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Over the years, our kindergarten units have been switched around and we’re doing farm later and later. So here it is May, and I just got to The Lamb Who Came for Dinner last week. The illustrations are charming and bright, and definitely appealing for the age group. It’s a newish book for me; this is my second year reading it aloud to my class.

But it’s a winner, starting from predicting what will happen in the story based on the title and cover (“Oh no! The wolf’s going to eat him!”) to the denouement, where everything you thought you knew has been turned upside down.

Enter Sue. (Or Stew, as the wolf calls her initially.) She’s a little lost lamb who finds her way to the wolf’s house in the middle of a snowstorm. Wolf, who has just groused about eating vegetable soup again and wishes for lamb, gets his heart’s desire and ushers her in. She’s frozen and defrosts by the fire while the wolf checks out recipes.

But she’s got a rumbly tummy and he can’t eat a dinner with a rumbly tummy, so he gives her a carrot.

She gets the hiccups. He can’t eat a dinner with hiccups–he might get them himself. After several tries to get rid of her hiccups, he settles for snuggling her close and patting her back.

The hiccups disappear and Sue falls asleep on his shoulder.

The old wolf argues with himself and is just about to eat her all at once, when the little lamb does the unthinkable.

She kisses him.

The wolf now has a moral quandary. How can he eat a dinner that has kissed him?

Well, he can’t! And she’s not safe here with him.

Out she goes, back into the snowstorm, this time with a warm sweater provided by the wolf. And it should have been good, except now the wolf is worried about Sue. It’s dark. It’s very cold. And something might eat her.

Off he goes to try and find her, but after a long fruitless search, returns home. Luckily Sue is already inside, and once the wolf admits he can’t eat a lamb who needs him (because he might get heartburn) it’s all happy ever after.

How much did this year’s class enjoy the book?

Enough to demand an immediate reread.

And that’s enough to make me wholeheartedly recommend it to you. You can certainly discuss Wolf’s very believable change of heart and do a compare and contrast with another wolf story–The Big Bad Wolf is Good.

It’s fall in Southern California.

How do I know? The Santa Anas hit earlier this week and leaves cover the ground. Mind you, some of leaf litter once belonged to palm trees, and those are a little too large for the non-fiction book and follow-up activity I have in mind.

A few years ago, I happened upon Look What I Did with a Leaf by Morteza E. Soh. Unlike so much of the literature I share with my classes–I have a preference for stories, I’m afraid–this falls into the realm of non-fiction.

But what it does for a child’s imagination!

I typically read Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert first, to let the children see how her illustrations are made. The next day, I drag out this book. They are completely entranced by the animals Soh creates with leaves. The fact that she provides plans with images of the leaves she uses for each animal is a bonus.


My kids start collecting leaves.

I read Ehlert’s book this morning, and leaves gathered in cubbies by this afternoon. I’m very lucky to teach in a small semi-rural district with loads of trees. But even if I didn’t have on-campus access to a variety of leaves, a nature walk through the neighborhood would allow us to gather more.

By the end of the second day, my class is charged up and imagining all sorts of animals they could make with the leaves. Sadly, my schedule doesn’t allow them as much time to play as I would like, but a demonstration and a period of exploration provides a jumping-off point. Many times, that’s enough for them to go home with a handful of leaves to glue down at home.

So to sum up: a beautiful book that inspires children to create art with found materials. What’s not to love?

But hurry. This project is good only as long as leaves cling to trees.

Halloween Bugs

Several of my favorite reads on a regular basis are the pop-out bug books by David A. Carter.

Halloween Bugs is no exception. Like all the other books of his I own, my classes adore his pop-outs. There’s always something a little surprising in his illustrations, along with a good side of humor. Halloween Bugs adds amusement for the adult readers, too. When was the last time you ran into a one-horned, one-eyed spotted people eater bug? (Okay, so it brought back memories of my childhood. Your mileage may vary.)

This year, my class not only clapped, they demanded another re-read. Although the bugs you discover behind every door brought crows of delight, I think their enthusiasm was generated by the final page. As with his other books, David Carter saves the best for last: a graveyard populated with spooky bugs!

I would love this book in a larger size. But even though the images are small, they’re bright and eye-catching.

The bug books are well under $10 a book and well worth the money. A little care will keep those pop-outs popping out from their spooky hiding places for years. I can guarantee that your child or class will be delighted with the time spent reading it aloud.

Don’t be surprised by demands to re-read it on the spot. Or, for that matter, demands to hear all his other bug books!

Huggapotamus

It’s not often I get a brand-new book to share with my class and they clap at the end of the story or demand to hear it again.

Friday, they did.

Huggapotamus by Steve Metzger and illustrations by Gabriele Antonini hit a sweet spot for my class. And I’m pretty sure it won’t be the only class to enjoy the tale. Every year I have children who haven’t quite learned the knack of social interaction. They are too touchy or grabby or impulsive, and don’t cue in to others’ discomfort at being touched or grabbed.

This is the perfect book to help them understand.

Albert is a cute little hippo who is loved dearly by his parents and gets big hugs. Hippo hugs.

Hippo hugs work well on hippos, but don’t sit so well with his friends. Benny the lion is naturally upset when Albert’s hug keeps him from scoring. Jasmine the zebra is squeezed a little too hard. And Badge the monkey is just as annoyed as the others.

No one wants to play with Albert after being hugged by him.

As Albert is feeling sorry for himself, he realizes Benny is frozen in a game of freeze tag and rushes off to save him.

Only to skid to a stop before he tramples Benny to ask if he can play, too.

Of course he can. And everyone is so pleased at his new-found ability to control himself, they band together to give him a group hug.

After asking his permission.

My class could related to both Albert and his friends, and I’m sure every single child sitting there has experienced both sides of the problem. Can they apply what they’ve learned yet?

Probably not. But I’m adding this tale to the beginning of the year books, along with my copy of Hands Are Not For Hitting. It might make the year a little easier for everyone. Including me.

(Currently, Huggapotamus is available only through Scholastic Book Clubs, the Firefly September issue. Amazon isn’t sure when it will be available.)

Gorilla

I love finding new-to-me books to share with my kinders, but not every one is special or catches their interest.

Cue Gorilla by Anthony Browne, originally published in 1983. It was republished in 2002, and I was lucky enough to find a copy a few weeks ago–about the time I was searching for new Mother’s Day and Father’s Day books to augment my collection. (Yes, I found one of each. Imagine, they’re by Anthony Browne, too.)

The illustrations are unique and intriguing, while a number possess a poignancy that is astonishing. The storyline caught my kids the second I read the father was too busy and too tired to take her to the zoo. The room quieted and all eyes were pinned on the book and listening. Every single child could empathize.

Hannah, you see, loves gorillas. She draws them, reads about them, and is desperate to see a real one. But Dad is simply too overwhelmed by work to find the time to take her.

Hannah’s birthday arrives and all she wants is a gorilla.

So imagine her disappointment when she wakes in the middle of the night to find a box at the foot of her bed that contains a small stuffed gorilla. She tosses it into the corner, and magically that gorilla grows and becomes real.

Now she’s a little nervous. But they make friends, snacks ensue, and then they’re off on an adventure that involves the zoo and the gorillas there.

But their journey is not the only magic in this tale because the other half of Dad’s gift is that precious trip to the zoo.

A happy ending, and all the tension my class felt for Hannah’s dilemma resolved on the last page. The journey with the gorilla father-figure was amusing, and the illustrations (gorilla Superman, gorilla Whistler’s Mother) while surreal and subtle, weren’t quite enough to give it an ending that would satisfy.

Dad’s change of heart was.

This is definitely a don’t miss book. Although there is sadness in the tale, it’s not a sadness that children can’t understand or identify with. Our children are strong enough to hear a tale about another’s hurt and anxiety, and Gorilla provides them with a fear that positively resolved.

Seven Eggs

Easter is almost here, and one of our mini units just happens to be on eggs.

Of course, we tie eggs into zoo since our zoo trip is rapidly approaching, and one book I use to link wild animals to eggs is Seven Eggs. It also just happens to bring in the days of the week as we hit the math unit on calendar.

How can you go wrong?

Seven Eggs is by Meredith Hooper, with illustrations by Terry McKenna. It’s got a simple, repetitious text, and children learn the pattern and chime in quickly. In the tale, a new animal hatches each day, and introduces the concept that chickens aren’t the only animals to emerge from eggs.

Nope. We also have a penguin, a crocodile, an ostrich, a frilled lizard, a turtle, and a barn owl. Each is realistically drawn in a soft pastel color scheme.

What about the seventh day? Well, that’s a surprise, and nicely linked to the eggs we find sprinkled about our lawns and house on Easter.

My class this year oohed when I showed them the first page–the book design is reminiscent of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This year’s class also argued that they should be the recipients of the surprise at the end, not me, the reader. I’m sure I’ll be getting a request to hear it again tomorrow.

This story is one I am very pleased to have in my library–I was lucky to find it some years ago. However, when I searched online for links to copies for this review, I was dismayed to find the prices for this particular book ranged to the spectacularly high, and certainly out of the reach of my wallet if I needed a copy. If you’re interested in a copy, your best bet might be eBay or happenstance at a garage sale.

Acquiring the book is well worth your while, especially if you’re interested in widening your library and tying math concepts and science to a holiday.

Interrupting Chicken

One of the things that small children must learn is to wait. To wait their turn, to wait in line, to wait until they’re there….

It’s rough, you know?

Anyone who has had a small child of their own (or taught a group of them) knows, it’s tough to get them to wait.

And it’s even tougher to get them to not interrupt–because, everything, everything is so important, you need to know it right. this. second. no matter what you are doing.

I’ve been dealing with this issue all this year. Hands shoot up, if I’m lucky, and they wait (if I’m REALLY lucky) for me to call names and listen.

But really, it’s so much easier just to interrupt.

So, when I saw Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein on my Scholastic book order last month, I had to order it. Yes, it’s a hard back. But it’s a fantastic book, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

I have twenty-one kinders who adore it.

The story’s simple. Papa shuffles Chicken off to bed, whereupon Chicken demands a bedtime story. Papa warns little Chicken about interrupting and Chicken promises she will be good. So good.

And she is.

Until Hansel and Gretel are about to enter the witch’s house, and Chicken yells out a warning. So they don’t enter. The End.

Try number two involves Little Red Riding Hood and just as she’s about speak to the wolf, Chicken yells, “Don’t talk to strangers!” So she doesn’t. The End.

Chicken begs Papa for another story, promising she won’t interrupt, but Chicken Little doesn’t warn Henny Penny, Turkey Lurkey, or Ducky Lucky, because… well, Chicken’s interrupted again.

Papa’s out of books and Chicken’s still not sleepy so she reads a story to Papa. One she’s written and illustrated herself.

Papa does the interrupting this time with his snoring.

A delight to read and, judging from my class, a delight to hear. Best of all, however, is the fact that they understand what interrupting is by the end, and now, all I need to ask my just-can’t-wait-to-tell-you students is, “Are you an interrupting chicken?”

And of course, they must admit they are.