Archive for May, 2010

Our district adopted Open Court for its language arts curriculum years ago (and, because of California’s budgetary woes, will continue using it for some time to come.) One of our units is By the Sea, and lucky for me, one of the big book’s selections I’ve had the joy to read aloud is Humphrey the Lost Whale by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall, with illustrations by Hanako Wakiyama.

Lucky for you, the book’s still found in paperback and hardback in a variety of places–mostly used.

This true story covers Humphrey’s diversion from his pod’s southern journey into the San Francisco Bay. From there, Humphrey made his way up the Sacramento River into the delta. He was definitely lost and needed help.

My classes relate to Humphrey’s plight. Some have already experienced being lost themselves, and understand the scariness of the situation. Although a whale is a large creature, they identify with Humphrey, view him as another child, and are very sympathetic and concerned.

Human scientists work to save Humphrey and turn him around before he grounds himself in the delta. Banging pipes, they do manage to reverse his direction, but face an additional challenge in getting him under the small bridge he managed to squeeze through earlier.

The children sit raptly as I read how the people work overnight to remove pilings and widen that tight space. And everyone’s excited that Humphrey makes it back into the San Francisco Bay unscathed.

In addition, you can hear (and see!) this book as a video. Reading Rainbow covered this book some years back and I found it online. Jane Pauley reads the story aloud, and does a wonderful job.

Humphrey the Lost Whale
is a great story about human beings helping animals survive, and you can extend this with discussions about how people help the elephants and gorillas in Africa, and the California condor here. Plus, since we’d just visited the Santa Barbara Zoo with their group of condors, it was great tie-in. If you’re interested in more to explore with your children, try watching the bald eagle nest cam on Santa Catalina Island.

One of the crafts that we do earlier in the year is a whale, made of ovals. The children can cut a large oval for the body, two smaller ovals for the tail, and a smaller one yet for the eye. I also use another oval, cut in half, for the eyelid, to give the whale more personality. They glue the pieces on a sheet of 8 x 11.5″ paper, add a spout with blue crayon and ocean waves about him. Easy and fun, with not all that much prep.


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My classroom is busy the last quarter. We hit (and ran over) the farm and zoo units, and now we’re tearing right through the ocean one.

But back to farm. One of my farm sub-collections is pigs, and nothing but pigs. It started innocently enough–I wanted The Three Little Pigs variants, and I got them. But then, other pigs crept in, and before I knew it, I had an entire magazine filebox stuffed with pig books.

One of my personal favorites is Piggie Pie by Margie Palatini, with illustrations by Howard Fine.

Gritch the Witch wakes up hungry, and there her troubles begin, for her tummy demands piggie pie. Problem! No piggies in the pantry. She lets her fingers do the walking through the yellow pages, finds an ad for Old MacDonald’s Farm (at E-I-E-I-O) and zips off on her broom to collect the piggies.

After a quick bout of skywriting (“Surrender Piggies!”) she lands and searches the farm for the promised piggies. She runs into chickens, ducks, cows, and even Old MacDonald, but no piggies! Turns out the little porkers have tricked Gritch with their costuming abilities and not even her worst threats can make them produce piggies.

Defeated, Gritch leaves the farm, but her disappointment is short-lived. The wolf skulking just outside the farm tells her to forget the piggies. So she does–thoroughly entranced by the thought of a wolfwich.

Not to worry, that wolf has witchwich plans of his own.

The illustrations make this book. The skywriting is a nice little homage to The Wizard of Oz, and at least a few children every year make that connection when I ask them. The costumed pigs are a delight, and how Gritch doesn’t quite see through the beaks and lumpiness when the tails and snouts aren’t as well-covered as they could be amazes the children who listen. After all, they can tell just fine.

But the part that warms my soul is the ambiguous ending. Every year my class discusses who would win the wolf-witch battle and end up on the platter. This year, it was the witch. Last year, the wolf won, and the class was quite happy to find out their prediction was true when I read them Zoom Broom and Gritch had survived the encounter.

If you don’t have this book yet, it’s worth the purchase. Sadly, I’m not as enamored with Zoom Broom–at least not for this grade level.

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School has taken a turn for the busy–it’s the end of the year, our kindergarten performance is tomorrow night, and our school’s open house is the week after this. I’ve been in a spin trying to keep up.

However, that’s given time for the mail to catch up to me, and just a few days ago, my copy of The Tub Grandfather by Pam Conrad arrived, with its wonderful illustrations by Richard Egielski.

The Tub family has moved, of course, into a room where no one is in danger of slipping down the tub’s drain, but they continue to play games together. One day, the ball they are playing with rolls under the radiator, and the child runs to retrieve it. In the dust, he discovers a man sleeping on his side.

Grandmother approaches and asks, “Walter, is that you?”

And so it is. But the grandfather is missing one eye, the other is closed, and he does not respond to the family’s overtures or attempts to wake him. Even a trip to the tub (where the child understandably chooses to stay on its edge rather than slide down the sides to the bottom) has no impact.

But finally the radiator whistles, the Tub Grandmother hums in his ear, and they are waltzing together once more.

This is a truly charming second book of the series, and something I can’t always say about picture book series–the charm has grown in the second one. It’s sentimental, for I did have to repress the urge to sniffle, but I loved the waltz scene and the final page, where the family is all together once more.

My kids were overjoyed to discover the lost Tub Grandfather, and then listened–somewhat anxiously–if he would wake ever again. Since kindergartners recognize that people change, and many have experienced lost toys that pop up at a later date unexpectedly, it was easy for them to relate.

And it’s easy to extend the reading with a drawing of a toy they’ve lost that they would like to find again and a sentence or two about the toy.

This book is highly recommended. Meanwhile, based on the vote in my classroom, I’m purchasing the The Tub People’s Christmas.

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