The Children's Book Compass

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The Children’s Book Compass and I have been on vacation for awhile.  However, I have been reading hundreds of books  and have discovered some excellent titles to share with you.  Over the next weeks I will blog about  them.

Should I Share My Ice Cream?  by Mo Willems.  (2011).  57 pages.  Hyperion.  Grades K-3.  Beginning Reader.

Mo Willems is a genius!  His fifteen books about the characters, Elephant and Piggie, use natural language and expressive, simple illustrations to tell stories that intrigue children.  The bonus for young readers is that they can be successful in reading the books for themselves.  This time Elephant buys an ice cream but the title question immediately causes him a dilemma – should he share his ice cream with Piggie?  As he argues with himself about what to do, the ice cream melts into a puddle on the ground.  The satisfying conclusion will delight fans of the two friends.

Hurry Down to Derry Fair by Dori Chaconas.  Illustrated by Gillian Tyler.  (2011). Unpaged. Candlewick Press.  Grades K-3.  Picture Book.

On the title page of this charming book, Dinny Brown, a small boy, watches the Derry Fair being set up on the property just below his family’s farm.  He is eager to experience each part of the fair – the giant swing, the animals, the cotton candy, the hot-air balloon, the ferris wheel.  He urges each of his family members to hurry up so they can go.  But Mama, Daddy, and sister, Lucy, have to first finish their preparations for items they are taking to the fair.  Even though Dinny helps each one, he is afraid that that the fair won’t wait.  When he comes to Grandma Patty he finds a receptive audience.  She tells him to fetch his coins because she is taking him to the fair.  Suddenly, the rest of the family gathers up their things and “rush and tumble down the walk.” to see the fair.  A gatefold at the end opens out to show a four page spread of all the activities at the fair.  The lyrical text combines with the detailed, warm illustrations to make a story that will become a classic.  The pages showing Dinny helping Mama make her lemon pies to take to the fair shows how the words are complimented and expanded by the illustrations.  The text reads, Whap! Crack! Plop-plop-plot! Whisk a little! Whisk a lot! Whisk those eggs as light air.  Mama sifts while Dinny whisks. Then off they’ll go to Derry Fair!”  The two page spread illustration shows each part in the process of making the pies.  The characterizations of Mama and Dinny are enhanced by the small details in their dress and hairdos.  This book made me wish to fly to rural England to attend a country fair.

If You’re Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre.  Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic.  (2011).  Unpaged.  Greenwillow.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book.

Do you remember singing the traditional song, “If you’re happy and you know it?”  It was a hit with my students and my own children.  Sayre gives that favorite song new life with lyrics that will make children sing with joy.  “If you’re hoppy and you know it, you’re … a frog.”  The frog is joined by other hoppy critters.  Each new verse introduces more humorously illustrated creatures that cavort across the pages being sloppy, or growly, or flappy, or slimy and scaly and mean.  Sayre plays with the pattern of the verses that adds to the fun of the song.  The book design features large sized font in various colors that adds emphasis to the lyrics.  The brightly colored, animated animals have pizzazz!  The only thing lacking in this book is the music for the song.

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Slog’s Dad by David Almond.  Illus. Dave McKean.  (2011) 58 pages.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 4-8.  Novel.

The team of Almond and McKean has created a memorable short novel that resonates long after the last page is read.  The illustrations begin the story with the first few pages showing the heavens and then successively focusing on a tiny green dot that becomes the earth then closer views as if coming in from outer space.  England comes into focus, then a city, an urban park and next a figure sitting on a park bench with the final illustrations showing close up views of the  man on the bench.  Then the text begins.  The narrator, Davie, tells how his friend, Slog, and he have been playing all day.  As the boys go to buy a sandwich, Slog notices the figure on the park bench across the square.  He believes it is his dad come back from the dead.  Davie then tells the backstory of Slog’s dad, his work as a binman forever singing hymns as collected the town’s trash.  “…everybody liked Slog’s dad, Joe Mickley, a daft and canny soul.”  Then Joe becomes ill and Slog looks for comfort from Davie especially when Joe’s legs have to be amputated and he dies.  Slog cries out to Davie – “I’m bigger than me dad, Davie.  I’m bigger than me bliddy dad!”  Slog’s encounter with the man in the park convinces him that his dad is back as he promised in the spring.  Davie is not too sure even when he tests the man with questions about his life.  The reader is left uncertain.  However, the power of this story is that it leaves the reader with questions.  How do we deal with our grief?  What comforts us when we lose someone we love?  What do we believe about life after death?  McKean’s illustrations alternate with the text on separate pages and add drama to the story.  Use the document camera to show the illustrations if you read this book aloud in your classroom.  The British vocabulary enriches the story and should spark discussion about the differences in the way English is spoken in different parts of the world.

Children who are becoming readers need to be exposed to a wide range of books and experiences.  First, they need to hear books read aloud by teachers and parents.  Then they need to have a variety of books to read themselves.  They especially need books that will match their interests and their reading capabilities.  The following books are great examples of the variety of books that will appeal to young readers and support them in becoming successful readers.

Three Little Bears Play All Day by David Martin.  Illus. by Akemi Gutierrez.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.   Grades P-3.  Beginning Readers.

The four slim books in this slip-jacketed set are part of the “Brand New Readers” series – excellent choices for children just taking their first steps as independent readers.  The “Brand New Readers” series features four short books in each set.  Each booklet is no longer than eight pages.  The four books in each set are all about the same character(s) and their adventures.  Each book includes tips for parents and teachers to guide them on supporting their “brand new reader.”  This set is about three sibling bears but not the characters we know from Goldilocks’ adventure with the three bears.  The text is simple and the pictures provide clues to the reader in order to be successful.  One of the four titles is “Three Little Bears Eat.”  It reads: “Brother Bear and Sister Bear eat peas./ “Green food is yucky!” says Baby Bear./ Then they eat broccoli.  “Green food is yucky!” says Baby Bear./ Then they eat mint ice cream./ “Green food is yummy!” says Baby Bear.”  The other three titles in the set tell about more fun with the bear siblings.  Children who read these books are excited because they have read a book!  Go to the website: http://www.brandnewreaders.com/ to read some of the books in the series online and to view the illustrations.

When Jack Goes Out by Pat Schories.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Boyd Mills Press.  Grades P-3.  Wordless Book.

This is the fifth book about Jack, an adorable puppy.  The wordless story features an evening encounter between Jack, who has been chained to his dog house, and visitors from outer space.  The same characters were featured in Jack and the Night Visitors. This time the space men unchain Jack to romp, play and swim him.  Then they decide to chain him to their space ship and take him away into space, but Jack figures out a way to escape.  Children love to tell the story carefully observing the animated illustrations.  This is a book to encourage early reading skills of observing details, understanding characterization and building a sense of story.

I Am Going! by Mo Willems. (2010).  57 pages.  Hyperion.  Grades P-3.  Beginning Reader.

Elephant and Piggie are back in another comedy that tickles the funny bone.  This story is just as much fun as the ten others about the two friends.  This time, Piggie announces, “I am going.”  Immediately Elephant assumes that “I am going,” means Piggie is leaving forever.  The silliness unfolds as the two keep miscommunicating until they finally achieve understanding with Piggie saying, “I am going to eat lunch.”  They end up sharing an elaborate picnic lunch.  Willems is a master of understatement in his text and expressive, spare line drawings that feature the two friends.  The careful use of different font sizes helps new readers give expression to their reading.  When I read this one to the second grade class, I asked them – “We have enjoyed so many stories about Elephant and Piggie, but I am wondering how they became friends?”  The children then created a whole back story of how Elephant and Piggie could have become friends.

Mouse and Mole Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert Yee.  (2009)  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades P-3.  Beginning Reader.

Here is another humorous story about two friends, Mouse and Mole.  This new one is the fourth in the series.  This time Mouse and Mole combine their talents to create a bird book through their careful observations of the winged creatures.  However, whenever they get close to a bird they scare it a way.  They can’t make their sketches or observations for the books unless they can get close to their subjects.  Then Mouse comes up with an ingenious disguise that will allow them to get very close.  The book they create features Mouse’s poems and Mole’s sketches.  Yee shows the fun of doing careful observations, creating a book and working together.  The illustrations add humor and details to the story.  The author’s use of onomatopoeia enriches the text, “Critch-CRUNCH! Mole stepped on a dried leaf.”  Young readers will feel very accomplished in reading this book because it is a chapter book.  Guide the students in enjoying the other books in the series.

Waiting Out the Storm by Joann Macken.  Illustrated by Susan Gaber.  Candlewick Press.  Pages not numbered.  Grades K-3.  Picture Book.

A young girl and her mother are outside picking daffodils.  But a storm is brewing and the child is anxious, asking.  “Mama?  Yes, buttercup? What’s that I hear?  It’s only the wind in the treetops, my dear.  Why does it whistle?  A storm’s on its way.  The wind calls the raindrops to come out and play.” The dialogue between the mother and child continues as they make their way home with the mother offering reassurances to the child’s fears and questions about the storm.  The text is easy to read with the larger font used to indicate the child’s speech and italics used for the mother’s.  The rhythm, rhymes and cadence of the words are melodies for the ear.  The large size illustrations capture the mood of the storm and the beauty of the natural world as the rain renews the earth.  The softly colored acrylic paintings are comforting even showing birds and animals sheltering from the storm curled up in cozy nests and burrows.  Just like the mother and her daughter when they reach home – “Cozy as bunnies!  Yes, snuggling together.”  Children will love comparing this book with Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco.


Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

e-mail: MarilynCaz@aol.com
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