Fritz, Jean and Margot Tomes (illustrator). Whats the Big Idea,
Ben Franklin was smart, inventive, vain and argumentative.
All of these aspects of his personality come out in Jean
Fritzs equally smart and inventive biography.
Fritz not only hits the high points of Franklins life
(the print shop, almanac, role in the creation of the USA and, of
course, the kite and key) she brings Franklin to life.
While describing his boyhood, Fritz describes the dilemma
Margot Tomes irreverent illustrations match the tone of the
story perfectly. The pen and ink drawings
include scenes of
This is a fun and educational book!
Le Tord, Bijou. A Bird or Two: A story about Henri Matisse.
Henri Matisse loved Nice, visiting there often while living in
Overall, this is a beautiful book!
Baker, Barbara; Marsha Winborn, illustrator. Digby and Kate and the
Digby and Kate are best friends and they like many of the same things: eating snacks, playing checkers, making pictures and taking walks. But they have very different ideas about each of these activities. Kate likes to eat mice, but Digby convinces her pizza would be better. Digby likes to play checkers, but Kates rules ensure hell never win. And pictures, Kate takes an hour to draw the perfect picture of Digby while he whips out his camera and snaps a picture of her in a second. This book is more like five separate short stories than one continuous narrative, which makes it perfect for beginning readers, who may not yet be able to follow one long story. Kate is annoying in the first four chapters, insisting that Digby follow her lead. But the book ends on a sweet note, as she convinces Digby that a walk in the rain can be just as nice as the sunny walk theyd had planned. Readers will recognize themselves and their friends in this book and it could lead to a great discussion on what it means to be a good friend. The realistic pictures complement the story. They are brightly colored and engaging.
Rylant, Cynthia; Suçie Stevenson, illustrator. Henry and Mudge: The
Henry is lonely. He has no brothers or sisters, no other children on his street to play with. When Mudge arrives, Henry knows he will never be lonely again. This boy and his dog story has everything: Excitement when Henrys parents agree that he can have a dog, the obvious love between the two main characters, the fear they both feel when they are separated and the relief of their reunion. Rylant has written a sweet, touching book that beginning readers will love. Being a sucker for drama, I loved the chapter where Mudge got lost and Henry thought he was never coming back. Rylants words, especially when matched with Stevensons illustrations (watercolor?) evoke both characters fear and pain. Their reunion is relief, not only for them, but the reader, too!
Parish, Peggy; Barbara Siebel Thomas, illustrator. Thank You, Amelia
Bedelia. New York: Harper Collins. 1993
Great Aunt Myra doesnt feel comfortable in anyones home but her own. When she comes to visit her great niece and nephew, its up to Amelia Bedelia to take care of everything. Even though she manages to misunderstand every direction shes been given, her apple pie makes Great Aunt Myra feel right at home. I have been reading long enough to know that, in books like these, everything will turn out right despite the main characters mistakes, but I still dont like books like this. I feel too bad for Amelia Bedelia, even though shes thoroughly clueless. I think young readers will really enjoy her (mis)adventures especially figuring out what shes supposed to be doing as opposed to what she does. Some of the misunderstandings are very funny, although I dont think the average 6 or 7 year old would get all of the original meanings without some help.
The artwork, which was redone for the I Can Read version by the daughter of the original artist, is realistic in style and works well with the text. The illustrations go along way to helping the reader get the joke from illustrating Amelias mistakes to the horrified look on Mr. Rogers face when he sees that shes checked his shirts literally.
Anansi the Spider:
a tale from the
This retelling by
Gerald McDermott introduces the reader to Anansi
the Spider. The story
tells of how Anansis six sons rescue him after he gets
lost on a long journey and eaten by a fish.
Each of Anansis sons possesses a special gift and
all six gifts make it possible for them to rescue their father. When he finds a great
globe of light in the forest, Anansi
gives it to Nyame, the
run, run as fast as you can!
You cant catch me, Im the Gingerbread Man!
And when hes walking a clothesline/tightrope and hopping
on the uptown E, theres no way anyone is going to catch him!
Not the woman who baked him (who swoons in her husbands arms
with a bangle braceletted wrist against her
forehead as the Gingerbread Boy jumps out the window) or her husband. Not the rat eating out of a
garbage can off of
The Gingerbread Boy falls into the cumulative folktale category. The boy picks up someone on each page who wants to eat him until the end when they are all (including the boy, himself) thwarted by the fox.
Brett, Jan. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. New York: G.P.
Putnam and Sons. 1987
In this traditional retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks does find a way to placate the bears at the end of the book. Nor do the bears call the forest police to come take her away to jail. She eats the porridge, sits in the chairs and sleeps in the beds, just as shes been doing for hundreds of years. What makes this retelling unique, are Jan Bretts amazingly detailed illustrations. From the elegant, medieval garb worn by the bears (who look like they might have popped out of a non-fiction animal book!) to the little mice, who lurk in the borders of the pages, knowing witnessing the story along with the reader, every page is a delight to look at. A reader could spend hours just trying to take in all of the little flourishes. My favorites are the images of bears spread throughout the house and the borders on the page where Goldilocks is discovered: As the little, small, wee bear stands over her, Mama and Papa (called here, the great, huge bear who only speaks in capital letters and the middle-sized bear) watch the scene from the border, while the mouse, whos place theyve taken, peers out from the headboard. I love this version of the tale, specifically for the pictures, which are works of art.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears is an example of a beast folktale. The three bears are (obviously) animals and they interact with Goldilocks without anyone thinking its odd.
Lowry, Lois. The
How often have you wished that we lived in a world with no hunger or violence? How often have you thought about how nice it would be if every time one of your students did something rude or mean, they would realize their error and apologize? How often do have you been sure that if a child could just spend some quality time each night with his parents, his life would be so much better? Jonah and his family live in this world. Everything is carefully regulated. Not only is there no lying, people dont even exaggerate. Parents and children not only share meals, but their dreams with breakfast and the emotions they experienced during the day after dinner. There is no hunger, no hatred, no jealousy and everyone has his or her place. Jonah is perfectly content living this life until he is selected as the next Receiver of Memory.
It is then that he (and the reader) discovers that one of the consequences of the necessity for sameness has been the loss of color. The need to feed everyone has wiped away the seasons, and with it snow and sunshine. The need for appropriate families has wiped out love. Jonah finds that a full, rich life involves risk which can bring about pain. But are Jonah and the Giver, who has transferred all of these wonders to him, willing to take the ultimate risk to prove this to the rest of the community?
This is a fantastic book! Like the best fantasy, it takes a premise that is hard to argue with, the perfect world and twists and turns it until all its sides are exposed. We see that all of those things that we wish for have consequences and we must determine for ourselves whether we would be willing to accept them. The best (and worst) part of the book is the ambiguous ending. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED FOR SURE .
Cooper, Susan. King of
Days after arriving in
Ive always loved time travel novels and this is a great one. Everything is consistent (If Nat is actually in 1599, then who is the kid in the 1999 hospital bed? How come everyone in 1599 knows his name and no one suspects hes not from that period? It could be just a dream, but what about the paint he brought back to 1999?) and youre kept guessing until the last page. Along with the time travel aspect is an intense bit of realistic fiction regarding Nats father. Of course, having Will Shakespeare fulfill the role of surrogate father probably takes it out of the realistic genre . The use of lines from both Dream and The Tempest, as well as from the sonnets reminded me of the movie Shakespeare in Love, where a fantasy is made plausible using available evidence.
In his home village in
Though his uncle may be a visionary at home, he is nothing but
another John in
This book works on many levels. First and foremost, it is a classic coming-of-age tale about a boy who must deal with the realization that the adults in his life are only human. It is also a gripping adventure story about a boy who must battle not only those who despise him for what he was at home, but those he loves and himself in a hostile environment where the land itself seems to be trying to kill him. Finally, it is an accurate and involving history lesson on the lives of those who gave their lives, both figuratively and literally, to connect the country and were treated like dirt for their trouble.
History is more that just names and dates.
It is the lives of those who lived it, both great and small. Yeps
novel brings a period of American History that I, for one, knew
little about, to life. Through Otter, we learn not
only about our own history, but we see what was happening in
This has been one of my favorite magazines since I was in grade school. World features articles on the natural world and historical subjects as well as general non-fiction. In the November 2001 issue (I know, its out of date, but we had it at school and ) featured a cover article on wolves, information on the reopening of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and interviews with the stars of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. The articles are informative, well-written and interesting. They are filled with challenging vocabulary, but short enough that students wont get discouraged before the end. The illustrations are mainly live photographs, with color graphs used to illustrate certain points and puzzles.
This monthly magazine presents a variety of fiction, nonfiction, book reviews and activities (Tomlinson, p. 332). The articles are approximately 3-7 pages interspersed with poetry and other features. They encompass many different styles. The April 2000 issue includes a tall tale, historical and realistic fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. The articles are all well-written and interesting and, thanks to the variety of styles, will appeal to many different students. The Cricket Readers Recommend section allows readers to send in reviews on their favorite books. The five books in this particular issue included Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, The Twits by Roald Dahl and Holes by Louis Sachar. The reviews are great, letting the writers love of the book show through and written in such a way as to make you want to read the books.
Coerr, Eleanor and Ronald Himler, illustrator. Sadako and the
Paper Cranes. Scholastic,
Sadako is one of the fastest girls in the
bamboo class. She is full
of joy and energy and excited about everything, especially the chance
to be a part of the junior high school racing team.
But the effects of the atomic bomb, dropped on
Based on a true story, Coerrs tale is devastating. Her introductory chapters, portraying Sadako as a vibrant, lively girl, make the ending all the more difficult to take. She educates the reader on the effects of the a-bomb not with a lecture, but through the death of a character who the reader truly cares about. She also briefly introduces the character of Kenji, who caught the illness even though he was not yet born when the bomb was dropped.
Coerr is not Japanese, but, according to the
authors note, did live in
Steptoe, John. Mufaros Beautiful Daughters. Scholastic, Inc: New
This Cinderella story leaves out the evil stepfamily and replaces it with one nasty sister. Manyara and Nyasha are both beautiful, but Nyashas beauty is within as well as without. Manyara spends her days taunting her sister with the belief that, someday, she, Manyara, will be queen while Nyasha must settle for being her servant. But Nyasha is too kind to care about this. When the chance arrives for one of the girls to marry the king, Manyara is determined to get there first. The predictable ending comes about not because Nyasha is beautiful, like the western Cinderella, but because she was kind enough to provide food, shelter and kindness to those less fortunate than she.
John Steptoes retelling of this African tale is filled with beautiful prose. This is outdone only by his even more beautiful illustrations. The pictures are so realistic; you almost expect the characters to move. The story and paintings together make for a memorable reading experience.
Jeffers, Susan, illustrator. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A message
Chief Seattle. Dial
Susan Jeffers takes the words of Chief Seattle and illustrates them with her beautiful, realistic paintings. Jeffers sets the stage, describing the chief sitting down with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Territory to sign away his peoples land. (the book jacket points out that, though the text is attributed to Chief Seattle, it may have been conveyed in a different manner) Before doing so, he explains the beliefs held by his tribe regarding the land and issues a warning that the Europeans must continue to honor the land or suffer the consequences.
Boyds Mills Press, Inc:
In 1981, Peter Lourie set out to
The text is accompanied by full-color photographs as advertised on the cover. Though the photos, which range from beautifully framed shots of the river and its natural surroundings to interesting views of the cities and bridges along the way, are the perfect accompaniment to this true-life adventure, the pictures seemed washed out and not nearly as awe-inspiring as they should have been. The story itself also needs something more. The historical facts are interesting and informative, but the tale of the voyage itself was bland.
Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild. Harcourt, Brace and Co: New
For centuries, the
Lynne Cherrys biography of the river is a fascinating and enjoyable tale. Through the text and illustrations, the reader sees the river deteriorate and then come back to life. Cherrys illustrations, a combination of watercolors and colored pencil, portray the river in its pastoral beauty and in its darkest days, as toxic-looking red sludge. The illustrations are surrounded by small squares showing items and scenes to put the time period in context. This adds an extra dimension to the book, helping readers to place whats happening with the river in the text within its historical time frame.
Tanaka, Shelley and Greg Ruhl, illustrator. Secrets of the Mummies:
I was there book. Madison
This book provides the reader with a wealth of information about Egyptian mummies. It illustrates where mummies have been found, how they were preserved and what has happened to those that have been discovered. Included are narratives on the discoveries of several mummies followed by their life stories. The mummies include the emperors Ramses II and Tutankhamen as well as a worker named Nakht. The stories are enhanced by realistic drawings by Greg Ruhl who has illustrated several other I was there books. The rest of the text is accompanied by both period and modern photographs of the subjects they discuss.
Overall this is an excellent source of information. There are a variety of subjects and pictures (some of which were pretty hard to view right after dinner). I know that my students would devour this book!
Kalman, Maira. Fireboat: The heroic adventures of the John J.
In 1931, Babe Ruth hit his 611th home run in
Yankee Stadium. The tasty candy treat,
Snickers, hit the stores, and the John J. Harvey fireboat began
Kalmans book is a fun, interesting and
touching story. Kalmans
use of other big events from the year of the
Kalmans gouache illustrations are the perfect compliment to the story. The bright colors illuminate the pages. The spread which illustrates September 11th is breathtaking; an expanse of bright blue with the two white towers to the right and two black planes coming from the left.
de Paola, Tomie. Bonjour, Mr. Satie.
This book is the story of Mr. Satie
and his faithful friend, Ffortesque Ffollets
Shannon, David. David Goes to School.
David is the type of student teachers tell funny stories about
for years after he or she graduates
assuming theyve made
it through the year without wringing his or her neck.
David is ALWAYS in trouble.
Every reader can come up with a David situation,
that one thing they cant seem to stop doing, even though they
know it drives the teacher crazy.
This connection, combined with
The cartoonish illustrations, a more sophisticated version of a childs drawing, suit the text, as does the font, the equivalent of 1st or 2nd grade writing, presented on the lined paper commonly used at that level.
Sis, Peter. Madlenkas Dog.
Madlenka wants a dog, but Mom and Dad say no. When an imaginary dog comes
to stay, the two journey around the block greeting Madlenkas
friends and meeting the dogs from their childhoods. Before the story even
begins, the reader is drawn into Madlenkas
world the grid of lower
Sis illustrations come alive when Madlenka
and her dog meet her friend Cleopatra and her horse.
The following pages are awash with bright, bold color as they
make their way through the ages and
In this wordless book, a young boy falls asleep while studying a book of maps in bed. He floats from his bed through a continuous ribbon of dream sequences which, we discover, are influenced by items in his room. The art is the story here. Wiesner turns his characters gingham bedspread into checked fields on a plain then into a chessboard where hes greeted by the pieces. His realistic drawings make the reader feel as it they are dreaming along with the boy. The way the pictures flow into one another across the pages is mesmerizing. Its almost more like a meditation than a story.
George, Jean Craighead; Anna Vojtech, illustrator. Elephant Walk.
Elephant Walk is the story of Odon, a baby elephant, who learns to use his nose on the way to an elephant family reunion. As she does in her chapter books, George gives the reader a great deal of real information about her subject through the main characters story. Readers learn about the elephants habitat and habits. An elephant talk dictionary at the end of the book helps the reader to interpret the movements of elephants. Unfortunately, this is followed by an ad for Disneys Animal Kingdom. The story itself is cute and well told. Even though I trust Georges research skills, I would like to read more non-fiction about elephants to verify facts before using it with my students. The illustrations by Vojtech are done in a realistic, if Disneyish, style. They match the informational nature of the story very well.
Maestro, Betsy; Giulio Maestro, Illustrator. Taxi: A Book of City Words.
A taxi makes its way around a city, picking up and dropping
off many different people in many different places.
Although it is never identified as
Olaleye, Isaac; Ed Young, illustrator. Bitter Bananas.
Boyds Mills Press, Inc. 1994
Someone is stealing Yusefs palm sap! Who could it be? How can he stop them? Though I enjoyed Ed Youngs cut paper illustrations, I found this book boring. It starts off sounding like a folk tale or a song with the stanzas ending with multicolored Oh Yes! Oh Yes and Oh No! Oh No! But it soon looses that pace and seems to drag on and on as Yusef tries to come up with a way to defeat the baboons who are stealing his sap.
On the other hand, the black backgrounds and cut paper flora and fauna make the reader feel as if they, too, are in the rainforest and are much more interesting than the story.
Martin, Jr. Bill; Eric Carle, illustrator. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do
In this pattern book, the reader asks animal after animal, What do you see? The animals that the reader sees are the big, brightly colored tissue paper creations of Eric Carle. Each animal leads to another until the reader reaches the teacher and, finally her class. The class then recounts all of the animals that came before. The text and pictures are fun to look at and read, respectively. Children ages 2-4 will enjoy the repetition and rhyme of the text, which is short enough to fit their attention span. The pictures, which consisted of, for the most part, one animal per spread, will help young children with identifying and labeling animals. The pattern would also be helpful to an older, struggling reader.
Cassie Louise Lightfoot can claim anything in
Make Way for
I remember this book from grade school and couldnt
resist going back to it for my Caldecott Book to see if
it stood the test of time. It is still a sweet story
about a family of ducks who literally stop traffic in
Gunning, Monica. Fabricio Vanden Broeck, Illustrator. Under the
Press, Inc. 1998
Monica Gunnings collection is
subtitled Island Poems and those two words say it all.
Everything about this book makes you feel as if you were far,
far away in
dressed in socks and patent leather,
fancy ribbons, fancy dress.
while the narrator squirm[s] in old T-shirt and shorts. But the cousin hates being all fancy and the two change clothes, leaving her free to go out and play while Gunning stands frozen by the mirror transformed.
Gunning also includes a series of poems about her best friend which begins with My Friend Connie. Gunning describes running a three-legged race with Connie:
Hobbling in last, it doesnt matter,
we grasp each others hands and smile.
The image is revisited in The Wake. Connie has died after an illness and the narrator wants to say good-bye:
I stare at her just lying there.
Shes stiff and still, with lifeless hands.
Rush like the wind, far from her side,
afraid to touch my best friends hand.
The poems in this collection took my breath away.
Gunnings poems are complemented by Fabricio Vanden Broecks scratchboard illustrations. They are simple, black and white illustrations that elaborate on the poems without getting in their way of the readers interpretation.
Baird, Audrey B.
Patrick OBrien, illustrator. Storm Coming!
This collection of 22 poems about storms takes the reader from rising heat and wind that indicate the onset of a summer storm to the fresh and refreshing smell and feel once its gone. In between, we see the Firebolt of lightening, represented in a concrete poem. We hear the Matinee Storm Concert by the Midsummer Philharmonic, punctuated by ...
We feel the boredom of a Dull, Dumb Day when you cant go outside and experience the wonder of the rainbow in Our Sponsor Is .
Despite the power of Bairds subject, I felt that the poems were, overall, simplistic and cutesy. The exceptions are the small poems, the ones not about the storm itself, like Dull, Dumb Day, Reflections, about the reflections in puddles and Puddle.
OBriens illustrations, which serve as background to the poems, are to literal and inescapable. They include almost every image in each poem and, since you have to look at the picture to read the poem, leave nothing to the readers imagination. Overall, I was very disappointed in this collection.
First his father, who has been out of work, disappears. Then he and his pregnant mother are forced to live in a welfare hotel. Then his mother disappears. And now 11 year old Clay Garrity is all alone. He is afraid of the police and of the bureaucracy that did nothing but force his mother to spend hours filling out forms and waiting a hundred years to talk to someone. What if they take him away and his mother returns? Shell never be able to find him! Clays fear leads him to a life on the streets and a new family comprised of two older homeless men who take care of him. But can he survive the winter?
I found this book terrifying as an adult. Probably because one of the men who Clay finds is a former high school math teacher whos apartment burned down. He lands on the street because he has no savings and his pension isnt enough to save him. Maybe that hits a little too close to home ? The fact that Clay is able to persevere and survive his ordeal is heartening. And his trip through the system is shorter and sweeter than many. The novel points out the helplessness of being a child and being forced to depend on others, but it also brings to light the many reasons why people do what they do. Upon their reunion, Clays mother talks about the panic that led her to leave, the feeling that hed be better off without her. Clays emotions during this period are disturbing, but realistic. Fox doesnt smooth over the fact that he is a child and he was deserted by the people he should have been able to count on no matter what.
Scholastic. The Magic School Bus In The Rainforest. WarnerVision
Based on The Magic School Bus series published by Scholastic, this video features a wild fieldtrip to the rainforest. The class has rented a cocoa tree in the rainforest for Ms. Frizzle in honor of Earth Day (her favorite holiday). In addition to the good the students are doing, contributing to the care of the tree, Ms. Frizzle also gets all of the cocoa beans from the tree for the whole year. As everyone knows, cocoa beans are the base for chocolate, Ms. Frizzles favorite food! But theres a problem, the cocoa beans from Ms. Frizzles tree have disappeared! Its up to the class to figure out whats happened.
Though the animation isnt Disney quality, it matches the illustrations in the series of books and its a good background for this educational and amusing story. The video not only introduces viewers to various animals of the rainforest, it makes a point of portraying the web of life. Students are urged to look at the big picture, not just the problem at hand. The video ends with an ask the producer section, where viewers phone the producer (who is in the process of making hot chocolate out of Ms. Frizzles cocoa beans) to ask about loose ends in the video or make comments.
DK Interactive Learning. My First Amazing History Explorer.
Dorling Kindersly. 1998
My First Amazing History Explorer gives players a chance to
explore a number of historical periods while searching for Professor Timestein. The Professor was deposited
somewhere in history by the Historical Fugitive, who is irritated
that not enough people are studying history.
After a rather lengthy introduction, the player is asked to
check the mission log and begin. The player must visit each
historical period, which include ancient
This is a really great game! The graphics are excellent. They are clear and, though not lifelike, definitely up to Playstation standards. The video moves smoothly and the sound is clear. The disk (which I checked out of the library) installs automatically and can be used on Mac or PC. The game saves automatically under the players name, which is entered at the beginning of the game and more than one player can have their game saved.
Though this is the only game on the disk, it will definitely keep kids involved for a while. Even just looking for the time log pieces (I was trying to see what happens when you win) after an hour, I only had two, and I had not completed any of the journal pages (though I have a great picture of my alter ego in front of the Forum!). If a player really tries to fill up the journal as well as solve the puzzle, he will be busy for days. The icons that the player clicks on to find out information are animated and hilarious and make it nearly impossible to go by without finding out who they are and what theyre doing.