Archive for Contemporary

Bug Patrol

Written by  Denise Dowling Mortensen
Illustrated by  Cece Bell

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Captain Bob of the Bug Patrol starts his day with coffee and cruller (aka donut) as he cruises around his district.  His first call takes him to the site of “urban ants, acting rude”.  Not only does he stop those “rowdy ants” from fighting, he helps them change their selfish ways.

After a few more calls, it is finally time for some lunch.  While he eats, Captain Bob visits with the locals.  Before he can finish his lunch, Captain Bob gets another call.  This time he is needed at the Roach Motel.  The residents are protesting outside, demanding better living conditions.  Lucky for everyone that Captain Bob knows just the place for them, the local landfill, “Paradise Estates”.

It is late, nearly the end of his shift, when Captain Bob gets one last call.  Those party crickets are having a very loud party and the neighbors cannot sleep.  Captain Bob, being the wise patrol officer that he is, knows that the best way to deal with disorderly partying crickets is to drive by slowly, playing a cricket lullaby.  Sure enough they settle down almost immediately.

Finally, his shift is over and Captain Bob is able to go home to “…the bugs that I love BEST!”

What first grade boy has not at some time thought about becoming a police officer?  Can you imagine the excitement if a real policeman came to read this book to the class during read aloud time?  This would be an easy way to integrate social studies (government/civics) into a language arts lesson.

Ms. Mortensen most certainly used a thesaurus when writing this fun-to-read book.  Her word choices give many opportunities to build growing vocabularies as well as teach the meanings of phrases such as “shoot the breeze” (CCSS 1.L.4.a).

Teaching sequence would be a snap with Captain Bob.  The time stamps on each call show how Captain Bob is moving through time.  This would make a great introduction to writing narratives that show sequenced events (CCSS 1.W.3)

The illustrations are fun and make for an easy picture walk since they match the text so perfectly.  Even struggling readers can improve their reading skills by taking cues from the pictures (CCSS 1.L.4.a).

Information about Denise Dowling Mortensen can be found at her website   (http://denisemortensen.com/ ).  Cece Bell’s website (http://cecebell.wordpress.com/ ) also offers more information about her and her other work.

  • Bug PatrolTitle:  Bug Patrol
  • Author:  Denise Dowling Mortensen
  • Illustrator:  Cece Bell
  • Publisher: Clarion Books, 2013
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-618-79024-1

The Three Bears: An Alphabet Book

Written by  Grace Maccarone
Illustrated by  Hollie Hibbert

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Another alphabet book?  “A is for alphabet, and here it is…”  Yes, another alphabet book.  But, this one has a twist.  It tells the story of Goldilocks and the three bears and starts with the traditional “B is for bears” format that found in most alphabet books.  As the story is told, many chances for beginning letter sounds are given.  “There were three bears – Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear, who were in bed.”  Grace Maccarone did a wonderful job of incorporating beginning sound practice into this familiar story.  Children will not even realize that they are getting this practice.  They will just have fun reading the book.

Although it is an alphabet book that would be perfect as a kindergarten read aloud, it is on a late first grade reading level.  The combination of the wonderful illustrations, abundance of sight words, and liberal use of beginning sounds makes this book an excellent choice for conducting running records.  The illustrations offer plenty of cues, as do the alphabet letters that are prominently displayed.  If you are tired of writing the same types of things for shared writing, why not write your own alphabet story with your class?  This could be done from kindergarten all the way through second grade.  Children build skills in brainstorming, organizing their thoughts, writing, and of course the end result helps increase reading skills.

Speaking of illustrations, the bears in this book are not scary, not even Papa Bear. Hollie Hibbert has a gift for creating illustrations that could tell the story without any text.  You can read more about Ms. Hibbert and see more of her wonderful creations at her website (http://www.holliehibbert.com/Hollie_Hibbert_Illustration/Home.html).

This short book really packs a punch when it comes to classroom application.  It is fun to read, fun to look at, and can be the foundation for many fun reading and writing lessons.

  • Three BearsTitle:  The Three Bears: An Alphabet Book
  • Author:  Grace Maccarone
  • Illustrator:  Hollie Hibbert
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company, 2013
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-7904-6
  • Genre:  Fantasy, alphabet
  • Lexile score:  480

Where Is Baby?

Written by Kathryn O. Galbraith
Illustrated by John Butler

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Where is baby hiding? Under a blanket? Behind a chair? While baby plays a game of hide-and-seek with Mama, other babies in the animal kingdom are hiding as well.

Baby deer disappear in dappled spring sunlight.
Baby polar bears vanish in the snow.
Baby wolves dash into their dens.

Gailbraith’s simple, lyrical language used in a repetitive fashion will not only assist first graders with their reading skills, but the descriptive verbs will also enhance their vocabulary and comprehension. The payoff at the end of the story is a tri-fold picture reveal, which conveys the message that no matter where babies hide, Mama is always nearby. Back pages offer “More About Babies” information, where readers can learn a couple of fun facts about each featured animal (e.g., a baby otter is called a pup, a baby elephant drinks 48 cups of mother’s milk each day, a robin chick weighs less than a quarter coin at birth, etc.).

Butler’s adorable full-spread illustrations capture the fine details of these sweet baby faces, and no doubt will win over the pre-K through first grade audience (even my 5th grader could not contain her squeals of delight!). Drawn with acrylic and color pencils, the soft lines and soothing pastel palettes are instantly calming, just right for any kind of downtime: a classroom story circle or a bedtime read-aloud.
More titles from the author and illustrator can be found on the publisher’s website: http://peachtree-online.com/index.php/book/where-is-baby.html

 

  • BabyTitle: Where Is Baby?
  • Author: Kathryn O. Galbraith
  • Illustrator: John Butler
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-707-6
  • Genre: Picture Book

Shadows on My Wall

Written & Illustrated by Timothy Young

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Monsters are a familiar problem for children at the first grade reading level. Helping youngsters find ways to deal with the idea of monsters in a way that is fun and empowering for them is not easy. This book, whether used to build comprehension or as a read aloud, will help youngsters deal with some of their terrors.

Shadows on My Wall is a well-written and illustrated picture book that will capture the imagination of youngsters. It opens with a little boy’s bedroom at night, light from the streetlights shining in through the window with very creepy shadows on the wall by his bed. While it is clear these are simply spooky-looking tree branches, soon the boy’s imagination takes over and they look more like monsters to him. But maybe they aren’t monsters. Maybe they are dinosaurs, and dinosaurs are pretty cool. The boy’s imagination keeps on working and the shadows take on new form after new form until the boy makes a shadow of his own. That is the beginning of the boy’s ability to take charge of those pesky shadows. This is very empowering for little ones.

A spread at the back of the book shows several shadows children can make with their hands and how to do them. The author/illustrator has a web site at www.shadowsonmywall.com, however, there are no teaching materials there or on the publisher’s website.

There are three other picture books by the same author, two of which have monster themes.

  • Shadows on My WallTitle: Shadows on My Wall
  • Author/Illustrator: Timothy Young
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, 2012
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Format: Paperback, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0764342240
  • Genre: Fiction, Imagination

Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever

Written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Tony Fucile

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Friendship trumps all. You may be tall and trying to prove your royal antecedents, or short and working to make yourself taller. There may come a hiccup or two in life, but Bink and Gollie remain BFFs.

The book contains three short stories, simply told, but not simple. The theme of this book, part of a series, is acceptance. ‘Queen Gollie’ finds Bink’s door shut to her, but Gollie is warmly welcomed. Bink’s Stretch-O-Matic just stretches Gollie’s credulity. The ending is classic: Bink and Gollie stretched out on a rug looking at the contraption.

“It makes me feel taller just to look at it,” said Bink.

“Art can have that affect,” said Gollie.

And the art that accompanies the text, deepens and enriches the stories. In the best picture books, the illustration shows a dog with an attitude or a quirk that the words don’t describe. Tony Fucile is an artist whose drawings gently nudge the story into the stratosphere, the illustrator who, you pray silently, would agree to illustrate your books. Such thought and planning has gone into the drawings. First graders will find many details: the telescope on Gollie’s balcony, the sit-out bench situated on another branch, Bink’s Bink-sized mailbox. The picture in Bink’s living room is a portrait of the inventor of peanut butter! Sly humor abounds. “Excessive assembly required” say the instructions on the Acme Stretch-O-Matic.

What a wonderful read aloud of a book for the very youngest set. The expressions tell the story, even to those who can’t read yet. “Alrighty then” may soon become a frequently heard phrase. And this is not all. The publisher has a teacher’s guide, http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/076363266x.btg.1.pdf, to facilitate discussions and reading activities.

  • Bink and GollieTitle: Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever
  • Author: Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
  • Illustrator: Tony Fucile
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-3497-1
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Lexile Score: 290

Storm Song

Written by Nancy Viau

Illustrated by Gynux

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Storm Song  is a rollicking read-aloud, great for first grade and will help youngsters appreciate rainstorms. The book brings a rain storm to life through alliteration and strong sensory language. With phrases such as “Pitter, pat, pound!” Viau uses rhythm and language brilliantly to build tension and excitement about a universal experience, being scared yet fascinated by the power of a storm. Through an exploration of many aspects of the storm (the whisking of leaves, the sparkle of lightning, the ticking of a clock in the calming aftermath), the book avoids what could be just another book about rain.

When the lights go out, readers experience the confusion of the main characters, two young girls, one boy and an amiable dog, and feel the relief provided by a creative mother who quickly has them pretending to “Row, row, row your boat,” eating popcorn heated over flames, and snoozing comfortably on the couch together. The concluding spreads present the passing of the storm, the dog splashing in the puddles, and the peaceful calm washing over all.

The digital images by Gynux complement the text beautifully. From the leaves sweeping across the yard to the expressions of the young characters entranced by lightning, the illustrations capture the emotional energy of the text.

First grade teachers will appreciate the “Teacher’s Guide” available at (http://www.nancyviau.com/teachers-guides/). With activities appropriate for K-2nd grade, language arts, drama, art and science, there is something for everyone in this activity collection created with the Common Core in mind. The guide includes pre and post reading questions, a list of other books about storms, reading games that play with onomatopoeia, and lightning experiments.

  •  Storm SongTitle: Storm Song
  • Author: Nancy Viau
  • Illustrator: Gynux
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Paperback: 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1477816462
  • Genre: Picture book
  • Lexile Score: 660

Picture a Tree

Written and Illustrated by Barbara Reid

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Not since The Giving Tree has an author explored so many ways we commune with trees. Reid approaches trees from a purely artistic direction and ends up imparting much more information about the subject than seems possible at first. Each illustration begins with plasticine and paint and focuses on some aspect of the tree’s physical appearance. The pictures nearly jump off the page. Another device the author uses is to progress the tree through an entire calendar year.

First grade readers will see that bare winter limbs make a sort of etching on the sky. The first hints of spring colors will remind the reader of tentative attempts to draw, then an explosion of color. Tree leaves can create a tunnel of green when driving down a street or an entire ocean when viewed from above. A tree next to an apartment building is home to a multitude of animals and a storage space for a kite. They often become pirate ships, caves, clubhouses, or friends. In the hot summer sun, trees can be umbrellas. Trees of different ages correspond to the ages of people. Playing in the falling leaves feels like a good-bye party. Trees can be spooky around Halloween. Later, trees put on snowsuits, just like kids. Then they sleep like a baby until spring.

This unique approach will hold the reader’s attention and increase comprehension for beginning readers. The author’s excellent website (http://www.barbarareid.ca/) provides more information about her methods and makes many suggestions for reading activities. This book has won numerous awards, won several starred reviews, and appeared on reading lists, including The Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens.

 

  • Picture a TreeTITLE: Picture a Tree
  • AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Barbara Reid
  • PUBLISHER: Albert Whitman & Company
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-6526-1
  • GENRE: Picture book, Trees
  • LEXILE: 390

100 Animals on Parade!

Written and Illustrated by Masayuki Sebe

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Simple and engaging, 100 Animals on Parade encourages 1st grade students to count to 100 – over and over again.  The book follows groups of animals (yes, there really are 100 of each) as they parade to the Animal Festival.  Along the way, readers are asked to identify the bear strong enough to carry a piano, the pig that loves carrots, the carpenter beetle with the spinning top, the circus rabbit with something on his head…

The pictures really make this book stand out.  And while it would work as a read aloud in a classroom setting, it is best viewed up close with lots of time to examine each animal. In every picture, the reader is asked to count something or find something or laugh along with the characters. With vibrant use of color, author/illustrator Masayuki Sebe has created simple and lovable cartoon animals that draw readers in with their funny details and amusing mutterings.

The final spread shows all 500 animals celebrating at the festival.  But the fun is not over.  On the very last page, the reader is informed that there are a snail, a ladybug and an ant in every scene – a tactic that is sure to get kids going right back to the beginning to start the count all over again!

Originally published in Japanese by Kaisei-sha Publishing Company, 100 Animals on Parade will be well received in North America.  The kids who read it and love it won’t even realize they are improving their counting skills – the true measure of a good book.

  • 100 AnimalsTitle: 100 Animals on Parade!
  • Author/Illustrator: Masayuki Sebe
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Book Length: 28 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-55453-871-3
  • Genre: Fiction, Math
  • Lexile Score: 110

We’re Going on a Ghost Hunt

Written by Susan Pearson

Illustrated by S.D. Schindler

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A refreshing and entertaining new ghost story is available at a first grade reading level. Four children go outside on a clear evening for a ghost hunt. They are determined to find a ghost no matter what stands in their way. With each obstacle, the kids make the encounter into a game. When they finally find a ghost at the graveyard, the kids are understandably frightened, but they make it back to their bed all in one piece. Naturally, they must occupy only one bed. But, of course, they’re ready to go on another hunt the next day.

With insistent repetition, the author increases the young reader’s comprehension. Especially charming are the bits of onomatopoeia: “squish squash squaash in the murky swamp, rustle rustle rat-a-tattle through the cornfield, splash splash splash in the swishy, fishy river, creeeeak squeak eeeeeeek at the graveyard gate”, and so forth.

The illustrations are delightful and very much in keeping with the feel of the text. The kids skip across the yard and through the river. They help each other on the race back to the house. The kids themselves are adorable and are images with which other children can identify. The scenes are realistic and have a you-are-there feel. The details, such as the young boy’s teddy bear and the small animals seen along the way, add to the fun. Readers could make spotting the small critters into a reading activity: How many frogs in the swamp? How many fish in the river?

The authors’ website, http://www.susanpearson.net/, has plenty of information about the book and the author. The illustrator’s website, http://www.sdschindlerbooks.com/index.html, is similarly useful.

 

  • Ghost HuntTitle: We’re Going on a Ghost Hunt
  • Written By: Susan Pearson
  • Illustrated By: S. D. Schindler
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard cover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0761463078
  • Genre: Picture book, Halloween, ghosts
  • Lexile Score: 60

Let’s Build a Playground

Written by Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Ellen Kelson and Jennifer Cecil

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Building a playground KaBOOM!-style can also be a community-building event and this book proves it. From group-design to finished product, the process is revealed as it’s described from the perspective of a kindergartner.  Details and measurements are transposed into a five-year-old’s body dimensions and the high-interest construction equipment and processes are explained in equally friendly terms.  Whimsical free-verse is used throughout and showcases the creative thinking that planning a playground can inspire. The final assembly of this real-life one-day event includes 214 participants and ends with a custom play structure.

Close-in, gorgeous color photographs, often full-page, catch all the action. Bright backgrounds add to the eye-appeal. This could inspire some creative play, but mostly it will be a great read aloud for kindergartner, first  and second graders who may be planning their own playground. Slightly older children will enjoy learning about the construction process as well.

Click here for more stories about other playgrounds and information about KaBOOM! , a nonprofit organization committed to building playgrounds for every kid: http://kaboom.org

  • PlaygroundTitle: Let’s Build a Playground
  • Author: Michael J. Rosen
  • Illustrator: photographs by Ellen Kelson and Jennifer Cecil
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5532-7
  • Genre:  Nonfiction
  • Lexile Score: AD1130
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