Little White Rabbit, by Kevin Henkes (c2011)

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Little White Rabbit is curious. He wonders many things as he explores his world.

What would it be like to be . . . green like tall grass . . . or tall like fir trees . . . or unable to move like a rock . . . ?

When a cat frightens Little White Rabbit, he quickly hops home to the security of his family where he “still wondered about many things, but he didn’t wonder who loved him.”

Sweetly illlustrated in pastel spring colors (using colored pencil and acrylic paint), this story will resonate with young children.

On a deeper level, it reflects the truth that children who feel secure and loved at home have the emotional freedom and energy to explore and learn new things.

Once again Kevin Henkes has brilliantly tapped into the emotional world of a child.

Awards/Lists:  Best Books of the Year 2011; Children’s Books of the year 2012; Notable Children’s Books 2012.

Me . . . Jane, by Patrick McDonnell (c2011)

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This picture-book biography of Jane Goodall begins with Jane as a young child, carrying her beloved stuffed chimpanzee wherever she goes.
As she grows, Jane learns all she can about nature through books and her own observations. 
She loves being out-of-doors. Climbing her favorite tree, she reads Tarzan of the Apes and dreams of someday living in Africa.
The point of this book is show how Jane’s passion for animals and Africa as a young child  found fulfillment in her lifelong work. So appropriately, the last pages quickly skip ahead from her falling asleep as a child to her awakening in a tent in Africa as a young woman–“to her dream come true.”
The illustrations are masterful, well-deserving of the 2012 Caldecott Honor.  
Primarily Patrick McDonnell uses India Ink and watercolors in peaceful earth tones to match the simple yet powerful text. Also interspersed throughout are ornamental engravings that speak of Jane’s “detailed, scientific oberservation of nature” (Art Notes).
One double-page illustration includes Jane’s own childhood drawings, and the book closes with a cartoon Jane drew of her life in Africa.
Perhaps most striking of all is the famous National Geographic photo of Jane and a young chimpanzee reaching towards each other.
As it so happens, I was previewing this book at the same time as another picture book, What Animals Really Like (which is about stereotyping). I paired them together to read to the 2nd graders and then asked the students in what ways the books were alike.
Immediately the students noticed that both books were about animals. But then a student added, “Jane was told she couldn’t do what she liked because she was a girl. But just like the mouse encouraged the conductor to let the animals express what they liked, Jane’s mother encouraged Jane to follow her dream and to go to Africa.”
Often I encourage the students to follow their passion using authors and illustrators as examples. Just today we read a book illustrated by Jan Brett who knew from the time she was in kindergarten that she wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.
Jane Goodall’s research is linked to human evolution, and she espouses that theory. For that reason, is she a good role model for our children? Does this book belong in a Christian school library collection?
Awards/Lists: Caldecott Medal Honor 2012, Best Illustrated Books of the Year 2011, Children’s Books of the year 2012, Notable Children’s Books 2011 & 2012

What Animals Really Like: A New Song Composed & Conducted by Mr. Herbert Timberteeth; lyrics & pictures by Fiona Robinson (c2011)

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Herbert Timberteeth begins to conduct a choir of animals singing his rhyming song about what animals like when suddenly some of the anmals change his lyrics and sing about what they REALLY like.

Mr. Timberteeth (a beaver) becomes flustered. He stops and restarts the song only to have more and more animals sing their true preferences rather than the lyrics he wrote.
When the conductor gives up in exasperation, a mouse implores him, “Don’t give up. Just let us sing about what we really like, not what you think we like!”
Mr. Timberteeth asks the audience their opinion about allowing the animals to sing their own version. He cautions the audience that it won’t rhyme and will sound silly.
The audience wants to hear what the animals really like. Thus ensues humorous pictures and lyrics of worms bowling and kangaroos playing ping-pong, etc.
But wait! There are still more surprises.
The warthogs change their minds.  At first they said they liked to blow enormous bubbles. Now they say they like to parachute.   
And the mice like cheese. Cheese? They like something that mice are “supposed” to like!? Yes.
The song ends with the animals declaring, “But most of all we like singing for you! Thank you for listening to our song!”
Anti-bullying campaigns are very popular these days.
This book is pure genius!
It teaches children in a very fun way how to be assertive. 
Maybe we can’t change all the bullies, but we can arm children with the knowledge of what personal rights they should claim in any relationshp.
It gets across the following assertiveness points:
  1. I have the right to think for myself.
  2. I have the right to choose for myself.
  3. I have the right to change my mind.
  4. I have the right to speak for myself.
  5. I have the right to decide what is “right” for me.
  6. I have the right to be heard.

The author-illustrator, Fiona Robinson, teaches so many wonderful truths in such a seemingly simple, happy book.

She demonstrates the fact that bullies will try to discourage people who stand up for themselves by being negative (“It won’t rhyme,” “It will sound silly”).

She shows how that when one group leads the way in standing up for what they want, others are emboldened to follow their lead.

 OK, so the book is “good ” for the kids. Will they like it?
My 1st and 2nd-grade library class students were totally engaged, laughing out loud at the unexpected turn of events and the humorous pictures.
Did they get the point? Yes.
When I asked them what was the point of the book, they eventually came to “I can decide for myself what I like.”
The illustrations, created with pen and ink and marker pens are wonderful, too. T hey further extend the lessons of bullying, stereotyping, and assertiveness.
For instance, when the animals sing the lyrics written for them, their faces reflect boredom, robot-like compliance, fear, or perhaps even repressed anger. Conversely, when they express their true interests, smiles and happy energy abound.
The detailed drawings provide so much to study that this is the kind of book students can read over and over again and still find something new each time.
Brava, Fiona Robinson!
Highly recommended for lower elementary readers.
 Awards/Lists:  Children’s Books of the Year 2012.

Underground, by Shane W. Evans (c2011)

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Using just a few words per double-page illustration, Shane Evans depicts slaves escaping with the help of the Underground Railroad.
Conveying the feelings of the slaves, the illustrations begin dark as night and gradually lighten as the fugitives reach freedom.
Because our kindergarten teacher covers the Underground Railroad with her class, I asked her to evaluate this 2012 Coretta Scott King Book Award winner (illustrations).
When she read it aloud with her students, she found that she had to fill in a lot of detail but it opened the door for good interaction. However, she felt that a book about Harriet Tubman that she customarily used was a better fit overall.
For library class, we read Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome, to teach the Underground Railroad to the kindergartners. Hopkinson’s book also does a great job of conveying emotion and fills in more of the story.
Awards/Lists:  Best Books of the Year 2011, Children’s Books of the Year 2012, Coretta Scott King Books Awards Illustrator Winner 2012, Notable Children’s Books 2012.

Dogku, by Andrew Clements; illustrated by Tim Bowers (c2007)

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Written totally in haiku, this sweet picture book tells the story of a stray dog taken in by a family.

As part of the 4th-grade library unit on poetry, the students learn about haiku, read this book, then write their own original poems.
First the students write their poem on paper, clapping their hands to the words to check for the 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables per line formula. Next they type their poems in Microsoft Word. We mount their poems and display them on a bulletin board in the library.
Below are the students’ original poems (plus one by the librarian):
Red, yellow, and green
Tasty, juicy, yummy, sweet
Are there blue apples?
by E.E.
This is the Life
Scaly lizard up
in a tree eating crickets
This is the life yes
by J.L.
Daisy Duke Dog
Daisy Duke I love
Daisy Duke dog is funny
Daisy Duke is cute!!
by A.T.
Pop can be Pepsi
Pop can be Dr. Pepper
Pop can be root beer
by G.S.
Boring Day
Have a headache now
Tired sleepy mom not here
I can’t watch tv
by N.F.
Chloe Belle
Chloe Belle is cute
Chloe Belle dog is funny
Chloe Belle I love!!
by J.S.
Enso Ferrari
Lambourghini, Ferrari
Corvette, Indies Car
by L. M.
I love Buffalo
Buffalo are awesome and
Buffalo are cool.
by C. H.
Yummy tasty pie
It is very delicious
I love tasty pie
by C. H.
Swinging is playful.
The green forest is my home.
Exciting my home!
by J. S.
Flying sparks, uh oh
Explosion, KABOOM! uh oh
Dad coming, bye, bye.
by C. W.
Windows to the world
Information, adventure
Movies in my mind
Mrs. Satta

A Home for Dakota, by Jan Zita Grover; illustrated by Nancy Lane (c2008)

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A dog tells her story of how she was rescued from a puppy mill, gently restored to health and then placed in a home with a girl recovering from a long illness.

Although this book addresses a very sad topic, it is sensitively told and well-paced so as to convey a lot of truth without overwhelming the intended young reader.
The illustrator, Nancy Lane, “enjoys portraying emotion in the faces of people–and animals” (dust jacket blurb).
Nancy’s emotive illustrations and the dog’s first-person narrative blend seamlessly to evoke a sympathetic response from the reader.
Awards: KIND Children’s Book Award, Humane Society Youth, Winner 2009; The ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Honor

I’m Here, by Peter H. Reynolds (c2011)

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While  classmates play happily at recess, a young boy sits alone, at a distance from the others, covering his ears.

He hears the playgound sounds as one big noise.

We hear his thoughts as he revels in the gentle wind patting his head, a leaf that lands near him for a visit, and a stray piece of white paper that finds him.

The boy feels sorry for the paper, understands that the paper does not want to be there. He reassures the paper, letting the paper know that he is there for the paper, that he is the paper’s friend.

The boy fashions an airplane from the paper, asks “Ready?” then launches it.

In his imagination, the boy rides the paper airplane through the clouds, up into the stars. On his descent, his classmates catch him in his paper airplane, run along carrying him above their heads, and send him back up into the air.

Back to reality, the boy sees his paper airplane land on the ground and get picked up by a girl. Wordlessly, but with a kind smile, the girl comes to sit with the boy, returning the airplane.


“I’m here,” says the plane.

“I’m here,” says the girl’s smile.

Me too. I’m here.

The dust jacket cover states that Peter H. Renolds “wrote and illustrated I’m Here to help us all reach out, embrace, and appreciate children in the autism spectrum as well as anyone who is different from ourselves.”

This book was recommended by a colleague on Twitter as “the best picture book of the year,” so I decided to borrow it from the public library.

Hmm. I wasn’t sure what to think.

Simple words and pictures conveying SO MUCH.

Every time I re-read the book, I got some new insight into how an autistic child perceives the world.

As a school librarian, how did I see this book being used?

I decided to test it on my first and second-grade library classes. I told the students that I needed their help reading a new picture book.

I introduced the book by saying that books are written for different reasons. After we read I’m Here, I wanted them to tell me why the author/illustrator decided to make this book.

Reading it almost like a wordless book, we turned the pages slowly, inferring all that we could from the pictures.

Children are so perceptive.

Their insights (particularly the 2nd graders) gave me chills.

I’ve decided that this book has its place as a read-aloud.

Asking the students to study the pictures was a great reading literacy exercise.

Asking them why the author wrote the book allowed us to discuss the various purposes authors have for writing.

Most importantly, we discussed autism and treating anyone who may be different from us with kindness and respect.

Recommended as a read-aloud with librarian, teacher or parent guidance.

You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown (c2011)

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Lucy the bear enthusiastically announces to her mother that she is going to make a new friend. Unfortunately, no matter what strategy Lucy uses–introducing herself, trying to fit in, being helpful, asking questions, etc.–things turn out wrong.  Just when Lucy stops trying so hard, a friend finds her.

With inviting illustrations and delightful humor, Peter Brown taps into the universal desire of all children to make friends. How brilliant!

Sadly, just as in another Peter Brown book, Children Make Terrible Pets, Lucy utters “OH! MY! GOSH!”  How many times in a day doI hear that phrase? Still, I am unwilling to place this book on our school library shelves because of it.




Little Pea, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal ; illustrated by Jen Corace (c2005)

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Little Pea is happy living with Mama and Papa Pea and playing with his pea pals.
There’s only one problem.
He doesn’t like eating his dinner–candy, candy, candy!
When he finally chokes down the required 5 pieces of candy for dinner, Little Pea is jubilant to receive spinach for dessert!  Yum, yum, extra yum.
I just read this book to a class of young kindergartners (first day of school), and they weren’t exactly sure what to make of it.  I’m thinking that it’s probably a good thing to expose them to this kind of humor.
The story lends itself to the children making simple predictions about the one thing that Little Pea did not like or what he would be served for dessert.
Clear watercolor and ink illustrations on abundant white space make this cheerful story an easy read-aloud.
Recommended for preschool through 2nd grade.

Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray: The Uproar at the Front Door, by Nick Bruel (c2010)

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Uncle Murray stays with Puppy and Kitty for the week while their family takes a trip.  In fits of paranoia, Kitty projects all kinds of evil intentions on pet-loving Uncle Murray–and cartoon mayhem ensues!

OK. I admit it. I’m a cartoon snob.

My straight-laced middle-aged female librarian heart considers all books with cartoons guilty until proven innocent. Guilty of being crass and inappropriate. You can blame “Mad Magazine.” I do.

But let’s be fair. There are some great graphic books out there–both fiction and nonfiction. The comic book format engages reluctant readers.

The lines  are blurring between book formats, especially since Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret:  A Novel in Words and Pictures (Caldecott Medal Winner, 2008).

More and more books are interjecting liberal doses of cartoons amidst text.  Two series come to mind:  The wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney and the NERD: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society series, by Michael Buckley.

So I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover . . . or by the amount of comic illustrations inside.

So what about Bad Kitty vs Uncle Murray: The Uproar at the Front Door?

Burly, hairy, t-shirt wearing Uncle Murray paired with some chaotic illustrations gave me a different first impression, but in truth this book is harmless, funny, and quite educational.

Amidst the storyline, Nick Bruel interjects a few pages of “Uncle Murray’s Fun Facts” that answer questions about feline fears:  Why are some cats afraid of people? Why are cats afraid of vacuum cleaners? Why are some cats afraid of being alone?

I’m not crazy about half-swearing, so I will mention the word “heck” appears  once (p.33).

My students clamor for “funny books” and quick reads. This book is both. I think this series would be popular with 2nd to 5th graders.

Awards/Lists: Children’s Choices for 2011.