Monday, August 26, 2013

Five More 5-Star Picture Books

Here are five more excellent picture books that have been released in the past couple of months:

Matilda is a very good cat, but Hans is very naughty. Yet somehow, when Hans goes too far and a reward is offered for information about him, Matilda knows exactly where he can be found. In Matilda and Hans, Yokococo masterfully blends a simple story with striking illustrations. While the story teaches the basic principles of naughty and nice, it also shows that everyone contains at least a little bit of both. Matilda and Has makes a great read-aloud for preschool children.

In No Fits, Nilson!, Amelia and Nilson go everywhere and do everything together. The problem is, whenever something goes wrong, Nilson throws a major fit, and Amelia must do whatever she can to calm him. OHora has crafted a short but highly relatable story of temper tantrums that recognizes how little it can take to spark one but which also offers encouragement for controlling them. The acrylic paintings have a cartoon-like quality to them and effectively support and expand upon the story. The final illustration may confuse some children, but makes a great starting place for discussions (what was really throwing the fits?). This is a great book to share with preschool to early school-age children, especially those who might need a little help with their own tantrums.

Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) tells the delightful story of Zoe, self-proclaimed Queen of the Universe. Every night after the lights go out, she builds empires, explores uncharted territory, and holds tea with the royal court. But when her little sister moves in, everything changes. Murguia has written a very short but lovable story that will resonate with any child who has a younger sibling, or who is facing any sort of big change. Her ink and watercolor illustrations are uncluttered and inviting, with just the right tones to set the mood and ample white space where appropriate.

Clementine receives exactly what she wants for her birthday: a nurse's outfit and a first-aid kit. As Nurse Clementine, she is ready to leap into action at any sign of injury, no matter how small. But she is not ready to deal with the biggest problem of all--when no one needs her help. Simon James' watercolor and ink illustrations are cartoon-like but expressive and full of action. The situations throughout the book are entirely realistic and will resonate with any child. It is also very easy to empathize with Clementine when she has no one left to help.

Dozens of Cousins is the story of a huge family reunion, complete with uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, and of course dozens of cousins. The story is told by the cousins, who scramble, race, jump, dive, stuff their faces, get muddy, and generally have a fun, noisy time. The story is actually a free-verse poem, and as such has some wonderful word choices and arrangement. It begs to be read out loud. The illustrations are wide, double page spreads covered from edge to edge with color and action, along with plenty of details to examine through multiple readings. One of the best new picture books I've seen this year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Flash Fiction Contest

Columbus Creative Cooperative is running a flash fiction contest through August 31. Your story must be based on three randomly assigned images and cannot be more than 500 words (less, if you use any sort of formatting, so keep is simple--it's about the writing, not the presentation).

You can see my entry here.

Also, if you want to read my entry in the last contest (which was a Judges' Choice winner), you can find it here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10 for 10 Picture Books

Here are my August 10 for 10 must have picture books (in no particular order). For more info on #pb10for10 and links to other lists, see Reflect and Refine and Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

1. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I could actually fill the entire list just from Dr. Seuss, but I decided that I would only include one book by each author. While Dr. Seuss has many wonderful books that I could have picked, I decided to go with The Lorax. Not only is it an excellent example of Seuss' work, but it contains a timeless message that should be shared with every child.

2. Tuesday by David Wiesner

Tuesday is a (nearly) wordless book, but Weisner's illustrations more than carry the story (and won him the Caldecott Medal in 1991). There is so much to discover and share in every picture that students enjoy going through it again and again. Not only are the illustrations exceptional, they contain a lot to find, and convey a wonderful sense of humor.

3. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
I love reading this book aloud (especially the moos), and students love to hear it. But more than just being a great and fun read, I use this book to introduce students to the concept and format of formal letters: how they are opened (Dear Farmer Brown) and closed (Sincerely, The Cows). As a follow up activity, I have the students write their own letter to Farmer Brown (I usually do this with first graders, so a one sentence body asking for something they want seems to work well).

4. The Full Belly Bowl by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

One of the things that I enjoy reading and sharing are books that have a solid story behind them. The Full Belly Bowl is written in traditional folkloric style, making it well-suited for folklore units. The illustrations are lively and complex, with multiple panels and borders full of activity. While the story is a cautionary tale, it does have a happy (or at least, happy enough) ending and is written and illustrated with plenty of humor.

5. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Another story that I like to use with folklore units, this book puts a double twist on the well-known classic, both by making it more modern and by telling it from the wolf's point of view. Naturally, the wolf considers himself the victim of circumstances beyond his control, though children will love pointing out clues that this may not actually be the case. This book makes a great centerpiece for discussing how traditional stories change over time and from teller to teller, either deliberately or unintentionally.

6. Miss Hunnicutt's Hat by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken

Miss Hunnicutt usually doesn't like to make a fuss and always does what everyone wants her to, but when the people of Littleton object to her wearing her new hat (complete with a live chicken on top), she stands her ground. If you have never read this book, you must find a copy now. The story is excellent and is supported by beautiful watercolor illustrations full of action, minute detail, and hidden bonuses. One catastrophe after another befalls the townspeople, not so much because of Miss Hunnicutt's hat but because of their reactions to it. This is a great book for children and adults.

7. Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Tim Bowers

This book just came out in February, but I had to include it on this year's list. It tells the story of Crispin, a young dragon who breaths just about anything--except fire, that is. Students will love trying to guess what will come out of his mouth next. Acrylic paintings in a cartoon-like style support and expand upon the story, and contain some interesting twists of their own (such as when the edges of the illustrations get scorched at one point). This is a great story of friendship and acceptance that works just as well for independent readers as it does for a read-aloud.

8. Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Janet Stevens
A modern retelling of a traditional African folktale, Anansi represents the Trickster found in nearly every folklore tradition. The story is well-written, and students will love seeing the other animals being fooled by Anansi, as well as Anansi getting a small taste of his own medicine. Bright, energy-filled illustrations with anthropomophized animals add to the telling and make this great both as a read-aloud or for independent reading. (Note: I almost went with Gerald McDermott's classic Anansi the Spider here instead, but while the illustrations of that book are wonderfully representative of traditional Ashanti art, the story is told too traditionally for some students to really relate to it.)

9. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Wow. That's just about all I can say. Wow. And if that doesn't make any sense to you, you need to read this book. Lily has a purple plastic purse that she thinks is just wonderful, and she can't wait to share it with everyone, even if it interrupts her teacher. When the purse proves to be too distracting and is confiscated, Lily seeks revenge. This is an excellent story that is so completely relatable for any child. Beautiful, expressive illustrations (including one not so nice one drawn by Lily) intermingle with the story to provide a nice blend of pictures and text.

10. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Ray Cruz
This is, and will always be, one of my all-time favorite books to read aloud. One disastrous event after another befalls for Alexander, though most of them are not quite so world-shattering as he might make them out to be. The book reads almost as stream of consciousness, which I think is a large part of what makes it so powerful: it reads just like a young boy telling you about his day. The black and white illustrations are simple but detailed and expressive. In the classroom, I use this book to discuss the concept of a sequel: what if Alexander had another bad day? Students each write and illustrate a page for the sequel, Alexander's even worse day.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Myths Inscribed Ezine Issue 3

Just a quick note to mention that the latest issue of Myths Inscribed, the ezine from the creators of the Mythic Scribes writing community, is now out (actually as of July 31). This issue inclues a nonfiction piece by yours truly about the Sumerian/Babylonian myth of Etana. You can find it it

If you are a writer of any sort of fantasy fiction (any they are very flexible about defining fantasy), they are also accepting submissions for the next issue, so take a look at their submission guidelines.