Tag Archive for first graders


Written and illustrated by John Rocco

Caldecott honoree John Rocco does detailed and realistic illustrations for this new and fun book about a real event in the author’s life. Given the rough and long winter of 2013-2014, it’s a timely reminder that sometimes Mother Nature has ideas of her own. February 1978 saw forty inches of snow in New England in two days, a record event for the area. Rocco and his family “survived.” As a frequent survivor of Iowa winters, I can tell you he hits the nail on the head with the emotions and with the magnitude of the conditions. At first, it’s fun trying to wade through huge drifts. You can make snow caves in some areas. But the sled won’t go through the worst parts, and the family runs out of milk and other supplies. The snowplows appear five days after the snow stopped, but not before John straps tennis racquets to his ten-year-old feet and walks to the grocery store for supplies. He brings a whimsical touch in many illustrations. John staring out the window at the falling snow with a penguin lampshade, a poster of snowy Mount Everest, and an Arctic Survival guide at his side speaks volumes. And the numerous side trips on the way to the store are typical ten-year-old antics.

First grades will love the theme and the idea of a whole week of snow days. They can handle much of the text on their own. Literacy skills and comprehension will be enhanced. Gentle reminders from adults may be in order, though. Tennis racquets only make good snowshoes in an emergency. And don’t take off for the store in a blizzard without an adult’s permission. For teachers, this book makes a good jumping off place for learning about winter around the world and extreme weather of all kinds.

The author’s website, www.roccoart.com, brings the reader to Rocco’s world, including his Caldecott Honor title, Blackout, and numerous Rick Riordan books. The publisher’s website, www.disneybooks.com, has wonderful teacher guides.

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  • BlizzardTitle: Blizzard
  • Author: John Rocco
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Memoir, winter, helping out
  • ISBN: 978-142317865-1
  • Release date: October 28, 2014


The Boss Baby

Written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

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Everyone knows a new baby is in charge of the house and the parents from the moment it arrives, but Frazee takes the idea to the next step. This baby wears a suit and carries a briefcase. He arrives by taxi with a printed schedule. His office is a walker set squarely in the center of the house, complete with baby monitor and appropriate drink. He keeps things hopping at all hours and for many reasons. He has his own lounge, a bubbly spa, an executive gym, drinks made to order 24/7, and a private jet. With his staff exhausted, he called a meeting and was forced to think outside the box. He must speak his mind. That speaking changes the entire complexion of their interaction. For a moment.

This is perfect for first graders developing literacy skills and learning to deal with new siblings. The clever storyline and illustrations make this a winner for all. It was named to the School Library Journal Best Books of the Year for 2010. More information is available at the publisher’s website, www.kids.simonandschuster.com.

  • Boss BabyTitle: The Boss Baby
  • Author/Illustrator: Marla Frazee
  • Publisher: Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2010
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Picture book, family, babies
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-0167-9



Written and illustrated by Aaron Becker

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A Caldecott Honor book for the gorgeous, vivid, and detailed illustrations, this book is worth a look just for the pictures, but it has so much more to offer. A young girl’s sepia world is punctuated only by her red scooter, red kite, a red ball, and a red crayon. When she uses the crayon to draw a door, a whole new and colorful world opens up. With castles, windmills, numerous waterways, and various flying contraptions, it’s indeed a fascinating world. The girl finds the crayon can also create a boat, a hot air balloon, and a magic carpet. The magic carpet and a purple bird lead her to a boy with a purple crayon. Together, she and the boy create a bicycle and ride off to more adventures.

This wordless picture book is easily followed by first graders just beginning their reading journey, but would be great as a read aloud so that kids can be encouraged to use imagination about what will come next. Kids could even lead the discussion and practice their speaking and leadership skills. The publisher provides a great “Guide to Reading a Wordless Book” on their website, www.candlewick.com, with many reading activities.

  • JourneyTitle: Journey
  • Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Picture book, Art, Imagination, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6053-6


Boot & Shoe

Written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

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In this tale of two brotherly dogs, the author captures the beauty of routine and of knowing your best friend well. Boot and Shoe are dogs who live in the same house and have the same routine, but one likes to spend his day on the front porch, while the other naps on the back porch. A pesky squirrel decides to interrupt their happy equilibrium one day with a lot of chattering and running around. They chase him here and there until the squirrel gets bored. Naturally, the brothers end up at the wrong end of the house and cannot find their companion. The search goes on until both dogs have to pee on the same tree and find each other again, causing a kind of reset to their routine.

First graders can handle most of the language on their own, increasing their literacy skills, and will be delighted with the vivid illustrations that give many clues to the action, adding to their comprehension. They will certainly understand the ideas of frustration and wanting to be with a treasured friend. This gem received numerous starred reviews and appeared on many reading lists, including the 2012 ABC Best Books for Children and the 2012 Kirkus Best Children’s Books. The author’s website, www.marlafrazee.com, provides a wealth of information, including interviews and podcasts.

  • Boot and ShoeTitle: Boot & Shoe
  • Author/Illustrator: Marla Frazee
  • Publisher: Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Genre: Picture book, humor, friendship
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-2247-6


Beneath the Sun

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Constance R. Bergum

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When a summer day is very hot, few people think about what wild creatures are doing to endure the extreme temperature. This clever book shows how animals are able to survive without the sunscreen and lemonade available to humans. Woodchucks in fields spend the heat of the day in cool underground dens, and earthworms do the same while slowing their metabolisms. The author moves on to the desert, where she follows a ringtail family as they nap in their den, a golden eagle as it cools itself by soaring through the air, a turkey vulture spraying itself, a jackrabbit who cools through its ears, and a horned lizard in the deep shade. In a wetland, osprey chicks cool down with the help of their father’s wet feathers. Tadpoles, crayfish, and salamanders stay in the water and mud. At the seashore, a herring gull shades its chicks. Anemones pull in their tentacles, sea stars hide in the shade, and fiddler crabs have specialized shells that reflect the sun. The realistic, detailed, and beautiful illustrations in this book show exactly how each animal survives.


The author’s website, www.melissa-stewart.com, provides a wealth of information for first graders and up. She provides ideas for many reading activities plus curriculum guides. This book would be good as a read aloud, allowing for discussion of each animal and the environment in which it lives.

  • Beneath the SunTitle: Beneath the Sun
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Constance R. Bergum
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-733-7

About Birds: A Guide for Children

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

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This beautiful little book packs a lot into a very few words and pictures. It allows first graders and older to see common birds (cardinal, American robin) up close and to learn about birds in other parts of the world (common murre, magnificent hummingbird). It is a valuable introduction to the English/Spanish bilingual world. And it contains a wealth of information for those who want to know more. As a read aloud or for independent study, this volume of the “About” series provides a solid basis for comprehension of nature and conservation plus a boost to literacy skills.

It is presented as a picture book with a short sentence for each bird, translated into Spanish. e.g., “Some birds build nests on the ground. / Algunos párajos hacen sus nido en la tierra.” is followed by a realistic painting of an ovenbird and its nest. The afterword has longer explanations of each picture, a glossary, and bibliography with books and websites.

Detailed and realistic illustrations make the reader feel like they have actually seen the birds. As birds move fast and are shy of humans, it helps children to recognize our feathered friends.

  • About BirdsTitle: About Birds: A Guide for Children
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Publisher: Peachtree  Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, unpaged
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature, bilingual
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-783-0

Lost for Words

Written and Illustrated by Natalie Russell

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When Tapir opens up his brand new notebook, the blank pages stare back at him. He can’t think of a thing to write. His friends, however, don’t have that problem; words flow out of them like water: Giraffe writes poems, Hippo writes about his adventures, and Flamingo composes songs. Tapir feels very jealous.

Hoping to draft off their creativity, Tapir imitates them: he chews on leaves like Giraffe, he wallows in mud like Hippo, and he hums like Flamingo. But the words still don’t come. Frustrated, he finds a quiet place on top of a hill. Looking down at the beautiful scenery, he’s inspired to draw what he sees: a tall tree for Giraffe, a river for Hippo, and a sun for Flamingo. Before long, he has filled his entire notebook with colorful drawings. His friends love his creations so much they are moved to tears. Tapir learns that images can be just as powerful as words.

With bookshelves crowded with cat and pig main characters, it’s refreshing to see a less familiar creature like Tapir take center stage. In this tale of individuality and finding one’s creative spark, first graders will connect with the story’s message; they, too, must feel frustrated sometimes as they learn how to write. Warm colors and soft lines give Russell’s childlike illustrations a soothing feel. Recommended as a bedtime story or a classroom read aloud.

  • Lost for WordsTitle: Lost for Words
  • Author/Illustrator: Natalie Russell
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-739-7
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Art


Written and illustrated by Lori Nichols

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Even before Maple was born, her parents planted a namesake tree for her. How very beautiful, and yet simply, this book begins. Starting out this way, in the book and in the little girl’s life proves without a doubt how much she is wanted and loved.

Her backyard tree is her best friend. The whimsical watercolors give this book a welcoming feeling. And Maple is welcomed by her tree, even when she is too loud to stay in the house.

The story continues on with surprising twists on an old theme. There will be a new baby in the house, but first there is a new tree in the yard.

Young readers and listeners will enjoy knowing what comes next without anyone needing to tell them.

Maple is a wonderful big sister. She shares her tree with her sister when she needs cheering up as well as her favorite stuffed toys.

This lovely picture book shows the passing of the seasons and the changes in the tree.

It will be a welcome book to first grade readers and will be an asset to the core curriculum in its depiction of nature and the child’s interaction with the environment. The literacy skills enhanced include sequencing, foreshadowing and picture clues.

  • MapleTitle: Maple
  • Author/ Illustrator: Lori Nichols
  • Publisher: Penguin, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, unpaged
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-16085-1
  • Genre: Fiction, nature, environment
  • Level: Beginning readers

Earth to Clunk

Written by Pam Smallcomb
Illustrated by Joe Berger

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The only thing worse than a pen pal from the planet of Quazar is not having a pen pal from Quazar. Our hero tries to discourage his pen pal, Clunk, by sending him smelly, annoying gifts, only to receive similar packages back from Clunk. In the process, he finds out that our differences are really our strengths. He and Clunk end up being great friends and allies, especially against his sister. The hero sends his sister, smelly socks, a scary drawing, an electric toothbrush, a string of Christmas lights, a note buried in old lasagna, baseball cards, and an invitation. From Clunk, he receives a zoid, three forps, an even scarier picture, something unidentifiable, his returned sister, and a visit from Clunk. He and Clunk make a good team.

Berger’s illustrations do a lot to enhance the story and make the reader laugh. The hero’s determination and surprise show in his expressions. The sister is understandably angry at being shipped off to Quazar. The zoid, forps, and other stuff are hilarious.

First graders have a perfect opportunity to increase their literacy skills. They also learn about friendship and responsibility in a totally silly and sneaky way. Learn more about the author on her website, www.pamsmallcomb.com, and about the illustrator on his website, www.joeberger.co.uk.

  • Earth to ClunkTITLE: Earth to Clunk
  • AUTHOR: Pam Smallcomb
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Joe Berger
  • PUBLISHER: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3439-5
  • FORMAT: Hard cover, 32 pages
  • GENRE: Contemporary Fiction, Humor, Friendship

The Swamp Where Gator Hides

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Roberta Baird

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In the Florida Everglades, an alligator lurks in the swamp beneath a thick layer of algae. He’s hungry and looking for his next meal. Who will it be? The duck that paddles in ooze? The turtle taking a snooze? Written as a cumulative rhyming story, in the same vein as “The House that Jack Built,” Berkes’ expressive language brings the still swamp to life: This is the egret / nesting up high / who watches the deer / grazing nearby / the bullfrog with / a rumbling sound / eyeing the snake who slithers around…

On every page, kids can search for half-submerged Gator, camouflaged in layered shades of green. As the poem builds, you can almost hear first graders shouting their guesses during a classroom read-aloud. The story concludes when Gator finally surfaces from the water. Out in the open and with a great big SNAP, he lurches at a hapless sunfish (cleverly designed so that the fish’s fate depends on the reader’s interpretation).

This book introduces young readers to swamp ecosystems and the critters that inhabit them, the role of camouflage, and predator-prey relationships. Back pages offer teachers and parents additional information on each animal featured, which can be used to foster discussion and/or lesson plans. “Tips from the Author” includes curriculum-related literary activities on rhyming, sequencing, and poetry, while “Tips from the Illustrator” provides a peek at Baird’s process into creating beautiful digital illustrations. More classroom resources can be found on the publishers website: www.dawnpub.com.

  • Swamp where the gator hidesTitle: The Swamp Where Gator Hides
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Roberta Baird
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, March 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-470-0
  • Genre: Picture Book / Wildlife
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