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.

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