An Inquiry Into Symbiosis + “Friends Stick Together” Review

I still recall my surprise as a kid to discover how unlikely animals cultivate symbiotic relationships. Particularly the crocodile and the Egyptian plover bird (for the longest time, I had no idea Tomie de Paola’s “Bill & Pete” was based on science)!

As fascinating as these studies are of working relationships in the animal kingdom, I think their value goes beyond observational science. An inquiry into symbiosis is a great way to get kids thinking about concepts like collaboration, relationships, and problem-solving.

That was one of the reasons I was so excited about receiving “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison from Penguin Young Readers, along with the invitation to participate in its book tour. It finally gave me the push to share the following resources to help students inquire into symbiosis.

Resource #1: “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison

Beginning with a definition that introduces the way symbiosis isn’t necessarily as clean as we might think, Friends Stick Together sets the tone that it takes time to learn to work well with those around us.

I especially loved the zany Levi the tickbird (his “epic” air guitar solos were my favorite). His over-the-top behavior, especially when contrasted with prim Rubert the Rhino, definitely reminded me of one of my childhood favorites, Tacky the Penguin.

I feel like it’s easy for these kinds of books on friendship to get overly didactic, but I feel like Harrison struck a good balance, thanks in large part to her humor. Be sure to check it out when it comes out

Resource #2: “The Wolf, The Duck, & the Mouse” by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Ok, so this one is total make-believe symbiosis. But it’s still a fun way to get kids thinking about how we can rely on and help one another.

Resource #3: How Wolves Change Rivers by Sustainable Human

This resource is much more direct to the science of symbiosis; it’s a great launching point to discuss the complexity of relationships.

Resource #4: Symbiose by Rosalie Benevello, via The Kid Should See This

This beautiful stop motion is sure to spark a lot of conversation about the relationships between humans and nature.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to have a symbiotic relationship?
  • How does symbiosis impact our world? Our communities? Our schools?
  • How does symbiosis in nature compare with symbiosis in humans?
  • How is technology impacting symbiosis?
  • What is our relationship to foster symbiotic relationships?
  • What are the different perspectives on what it means to have a symbiotic relationship?
  • How do our actions impact people around us?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Memory Is Magic:” Islandborn Book Tour

For some, the idea of family history conjures images of dusty microfiche and ancient film readers. But for me, it’s been a vibrant, fascinating part of my life for the past decade.

Epic mysteries of a Jewish great-great-grandmother fleeing Russia.

Father vs. son in the American Civil War.

Adoption via The Orphan Train.

family history shadowbox I’ve compiled

It’s one of the reasons I love “Islandborn” by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa. It is simply bursting with all that makes heritage so rich and beautiful–even if we can’t remember it ourselves.

Lola feels worried that she can’t remember her country of origin like her classmates can. Her teacher says, “No problema. Are there people around you who do remember?”

I love this theme of using other people’s memories, even slipped onto the back cover:

Lola spends the rest of the book drawing pictures based on her family and neighbors’ descriptions of the Island. Even the uglier parts of their memories still play an important role in capturing what the Islanders have lived through and overcome. Her journey to paint a past she can’t quite remember herself brings new meaning to the time I’ve spent scanning photos, transcribing interviews, and curating documents. When it comes to remembering our heritage, truly, “Memory is magic;” it is worth taking measures to connect with family and friends that do remember.

“Islandborn” hits the bookshelves on March 13, and I’m honored to have been asked to be part of its book tour with Penguin Young Readers. Other books that illustrate the magic of memory for you to check out include:

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Review: Marabel & the Book of Fate (aka, my first ARC book review!)

I’ve known about ARC’s for many years. I even own several that a professor gave to us during my children’s lit class back in college. But despite the fact that I’ve been writing about children’s books for years on this blog, it didn’t occur to me to ask publishers for advance copies to review here until last week.

I went ahead and sent emails to several different publishers, and held my breath. To my surprise, I opened my front door a few days later to not just an advance copy, but a finished copy of Marabel and the Book of Fate by Tracy Barrett, which celebrated its #bookbirthday yesterday! Thank you, Little, Brown and Company!

What drew me in to request a copy of this title was the comparison with Ella Enchanted, which was a beloved favorite growing up. When it comes to providing a magical world with every fantasy-based creature imaginable, Tracy Barrett does not disappoint.

Marabel is an almost-13 year old on a mission to save her twin brother, the Chosen One of Magikos who has been kidnapped by the ruler of the Barrens, but she’s also on a mission to find herself — her voice, her courage, and her determination. Crossing the wall into the realm of “Evils,” she leads her friend Ellie and the talking unicorn Floriano into an adventure that challenges bravery and friendship, as well as everything she has ever been taught about magical beings.

I loved watching Marabel’s story unfold, especially in the second half of the book when she really begins to question what she has always known and come into her own as she owns her power and contributions. I was surprised at times at how easily certain plot points resolved, especially with regards to more rigid elements like her father’s stubbornness and the Book of Fate itself, but perhaps that’s something that will be revisited in future books in the series. 4 stars.

A perfect read to recommend to ages 8-10, and perhaps a contender for a classroom read-aloud!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Favorite Picture Books We Read in 2017 #TeacherMom

I once read that parents tend to show their kids only the books they personally cherished as children. And with the deep emotional connection we make with our books, it makes perfect sense. But, boy! are we missing out when we so limit ourselves (and our kids)!

I’m frankly astonished at the fact that new authors and illustrators manage to keep filling the world with simply wonderful books, year after year after year.

2017 was no exception. Here are my favorites so far!

#1: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

#2: Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares

#3: Triangle: by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

#4: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

#5: The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin

#6: The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

#7: A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Applelhans

#8: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

 

#9: XO, OX A Love Story by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell

#10: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Putting 2 books on my list from the same author/illustrator duo in no way has anything to do with the fact that we attended their AuthorLink at our local library and got our copy signed and geeked out in general…ahem.

Bonus: Leave Me Alone! (ok this was published in 2016, but it got a Caldecott Honor in 2017, and is definitely worth mentioning again).

What have been your favorites? Please share!!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My 10 Favorite Concept Books #TeacherMom

Concept books — picture books centering on ideas like numbers, letters, and colors — can be tricky. So many seem to possess as much complexity and charm as this humorous example from comedian, Brian Regan:

More troubling still, some seem to be put on the same kind of academic pedestal that drives the “school prep frenzy” I’ve written about before. As blogger Anna Mussman writes,

“For some reason, we seem as a culture to think that precocious counting is more important than cultivating habits of thought like attentiveness, wonder, and eagerness to engage with ideas.”

All that said, there are plenty that evoke more thought, joy, and emotion than your run-of-the-mill concept book. If you’ve been searching for some recommendations that you’ll actually enjoy reading with your kids, this is the list for you!

Z is For Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinksy

I couldn’t believe that the same artist who gave us the exquisitely illustrated Rapunzel brought this book to life. The playful and hilarious illustrations absolutely make this alphabet, and will have you rooting for Moose long before you reach Z.

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

As you would expect from Oliver Jeffers, each story is full of delightfully silly and surprising twists (I especially love the repeated appearances from certain characters…).

Doggies by Sandra Boynton

This is a counting book our whole family loves to read and listen to again and again — we all have our own way of making all the different woofs (I still think my “nnn…nnn…nnn…” is the best), and it never fails to bring smiles all around.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet and Christopher Franceschelli

A delightful and interactive composition that shares colors with a more unique approach.

Hippopposites by Janik Coat

Graphic design meets concept book here in a way that will keep kids (and you) turning pages to find out how else the author can picture a hippo!

The Turn-Around, Upside-Down Alphabet Book by Lisa Campbell Earnst

Always a fun book to handle and look at letters with new perspective.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

This hilarious story brings new perspective to the experiences of each color — from a crayon’s experience.

Antics! An Alphabetical Anthology by Cathi Hepworth

Though kids will almost certain know their letters long before they comprehend the word “Antics,” this is still one even older kids love visiting again and again.

One by Kathryn Otoshi

This beautiful story goes much deeper than simple numbers — it’s a fabulous read into bullying, friendship, and unity.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle

Is any list of concept books complete without Eric Carle? I don’t think my kids and I will ever tire from the bouncy rhythm of this book.

featured image: Tim Pierce

10 Favorite Board Books #TeacherMom

As I geared up to attend two back-to-back baby showers, the familiar gifting dread gathered. I’ve never enjoyed shopping, and my practical taste never looks very cute in pastel tissue paper.

Just when I was about to go the gift-registry route, it hit me. Books. BOARD BOOKS! I might not be able to pick a onesie that gets me terribly excited, but books have me geeking out on a regular basis.

In the past, many board books have tended to just be sturdier versions of regular picture books, sans several pages. Or else they have consisted of overly syrupy or didactic text paired with equally uninteresting illustrations. In short, most board books just haven’t been fun to read.

But as long as babies tend to be skillful paper-shredders, we need board books, and we need ones that will make parents and babies actually look forward to storytime together.

Here are ten of my current favorites:

The Epic Yarns books by Jack & Holman Wang (and especially the Star Wars books for my Force-loving family) are delightfully unique. Each page consists of a photo of a detailed set crafted out of wool, along with a single word to capture the essence of that moment.

All Board! National Parks: A Wildlife Primer by Kevin & Haily Meyers is perfect for all parents who want to cultivate enthusiasm for the outdoors from the cradle. Each page takes you to a different national park, also featuring animals found in that location. I also love how the last page displays their animal tracks.

No list of board books would ever be complete without Sandra Boynton. Moo Baa La La La has delighted all three of my kids with its bouncy tempo, hilarious farm animals, and of course, pigs singing instead of oinking. The “No, no, you say, that isn’t right!” with enough high-pitched expression even gets the infant grinning every time.

Angela DiTerlizzi published Some Bugs a couple years ago, and I was delighted when the board book version rolled out last year. It includes every one of the delightful original pages filled with gorgeous illustrations and fun rhymes. Given the spare text, it includes a surprising amount to learn about bugs, too!

Jennifer Adams’ BabyLit books have me especially geeking out. They are the perfect way to introduce young readers to classic literature as they share passages with gorgeous illustrations. I’ve read most of them at my local library, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Midsummer Night’s Dream top my list of favorites.

Ashley Evanson’s Hello, World books, such as this London Book of Opposites, are fresh concept books with a colorful view of the most iconic features of cities around the world.

Eric Carle‘s books are classics that aren’t diminished in board book form. I don’t see the cadence of Brown Bear, Brown Bear ever wearing off.

A is for Atom by Greg Paprocki is a nostalgic walk down memory lane, both with the ideas that defined the 50’s, and the mid-century-styled illustrations to match.

Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Buarino and Steven Kellogg is one more classic treasure that will never get old. My kids love guessing the animal to match the rhyming clues as the baby llama talks with various animals to find his mama.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Top 10 Read Alouds for Upper Elementary from 2016

2016 has been an excellent reading year for me. I’ve renewed my use of Goodreads, enjoyed sequels in favorite series, and discovered a new genre I deeply enjoy (more on that later). My old lists of read alouds for upper elementary grades featured a lot of favorites I had read long ago (first list, second list), but not a lot of recent reads.

So to keep my recommendations fresh, and to help me keep up my momentum of reading more books, I want to start making a habit of sharing my favorites reads at the end of each year, starting today (note, these are not necessarily books published this year, but rather ones that I read this year). Hopefully this list will be timely for teachers looking for a quality winter-break stack (and for my own children and students down the road)!

#10: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier, by Michelle Cuevas

This book had me tickled by the fact that, without the title, readers wouldn’t even realize the narrator was not, in fact, a living breathing member of the family for the first several chapters. Rather, he seems more like just a kid with a lot of problems with getting ignored. This is a genre that I’ve designated as “other-worldly whimsical,” a personally-defined subset of modern fantasy of which I find myself constantly wanting more. A hilarious yet profound read about belonging and self-understanding.

#9The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas, by David Almond

This book originally caught my eye because of Oliver Jeffers. I was delighted to discover that David Almond’s style very much parallel’s Jeffers’. Follow Stanley Potts as he discovers his destiny far from his fish-canning home. You and your students will enjoy themes of courage, confidence, wonder, rules, and conformity. Also one I’d classify “other-worldly whimsical.”

#8: The Magician’s Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo

The Magician’s Elephant felt like a lovely poem or perhaps a dream. “We must ask ourselves these questions as often as we dare. How will the world change if we do not question it?” Peter Augustus Duchene changes his world by asking the question, “Does my sister live?” Readers then follow him through an enchanting and mysterious tale of truth and love.

#7: The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Like the Pevensies of Narvia, Ada and her little brother are sent to the country away from war-torn London during WWII. There, they, too, discover a new world with their caretaker–one full of love, acceptance, and hope. This historical fiction will move and inspire your class.

#6: The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

This outdoor adventure-loving girl fell in love with this book the moment I read the words, “If you stand still in nature long enough, something will fall on you.” It’s just so–real. Peter Brown helps us ponder what might actually happen if an advanced A.I. robot found herself on an uninhabited island. How might she adapt to her surroundings? Would she be able to learn the language of animals? And would she–a man-made creation–be able to find her place in the natural world?

#5: The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or Three Magical Children & Their Holy Dogby Adam Gidwitz

From the fascinating approach to narration, to the way we are invited to truly access life in medieval times, this is a fresh and truly unique story. I especially loved the idea of “illumination” as opposed to illustration, keeping in line with a common medieval practice. Learn of three children whose powers have the entire kingdom–from the king of France down–in awe, fear, and/or admiration.

#4: The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner 

See my review here.

#3: Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

This is a tale of bonds that even miles and a war-torn country cannot break. Follow a story that shifts in perspective between Pax the fox and his boy, Peter.

#2: Lockwood & Company, The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

If you are looking for a series that will have your students begging for more, this is it (I actually read book 4 in the series this year, The Creeping Shadow, and am dying to find out when book 5 comes out!). Lucy and her companions, Lockwood and George, are teenage agents working to rid London of the Problem (a development in which ghosts return, wreaking panic and death among the living). Only children can see the Visitors, but Lockwood’s is the only company that consists only of children. It is a bit creepy, so you might want to run it by your students before choosing it as a read aloud–but if they aren’t too nervous, it will have them on the edge of their seats!

#1: Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage

I just finished reading the third and final book in this series (The Odds of Getting Even), and I loved every moment of it! Mo is probably the wittiest and sassiest 6th grader you’ll meet, and her best friend Dale is an equally loveable character. Follow the duo as they establish the Desperados Detective Agency and solve a murder. Packed with hilarious figurative language, mystery, and small town charm, Three Times Lucky is simply a must-read!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto