Tag Archives: #books

Book Review: INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN written by Thanhha Lai


Lai, Thanhha. 2011. INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-196278-3

Hà is just 10 years old when war comes to her home town in Vietnam.  Hà’s free verse narrative opens in 1975 on New Year’s (called Tet) which “doubles as everyone’s birthday” (p. 2).  Hà, her hard-working mother, and her three brothers spend the first part of the “Year of the Cat” struggling with the social and economic repercussions of the Vietnam War. The family makes the heartbreaking decision to flee Saigon on a crowded ship when war arrives at their doorstep.  After leaving Vietnam, Hà and her refuge family take a circuitous route that ultimately leads them to Alabama. Hà and her family struggle with the radical change in customs, language, cuisine, and religion while progressively making a place for themselves in America.

Thanhha Lai flawlessly captures the naive perspective of a child with poetic and picturesque free verse in INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN.  While the story of Hà and her family is tragic and heartbreaking, the narrative is still “shot through with humor” (Kirkus Review 2011).  Through inexperienced and childlike eyes, “Hà misunderstands much about her new home” (Kirkus Review 2011).  The book is filled with vividly picturesque details that only a child would find significant. For instance, Hà describes in infinitesimal detail the dizzyingly erratic changes in her cuisine (or lack of) throughout the book.  Hà’s favorite food in Vietnam comes from a papaya tree she grew from a seed in her backyard.  When confronted with papaya in America (p. 232):


Three pouches of

Dried papaya





Not the same

at all.

So mad,

I throw all in the trash.

 This story is perfectly targeted for a 9-12 year old’s understanding of the world.  As the School Library Journal points out, “the intended reader neither knows or cares about the type of minutiae that an adult reader may expect from such a tale of flight and immigration” (Burns 2011).

Enrichment Activities:

Poetry can often be used to “serve as a jumpstart or introduce a lesson or topic, offer a transition between activities, provide closure, or extend the topic further” (Vardell 2008, 132-133).  There are several themes in this novel that can be used for a “jumpstart” to topics such as immigration, the Vietnam War, different cultures/customs of the worlds, and racism/tolerance.

Children can also be guided in writing their own free verse story of events in their own life.  Teachers or parents can share the following interview with Thanhha Lai.  The interview examines how she became a “prose poet” and came to write this moving account of her tumultuous childhood: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/?p=10924 .

Lastly, I would like to remind readers that poetry is “meant to be read aloud” (Vardell 2008, 130).  I leave you with this final video of Thanhha Lai reading a passage from INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN at the 2011 National Book Awards where she won best in Young People’s Literature:

What to Read Next:

Crossan, Sarah. 2013. THE WEIGHT OF WATER.  New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1599909677

Hesse, Karen. 2009. OUT OF THE DUST. Orlando, FL: Great Source. ISBN 978-0590371254


Burns, Elizabeth. Review: Inside Out and Back Again. November 1, 2011. http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2011/11/01/review-inside-out-and-back-again/ (accessed February 21, 2014).

Kirkus Review. INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN. January 15, 2011. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/thanhha-lai/inside-out-and-back-againh/ (accessed February 21, 2014).

Vardell, Sylvia M. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Book Review: COMETS, STARS, THE MOON AND MARS: SPACE POEMS AND PAINTINGS written and Ill. by Douglas Florian


Florian, Douglas. 2007. COMETS, STARS, THE MOON AND MARS: SPACE POEMS AND PAINTINGS. New York: Harcourt. ISBN 978-015206625-3

COMETS, STARS, THE MOON AND MARS is a stunning mix of art, prose, and solar-system facts.  This middle-grade poetry book contains twenty playful poems about the universe and all its celestial bodies.  Douglas Florian takes readers on a whimsical journey from “Earth” (p. 1) to “The Great Beyond” (p. 45).  A “Galactic Glossary” of space terminology is included at the back of the book. In COMETS, STARS, THE MOON AND MARS, Flores merges humor, poetry, and art to make learning about our universe fun!

The poems in this book are simple and filed with scientific facts such as the phases of Earth’s moon, Jupiter’s 16 moons, and Venus’s extreme temperature.  Many of the poems in the book contain “cheeky humor” that keeps learning delightfully entertaining (Bruder 2007). Kirkus Reviews noted that the rhymes are “characteristically playful, wrapping itself around astronomical facts with ease” (Kirkus Review 2007).  For instance, this book contains humorous and fact-filled verses such as (p. 37): 


Pluto was a planet.

But now it doesn’t pass.

Pluto was a planet.

They say it’s lacking mass.

Pluto was a planet.

Pluto was admired.

Pluto was a planet

Till one day it got fired.

While most of Florian’s verse is playful and engaging, a few of the included poems “stumble on lumpy rhymes or fall flat” (Bruder 2007).  The mixed-media art and lighthearted language distract from awkward sounding verse when reading the book silently.  However, when the poems are read aloud the listener can hear the forced nature of some of the rhymes. This is unfortunate because children get more delight out of poetry when it is read silently AND aloud (Vardell 2008, 130).  Reading poetry aloud to children allows them to “develop their own oral fluency and understanding of language” (Vardell 2008, 130).

Enrichment Activities:

Florian plays with word spacing and form to merge the artwork in the poems.  For instance, the art and spiral text in the poem “A Galaxy” illustrates the varied shapes galaxies take (p. 10-11).


To enrich the lessons of this book, children can be asked to create their own mixed-media masterpiece using space facts.  They can create their own solar system using materials such as fabric, magazine pages, buttons, and so on.  If parents would like to expand on this creative theme, the website “Kids Astronomy” has a fun and free makes your own solar system game (http://www.kidsastronomy.com/fun/make-a-solar-system.htm ).  Children can use this game to incorporate all the poems elements into their very own solar system.

What to Read Next:

Florian, Douglas. 2009. DINITHESAURUS: PREHISTORIC POEMS AND PAINTINGS. La Jolla, CA:  Beach Lane Books. ISBN 978-1416979784

Sklansky, Amy. 2012. OUT OF THIS WORLD: POEMS AND FACTS ABOUT SPACE.   New York:  Knopf Books. ISBN 978-0375864599


Bruder, Jessica. “Children’s Books: COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, AND MARS.” New York Times Sunday Book Review. June 3, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/review/Bruder-t.html?_r=0 (accessed February 19, 2014).

Kirkus Review. “COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, AND MARS: Space Poems and Paintings.” March 15, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/review/Bruder-t.html?_r=0 (accessed February 18, 2014).

Vardell, Sylvia M. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Book Review: THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN written by Katherine Applegate and Ill. by Patricia Castelao


Applegate, Katherine. 2012. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Ill. Patricia Castelao. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0061992254

The ONE AND ONLY IVAN is the bittersweet and beautiful middle-grade story of a gentle and artistic silverback gorilla named Ivan.  This book is a fictional narrative based on the true story of Ivan the gorilla at the Atlanta Zoo (Applegate 2013). The following picture of the real Ivan was taken from Katherine Applegate’s THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN website (http://theoneandonlyivan.com/ivan/):

real ivan

At the story’s launch, Ivan inhabits his “domain” at Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with his friends Stella the elephant and Bob the dog.  The animals in this menagerie live a lonely and solitary existence.   The overall emotional theme of loneliness and isolation is even evident in the book’s title, THE “ONEAND “ONLYIVAN.  Ivan spends his days staring at his TV, gazing out the window, and painting pictures that are sold in the mall gift shop.  While Ivan loves to listen to stories from Stella’s past, he has blocked memories own painful early history.  The animals live a monotonous existence until the day that the baby elephant names Ruby comes into their world.  A powerful promise, protective “Mighty Silverback” instincts, and abuse/neglect at the hands of his owner force Ivan to admit that his “domain” is really a cage.  He vows to change their situation and save baby Ruby.   He finally becomes, not just THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, but the silverback gorilla he was always meant to be.

This 2013 Newberry Award winning book is told in free verse from Ivan’s point of view.  Ivan tells his story, “in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery” (Kirkus Review 2012).  The use of potent imagery and descriptive language, coupled with sparse sentence structure, seem to mimic animalist or “gorilla-like” thoughts.  The School Library Journal declared, “His thoughts are vast and complex but restrained (by choice, to a certain extent, and by nature itself)” (Bird 2012).  This lends a sense of realism to the story and the protagonist.

Enrichment Activities:

Verse novels, such as the ONE AND ONLY IVAN, are growing in popularity with the middle-grade and young-adult crowd (Vardell 2008, 116).   They are “a promising trend and a fun format for dramatic read aloud” (Vardell 2008, 116).  Moreover, this book is perfect for opening a discussion on the Western Lowland Gorilla and endangered animal conservation with children.  While the real Ivan has sadly passed away, the Atlanta Zoo has placed his biography, a short film, and a slideshow of pictures on their website (http://www.zooatlanta.org/ivan#ff_s=aJBsT ). Various facts about the Western Lowland Gorillas can be found on the National Geographic Kids website (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/lowland-gorilla/). The World Wildlife Foundation website has endangered gorilla information about how we can help save these powerful creatures from extinction (http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/great_apes/gorillas/western_lowland_gorilla/).  A trip to a local zoo to view this majestic animal could also help children make real world connections to this poignant fictional story.

What to Read Next:

Hoare, Ban. 2008. EYEWITNESS: ENDANGERED ANIMALS. New York: DK Publishing. ISBN 978-0756668839

Nichols, Michael & Elizabeth Carney. 2009. FACE TO FACE WITH GORILLAS. Des Moines, IA: National Geographic Children’s Books. ISBN 978-1426304064

Hartnett, Sonya.  2011. THE MIDNIGHT ZOO.  Ill. Andrea Offermann. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0763653392

Book Trailer:


Applegate, Katherine. “The Real Ivan.” THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. 2013. http://theoneandonlyivan.com/ivan/ (accessed February 19, 2014).

Bird, Elizabeth. “Review of the Day: THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate.” School Library Journal. March 17, 2012. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/03/07/review-of-the-day-the-one-and-only-ivan-by-katherine-applegate/#_ (accessed Febuary 18, 2014).

Kirkus Review. “THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN .” January 17, 2012. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/katherine-applegate/one-and-only-ivan/ (accessed Feburary 18, 2014).

Vardell, Sylvia M. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Book Review: THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY – written and illustrated by Simms Taback


Taback, Simms. 1997. THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0670869398

Simms Taback brings the classic folktale about a little old lady’s disturbing eating habits to new life in his modern retelling of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.  This tale includes the traditional cast of characters: fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, cow, and horse.  The story also follows its predictable conclusion (she died, of course).  However, the vibrant illustrations, interspersed additional facts, and witty animal commentary make Taback’s version of this story unique.

This Caldecott Honor book is gorgeously illustrated and includes a peek-a-boo die-cutout view of the Old Lady’s stomach as she munches her way through a menagerie.  The graphics in this retold tale are boldly colored and have “the look of a ransom note” (Kirkus Reviews 1997).  The distressed and “digested wide-eyed animals float in a confetti-dusted space (which matches her dress)” after being swallowed by the Old Lady (Publishers Weekly 1997).  The Old Lady takes on an increasingly large and humorously zany appearance as the story progresses.  A Publisher’s Weekly starred review stated, “everything about the elderly woman’s exterior is equally askew, including the pupils in her eyes” (Publishers Weekly 1997).


Enrichment Activities:

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY is a popular rhyming tale that can be told orally in a familiar sing-song format.  The oral repetition of a familiar rhyme, read aloud from a storybook, “helps validate children’s experiences, connect written and oral expression, and invite active, physical participation” (Vardell 2008, 102).  The BBC website has a version of this traditional song, sung by Andy Day, freely available on their website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/subjects/earlylearning/nurserysongs/F-J/swallowed_fly). Assist children to “explore neighborhood, cultural, and language variations” by translating this rhyme and song into differing dialects (Vardell 2008, 102).  For instance, the Spanish language version of this song can be found here: http://englikids.blogspot.com/2012/09/there-was-old-lady-who-swallowed-fly.html.

If you would like to listen to a humorous Simms Taback singing version of this story, you can view the following video made by Jeff Seaver:

What to Read Next:

Taback, Simms. 1999. JOSEPH HAD A LITTLE OVERCOAT. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0670878550

Pierce, Jason. 2012. THERE WAS AN OLD FLY WHO SWALLOWED A LADY. Bend, OR: 2Toad. ISBN 978-0985077310


Kirkus Reviews. 1997. “THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.” September 15. Accessed February 9, 2014. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/simms-taback/there-was-an-old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly/.

Publishers Weekly. 1997. “THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.” September 1. Accessed February 9, 2014. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-670-86939-8.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Traditional Tales, Uncategorized

Book Review: THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA – written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Randy Cecil


Kimmel, Eric A.. 2000. THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA. Ill. by Randy Cecil. New York: Winslow Press. ISBN 1-890817-18-X

Eric Kimmel puts a southwestern spin on the classic tale The Gingerbread Man in his book THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA. Tía Lupe and Tío José are the proud owners of the Texas taquería named El Papagayo Feliz.  The tortillas made at this taquaría are the lightest and fluffiest tortillas around.  One day, Tía Lupe made a tortilla so light that it jumped up and ran away! The clever tortilla made a mad dash across the Texas desert causing an eclectic mix of characters to pursue her.

Children will fall in love with this southwestern twisted take on the classic story The Gingerbread Man.  Cultural variants of traditional tales, such as THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA, allow children to “gain insight into the customs and values of many nations and cultures” (Vardell 2008, 94).  Moreover, telling familiar tales in several variant cultural formats allow children to “learn more about basic story elements, unique cultural marker, and their own personal responses” (Vardell 2008, 97).

The illustrations and text in this raucous caper fully represent the southwestern and Latino culture.  In this southern version of The Gingerbread Man, the tortilla races across a Texas desert “past horned toads, rattlesnakes, cowboys, and other pursuers” native to the southwestern landscape (Kirkus Review 2000).   The School Library Journal noted that “primitive oil paintings feature a palette of sunset colors” (School Library Journal 2000).  The illustrator, a native Texan, paints the pictures of this book in the traditional southwestern earthy/warm colors of yellow, red, orange, and green.  Moreover, the language is sprinkled with Spanish and southwestern language such as Senor/Senorita, taquaría, and arroyo.

Enrichment Activities:

There are many web-based activities that parents can utilize to supplement this fable.  The books publisher, Winslow Press, has several fun games, activities, and relevant fun facts on their site (http://www.winslowpress.com/tortilla/tortilla.cfm#).   In the classroom setting, teachers can compare/contrast multiple versions of The Gingerbread Man to discuss point-of-view and different cultures.  For example, North East Independent School Library, in San Antonio, has a free compare/contrast group activity to be completed in a classroom or library setting (http://teacher.neisd.net/library/public/lessonplan/lessonplan.cfm?lessonpk=49).


What to Read Next:

Kimmel, Eric A.. 2009. THE THREE LITTLE TAMALES. Ill. by Valeria Docampo. New York: Two Lions. ISBN 978-0761455196

Nolte, Nancy. 2004. THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Ill. by Richard Scarry. New York: Golden Books. ISBN 978-0375825897


Kirkus Review. 2000. “THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA.” September 1. Accessed February 8, 2014. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/eric-a-kimmel/the-runaway-tortilla/

School Library Journal. 2000. “THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA.” Amazon. Accessed February 8, 2014. http://www.amazon.com/The-Runaway-Tortilla-Eric-Kimmel/dp/189081718X.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Traditional Tales, Uncategorized

Book Review: THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS – written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith


Scieszka, Jon. 1989. THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS. Ill. by Lane Smith. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-82759-2

Do you know the classic tale of the Three Little Pigs? Jon Scieszka’s retelling of this common story, THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS, confirms that everything you know about the shocking events of that fateful day are wrong.  This book is tells the “true” tragic story of the three little pigs from the perpetrator’s (AKA- The Big Bad Wolf) point of view.   The misjudged and innocent Big Bad Wolf was framed!

This retold traditional tale is listed as #35 in the School Library Journal’s top 100 picture books of all time (Bird 2012). Younger children will enjoy this well written and illustrated picture book, however, it will be “less meaningful if they do not understand what is being parodied” (Vardell 2008, 85-86).   Kirkus Review mentions that middle grade children will easily understand this twisted tale’s lesson regarding the “unreliability of witnesses” (Kirkus Review 1989).  Older children will understand that the, “second view of the same events may yield a story that is entirely different from another but equally ‘true’” (Kirkus Review 1989).

Publisher’s Weekly remarked that the book’s “imaginative watercolors eschew realism, further updating the tale” (Publishers Weekly 1996).  The illustrations in this book compliment the text and visually assist in the telling of this narrative.  For instance, the wolf is drawn with an innocent and trusting expression while the small glances of the pigs’ faces illustrate an angry and fearsome demeanor.


Enrichment Activities:

There are many freely-accessible and pre-planned extension activities created to incorporate this book into a lesson plan or story-time.   Scholastic has many of these activities listed on their website at: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/true-story-3-little-pigs-extension-activities. This book is could also be used as a tool to teach children about point-of-view.  This could be accomplished by asking the children to write the story of Three Little Pigs from yet another character’s point of view. Bright Hub Education has a wonderful THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS lesson plan based around the concept of point-of-view (http://www.brighthubeducation.com/lesson-plans-grades-3-5/67152-use-the-true-story-of-the-three-little-pigs-to-teach-point-of-view/).

A teacher could also guide children  in acting out their own dramatic theatrical production of this story.  Here is an example of a theatrical production of THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS produced by the Dallas Children’s Theater:

What to Read Next:

Scieszka, Jon. 1992. THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES. Ill. by Lane Smith. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0670844876

Shaskan, Trisha Speed.  2011. SERIOUSLY, CINDERELLA IS SO ANNOYING!: THE STORY OF CINDERELLA AS TOLD BY THE WICKED STEPMOTHER (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY). Ill. by Gerald Guerlais. Mankato, Minn.:  Picture Window Books. ISBN 9781404870482


Bird, Elizabeth. 2012. “Top 100 Picture Books #35: THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith.” School Library Journal. June 1. Accessed Febuary 21, 2014. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/06/01/top-100-picture-books-35-the-true-story-of-the-three-little-pigs-by-jon-scieszka-illustrated-by-lane-smith/#_.

Kirkus Review. 1989. “THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS.” August 15. Accessed Febuary 9, 2014. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jon-scieszka/true-story-of-3-little-pigs/.

Publishers Weekly. 1996. “THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS.” March 4. Accessed February 2014, 2014. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-14-054451-0.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. Children’s Literatue in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport, CT: Libraies Unlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Traditional Tales, Uncategorized

Book Review: ARE YOU MY MOTHER? – written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman


Eastman, P.D.. 1960. ARE YOU MY MOTHER?. Ill. by P. D. Eastman. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-90018-9

The suspenseful and humorous beginning-reader mystery titled ARE YOU MY MOTHER? tells the tale of a baby bird and his search for his mother.  Anticipating the birth of her new baby, Mother Bird flies off to find some food.  Baby Bird hatches during her absence and goes to look for his mother.  Baby Bird encounters many animals and objects that he mistakes for his mother along the way.  The story ends happily as baby bird is plopped back down into his nest just in time for his mother to fly home.

This classic tale has been listed #45 in the School Library Journal’s top 100 picture books of all time for good reasons (Bird 2012).  Baby Bird’s comical mistakes when identifying his mother are ridiculous enough that they will tickle the funny bone of any young reader.  Moreover, Baby Bird’s plight of losing his mother is a plot that young children will identify with and is very “believable and relevant to the young child” (Vardell 2008, 58).

The story, which has been around since 1960, will whet parents “appetite for the familiar touchstones of the past” (Vardell 2008, 23).  The language is simple and the story short enough that this book would be a good choice for beginning readers.  Moreover, the illustrations in the story compliment the text and dialog enabling the child to “see” the story in the pictures.  This is an “important part of early literacy” and helps the child to decode the context of the story (Vardell 2008, 42).

The text on the pages of this book is written in large and easy to read font on white background. The monochromatic and simple color scheme used in the book’s artwork does not distract from the words making for easier reading.  The illustrations in the book are drawn in shades of muted brown with highlighted features in yellow and red.  Warm colors, such as red and yellow, are often used to “convey emotion and symbolism” in children’s picture books (Vardell 2008, 54).  P.D. Eastman’s illustrations in ARE YOU MY MOTHER? increasingly showcase bright red and yellow colors as the dramatic plot unfolds.  The use of bright colors on “Snort”, the crane truck Baby Bird mistakes for his mother, emphasizes the feelings of fear and frustration Baby Bird is feeling at the peak of his adventure.


Enrichment Activities:

The longevity and popularity of this book has led to the creation of many preschool and parent activities that can be tied into story-time, circle-time, or parent-child led lessons.  For example, Bight Education Hub (http://www.brighthubeducation.com/teaching-preschool/96884-story-stretcher-for-are-you-my-mother/) has some wonderful ideas to incorporate an Are You my Mother? theme into the preschool classroom.  Also, the obSEUSSed blog contains a printable ARE YOU MY MOTHER? matching game (http://www.obseussed.com/2012/05/are-you-my-mother-printable-matching.html) that parents can print out and play with their children.

An Animated Version of the Story:

What to Read Next:

Stileman, Kali. 2011. ROLY-POLY EGG. Ill. by Kali Stileman. Wilton, CT: Tiger Tales. ISBN 978-1589258525

Sitomer, Alan Lawrence. 2012. DADDIES DO IT DIFFERENT. Ill. by Abby Carter. New York: Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 978-1423133155


Bird, Elizabeth. 2012. “Top 100 Picture Books #45: ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by P.D. Eastman.” School Library Journal. May 29. Accessed January 21, 2014. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/05/29/top-100-picture-books-45-are-you-my-mother-by-p-d-eastman/#_.

Eastman, P.D. 1960. ARE YOU MY MOTHER?. New York: Random House.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Picture Books

Book Review: THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! written and illustrated by Mo Willems


Willems, Mo. 2007. THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! . Ill. by Mo Willems. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 978-1-4231-0686-9

Mo Willems has written and illustrated an entertaining, silly, and easy-to-read masterpiece in his 2008 Geisel Award winning picture book THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! . This simple story is about best friends Elephant and Piggie.  Gerald the Elephant is horrified to learn that first one,  then TWO, love birds decide to alight and rest on the top of his cranium.  When the love birds decide to build a nest and start a family on his head, Gerald enlists the advice of his friend Piggie.  Piggie sagely advises Gerald to politely ask the birds to move somewhere else, with hilarious unintended consequences!  This simple, yet comical, caper has delighted young-children and early-readers everywhere.

This easy-reader picture book has a simple enough plot and language that early-readers should have no trouble deciphering it.  However, while some early-reader books remain “stilted and dry” in their simplicity, this story remains entertaining in its ridiculousness and hilarity (Vardell 2008, 46-47).  The American Library Association proclaimed the “balanced design of color-coordinated speech bubbles, expressive cartoon art and familiar vocabulary create an engaging, laugh-out-loud experience for young readers” (American Library Association 2008).  The white background and simple illustrations in this book draw attention to the text.  The speech bubbles portraying the character’s dialog are boldly and colorfully showcased prominently on each page. The characters act out the meaning of the text in the illustrations giving early readers both written and visual clues about the plot (Bird 2012).



Enrichment Activities:

This story can easily become incorporated into lessons on assertiveness and friendship by initiating a conversation about the plot with children after finishing the story.  Mo Willems’ website “Pigeon Presents!” (http://www.pigeonpresents.com/grownup.aspx) contains teacher guides for many of his books including THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! . This website contains a free document called the “Elephant and Piggie Party Kit”.  In this Party Kit, story-time and circle-time ideas are given along with worksheets and suggested discussion question.

Animated Version of the Story:

What to Read Next:

Willems, Mo. 2003. DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS!. Ill. by Mo Willems. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 978-0786819881

Willems, Mo. 2010. CAN I PLAY TOO?. Ill. by Mo Willems. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 978-1423119913


American Library Association. 2008. “Mo Willems wins Geisel Award for “THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! ”.”  January 14. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.ala.org/news/news/pressreleases2008/january2008/geisel08.

Bird, Elizabeth. 2012. “Top 100 Picture Books #60: THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD!  by Mo Willems.” School Library Journal. May 25. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/05/25/top-100-picture-books-60-there-is-a-bird-on-your-head-by-mo-willems/.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Willems, Mo. 2007. THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD!  New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Leave a comment

Filed under Picture Books

Book Review: A BALL FOR DAISY written and illustrated by Chris Raschka


Raschka, Chris. 2011. A BALL FOR DAISY.  Ill. by Chris Raschka.  New York, NY:  Schwartz & Wade Books.  ISBN 978-0-375-85861-1

This beautifully illustrated and wordless picture book tells the story of Daisy, a small white dog with a love for walks and toy balls. This 2012 Caldecott Award winning tale starts out with Daisy and her owner walking to the park to play fetch with Daisy’s beloved red ball.  Alas, Daisy and her red ball have several heartbreaking mishaps at the park.  First, the ball gets stuck behind a fence where Daisy’s owner must rescue it.  Next, a rambunctious brown dog tries to join in the fun only to pop Daisy’s beloved toy.  Raschka perfectly captures the devastation and loss of a child losing their favorite toy in the illustration of the next 9-10 pages.

Daisy Interior 4


However, all hope is not lost.  Daisy and her owner return to the park to meet up with the rambunctious brown dog, her owner, and a new blue ball for Daisy! Soon, Daisy and the brown dog become new friends as they play happily at the park with the new ball. Daisy returns home with her beloved new blue ball to curl up happily on the couch and fall contentedly asleep.

Wordless picture books tell a tale through art instead of words.  Art in children’s literature uses “line, color, texture, and composition work together to create art, much as character, setting, plot, theme, and style work together to create literature” (Vardell 2008, 53).  Raschka executes this use of art to create a story perfectly in his picture book A BALL FOR DAISY.  The heart wrenching feeling of loss when a favorite toy, blanket, or treasured stuffed animal is lost is translated into grayed, brown, or muted purple background colors and undefined lines. The elated feelings of happiness when finding a new ball and new childhood friend are translated into brilliant blue, yellow, and green tones (Horning 2012).   As a 2011 Kirkus review states, Raschka is able to “map an inner life rich in heights of joy and depths of sorrow” through his illustrative storytelling (Kirkus 2011).

A Horn Book review of this book calls Raschka’s use of composition “noteworthy for both its artistry and its child appeal” (Horning 2012).  Raschka uses several sequential illustrations on a single page to convey action and plot.  Conversely, he uses single-page, large, and colorful illustrations during the high emotion or focal parts of Daisy’s tale. While reading this story, these large colorful illustration seem to encourage the reader to pause and reflect on Daisy’s emotions and dilemma.   Horning’s review points out that this author and illustrator “varies the line to echo her emotions” (Horning 2012).  Raschka masterfully conveys emotions in his illustrations by utilizing “bold, sure lines when Daisy is happy; shaky, squiggly lines when she is upset” (Horning 2012).


This picture book would be a perfect choice for young children learning about the value of friendship and forgiveness. According to the book CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE, wordless picture stories “challenge children to use their imaginations to create or narrate their own text” (Vardell 2008, 46).  A BALL FOR DAISY is an ideal book to teach a young child to identify emotions by having them vocalize what they believe Daisy is feeling at each pivotal moment in the story. Moreover, having a child put verbal words to this illustrative story assists them with “storytelling, writing captions, developing oral fluency, assessing visual literacy, and developing ESL vocabulary skills” (Vardell 2008, 46).

I believe that the story and sentiments in the book are emotional experiences most children (and adults) can identify with. I personally was transported back in memory to my own childhood experiences while reading Daisy’s tale.  In my humble opinion, A BALL FOR DAISY is a must read picture book for all young children.

Book Trailer:

What to Read Next:

Faller, Regis. 2006. THE ADVENTURES OF POLO. Ill. By Regis Faller. New York, NY: Roaring Book Press. ISBN 978-1596431607

Raschka, Chris. 2013.  DAISY GETS LOST.  Ill. by Chris Raschka.  New York, NY:  Schwartz & Wade Books.  ISBN 978-0449817414


Horning, Kathleen T. 2012. “Reviews of the 2012 Caldecott Winners.” The Horn Book. January 3. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.hbook.com/2012/01/choosing-books/reviews/reviews-of-the-2012-caldecott-winners/.

Kirkus. 2011. “Kirkus Reviews: A BALL FOR DAISY.” May 10. Accessed January 19, 2014. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/chris-raschka/ball-for-daisy/.

Raschka, Chris. 2011. A BALL FOR DAISY. New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade Books.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Picture Books