Saturday, August 26, 2017

Animal Picture Books

I teach sixth grade, but am known around my school for being a prolific reader, which get me on committees such as Book Week and Summer Reading. I've been trying to expand my picture book reading so I can better recommend to the younger set. I recently read two awesome animal-related books that I had to share.

The first is Emily Jenkins' A Greyhound A Groundhog, which is all about the "ound" phonics. This fun and clever text has beautiful illustrations by Chris Applehans and a tongue twisting rhythm that will leave readers giggling. Best of all, they won't realize that they are practicing a challenging vowel pattern, over and over again. I wrote to our PYP Coordinator, asking her when this pattern is learned, because this book will definitely be recommended to that age group.


Brendan Wenzel's They All Saw a Cat is a book that I want added to our school's library. There are too few words for a summer reading list, but the message in this book is great: we all have different perspectives and see things differently.

The book follows a cat and the illustrations show how different things see the cat, according to their circumstances. It's a fantastic idea that can open up some excellent conversations. The discussion could be simple, such as the bee illustration below and how their eyes work. But I plan on using it in our unit on marine protected areas to get my students thinking about how many different stakeholders (fishermen, environmentalists, the government) see a stretch of water differently. Until the school has a copy for us to explore up close, I will be using this online read aloud.




Sunday, August 20, 2017

Roanoke: The Lost Colony

As we learned about the potential colonization of Mars, I wanted my students to learn about past attempts at colonization that failed. One that has always fascinated me is the colony of Roanoke, which vanished from Virginia in 1580. Jane Yolen's Roanoke: The Lost Colony is a picture book exploration into the topic.

I love an unsolved mystery and the fact that scientific and technological advances have yet to clear this up. This picture book offers different theories and interesting background information, but allows the reader to decide what they think happened. Moving forward, I'll always have this on display during this unit for students who want an extension or are curious to learn more.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

By the time this review posts, I will be the mother of a son. Perhaps that is why I was so affected by Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Perhaps I don't even need that reason because the writing is so beautiful. Whatever it is, I listened to the entire audiobook in a day and loved it all.

Ari has always felt different--angrier and quieter than most boys. He never had a friend until he met Dante, who was everything he wasn't: outgoing, loving, and happy. Through their unlikely friendship, the boys truly come of age and learn who they really are. It's a story about all kinds of love: between best friends, between outcasts, between families, and between people who love each other.

Many YA novels have static parent characters or leave them out entirely. Benjamin Alire Saenz delves into the emotional lives of Ari and Dante's parents, who are complex and interesting. The mother in me nodded every time there was a reference to how much these teenage boys love their parents, even if they weren't able to say it out loud. It is hopeful and beautiful.

Part of the reason I finished the book so quickly was Lin-Manuel Miranda's narration of the audiobook. I could listen to him read anything, and he embodied the characters so well. I highly recommend adding this to a high school class library.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Red Pencil

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, and it really disappoints me. The Red Pencil was on my Goodreads shelf for a year and a half before I actually got my hands on it. I thought I would fly through a novel in verse about a girl in Sudan. I was so excited to connect it to my students' reading of A Long Walk to Water. I thought it would be a great way to excite students about poetry. None of that happened, though.

Amira is twelve years old when her village is attacked by the Janjaweed and she needs to flee to a refugee camp. It is there (after about 60% of the book) that she is gifted a red pencil that allows her to hope for more: to be educated. Of course, that is easier said than done when you are in a war zone.

I usually read novels in verse in a day, but I had to force myself to finish this book. I found the timeline unappealing: it took so long to get to the actual refugee camp and pencil, then I wanted to know more about what happened at the end. The beginning dragged out. If I struggled to read it, my students don't have a chance. I won't bother to book talk this one.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We Need Diverse Picture Books

Hooray for the meeting of Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales! Thunder Boy Jr. is a fun book that features Native American characters who have a proud culture, but it is not the focus of the book. This is a family story that everyone will enjoy.

Thunder Boy was named after his father, but is eager for his own name. He lists all the cool things he has done, considering each for his possible new name. In the end, his dad comes through with a name that fits him perfectly.

I love the opportunity for discussion after reading. Kids will no doubt want to think about the exciting experiences in their lives and other potential names for themselves. This is a fun addition to your library.


My Mother's Sari was added to the suggested summer reading list for our incoming first graders, partially because it relates to their upcoming study of cultures, and partially because it is easy enough for developing readers.

Sandhya Rao wrote a book that is simple but appealing. Is it strange that the endpapers were among my favorite parts? In these, the author explains how a sari is worn.

Although the story is good, the best part of My Mother's Sari is the artwork. Nina Sabnani takes a mixed-media approach, using illustrations as well as photographs of actual saris. The fabric pops and had me thinking which one was my favorite.

This book could fit with a lot of different units: cultures, clothing, even creativity. I look forward to hearing family feedback about it.


I like the idea of reading The People of Twelve Thousand Winters on Thanksgiving, rather than just books about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims. Trinka Hakes Noble's picture book tells the story of Walking Turtle, a member of the Lenni Lenape tribe, who carries his cousin everywhere, due to the cousin's twisted leg. When it is time for the coming of age ceremony, the boys will be parted because the disabled are not allowed to attend Warrior School.

I thought there were interesting facts to learn and the illustrations were engrossing. But there is a huge missed opportunity: the book cuts off before the most interesting part! What happens in Warrior School? I know most young readers would like to know more about that. Adding ten more pages would have broadened the appeal of the book.