eat and grow wings. Sweet story about friendship, as well as the importance of earthworms. This one got snatched up at the end.
When Flora’s family plants a garden, Flora plants a brick in a pot and says she is growing a house. As the seasons pass, everyone else’s plants grow and blossom, but Flora’s house never grows. But at the end of winter, they are all surprised to find that someone (a bird) has discovered Flora’s brick, and that it has become a perfect house after all. Large, colorful illustrations and simple text make this a great book for gardening themes for toddlers on up. It was quickly snatched up too.
I hadn’t thought of this as an Earth Day book until I saw it in a list somewhere, but it fits well with the “ReUse” part of the “Reduce, ReUse, Recycle” motto. When Joseph’s coat gets old and worn, he turns it into a jacket, and then a vest, a scarf, a necktie, a handkerchief, a button, and finally…a story. The charm of this book is in the cutouts that give hints to each new thing Joseph makes. The kids loved trying to guess what was coming next. This book won the Caldecott Medal in 2000.
Elephants Have Wrinkles
I did this one to go along with Go to Sleep, Gecko. I ask the kids where else elephants have wrinkles and we add in a new body part each time, while singing the song faster and faster. Click on the triangle for the tune:
Elephants have (pat legs on each syllable)
Wrinkles, Wrinkles, Wrinkles (clap hands on each syllable)
Elephants have (pat legs on each syllable)
Wrinkles (clap hands on each syllable)
Everywhere! (stomp feet on each syllable)
On their nose! Oh-oh! (touch your nose, and mime a trunk)
Repeat Elephants have wrinkles…
On their legs!
On their nose!
Two Little Blackbirds
I did this one after Flora’s Surprise:
Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill (hold up two thumbs)
One named Jack and the other named Jill.
Fly away Jack (put one thumb behind back), fly away Jill (put other thumb behind back).
Come back, Jack (bring thumb out in front), come back, Jill (bring other thumb out in front).
Two little blackbirds sitting on a cloud, One was quiet (whisper), and the other was loud (yell)…
Two little blackbirds sitting in the snow, One was fast and the other w…a…s…s…l…o…w…
Two little blackbirds sitting on a gate, One was early, and the other was… (pause)…late…. (I drag out the pause until the kids are all yelling “late!”)
INSTRUMENT PLAYALONG WITH A CD: I meant to play You Are My Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell from Sing Along with Putumayo, but that track wouldn’t play (I know from many past experiences that you should always check to make sure the song plays ahead of time, but I didn’t get a chance). Instead we did a totally random song from the same disc, although it’s a goofy one that I love: Bellybutton Song by Music for Aardvarks & Other Mammals.
CRAFT: Model Magic Earthworms
Model Magic Earthworm by Colette
To fit with Bob and Otto, we made earthworms out of Model Magic, a nontoxic Crayola air dry clay. I mixed white and red Model Magic ahead of time to make a rosy-pink color. I gave each child a hunk of the clay and a plastic knife to add the little ridges in the earthworm’s body. I also put out other colors so they could add eyes. They ended up adding all kinds of things, and each worm was completely unique.
Another great worm book, and one I shared with two second grade classes this week. A funny look at the joys and perils of being a worm. The kids especially loved the part where the worm gets so hungry, he eats his homework, then has to write, “I will not eat my homework” ten times, and then eats that too. The other Diary of books are great fun too.
I read this one to second grade too. It’s a heavy and fairly lengthy story, and I wasn’t sure how they would take it: they were uncharacteristically quiet at the end. But several kids, mostly girls, said it was their favorite. It’s based on the Sparrow War, a true event that took place in China in the 1950’s, when Mao Zedong decreed that all the sparrows should be killed to prevent them from eating the grain. The death of the sparrows and other birds left the insects free to ravage the crops, and a terrible famine ensued. Sara Pennypacker makes this the backdrop of a story about a little girl who bravely saves seven of the sparrows, and hides them away until the farmers in her village realize the terrible mistake they have made. The second graders seem fascinating by true stories, although I was sad to have to tell them that in this case it was the more hopeful part of the story that was fiction. It is a vivid portrayal of the importance of understanding the complex interactions between every living thing, and how even small environmental changes can be devastating. (This is the same message conveyed by Go to Sleep, Gecko in a much lighter, sillier way).
Simple book about easy environmental things kids can do, and how they help the Earth: “I use both sides of the paper and bring my own bags to market because…I love the trees and I want the owls to have a place to live.” Some of the connections may not be immediately clear to kids, for example, turning off the lights and shutting the refrigerator door to help the polar bears. But it’s nice to have a concrete list of ways kids can have an impact, and the colorful, multicultural, artwork is eye-catching and fun.
This was one of the most gratifying read-alouds I’ve ever shared with a group. It’s a series of riddles, with clues, rhymes, and silhouettes that all seem to be leading to an obvious answer, only the solution is always something completely unexpected. For example: He steals carrots from the neighbor’s yard./His hair is soft, his teeth are hard./His floppy ears are long and funny./Can you guess who? That’s right! My…Grandpa Ned! This worked incredibly well for second grade because they were so certain they knew the answer, and they exclaimed so loudly each time the real answer was revealed. The first class made me read it twice, so they could all shout out the real solutions.
Jack Prelutsky is a genius at children’s poetry, with a gift for humorous twists along the lines of Shel Silverstein. In this collection, a cat describes his school day to his mother, with different poems describing how his science homework dog, how he accidentally started a food fight at lunch, and even how he farted in class. In the last poem, he has to write a poem for class that has to have meter and rhyme, which gave me an opportunity to talk about meter in poetry.
This is an amazing and beautiful book. Each page features a different fairy tale: Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, etc. And each is actually two poems: the first poem reads normally, from top to bottom; the second takes the exact same poem but flips it, as if you were reading it from bottom to top, where it takes on an entirely different meaning. For example, for Red Riding Hood, the first poem is from the girl’s perspective: In my hood, / skipping through the wood, / carrying a basket, / picking berries to eat — / juicy and sweet / what a treat! / But a girl / mustn’t dawdle. / After all, Grandma’s waiting! The second poem uses the same lines in reverse to show the wolf’s point of view: After all, Grandma’s waiting, / mustn’t dawdle… / But a girl! / What a treat — / juicy and sweet, picking berries to eat, / carrying a basket, / skipping through the wood / in my ‘hood. The kids especially loved the illustrations, which mirror the way one thing transforms into another: the wolves legs becoming the trees in the forest, the seven dwarves’ mine becoming the evil queen’s face. A brilliantly executed poetry collection that could make for a fun, and challenging poetry assignment. The second graders were mesmerized.
OTHER POETRY BOOKS:
There were lots of other books I could have shared, including almost any rhyming picture books. Some of my favorites:
I read this to some second grade classes last year, and it was a huge hit! Each poem features the woes of a different monster: the Phantom of the Opera can’t get It’s a Small World out of his head; Count Dracula has spinach in his teeth; Big Foot is tired of being mistaken for the Yeti. Very funny and off-the-wall.
A great book to illustrate how writers can use words to mimic sounds or experiences, in this case Charlie Parker’s jazz rendition of A Night in Tunisia. I’ve read this book so many times to both of my kids that I can almost recite it from memory, and it’s a blast to read aloud: Be bop. Fisk Fisk. Lollipop. Boomba Boomba The language captures the play and joyful unexpectedness of jazz music.
March 31 is Opening Day for Major League Baseball, and most of the kids in Pacifica are already deep into softball and Little League practice. So this week, I did a storytime about baseball. Here’s what we read:
This book is nominated for the 2014-2015 California Young Reader Medal, and I had already shared it with some second grade classes last month. It’s a rhyming story about a boy who is terrible at baseball, but a genius at invention. When he looks through his telescope and sees a giant fireball rocketing towards Earth, Randy Riley quickly invents a robot who hits the greatest home run ever, and saves the town. This one was a really big hit with the kids in my storytime group, and quickly got snatched up at the end.
The story about a dog baseball game featuring a big golden retriever named Homer, this is an adorable, funny book told in photographs. The kids got into a mini-scuffle over who would get to check it out.
An illustrated version of the classic Abbott and Costello routine. This would be a fun one to read with a partner, or use for Reader’s Theater. The illustrator makes each player (Who, What, I Don’t Know, etc.) a different animal, making them easy to identify as the joke continues. I’m not sure that all the kids got the joke, but they laughed as the dialogue got more heated and complicated, and several of them asked to check it out at the end.
The Froggy books are always a hit, especially because the kids love joining in on yelling, “FROGGGYYY!” (It’s a great opportunity to point out the word on the page too, which is important for pre-readers). In this book, Froggy makes several mistakes at his T-ball game: throwing himself out, catching actual flies instead of fly balls, and finally running towards his real home, instead of home plate.
B-I-N-G-O! I sang this to go along with Homer, and used a dog puppet, who barked the missing letters, and licked the kids’ faces in between verses.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game We did this as a sing-along, and I played it on the ukelele. (I found the chords on Ultimate-Guitar.com).
INSTRUMENT PLAY-ALONG WITH A CD: I’m Gonna’ Catch You by Laurie Berkner, from Under a Shady Tree: a catchy song with a brief baseball reference.
CRAFT: Model Magic Baseballs
Model Magic Baseballs, Soccer Balls, and a Bat by Olivia
This ended up being a lot of fun. Originally, I had planned to just use white Model Magic for the ball, and have the kids draw in the lines for the seams with a red marker. But I had a tiny bit of red Model Magic left in my bin, along with a package of black, so the kids ended up rolling thin strips of the red for the baseball seams instead. They also used the black to make soccer balls, and some of them even made baseball bats.
If you aren’t familiar with Model Magic, it’s a soft, light, air-dry modeling clay made by Crayola, and available in most craft stores and on Amazon.com. It worked beautifully for the balls, because it actually bounces. It’s also light enough that, even if the kids threw the balls at one another, they wouldn’t hurt. My son has used Model Magic for years to make little models of whatever he was interested in at the time: Pokemon, Mario, etc. It’s far less messy than Play-Doh, and really easy to manipulate.
OTHER BASEBALL BOOKS
I also read baseball books to two classes of second graders this week, which was fun because I could share some of the longer ones. Here’s what I read:
The second graders enjoyed this true story about George Herman Ruth, who was such a troublemaker as a child that his parents sent him away to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. St. Mary’s was strict (the boys could even be whipped if they so much as talked at mealtime), but the one thing that George loved there was baseball. After he became a professional ball player, he heard that St. Mary’s had been destroyed in a fire, so he invited the school’s band to join him for the rest of the baseball season, and raised money to help them rebuild. Very readable, with large, colorful illustrations.
A funny follow-up to the old poem, Casey at the Bat. In this story, Casey hits the ball, which rockets off over the fence, knocks the Tower of Pisa, breaks the nose off the Sphinx, scares the dinosaurs into hiding, and plummets back onto the field, where Casey is flied out. The kids enjoyed the outrageous silliness of it, and it gave me a chance to put in a plug for Gutman’s chapter book series, The Baseball Card Adventures. These are sports adventure stories for slightly older kids (grades 4-8) about a boy who uses baseball cards to travel back in time to meet famous ball players.
One of the second grade teachers had this book in her classroom, and pulled it out so the kids could hear the original poem. Some of the vocabulary is a bit advanced, but the illustrations by C. F. Payne do a great job of conveying the story. The kids all seemed to enjoy it.
This was the favorite of a lot of the boys. Another picture book biography by Matt Tavares (author of Becoming Babe Ruth). This one tells the story of Ted Williams’ rise to fame as the greatest hitter who ever lived. It includes an exciting anecdote about how his plane was damaged by enemy fire in the Korean War, forcing him to choose between ejecting and possibly breaking his legs, or taking his chances with a crash. The kids also were appreciatively grossed out by the description of Williams hitting until blood streamed down his hands. My only complaint about this book is that the kids were curious about when Williams lived and died, which wasn’t included in the text or the notes at the end. But the kids in both classes loved it.
What are your favorite picture books about baseball?
St. Patrick’s Day is a terrible holiday for storytime. Sure, there are several picture books about leprechauns and lots of adapted Irish folk tales, but they are almost all far too long to read to a preschool or toddler group. Often I end up making it a “green” theme for that age group. That was what I had originally planned for this week too, but instead of Family Storytime, we had a guest from the Spindrift School of Performing Arts lead a Movement and Music class, so I was off the hook.
This week though, I read to two classes of second graders, so I finally got to share the longer books. It was actually a lot of fun. The kids seemed to enjoy all of them (they’ve gotten in the habit of voting for their favorites at the end, and each of the books got a fair number of votes). Plus I got to try out my Irish accent (admittedly I was a bit nervous to learn that one of the teachers was a first generation Irish-American, whose parents immigrated here before she was born). Luckily she didn’t seem offended. (By the way, if you enjoy playing around with accents, my friend Mai recently sent me this link from the BBC, where a dialect coach named Andrew Jack gives a quick overview of different accents across the UK).
An original story about St. Patrick’s attempts to rid Ireland of its last snake. After trying to trick, and then capture, the snake in a wooden box, St. Patrick saves it from a eagle, and finally drops it into Loch Ness in Scotland, where it grows into the Loch Ness Monster. It’s hard to find a book about St. Patrick that doesn’t delve too much into theology (always a bit risky in a public school or library setting), so this was a fun way to represent him. Many of the kids, especially the boys, said this book was their favorite.
Based on an Irish folk tale that DePaola heard from his grandfather, this is the story of Jamie O’Rourke, a man so lazy he would never lift a finger to help feed himself and his wife. Then one day, he captures a leprechaun, who tricks him into accepting a potato seed instead of his pot of gold. Jamie plants the seed, and grows the biggest potato in the world. The whole town ends up eating it all winter long, until everyone is so sick of potatoes that they offer to keep Jamie and his wife supplied with food all year, as long as Jamie O’Rourke doesn’t plant another potato seed. It would be fun to do a planting activity along with this book, and let the kids plant potato eyes to grow their own potatoes.
Someone is eating bites out of the cupcakes and cookies in Mr. Eliot’s classroom. The kids suspect the new kid, Kevin O’Malley, until they discover there’s a leprechaun hiding in the ceiling. Kevin helps them catch the naughty thief, and makes him promise to grant them one wish: a field trip to the moon. The kids really enjoyed this one, and spent several minutes afterwards talking about what they would wish for: mostly they wanted money or infinite wishes. This one actually is short enough to share with preschoolers, and I have read it at library storytimes in the past. It is also one of a series of books about Lucky O’Leprechaun.
A lonely man lives in the mountains with only his books, the fairies, and his goat Finny for company. Until one day the fairies enchant his goat to make him talk. The two head off to the fair in Killorglin, where Finny is crowned King Puck for a day, and granted one wish: more books to read. This book was a huge hit, mostly because of the illustrations. The kids kept commenting on how they “almost look real” (they are computer-generated), and they loved pointing out the fairies hiding on each page. The note at the back of the book explains about the history of the King Puck contest, which really is held every year in Killorglin. The girls especially liked this one, and I think it would probably work for a preschool storytime.
An original story about a hungry man who finds an even hungrier leprechaun. The man, Patrick O’Callahan, badgers the leprechaun into trying to conjure up some gold, but the leprechaun has forgotten how to do magic. His attempts to make gold out of dandelion soup and the sunbeams on the floor yield them nothing but a puddle full of frogs, but when he tries to enchant the rocks, they turn into something white and tasty that feeds them both and everyone else. The kids liked the part where the leprechaun says something like, “We boiled them in a POT and ATE them. We should call them POT-ATE-o’s.” Several kids commented on how only every other page is in color, and the color is limited, which gave me a chance to discuss how printing in color used to be expensive, and was usually used sparingly (this book was published in 1962, and unfortunately appears to be out of print).
What are your favorite books for Saint Patrick’s Day?
Twice a month, I get to read to two groups of second graders at a local school. It’s so much fun to share books with them, especially since I get to explore longer stories, and talk about connections between books and authors that I don’t usually get to cover in my library storytimes. They love to jump in with things they notice about the story: “This one rhymes!” or “This is a circle story!” And they often catch things in the illustrations that I never noticed.
One of my favorite things to do with them is to read the Primary level picture books that are nominated for the California Young Reader Medal, and have them vote for the one they want to win (unfortunately, I just realized that I will have to wait until April to submit their votes to the CYRM committee). The nominees are announced every February, and the winning books are announced on May 1. I had already shared the 2013-2014 nominees with them earlier in the year (here’s my post from the storytime I did based on those). This week I shared the nominees for next year.
The rules specify that in order to be eligible to vote, students have to first read or listen to all of the books nominated in a particular category. Here are the Primary Level books for this year:
Last year’s nominees included Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies, so it was funny to find yet another rhyming baseball book in this year’s batch. I hadn’t run across this one before the nominees were announced, but I can see why it was chosen. The kids loved it. It’s the story of Randy Riley, a kid genius who is terrible at baseball, but great at astronomy. One night he sees a massive fireball barreling towards his hometown. No one believes him. It is up to Randy to save the day by building a giant robot, who hits the biggest home run ever. This is a fun read-aloud in solid rhymed verse with a lot of dramatic build-up. A number of the kids recognized Van Dusen’s distinctive illustration style from the Mercy Watson series (several of them also said his drawings reminded them of the movie Meet the Robinsons, which is actually based on a picture book by William Joyce.) This book got 7 votes from the first class, and 5 from the second.
This was one of my favorite books published in 2013. I loved it so much that I gave it as a end-of-year-gift to my son’s third grade teacher. I was happy to see it in the list of nominees, and many of the kids, having heard it read by their own teacher, were excited to see it as well. It’s the story of an exclamation mark in a world full of periods. No matter how much he tries to blend in, he always stands out. One day he meets a question mark, who asks him so many questions that he shocks them both by shouting, “STOP!” And he realizes he has a gift. This is such a clever and perfectly executed metaphor about celebrating our differences, and a great punctuation lesson as well. The illustrations are whimsical and simple, and drawn on the kind of lined paper that kids use for learning how to write. Although the second class didn’t vote for it, this book got 6 votes from the first class.
A librarian book! A little girl is bothered by her school librarian’s boundless (and often goofy) enthusiasm for books, especially when she is asked to share a favorite book of her own. The girl is convinced that she will never love a book as much as Miss Brooks does, until she reads Shrek. I had fun sharing this one (especially reading all the girl’s complaints about the librarian), and the kids enjoyed pointing out characters from books they recognized, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This book got 3 votes from the first class, and 4 from the second.
I hadn’t seen this book before the nominee announcement either, but the kids loved it! Before I read it, I asked them what the word “Too” in the title meant, and we talked briefly about the meanings of too, to, and two. The title is actually a pun, because there are two too tall houses in the story. The book is about a rabbit and an owl who live side-by-side until one day they get in a private war to build the tallest house. Soon their two houses are towering high above the earth, making them both unhappy until the wind blows them down. The illustrations are gorgeous and funny, and got a number of laughs from the kids. This book got 8 votes in both classes, which made it the favorite in the first, tied for first in the second, and was the clear favorite overall. It was my daughter’s favorite as well.
Before I read this one, I asked the kids what other books they knew by Mo Willems. Many of them recognized his name from the Gerald and Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon books. I pointed out that this book, although written by Mo Willems, was illustrated by someone with a completely different art style. The text is a departure from Willems’ other books too. It’s a bittersweet story about a dog and a frog who play together during different seasons. In Spring they play Country Frog games like splashing and croaking. In Summer they play City Dog games like sniffing and barking. In Fall Frog is tired, so they remember the fun times of the past. In Winter, when City Dog rushes to the frog’s rock, he finds himself all alone. Then in Spring, while he waits sadly for his friend, he meets a chipmunk, and makes a new friend. This was a somber book compared to the others, but it’s subtle and sweet nonetheless. When I asked the kids what they thought happened to the frog, most of them said that he probably died, but some thought he might be hibernating. I appreciate that Willems leaves that ambiguous. I wasn’t sure how this book would go over, given the more serious tone, but it got 6 votes from the first class, and 8 from the second (tying with Too Tall Houses for that class).
Which book would you vote for? And what would you nominate for next year? The guidelines specify that the books have to be written by a living author and published within the past four years, which is pretty broad. At the end of this school year, I think I’ll ask the second graders which books they would like to see in next year’s nominee list.
Yet another holiday-themed storytime. Fortunately, Valentine’s Day comes with much better picture book options. (Thanksgiving is terrible, and don’t even get me started on St. Patrick’s Day). I actually had a great day reading to different age groups: two classes of second graders, and then my family storytime, which included several of my regular Kindergartners, as well as some new toddlers.
I love the Froggy books. Yes, they tend to follow the same pattern: Froggy makes lots of mistakes, adults are always yelling at him, and towards the end, he always gets embarrassed and turns “more red in the face than green.” But they are fun to read aloud, have funny illustrations, and the kids love them. Plus, they are a wonderful opportunity for teaching print awareness, which helps young children understand the connection between the words they hear and the writing on the page (a recent study found that students whose teachers called attention to printed words while reading aloud performed much better on reading tests up to two years later). With the Froggy books, I like to show the kids the places where someone yells out “F-R-O-G-G-Y!” (a words that’s usually written in bright bold letters across the page). I tell them to watch for that word, and then join in. In this story, Froggy is smitten by the new girl at school, Frogilina, who always gives him a surprise at lunch. One day, she gives him a kiss! Blaahhh! I love that Froggy is not interested in romance, and that he gives his special Valentine to his mom (plus he serves her breakfast in bed!). There were several eager kids asking to check this one out.
Splat is another popular picture book series. In this one Splat, a fluffy black cat, wants to give a Valentine to Kitten, even though every time he sees her, she “pulls his ears, and pokes his belly, ties his tail and calls him smelly.” To make matters worse, Spike, the big bully cat at his school, likes Kitten too. The illustrations are adorable, and the kids always giggle at the parts where Kitten calls Splat smelly. This one got snatched up too.
I love this wild West parody of “My Darling, Clementine,” about a man who tries to send his true love a message, but things never go his way. The mailman can’t find her address, the homing pigeon flies to Madagascar, the Pony Express messenger gets bucked clear to Arizona. The parents seemed to get the humor more than the kids, but I was grateful to have this book because some of the toddlers were getting restless after the two longer books, and the singing in this one seemed to draw them back in. Alison Jackson also wrote the wonderful I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, which is one of my Thanksgiving mainstays.
One day just before Valentine’s Day, it starts raining hearts. Cornelia Augusta catches several and uses them to make special Valentine’s for each of her animal friends: a ring of hearts for the dog; a heart with a cotton ball in the middle for the rabbit; a big heart with holes cut in it for the mouse. This one was a great lead-in for the heart craft we did at the end. I was planning to throw some small paper hearts like confetti, but I forgot.
Skidamarink-a-Dink-a-Dink:I like to teach the kids how to say “I Love You” in sign language, and we do that each time it comes up in the song. Here’s a very trippy animated video of the song, with the lyrics in the subtitles.
Five Green and Speckled Frogs:We did this one after the Froggy book. I have the kids stand up and jump up and down on the line, “One jumped into the pool.” I often do this with a frog puppet, and pretend it is catching flies on the kids’ heads. Here’s an animated video for this song.
If All the Raindrops: We sang this song before The Day It Rained Hearts. As I did last week, I asked the kids for suggestions of what they’d like the rain to be and we made up our own verses. Our rain was made up of milkshakes, pie, cookies, and lots of other goodies.
I cut out paper hearts in all different sizes and colors, and gave the kids glue sticks, white cardstock, and markers. I had made an example page featuring several types of heart animals, but in the end all the kids did different things, and it was great fun to see what they came up with. One little girl even taped several pink hearts together and made me a bracelet, which I thought was a neat idea.
I read this one to the second graders, and it worked really well. When Nate’s dog Sludge receives a mysterious Valentine, Nate is on the job to find out who sent it. But then his friend Annie begs him to help her find the missing Valentine she made for her brother, giving him two cases at once. In the end, Nate is horrified to discover that someone has given him a Valentine. The book includes a section of craft ideas, jokes, and facts about Valentine’s Day, which were fun to share with the class.
This was a nice counterpoint to the Nate the Great, although I have to tell myself several pages before the end not to get choked up. It’s a lengthy picture book about a lonely man named Mr. Hatch, who has no friends or family, and keeps to himself. Then one day the mailman delivers a big box of chocolates with a card that says, “Somebody Loves You!” and Mr. Hatch’s whole life changes. Wondering who could have sent the chocolates, he reaches out to help people in his community, and bakes brownies for his neighbors. When the mailman discovers that he accidentally delivered the package to the wrong address, Mr. Hatch goes back to his lonely ways, thinking nobody loved him after all. But by then, of course, everybody does.
Great board book for toddlers and preschoolers. When Lilly gets a chocolate heart for Valentine’s Day, she wants to save it. But there seem to be no good hiding places. In the end, she finds the perfect place: in her mouth!
Cute, rhyming lift the flap book featuring different animals giving each other the things they like best. Preschoolers enjoy guessing what’s under the flap based on the animal and the rhyme: a bone for the dog, cream for the cat, etc.
What are your favorite picture books about Valentine’s Day?
This past Monday, I woke up early to catch the ALA Youth Media Awards online. I was most curious about the Caldecott Medal because I had promised to read the medal winner and the Caldecott honor books to two classes of third graders later that morning.
I’ll confess that I was a little dismayed by the results. Yes, they were all wonderful choices, but the winning book was extremely wordy, and all three of the honor books were wordless, or nearly wordless. Sharing wordless books with a large group is a bit of a challenge. But a promise is a promise, so I shared all four books with both classes that day, and with two classes of second graders later that week.
I was especially nervous about reading the Medal winner, Locomotive by Brian Floca. It’s a mini-history lesson that recreates a trip from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California by train in the 19th century. Floca packs an enormous amount of detail into the text, including how the railroad was built, how the train was operated, and the range of landscapes it passed through. It’s too long to share with the toddler and preschool groups I usually read to, so I had never read it aloud to a group, and wasn’t sure if it would hold the kids’ interest. I was relieved to find that it did.
Floca knows his audience well. Amid all the facts about the train and the railroad, he throws in little details to grab kids’ attention. All four classes were gleefully disgusted by the idea that the toilet dumped out onto the tracks, and that you could tell if a switchman (the man responsible for hitching the engine to the train) was new to his job if he still had all his fingers. Floca also portrays visually the rickety terror of the narrow wooden trestles, the darkness of the rough-hewn mountain tunnels, and the dangers that could befall a train with a careless engineer.
By the time I read to the second grade, I was actually looking forward to sharing the journey. I told the kids we were going to go on a train ride. I showed them the map on the inside cover, illustrating how the track was built in two parts that met in Promontory Summit in Utah. And then I read the book. Along the way, we talked about the different landscapes, and what it would have been like to travel them by wagon before the railroad was built. We talked about the telegraph, and what it meant to be able to send messages quickly across the country.
The kids seemed truly engaged by the book, exclaiming over the details, and asking questions about the illustrations and the current state of the railroad (I just read that most of the original track is gone, but parts of it are still in use. Here’s a wikipedia article with a lot more detail). But I wasn’t sure how the book had gone over until yesterday, when I ran into the mother of one of the second grade boys. She said, “My son said you read the best book to his class! Something about a locomotive. He never tells me anything that happens in school, so it must have really made an impression on him.”
So kudos to Brian Floca for making history so exciting that kids even want to talk about it after school!
I did “read” the Caldecott Honor books to the classes as well, and they loved them. They exclaimed over every page of Journey by Aaron Becker, a beautiful wordless story about a girl’s adventure with a magical red crayon. I loved that in every class, around the fourth or fifth page, the light would dawn across the group, and they’d all start saying things like: “This is like…” “This reminds me of…” “That book!” “The kid with the purple crayon!” And I’d have to stop while they put the pieces together, until finally someone would shout out, “Harold and the Purple Crayon!” It was so much fun to see them making connections, and getting excited about the story as it unfolded.
My favorite part was when the bird brings the captured girl her red crayon, and she draws a rectangle on the floor of her cage. “What is she drawing?” I asked. “An escape hatch!” someone would shout. “A door!” And then I’d turn the page, and as a class they would exclaim, “A flying carpet!” and you could hear the wonder and excitement in their voices. Sharing this book made me feel like a magician. I loved every minute of it.
Since the kids had been sitting for a while by now, for Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo I had them stand up and try to emulate the motions of the flamingo, the way the little girl in the book does. This got lots of giggles, especially when they had to put their heads between their legs, the part that makes the little girl fall down. This is a charming book, especially for fans of ballet, and several kids (admittedly mostly girls) said it was their favorite.
All four classes loved Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner. I explained that David Wiesner had won the Caldecott Medal three times already (for Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam) and a Caldecott Honor for Sector 9. Clearly he knows what he’s doing. Mr. Wuffles is a comic book-style story about a spaceship full of tiny green aliens who nearly fall prey to a big black-and-white cat named Mr. Wuffles. The portrayal of the cat, who disdains all of his actual toys, but torments the poor aliens, is spot on. The kids loved the confab between the aliens and the ants, who plot out an escape plan together. And it’s fascinating to think about an ant civilization, complete with history that they record on the walls. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to convey the story to such a large group, since there is so much tiny detail in the illustrations, but they loved it.
At the end of the classes, I asked them to vote on the book they liked the best. All the books had several votes, but Mr. Wuffles was the clear winner. Granted, I had read that one last, so it was freshest in their memories. But I figure David Wiesner is kind of the Meryl Streep of the Caldecott Awards. We all know everything he does is award-worthy, but they can’t give him the award every year.
Anyway, in spite of my trepidation at sharing what seemed like four challenging books, the kids loved all of them, and I ended up having a blast. Many thanks to the members of this year’s Caldecott Award Selection Committee!
Every January, I try to do a series of storytimes related to the upcoming announcement of the newest winner of the Caldecott Medal. This year’s winner will be announced on Monday, January 27 at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association.
This week, I read some of my favorite Caldecott Medal Winners from previous years, both for my Family Storytime, and to two classes of second graders. But before I get to those, it occurred to me that I had never thought to wonder who Randolph Caldecott was, and how the award came to be named after him. So I looked him up.
According to the Randolph Caldecott Society UK web page, Caldecott was a British artist, who lived from 1846-1886, and was known for his children’s book illustrations. Every year, he would select or write a collection of stories and rhymes, which he would illustrate and publish at Christmastime. The books were enormously popular, and brought him international fame. Like many of the best children’s authors and illustrators (Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, and Beatrix Potter to name a few), Caldecott never had children of his own. Sadly, he suffered from heart problems and gastritis, and died a few weeks before his 40th birthday, while traveling in St. Augustine, Florida.
I haven’t been able to find an explanation for why the American Library Association in 1937 decided to name the medal after Randolph Caldecott. After all, according to the guidelines, the award-winning artist “must be a citizen or resident of the United States,” and Caldecott was British. Why not name it after an American illustrator like Johnny Gruelle, Wanda Gág or N.C. Wyeth? My only guess is that it had to do with the quality of Caldecott’s illustrations, and the seamless way he integrated them with the text. Maurice Sendak is quoted as saying, “Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it.” And that is the quality that defines the best picture books.
It amazing the range of reactions I get whenever I read this book aloud. I remember sharing it with some second grade classes last year where some of the kids were very nervous. In one class, every time the little fish bragged about his certainty that the big fish whose hat he stole would never find him, this one boy would say, “No! Don’t say that! He’s going to eat you!” This year, though, all the second graders laughed. The Kindergartners at storytime, however, looked concerned. The fish is so shockingly naughty and brazen (although, of course, most of the best and most memorable children’s book heroes are naughty). The beauty of the book, though, is that the ending is unspoken. Klassen leaves you with the image of the big fish wearing his hat, and leaves the rest to your imagination. So when I asked my storytime group what happened at the end, they said, “The big fish got his hat back.” The second graders, on the other hand, said, “The little fish got eaten.”
I think about this book every time I stand on a swivel chair, which I do often, in spite of this being in part a cautionary tale about that very thing. My only complaint about this book is that it’s really one you want to sit down with and pore over by yourself, to enjoy all the humor in the illustrations, and some of that gets lost in a storytime setting. But the kids love it anyway. At my family storytime, many of them exclaimed over it when they first saw me pull it out of the stack, so clearly they had heard it before (and hopefully had a chance to look at it up close). Officer Buckle’s safety speeches suddenly become a big hit at schools when he is partnered up with a new police dog named Gloria, until Officer Buckle discovers why. This is a wonderful story about a friendship and the importance of working together, and it has great safety tips besides.
I remember being surprised the first time I saw this book, because the style was so drastically different from Henkes’ other books like Chysanthemum and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. But since then, this has become one of my favorite read-alouds (along with A Good Day, which is perfect for toddlers). The language in this book is so simple, and compelling: ”It was Kitten’s first full moon. When she saw it, she thought, there’s a little bowl of milk in the sky. And she wanted it.” The story is funny because of all of Kitten’s mistakes and accidents, but you also feel her frustration, so it is deeply satisfying when she comes home wet and exhausted to find her own bowl of milk on the porch. There was a little tussle over who was going to get to check this one out after I read it.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t ever noticed the mouse and the red balloon that appear several times throughout this book, until one of the second graders pointed them out. And then I was instantly transported back to reading Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann with my son when he was small, and trying to find the red balloon and mouse on every page. It’s a subtle reference, but I loved it. The kids loved the pictures of the zoo animals packed into the bus to visit their sick zookeeper friend, and the idea of the owl being afraid of the dark.
1,2,3,4,5, I Caught I Fish Alive
B-I-N-G-O To go along with Officer Buckle and Gloria, I brought out the library’s St. Bernard hand puppet (who likes to lick people’s faces), and we barked the missing letters.
For this craft, I cut out pieces for the kids to color and assemble the little fish from This is Not My Hat, and brought some plants from my yard for them to glue down.
I originally had a crazy idea for taping the fish to a piece of yarn, and cutting a slit in the paper, so it would look like the fish was disappearing behind the plants when you pulled the yarn. But I would have needed thicker paper, and it seemed to complicated for the short time the kids had to assemble the craft. Still, I mocked it up with my daughter, and even though we tried it with construction paper, which is flimsy, she still had a lot of fun playing with it.
I drew the fish shapes freehand, and they’re not great, but if you’d like the template, you can print it out here: fishtemplate
Along with A Sick Day for Amos McGee and This is Not My Hat, I read these four books to some second grade classes this week:
This is one of my absolutely favorite Caldecott winners to read aloud, although I usually share it with older kids. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked, danced, ran, and lay on a tightrope across the Twin Towers. It was an illegal act, so he and some friends disguised themselves as construction workers, then carried the 400 pound cable up the elevator, and then up ten flights of stairs to the roof. Getting the wire across the gap was a harrowing experience all its own, and at one point, the cable fell, pulling Petit’s friends in the other tower to the edge of the roof. And then he stepped out onto the wire, a quarter of a mile above the ground. The illustrations in this book are dizzying. The kids are always transfixed. And even though Petit broke the law (yes, another naughty character, but a real one!), he did so ready to face the consequences. After he stepped off the wire, he held out his hands for the cuffs. He was sentenced to perform in Central Park for free. There is one line at the end of the book that says, “Now the towers are gone,” and always, always the kids ask why. The first year I read it, I wasn’t prepared, and in the pause while I tried to frame my answer, I could hear a bunch of kids exclaiming to each other the bits of information they knew. Fortunately, I knew that this year on September 11 the principal at the school had spoken to all of the classes in the school, explaining about the tragedy, and telling the kids that they should “remember the heroes.” So this time, when the question came, I was able to remind them of that, and, while I’m sure they still had questions, they seemed to accept that. That question is the only reason I haven’t read this book at my regular storytime, since I’m not sure how comfortable my storytime parents will be with whatever explanation I give, and the inevitable questions that will follow. But otherwise, this is an exhilarating book, and one of the best examples of a nonfiction picture book I know.
I shared this book with the second grade because I wanted to show them that they all knew at least one Caldecott winner. This book is so much a part of our popular children’s culture now (most of the kids had seen the movie too), but I also wanted them to stop and think about how revolutionary the book and the art were when it first came out. Max is the ultimate naughty character, fulfilling that fantasy all kids probably have of running away and going wild. I like to mention how controversial this story was, even down to the last line. In an interview, Sendak once talked about an argument he had with his editor, Ursula Nordstrom, “One of the fights I had with Ursula—and her whole office—though it seems silly now, was with the last line of the book [about Max’s dinner]: “and it was still hot.” It bothered a lot of people, and they wanted me to change it to “and it was still warm.” Warm doesn’t burn your tongue. There is something dangerous in “hot.” It does burn your tongue. Hot is the trouble you can get into. But I won.” We were lucky Sendak was always a bit like Max.
This was one of my favorite books as a child, and I still love it. Sylvester the donkey is thrilled to find a pebble that makes wishes come true, until he has a run-in with a dangerous lion, and accidentally wishes he were a rock. Steig really draws out the drama of Sylvester, helpless and alone on the hill as the seasons pass, while his parents worry and mourn. Of course, it has a joyfully happy ending, where the family is reunited, and they decide to lock the magic pebble away, at least for a while, realizing that now that they were together again, “they all had all that they wanted.” Before I read this book, I usually tell the kids that William Steig wrote the picture book Shrek, which, oddly, most of them have never seen, although most of them have seen the movies.
I made the mistake of reading this book last to one of the classes, and it was a bit too long. Still, it’s a fun collection of facts about the presidents, both the traits that many of them shared, as well as the things that made each one unique. The illustrations by David Small are colorful and funny, and there are some great quotes scattered throughout the text. My favorite is from Ulysses S. Grant, about his own musical ability, “I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle, and the other isn’t.” This is a great book to share on President’s Day or around Election time.
You can find the complete list of Caldecott Medal winners here. Please tell me your favorites, and more importantly, who do you think will win this year?