That Book Woman by Heather Henson

I love David Small’s illustrations, so That Book Woman by Heather Henson immediately caught my eye. And the illustrations are gorgeous. But it’s also a great story and one I plan to read with my class next year when we begin the new school year.

This is the story of a boy named Cal who lives way up in the Appalachian mountains during the 1930’s. Cal is a good boy who enjoys helping his Pa with the chores, like plowing and chasing after wayward sheep. What he doesn’t understand is why his sister, Lark, just sits around reading most of the time. Cal can’t read and has a hard time understanding the value of those “chicken scratches.” He sees no use for reading- they live an isolated life in the mountains!

When a woman shows up one day with a sack full of books, Cal worries that his Ma and Pa are going to trade his berries (for pies!) to get books. But then that book woman says the books are free! And she will show up on horesback about every two weeks with new books! Cal doesn’t believe her, but she isn’t lying. Through rain and snow she comes, with new books every time.

This is a gorgeous story for readers and non-readers alike. Cal is the kid all teachers and librarians know- the one with no use for reading. But even the most reluctant readers can be changed. ;)

Teammates by Peter Golenbock

Today I used Peter Golenbock’s Teammates for a lesson on inferencing themes with my 6th graders. I had never read Teammates before this week and I had no idea I was missing out on such a great book!

Teammates is the story of baseball player Jackie Robinson’s friendship with PeeWee Reese, a teammate who risked his career (and possibly his life) to stand up for Jackie when he joined the Dodgers.  Golenbock looks at a single moment in American history and turns it into a gorgeous narrative.  The story is illustrated in paintings and photographs.  The story is powerful and timely- one that every student should hear.

The subject of baseball, Jackie Robinson, and segregation is one that appeals to all of my students, and especially the boys.  They were thrilled that we were reading such a “cool” picture book.  And it lent itself so well to the lesson I had planned on inferring themes!  I highly recommend this one for all ages.

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft is a visually stunning book.  You can not fully appreciate the gorgeous illustrations until you hold it in your hand.  If you have not seen this stunning new picture book, find a copy right now!

Ally is so excited to be going on a month-long trip to Australia with her mother.  She is especially excited to use her artistic talents to draw her adventures in this new land.  When she arrives in Australia she meets Pauline, an Aboriginal artist who shows Ally that art isn’t always made with crayons, markers, paints, or even paper.  And that sometimes what seems like a mistake can lead to new discoveries.  Napoli and her daughter Furrow craft a lovely story about a young girl learning the true meaning of art.  And at times their prose is poetic.  

But the real star here is Bronwynn Bancroft.  An Aboriginal artist and designer herself, she has made this book a masterpiece.  I wish I could frame each and every page.  Her painting of Ally’s plane crossing the ocean is so visually soothing that I want to tear it out, place it above my bed, and stare at it as I drift off to sleep each night.  This book is a fantastic way to introduce Aboriginal art to students.  I can’t wait to share it!

Adios Oscar! A Butterfly Fable by Peter Elwell

Anytime I see a new monarch butterfly book I get excited, so when I received a review copy of Adios, Oscar!: A Butterfly Fable from Scholastic, I was very happy. Even better? This isn’t your typical monarch migration story. It’s a new twist on the topic and it is great!

Oscar is a caterpillar who lives on a plant near a window. One day a monarch butterfly named Bob happens upon his plant. Bob is in an awful rush and tells Oscar to look him up when he gets to Mexico someday. Well, Oscar is just enamored with Bob, his gorgeous orange-and-black wings, and this talk of Mexico. When a bookworm named Edna decides to help Oscar learn about Mexico in preparation for his journey, he is ecstatic. Soon it is time for him to go into his pupa phase before emerging as a butterfly.

Or so he thinks.

Oscar is heartbroken when he emerges from his cocoon and discovers he has short grey wings instead of the gorgeous orange-and-black ones he anticipated. And instead of the urge to fly to Mexico, he has the urge to eat sweaters! And fly around a light! Oscar’s friends all mock him for the time he spent learning Spanish and Mexican culture, and he is heartbroken. But that all changes when he finds a note Edna left behind for him.

I loved this fable about a moth who believes he can do anything, even fly 2000 miles to Mexico. And Elwell sprinkles Spanish phrases throughout the book. He also includes an afterword with some information on monarchs and moths and the differences between the two. The illustrations are also adorable, in a great cartoon style. I can’t wait to share this with my class and the Monarch Teacher Network!

Love Story (Amiri And Odette) by Walter Dean Myers

While browsing in Barnes and Noble today, I happened upon a display of Love Story (Amiri And Odette) by Walter Dean Myers in the Teen section of the store. The gorgeous cover drew me in, and I was curious to see what a picture book aimed at teens would be like, so I picked it up and began to page through it.  Before I knew it, I was completely enwrapped in the story and could not put it down.

This is a gorgeous book.  The illustrations by Javaka Steptoe are in mixed media and the contrast of colors in each page is just stunning.  And the poem, the love story of Amiri and Odette (based on Swan Lake) is breathtaking.  In the poem, a boy searches for his love among the Swan Lake projects, only to find that she belongs to an evil street lord who means her harm. It is only through perseverance and undying love that the girl is returned to the safety of her one true love. It is a gorgeous book and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of my students.

I think this will appeal to some of my “cool” readers, those who live and breathe New York and hip-hop.  What a fantastic way to infuse poetry into the lives of students who don’t always think of poetry as the coolest type of writing.  I’ll be sure to share their reactions to the book when we get back to school!

Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant

“This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love. ” (page 1, Walt Disney’s Cinderella )

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite authors, and one I frequently rely on for great mentor texts. When I saw that she had retold Walt Disney’s Cinderella with illustration by Mary Blair, I knew I had to read it. The book does not disappoint.

This is the traditional, Disney version of Cinderella. However, Rylant has put her trademarks of beautiful language and deft storytelling on this edition. The story is gorgeous. Though you already know what happens, you can’t help but to keep turning the pages. And I noted so many spots that I can’t want to point out to my students. It is just a gorgeous book!

Mary Blair’s illustrations are also awe-inspiring. Blair was one of Walt Disney’s most brilliant conceptual designers, defining the look of classic Disney films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. She spent 34 years working as an artist for Disney. Her illustrations are immediately call to mind the classic Disney films that she helped create. Each page is full of large brush strokes, gorgeous backgrounds, and complementary colors. There were many pages that I wish I could have as a print to hang in my home! (If you click on the link, you can search inside the book on Amazon. It’s not the same as viewing them in person, but you get a good feel for the mood the illustrations set).

This is a purchase I am very glad I made. In fact, I can imagine sharing this beautiful book with my own children someday. It’s just that wonderful and classic!

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