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Archive for March, 2010

Spring has sprung, Easter’s almost here, and it’s time to discuss eggs. Because I have a few children who don’t celebrate Easter, I’m always looking for books about eggs without an Easter bunny hiding inside.

Thus, another favorite–The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The book received the Caldecott Honor in 1990, which was most definitely deserved. While this retelling of a Creole folktale is similar to the Cinderella story, the Louisiana setting, time period, and language set it far apart from the more familiar version. The colorful illustrations filled with detail draw my children’s attention, while I am grateful to have a book with non-white characters on the cover, and characters’ faces that may reflect the ones my children see in the mirror daily.

Blanche and Rose are sisters, who live with their mother in a tired cabin. While Rose turns out to be mean-spirited, just like her mother, Blanche is giving and sweet–and ends up doing the work of all three while the other two relax.

On her way to fetch water, she meets an old auntie who begs for a sip, and Blanche, being the obedient girl she is, provides it for her. But when she does make it home, her mother and sister chastise her for being slow and she runs off. She meets the elderly woman again, is invited back to the old lady’s house, and admonished not to laugh at anything she may see.

So the colorful chickens with their extra legs, the two-headed cow,
and the old lady who can cook a full meal out of hardly anything, in addition to taking off her head to comb her hair, are strange and wonderful, but Blanche follows the witch’s orders and does not laugh. Her rewards are eggs from the hen house–but only the talking eggs who tell her to take them. When she throws them over her shoulder as she walks home, she receives many lovely surprises.

And it’s no surprise at all that when Blanche arrives home in new finery, her mother sends her sister to find the old woman and win some goodies of her own.

Nor is it a surprise when Rose utterly fails every task that Blanche sailed through. Suffice it to say, both the mother and Rose get a fitting retribution and Blanche lives happily ever after.

It’s a lovely book that provides opportunities for comparing and contrasting with the Cinderella story. Another activity I’m going to try this year is to put small pieces of paper with words I know my kids can decode in a number of plastic eggs and have them read, record the word on a piece of paper folded in quarters, and then draw a picture for the word.

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One of my favorite classroom reads–which I usually do Easter week when we’re talking about eggs–is The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown, with beautiful illustrations by Leonard Weisgard. It was originally published in 1946, and is still easily available today. Although there is a wonderfully decorated egg on the cover, this is not an Easter book, so it works for children who do not celebrate the holiday, in addition to those that do. It’s also an excellent pre-read for Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller. It manages to get my kids’ brains clicking away as we brainstorm animals that hatch from eggs, and then discuss mammals versus reptiles and amphibians.

The story is about a small bunny who happens across an egg and wonders what is inside. After several guesses, and many attempts to get the egg to hatch, the exhausted bunny falls asleep.

Which is when the egg hatches, of course.

But now the tables are turned. The newly hatched duckling tries to wake the sleepy bunny and fails, despite his best efforts, which include nudging him, throwing a pebble, and rolling him down the hill–all the things the bunny tried to do to him.

When the bunny does awake, the two become friends and no one was ever alone again. It’s a classic, with a lot of satisfaction for my listeners when the duckling uses the same methods as the bunny did.

The illustrations absolutely make this book, and provided us an idea for a response to this piece of literature–an egg-shaped book, with each child creating their own illustration (and a sentence or two, either independently or in a frame depending on the child’s ability) of what would be in the egg. Pictures usually range from dinosaurs and alligators to the more mundane chicks and ducklings. “What’s Inside the Egg?” is set out as a work sample for Open House.

This book has been a keeper for me for nearly twenty years, with many a kindergartner’s attention captured by the detailed paintings and gentle story of a curious bunny and duckling.

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Grandpa’s Teeth by Rod Clement (Trophy Picture Books) is an hysterical look at what happens when Grandpa’s dentures go missing.

Grandpa turns suspicious (or sthusthpiciousth, since his articulation suffers a grievous blow at the lack of teeth) and after thoroughly investigating the house, Grandpa turns to the police for help. ‘”Thosthe teeth were sthpecial,” he whistles, “handmade by the finestht Sthwissth craftsthmen.”‘ Inspector Rate gets right to work, and soon the entire town is smiling–if only to keep suspicion from falling upon them.

As time goes by, the smiles turn strained, for there is no sign of the correct dentures, even though dentures do appear in the family’s mailbox, and the tourists are frightened away by the townsfolks’ smiles. In economic self-defense, the town takes up a collection and acquires enough money to purchase two pair of dentures–one for Grandpa and a second set for a friend he makes along the way.

The actual thief is not revealed until the last page, when the entire family is depicted, with the family dog flashing an unusual pair of choppers.

My class is entranced through the entire story, and the ending revelation of the thief always garners guffaws. It’s just one more book to consider adding to your personal or class library, and a fun one to share before the 100th day of school if your class will draw what they’ll look like at age 100.

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St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and while this year I’m not doing the entire gamut of activities–we’re on spring break, yay!–not every school district is off. I’ve tucked away my gold glitter (the usual indication that leprechauns have gotten loose in my classroom, along with the tumbled furniture and dumped toys), and we’ll be doing a leprechaun directed draw (see my directed draw page for instructions) upon our return for our memory books. And I’ll be pulling out one of my favorite St. Patrick’s Day books.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePaola [Penguin Putnam, 1992] is a delight to read. Jamie, as the narrator tells us, is the laziest man in all of Ireland. Lucky for him, his wife, Eileen, keeps them fed by doing the work in the potato patch that Jamie should rightfully be doing.

Or she does, until she hurts her back. Jamie, realizing they will die of starvation, starts off at midnight to confess his sins to the local priest, and happens upon a leprechaun on his way.

Jamie catches the wee one, of course, and demands his gold. But the leprechaun claims he only has a coin or two, and offers Jamie a giant pratie seed. Seed in hand, Jamie returns home and gets right to work planting it. Shortly thereafter, the potato is so huge it has lifted a corner of the house, and Jamie must harvest it.

No amount of hoeing loosens the potato, but Jamie’s attracted the other villagers’ attention now, and they offer to help in exchange for Jamie’s story of how he tricked the leprechaun into giving him the giant potato seed.

With their help, the potato is dug up, but it rolls down the hill, leaps the stone fence, and is jammed between two stone fences, blocking the road–a disaster for the village. No one can get in or out.

Jamie pulls through offering every villager large chunks of potato, which they all gladly take. The villagers’ expressions change dramatically as day after day, they face potato on their plates for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

When it comes time to plant, Jamie has saved an eye from the giant pratie. His friends and neighbors beg him not to plant it again, and they promise to provide for Jamie and Eileen themselves.

A fantasy come true for this particular lazy fellow.

But the part my children enjoy the most is the last image of the leprechaun with a full pot of gold. “He lied!” they claim. And perhaps the leprechaun did, but Jamie doesn’t have to work, so he doesn’t hold any grudges.

Lots of charm in this tale, particularly with Tomie dePaola’s images, and it keeps my classes riveted. And now that I discovered Tomie dePaola’s got another Jamie story–Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka!–I’m just as satisfied as Jamie O’Rourke himself.

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The Elephant and the Bad Baby‘s title grabs my students’ attention like no other. An elephant and a bad baby? Why is the baby bad?

And we are off to enjoy this romp of a tale, with the elephant going rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta all the way down the road with the ice cream man, and the butcher and the baker and the snack shop man, and the grocer and the lady from the candy store following after. There’s a lovely rhythm in the trail of outraged store owners, and Raymond Brigg’s (The Snowman, Jim and the Beanstalk) illustrations are lovingly detailed as the thieves (the elephant and the bad baby) help themselves to ice cream and meat pies and buns for starters.

The polite elephant (“Would you like a _________?”) is finally horrified by the bad baby’s inability to say please–as are all the people chasing after them. Whereupon the bad baby begs to be taken home–PLEASE!–and when they arrive, the bad baby’s mother feeds them all pancakes for tea. After the pancake repast, the elephant runs off, the store owners resume their chase, while the bad baby goes to bed.

Nonsense. Utter nonsense, but completely delightful and enthralling.

The Elephant and the Bad Baby
by Elfrida Vipont was originally published in 1969, but has apparently been republished since then (and possibly updated, judging from a few changes in wording I happened upon via Google.) I was able to find many reasonably-priced copies through Abe Books, although most were being shipped from Great Britain, so shipping is a bit more than you might expect. However, judging from my classes’ responses to this one–it’s worth the search and the extra pennies.

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It’s approaching spring, and one of our themes now is the senses. We started with the digraph /sh/ and our sense of hearing. I burned a CD of environmental sounds the kids might hear (you can find these–free!–online) and we identified them. We also revisited rhyming.

So I pulled out my rhyming books and read them The Hungry Thing Returns. Sadly, it appears to be available only second-hand, and I highly recommend finding it via alibris.com. It’s one of a series of three books by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler and this one has illustrations by Richard E. Martin. The original book, The Hungry Thing, I don’t own, and the third, The Hungry Thing Goes to a Restaurant is a very good follow-up to the second.

This story takes us to a school and a visiting Thing with a baby Thing on his back. (And signs! Don’t forget the signs. Feed Me for the father, and Me too for the child.) Chaos ensues as the adults attempt to make sense of the Thing’s food demands like flamburgers and crackeroni and sneez. The adults’ wild explanations make my kids laugh, because they figure it out before the grownups do in the book. Some years the request for a ‘mathboom’ stumps them–it’s all about picking up on the little girl Things’ inability to sit still and her wiggles–but a child translates that into ‘bathroom’ and my kids understand the situation completely. When the little girl cries and can’t be comforted about having to leave, the children come up with the idea of giving her their slide which she so enjoyed, and the image of the little Thing head down and fast asleep on the slide around her father’s neck is charming.

Actually, all of Richard E. Martin’s illos are charming–soft pastels and gentle color washes provide that. The next book switched illustrators and while they’re bright and clean, they lack the sweetness of these.

These authors, in conjunction with Richard E. Martin, also wrote The Cat Who Wore a Pot on her Head, another book I always read during our study of hearing. It’s also worth a search to add to your collection and I found a few, more reasonably priced than Alibris and Amazon, on eBay.

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