Archive for February, 2010

One universal kindergarten and first-grade experience is the loss of a tooth. Or several. And the ones who are lucky enough to lose one are envied by the ones who haven’t lost any. I see multiple open mouths as the have nots attempt to convince me their time is coming.

One book I like to read about this time of year is Albert’s Toothache by Barbara Williams. My edition is quite old with soft penciled drawings by Kay Chorao. Luckily for you, there is a new edition out with color illustrations by Doug Cushman. Although I love the original’s delightful illustrations, they’re not quite as eye-catching as Doug Cushman’s when read to a large group. It’s all about the addition of color.

Albert claims he has a toothache. His father refuses to believe him–after all turtles don’t have teeth. His mother tries food and activities he enjoys to get him out of bed, but Albert’s wail that they never believe him rings true.

Because they don’t. And, if nothing else, the kindergartners in my classes recognize that wail.

Grandmother Turtle arrives to the rescue after Albert has been in bed all day. She promptly tells the entire family the problem is that they never believe Albert and heads off to check on him.

I love her question: “Where do you have a toothache?”

It turns out that the toothache is in his toe. My kids always laugh and we talk about that impossibility before I reveal that Gopher bit him. Then we get to discuss how someone else’s tooth created the ache for Albert and why it’s reasonable for him to call it a ‘toothache’. Albert’s grandmother wraps his toe in a handkerchief, but the most soothing element of the story is that someone believes his tale of woe.

Plus, I discovered a page full of philosophical questions to try with your class.

I’m printing it out and putting it in my files for next year.


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Bunny Cakes

A big part of kindergarten is learning to express yourself–orally and in written format. My kids work hard on learning their sounds (Zoo-phonics–they get them all in a month or so) and then matching sounds to letters and finally putting words on paper, even though they may only be writing the initial sound of each word.

Literacy is a critical skill–and writing is scary for some children. That first write? A chorus of I can’ts until I tell them the only ones who have to read their writing is them. Parents can’t read it. Even teachers can’t. So whatever they write it on the page, they have to be able to tell me what it says if I can’t figure it out.

Enter Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells. I’ve been a huge fan of her books since I read Benjamin and Tulip to my eldest. That book came out in 1977, and it’s floating in my classroom library today, although it’s growing brittle. Over the years I’ve also added Noisy Nora, Hazel’s Amazing Mother, in addition to others, and whenever I visit her website I find another I need to collect.

Rosemary Wells is a great children’s artist. Most of her illustrations are watercolors with judicious touches of other media. Her animal characters are lovable and charming, the colors bright, and the illustrations compelling for small hordes of children.

My kids empathized with Max’s predicament in Bunny Cakes. He craves Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters for his grandmother’s earthworm-filled birthday cake. Every time Ruby sends him to the store with a list (to replace the ingredients he breaks or spills for the cake shes making) Max scribbles his desire at the bottom.

And every time, the grocer fails to decipher his scrawls–although he can read Ruby’s writing just fine.

What’s a bunny to do?

Max finally finds a solution when Ruby sends him off to get silver stars and buttercream roses: he relies on his artistic talent to draw those marshmallow squirters.

Luckily, the grocer has no difficulty in figuring out what they are.

So all’s well that ends well. Both Max and Ruby are happy with their cakes–and Grandma? She simply can’t decide which one she should eat first. Based on my class’ vote, however, and subsequent graphing activity, the cake without the caterpillar icing was a huge hit.

And I’ll give you one guess whose cake required caterpillar icing.

A delightful story and worth the addition to your classroom library if you haven’t already got a copy.

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I have a bilingual kindergarten class–for many children, Spanish was their first language and now we’re adding English to their repertoire. I search for books that convey a sense of cultural identity for my reads, because they need to find a place where both cultures can exist in harmony.

I happened on Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto a few years back. Usually I read it at Christmas time because that’s when we make tamales in class for our feast. (Really, this is not a difficult task provided you have mothers who know how to make the tamales. I purchase the masa from a Mexican bakery in town, make the chicken filling, and the hojas are in my grocery store. Easy, peasy pie. Cross my heart.)

This year, I didn’t get to it at that time, but I pulled it out Friday and read it anyway.

The time of year doesn’t really matter. Sure this is set at Christmas, yet the tale doesn’t follow the holiday experience. It’s all about Maria’s choice to put on her mother’s ring, its inevitable loss, and the guilt which forces her (and her cousins) to eat twenty-four tamales hoping to find it.

My class pays close attention when Maria remembers the ring–they can all relate to having made a poor choice and then having to face the consequences. We spent a little time discussing how hard it would be to go tell your own mother what you had done, and the relief you would feel when you discovered the ring on your mother’s finger, and then having to confess that the tamales were gone on top of that! We drew a circle for each child on the board and divvied up the twenty-four tamales using tally marks so we could see how many each child had to eat.

Too Many Tamales‘ illustrations are lovely. Ed Martinez is the artist and his oils make the story come to life. The expressions on the children’s faces are perfect, while the color palette draws us closer, centering on the traditional warmth of a Latino home at holiday time.

Wonderful book, good opportunities for identifying with the main character’s situation, and a lovely means of drawing other cultural aspects into your curriculum.

And proof, if you needed it, that making tamale filling is simple:

Chicken (or pork) tamale filling:

3 lbs. cooked and shredded chicken or pork
1 large can of red chile sauce (in the Mexican section of your grocery)
1 packet of Mexican chocolate

Mix all ingredients together, heat on low until chocolate melts completely. Cool, then spread on the masa-coated hojas.

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Well. Now that the holiday hair-raising of the past two weeks is over, we can move on to more mundane activities: the seasons and weather. So while I’m trying to get spring (the most difficult in my experience) to stick in kids’ heads, I drag out another box of books.

Many are non-fiction. Our current ELD program–Avenues by Hampton Brown–provides Changes which is a lovely photo montage of seasons with images that really appeal to kindergarteners. I read that first, but I can’t wait jump to fiction.

So I pull out Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett with illustrations rendered by Ron Barrett. Yes, the title sounds familiar since it’s recently been made into a full-feature film. If anything, my class this year paid even closer attention since the majority had seen the movie version, and I had warned them that the book was quite different.

The illustrations are detailed pen-and-ink drawings and quite humorous. My kids always enjoy the humongous pancake-covered school with helicopters attempting to lift the pancake. My own favorite is the one where a pickle has crushed through a roof, a sprinkled doughnut rolls down the street after an escaping mother and her baby in a stroller, and slices of pizza drape the houses and streets. Illustrations aren’t much better than this, although I have to admit I’d love a big book. The smaller size makes it hard for the class to appreciate the detail.

The book opens with the outer story–Grandpa flipping pancakes and losing control of one. It lands on his grandson’s head, and that’s enough to give Grandpa a great idea for a bedtime story about the tiny town of Chewandswallow and their weather–which is food, of course. Those meatballs are serious.

Chewandswallow soon develops major problems as the food grows larger and more distasteful (you try subsisting on gorgonzola cheese all day) and the storms intensify. Eventually, the townsfolk flee, using gargantuan stale bread slices and peanut butter glue for rafts, and slowly adjust to a life without food for weather.

A quick return to the outer tale of siblings and Grandpa wraps it up and gives it a satisfying finish. That hill of snow they are sledding down does indeed resemble a mound of mashed potatoes and the sun does appear to be a pat of butter.

We didn’t get to it today, but I really want to have my class try writing a finish to an open sentence format:

I would want it to rain __________________.
I would want it to snow ____________________.
But I would never want it to blow _________________.

Maybe tomorrow.

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Chinese New Year begins at midnight tonight, and welcome to the Year of the Tiger. As if we didn’t have enough to do in kindergarten, a few years ago we decided to touch upon this celebration as a way of increasing our children’s awareness of the world and other cultures around them.

This year we made our dragon masks, a small red conical hat decorated with the Chinese New Year animals, and listened to a number of fiction and non-fiction books about this holiday or set in China.

The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker is a recent acquisition of mine. It was published two years ago, and I purchased my copy via Scholastic. I did not find it in this year’s Scholastic offerings, although they did have The Seven Chinese Brothers, a similarly-themed book.

The Seven Chinese Sisters grabs the girls’ attention in my class immediately. The characters are all gifted females with a particular strength. Seventh Sister is the exception for she is still a baby and her talent unknown. The boys tune in with First Sister’s ability to ride a scooter “as fast as the wind,” and grow very interested when the Chinese dragon, attracted by the scent of Sixth Sister’s delicious noodle soup, enters the tale.

But the dragon is distracted by a yummier treat: Seventh Sister. My favorite illustration by Grace Lin, for she shows Seventh Sister’s kidnapping with humor–the dragon’s claws grip her midsection as her widened eyes above the pacifier indicate her surprise.

All six sisters band together to rescue Seventh Sister, who has uttered her first word, “Help!” Each is called upon to use her own special talent, communication is facilitated by Third Sister’s ability to speak Dog language, and the not-so-very-scary dragon becomes an object of pity once Seventh Sister is safe.

The illustrations–so bright and charming, with repeated patterns–keep the children’s interest. That the sisters prove to be formidable is as delightful as the image of the starving, skinny dragon. And who knew that Fourth Sister’s ability to count to 500 or Fifth Sister’s ability to catch any ball would be an amazing skill?!

So there’s lots to enjoy in this tale, although I do have to point out that karate (Second Sister’s talent) is not a Chinese martial art. But the dragon is definitely an Eastern dragon rather than Western and provides an opportunity to include that difference in a discussion of Chinese culture. Plus the author does not miss letting us in on Seventh Sister’s eventual talent–storytelling, so you can spend time talking about the talents each of us possesses.

Definitely one worth recommending.

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It’s that time of year again: holiday madness. Both Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day strike this week, and craft split personality has hit. Before Friday, we will make Valentine bags to stash cards in on Friday, Chinese lanterns, paper hats, and dragon masks for Thursday–early, I know–and squeeze in a directed draw of George Washington for their memory books.

Last week wasn’t any better, actually. If anyone had consulted me, we would limit holidays to one a month. Two in a pinch.

Ah, well. No one made me queen. (Too bad. I’d time the entire Middle East out in their respective rooms until they promised to play nice.)

I pulled out one of my favorite reads today, Monster Valentines by Joanne Cole. It was published by Scholastic back in 1989, which means it’s not in print now. Sorry. But Abe Books has a number of copies for sale, and for not too much. I also found a copy listed on eBay, so you just have to search a little.
The cartoon drawings are by Jared Lee, probably best known for his illustrations of the Black Lagoon series by Mike Thaler.

One of the reasons this is a favorite is because it’s an in-depth look at two very different friends. Prunella is your typical monster–mean and ready to stamp on your foot to prove she’s got a stamp collection of her own–and Rosie, a very unusual monster, who is sweet and kind.

Naturally, the two have a disagreement over valentines. Prunella’s artistic streak combines torn green paper hearts with slime and monsterish couplets. Rosie insists Prunella’s valentines conform to a higher standard, and tells her to go home when Prunella refuses.

Which Prunella does, but once there, she realizes how much she misses her friend. So she tries to make amends with…

…more valentines.

One guess how successful this gambit proves.

Eventually, though, Rosie recognizes how hard Prunella is trying and they make up–Rosie bearing a heart decorated with an old sardine, while Prunella finally comes up with a sweet, lacy number. All ends well, and both have gone out of their way to see things from the other’s perspective.

So we ended story time with a little discussion about friends, the times when we’ve gotten mad at them, and made up. There’s definitely a lot for kids to identify with in this tale, and the take away–that we can be so very different and still be friends–is a lesson worth learning.

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I have three boxes of snow-related winter books–and it doesn’t snow very often at all here in Southern California. Perhaps that’s why.

Over the years, I’ve tried lots of things to give my kids an idea of snow. We’ve had snowball fights with crumpled paper balls and built an igloo out of stapled-together milk jug bottoms. I don’t do either of those any longer–I have a difficult time with a single use of crumpled fresh paper and while the igloo was fun, it needed constant repair. Those staples pop.

So now I mostly stick to books. One of my more recent acquisitions is Snowballs by Lois Ehlert.

I love Lois Ehlert’s illustrations. If you go searching for her books, you’ll find a mix of realia and paper and paint. Snowballs is an excellent example of her collage techniques. She also manages to add some surprises which delight kids–in this one, the book flips to the vertical to show the various snowmen. And snowcats. And snowdogs. (I can’t tell you how much I love the illustration of Spot, and my kids form a line right behind me.)

My class loves to discuss what she used to create them all–corn, coffee beans, screws, nuts, shoelaces–no carrot noses here!

And after the read, we paint our snowmen bodies on blue 12×18″ construction paper, wait for them to dry, and then decorate our own snowmen with things I’ve gathered over the years. One-hundred collections that the children and families are willing to donate make a great selection of objects to use for embellishment.

Snowballs is a great read for this age. It’s a springboard for the children’s creativity and well worth the acquisition. This one is easily found in online bookstores.

snowballs interior

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