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Archive for September, 2010

Every so often I end up with a new-to-me book, and I picked up this one last year, bless Scholastic. (You know how you have life-long learners? If you’re an elementary teacher, Scholastic’s nailed you as a life-long buyer–with a time out along the way during high school and college.)
Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland is vivid with an imaginative premise: Zach’s new teacher can read characters out of books and into the classroom.

Maybe that doesn’t sound too new an idea for you, and it’s certainly not for me. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde is the place my mind immediately jumps to, for example.

But I’m not reading this book for me. I’m reading it to my kindergartners, and for them, it was a heady idea. Characters can leave their books? Really?

Not to mention, it’s a great introduction to what characters actually are–which is part of California’s state curriculum for kindergarten. And the discussion that ensues when you ask which characters they’d like to jump out of a book is enlightening.

Needless to say, my class this year loved it and already asking to hear it again. Its charm is due to the mix of concept and exciting illustrations. There’s a lot to see on each page, and Miss Smith is not your typical teacher–not with spiky red-orange hair, a leather jacket and high-top sneakers, and a button for The Clash. Once the characters appear, the page visually explodes, along with them. And not only are Michael Garland’s illustrations bright, the level of detail in each is high, and attentive kids will be searching the backgrounds for items of interest.

One activity would be to read Each Peach Pear Plum by by Janet and Allen Ahlberg and make a Venn diagram of the characters that appear in each book, searching for the characters that intersect.

This one’s definitely worth a purchase and a reread–or even many rereads if you’re a parent. Not only that, the author’s got two more books out in the series, which I’ve just ordered: Miss Smith Reads Again! and Miss Smith and the Haunted Library.

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My brother, the book publisher, passed along his copy of An Awesome Book the last time I was at his house. The author, Dallas Clayton, self-publishes and had no interest in taking it to a publisher. Sounds funny in this era of bigger is better, doesn’t it?

But wait. There’s more to this tale.

An Awesome Book is awesome. I read it to my kinders just last week, and I’ll read it again in the near future. The rhyming prose reminded me a little of Seuss. The kids were entranced by the illustrations (the candy cane machine earned a collective gasp and lots of wows) and loved the imaginative dreams.

What I’m not certain they got on a first listen is that there really are people who’ve forgotten their dreams or have moved onto mundane dreams of everyday life.

Is there a moral? Well, yes. But this book is written in such a way that the moral is not heavy-handed or in your face. Clayton’s illustrations (he did not count himself an artist when he created this book for his son) are childlike and intriguing. They pull children.

After the next read and discussion to spark ideas, I’m going to ask my class to draw one of their dreams–something they want to make or something they want to do, and see what they come up with. And I’m looking forward to it.

The one thing kinders have are creative minds, filled with things I’ve never thought of.

Thoughtfully, Dallas Clayton has placed the entire book online for a quick read, in the hopes that you will buy it for a child after that read. I’m here to tell you to buy it.

It’s not only because it has a good message, wow illustrations, and it’s a fun book–it’s also because he gives away a book for every one purchased. He makes school visits and donates them.

I would love to have him come to my class. Heck, I’ll deliver three more kinder classes and a couple of first grade classes to boot. I can’t think of anything better than to have an author show up in my classroom. Somewhere, a child is dreaming of becoming an author, and letting them see that possibility as reality is one step toward making a big dream come true.

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Perhaps you’ve been locked in a closet or lost on a desert island, and therefore have never heard of Skippyjon. If so, you are missing a treat.

Skippyjon is a reflection of every kindergartner’s inner self. The overactive Siamese kitty boy transforms himself into a chihuahua with a single bounce on his big kitty boy bed, and El Skippito is off to confront the big Bumblebeeto with a trip to his closet.

My classes love Skippyjon. Judy Schachner has tapped into her inner five-year old in Skippyjon Jones, and her ear for language is readily evident. Lots of rhyming and moderate amounts of Spanish once Skippyjon assumes his El Skippito alter ego, which my bilingual students love and appreciate.

Momma June Bug Jones has her hands full with this little mischief-making kitty, and there is no let up in this rollicking tale. For those who fall in love with Skippyjon, as my students and I have, you’re in luck, for she has more of his adventures already out. Not only that, she has an interactive website with videos and games for your little ones, and suggestions and downloads for teachers.

I read this book to my class, and I’ve got the others as listening centers. My kids adore them, and I’m thinking about doing a directed draw with Skippyjon when we go full day–once I actually have some time.

Skippyjon’s a definite win in my mind. Who wouldn’t love a little kitty fueled by a wild imagination who’s inevitably in trouble?

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School has begun and we are hard at work learning letters and numbers right now. What better time than to bring out my stash of alphabet books and read them?

Last week, I pulled out Alphabet Adventure, Alphabet Mystery, and Alphabet Rescue–all by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Bruce Wood. I must say that my classes every year adore these stories, and since I refuse to read more than one a day, they wait anxiously for the next. Nor do they complain when I make them listen to one of them again at my listening center.

They. Love. These. Books.

Now part of their love is definitely for the bright illustrations. But most of the love is for the characterization of letters and their ability to hop on a pencil in alphabetical order and go zooming off.

The problems they encounter in each tale touch on things they can identify with: Little i loses her dot and has to find it with the help of Capital I and all the other little letters; Little x runs away because he doesn’t feel appreciated; and the little letters must save the day after the capital letters have told them they’re too little to help them on their fire engine. I think my favorite illustration in that story is the image of the word CAT stuck in a tree.

If I have any quibble at all, it’s that when Little x runs away, he ends up playing a xylophone for Capital M in a castle and the other little letters are threatened to be put into soup. (You should hear the gasp from my class at that point.) Capital M’s change of heart was too quick and unbelievable for me. My kinders, however, did not care in the slightest.

All of these are re-readable, and based on my requests, not forgotten. I finally added a few copies to my classroom library last year, and they were regularly checked out with a long line of kids hoping to get one on a bounce back. I really hope that more titles end up in this series.

Definitely a worthwhile purchase to a library, whether personal or classroom, but be prepared for them to be loved to death, and that you may very well memorize the books.

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