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Review & Lesson: Weslandia (1999)

WeslandiaWeslandia by Paul Fleischman

Wesley is a thinker and a dreamer.  He is an outcast.  Other kids pick on him and he has no friends.  So Wesley creates a world all his own, a world he calls Weslandia.  Weslandia begins as a small garden and develops into a community.  Wesley grows his own food, creates his own sport, and even makes up an entirely new language (with an 80 letter alphabet!).  By using his knowledge and putting his energy toward something productive, Wesley finds that he is able to find true happiness and make friends.

This would a great book to teach children about civilizations, however I recently used it for another reason: to teach kids how to be a thinker.  There is no stronger tool, I feel, for teaching our students than the books we read to or with them.  I like how this book honors Wesley being himself, how Wesley’s brain and smarts help him find his happiness, and how by not being afraid to think outside the box and do something other people wouldn’t do, Wesley was able to teach others and make friends.  Attached is the lesson I wrote for grades 3-5.   -Marika

3-5 Thinker Lesson

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Review: Grandpa Green (2011)

Grandpa Green by Lane SmithGrandpa Green

In honor of Grandparent’s Day yesterday, I re-read a favorite Lane Smith picture book, Grandpa Green.  Lane Smith is most notable for his illustrations (like the ones in James and the Giant Peach and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs)  but he has also written a lot of great picture books, such as John, Paul, George, and Ben and The Happy Hocky Family.

In this book, a great-grandson recalls the events of his horticulture-loving great-grandfather’s life.  The simple, straightforward sentences delightfully capture a poignant mood as the child fondly tells his great-grandfather’s story and honors his legacy while traipsing through topiary bushes with his wagon.  The beautiful shades of green that pop off every page are pleasing to the eye and make it clear why this book was a Caldecott Honor award winner.  I also appreciate the literary references when Smith writes about how Grandpa Green became ill with chicken pox and how “He had to stay home from school.  So he read stories about secret gardens and wizards and a little engine that could.”  In fact, the more I have read this book over the years, the more I have appreciated it.  It’s the perfect picture book for a little one to cozy up with Grandma or Grandpa and read together!  Someday, I would love to have students (or my own kids) write their own version of Grandpa Green for their own grandparent.  It would be the most meaningful and heartwarming present.      -Marika

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Review: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011)

Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreThe Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

I feel like I have read a lot of really great books lately, and a lot of those really great books have been picture books for children.  But no book that I’ve read lately (or ever, really) has affected me as emotionally as The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore which I stumbled across for the first time this week.

What an amazing concept for a book!  Morris Lessmore is a man who loves stories, and is even writing his own life in a book, “one orderly page after another”.  His story is overturned and the words of his book scatter everywhere.  Not knowing what to do or where to go, Morris wanders aimlessly until he is rescued from his daze by one amiable book.  He follows that book and is led to more books who begin to give a new purpose and joy to Morris’ life.

There is so much about this book that is simply wonderful.  The symbolism of Morris’ life represented by the book he is writing is powerful.  The profound way the book tells the story of Morris’ entire life is spellbinding.  The word choice is impeccable, and the pictures evoke an odd mix of feelings, both of tenderness and amusement. More than anything, the message of this story is so, so important!  Books can and do have power in our lives.  They inspire us and bring us wonder. They help us connect to other people.  They help us find purpose in our own lives.  They make us happy.

If I could, I would make sure every teacher had a copy of this book in their classroom, every parent read this book to their children, and every librarian displayed this book in their library.

And….. as if the book itself were not enough to make it worth a read, there is also an app (Imag.N.O.Tron) that you can purchase for $.99 that makes reading The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore quite remarkable.  I won’t even try to explain the app, I would just recommend purchasing it.  It’s worth the money!

Finally, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was the inspiration for a short film, which is also fabulous.  But, you don’t have to take my word for it, just ask the Academy.  The movie won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2011.  You can watch the entire movie here, but (like always) I would recommend reading the book first!   -Marika

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Review: Last Stop on Market Street (2015)

Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

CJ and his Nana travel by bus to a soup kitchen after church on Sundays.  CJ has lots of questions for his grandmother and her answers are insightful and wise. I like this book more and more each time I read it.  Nana’s optimistic view of life is inspirational, for both me and CJ.  The pictures by Christian Robinson are simple and engaging and I love how De La Pena uses the story line to take the reader’s attention in one direction and then how the picture on the last page of the book can completely change the readers’ perspective.  This is a fabulous book to read out loud to children and I will be seeking out a copy to add to my personal library.   -Marika

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Review: Snoozefest (2015)

Snoozefest

Snoozefest by Samantha Berger

Imagine a place you might go to listen to all the best bands, visit great vendors, and meet people with the same interests as you.  Now imagine that place was a cross between a music festival and a sleep away camp… for sloths.  You would be at Snoozefest.  “This is the place where the best sleepers go to snore their way through this naptacular show.”

Snuggleford Cuddlebun is the sleepiest sloth in Snoozeville and she only interrupts her napping to head to the great NuzzleDome where all the best sleepers in Snoozeville gather.  At Snoozeville, there are pj parades, stands for buying posters and t-shirts, bands with names like The Nocturnal Nesters and the Tranquility Trio performing, and, of course, milk and honey to go!

Written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, this book is on the Goodreads list of most anticipated picture books of 2015.  This is definitely a clever, fun idea for a children’s book.  The pictures are cute, and there is a lot happening on each page, maybe a little too much on some pages.  One of my absolute favorite things in the world is a rhyming picture book and I did love that this book rhymed.  But, some of the rhyming was forced.  I will tuck this book away in my mind with other cute rhyming stories that are perfect for bedtime, such as Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows and If Animals Kissed Goodnight by Ann Whitford Paul.  -Marika

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Review: Maude: The Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton (2012)

Maude

Maude: The Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton by Lauren Child

I stumbled across this darkly humorous book at the library while I was looking for another written by Lauren Child.  I was drawn in by the pictures (the book is illustrated by Trisha Krauss) which are stylish and unique, filled with bold texture and color, and unlike any I have seen in a children’s picture book before.

I love stories that can appeal to both children and tothe adults who read to them, and Child has written this one to do just that.  Maude, the main character, comes from a family of attention-seekers. They all have a special talent that makes them stand out in a crowd, but Maude is different. She prefers to go unnoticed. Maude is pitied for her blandness but, when she receives an unusual gift (one she didn’t ask for), it turns out she is quite lucky to be inconspicuous. I appreciated the audacious irony Child uses as a curtain for unveiling the lesson that sometimes “not being noticeable is the very best talent of all.”

My children have been choosing this book as a bedtime read-aloud each night since we brought it home from the library.  They love looking for Maude in each of the pictures (as Krauss has cleverly drawn her to blend into the background of the pictures).  As a parent and teacher, I appreciate the wonderfully descriptive vocabulary used by Child to describe each of the characters.

This book is clever and entertaining, and just a little bit dark.  A perfect pick for your next library visit!  -Marika

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Books On CD: The Perfect Road Trip Companion?

I recently returned from a road trip with my two small children.  Fifteen hours in the car (one way) makes for looo-oong driving days with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.  To pass the time in the car, I brought along some books on CD.  We have tried books on CD before with only mild success.  Last time we traveled, we brought along Mercy Watson: Something Wonky This Way Comes by Kate DiCamillo.  My kids were already very familiar with Mercy Watson books but seemed only half-heartedly interested in hearing the familiar story read by somebody new.

For this trip (one year later), I decided to try a couple of books that are new to my kiddos.  We stHorrible Harry & the Green Slimearted with Horrible Harry and the Green Slime by Suzy Kline which is read by Johnny Heller.  I chose this one because it is a short chapter book with lots of pictures and I had a copy for my son to follow along with.  Since it is a series, I also hoped that he might take a liking to it and want to try reading more Horrible Harry books after the trip.  I know Horrible Harry books are written to have short, simple sentences that are easy to read but I was still disappointed with the way this book was read out loud on the CD.  While my son listened dutifully (and even laughed occasionally as he listened), Heller read the book with such a staccato, abrupt voice that I found the story to be slightly jarring and uncomfortable to listen to.  The best thing about this book on CD was that it was over in less than an hour.  When I asked him about it later, my son did say that he liked the book though so that’s something.

The second book on CD that accompanied us on our road trip was an absolute delight!  I took along Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.  I am a huge Kate DiCamillo fan and purchased this book at an author event where I was able to meet DiCamillo just before the book won the Newbery.  This book was read by Tara Sands and shFlora and Ulyssese did a phenomenal job!  Her tone was perfect and the subtle voice changes helped to distinguish each of the characters as they spoke.  The idea of a “superhero” squirrel who writes poetry and the temporarily blind neighbor boy were humorous enough components to the storyline to delight my 5-year-old. What was most impressive to me, though, was the way Tara Sands handled “reading” the graphic novel portions of the book.  She described each scene with simple, straightforward and clear explanations that enhanced the story and (had you not had a copy of the book in front of you like we did) would have made the reader completely oblivious that they were missing any pictures.  It was beautifully done, and I imagine I may have enjoyed the book even more for having listened to it.  My 35-year-old husband, my 5-year-old son, and I each enjoyed the story immensely, which was most evident when my son would ask to hold the book in order to follow along with the words and pictures, and also when he would ask to listen!  When I talked to my son after the trip about which book he liked listening to better, there was no hesitation when he said Flora and Ulysses.  I would highly recommend picking up Flora and Ulysses on CD for your next road trip (with or without kids)!  -Marika