Book Talk: Suddenly!

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 6.29.22 PMSpoiler alert: You’re gonna want this one.

Another brilliant find at my local used book store! Preston Pig was simply walking home one day and SUDDENLY! he remembered to stop at the store for his mom. You thought I was going to say the wolf attacked, didn’t you?! Well, that’s the point through the whole book. As each page turns, SUDDENLY! something happens to foil the wolf’s plan to eat tasty Preston.

Kids love this one as a read aloud, and I love it for it’s instructional potential in class. The obvious first skill would be predicting what will happen as the page is turned. After Preston’s first few narrow escapes, students will no longer guess that the wolf gets him…but what will they predict? ANDDDD, what is the author’s tone or mood in writing this humorous book of escapades? What can students conclude about Preston and the wolf while hearing the story? Which details keep Preston alive? How quickly could students summarize this story? Expressive reading could also be practiced, whole group or in small groups, with this exciting text.

This one is a keeper. I’ve used it as a read aloud, but it’s in my stack to use this coming year in my middle school language arts class. Colin McNaughton has several others that I’m going to have to explore to see if they’re as SUDDENLY useful as this one!

Happy reading!


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Book Talk: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

Cover-Penderwicks-1-450wOh my heart! This book. I was a dreamy-eyed teenager again when I read it. Such a sweet story of family, friendship, loss, and gain.

On summer vacation, the widowed Mr. Penderwick and his four daughters encounter a handsome young gardener, his uppity boss Mrs. Tifton, and her adventure-craving son Jeffrey. The inquisitive Penderwick girls seek to make themselves at home in their summer location, the Tifton guest house, while staying out of Mrs. Tifton’s way…and her award-winning gardens.

Rosalind, the eldest daughter, quietly falls in love with Cagney the gardener. Jane and Skye, the middle sisters, compete for time with Jeffrey, while Batty, the youngest Penderwick, explores the terrain and makes her own adventures with Hound, the family dog. Each has to experience her own disappointment during the summer, but each grows as the flowers in Mrs. Tifton’s garden along the way. Each girl works through the grieving process of losing her mother to cancer as she encounters new situations this summer.

This book belongs in the hands of middle school girls. It’s a gentle, kind story…a realistic story of sisters, friends, and happiness. A sweet read-together with upper elementary or independent read for older girls. ANDDDDDD, it’s the first in a series!!!

Happy reading!


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Book Talk: Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse

I picked this book up at a used book store, merely because the illustrations caught my eye. The details are just amazing…the hairs on the mice (and dog, cat, and rabbit in the story), the blades of grass, the crevices on the rocks and stumps…incredible. The book is slightly large in size, and the full-color, fully detailed illustrations are just so eye-catching! Props to Lindsay Barrett George for this little beauty!

Then, I perused the story, and it was equally as attention-getting! One mouse begins the story inside, sleeping in a clock; the other mouse begins outside in a stump. They each wake up and start their adventure. The mouse inside the house travels down the wall, across the rug, in front of the dog, between the socks…while the mouse outside journeys down the stump, across the ground, in front of the squirrel, between the rocks. The story ends with the mice meeting through a glass window to say ‘Hello!’ to each other.

My teacher brain nearly exploded when I began considering the lessons that could be taught with this book.

First of all, point of view…what would it be like to be the inside/outside mouse? How would each perspective be different/alike? What about the viewpoint of the dog/spider/rabbit/cat in the story?

Then, there are the prepositions…oh the prepositions! Every page has those descriptive directional words…over, under, through, around, up, down, in front of…Students could act out the words, write new prepositional phrases to add to the story, write their own story with their own prep phrases…

A clever teacher could take the text and rework it to make a Reader’s Theater for two voices (like Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman).

Preschoolers would love acting out travels of the mice during a read-aloud. Elementary and middle students would listen to it but would glean the most from extension activities. Art teachers may even want to collaborate with this book, perhaps a joint effort could create a sequel!

So glad I found this beautiful gem! Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse may be what you need to spice up a preposition or point-of-view lesson.

Happy Reading!


Book Talk: Once Upon a Time, the End (asleep in 60 seconds)

This one was hilarious. A great read aloud with so many options for upper elementary.

The premise is that a dad can’t get his child to go to sleep, so he continues to tell stories, with some details eliminated, until his offspring gives in to sleep. Tales such as Chicken Little, Princess Pea, and The Little Red Hen are told. Others such as The Two Little Pigs; Small Girl, Red Hood; and Goldilocks and the Bears are summarized with exhausted parental insight. “There were some bears; It doesn’t really matter how many. There was a bunch. Let’s get to the point…” and “Small girl, red hood, big wolf, in the woods…”

We laughed hysterically when we read it aloud in second grade, but I see great potential for this one in upper elementary and middle school. Oh, the lessons on summarizing!! Main idea and details!! Plot lines were never so entertaining to teach. Introduction to characters, setting, and conflict…BAM! Resolution and conclusion.

Writing extensions would be just as fun as reading these fractured fairy tales. The students could have a blast shortening a tale of their own…working collectively to decide which details to keep or slash. Turning these tales or student rewrites into Reader’s Theater could combine writing and fluency to benefit everyone.

Go check this one out. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll probably add it to your repertoire of fairy tales for next year.

Once Upon a Time, The End by Geoffrey Kloske and Barry Blitt

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Book Talk: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 6.42.09 PMWell, it’s Mo Willems, so you know it’s going to be entertaining. What I love about this one is its versatility for upper grades as well.

With a layout that hearkens back to silent films, picture page and then text page, the book begs for predictions. After the wolf and the goose meet, little chicks warn ‘That is not a good idea!’ With each invitation from the wolf, the chicks warn the goose away from certain doom by repeating their manta, adding a few more ‘reallys’ each time. Readers will cringe with suspense at each turned page until the fateful (surprise!) ending.

I can’t wait to use this book for so many instructional purposes. Predictions are a given…but then there are inferences to be made, conclusions to be drawn, fluency to be practiced (this could so easily be turned into a Reader’s Theater), foreshadowing to be identified…oh my gosh!!! And the writing extensions are just as exciting…a sequel, a prequel, a letter of advice, a letter of regret, a recipe, a play…will it stop?!!?

And the character lessons…making wise decisions, peer pressure, stranger danger. AND, the spiritual lessons about temptation too…

This book is just a treasure in so many literary AND instructional ways! Go check it out from the library or just buy it. You’re gonna love it!

Book Talk: When Mama Comes Home Tonight

I have chosen to work during my children’s young years. I realize there are mixed opinions of that, and I’ve battled my own decision some days. Having endured two rounds of post-partum depression, I know how beneficial it is for me to get out of my house and into the grind of my classroom. As a teacher, I am blessed to share time off with my children.

When my son, my oldest, was an infant, I was struggling with my choice to return to work. Many gals at my church had chosen to stay home, and I felt guilty for making the choice that was really best for me. When I found this book, I was encouraged.

The rhythmic poetry of the story tells all the tender ways the mother celebrates her child when she comes home from work. They dance and pick up toys and have tea and snuggle…all the things a working mom cherishes about home time. Mama also mends clothes and bathes her child, showing her love for her little one through her after-work-home-work. The author shows the beautiful balance that moms have to establish once they come home in the evening.

I didn’t read this book to my son very often as he was more of a rescue/construction fan. When I first read it to my daughter, she snuggled in closer to me and said, ‘Read it again!’ The gentle tempo of the text is like a mother’s rocking…and the words hang around after the story is finished.

‘When Mama comes home from work, dear child/ When Mama comes home tonight…’

Book Talk: Bink and Gollie: Two for One

The first chapter of this book is the absolute best combination of illustrator and author magic I have ever encountered…and I’ve Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.14.08 PMbeen reading for a long time.  The pictures are hilarious and painful …the text is hopeful and endearing. Bink wants to play Whack-a-Duck at the town carnival, and she just can’t hit her mark…but she can hit the    Whack-a-Duck barker. ..repeatedly. His pain, her enthusiasm, Gollie’s sensitivity to both…oh my goodness…it’s pure magic.

The second chapter is a sweet tale of Gollie’s attempt to perform in the carnival’s talent show…and her subsequent cold feet. This time, Bink comes to the rescue with  words of innocence and  friendship.  The visual perspective that illustrator Tony Fucile displays in this chapter complements  Gollie’s fear and Bink’s  reassurance perfectly.

In the final chapter, the two friends visit the carnival fortune teller. Gollie seeks to know her destiny, but Bink just wants to know if they’ll be together in the future.  Once the  elderly oracle has  envisioned the two of them together, Bink is certain that’s all she needs to know. The floating chipmunk balloon that appears to be glancing in to the crystal ball is so entertaining in this chapter! Each girl’s distinct personality is clearly depicted via author’s word choice and illustrator’s  visual cues. But the marriage of the art and words is such a literary treasure that it ranks #1 in my mind.

This is the second book in the Bink and Gollie series…the first, entitled Bink and Gollie, is  equitably written and illustrated.   A third book, Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever, completes this short  trilogy, and I  eagerly await reading it.

This is a suitable read aloud for ages 5 and older. It could be enjoyed independently by a first grade reader.

The Little Engine that Could’ve Been the Good Samaritan

One of my daughter’s favorite books is ‘The Little Engine that Could’, the beloved tale by Watty Piper (1930).  I used to view the book as a feel good story about persistence, but now that I’ve read it several (hundred) times, I see a lot more in it than before.

It bears striking similarity to the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. In that parable, Jesus tells about a man who was traveling alone and was attacked by robbers. The thieves took his clothes and whatever else he had and left him suffering on the side of the road. Soon, a priest came walking by, and though he saw the injured man on his path, he walked on by with no offer to help. A bit later, a wise leader passed the same way, and likewise, passed by the beaten man and continued on his way. Finally, a man from the antagonized area of Samaria came by on his donkey. Although the Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other, the man bandaged the victim, loaded him onto the donkey and carried him to an inn for further care. The Samaritan left money for his continued care, with the promise to return to pay any further debt. Jesus told this story in response to the provocative question ‘Who is my neighbor?’

In the children’s classic, the cheerful little engine broke down on the tracks with no way to go on any farther. A new, shiny passenger train came by first, bragging about the exquisite accommodations he had available for his passengers, but he was too lofty to help ‘the likes of you’. Next, the strong, sturdy freight engine came along, certainly strong enough to pull the little engine over the mountain. But, sadly, he also thought he was too important to help, being designated for hauling big printing machines for ‘grown ups’.  Finally, a worn, old steam engine, exhausted from his day’s work arrived, but he was so track-weary that he said, ‘I can not. I can not. I can not.’ when asked to help.

While this part of the story is merely a means to an end, I recently realized the importance of pointing out these characters to my kids, as they will encounter them in life…and in some situations, BE them in life.  The haughty-too-gooder. The boastful braggart. The worn-out party-pooper. These engines had it in them to help the cheerful little train, but they chose not to. It was a choice. Like the Samaritan man who chose to stop and help. Good character is a choice.

When the Samaritan dismounted his donkey beside the injured man, he may have wondered about ethnic differences, strength of his donkey, his own finances, or his own journey ahead. But he saw something more important than all of those in front of him. And he chose to do the right thing.

The dolls and toys on the train were insistent that they make it over the mountain, not for their own good, but for the good of the children on the other side. Once helped, they were joyous at the completion of their task. They didn’t judge the littlest engine. They didn’t boast that they had chosen the best. They didn’t claim any responsibility. They let her reach her own conclusion of ‘I thought I could’. That little Samaritan engine, who wondered if she could be of any real help, arrived at the denouement. She did the right thing because she thought it was the right thing to do. And it was.