Lion Lessons

9780803739086“Learning to be a lion takes some serious lessons, but luckily, this kid has a teacher who is a real pro.”

Jon Agee makes wonderful picture books and cartoons for The New Yorker. Always full of wordplay and wit the thing that he really gets right here is perfect timing. It’s a simple set up. A young man walks past storefronts where he could take lessons in yoga, karate, knitting, speaking Spanish and many more, but he chooses to take Lion lessons from a professional lion. There are seven steps and he is pretty bad at all of them. He can barely roar. He doesn’t look fierce. He can’t control his tail when trying to be stealthy. His pounce is laughable. But when a real world situation comes along, the lessons pay off and he’s able to earn his “diploma.”

I mostly judge these GA Picture Book nominees on how well they work as read alouds. They can have gorgeous art and be about an interesting subject but if I can’t sit and easily read it aloud to a class of second graders? Then it falls down the list. If it is fun and interesting and, most importantly, has great timing? Then it goes up, up, up the list. Right now this is up there with I Don’t Want to Be a Frog for me this year.


The Boy on the Wooden Box

9781442497818“Leon Leyson describes growing up in Poland, being forced from home to ghetto to concentration camps by the Nazis, and being saved by Oskar Schindler.”

Apparently Mr. Layson didn’t really feel comfortable sharing his story until the Spielberg movie came out in 1993. By then he was a teacher in California and there just wasn’t good ways to talk about it for him. He had told his children when they were old enough but that’s about it. He said there was this weird thing where if the war came up with someone who had lived through it in America and he mentioned, for example, barely having enough to eat for three weeks, they would nod and say rationing was hard for them too.

Or he’d be talking to another actual Holocaust survivor and it would be almost like a competition to see who had suffered the most. So he pretty much kept it to himself until a persistent reporter found him and got him to talk when Schindler’s List came out.

He spent his remaining years talking about it to churches and synagogues and schools and any other group who wanted him too, and never for payment. So this book was just a matter of he and a co-writer sitting down with all the articles and a few transcripts and fleshing it out into a book form. It reads like your Jewish grandfather is sitting across from you telling you all of these horrible (and sometimes wonderful) stories.

Even if you’ve read or seen Schindler’s List there is a ton to learn from this book. It’s pretty horrible but still age appropriate, though I wouldn’t read it out loud to a class without letting parents know in case anyone had nightmares or something.

Leyson is one tough cookie and seems to have spent his life after the war in relative happiness. He says that every time he retold this he’d re-experience the trauma, especially of losing certain family members, but it was all in the past for him and he didn’t let it spoil the happiness of his marriage, children, or teaching. In some ways, he seems even more optimistic for having gone through these experiences. When he gets to America and has to take a long, arduous train journey across the country he thinks it’s funny how much others complain about it. “We slept in our seats. There wasn’t a shower for us to use. But for me, every minute of the trip was wonderful.”

It’s an interesting book since it’s from the point of view of someone who was a child at the time. It will make it much more relevant to my Reader’s Rally crew when they get to it. I’m interested to see how they take it and what the conversations and questions are like. I’ll update this post when they tackle it!

I Don’t Want to be a Frog!

9780375973345“A frog who yearns to be any animal that is cute and warm discovers that being wet, slimy, and full of bugs has its advantages.”

This is just great. It’s short and funny and gives me great opportunities to do voices. I love reading this out loud. I paired it with last week’s other Georgia Picture Book Nominee, Red: A Crayon’s Story. That one was about someone who wasn’t exactly how they first appeared. This one is about someone who knows exactly who there are, they just want to be something else.

Frog loudly proclaims the he just doesn’t want to be a frog. And older and wiser (and perfect straight man of a) glasses-wearing frog calmly enumerates the many reasons why he can’t be such things as a cat or a pig or a rabbit or and owl. Finally another creature clues him in on why being a frog can be a good thing.

Apparently this is a hit, so you know what that means. There’s already a couple of sequels out there. I don’t have those yet. I’ll have to check them out.

When I read a book aloud with multiple characters I try, when it makes sense, to give them different voices. I usually give the protagonist my own voice and make changes for the other characters. Not this one. For this one I pitch my voice a bit higher and whinier (but don’t overdo that) for the main frog who doesn’t want to be a frog. I use my own, emphatic teacher voice for the bespectacled frog. “Of course you want to be an Owl! Being an Owl is the greatest thing ever. Boy, would you love being an Owl.”

“So can I be an Owl, then?”

“NO! Of course not!”

Heh heh.

I wasn’t familiar with this author or illustrator but it’s a winning combination. Definitely check it out and add it to your read aloud pile.

A Ghost in the Library!

IMG_1525For our Halloween morning show broadcast yesterday my crew wanted to do something fun. Since someone back in the day painted the walls of the broadcast room green to make the use of the ChromaKey green screen thingee easier, we have had no use for the big green curtain provided to us.

Until yesterday!  In the picture above the “ghost” is pretty obvious to you. But not when the ChromaKey is on with our news background! It just looks like a slightly blurry background when it moves. They brainstormed a bunch of gags, but I said we didn’t want to do anything too scary for the little ones. So our ghost just moved that mug back and forth a couple of times and messed with our anchors, flipping hoodies and levitating and knocking off hats and such while they made concerned faces.

In the end of the show a hand magically appeared, gave a thumbs up and high-fived the two anchors.

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween!

Red: A Crayon’s Story

download“Red’s factory-applied label clearly says that he is red, but despite the best efforts of his teacher, fellow crayons and art supplies, and family members, he cannot seem to do anything right until a new friend offers a fresh perspective.”

This is not the first Michael Hall book to be nominated for the Georgia Picture Book Award and I have a strong feeling it won’t be the last. His book Perfect Square was also nominated and remains a favorite read aloud of mine.

The narrator, a pencil, shows us all the different views of “Red,” a blue crayon with a “red” label. He’s encouraged by other crayons and supplies to “keep trying” and to “press harder” and maybe if he only will “really apply himself” but obviously nothing works. He’s still just not red. A new crayon sees him for the true blue color he is while drawing a boat and asks him to please add an ocean.

“I can’t. I’m red.”

“Will you try?”

So that’s awesome. It’s wordier that Perfect Square so it won’t be anyone’s regular read aloud. Although our super amazing art teacher loves it and has added it to her yearly read aloud list and that’s a very nice niche to be in.

Wisdom in Children’s Books

In the last couple of years I’ve been enjoying reading about the philosophy of Stoicism. I follow a thread about it on reddit and someone asked the question: Are there any Stoic books for children? A non-fiction book about Stoicism might be fine, but I don’t know of any for young ones and it could easily be boring. However, the major themes of Stoicism (and many other philosophies) are well represented in many children’s books. So here is a brief and incomplete list that covers the ideas of wisdom, self-control, courage, justice, philanthropy, living simply, dealing with anger, and dealing with insults. Some of them deal with more than one. It’s in order from books for the youngest readers up to about middle school aged kids. If nothing else and you read most of these books with your kids? You’d have many great discussions.

Sidewalk Flowers – Lawson
Should I share my ice cream? – Willems
No, David! – Shannon
David gets in trouble – Shannon
Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus! – Willems
Blackout – Rocco
Is that wise, Pig? – Thomas
Grumpy Bird – Tankard
Don’t let the pigeon stay up late! – Willems
Feelings – Aliki
When Sophie gets angry– really, really angry – Bang
Too much noise – McGovern
How do dinosaurs say I’m mad? – Yolen
Interrupting Chicken – Stein
Zomo the Rabbit – McDermott
The goblin and the empty chair – Fox
Mouse was mad – Urban
Sheila Rae, the brave – Henkes
I dissent – Levy
Seven blind mice – Young
Rain school – Rumford
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – Fox
Henry’s Freedom Box – Levine
The three questions- Muth
Knuffle bunny free – Willems
Sit-In – Pinkney
Yoon and the Jade bracelet – Recorvits
Swimmy – Lionni
Anansi and the talking melon – Kimmel
Hurty feelings – Lester
Too many tamales – Soto
Extra yarn – Barnett
The adventures of Beekle – Santat
The Empty Pot – Demi
The library – Stewart
The little old lady who was not afraid of anything – Williams
Boxes for Katje – Fleming
The gardener – Stewart
Lily’s purple plastic purse – Henkes
Stand tall, Molly Lou Melon – Lovell
Thunder cake – Polacco
Mama Miti – Napoli
Scaredy squirrel – Watt
A chair for my mother – Williams
Giraffe’s can’t dance – Andreae
The paper bag princess – Munsch
Brave Irene – Steig
14 cows for America – Deedy
Stone soup – Muth (many versions)
One grain of rice – Demi
The red bicycle – Isabella
The story of Ruby Bridges – Coles
Cinder Edna – Jackson
Number the stars – Lowry
Mufaro’s beautiful daughters – Steptoe
Separate is never equal – Tonatiuh
The tale of Despereaux – DiCamillo
Wonder – Palacio
One Hen – Milway
The three little wolves and the big bad pig – Trivizas
Slacker – Korman
Hatchet – Paulsen
Roll of thunder, hear my cry – Taylor
Esperanza rising – Ryan
Vision of beauty – Lasky

More I thought of since originally writing this post:

The Farmer and the clown- Frazee

Are we there yet? – Santat

We found a hat – Klassen

Tsunami! – Kajikawa

There’s so many! What are your favorite children’s books that you think might help think and talk about wisdom? (And don’t say Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, or anything to do with that con man and liar Greg Mortensen.)

White Fur Flying

download“A sad and silent nine-year-old boy finds his voice when he moves next to a family that rescues dogs.”

Another inspirational, touching and well written Patricia MacLachlan novel. This one is rich in scene and some characters, thin in page numbers and side characters.

An outgoing family rescues Great Pyrenees dogs until they can be adopted. A much more subdued man, woman and their nephew rent the house up the hill. They are keeping the boy while his parents work through some unmentioned issue. His issue is that he’s selectively mute, I guess because of the trauma of whatever is going on with his folks.

Predictably enough he starts opening up to the dogs when no one is around and the thoughtful girls in the family of the dog rescuers give him the time and space to bond with one of the dogs.

It’s pleasant and I’m sure will be loved by dog lovers. It would make a good second grade read aloud for a class. Some will see the girls in the dog rescuing family as delightfully precocious. I found them almost annoyingly so and their dialogue unbelievable. Kids don’t talk like that, not even wanna be writers. I mean it’s an artistic choice. There are precocious, well-spoken kids in the world. Sometimes it works in a story and sometimes in doesn’t. Your mileage will vary.

But like I said. It’s another inspirational, touching, well-written Patricia MacLachlan novel. That’s something always worth checking out.

Read for my district’s Reader’s Rally team.



Overheard in my library just now…

Two kids found the Sports Fiction section.

Kid One: “I think you should check out this one. You like baseball and it’s by Dan Gutman and he’s a great writer.”

Kid Two: “I think I just found my new favorite section.”

So yeah, I think the genre thing I did in Fiction was worth it!

Using Instagram in the Library

I have an Instagram account for my elementary school library. It’s useful to promote things like the book fairs, author visits and other special occasions. It’s also great just to show off pictures of people using the library alone or in groups for reading or using the technology or whatever.

When I first got into this school librarian gig, if you wanted to promote your program online you had to use this antiquated format called a “blog.” Nowadays some people use Facebook and/or Twitter, Intagram, Snapchat, ClassDojo and probably things I haven’t even heard of.

Instagram is my pick because it’s easy and fun. I don’t have that many followers and this isn’t one of those annoying posts on “how to leverage Instagram in your library media program!” Ugh.

But I do find it interesting that when I started being a librarian there were all these ideas about using photos of students on your blog. Not necessarily rules, but strong recommendations on either using stock photos or blurring out faces or showing things and not people because you did not want to mess with student privacy.

There may still be people being careful about this kind of thing and I’m not recommending we don’t be careful. But I take photos of kids in my library often now and post them without too much thought. Sometimes I show the student the photo and mention I might post it. In the two years I’ve been doing this I can only think of one student who said not to post.

Privately I’ve thought, if any student or parent asks me to remove a post I will, no question. But it’s never happened. I don’t put student information in the captions. Not even first names. Almost all of our students and staff are covered by the “media release” form they fill out at the beginning of each year. You could count on one hand the students that haven’t had one signed.

So I just take a bunch of pictures once in a while and sometimes I post them on the library Instagram. Sometimes I tell the people I photograph and sometimes I don’t. I’ll be happy to remove anything that someone wants removed but it’s never been an issue.

And that one student who didn’t want me to post? He help up a book fair book that had a shark with his mouth wide open and he mimicked the wide open mouth of the shark. I laughed and snapped his picture. I said I just had to post it on Instagram. He said no. I handed the book to a different kid, had him open his mouth up WIDE and did the same thing; posted it and it was awesome. Later that afternoon the first kid’s mom came in and I showed her his photo. “I thought you’d want to see this since he didn’t want me to post it.”  She looked at him an was like, “Why not?!? That’s wonderful. Can you send me a copy?”

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914



In 1914 France, a British soldier writes to his mother about the strange events of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when German and Allied soldiers met on neutral ground to share songs, food, and fun. Includes historical notes and glossary.”

You know John Hendrix. He’s been one of the best illustrators of historical picture books for the last ten years or so. Authors such as Deborah Hopkinson, Marisa Moss and Marilyn Singer have all benefited from this amazing and (too) hard-working talent. But here he is tackling an almost mythic moment in history himself as author and illustrator and just nailing it.

When I first saw this come across my desk I thought, “Another one?” There are already many books about (and movies about and references to) this moment in World War I. But then I realized that there really can’t be enough books and movies and references to something this striking in history. Like the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Pompeii and Katrina’s aftermath’s destruction of parts of Louisiana, the so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 is a great story with many layers and angles to it that will always have something to teach us, good and bad, about ourselves. It’s also something that needs the many books meant for many different ages and it needs them to come out periodically to remind us of the event and our perspectives of it.

This one is told in epistolary form from an English soldier to his mother with maps, photos and drawings. It also includes a context setting introduction and a detailed author’s note at the end which are all important to the book.

But the illustrations, as you can well imagine, bring this story and it’s humanity to life. The mud, the drudgery and the hopelessness in the beginning. The surprise and hopefulness of the scrounged Christmas trees and the mixing of the armies. But the angry British CO just hits it home. He’s clean-shaven. His uniform is impeccable. He has a forgotten pipe falling from his yelling mouth. He is not connected to these men in any way other than he is their commanding officer and the representation of everything wrong with what happens after this spontaneous truce.

It will give anyone who reads it much to think about when considering WWI.

Read for my district’s Reader’s Rally competition thing.