5 More Interesting Informational Picture Books

Continuing my efforts to promote more nonfiction, here are 5 more reads we’ve enjoyed lately!

An Ode to the National Parks: You Are Home, by Evan Turk. The National Parks are my happy place. The rich illustrations and figurative language perfectly captured the way I feel when I explore these majestic realms.

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Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, A Cartoonist, A Toymaker, & A Bear by James Sage and Lisk Feng. I was surprised how much my kids enjoyed this book, given the long text. But the story was just so compelling for us all! My kids adoration of their teddy bears has definitely reached new levels ever since.

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Pedal Power by Allan Drummond. This is a great text for teaching your kids about how they can take action in their communities. Of course, my own involvement in bicycle advocacy didn’t hurt in making me love this book, too!

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One Day, So Many Ways by Laura Hall & Loris Lora. I remember being unable to get enough of these kinds of reads growing up, usually supplied by DK. I like the vintage feel of the illustrations, too.

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I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, by Baptiste and Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon. Engaging biography that demonstrates the power of one determined individual.

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featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Book Club Ideas for Elementary Principals

I don’t know if my principal knew what she was getting herself into when she asked for book recommendations for her Principal’s Book of the Month list she’s launching next year. But I figure that after all the time enthusiastically devoted to this task, I should share here what I sent to her.

I started with author study recommendations. Because she is choosing 3 books each month — one for grades K-2, one for grades 3-4, and one for grades 5-6 — I shared a few authors whose works spans all these ages. Some don’t actually have chapter books out (like Peter Reynolds), but have picture books that I think would be just as suited for older grades as younger!

  • Kate Messner
  • Mo Willems
  • Laurel Snyder
  • Kate DiCamillo
  • Paul Fleischman
  • Peter H. Reynolds
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Peter Brown

Next I gave codes. PB=picture book; GN=graphic novel; CB=chapter book. Obviously, kids (and adults) of all ages need all three of these categories in their lives.

Now, onto the book recommendations! I was sure to note that many of these grade levels are flexible–I would fully endorse “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” just as much for a 6th grader as a kindergartner. I also added video previews of the books wherever possible.

Grades K-2

  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold PB (great back-to-school read) video
  • We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins PB (hilarious back-to-school read that I’d recommend for all ages) video
  • Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett PB (simple, yet interesting story/word play that young readers can actually read themselves)
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld PB (on emotions, self-expression, & empathy) video
  • Because by Mo Willems PB (a story that celebrates music, as well as all the cause & effect of inspiration & effort) video of the story behind this story
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis PB (good nonfiction read that explores water & highlights vocabulary in interesting way–perhaps a good one to pair with other water conservation books for a month)
  • The Earth Gives More by Sue Fliess PB (book in verse that illustrates seasons, nature, and the importance of caring for earth–good April earth day read)
  • Fox & Chick: The Party by Sergio Ruzzier GN (accessible early graphic novel full of word play, inferring, and fun) video review
  • Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder CB (sweet early reader that has an enjoyable plot line of 2 brothers’ doings)

Grades 3-4

  • Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera PB (beautiful for any time of year and any grade: story in free verse of a boy’s immigration experience & adjusting to new language & environment) video
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson PB (another wonderful back-to-school book that I would recommend for all ages; finding belonging amid our differences) video
  • Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell PB (great for cultivating empathy & understanding) video review
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown PB (on cultivating creativity, problem-solving, & gardening) video
  • Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones PB (story in verse on persistence and and invention, with great word choice) video
  • Water Princess by Peter Reynolds PB (story of a girl going to fetch water for her family in an African country) video
  • Gone Camping: A Novel In Verse CB (each “chapter” is a different type of poem told from the different characters’ perspectives as they deal with unexpected setbacks, worries, & adventures of camping)
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo GN/CB (fantasy with messaging that kids will find highly relatable–especially those who deal with divorce & custody issues–with plenty of humor in the mix) book trailer
  • How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher CB (nonfiction how-to that’a s lot of fun to read)
  • Fergus & Zeke by Kate Messner CB (a good easy reader chapter book with lots of illustrations and good friendship themes) 

Grades 5-6

  • The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy PB (story about rule-making, fairness, & voice, with some lovely Spanish phrases thrown in) video of author reading first part
  • The North Star by Peter Reynolds PB (beautiful story about finding your own path) video preview (The Dot & Say Something are others I would recommend)
  • Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm CB (strong & funny protagonist voice; historical fiction story of boy living during the Great Depression; his problem-solving, his fibs, and his sense of community) book trailer
  • Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown GN (engaging nonfiction of the process it took over decades to get humans to the moon)
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl & Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier CB (moving and compelling fantasy/historical fiction of 11 year-old Nan trying to survive as one of Victorian London’s child chimney sweeps) video introduction by the author
  • Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley CB (hilarious realistic fiction as a boy who has trouble feeling sorry for himself accidentally ends up at a camp for “troubled boys;” themes on friendship & belonging) book trailer
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage CB (strong voice in a fabulously written realistic fiction/mystery. Best part is its the first in a series that kids will be dying to read for themselves) book trailer
  • The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson CB (Harry Potter lovers will love this fantasy read)
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly CB (realistic fiction told from the perspectives of the 4 main characters) 
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (lovely and unique story of a pet fox that is returned to the wild; told from both the fox and the boy’s perspective)
  • Seventh Goldfish by Kate Messner CB (I actually wrote a review on this one that I’ll link here)

What book club reads have been popular across your school grade levels?

featured image: Dan Barbus

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Hair Care & Respect Books: Why We’re Loving Them #TeacherMom

Last year was a veritable cascade of picture books relating to hair. Specifically, how to care for and respect natural black hair. And I couldn’t be more thankful when it comes to teaching my daughter to care for and respect her own and others’ hair.

First, we came across Cozbi A. Cabrera’s “My Hair Is a Garden.” Though my daughter’s hair isn’t natural black hair, it is curly and wild. As such, it has produced a lot of frustration at the amount of care it requires. As we read Mackenzie’s story, I observed the way my daughter was able to relate. She felt relieved to find that she isn’t the only one who needs to give her hair more nurturing (and to realize that there is nothing wrong with that)! I love the way this gorgeous book normalizes black hair (since of course all hair is normal), while also validating the fact that differences do require different kinds of care.


Next we read, “Don’t Touch My Hair,” by Sharee Miller. This hilarious read got us laughing as it gently but firmly asserts essential principles of boundaries and respect. I think the page of even mermaids trying to touch Aria’s hair was my personal favorite!

One other read we loved last year was Princess Hair, also by Sharee Miller. My daughter loved learning all the different names for hairstyles, and seeing the way all of the girls loved and rocked what they had!

Picture books are such a marvel, aren’t they? The way they validate, teach, assure, entertain, and enlighten. These hair-care and respect books have definitely done all of this and more! Thank you, authors!

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Our Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for one of my favorite annual blog posts: a review of our favorite reads from the year! While part of me just wanted to list every single book we loved this year, the rest wanted to stick with the curation approach I’ve come to love about blogging. But I hope you’ll check out my Goodreads profile if you are looking for more recommendations!

So with the help of my kids, here are our top 15 picture books and top 15 chapter books we read this year. Most of these were published this year, but there are a few that are simply ones we discovered this year. 

Picture Books

#15: The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss & Jeremy Holmes. My little ones sometimes struggle with longer biographical stories, but the story kept them wanting to hear what was next! 

#14: Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell & Corinna Luyken. Right and wrong can feel so absolute for so many kids; I love the way this helps them expand their perspective a bit in favor of compassion. 

#13: Water Land: Land & Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale. Such a clever and simple way to depict various landforms and their relationships to one another!  


#12: a house that once was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith. This one especially tickled my sense of wonder because I have often daydreamed about the memories held by old houses and paths — who walked in the same spaces, what they did there, how they lived.  

#11: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe.  My ocean-loving 4 year old especially loved the illustrations of all things underwater. Kate Messner did a great job of weaving an engaging story of what has been done, and what we have yet to do, for our coral reefs. 

#10: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes. This tree-lovin’ lady adored everything about this read. The detail, the poetic flow of words, the imagination. 

#9: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Loved the way this book illustrates emotion, and validates the many ways we need to express it.   

#8: Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall. This beautifully captures change over time in several layers. My kids and I enjoyed studying all the detail of the fascinating life inside a lighthouse. 

#7: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. Teachers trying to convey word choice and story-loving children alike will enjoy this latest work from Peter Reynolds.  

#6: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. This book makes me think of a cross between “Green Eggs & Ham” and “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Featuring Star Wars, of course. My whole family adored this hilarious read! 

#5: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Poor Penelope has first day of school jitters. She has no idea what her classmates will be like…until she discovers that they are delicious children! Will she be able to get past her, um, sticky first impression?

#4: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. I loved the folklore feel of this story. Little Star and her mother bake a big mooncake, but will she be able to resist nibbling a little more each night? A lovely way to imagine what makes the phases of the moon.

#3: Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. I think this is the only book on our picture book list of books not published, but discovered, this year. My kids were fascinated by the magnified pictures of various surfaces, and the personified germs.  

#2: Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. After meeting these authors last year, I don’t think our book lists stand a chance of not featuring work by these two. But we found Square every bit as delightful as Triangle. Everyone can relate to Square’s emotional turmoil when his friend Circle mistakes him for a sculptor–and he doesn’t want to let her down. 

#1: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin & Crash McCreery. I loved getting to practice my high school Spanish in this delightful new rendition of an old legend. My kids especially loved the inflatable nature of the goats. 

Read Alouds/Chapter Books/Graphic Novels

#15: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko and Colin Jack. I sometimes struggle with books written from a dog’s point of view. But this duo did nothing but make me laugh! Follow their hilarious plot to save their child from a dreadful place called school. 


#14: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. With Russian heritage myself (though definitely not as close as Vera), I loved the protagonist’s struggle to feel like she fits in. My daughter and I enjoyed this graphic novel, though neither of us will likely ever look at an outhouse the same way again…

#13: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This haunting read will get students thinking about the issues of our day as it follows Jerome, who is killed while playing with a toy gun. I still find myself connecting back to the perspectives of this book, such as when I read these findings that show children who embody any of the 3 “B’s” (boy, big, or black) tend to be subject to harsher treatment at school. 

#12: Gone Camping, A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger & Matthew Cordell. I love the way each poem perfectly captures typical moments of a camp-out, from fear of the dark to grandpa’s snoring. 

#11: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I hadn’t heard of this one prior to reading Bill Ferriter’s recommendation this year. I absolutely loved the way this student/teacher relationship unfolded. Packed with unexpected twists, historical context, and relatable middle school humor. 

#10: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. A beautiful self-discovery kind of story, but with a faster pace than I was expecting, which I enjoyed. 

#9: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Despite the fact that I may or may not have gone to bed weeping while reading this, I have to recommend it. It tells the story of Amal’s descent into indentured servitude when she should be attending school with the other children in her village.

#8: Refugee by Alan Gratz. Three stories of families seeking refuge are masterfully woven together to convey universal principles of compassion and humanity.  

#7: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette. When Marty loses a precious gift from his dad who is sick and has little time left, he finds himself on a magical train meant to collect all the things we lose. A beautiful story of loss and love.  

#6: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm. Beans is doing his best to help his family living in Key West during the Great Depression. Detailed, witty, and hilarious, this is a great candidate for a classroom read-aloud.  

#5: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.  A new series that your fantasy-loving readers will devour. Everyone knows Morrigan is cursed — but defying her fate, she discovers a new land, a new organization, and a new chance to prove herself.

#4: I’m Just No Good At Rhyming & Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids & Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris & Lane Smith. Those who grew up loving Shel Silverstein as much as I did will not want to miss this one. My favorite part was the way one story that features a boy whose parents forgot to teach him the number 8 makes its way not only into other poems, but into the book’s page numbering and even acknowledgements–definitely appealed to this immature grown-up! 

#3: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. Earth’s sun is about to go into a premature supernova, causing the human race to temporarily relocate to Mars until they can take off for a new home. Exciting and exceptionally well-researched science fiction read!

#2: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. The five Vanderbeeker children work to save their home as their family unexpectedly faces eviction. What I love most about this is the independence and problem-solving afforded to these kids. Just the right amount of spunk and tenderness!

#1: Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley. My 8 year-old and I listened to the audiobook of this together and loved every hilarious moment as Frederick Frederickson tries to find his social place, only to be unexpectedly swept downriver and into a disciplinary camp. Another great read aloud for upper elementary grades!

What were your favorite reads this year? Share in the comments!

12/15/18 update: Having just finished reading Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, I feel compelled to mention it here, too. It reminded me strongly of what I love most about Brene Brown’s work on connection, vulnerability, and living from a place of love over fear. Absolutely a contender for a classroom read aloud as well!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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10 Books of Wishes

For kids, wishes hold power. So much of life seems beyond their control: where they live, what they wear, who they meet. Among so much uncertainty, it’s a comforting hope to hold tight to a wish.

In Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson’s latest picture book, “Carmela Full of Wishes,” Carmela doesn’t realize just how many important wishes she holds in her heart until she finds a dandelion. 

There are so many elements in this read that I found lovely. The details of Carmela’s neighborhood. The papel picado, Mexican folk art, that beautifully illustrates her wishes. The jingling bracelets that capture the essence of childhood joy (that can’t be diminished even by an irritable — and likely care-worn — brother). The way that it keeps readers wondering about Carmela’s wish and her life.

Also, I just have to share this gorgeous case design beneath the dust jacket!

I asked my kids if they could remember whose style it was, and they knew it was the same illustrator that created the video, “What is Music,” that they love so much (Funny coincidence: I included both Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson in my summer post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators”).

For your readers that are full of wishes, here are 9 other books of wishes I’d recommend!

#2: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

#3: When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano & Christian Robinson

#4: I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

#5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (I’m starting to wonder how this book somehow manages to get on just about every one of my lists…I regret nothing.)

#6: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller & Frank Morrison

#7: It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton 

#8: Mr. Rabbit & the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow & Maruice Sendak

#9: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

#10: Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Eat Pete! Book Tour & 5 Other Unlikely Friendship Reads

Given the choice between an overt moral story vs silly humor for teaching friendship, I’ll pick the latter every time. Michael Rex’s Eat Pete! certainly fit the bill there!

The monster faces a major dilemma. While he does think playing with cars and blocks looks fun, he would also really like to just go ahead and eat Pete. Which he actually does, only to find that those games just aren’t the same.

Young readers will appreciate how much story is told in the pictures, especially the hilarious illustrations of the monster daydreaming about just going ahead and eating Pete already. I felt like Rex nailed the pacing of this story, maximizing the anticipation that readers will experience.

Eat Pete’s book birthday is tomorrow, and I’m pleased to have been invited on its book tour! To celebrate, I’d like to share a few more funny reads featuring friendships that get off to a bit of a rocky start.

#1: Sophie’s Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf

#2: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

#3: My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown

#4: A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker & Kady MacDonald Denton

#5School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

As you’ve probably noticed, these books also make for great read-alouds at the start of the school year! What are others you enjoy with your students?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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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

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