Bird, Balloon, Bear – nature lovers, friends

bird balloon bearBear is just hanging out watching ants while waiting for a friend to appear.  I have been thinking a lot about science in picture books lately, but I don’t even care whether that’s scientifically accurate or not.  Maybe this is a whole new sub-genre for me to explore – animals who are nature lovers.

Anyway, both Bear and Bird are looking for friends.  Expectations are low.  Bear is willing to accept friendship with Balloon, who gets there first and doesn’t speak but is always there for Bear.  Bird is too shy to say anything and then inadvertently causes a disaster.  I actually gasped when I turned the page.  I did not expect THAT to happen, but then it was late at night and I was about 5 minutes from falling asleep.  That woke me up.

Will Bear and Bird overcome this?  Can they be friends?  They can.  They must.

Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na

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A banana, a smile, a rowboat

many moonsWhat do you see when you look at the moon?

It can be so many things – a bow, the eye of an owl, an expectant mom. Many Moons is a whimsical conversation starter for little ones, I think, both about what the moon is and why we see different things when we see it, and about shapes and patterns and science.  That might be a lot to pile on to one book, but it’s just the beginning.  And there are croissants baking.  So I’m in.

Many Moons by Rémi Courgeon

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Books, France, underpants

you can readAny book that combines the love of reading with silly, imaginary book titles, clever rhyming, and underpants will always be loved by me.  I know I can speak for a small, not statistically significant group of kindergartners when I add that kids will love that book, too.  Here is that book.  Read it and smile.

For two more stories about stories, read this one.

You Can Read by Helaine Becker and Mark Hoffmann

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What to do when you have opera-singing, cheerleading, sheep, and cowboy neighbors…

noisy nightNo wonder the old guy upstairs isn’t getting any sleep!  There are just too many loud people and animals in this place.  Who’s the landlord?

It’s not like I’d been thinking I needed a reminder of the neighbors who liked to play bongo drums on the roof outside my window several years ago. (At three in the morning.  On weeknights.  And they called me “dude” when I asked them to stop.  “Sorry, dude.”  Really.) Sometimes you just can’t avoid the memories that flood in while you’re reading picture books, right?  (I’m kidding there.)

But this book is not about following rules, appropriate behavior, or making good choices – it’s about the rhyme, my friends.  There are enough quirky things to make adults smile (as well as a few things they might need to explain) and much that will keep the storytime crowd engaged and thinking ahead to the next rhyme.  And it’s Mac Barnett.  So get out your trumpet, warm up your record player, and get ready to dance.  Or read.  One of those.

Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs

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Math and science are SOOOO much fun

9781452107141_lifetime_norm_1What’s not to love in a book with appendices titled:  the animals (yes!), I love math (yippee!), and what is an average (woo hoo!)??  This book is a dream for young animal nerds.  I got stuck on the page about female red kangaroos birthing 50 joeys in a lifetime while flipping through it on break.  I had to go show my co-worker, who then noticed the page on seahorses.  We love seahorses!  And the male seahorse will carry and birth 1,000 baby seahorses!  Zounds.  (Did you see how I left out that last exclamation point?  I’m trying to be more subdued in my enthusiasm these days. Ha.)

The art is perfect for this kind of book.  You find yourself wondering if Christopher Silas Neal really drew 1,000 seahorses — probably, but I’m not sure I’m up for actually counting them.  I will leave that wonderful job to a few nerdy 8 year olds I know.  And then, THEN, you get to the bonus section where you learn how Lola Schaefer figured out the averages for these animals and how she loves math, and–THIS IS VERY EXCITING—there are even a few math problems for the reader to try.  Oh my goodness!!!

Three exclamation points later, here I am.  A fun book for kids with super art, interesting facts to learn and share, and groovy math brain work?  It makes me want to do a little research on my own and come up with my own animal math problems.  So much to do.  Work, wover and under pondork, work.  Think, think, think.  Play, play, play.  Fun, fun, fun.

(A note: this is not a new book, just new to me!  For a new book also illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, see Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner & CSN.  The Over and Under books are all wonderful looks at what happens above and below us in nature — in the dirt, in the snow, and also in the water)

Lifetime: the amazing numbers in animal lives by Lola M. Schaefer and Christopher Silas Neal


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The end of the road

b3-logoSo, a few weeks passed.  I just realized this morning that we had the final vote on this year’s bracket and I didn’t even post the final bracket match-up!

The final two in this year’s bracket were Wonder and The Lightning Thief.   I was expecting Wonder to win, mostly because Mrs. S. had been reading it to the kids.  But in something of a landslide, The Lightning Thief prevailed.  As I talked with the kids, they had a few theories on how it won:

  • Everyone thought everyone else was voting for Wonder so they wanted to vote for The Lightning Thief.
  • Book series are more popular, since if you’ve read any of them, you might vote for the first one, while a standalone is just based on its own good or bad characteristics.
  • A lot of kids might have seen the The Lightning Thief movie, but the Wonder movie isn’t out yet.
  • Action is more popular than everyday stuff.

Who knows what the real reason was?  Not me!  This was the first year I had a fairly large group of kids who didn’t really fill out their ballots completely throughout the process, either marking only on one match-up or just not doing it at all.

The dynamic in the class was a little different than in the past, and there seemed to be only a handful of kids who really cared about it.  I’m hoping that was just THIS year’s group and not a trend.  I’m not sure if I’ll be back in 5th grade next year, since there will be a new teacher, and I’m really more connected with others in the building.  It makes me a little sad to leave that grade behind, but other opportunities are always opening up, so maybe something good will come of it!

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Earth Day, every day

earth_book_jacket.jpgThere’s so much beauty in our world.  It hardly seems necessary to create art about it when it’s all around us, right?  But art (and poetry) create a beauty of a different sort, something that connects us to the greater world when your day is not filled with sunny, green, stunning mountain landscapes – when you’re more likely to be looking at strip malls and concrete.

The art in Make the Earth Your Companion takes the words of J. Patrick Lewis and, like a ripple in a pond, sends them out in layers of meaning.  Sounds kind of intellectually fancy, doesn’t it?  And yet, that’s exactly how the book felt to me.  I’d read the words and look at the illustrations, and just as I was turning the page, something extra would catch my eye–small details that could have been left out but weren’t, images that brought me back to the words.  Every page I found myself thinking that the next page could not possible be better, and then it was.  Beautiful, thought-provoking, and oh, so fancy.

Make the Earth Your Companion by J. Patrick Lewis and Anna & Elena Balbusso


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Swim with me a little while

fishgirlDavid Wiesner’s work has always been a magical and whimsical wonder.  In the author notes on this one, he mentions moving into unfamiliar territory – graphic novels – to grow as an artist.  I’m not sure why I didn’t expect this earlier, because this guy doesn’t even need words to tell a story beautifully.  Tuesday is one of my favorite picture books ever, and is one of the few author-signed books on my shelf, thanks to a family member who went to an ALA meeting several years ago.

Here, though, with Donna Jo Napoli (another wonder of storytelling), his genius rises to a whole new level.  The detail and movement in his art is perfect for the story, and it’s still magical and whimsical.  A girl without a name becomes a miracle.  Friendships grow on many levels.  We see smart girls and difficult choices and danger.   The innocent are protected and an evil is overcome.

More, more, more.

Fish Girl by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

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Wild about nature

out of schoolThank you, Anna Comstock, for spending your whole life showing us the value of science education.  I didn’t know you did that.  My high school biology teacher must have been a fan, since I still remember his enthusiasm for taking science outside, even when we were stuck in a basement room without much natural light.  For our big project of the year – to collect and identify 50 examples of something – he approved everything from wildflowers to road kill (pictures only) to wheat samples, but it had to be something you found outdoors. That would have been right up Anna’s alley.

Some of my happiest memories are of being outside, seeing some beautiful part of the landscape, finding hidden flowers, taking a walk around the block and seeing what’s new and green, or going to a nearby lake to look at an eagle’s nest, stick my toes in the water, or look over the bridge to see what’s below.

So her life and her work is a wonderful chapter of history to share with kids before going on a nature walk.  “More about Anna” fills us in with additional details about her life and career, so this book is also a way to talk about changing roles in society, since she was clearly ahead of her time in keeping her profession after marriage and becoming a university professor.

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade & Jessica Lanan

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Ways of looking

this-house-once-9781481442848_lgOnce in a while, I’m walking through my neighborhood and come upon a house – not a new house – but a house I have walked by hundreds of times.  Somehow, when I finally look at it on that particular day, I realize I’ve never really seen it before.  Where did that balcony come from?  How did it end up with those funny little windows?  Who thought sea green and yellow would be a good color combination?  You get the picture.  We see things all the time without really looking at them.

This house, once made me think about how little we consider structures around us, where they come from, and how they come to be.  Deborah Freedman is an architect as well as a writer, but this book is about more than the physical structure of a house.  It’s about the origins of what makes it all up – an oak tree, the stones, the bricks, the slate, the windows – and about what it all becomes.  It’s a quiet book with beautiful illustrations, and once you start thinking about it and looking out at your own world, your lamp or a garage or a pathway in a garden might just look a different, too.

This house, once by Deborah Freedman

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