Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth

Written and illustrated by Jarvis

Be who you are and trust your friends. Those are the main lessons from this entertaining book about an alligator with false teeth.

Alan tries to be scary – just like everyone else in his family. He gnashes his razor sharp teeth at all the animals and has the frogs leaping. And the monkeys tumbling. And the parrots screeching. After a long day of scaring, he relaxes by removing his teeth, storing them in a super-secret hiding place, and going to bed. An early-rising beaver stumbles on the teeth and experiments with them. Alan’s embarrassed by not being so scary any more. He’s so embarrassed, he can’t stop crying. The other animals find his teeth for him but need assurances to give them back. So Alan has to move beyond scaring.

The amusing and colorful mixed-media illustrations make this new parable enjoyable and engaging. Great for independent reading or as a read aloud.

Maybe all these animals can’t live so closely in the real world, but first graders can still learn about cooperation and better uses for their resources.

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  • Alans Big Scary TeethTitle: Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth
  • Author/ Illustrator: Jarvis
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 1
  • Genre: Animals, Interpersonal relationships
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8120-3

Over on the Farm

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Cathy Morrison

In this simple little counting book, the author reworks the song “Over in the Meadow,” into a rhyme about the animals on a traditional farm. For example:

     Over on the farm

     In a tree-hollow heaven

     Lived a mother barn owl

     And her little owlets seven

Some of the counts aren’t quite realistic, but the author takes license for the sake of rhyme and rhythm and later explains what the animals are really like. And the actions the animals take are consistent with actions real animals take and kids can identify with.

As usual, Morrison’s beautiful illustrations follow the text exactly and enhance the reader’s activities, such as counting the babies and looking for other details.

Just like the new verses to the song, there seem to be end to the reading activities available to first graders and up. Along with music for the song, directions are given for dancing to it. More Fun on the Farm makes many suggestions for further enjoyment of the story.

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  • Over on the FarmTitle: Over on the Farm
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Published: Dawn Publications, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Music, Counting, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-549-3
  • Extras: Music, Fact or Fiction, Seasons on the Farm, About the Animals, More Fun on the Farm (math, science, language arts, arts, From Farm to Table), Movement and Music

Baa Baa Smart Sheep

Written Mark Sommerset
Illustrated by Rowan Sommerset

Well, I nearly giggled myself to death on that one. At least, I can imagine a first grader doing so.

When Quirky Turkey encounters bored Baa Baa Smart Sheep, Baa Baa looks for a way to alleviate the boredom. So Baa Baa convinces Quirky Turkey to eat a pile of poo, which may or may not be smarty tablets. Warning: the little twists at the end will probably cause this to be favorite bedtime reading. As the cover says, this contains mischief.

The illustrations are adorable and supplement the text well.

The language is a little beyond first grade, but the context and repetition lend themselves to independent reading on the second try, meaning reinforced literacy skills. These New Zealanders have a winner here.

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  • Baa BaaTitle: Baa Baa Smart Sheep
  • Author: Mark Sommerset
  • Illustrator: Rowan Sommerset
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8066-4

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Written by Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Winnie-the-Pooh was real? Actually, the bear he was named after was real. This story written by Lindsay Mattick, is the truth behind the bear and his name. Lindsay is the great granddaughter of one of the main characters in the whole affair, Captain Harry Coleburn.

It seems a young Canadian vet headed off to war, saw a trapper with a bear cub and offered to buy it from him for $20, which really was a lot of money back then. The young vet kept the bear, trained it, so to speak, and named it Winnie, short for Winnipeg, to help the fellows in his unit from becoming too homesick. The bear was their mascot and traveled with them until it became too dangerous. Then he was donated to the London zoo, where he was often visited by a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher took such a liking to Winnie that he went home and named his stuffed bear, Winnie. Well, we all know what happened then.

The story is told through beautiful lyrical language as, “the train rolled through dinner…”, and difficult to grasp philosophy, “sometimes one story must end so another can begin.” It includes humor and heartbreak, but most stunningly, the truth.

The watercolor illustrations are wonderfully done to realistically show children what soldiers training for the First World War looked like and how they lived. The back of the book is a collection of real photographs of the men, the bear, and even the journal in which Harry, the vet, kept his notes. The format reminds one of the many American Heritage Girl books, which were among the first to put a story at the front and the nonfiction correlation in the back. The illustrations are so stunning, they won the Caldecott Medal for this wonderful book.

Core curriculum standards can be attained by teachers and librarians in the areas of literacy, geography and history. It is wonderful book for teachers of writing to use as an illustration of how authors use the things around them every day in creation of stories. Children, parents, and grandparents alike will delight in getting to know a little bit more about their own favorite pooh bear,

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  • Finding WinnieTitle: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
  • Author: Lindsay Mattick
  • Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
  • Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015.
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0316324908
  • Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book
  • Grade level: K to 1
  • Extras: photographs of the real people, real bear and the journal entries

Last Stop on Market Street

Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Riding the bus with Nana after church on Sunday is the backdrop of this poetic story which won the 2016 Newbery AND a Caldecott honor. The story is fresh and timely. It is realistic for all children whether they live in the city or not.  The little boy doesn’t want to go again, and complains about many little things we all fuss about when we are in a bad mood. Nana turns all the negatives into positives. She gently shows him how to see things differently even as a blind musician on the bus tells him to close his eyes in order to see the music.

Unlike so many books for young children that wrap everything up at the end, this book ends with a bright new beginning. He is glad they came again to the last stop on Market Street. The readers will be glad, also.

The exquisite art work is reminiscent of the cut paper art of Ezra Jack Keats, as are the bright colors and realistic neighborhoods. This book is definitely a winner and a must have for every school and public library.

Standards in the common core will be fulfilled in the areas of literacy and geography, but art teachers will want to tap into these pages for sample illustrations and/or project ideas, too.

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  • Last Stop on Market StreetTitle: Last Stop on Market Street
  • Author: Matt de la Peña
  • Illustrator: Christian Robinson
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0399257742
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: K to 2

Groundhog’s Dilemma

Written by Kristen Remenar
Illustrated by Matt Faulker

Ever try to please everybody? It doesn’t work, as Groundhog finds out.

He does his job, and he does it well. He sees his shadow, calls for six more weeks of winter amid thanks from some animals and complaints from others. Throughout the following year, the animals try to reward, or bribe him into “seeing” what they want him to see next year. They let him play on their baseball team, bring him treats and keep him company.

The illustrations are hilarious from speech bubbles to signs on the walls of his den stating, SAVE THE DATE, I AM WHAT I AM, etc. Soon, however, he realizes his problem and seeks out his pal, Owl for advice. He admits he has said yes to everyone else’s desires because he wants them to like him. Owl plays the part of most parents stating, “You got yourself into this, get yourself out.”

Deep inside his heart he knows spring will come when it is supposed to come regardless of what his friends want. So, he returns to being his true self, reporting only what he sees. A perfect ending follows as groundhog becomes the most important person on the baseball team. The one person who will truthfully call ‘em like he sees ‘em.

Literacy core curriculum standards like sequencing, character traits, dialogue, and main idea can be strengthened while using this text. It is a fun introduction to the phenomena of Groundhog’s Day and the coming of spring.

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  • Groundhogs DilemmaTitle: Groundhog’s Dilemma
  • Author: Kristen Remenar
  • Illustrator: Matt Faulker
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58089-600-9
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

Groundhog’s Day Off

Written by Robb Pearlman
Illustrated by Brett Helquist

Everyone deserves a day off. Especially when no one appreciates you personally. All they care about is the job you do for them. That’s exactly what Groundhog decides. He packs up all his stuff, including his shadow, and heads off to the spa.

Helquist’s illustrations perfectly capture the expressions experienced by all involved. Especially groundhog’s surprise at hearing the televised news broadcast report stating that while many other animals have applied for the job, none could fulfill groundhog’s role. It seems his audience does love and miss him.

All readers will giggle at the antics of other animals as they audition for the job.

Pearlman ends with a humorous, if expected twist about another disgruntled holiday mascot.

Literacy and social studies core curriculum standards, as related to holidays, will be supported by usage of this delightful book. Teachers and librarians may use it as a springboard for students to write notes of appreciation to oft overlooked caregivers and school employees so they feel appreciated and loved.

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  • Groundhogs Day OffTitle: Groundhog’s Day Off
  • Author: Robb Pearlman
  • Illustrator: Brett Helquist
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-61963-289-9
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Holiday
  • Grade level: PreK to 1

Surf’s Up

Written by Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

The sparse text in this delightful picture book partly serves to reinforce the wonderful illustrations. The reader meets two frogs enjoying fantastic weather and surfing conditions at the beach. But first, one friend has to finish the book he’s reading. And the book is anything but boring. But try convincing the other friend of that. The book is about a man searching for a giant whale. “Wowie Kazowie!” Kids will be drawn in by the reading frog’s enthusiasm and his vivid imagination of what the book scenes look like. The other frog learns of another way to spend a day at the beach.

This is a great book for first graders to read independently for increasing literacy skills or for a teacher or parent to read aloud with a group. Reading activities could include learning more about whales and which ones are the largest and most aggressive. Of course, kids can also learn about literature and Moby Dick, about whaling in the nineteenth century, and about why whaling is no longer a common practice.

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  • Surfs UpTitle: Surf’s Up
  • Author: Kwame Alexander
  • Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
  • Published: NorthSouth, February, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Picture book
  • ISBN: 978-0-7358-4220-5

Cork & Fuzz Merry Merry Holly Holly

Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Lisa McCue

Special days are celebrated with good friends in a beautiful place. But sometimes it takes some searching to find the perfect spot. Someplace where birds aren’t squawking at you and squirrels aren’t throwing acorns down on your head.

This delightful book will have young listeners giggling and then singing along. Beautiful illustrations take readers along on the trip to find a quiet thinking tree and plant ideas about what it is making this day so special. The word Christmas is never used which makes the book universal for all winter holidays. Finding a tree with lights on it outside is unusual, but shouldn’t bother readers as there is a fence nearby suggesting a house nearby.

Teachers, librarians, and parents will want to add this wonderful book to the pile of winter holidays. Besides all the fun it offers, this book will also fulfill core curriculum standards in the area of literacy skills as teachers can use Cork and Fuzz as excellent examples of real life characters by listing their character traits. Understanding picture clues and predicting outcomes are also skills easily strengthened for grade one and grade two readers.  So fun!

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  • Cork & FuzzTitle:  Cork & Fuzz Merry Merry Holly Holly
  • Author:  Dori Chaconas
  • Illustrator:  Lisa McCue
  • Publisher:  Viking, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-451-47501-5
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 1

Stanley’s Diner

Written and Illustrated by William Bee

What is Stanley up to now? Cooking for hungry customers and teaching youngsters about food and food preparation. Hattie writes the menu on the blackboard and takes the orders, while Stanley cooks meals in the well-stocked kitchen. Charlie, the customer enjoys putting lots of syrup on his pancakes. Later, Stanley goes to the store and makes a special cake for Little Woo’s birthday. Then he cleans up and goes home.

For the very young, this would be a great read aloud for discussion of components and the pictures. Kids can even count the number of slices of toast Stanley’s toaster makes (eight). And they can read the names on the ingredients, such as flour, sugar, and butter. First graders can practice the literacy skills they’re already gaining by spotting the many simple elements in the fun illustrations.

Who knows what Stanley will come up with next.

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  • Stanleys DinerTitle: Stanley’s Diner
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Food, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-156145-802-8

 

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