Cookie Count

It’s vacation, but what am I doing?

Looking for books, of course. This time it’s all about stories that will catch my nieces’ and nephews’ imaginations, regardless of age. It also goes without saying that I usually find something in the speculative field, since that’s what I write personally. Luckily for me, we don’t have that kind of genre distinction in children’s literature.

However, there are exceptions, and I don’t always buy books with any kind of a plot–as evidenced by my recent purchase for one of my young nieces: Cookie Count by Robert Sabuda.

Robert Sabuda is the king of pop-up books in my opinion. He’s got a number of them out–just search his name on Amazon, and they’ll all appear.

The premise of this one–counting cookies, with the help of little mice–makes for a visual treat. The colors are bright and appealing, the cookie choices interesting, and the mechanics of the pop-ups amazing. Pinwheel cookies on a silvery fork that twirls? You can’t beat that for craft.

I initially purchased this for a three-year old who loves it, although she needs someone beside her to ensure she’s careful enough. But another copy is going to find a home in my read-alouds just for sheer joy. It’s semi-Christmas themed, if you consider gingerbread houses Christmas-related, but not so directly that I can’t include children with religious beliefs that do not include holidays.

Plus, it would be fun to make cookies after reading this–and how hard can that be after we’ve made individual pumpkin pies, latkes, and tamales? I’m certainly willing to squeeze in one more food-related activity.

Cookie Count makes a lovely gift for a child, but it’s also a treat for the reader. Particularly if the reader is any kind of engineer and needs to discover the intricacies of pop-ups for him- or herself. This one’s amazing.


A piece of the social studies curriculum at kindergarten level is to explore other cultures and places. I integrate a lot of fiction to support the curriculum, and Christmas provides an opportunity to look at Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. The community where I teach is fairly unicultural and mostly those of Hispanic descent. It’s a real eye-opener for some children to realize there are those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

So Ll week–lights–I bring out all my Hanukkah- and Jewish-themed literature to share. One of my favorites, which has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday, is Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman.

This book is a Jewish folktale and beautifully illustrated. It begins with a wonderful blanket that Joseph’s tailor-grandfather made him when he was born and follows Joseph as he grows–and how the blanket ages with him.

Children all have loved objects, and every single one of them can identify with Joseph’s emotional ties to his blanket and his fierce trust in his grandfather to fix it. When his mother begins her rhyming chant and ends with the words “it’s time to throw it out”, he rushes to Grandfather.

Each time, his grandfather transforms his blanket into something else, breathing new life into the object.

The end, for me, makes the tale, because it draws in the nature of writing and authorship, and how writing is all about making something from nothing.

In addition to the larger illustrations, there’s an entire alternate story told in smaller illustrations at the bottom of the pages. That’s the story of a mouse family who lives under the floorboards at Grandfather’s house and how they utilize the scraps of Joseph’s blanket each time it’s remade. The mouse family grows as Joseph does, and the blanket’s final transformation ends up, of course, in their house.

It’s a warm, delightful tale, with illustrations set in the 19th-20th century era of Eastern Europe, and those tempera paintings bring Joseph’s home and village to life. Definitely recommended, if only as a library checkout–but I’d add it my collection and consider myself the richer for the book.

Leaf Man

November’s already on its way out, and before all the trees are completely bare, I needed to actually talk about fall kinds of things–like leaves, maybe.

So before Thanksgiving, I whipped out one of my favorites: Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. I’m always looking to stretch my kids’ imaginations and this book, in conjunction with Look What I Did with a Leaf! by Morteza E. Sohi does just that.

Ehlert begins with a Leaf Man–one meant to travel on the winds. And that he does, flying over rolling mountains, leaf animals, foliage, and crops. Eye-catching colors and interesting design elements (the page tops curve or zigzag here and there) keep the class focused, as do the illustrations made from leaves. For kinders, the ability to see past the actual object and onto another level can be a learned skill, and they take delight in being able to do just that.

I always remind my class that leaves can be found everywhere. We talk about the different kinds of leaves and acorns that we find on our campus, and that the variety is greater in the community around them. I’ve never followed up with a Leaf Man of our own, although the urge is there. I’ve got too many crafts already with the holidays, but I’m determined to squeeze it in this year after a fall walk to collect leaves. And as an extension into writing, I’m going to have them add the sentence “My Leaf Man went to _________________.” at the bottom of their art.

Following this book up with the non-fiction book Look What I Did With a Leaf! extends the project even further, for now they can contemplate elephants! Cows! Turtles! Fish!

Then, if you want another book to tie in, why not Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf , also by Lois Ehlert. All three work perfectly together, and your kindergartners will be enthralled and delighted by fall and the leaves around them.

The Rough-Face Girl

Thanksgiving, already?

I’ve dragged out all those books, along with my nonfiction and fiction about Indians, since our Indian jackets, necklaces, headbands, and drums are ready to go. Yes, it’s craft season in the classroom, but also time to give them some sense of how various Indian tribes lived and to convey the notion that tribal life–homes, clothing, food–varied due to location. So I contrast the tribes of the Northeast with other Indian peoples and use fiction to support that.

One of the most beautifully illustrated books in my collection is The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon, and a retelling of an Algonquin folktale.

An Invisible Being lives near this Algonquin village, and every young maiden wishes to marry him–but in order to do that, the young woman he chooses must have seen him.

Enter the two cruel older sisters and the younger sister who has been the fire tender of the family–and is covered with scars from the burns she has received over the years.

Does it remind you of Cinderella?

You bet. The two older sisters attempt to lie their way into becoming the bride of the Invisible Being, and fail. The youngest, who must make do with her father’s remaining broken bits of shells and too-large moccasins, is mocked as she leaves the village. But because she, of all the people, can see the Invisible Being, the tale ends with her being the chosen bride.

After the reading–in which certain vocabulary words need explaining and the image of the Invisible Being’s face merged with her world needs to be pointed out–I always ask what story this sounds like, and there’s usually at least one child who can connect it to Cinderella.

The illustrations, though, make this book. The youngest daughter, scars and all, is beautiful. The natural phenomena that surround the village and reflect the Invisible Being are also images of beauty.

One of the best illustrated books ever and well worth a place in your child’s or classroom’s library. And then, right after reading this one, pull out The Mud Pony or Raven.

Pumpkin Soup

It’s feeling like fall here in Southern California, even though it’s stopped raining and the temperatures have hit the 80’s again. Still leaves have dropped, and there’s a nice crispness to the mornings.

Plus Halloween is over. So, no matter the temperature, it’s time for something… fallish.

Which means: Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper.

This story is relatively new to me, but what first captured my attention were the delightfully amusing illustrations and Cooper’s amazing use of light. I love them.

So does my class.

Cat, Squirrel, and Duck share a small teapot-shaped house, and each has an assigned task: Cat cuts the pumpkins, Squirrel stirs in the water, and Duck adds the salt.

Until one morning, when Duck decides he should man the spoon.

A rousing squabble ensues, and Duck, angered by the others’ inability to share, leaves home.

But when Duck does not return in time for lunch, his friends, imagining his dire fate, decide to search. Unsuccessful, they sadly return home only to find Duck already there.

And there is much rejoicing. Duck gets to stir the soup, the others say nothing at his obvious lack or expertise, and all is well.

Until Duck decides he should be able to play Cat’s bagpipes.

This is a lovely tale about friendship and dealing with a friend’s desire to grow. Children understand the squabbling animals’ dilemma, and it’s easy for them to empathize with both Duck’s and his friends’ points of view–because chances are quite good they’ve experienced both sides before.

I’m grateful to have this one in my personal library, and in my search for online sites to link to, I discovered two more of the series. Guess what I’m buying immediately?

A Pipkin of Pepper and Delicious! by Helen Cooper, of course! I can’t wait to read them to my class.

Big Pumpkin

I’m constantly looking for books to use with my class for retelling. There’s The Mitten, of course, (and The Mitten and The Mitten) which I pull out in January. About the same time, I’ll bring out The Turnip for a little variety.

It’s a little more difficult for October, but several years ago I discovered Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman with illustrations by S.D. Schindler. Does that last name sound familiar? It should–he illustrated The Little Old Woman Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.

This is an even simpler version of The Turnip and perfect for Halloween. The protagonist, a witch, has planted a pumpkin seed for a pumpkin pie, but the pumpkin has grown too large for her to pick. Luckily, a ghost, a vampire, and a mummy appear to try their hand at pumpkin pulling unsuccessfully. It takes a small bat to propose teamwork to dislodge the pumpkin and they all celebrate by eating the pumpkin pie that the witch makes.

After they eat their fill, her new friends take their leave, and the witch rushes out to plant a new pumpkin seed–leaving the children to figure out why.

We act out stories in our retellings, so I pick a child to be the pumpkin, others to be the witch and her friends, and designate a “house” where the pumpkin will roll. We all chant the repetitive text as I narrate.

It’s a lot of fun. And everyone gets a chance to play a part, which means we’re retelling it four or five times–enough that any student should be able to tell it to me on their own.

This year I’m extending the activity. We’re currently working on patterns in math, so I’m creating strips of witches’ hats, ghosts, vampires, mummies, and bats that the children can cut apart and glue onto rows of squares to make their own patterns.

I’m hoping they enjoy it, and that this book becomes one of their favorites. In the last year or so, I’ve begun adding a copy of the books I use for retelling to the class library after I’ve read them. I find they go home regularly, and I’m certain my kids are practicing their retelling skills.

Enjoy your Halloween, whether or not you serve pumpkin pie to your ghostly visitors that night!

Skeleton Hiccups

In case you’ve been hiding in a pumpkin patch the past few months weeks, Halloween is almost here.

I’m dragging out my Halloween books when I get back to my class on Tuesday. (Yes, we just had our end of the first quarter break. Where did my week go?)

A couple of years ago. Scholastic put out Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by S.D. Schindler–the illustrator of another Halloween-themed book I love dearly, Big Pumpkin. The cover illustration in conjunction with the notion of a skeleton with hiccups were so charming, I had to have it.

Charming it is. With the added bonus of being amusing to both adults and children. The children will love the antics that ensue as Skeleton tries and tries to rid himself of the hiccups. Adults will enjoy the sly jokes the S.D. Schindler has added to the text. What’s not to love about a skeleton with a bottle of bone polish by his elbow?

Plus it provides a jumping off place for kids to imagine Skeleton with other nagging problems they suffer from time to time–a case of sneezes or a scraped kneecap. Do bandaids even stick to bones?

The kids also enjoy chiming in on the hiccup refrain, and the visual of the hiccups jumping across the page is fun to point out to little ones. Sure, it’s easiest to have straight running lines of print, but movement can add a lot to enjoyment.

This is a great book to add to your collection and your children will clamor for multiple rereads.

I’m looking forward to reading it to my class this week. I wish I could say the same about the life-size 3D skeletons we always make right now, which are labor-intensive and involve me painting palms and feet bottoms white for the handprints and footprints on black paper.

But the children adore them, so all my pain is worth it during Ss week.