Saturday, March 28, 2015

What I'm Reading Now: The Last 10--#91-100

I have to admit, at books #41-50, I didn’t think I was going to make it. One-hundred picture books is one thing to read; it is quite another to stick to “plans”, take notes and analyze each and every book. I wish I could add everything that comes to my mind about these 100 books and those I did not include but felt compelled to read.

There are new synaptic connections in my brain. I am bursting with ideas!

While there are still three days left of ReFoReMo, I want to make sure to give a shout-out to Carrie Charley Brown for pushing all the participants to take this journey together.
Thanks, Carrie!

Much love,

p.s. Thanks to my local libraries for letting me check out 30lbs of books at a time.

91. ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET by Oliver Jeffers 2014 Philomel Books
(PB/3rd POV/alphabet-themed stories-alliteration-noir)

WHY: Jeffers is my #1 new author in picture books.He has a wicked sense of humor that borders the weird and teeters the inappropriately absurd.

WHAT: There are so many things to love about this book. Each short story of course focuses on one letter of the alphabet for it’s main theme or character. There is alliteration. There is irony. There are stories that are mysteries that connect to the others in the book. (I love that...makes me jump around to read!)

HOW: As a mentor text, this one really makes me think about what it is that appeals to the ADD/ADHD child. In my own classrooms, I often sit next to a struggling student and help them “track” a linear story. But now I’m thinking maybe it isn’t the story--it’s the book! Why DOES an enjoyable book have to be linear in plot? I remember enjoying CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books in that physical-flip-through-pages ability. This is what Jeffers brings to ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET.

92. DANGEROUS by Tim Warnes 2014 Tiger Tales(PB/3rd POV/words-adjectives-nouns-friendship)

WHY: After yesterday’s post by on ReFoReMo about noir tales for children, I really had to think about what stories I like versus what stories kids like. (And the mere thought reminded me that I needed to grab some kids I know for a serious reading panel!) I know kids would like this book!

WHAT: While NOT MY HAT ends on a dastardly note, this one doesn’t. When you think it does...hold on! Reminiscent of another of my new favorites, BUNNIES! Tim Warnes keeps this DANGEROUS! story away from the dark.

HOW: Definitely consider reading the two books, BUNNIES! and DANGEROUS! together. They have the same themes and treat them in the plot similarly. It’s worth comparing. With this book though, it’s interesting to contrast how it is different. BUNNIES! is a stage 1 story: plot and characters. DANGEROUS! is a stage 2: plot, characters and something ELSE--a love/desire of the mole for words that he doesn’t want to share. (I’ll be looking for that stage 3 book!)

93.RED A CRAYON’S STORY by Michael Hall 2015 Greenwillow Books
(PB/Told by pencil-1st POV/acceptance-differences-stereotypes-labels)

WHY: This was a book I picked up based on reviews. It is being talked about on Twitter, Facebook--everywhere. Now I know why...

WHAT: I love, love, LOVE how Michael has taken a typical problem from elementary children and made it into a story about diversity and acceptance. Red is different. The other characters (and even the pencil who manages to seem some what smarter-sharper maybe?- than the rest) suggest that Red find new friends and try new things. Everyone has a solution. In the end, the reader learns that labels can be wrong and labels can sometimes be hurtful.

HOW: There are so many levels of word meaning stuffed into this story. I would definitely have older students discuss the “shades” of meaning and symbolism in words such as the name of a color (pink over hot-pink) and double meanings such as the word “label.” Along with the story, STICK AND STONE, as a writer, think outside of the typical uses of the objects themselves when using inanimate objects as characters. It’s amazing how much we personify and “label” objects that surround us. (And don’t forget the theme-- We need to use more books about diversity and acceptance in classrooms!)

94. IN MY HEART:  A BOOK OF FEELINGS by Jo Witek Illustrated by Christine Roussey 2013 Abrams Appleseed (PB/1st POV/feelings)

WHY: Yep. The cover and the 3-D interactive changing hearts on each page caught my eye!

WHAT: What a beautiful book! The author has personified her heart: it feels, it reacts, it aches. The book is filled with metaphors and similes and has a few idioms dropped in as well. The verses read like a lullaby. They are soft and almost a whisper, but they are powerful and sometimes sad too.

HOW: There are many ways to discuss emotions in picture books. I prefer books like this one. It takes an indirect approach by using the heart instead of the child herself. Kiddos talk like that. In an elementary classroom, this would be a great text to build onto. Experiment by writing how else does a heart feel? As a writer, think about other ways to express different emotions other than stating them directly.

95. STICK AND STONE by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(PB/3rd POV/friendship-bullies)

WHY: I am a big fan of inanimate objects personified. By changing characters to inanimate objects, writers have worlds of possibilities to explore!

WHAT: Beth has written the entire story using very few words and very short sentences. Even shorter than short. I would give credit to Tom for creating such wonderful illustrations, but I honestly feel that the specific choices that Beth has made are all the difference!

HOW: I like using this book as a mentor text for studying characterization of inanimate objects. Beth begins with the shapes of each: “A zero. A one.” She builds on this by using their natural characteristics such as rolling and the way a stick gets stuck. Try writing an entire journal entry based on the study of one object. What would it’s personality be? What would it do? What would it like? This would be a fun exercise for students as well.

96. BUNNIES!!! by Kevan Atteberry 2015 Katherine Tegen Books (PB/3rd POV/unlikely friendships)

WHY: There is only a week left until Easter. And this one is about bunnies.’s simple.(Sometimes I pick books out like that.)

WHAT: When my boys were little, I loved (and so did they) the Little Bunny Foo Foo story. It was repetitive and silly. It has consequences. BUNNIES!!! is like that. Kevan uses a series of threes: the first set is sweet, the 2nd set is sad, the third set is a bit depressing but then, the bunnies change the story around and befriend the main, bunny-obsessed, character. And as a bonus, the ending starts the cycle over again: Birdies!

HOW: This simple story has taught me so much as a mentor text. The obvious build happens with a subtle twist of words. As a writer, it is beneficial to have a book like my WORD MENU or an EMOTIONAL THESAURUS to help when you’ve used every synonym possible but need one that is ever-so-slightly off the mark!

97. ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld 2014 Beach Lane Books (PB/3rd POV/sharing-counting-matching)

WHY: It’s illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. I heard him read this at a Illinois Reading Conference and fell in love with the story then.

WHAT: If you are looking for a picture book with fun, wacky rhymes and a menagerie of animals, this is the book for you! When reading a book that works so smoothly, I can’t help but think, “Wow. The author makes this look so easy!” But I know better…

HOW: This is a mentor text to study. The overall-ease of the read makes it masterful. The rhymes seem logical (even in the hilarity of situation). A lot of word-play took place before this narrative came to perfection! ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR works on many levels that are worth examining: 1. Plot-- Laura’s use of numbers; stopping at 10 and using the “one-less” structure. 2. Theme--Sharing. (What other activities/objects require sharing? Are there other ways to share?) 3. Rhyme-- Laura uses rhyming words in sets (four words per stanzas) of new rhyme schemes. (10 to be exact...matching each animal/situation. What other insane situations can you dream of for four random rhyming words? I know my students would love this challenge!)

98.THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak 2014 Dial Books for Young Readers
(PB/Pictureless book/1st POV/humor/power of typography)

WHY: This is another one of those “buzz” books. For anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet, you must read it out loud the first time. Trust me.

WHAT: Re-read ability and humor. Obviously written as the author know that adults would be the first vehicle that the picture book came to the child through. The book relies on sound and humorous asides (which the reader--an adult--must read! No skipping!)

HOW: I would love to have my students mimic this text in style. It’s pushy; it’s direct; it’s commanding. Try using that!

99. GRAVITY by Jason Chin 2014 Scholastic Inc. (Creative nonfiction/PB/3rd POV/gravity-space-science)

WHY: Again, Jason Chin has managed to successfully put a book within a book (See REDWOODS).

WHAT: There are direct ways a book teaches, and then there are indirect ways. For most elementary students my guess would be that they would prefer indirectly being taught about Gravity as opposed to reading a nonfiction selection that reads like a freshmen college text. Through the combined “story” of Jason’s illustrations and the simplified text, Gravity succeeds!

HOW: As with his previous story, REDWOODS, I like to tell the story behind the story. There are two distinct layers happening in these books: 1. the narrative arc of the illustrations 2. the nonfiction explanation of the “science” behind what is happening in the narrative arc.
As I’m writing nonfiction themed pieces, I’m asking myself, is there a place for two layers in my stories? If so, what is the story behind the story?

100. MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST by Jennifer Ward Illustrated by Steve Jenkins 2014 Beach Lane Books.

WHY: Jennifer Ward is a local gem for teachers and writers in the Metro-East St. Louis area. And she’s amazing at crafting narrative nonfiction! (Added bonus: Steve Jenkins illustrated!!!)

WHAT: I love the sing-song rhyme in this wonderful book. It almost mimics some of the birds that Jennifer has showcased. Each stanza starts with the title phrase and then describes the nest. Another selling point for me is how Jennifer almost always adds asides to explain a bit more that the poetic narrative can not include.

HOW: Similar to Steve’s books, Jennifer has taken one solitary aspect of a group of animals to highlight. The topic isn’t overwhelming, but in it’s own way, it is detailed and descriptive. As a mentor text, it is invaluable to consider what might be too much in your own non fiction or narrative picture books and then revise by taking out one nonessential at a time. As a teacher, this book would be wonderful for elementary students (or as a model for older students) to write compare/contrast papers from.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What I'm Reading Now: Books #81-90 (Fairy-Tales and Book-Books)

Whew.... March is almost over. I've read over 100 picture books and will have 100+ recorded on this blog. Like any goal, as the end looms near, I begin to wonder what comes next? One thing I know for sure, I have a ton of ideas and notes to get me started on new picture book concepts. Whether nonfiction or fairy tales, rhyming or repetitive, I hope other #ReFoReMo readers and writers find inspiration in these books as well!
Enjoy! ~ Juli

WHY: Fractured Fairy Tales, songs and Nursery Rhymes have always had a soft-spot in my writing. I’m a firm believer that young students should have a background in the basics and then be introduced to the same stories in all varieties. In middle school, teachers can introduce the term ALLUSION and reference these stories and variations in chapter books they may be reading.

81. OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON by Ken Baker Illustrated by Christopher Santoro 2012 Amazon Children’s Books (PB/3rd POV/Fractured Nursery Rhyme-Dragons-idioms-friends)

WHAT: I like that only one element was changed from the original song: BINGO. The author added a dragon. Simply by adding the dragon, everything else changes. In this case, it works because a dragon is an extremely volatile creature.

HOW: Using this knowledge, how can writers alter other classics? To make this successful, what is the most EXTREME difference that you can make? Add or delete a character. Change or switch personalities or actions. If the characters are animals (as many are) what if their characteristics are atypical for their species? Allow yourself to experiment with as many variations as you can dream up!

82. THE THREE BILLY GOATS FLUFF by Rachael Mortimer Illustrated by Liz Pichon 2010 Tiger Tales (PB/3rd POV/Fractured Fairy Tale-cooperation-neighbors- onomatopoeia)

WHAT: In this variation, the troll has the best voice. He is sensitive to his own mistake but at the same time, needs to make a change in his living conditions. The rhyming verses are fun and catchy which makes this an easy read-aloud.

HOW:  I strongly suggest looking at original versions before heading to deeply into fractured stories. It’s such a basic story and the roles are much more fleshed out in most picture book adaptations. Essentially, by providing a BACKSTORY for the goats, the author has created a new solution. By asking WHY? the troll is bothered, the reader gets to surmise solutions. If the troll had been bothered by the smell of the goats, a different solution would be necessary. When reading this aloud, teachers might want to stop when the problem is identified and see what students come up with as possible solutions.

83. THE THREE LITTLE ALIENS AND THE BIG BAD ROBOT by Margaret McNamara Illustrated by Mark Fearing 2011 Schwartz & Wade Books
(PB/3rd POV/Space-Fractured Fairy Tale-friendship/family)

WHAT: I love variations on the “Three Little Pigs” story and find this one very different. The author has definitely taken care of every little nuance that fits the “outer space/alien” theme and notes how the illustrator also added features that supported the magical realism.

HOW: As a mentor text, this is one that demonstrates how thorough in theme and consistency is important, even when retelling a basic story. The reader must believe that the situation is possible. In order to do that, word choice must be on point.

84. CINDERS: A CHICKEN CINDERELLA by Jan Brett 2013 G. P. Putnam’s Sons
(PB/3rd POV/Fractured Fairy Tale-Cinderella-fancy chickens)

WHAT: Jan Brett is amazing at turning classics into something new and interesting. While I’m not a fan of chickens, fancy or not, the book has a charming quality, only intensified by her gorgeous illustrations. In typical fashion, Ms. Brett takes a story-within-a-story approach with Cinders. The outer story is about a young girl tending her fancy chickens and her father, who is bringing home a newcomer. The inner story is the Cinderella tale, told as if the entire hen house is part of the fairy tale.

HOW: This book belongs in any classroom unit on fractured fairy tales. It’s inspiring to look at animals in the roles of beloved characters. As writers, we need to step outside of that “people” narrative and try replacing words (nouns and verbs) with those that reflect characteristics typical of an animal group.

85. HOW THE LIBRARY (NOT THE PRINCE) SAVED RAPUNZEL by Wendy Meddour Illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown 2014 Janetta Otter-Barry Books
(PB/3rd POV/Fractured Fairy Tale-Rapunzel-reading-libraries-depression/boredom)

WHAT: This book was not what I expected. The author took the character of Rapunzel and instead of making her a prisoner against her will, she was in complete control and chooses to remain at the highest level, in her apartment. By altering this element, the story completely changes. It’s up to the other characters to convince her to come DOWN.

HOW: In this story, the alteration is all about character motivation. WHY did the main character do what they have done? (And also, what if the main character’s position changes from the original?)

#86-90+ BOOKS about BOOKS
WHY: There is something I find charming about books that teach us to love words. Whether they are books about writing or reading, these books are essential for writers and readers of all ages to have on their shelf!

86. ONCE UPON A TIME : WRITING YOUR OWN FAIRY TALE by Nancy Loewen illustrated by Christopher Lyles 2009 Picture Window Books
(NF/PB/3rd POV/writing instruction-fairy tales-story structure)

WHAT: This is one in a series of many in the WRITER’S TOOLBOX series. I love them all! The story isn’t different than the one everyone knows, but the hints and guides that follow along are beneficial to all levels of writers and readers!

HOW: Don’t look at this picture book and think it’s just for kids. Adult writers will benefit from the wise advice and suggestions as well! For teachers who are hesitant to teach creative writing, this is the series for you! The “Getting Started Exercises” at the back are wonderful ways to experiment with the classics!

87. ROCKET WRITES A STORY by Tad Hills 2012 Schwartz & Wade Books
(PB/3rd POV/writing-inspiration-word collecting)

WHAT: Rocket is the perfect pup to inspire young readers to write (and read). What I find most interesting about these books though, is that if we take away Tad’s illustrations, and change a few key words “little yellow bird” to “teacher”, the story is about ANY child in ANY classroom. While this story is similar to many instructional text, the narrative carries it and lets the nonfiction become the “finds” hidden within the story of Rocket’s own writing success.

HOW: In the primary grades, this book would be a great introduction for daily journal writing. Slightly older classes could identify the steps that Rocket takes as a writer. Children could even discuss what writer’s block is and how Rocket solves his own writer’s block. As a mentor text for my own writing, I’m inspired by the small details that (again) the author uses to change a simple text into something magical.

88. MY PET BOOK by Bob Staake 2014 Random House Children’s Books
(PB/3rd POV/responsibility-books)

WHAT: What I love about this book is the feeling that Bob Staake has captured--the love. Most children identify with the emotions of loss and this book deals with loss (and the joy of the find!) without overwhelming the reader. Emotions are paramount throughout the text

HOW: As a mentor text, I re-read through many times. The word love is never used, but it’s clear that the character loves his book. How does Bob do this? He uses synonyms and antonyms for descriptions of a “pet book”. By telling the reader what a pet book is not, the author has allowed us to create our own understanding of what it is!
       Additionally, this story is a perfect example of narrative plot. Try it yourself! Grab a plot structure like this one and match the points! (Hint: Dad suggests the conflict/problem at the very beginning!)

89.I WILL NOT READ THIS BOOK by Cece Meng Illustrated by Joy Ang 2011 Clarion Books
(PB/1st POV/reading-difficulties)

WHAT: I love books that build in structure. This book builds with each page. It builds tension; it builds pace, it builds story. My guess is that Cece’s mentor text was the classic GREEN EGGS WITH HAM. When the boy/child finally decides to read the book with someone else, YOU ...the fourth wall is broken.

HOW: Like another great “building” book, STUCK, this book starts with a simple statement: “I will not read this book.” After a brief introduction/setup for this character and problem, each subsequent page then repeats the previous and adds one more detail until the climax (when it all changes). As a writer, this is a structure that demands for you to experiment with it!

90. THE BOY & THE BOOK (A WORDLESS STORY) by David Michael Slater Illustrated by Bob Kolar 2015 Charlesbridge (PB/Wordless/Cooperation-understanding-reading)

WHAT: Sometimes wordless stories present multiple views or different ways a story can be told. This book keeps to one simple plot: Boy wants specific book BUT he damages the book each time he “reads” it SO the other books “rescue” the injured book THEN they realize that both the book and the boy need each other in order for reading to be successful. This is the lesson any teacher/parent/adult must remember when working with children. Sometimes reading is a struggle, and can be rough on all materials involved. But in the end, the outcome is glorious!

HOW: After reading Lori Degman’s post about what is left out, I’m questioning whether anything is in this book. WHICH leads to ways to look at this text critically: What is the boy’s motivation for this specific book? Why is he upset? Why did his mother bring him here? Where are they? The illustrations provide so much back story, I’m left to believe that nothing was truly left out of importance that we need to create the “words” to this wordless book!

90.+ READ ME A STORY, STELLA by Marie-Louise Gay 2013 Groundwood Books
(PB/3rd POV/story inspiration-reading)

WHAT: I chose to include this book because it’s so strange and beautifully interesting to me. The narrative is simple: Girl and boy are enjoying the day. Boy is curious (outside) Girl is curious (within the confines of the book). Both are aware of each other. Eventually the stories collided. The girl acts out and blends the details in her book with the outside while the boy wants to check with what she’s reading. At the end, they are reading together about their adventures and the story they have created.

HOW: While I’m not sure what I would use from the structure of this book (other than the two narratives crossing paths and combining) I do love what it teaches us about writing inspiration and reading. By noticing the things around us, writers re-create the world in their books. That is why I love to write.