Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

Hooray for the weekend, and hooray for Perfect Picture Book Friday, sponsored by Susanna Leonard Hill!

Title: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

Retold by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal

Puffin Books 1981

Suitable for ages 5+

Themes: Africa, animals, crops, drought, rain

This is the great Kapiti Plain,

All fresh and green from the African rains-

A sea of grass for the birds to nest in,

And patches of shade for wild creatures to rest in…

Ki-Pat watches the lush green plains turn brown. His cattle grow hungry. A drought has struck the Kapiti Plain.  A large gray cloud filled with rain hovers over the plain. Ki-Pat makes a bow from an eagle’s feather, a leather thong, and a slender stick. He shoots the cloud with an arrow and the rains comes down with “thunder LOUD!”


Why I like this book:  This book is a favorite among my teachers.  The story unfolds like the nursery rhyme This is the House that Jack Built. A new line is added to each two page spread and the story builds until the rains fall. If you read this story out loud, don’t be surprised if your audience begins to chant the lines with you!

Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books page for a complete list of perfect picture books and links to resources and activities.

Title: Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder

Written by Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Thomas Locker

Fulcrum Publishing 2004

Suitable for ages 8+

Themes: ocean, biology, conservation

Once there was a child whose love of nature would one day lead her to write a book that changed our world…” Rachel Carson knew she wanted to be a writer, but she first studied biology at the Pennsylvania College for Women.  She later moved to the coast of Maine where she wrote about the wonders of the sea.  Carson is well known for writing The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea, but the book that she wrote in 1962 called Silent Spring is her most famous and influential work. This book alerted the public to the dangers of the chemical spray DDT to fragile ecosystems. Thanks in large part to Rachel’s book, the widespread use of the pesticide was banned in the United States. “Because of Rachel and her powerful words for nature, the rivers of our land now flow cleaner, the songbirds still sing from the apple trees, and the fish still swim in Rachel’s beloved sea.”

Links to resources:

Why I like this book: I found this book quite by accident yesterday as I was helping a student locate a biography about George Washington Carver. (Carver-Carson!) I had never heard of Rachel Carson,  and I was impressed by the beautiful painting on the cover. The story of Rachel’s life is written in a succinct and poetic manner.  Locker’s landscape paintings of Rachel and the ocean are breathtakingly beautiful. I could smell the salty ocean air as I turned the pages.

In the story a “chemical spray”  threatens to destroy the earth’s interconnected ecosystems. The term “DDT” is never mentioned. I was intrigued so I conducted a bit of research of my own.  I learned the name of the chemical, its uses, and its detrimental affects to nature. I think this book could be used to introduce children to the concept of interconnection in nature and nature conservation. Children are curious and will most likely want to conduct their own research on this bit of history.

Finally, I am impressed  that one writer (and  a woman in 1962!) and one book had such an impact on the chemical industry. Other factors surely played a role in ending the use of DDT, but Carson’s book was no doubt a large player.

The Wave of the Sea-Wolf

Writing a mystery…

I’ve got to break this post-once-a-week pattern!  Work is keeping me extremely busy. My biggest project right now is my mystery night in the library literacy event. My fourth grade students are currently in the brainstorming/planning phase of their mystery stories. I found a fantastic lesson and great templates to guide them.  Some students have hit the ground running while others are struggling with the story elements. I think that with enough support, I will be able to guide most of my students through the writing process with positive results. My biggest problem is time-not enough of it! I see each class for only 45 minutes a week.  When we get a little more pre-writing completed, I will have to send some work back to the classroom/home for those who want to finish for literacy night.  I am really enjoying this activity as I have not had the opportunity to teach creative writing in ten years. I’ll keep you all posted on our progress!

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Thank you Susanna Leonard Hill for keeping me on track!  At least I am posting once a week, because I would definitely not miss Perfect Picture Book Friday. I look forward to the challenge each and every week!

Title: The Wave of the Sea-Wolf

Story and pictures by: David Wisniewski

Clarion Books 1994

Suitable for: ages 9+

Themes: Native Americans, folklore, ocean, tsunamis

” From the misty land between sea and mountain, the tops of the tallest trees can rarely be seen. But when the clouds part, a marvelous thing can be observed against the sky-a war canoe, trapped in the trunk of a lofty cedar…” And so begins the legend of Gonakadet also known as the Sea-Wolf. Young Kchokeen, a Tlingit princess, journeys to the edge of the ocean with a group of village girls to pick berries after a long winter.  Her mother warns her not to go to close to the ocean, but seeing no danger, Kchokeen disobeys her mother and wades into the bay. While playing in the bay, the princess unknowingly steps on a piece of rotten wood and falls into a very large hole.  Unable to free herself, she sends the girls back to the village to bring help. Kchokeen remains trapped in the hole with a bear cub through the night.  Before a rescue party can reach them a large wave crashes over the hole and lifts Kchocheen and the cub out of the hole and into the water. They cling to a tree until the water recedes.  Cold and tired, Kchoheen gazes into the moon, and in its reflections she meets Gonakadet the Sea-Wolf.  Kchokeen returns to her village with a new power-she can predict the arrival of tsunamis. This blessing  proves to be an invaluable gift when the men in the big ships who wield metal arrive…

Links to resources:

Suggested activities for six multicultural books by David Wisniewski

Why I like this book:  I love sharing folktales with my students.  This one is especially interesting to me because it is based on a Pacific Northwest Native American legend. The area in which Kchokeen and her people lived is a strip of rainforest that runs from present day Washington state to Alaska’s Yakutat bay. I love all of David Wisniewski’s books. He was an amazing artist and storyteller. About ten years ago I taught in a private school that brought David Wisniewski to Dallas for a multicultural presentation. I remember  listening to him in awe as he described his book-making process. He painstakingly carved each detail out of card stock-like paper with an exacto knife tool.  Wisniewski then layered the paper to create a three dimensional effect. He told the students that he used over a thousand blades on a single book. The detail in the waves and the debris and the natives is remarkable. This book is a collection of artwork as well as a retelling of an age-old tale.

Ruth and the Green Book

I’m back from South Texas and back on my blog!  It’s great to see the kids at school again after the winter break, but boy, do they wear me out! I introduced mystery stories and mystery writing to my fourth grade students this week.  We will be working on our stories for the next six weeks. I’ve decided to write one with them for my first picture book manuscript of the year. We have several mystery picture books in our library collection. Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective by David Biedrzycki is one of my favorites. I’m looking forward to the challenge!

Now for Perfect Picture Book Friday Sponsored by Susanna Leonard Hill! You would think I might choose a mystery, but…nope! I chose a historical fiction picture book that I brought home from school before the holiday break. It is called…

Ruth and the Green Book

Written by Calvin Alexander and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Published in 2010 by Carolrhoda Books

This book is suitable for ages 8-12

Themes: civil rights, travel, history, African Americans

“It was  a BIG day at our house when Daddy drove up in our very own automobile-a 1952 Buick! It is the most beautiful color. Daddy calls it Sea Mist Green. He bought it for his new job, but first, we planned to go on a trip to visit Grandma in Alabama…” As Ruth and her parents enter the deep South, they encounter gas station attendants and motel operators who turn them away because they are African American.  Ruth does not understand why they are being treated this way. Ruth’s father finally finds an Esso service station where the attendant introduces him to the Green Book. The guide lists all of the establishments in the South where their business is welcome. Ruth helps her father by locating an inn in the Green Book where they can stay on their way to Grandma’s house.

Links to Resources:

Green Book Lesson Unit including comprehension questions about Ruth and the Green Book

Official site for Ruth and the Green Book

University of South Carolina Green Book digital images collection

Why I like this book: I taught African American history units for years, and I had never heard of the Green Book prior to reading this picture book. (I’m really quite stunned that I did not know of its existence.) The official name of the guide was The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, and it was first published in 1936 by an African American named Victor Green.  Green saw a need for such a guide during the era of segregation in America. Ruth and the Green Book is a work of realistic fiction that accurately captures the experience of  many African American motorists traveling in the South during the period of Jim Crow.

As I read the story, I thought about how scary it would feel to see signs everywhere telling me that I was not welcome. Where would I get gas? Where would I eat or sleep?  While the Green Book was a godsend for so many African American travelers in the South, it was also a testament to the injustice that existed for African Americans in a country that preached equality for all. In his introduction, Green wrote: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.” The last edition of the Green Book was published in 1964, the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

This book is an American Library Association Notable Children’s book and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Book.

The Three Questions

Happy Friday, everyone!

It is time once again for Perfect Picture Book Friday sponsored by the very talented Susanna Leonard Hill. I will be out of pocket for a few days. I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year’s. I’ll type to you again in 2012!

Title: The Three Questions: based on a story by Leo Tolstoy

Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

2002 Scholastic Press

Suitable for:  ages 6-12 (or any age)

Themes: questions, truth, philosophy, helping others

Opening and Brief Synopsis: “There once was a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act. ‘I want to be a good person,’ he told his friends, ‘But I don’t always know the best way to to do that.’  Nikolai’s friends understood and they wanted to help him.”

Nikolai asks three questions:

1. When is the best time to do things?

2. Who is the most important one?

3. What is the right thing to do?

Each of his animal friends answers these questions differently, so Nikolai decides to visit the wise turtle. During his visit with the turtle a terrible storm erupts, and Nikolai rushes to help a panda and her cub who are in trouble. It is through this experience and a little help from the wise turtle that Nikolai discovers the answers to his three questions.

Links to resources:

Why I like this book: This story is based on a fable by Leo Tolstoy. It addresses three essential questions about life that I think we all ponder regardless of age. I love the turtle’s response at the end of the story, “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. “ Children will be drawn to the book’s breathtaking watercolor illustrations and the thoughtful story that is so eloquently retold by Muth.

My New Year’s Resolution

I have always been fascinated by stories of survival. During the past week I was stuck at home with the flu, and  I had a lot of time to read. After reading one amazing story about the survival of a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust, I decided to read other adult and young adult books about survival during World War II.  I wanted a more global perspective, so I searched for books about people and experiences that I had not previously read anything about. I certainly learned a lot about that period in history.  What really struck me was the common theme in all four stories. Human dignity is as vital a component to survival as water, food, and shelter. 

I’ve been thinking about these stories a lot over the past few days, and particularly, about that common theme. A sense of self-worth is necessary for survival  in any decade, during war or peace. Those who strip others of their dignity take so much more. For every bully in the world, however, there are hundreds who choose to lend a helping hand, to say a kind word, and to treat others with the respect they deserve. In the new year, my resolution is to lend a helping hand when I’m in a hurry, to say a kind word when I’m in a terrible mood, and to treat others with respect even when they do not return the courtesy. I want to be a better person in 2012.


Click on each image to read a full description.  A Lucky Child by  is an extraordinary memoir written by Thomas Buergenthal about his narrow escape from death in Auschwitz and his life thereafter.  Unbroken written by Laura Hillenbrand is the story of Louis Zamperini, a young Italian American who survives after his bomber crashes into the ocean only to be captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war. Weedflower  by Cynthia Kadahota is a fictional story about a young Japanese girl living in an internment camp in Arizona during World War II. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction novel based on the imprisonment of Lithuanian citizens in Siberia during World War II.

A Lucky Child and Unbroken are particularly difficult to read due to the extreme violence depicted during captivity.  These books are particularly notable, however, because the stories continue long after both men are liberated.  The stories of life after liberation are part of what makes these two books so exceptional.

Hibernation Station

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Not even the flu can keep me from posting a perfect picture book! For more perfect picture books, see Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Page.

Title: Hibernation Station

Written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Simon & Schuster 2010

Suitable for: ages 0-6

Themes: hibernation, animals, winter, rhyme

Opening and Brief Synopsis: ” Fuzzy slippers, warm pajamas, forest babies and their mamas…show up early at the station! Time for winter hibernation.”  The animals of the forest are dressed in pajamas and ready to hop aboard the hibernation train. There are a few mishaps along the way, but eventually all are settled in there log-shaped train cars cozy and warm for their winter ride.

Links to resources:

Why I like this book: I like to pair fiction books about things the children are learning about in their classrooms with non-fiction books when I read aloud in the library. This picture book is the perfect companion to a non-fiction book about hibernation.  The story also rhymes-always great for emergent readers. The illustrations in the book are precious.  I love the idea of a hibernation train-quite imaginative and fun! This book would also make a great bedtime read aloud.

Watch the book trailer: