Monday, April 23, 2012

Earth Day

While Sunday was officially Earth Day, many children will continue celebrating it all week at school. It's a great opportunity to build responsibility into our youngest citizens of the planet, and teach some principals of science along the way.

Many of the books that talk about Earth Day tend to be so "educational" that they forget to be fun.
Not this one.

Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals is a great selection for informing and entertaining. I can't help but love any book that you can "sing" as easily as you can read!

The full title is Compost Stew An A to Z Recipe for the Earth.  Yes, an alphabet book with substance.

Apple cores
Bananas, bruised
Coffee grounds with filters, used

It's also a "cookbook" of sorts, providing a recipe for making garden compost. You'll be amazed at all the things that you can add. There's even a list in the back of what you can't.

Ashley Wolff, the illustrator, uses recycled and found items to incorporate in her detailed collage illustrations. It's quite a treasure hunt to look for those things that make up the fascinating pictures.

Happy Earth Day (or week if you're lucky)

Science Extension Ideas:
Visit Mary McKenna Siddals website for a slew of great activities to use alongside her book.
How-to's for making your own compost in a jar, slideshows, activity sheets and more.

Compost Stew

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Besides Bedtime

Most parents are willing to read to or with their children at bedtime.
It's a natural choice to slow things down. Calm down those bodies. Wind down those brains.
Preparing for a good night's sleep is essential and we're pretty good at using books to help us.

What other times during the day do you read to your kids?

Do you start the day off with a "wake up" book?

Do you read at the table after meals?

Do you use car time for books (iPad versions)?
Do you take books outside?

Our days are full. We can't imagine squeezing one more thing into them.
Will you give it a try?

Reading together is a great way to take a break that brings us closer. We can share a laugh or a sigh depending on the story. No matter when. No matter where.

Check out this link from Creekside Learning for additional ideas on reading besides bedtime.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Mother Goose

April is National Poetry Month.
In honor of that decree, I'm sharing something a little old and a little new. Poetry-wise.
The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews.

A great introduction to poetry is through the tried and true Mother Goose rhymes.
Nina Crew has taken those same rhymes and added contemporary computer generated illustrations that bring the rhymes to life.

Illustrations provide visual cues that help the reader to connect meaning to the printed word. They help the reader make sense of new vocabulary. They help to tell the story.
The reading experience is way more fun with eye-popping pictures on every page.

 Here's one example of her excellent illustrations. It's clearly a more current connection to the rhyme. There are no images from the 18th century in this book!

To market, to market to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety jig.
To market, to market to buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again, jiggety jog.
To market, to market to buy a plum bun.
Home again, home again, market is done.

Try to remember a nursery rhyme you learned as a child, and find some new ones too, as you share this charming collection.

Language Extension Idea:
Listening for the ending rhyme sound.
Using the example above, write out the nursery rhyme on chart paper. Say it with the children until they are able to join in with you. Ask them to listen for words that sound alike or rhyme. When they hear one, have them give a thumbs up. Circle the two rhyming words. Look at them and see if anyone can find similarities? Are there any matching letters?
For older children, you can move into writing pairs or lists of rhyming words.
Being aware of and able to distinguish those rhyming sounds are great pre-reading skills!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


I've been on Spring Break with my youngest child (note the lack of consistency with posting).
I love these little breaks from the hustle and bustle, but I also look forward to being back "on track" with our usual routine.

Some people roll with the changes no matter what. At least that's what I've heard.
Not me. I'm not that crazy about change.

I'd like to keep my children in their preschool years.  Myself in my thirties.
 Fall and Spring should both last at least six months just so I can get used to them before they're gone.

In Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich, Mister Bud is a dog who has a schedule. His day is carefully crafted into exact blocks of time and he likes it that way.

Suddenly, someone new enters the picture and the schedule is in danger! Mister Bud has to deal with some changes. He likes it about as much as I like getting a new Drivers License photo.

The new dog, Zorro, isn't too thrilled either. It takes a little time for both of them to discover that they have some things in common. Life is twice the fun with a new friend to share it (as long as everyone sticks to the schedule).
Readers and listeners alike will enjoy the illustrations, especially the hilarious expressions of Mister Bud and Zorro. They show the joys and struggles of sharing throughout the daily routine. The expanse of white space on the page brings your eye right to the action (or lack of it at "nap time"). The owner is seen as only a hand trying to restrain the leash, or a leg being leaned on.

Anyone who has ever struggled with change will be able to relate to this fun and engaging tale.
New addition to the family. Starting school. Life is full of change. Most of it is pretty good.

Field Trip Extension Ideal:
Visit your local animal shelter and bring supplies.
Find out what types of items the shelter can use (old blankets, rugs).
During the visit, ask the shelter volunteer to share what kind of schedule the animals are kept on.
What times do they eat, sleep, exercise, etc.?
When you return to school or home, write out the schedule for the animals and compare it to the one that the children follow. What things are similar? What is different?

Friday, April 13, 2012


Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee is not a poetry book, but it feels so poetic, both in verse and pictures

Stars are certainly found in the sky, but where else can you find these tiny pieces of magic?
Dandelion fluff and bunches of moss can be transformed into stars when you look closely, as children often do.

The illustrations show "everyday" items, like a stick or a cartwheel, through the lens of a young child. Wonder fills each page.

Stars are not only things you see, but can describe how you feel.

"Some days you feel shiny as a star."
"If you do something important, you might be called a star."
" But some days you don't feel shiny."

Being reminded of how to view the world as a child is a gift. This book wraps it up with a bow.
Share it with all the "stars" in your world.

Extension Idea:
Click here for some post read aloud ideas. The Learning Time Resources (geared for children ages 4-5) can be downloaded for future reference. Check out the website while you're there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To Read or Not to Read

When I saw this book on the shelf at my local bookstore, I knew I had to have it.
The title got me first.
I also had great appreciation for the cover.

The slightly panicked look on his face got me thinking.
I wanted to know WHY the little boy wouldn't read. What terrible thing was waiting inside the pages?

I was a little nervous.
I had to know.

So I bought it and read it.

I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng, illustrated by Joy Ang is a delightful story. One that shows what great lengths a child may go to, simply to avoid reading.
Because sometimes, "Reading is hard and I don't read fast and... there are words I don't know."

The joy of reading is quickly lost when always tied to a goal. So many minutes or words per night. Comprehension questions. Book reports.

The reluctant reader in this story is willing to face hanging from a cliff over shark infested waters rather than read.  He's willing to endure tickling from a monkey and a speeding train. Anything.

How does it end?
He's willing to read if, and only if, someone he loves will read it WITH him.

Three cheers for read alouds!

Writing Extension Idea:
I do an exercise like this at the beginning of each year as I'm getting to know the children in my class. It gives me a little knowledge about the individual and it gives each child a chance to share their thoughts on some big ideas.
Materials Needed:  Large drawing paper (big enough to trace a child's body), markers, interview sheet.
Procedure: Children lie down in any pose they choose and I quickly trace their body outline. They use markers to draw details if they choose, or simple to add color and decorate as they see fit.
Using the following statements, I interview each child and record their answers on the Interview Sheet. We hang the tracings and interviews on the classroom walls right away. 
1. I like 
2. I do not like
3. I am afraid of?
4. I am not afraid of?

Monday, April 9, 2012


Unusual? I think so.
Colorful? Absolutely.
Goggle-eyed? Without a doubt.
Cool? I have to think about that.

Chameleons are Cool by Martin Jenkins is both a nonfiction book and an engaging read aloud. I recently watched a group of seven to nine year old students totally engrossed as this book was shared.

It presents interesting facts about the physical and behavioral characteristics of chameleons. The vivid artwork by Sue Shields keeps pace with the enthusiasm of the narrator, and even includes additional facts in small print as they curl around the creatures.

Here's a couple I didn't know before reading Chameleons are Cool.
Chameleons move their eyes independently (teachers and parents could see a lot more of what goes on if our eyes worked that way).
Chameleons change color, not to blend in with their surroundings, but when they're angry, sick, hot, or cold.

Martin Jenkins definitely thinks chameleons are cool. So do I.

Geography Extension Idea:
Many species of chameleons are found in Madagascar. (Children are familiar with this term thanks to the hit movies and television shows from Nickelodeon.)
Look at a world map to find this country. How far away it is from your home or school? How would you travel there to see a chameleon?
Why do chameleons live in Madagascar?  Why don't they live here?

Check out this website for more information about these amazing creatures.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Today begins National Library Week. Hurrah for local libraries!

What serves as an invitation to an entire world of information and entertainment, requires no batteries or recharging, and fits in your pocket? Oh yeah, and its free.
You guessed it. The humble library card.
Do you have one?

In today's book choice, Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, a lion becomes a regular patron of the library (but he doesn't get his own library card). While an unusual guest, he is allowed as long as he follows the rules. He enjoys the activities and even provides useful services to the staff and patrons until one fateful day.  

What happens if you NEED to break a rule?  Is is ever OK to break a rule?
Legitimate questions. They're the kind that build critical thinking skills in little brains.
Library Lion opens that discussion.

More than that, this story also depicts the library as a place to belong. A warm and inviting place where friends gather, share, and help each other.  A place you want to visit.

Support your local library this week. Visit their website and then visit in person.

Field Trip Extension Idea:
Visit your local library.
Prepare for your visit by talking about what rules might apply (No Roaring).
Look at a map of the library to see all the different sections it's divided into. Find the children's section and mark it with a big "X" for treasure.
Practice the "pull and peek" method for choosing a book.
If you're a parent, let each of your children sign up for their own card.
If you're a teacher, encourage your students to get one.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Tomorrow is a big day. Easter Sunday.
As a Christian, it's much more than egg hunts and baskets filled with chocolate bunnies. This holiday is  a centering point of my faith.

There are a lot of beautiful, entertaining books that cover one or more aspects of this special season. You can find stories about the Easter Bunny, Eggs, Spring Animals, and more.
I've chosen this book to celebrate Easter for what it means to me.

Gail Gibbons is a well known nonfiction author for young children. Having published nearly 50 informational books for beginning readers, her treatment of a subject is always age appropriate.

Easter is no exception. The religious aspects of the holiday are introduced. Clear and concise. It doesn't shy away from including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Various legends that are still a part of the Easter holiday are also discussed. The final page gives a brief description of additional Easter Holy Days.

The illustrations remind me of stained glass windows. I always loved those. Anybody remember them from a church long ago?
The simple stylized drawings and vivid watercolors are appealing and seem the perfect fit with the factual content.

I think you'll find room to nestle a copy right between the chocolate bunny and the jelly beans.

Happy Easter.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Girls vs Boys

There are "Girl" books and "Boy" books.
Not every book falls into one of these categories.
Thank goodness.

They begin on the picture book shelves and continue all the way to the young adult selections.
You know which is which just by looking at the cover. Usually.

These are both good read aloud choices. I like the story and illustrations in each. But it's pretty clear which gender the book is geared to.

Girls will often read a book about "boyish" things or a book where a boy is the main character.
Boys will not read, no way, no how, what they consider a "girl" book once they become readers. Typically.

Dr. Danny Brassel, nationally known speaker on the subject of reading, shares this statistic:
Four out of five struggling readers are boys.
What can you do to help?
For 10 great tips on encouraging those reluctant readers of the male persuasion, take a look at this article by Dr. Brassel, courtesy of

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Puppy Love

Some people are "dog" people. Some people aren't.
Me? I'm definitely not a dog person, but I do love a good book about those canine companions.

Dogs by Emily Gravett is a book about ALL the kinds of dogs that you can love.
Slow dogs. Fast dogs. Dogs that bark. Dogs that don't.
But which is the dog that you love best?

Her pencil and watercolor illustrations show not only the characteristics of size and color, they also give each dog a unique personality. Look carefully and you might catch a glimpse of your own pooch (if you're a "dog" person).

Each double page spread carries one sentence, keeping this book simple enough for the youngest child to enjoy.  Take note of the final page as it reveals the twist in the "tail".

Math Extension Idea:
Graphing Pets
Using cut-outs of common pets (dogs, cats, fish, birds), we graph which pet each child has or wishes they could have.
After everyone has a chance to add their pet to the board, we count each column to see which pet is the most popular in our class.
This simple hands-on math activity gives practice in making choices, counting, and noticing "more" and "less".

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rainy Day

Rainy days are part of this time of year.
After such unusually warm and sunny days, it's a little hard to appreciate the cooler, wetter weather of springtime.
I was thinking of all the books that have rain as part of the story and wanted to share one with you today. I chose Chalk by Bill Thompson.

 Chalk is an amazing wordless picture book that begins and ends with rain. I think you can tell just how cool this book is by looking at the cover alone.  Don't you want to open it and see what it's all about?

Here's a clue.

Three children walking through a playground one rainy day find a bag filled with chalk. They begin to draw with the chalk and some amazing things happen. The drawings come to life.
That's a good thing as long as you're drawing sunshine and butterflies, but what happens when you draw a sharp-toothed dinosaur?

That part is actually a little scary (the illustrations are so intense and realistic). Listeners under five years may need some extra security until the dinosaur problem is resolved by one of the children and another piece of chalk.

Inserts on several double page spreads allow you to see the "before" moment. Pause and ask, "What is that child thinking?" You can retell the story over and over, adding details, as children notice more with each trip through the book.

A wordless picture book must have extraordinary illustrations to carry the story. This one does.

Art Extension Idea:
Chalk with Water
Materials: Colored chalk, heavy white paper, small cups/bowls, water, towels to clean up
Procedure: Give children paper, containers of water and chalk. Let them draw with the dry chalk first. Next, show them how to dip the chalk into the water before putting it to the paper. Encourage them to draw as they wish. Notice and discuss the difference between the wet chalk versus the dry chalk.
Enjoy the experience of discovery and creating art together.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


You've probably heard all about the benefits of blueberries. If not, you can find them here.
It's not difficult to get most children to eat blueberries.
Fairly sweet. Shaped like a ball. Blue. Now that's a fun food!
Of course, not everyone is so easily swayed.
Try a great read aloud to "sweeten" the deal. (I couldn't resist)

A classic picture book, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, might be the invitation needed for your picky eater to give blueberries a go. If it doesn't change their dietary habits, they can still enjoy a sentimental favorite about a little girl, a little bear, and blueberry picking.

 Little Sal and her mother head to Blueberry Hill to gather berries to make preserves for the winter. On the other side of the hill, Little Bear and his mother are also looking for berries to eat, preparing to sleep through the winter. There's a bit of a mix-up where's things could get scary. Rest assured, everyone ends up safe and sound with plenty of berries.

I love all the little things that happen in this story. The attention to the sound of the berries dropping into the buckets. Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk. The way the little ones wander, lost in their own worlds. The tension that builds when Little Sal and the mother bear find one another.
There's a lot to this little book.

Even if you don't like blueberries, you can still "pick" a winner with this read aloud. (I really couldn't resist)

Music Extension Idea:
Singing with young children is my second favorite activity after reading to them.
Here's a little song to share that's sung to the tune, "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"

Oh Sal and her Mother went walking
All over the Blueberry Hill
They wanted to pick sweet ripe berries
And each had a tin pail to fill

Sing it through a couple times, then hand out little buckets or containers and have the children pretend to fill them as they sing.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Who knew an egg could be so many things?
When I think of an egg...a white chicken egg comes to mind. The kind of egg that sits with 11 other identical eggs in a Styrofoam container in my fridge.

If you read An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston, you'll see that an egg is colorful, shapely, artistic, and more. This informational book with gorgeous illustrations by Sylvia Long is an outstanding specimen of the picture book genre (scientifically speaking).

It's the perfect time of year for a study on eggs and this is the perfect springboard.  A fascinating book, it introduces more than 60 types of eggs and and shares some amazing facts about them.

Did you know that seabird eggs are pointy at one end? Why? If they are laid on rock ledges, they roll around in safe little circles, not off the cliff. Amazing.

You can't help but be entranced by the beauty of this book and still learn something new.
It's the perfect addition to an Easter basket too!

Extension Idea:
Truly, the possibilities are endless with this book. The topics of math, science, art, geography, and history are all introduced.
Here's one for Math.
An ostrich egg can weigh up to 8 pounds. Take a balloon and fill it with water to equal the size of a chicken egg.  Let the children weigh it on a kitchen scale. Take another and fill it until it weighs 8 pounds (or as close as you can get) to show the size of an ostrich egg. Let the children hold each of these just to get a feel for the difference in these two types of bird eggs.

Weigh it.