Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf

The Story of Ferdinand and me
as I dream of my childhood...

This book follows the life and feelings of Ferdinand, the bull from Spain who is peaceful and different. He, unlike most bulls, likes to sit under a tree and smell the flowers. It is a book that reminds people it is OK to be different and peaceful.

This is my all-time, number one children's book. Published all the way back in 1936, it was a part of many people's childhood memories, including mine. I have very destinct memories of reading it in my dad's make-shift office in the garage. I personally related to this book more than an other I have ever read. For those of you who know me, you know I am a very different person--I have met only two or three others who I consider to be like-minded--and I always wondered if it was OK to be me. In my early teen years I decided to embrace my odd thinking because it was who I was created to be, and after a few years of trying to become comfortable in my skin, I eventually was.

This book somehow seemed to show up during my childhood--stashed on a shelf it would pop up and remind me to be who I was made to be.

So with that in mind, and because this book is so good, I really just want you to read it to kids and talk about differences in people that are good. Talk to them about being true to who they are, so long as it is good and right. Remind them they don't have to be do-ers, they can be thinkers, watchers, wallflowers, or whatever--so long as it is good, be it.

For those of you in need of more, here is a link to a fantastic blog where philosophy and Ferdinand are discussed in depth: Click here.

Just enjoy it.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"On Market Street" pictures by Anita Lobel, words by Arnold Lobel


"On Market Street", pictures by Anita Lobel and words by Arnold Lobel, is a classic alphabet book with an early 80s style. It loosely follows a character who goes to Market Street to buy a plethora of items for a "friend". Each page is decorated to show a person bedecked in that letter's item (see below).


I like alphabet books for a few different age groups. First, preK and Kinder seem to work nicely, but I also like to use them with older kids in art. Here is an idea to use in your classroom...

Mimic the Art:
Mimic the art concept behind "On Market Street". This can be a collage, pen and ink drawing or a photography project.

Grade Levels- PreK, K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Vary depending on your method, but may include:

  • Paper
  • Markers
  • Pencil
  • Photograph of child's face

1. Take a photo of each child's face.

2. Have each child in the classroom use the first letter of his/her name, and think of something he/she likes. For instance, Troy may like Transformers, Sarita may like Snapple, and Jose may like Jelly Sandwiches.

3. Have each child draw a picture of a body with pencil, or they can use this template of a gingerbread person.

4. In the "body space", not the head, have the child fill it with images of the above selected item (e.g. Transformers, Snapple, or Jelly Sandwiches).  They can draw, paint, collage from magazines or GoogleImages, or even take photographs to fill the picture.
Kids can mimic the style from a page like this.
Here is my character. M for Mac n Cheese.

5. Print out the photo of the child taken in step 1.

6. Cut and paste the photo in the head spot.

Michael's made of Mac n Cheese. LOL

7. Add more images to surround the face and color.

It may be a little creepy, but it is what you might see "On Market Street"--and I like it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Caps for Sale" by Esphyr Slobodkina


"Caps for Sale" by Esphyr Slobodkina is one of my favorite books from my childhood. My father masterfully read it aloud to me as a kid. The story follows a peddler who sells caps in a town for 50 cents each. He falls asleep under a tree, only to find a group of monkeys has stolen his hats. The man must then find a way to get his caps back.


This book is a perfect read aloud for age 3 in preK all the way up to third grade. It is a great group read aloud as the kids listening can act out the part of the monkeys and make the infamous "Tsz! Tsz!" noise.

Patterning with Caps:
Patterning is a huge development in preK and K; it is a foundation for math and literacy.

Grade Levels- preK, K

Worksheet printouts

1. Print out the worksheets below. You can either use the colored copies or the plain ones. If using the plain ones, give each child two sheets totaling 10 caps. If using the colored copies, print enough caps so each child has at least 10 caps of various colors.

2. Have children cut out the caps you provide.

3. Now have children make a pattern with the caps. Have them try a pattern such as:


4. Before they glue down the caps on the peddler, have them practice at least 5 combinations.

My 4-year-old making patterns.

5. Have the kids draw and color a background.

6. Then, have them glue a special pattern of caps atop the peddler's head.


If you would like kids to use this as a repeatable center, pre-cut the items and place them in a sandwich bag (I made all items to fit in there easily). Then tape the sandwich bag to the back of the book for easy storage.
Attach tape to the bottom of the bag and
adhere the bag to the book.

The attached bag of materials.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

"I Want My Hat Back" by Jon Klassen

I lost my hat (and some of my hair)
in this photo. So did the bear.

"I Want My Hat Back" is a funny story by Jon Klassen that my 4-year-old son enjoys. It follows a bear (I think he's a bear) who has lost his hat. He looks around for his hat, only to find one of his so-called friends has taken it.

Using simple dialogue exchanges, this book is a fast read with some joyful interactions as you read it to kids.


This book can be used as a great group read aloud with preK to 2, but I can see this activity being perfect from grades 2-12... Here is how...

Inferring Tone in Reader's Theater: 

Teach kids about inferring tone in a piece of literature. One of the hardest aspects of reading for many kids is hearing the tone of an author, unless the piece is read aloud. That's why I start with kids listening to characters. I ask them to read aloud and imagine the feelings, and, essentially, tone of characters. It is a simple activity you can truly use with most.

Grade Levels- 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


Worksheet (below)
Copies of the "dialogue" pages of the text (have kids jot these down or make copies)

This is a great book to use for Reader's Theatre. Each page offers a back-and-forth dialogue that can be preformed by two students. Here is a simple format to follow:

1. After reading the book, identifying the culprit, and laughing (or gasping) at the end, copy off each page of the book, or transcribe it by hand. There will be 7 pages with this type of dialogue (see the page to the side for an idea).
An example of a dialogue page.

2. Have students pair up. Each pair receives a copied page. (Feel free to have multiple groups read the same page, but be sure they work in pairs--no trios.)

3. In pairs, have the tallest person be the bear and the shorter person be the other creature. Have the kids practice reading it in their pairs.

4. Now have the roles switch, the shorter person reads the bear.

5. Together the pair fill out the following worksheet. Tell them:

You are going to listen and infer what your characters' tone are in this piece. Tone is the "attitude toward the subject". Since the text doesn't tell us, you have to infer. Is the character confused? Is she worried? Is the character somber, playful, or serious? Your job is to decide two ways in which the character could possibly say his/her lines. Once you decide, write in on your worksheet. Only use the lines where it says "Tone 1" and "Tone 2".

(You should model this for the kids using the process using the double-page spread at the bottom of this post. You can show them he may be "sad when he says "Nobody has seen my hat." You can point out that this could be read in an "angry", "frustrated", or "somber" tone. Read it in the different tones so kids can see how the way we read the text changes the characterization and, at times, meaning.)

Supervise students to ensure they just do the first two tone lines for each character.

6. Now have some fun and give the kids the printout from the tone list. Click her for the list. You may want to adjust this list for your age group.

7. Ask the kids to try reading the dialogue with different tones. Ask them to write down and practice three more from the list provided.

8. Once done, have students select the best tone from their list of 5 options. Circle the best option, and then have the class gather together to preform the whole piece in front of the class.

The bear lamenting over his lost hat. This page is a good
one to use as you model inferring tone.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

"Little Owl's Night" by Divya Srinivasan

My fear of night creatures expressed and the book.

This simple board book (also available in traditional hardback) by Divya Srinivasan is a great story about a little owl who roams about at night, watching the other nocturnal animals. It reads like a simple bedtime story.

This book would work beautifully with kids preK through second grade. Here is an idea on how to use this with K-2...

Animal Research-
Every animal featured in the "night" part of this book is nocturnal, and in all honesty, I didn't realize it until I took a second look... A second look, and a quick Google on a few of the animals. Which is just what kids need to do for this activity.

Grade Levels- K, 1, 2

Materials Needed-
Computer with internet access
Worksheets (below)

We want to teach kids to be lifelong learners. Which is why I will simply say, when reading this book, point out to kids that all of the animals in the night section are nocturnal. Explain the term and consider all of the other creatures that are nocturnal that are not featured.

Then ask kids to look up facts on the animals featured in the book. I made a simple fact-gathering sheet for you to use when researching these nocturnal creatures.

From their research, have kids compare and contrast the animals. Classification and organization in this chart is a wonderful literacy skill that many kids don't get a chance to master, so take the time to utilize this tool. (I selected a few of the animals to chart, you can always add more.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

"FLOTSAM" by David Wiesner

The wordless book and me chilling in the home-schooling corner.

"FLOTSAM" is Wiesner's award-winning wordless picture book that follows a boy's discovery of a washed up camera--the flotsam--at the beach. The boy soon discovers the camera is special, perhaps magical, camera film that has miraculously survived the ocean. He devlops the film and discovers photos of an underwater world, living, mechanical, and fantasy. (I would also like to point out this book has the first-ever documented use of a selfie-stick... well... kinda.)


This book is great for sharing with groups or one-on-one with kids, grades preK to third grade. I can see this being liked by upper elementary children who still have a love for fantasty, and perhaps again in art classes, grades 7-12--it is a beautiful piece of art.

Focus on The Writing Process: 

I like to use wordless texts to support writing and storytelling. One of the best tips I have for teachers who are trying to build writing into their classrooms is to SLOW IT DOWN and BREAK IT APART. Often we throw kids into writing without the pre-thinking that is required. Plus, we need to model the WRITING PROCESS and what real writing feels like. So here is one way to do this...

Grade Levels: 1, 2, 3

Materials Needed:

Chart paper

1. "Read" the book by showing the pictures. Don't add a verbal narrative; let the pictures do the talking--remember, silence is golden.

2. Afterwards, ask the children to turn to a neighbor and "tell the narrative" in five sentences or less--explain the narrative is the storyline and the major events.

3. Have kids share their points of interest in the story. Tell them this is what writers call, "brainstorming".

4. Now validate their ideas by "reading" the book again. As you read, stop to note what happens on each page. On the chart paper, write one to two sentences explaining what has happened. Have the children construct these sentences by calling on one child to dictate the sentence (or two). They needn't be perfect--you will edit them later. Tell the kids this is the "draft".

A sample page of the "draft".

5. After you have written a sentence for each page, have the children analyze the complete story. Ask them, "If we only wanted to keep the sentences that were essential to the narrative, which would we keep?" Then circle the five essential sentences. In many cases, you will decided to edit your list--for instance, you will probably take the pages with all the photos of the sea creatures and sum it up into one, cohesive sentence: "David saw pictures of animals, machines, aliens, and more in the photographs." Either way, tell them "This is editing."

The first round of editing.
Round two of editing, with circled essential sentence.

6. Next, tell the kids these points are essential to the story, without them we would be unable to understand the narrative. Illustrate this by reading through the book once more. Read their sentences for each of the "non-essential" sentences and skip over the pages that contain the five sentences that are "essential". (In some cases you will literally show three pages of the book.)

7. Now tell the class everything circled is essential, but all of the additional sentences are supporting details that elaborate and enhance the work--basically, they make the story better. Ask the children to each identify their favorite detail on the list and share it with a partner. Tell them when a storyteller adds these details it is another form of "editing".

8. Talk to the kids about how what they did was the writing process: They identified the main story with a partner (brainstorming), wrote it out in sentences (drafting), fixed it when something needed to be clearer (editing), and selected details that would make the story more interesting to readers (further editing).

9. Now that they have gone through the process with the group, have them write out the full story of "FLOTSAM" on their own. Have each child use the five essential sentences in their stories--you may wish to even type these out and leave gaps in the work like the sample below. Between each sentence, the child must provide at least one sentence (or if doing this with older kids one paragraph) elaborating on the big idea.

The ideas the kids share are typed out.
They fill in the details in between sentences.

Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books don't need to stop in second grade!
One of many "photos" from the book.

1. If you could be there when one of the photos was taken, which photo would you pick? Why?

2. Do you think David (the boy) can convince others of his experience? Why or why not?

3. What elements of this book let you know it is a fantasy?

4. What happens after the last page? To the boy? To the girl?

5. Look at the title page of the book.  Most of them are not featured in the actual story. Why would the illustrator include them?

I hope you enjoy "FLOTSAM"... And remember to keep your eyes open the next time you are walking along the beach!

Happy learning! 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood" by Marjane Satrapi

Me in my Hogwarts shirt with Ms. Satrapi's book.

"Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood", by the amazingly talented Marjane Satrapi, chronicles Strapi's middle childhood as an Iranian girl growing up in the 70s and 80s. Her personal tales of her family's involvement in the revolution (her grandpa was prime minister), and her reflections on growing up under the Shah and the Ayatollah. This memoir has everything to do with our young people as it deals with a loss of innocence, religion, family, youthful rebellion, and revolution. It is nothing short of fantastic.


This book is one of the most compelling graphic memoirs, and is in my top ten books to use with high school students. Because of the language and content, this book is only for high school students on up. With that said, it is a fabulous book with many applications. Here is just one of them:

Graphic Memoir with Historic Spin-

We are all surrounded by the makings of history. Often we observe it from afar, but at times the stuff that will be written down in history books will seep into our lives. This lesson asks students to think about a historic situation they lived through that had a personal impact on their lives. Here is the lesson:

Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12

Materials Needed:

Computer for research
3" x 5" index cards (5 per student)
Drawing paper
Markers, pens, and pencils

1.     After reading Persepolis, talk about how Satrapi was able to weave in the story of a nation and the story of her life. Have students find evidence for both interwoven storylines.
2.     Now share the prompt for this creative assignment with the class:
Construct a 3-page graphic novel-styled memoir about you and an historic event that had a significant impact on you. Each student may choose his/her own method for constructing their art: draw it; get magazine or online collage pictures; or even recreate the scenes with photography.
3.     At this point, we spend time doing a brief overview of modern history, especially events that may have touched close to home. I basically spend twenty minutes highlighting two or three main events from the past 15 years. Some events include: The invasion of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, Obama is elected, the Great Recession, legalization of gay marriage, etc.
4.     I then have the kids answer the questions below. This may be assigned as homework:
a.     What significant events have happened during my lifetime in world events? List at least three.
b.     Now circle the event you plan on writing about. That event took place in the year _______________.
c.      During that time I was _________ years old.
d.     I lived here: ________________________________.
e.     My favorite food was _____________________.
f.      My favorite activity/game was __________.
g.     I liked this type of music _________________.
5.     The questionnaire is VERY important, as kids will get a chance to think back to that time. All students need this data to make a well-rounded memoir. 
6.   I then have the students copy their questionnaire data onto a 3” x 5” index card as  a system for recording and storing data. I use this system detailed by another blogger.
7.     After they have copied their data, have them now research their "historic event" on the Internet.  For instance, if I was to construct a graphic memoir on 9/11, one of my sources would be this link. All students will need three sources that describe that significant event. Significant facts should be copied onto 3” x 5” index cards using the above mentioned system; each student should have one index card per source.
8.     After collecting the data, the student will need to interview one other person who was either with them during that time (a parent, sibling, or teacher) or a person who also remembers that event, anyone alive during that time—not necessarily someone who was “with” that student. (Remember, some kids no longer live with their families from that time.) Significant facts should be copied onto a 3 x 5” index card.
A page on "smuggling" from the memoir.
9.      The student should have 5 index cards of data—1 with personal information, 3 with information on the event, and 1 with an interview from a person who was alive during that time.
10. With that data in hand, share a comic book template like these from Google Images. Have the students plan how they will organize their information into a minimum of 3 pages; they need to include one bit of information from each source.
11. I have my students write out a mock up “storyboard” with words only. Use Satrapi’s book to talk about the balance of text and pictures. Note the use of strong vocabulary and specific details.
12. We then take a day in class to edit the words and flow of the story. I suggest assigning the storyboard, starting it in class, and then having the students finish it for homework.
13. Collect the drafts and review for story flow and ideas.  Then have one-on-one meetings with each student or have kids do peer editing to focus their drafts. Be sure to look for those five ideas from the research.
14. At this point, the students need about one week to make the final draft—either in class or at home.
15. In the mean time, have the students make a Works Cited page. I use OWL at Purdue to help teach this.
16. After the work is complete, have a reading day in class. Kids really love reading other works. I ask them each to have a blank sheet of paper at the back of the book where readers can give compliments to the author.
17. I grade this project using the following scoring guide:
  • The draft/"storyboard" was turned in complete and on time _______/10 points
  • Research index cards completed and followed proper format ________/25 points (5 per card)
  • Works Cited page attached and in proper format _______/20 points
  • The graphic memoir follows a historic event with researched details _______/10 points
  • The graphic memoir includes personal details from the questionnaire _________/10 points
  • The graphic memoir uses strong, academic language ________/10 points
  • The graphic memoir is organized in a logical manner, is easy to follow, and shows good effort in art  ______/15 points 
Here is a sample page of my historic, graphic memoir on 9/11

My historic, graphic memoir. Feel free to print it and share!
Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books don't need to stop in second grade!

Two pages from the memoir.
1. Was Marjane's life better under the Shah or the Ayatollah? (I stole this question from my friend Vickie Gill.)

2. What would have changed if Marjane had not rejected her call to be a so-called prophet?

3. How does Marjane's relationship change with her parents throughout the memoir?

4. Do you believe Marjane's parents were right to send her away from Iran? Why or why not?

5. How does this story relate to your experience of growing up? In what ways do you relate, and in what ways do you contrast?

I hope you enjoy "Persepolis"... And I hope you do take the time to talk with kids about how the world around you relates to your lives!

Happy learning!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Hi! Fly Guy" by Tedd Arnold

The "Fly Guy" book and Me
"Fly Guy" by Tedd Arnold is an award-winning hit with young children. To tell you the truth, I didn't like this book until I shared it with my son. My four-year-old son adores this book series, and so does his just-out-of first grade cousin.

It is a simple book, set up in chapters--but don't be fooled, you can read this book in about three to five minutes. The story is about a boy who finds and keeps a pet fly who he names Fly Guy. The boy loves the fly because Fly Guy can say the boy's name, "Buzz". At first his parents and judges at the local pet show scoff at his choice for a pet, but in the end everyone agrees Fly Guy is not only a great pet, but the smartest pet at the showcase.

Kids in preschool all the way up to second grade would enjoy this book. It will work as a simple, quick read aloud, and is a perfect book for sharing one-on-one with kids. The humor is silly, and in other books in the series even a little gross, but nothing inappropriate. Here is a fun extension activity to use with kids after reading the book...

Animal Awards-

This book deals with the unlikely talents of an unexpected pet, Mr. Fly Guy himself. The premise got me thinking about other animals who might do well in an "pet competition". This lesson would be perfect for kids ages 4-8.

Grade Level- PreK, K, 1, 2

Materials Needed-

  • Printed awards
  • Printed picture of animals or Drawing paper
  • Markers/Crayons/Colored Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Glitter (optional--I hate glitter so I rarely use it)


1. After reading the book, tell the class you are going to host an imaginary "Pet Show Competition". You may even want to print out this banner to hang up:

2. Have each child think of an animal they believe is one of the best in the world. You may want them to look through a database online, or you can get them some copies of animal books.

3. Now have the children draw a picture of their animal. If you are low on time, you can print out these drawings I made:

3. Once each child has selected and drawn an animal, give them a copy of one of these awards:

4. Now have the children create award titles that their animals would win. For instance: a lion might win "Most Ferocious Animal" and a turtle might win the award for "Best Traveling Home".

5. After the children have made the awards, encourage them to color or even add glitter to make it unique.

6. Next have the children write a paragraph describing why that animal wins the award.

7. After all of the work is done, have a big ceremony where each child reads his/her writing aloud and pins the award next to their drawing. It is a lot of fun and validates their work when kids get to read it aloud to the class.

This would be a fun open house display for preschool or kindergarten, and, with added study of the animals, I could see it working in first and second grade.

Fly Guy and his owner, "Buzz".
Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books don't need to stop in second grade!

1. Fly Guy communicates to Buzz in this book. In what other ways to do other animals communicate to people? (e.g. dogs bark when they want out, cats scratch doors to get in, chimps use sign language, pigeons play ping pong... Seriously, click this link.)

2. What qualities make a good pet?

3. If you were to keep a fly, where would you keep it?

4. Why did the adults think Fly Guy wasn't a good pet?

5. Have you ever had a pet? If so, what did you do with your pet? If not, what kind of pet would you like to have?

I hope you enjoy "Hi! Fly Guy!"... And I hope you and your kids have a great awards ceremony for all the pets!

Happy learning!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Knuffle Bunny" by Mo Willems

(To Readers: I had a beautiful blog that took me a long while to write, then I clicked the wrong button and POOF! It was gone. So here is an abbreviated version so I don't get behind in my regular blogging.)

Knuffle Buny by Mo Willems is a delight for kids ages 3-8. Most kids can relate to Trixie and her dilemma when she loses Knuffle Bunny. The award-winning art and story will bring the family together with giggles and good memories.

As I said, this is a great one for ages 3-8, or grades preK-2. There are a million uses for this book, but my favorite is in the realm of art...

Grade Levels- preK, K, 1, 2, 3


  • Digital Camera or access to GoogleImages
  • Printer
  • Pencil
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Construction Paper
  • Ruler

1. Show off the book.
2. Ask kids how Mo Willems made the art.
3. Now read kids the description contained on the copyright page.
4. Tell kids they will make Mo Willems-styled art.
My postage-stamp-sized backyard.
5. Give each child a chance to take a digital photo--maybe on the playground, at the beach, by the street... wherever. If you don't have a camera, use GoogleImages and search for a scene.
6. When you print the photo, select the printer properties and select grayscale (not black and white).
7. Mat the photo on colored construction paper. 
8. Now that you have the photo, give the child a ruler to measure how tall drawn items will be.
9. On a separate piece of paper, have children measure out how big their drawings should be. I have kids cut the paper to that size. (The are turns out better when you do this.)
10. Once the paper square is cut out, they can draw their image in pencil and color in marker.
Before they are glued down.
11. Now have the kids cut out their actual drawing.
12. Glue the drawings to the photo. Notice how Mo Willems uses the mat to create even more depth--encourage children to have characters of objects slightly off of the photo as in the example below.

A finished product.

A sample page from the actual book.