Alphabet Books

I am still on maternity leave but that doesn’t mean I am not reading.  I am doing a lot more work with my own children and have started a Mommy Blog.  We do literacy activities every day but we now do more indepth literacy activities on Tuesdays.  One of the things we have been looking at are ABC books.  We travelled to the public library and signed out a number of Alphabet books.

The Z Was Zapped by Chris VanAllsburgAAAAAqRtMH8AAAAAAKarlw

If you have ever read a VanAllsburg you will remember it.  He has the most amazing and beautiful illustrations.  The Z Was Zapped is no exception.  This unique alphabet book is written as a 26 act play, as there are 26 letters in the alphabet.  Each letter has an action done to it and the reader first see the illustration.  You then need to turn the page to read the description: “The A was in an Avalanche.”  This would make a great inferring book for upper primary and junior students, having the student try and determine the description from the illustration.  The language and actions in this book are a bit too advanced for lower primary students.  My 5 year old was only able to figure out a few letters from their descriptions.

D is for Dancing Dragon – A China Alphabet by Carol Crane and Illustrated by Zong-Zhou Wang

Sleeping Bear Press publishes a series of beautiful alphabet books.  A couple of years ago I read and blogged about B is for Bluenose by Susan Tooke.  D is for Dragon is written in the exact same format.  Each letter is accompanied by a detailed picture, a 4 line rhyming stance, and a detailed sidebar giving relevant information on the topic.

A is for Chinese Acrobats616q3qppqpl_ss500_

performing with grace.

We clap and admire their physical strength,

as they land in a very small space.

In the side bar is a description of the history of Chinese acrobats, a list of their amazing feats, and where they perform.  The great thing about these concept books is that they can be used for a variety of ages.  My own child loves the pictures and the simple rhyming passages.  If she asks questions about any of the pages I then read further in the sidebar.  As my husband travels to China for business every couple of months this book is very relevant in our house.  This book has made such an impression on her that she wants to hold a Chinese festival at our place complete with lanern, rice, chop sticks and other aspects she learned in this book.

AlphaOops! The Day the Z Went First by Alethea Kontis, Illustrated by Bob Kolar


Interrupting Chicken

I had requested David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken a month ago from the public library but by the time it came in I couldn’t remember why I requested it.  A sticker on the cover of the book indicated that is is a Caldecott Honor book but a quick google search reminded me that it was the 2010 Cyblis award winner. The Cyblis awards are the Children’s and Young Adult Blogers’ Literacy Awards.  I would love to be considered a serious book blogger some day so I personally find this award pretty cool.  It is not one of the more well know awards but they have had winners since 2006.  You can find out more information at the Cyblis website.

Interrupting Chicken is a story of a daddy chicken trying to read a story to the Little Red Chicken.  Before he even starts the first story we learn how it is going to go:

“All right”, said Papa.  “I’ll read one of your favorites.  And of course you are not going to interrupt the story tonight, are you?”

Many a parent has read a story to a child only to be told they missed a page or read a word wrong, so parents and adults will find great humour in this book.  Papa chicken begins the first story and just as it starts to get a bit scary the Little Red Chicken interrupts to inject himself into the book and change the ending eliminating the scary parts.  This happens a few times with different stories until Papa gives up and has the Little Red Chicken tell him a bedtime story instead.

This is a different take on the fractured fairy tale but done very cutely.  Children will love anticipating when the Little Red Chicken will interrupt, a great chance for use of the reader’s voice in a read aloud.  You could create an extension lesson of the book having students re-write the endings to other fairy tales.

There are some great opportunities for print referencing and discussing the changes in format in the book.  Stein has created three syles of illustration: one of the papa and child when reading the book,  a different style for the books themselves, and third at the end of the story when the Little Red Chicken writes his own book.  Students can discuss why he has created the two different types and whether or not they are effective.

I feel this is a perfect book to include in a school library. It has comic appeal for students and creates many teachable moments for students.  A definite addition to my wish list!

Happy Shamrock Day!

St. Patrick’s Day is the one holiday that often isn’t studied in school, as it falls during the March Break.  This year the girls and I held our own little St. Patrick’s Day celebration including a visit to the public library.  St. Patrick’s Day books are not common but I managed to find three through the county inter-library loan program.

Shamrock Days by Elizabeth McKinnon

This is a great non-fiction books for getting ideas for activities with young children.  It starts with a brief explanation of St. Patrick’s Day, Shamrocks, Leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day Parades.  From there there are sections with Rhymes & Songs, Craft projects, games and snacks.  We learned a few rhymes and especially liked “Little Shamrock” to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”.  We also took the suggestion of purchasing a shamrock plant for the girls to grow and observe.  We also used a couple of suggestions in the snack section making Shamrock Shakes and Green Potato Pies as part of our St. Patrick’s Day Dinner.

Mary McLean and the St.Patrick’s Day Parade by Steven Kroll, Illustrated by Michael Dooling

We picked up this book last week before hearing about the passing of children’s author Steven Kroll.  It seems appropriate to introduce his books to our students now.  Mary McLean and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a historical picture book that combines tales of the hardships of life of the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s and 1850’s in New York City, with the excitement surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, and the magical lore of leprechauns.  The story is a bit lengthy for young children but could effectively be used as as a read aloud with frequent stopping to highlight key features.  It could also be used in junior or intermediate classes for study of the immigrant experience.  There is also an author’s note at the conclusion of the book to highlight the historical aspects of the story.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Jan Brett

This story was more appropriate for younger children.  Jamie is the youngest in his family, with 2 older brothers.  He is not happy when they tell him he is too young to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  Early in the morning, he wakes before everyone else, an with his trusty sheepdog Nell he decides to hold his own parade to the top of Acorn Hill.  Along the way he meets Hubble the Hen Man, wakes up mad old Mrs. Mulligan and stops as the Half-Way-Up Sweetshop to accept a treat and flag from Mrs. Simms.  When he reaches the stage where the parade will conclude later that day he places his empty bottle and small Irish flag.  Students will be able to easily relate to Jamie who is told he is too small to do what feels he is big enough to do.  I love Brett’s drawing and the minimalist use of white, black, green and yellow as the only colours in the book, the same colours in the Irish flag.

Not Suitable for Family Viewing

I admit it , I picked up the Red Maple nominee Not Suitable for Family Viewing by Vicki Grant because of the title.  I am always worried about the appropriateness of books and with a title like this the students will want to read it.  Not Suitable for Family Viewing is about Robin, an average insecure teenager, who just happens to have a very famous mother.  Imagine your mother was as famous a Oprah.  One day Robin makes a puzzling discovery in her mother’s room which ends up taking her to a remote, abandoned fishing village in Nova Scotia.  While investigating her family past Robin learns more than should could have ever imagined, not just about her family but about herself.  A great coming of age story for intermediate girls.  Not sure the boys will like this one.


One of my previous blogs asked “What is your Favourite Fractured Fairytale?”  One suggestion given by a reader was Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith’s Squids will be Squids.  I found this book in the Norfolk County public library and decided to check it out, pun intended.  Scieszka has written some very popular fracture fairytales including: Math Curse and The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales.  I sat down to read it to Kaitlyn today while she is home sick and quickly appreciated that this is not a Kindergarten, and possibly not even a primary level, picture book.  Now don’t get be wrong she loved the pictures and particularly liked the fable: “he who…”  but she did not come close to understanding most of the fables.

The more I look through this book, the more I think it could have great uses in a junior or intermediate language arts classroom, especially with character education connections.  I would begin by reading the “serious historical foreword” in Squids will be Squids.  From here I would have students explore some of Aesops fables.  Many online collections can be found.  Then I would have them explore some of the fables in Squids will be Squids.  Finally I would have each student create their own fable and create a classroom anthology of fables.  May just have to get this book for the school.

What is your favourite Fractured Fairytale?

I am starting to think that my love of great books is starting to wear off on my 5 year old, Kaitlyn.  This week the library book she brought home was Jean Little, Maggie DeVries & Phoebe Gilman’s Once Upon A Golden Apple.  This book is great on so many levels.  A father is reading a story to two young children and they keep correcting him with every mistake.  Every parent who has ever read a story to a young child knows that if you make a mistake, or decide to change parts when reading a favourite book they will correct you.  You will also know how emotional invested children can get when you are reading a book.  This book combines both of these features with parts of many great fairy tales.

My girls loved it as a read aloud – it got a bit loud with the “NO”s throughout the book. When reading to older children they will appreciate that as each option is given they can list the original Fairy Tales and this could lead to exploring classic fairy tales.  This story would also be a great introduction to the topic of Fractured Fairytales leading into students writing their own tales.

Last year I posted a blog on a number of Cinderella stories I was reading with my Kindergarten classes in the library.   None of them were masterpieces but they were a variety of fractured fairytales that the kids loved. What is your favourite Fractured Fairytale?

Water for Elephants

I haven’t posted in a couple weeks but I have been reading.  I just finished an ‘adult’ book for a change.  I didn’t pick this one myself but my book club is reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  This is definitely the type of book I would have read in 24 hours – back when I had time before children and responsibilities.  Gruen has a talent for grabbing the reader and hooking them from the first page – or more specifically the prologue.  The prologue gives away the climax of the book, without all the details you need to fully understand it.  The protagonist, and teller of the story, Jacob is sitting under a red and white awning with two other people.  Everyone else is in the big top.  The first dialog is someone named Grady saying:

It seems to be me you’ve got a lot to lose right now.

Well that was the first hook – what does he have to lose?  A few seconds later the band starts playing “Stars and Stripes Forever”, which we then learn is the Disaster march – followed by a stampede of animals.  Jacob must be someone of importance because he starts running into the tent, while everyone else is running out.  We has to find someone named Marlena.  One more unnamed character is mentioned in not so flattering terms, who them is subsequently murdered by ‘her’.  Well so many questions are forced upon the reader that you must read on – because you are only on page 4.  Page 5 then jumps a number of decades and reads:

I am ninety.  Or ninety-three. One or the other.  When you’re five, you know your age down to the month.  Even in your twenties you know how old you are.  I’m twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven.  But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen.  It’s a mere hiccup at first, an instant hesitation.  How old are you?  Oh, I’m – you start confidently, but then you stop.  You were going to say thirty-three, but you’re not.  You’re thirty-five.  And then you’re bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end.  It is, of course, but it’s decades before you admit it.

I love Gruen’s honest and witty writing.  It tugs at your hearstrings and immerses you in the life a depression era circus.  You feel like you can relate to the characters even though you have nothing in common with them.  I am looking forward to my next book club meeting to hear everyone else’s thoughts on Water for Elephants.

All About Penguins

So today was all about Penguins.  This all started when I read a blog yesterday about the feature in Google that allows you limit your findings by reading level.  I was trying it out and decided to do a search on Penguins as that is what Kaitlyn is learning about in Kindergarten right now.  The second hit was a site from KidZone that was a compilation of penguin resources.  I printed off a few worksheet for Kaitlyn: My Itsy Bitsy Penguin Book, The Peguin Life Cycle, and the African Penguin, and then I find the links for printing off a template to make your own penguin book.  I decided this would be a great way for Kaitlyn to share what she has learned about Penguins.  I printed her 1 cover page and 5 lined pages because I was working with her and could help her with spelling and printing.  If I was to do this with a Kindergarten class I would print all blank pages and let them draw pictures and then I would help them add captions.

To help her with her penguin facts I pulled out all the penguin books we have in the house.  Most of these are scholastic as we got them through her class book orders.  There are many penguin books in the school library but we used the ones in our house because I am on mat leave.

Penguins by Liz Pichon

This cute little tale does not have much information on penguins but instead tells of the adventures of a group of penguins in the zoo.  Pichon outlines the day of the penguins form swimming, eating fish, playing games, sleep stading up and looking at people  One day a young girl drops her camera in the penguin enclosure and mayhem ensues.  It is a cute story with bright illustrations, however the pictures are not as accurate as many of the other books we used.  It could be used as a jump off point for questions regarding penguins.  Do they really sleep standing up?  Do they eat anything other than fish?

If you Were a Penguin by Wendell & Florence Minor

This was the most realistic book of those we used today. It uses simple language with vibrant illustrations making it perfect for kindergarten students.  The text is written as a poem, but it does not rhyme.  Each page outlines a different fact about different types of penguins.  The illustrations accurately depict a variety of different types of penguins.  At the end of the book there is a page with “Penguin Fun Facts”, links where the reader can go to find more about penguins, and a page with 12 different types of penguins.  I am going to look into getting this one for the library.

Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! by Bob Barner

This book is very similar to If you Were a Penguin by it is a little more cartoonish.  The illustrations still resemble actual penguins but are a little more geared for young children.  The text in this book is also written as a poem but the rhyming feature makes it a bit more conducive to a Kindergarten Read -aloud.  There are also fact pages at the end but these ones are visual with great illustrations and much more appropriate for student reading.  I am also looking into purchasing this one for the school.

The Penguin Who Wanted to Fly by Catherine Vase

There are all kinds of books that teach  children to be happy with themselves just the way they are and this tale tells that story from the view of a little penguin.  Flip-Flop has a dream, he wishes he could fly, but penguins can’t fly.  He sets out to try and fly but along the way discovers there is something else great that he can do – swim.  This story would be very helpful when teaching self esteem to young kids but doesn’t teach as much about penguins as some of the other books.

Penguin Carnival “Ice Sculpture” by Judy McCawley

This is a book you probably have never heard of and will probably never be able to find.  When we went to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont a few weeks ago Kaitlyn found this book in the condo.  We picked up a couple of copies at the resort gift shop: one for us and one for Kaitlyn’s teacher.  This is the tale of Maroni Bologna Macaroni and you guessed it he is a Macaroni penguin.  Maroni’s best friend is Jelly Belly Adelie who of course is an Adelie penguin.  There is the one major conflict in the story.  McCawley has many different types of penguins living and interacting with each other.  Other than that is is a creative story that teaches about many different types of penguins, where they live, and the predators that hunt them.  There is also a glossary at the end of the book of the many terms used in the book.  This book is not as professional as all the other ones we used but probably has the most information about penguins entwined in the story.

What is your favourite penguin book?

Only in the Movies

I recently finished another Red Maple nominee “Only in the Movies” by William Bell.  This is a very different book from the previous one I read “Ghost Ride”.  The best, and most appropriate way to describe “Only in the Movies” would be to call it a romantic comedy.  The protagonist, Jake, has aspirations of becoming a screenwriter.  To help him pursue his dream his parents help to enrol in the prestigious York School of the Arts.  Once he is enrolled we meet the variety of characters around Jake.  His best friend and musician Instant, the eccentric Vanni who has a way with words, and  the beautiful Alba, who instantly upon meeting Jake fall madly in love with.  Throughout the book Bell breaks from traditional writing in Jake’s voice to screenplays.  This highlights Jake’s passion with screenwriting.

At SuperConference this past week I learned of many web  2.0 technologies and I spent today exploring one of these: VoiceThread.  I love using different technologies but sometimes find it difficult to understand and use them how I would like.  This was not a problem with VoiceThread.  I spent a bit of time watching the tutorials and I have set up a voice thread for the Red Maple Fiction Nominees.  It did not take me long to set it up and it seems to work pretty smoothly.  The true test will be when  I introduce it to the students in the Red Maple book club.  I know I am officially off work right now on maternity leave but this is the type of work I love playing with.


I just got home from SuperConference a couple of hours ago.  I unloaded my bags and separated the books for the school from those for my girls.  The girls checked theirs out but Kaitlyn fell asleep on the couch before storytime.  I guess we will have to wait until tomorrow to check them out.  I am very tired but hope over the next couple of days to go through some of my notes and make some reflections.

My session went really well and I am very happy with how it turned out.  I only had about 2o attendees in my presentation but there seemed very interested and asked great questions.  I will be posting my Blue Spruce Lessons on the SuperConference website, as promised, but I have already submitted by presentation handout.  If anyone has any questions about the festival or would like copies of any of the forms our handouts I used please send me an email.

It was a great time but all I can think of now is curling up in bed and sleeping.