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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Celebrate the Holidays - with Books

Celebrate the Holidays - with Books

November 26
National Cake Day
Read The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman
Miss Rabbit's carrot cake has gone missing and food detectives Wilcox and Griswold are on the case.
 Watch Wanda Slykes read the book on Storyline Online
Access a Core Curriculum correlated book guide here (pdf).

November 29
Native American Heritage DayRead Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith - and for other great books download this pdf of recommendations from First Nations.

And don't miss exploring the publications in the coming year that will be released by Heartdrum, a new Native-focused imprint from HarperCollins, led by award-winning and New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek).

Thanksgiving Day
Read Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano
Watch Marc Maron read the book on Storytime Online.  View the activity guide here.

Or read my favorite - Thanksgiving at the Tappleton's by Eileen Spinelli --
It seems as if EVERYTHING is going wrong, including Thanksgiving dinner.  A guide is available from Reading Is Fundamental (pdf).
December 9 - National Pastry Day
Eat a doughnut or two and listen to Chris O'Dowd read Arnie and the Doughnut on Storyline Online.  View the activity guide here.
And if you are an adult and you want to learn how to make doughnuts to share with young readers learn how to make doughnuts here.
Winter Solstice

Al Gore reads Brave Irene by William Steig .  Plucky Irene, a dressmaker's daughter, braves a fierce snowstorm to deliver a new gown to the duchess in time for the ball. View the activity guide here.  Or read the Spanish edition: Irene valientemente se enfrenta a una nevada para entregar el traje que su madre ha creado para la Duquesa. Aunque se encuentra con un peligro terrible, al final todo vale la pena.
I also love this book featuring the folktale about a mitten - The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth.
Compare and contrast Jim Aylesworth's version of the tale to other versions of the tale:
  • Brett,  Jan.  The Mitten. Putnam, 1989. Animals included in this retelling: mole, rabbit, hedgehog, owl, badger, fox, and bear.
  • Tresselt, Alvin.  The Mitten. Lothrop, 1964. Animals included in this retellling: a little mouse, a green frog, an owl, a rabbit, a fox, a wolf, a wild boar, and a bear
  • Aylesworth, Jim.  The Mitten. Scholastic, 2009. Animals included in this retelling: squirrel, rabbit, fox, bear, and finally a tiny mouse.
    Ask readers to think about their own story of the mitten and to retell that version in either written form or as an oral tale retold in an audio recording, video recording, or in a written form.
    Discuss activities to do on a snowy day -- while drinking hot cocoa (recipe for hot cocoa included.)
    Discuss the size of the animals and how likely it is that the animals could fit into a  normal sized mitten, glove,  or even a hat.
    Discuss how the plot of The Mitten is similar to or different from either of these tales:
    One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova
    Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen
    Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham
Hanukkah is like nowhere like it is in Alaska.  Hear Molly Ephraim read Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown.  While a moose finds his way into their backyard, a young girl tries to entice him to leave - but nothing helps until Hanukkah arrives. View the activity guide here.

A true story of Christmas giving is embedded in the Grimm Brothers tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker.  In this retelling by Jim LaMarche, the shoemaker is on the receiving end of the Elves good deeds - but in true Christmas spirit the shoemaker and his wife find good deeds of their own to share.  Listen to Chrissy Metz read The Elves and the Shoemaker.  View the activity guide here.
December 31
Henri Matisse's Birthday

Share Eric Close's reading of  When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden.  View the activity guide here.

But older readers will LOVE this picture book by Tomie dePaola that captures the essence of great figures in the art world - This review from Publishers Weekly will provide insight into this delightful title. "When Uncle Satie, a debonair cat-about-town,
comes to visit his niece and nephew, he regales the youngsters with tales of his escapades in Gay Paree. Satie ran with quite a crowd, it seems--numbering among his friends and acquaintances Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and a host of others. (A key on the back flap identifies, rather coyly, the array of dazzling guests pictured at one of Stein's salons--Zelda F., Josephine B., James J., Isadora D. and Ernest H. Children will certainly not know--and may not care about--their famous surnames.) When a fight erupts over whether Pablo or Henri (Picasso and Matisse) is the greater artist, Satie is chosen to referee. The story, with its gentle message of individual merit and the folly of trying to judge apples against oranges, has a certain charm. The subtle shadings of dePaola's illustrations, too, are executed with considerable elan. Most of the references to the '20s and '30s notables, however, as well as the visual puns (Satie as Picasso's Blue Nude ), are aimed at a more sophisticated audience, and may go over the heads of puzzled readers. "   Bonjour Mr. Satie is worth a search in used book stores and libraries.  It is a classic to share.

Happy New Year -

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Coney Island and Mermaids on Parade

Coney Island and Mermaids on Parade

Mermaids on Parade immortalizes the parade that has opened the tourist season on Coney Island since 1983.
The book by Melanie Hope Greenberg is a showcase of all types of people dressed in their finery - mermaids, Neptunes, and sea creatures -- all ready to show off their finery.  Colorful characters abound and one little girl is right in the midst of the festivities with her family.  The illustrations are created in a flat, gouache style with a soft candy palette.  Each illustration invites readers to find the little girl who dressed as a mermaid in a seashell wagon, is among the festive parade participants.  The parade, now in its fourth decade, attracts nearly a million spectators.  Readers will find more information about the parade in the notes at the end of the book which gives information about the event.

View a brief testimony to the delight in this book on Pryor Optimus's youtube channel.  This book review is narrated in part by Kiyah - Pryor's friend who loves all things mermaid.
This is Kiyah's first appearance as a guest reviewer but her love for the book is evident.  View the youtube video at

A newly (2019) released edition of this book in paperback is available on Amazon and from

And don't miss the book on the author's website at

Pryor Optimus hosts a youtube channel and invites subscribers.  He recently reviewed Greenberg's Aunt Lilly's Laundromat and continues his focus on interesting books with other Book Reader reviews.  Visit his channel at
and be sure to subscribe.

And learn more about mermaids and the Coney Island Parade.  Another great book featuring mermaids is Jan Brett's The Mermaid.  Kiniro is a young mermaid who happens upon a wonderful house all made of seashells - and much like Goldilocks, Kiniro is curious and must investigate.  The Octopus family that return to their home to find their food eaten, things broken, and Kiniro asleep in baby Octopus's bed are not at all happy.
More of a variant of the traditional Goldilocks tale than informative about mermaids, however, the setting shows the coast of Okinawa, Japan which shows that mermaids can be in Coney Island and around the world in Japan.  With a little searching you will find books about how to catch a mermaid, mermaid school, and my favorite for older readers - The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes and Projects by Carolyn Turgeon (Harper Design, 2018).

And if you like mermaids as much as Kiyah does then you will certainly want to research what you can find out.
Information about Coney Island and the Mermaid Parade can easily be found with an internet search but will have a link to information about the Mermaid Parade and other Coney Island information.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Be a Citizen Scientist - Counting Birds

Heidi Stemple and Clover Robin have joined their talents to create an awesome book about Frank Chapman who had an idea - that idea was to promote a bird census on Christmas Day to replace the annual hunt that had become a tradition in many communities.  Chapman's idea and promotion of the Bird Count is credited for saving many species of birds.
I wondered what the audience for the book would be - as an adult I LOVED it.  But would the picture book set enjoy it as much.  So one morning I set down to read the book to a kindergartener that hangs around my house before school most days.  He has heard many books since he was a baby and definitely has likes and dislikes.  He LOVED it.  We named birds, talked about geography, talked about counting birds, what identifying birds meant, and learning bird calls, and he wants to count birds. I suggested we start as suggested in the book as bird feeder counters. Well he thought that might be too easy (I'm thinking it is not easy enough.). But we will begin this summer to "practice." And then he thought that his friends in his class will surely want to hear the book. 
We loved learning about Frank Chapman and how one person could make a difference - and the 6-year-old totally got that.The writing is accessible and informative but most of all interesting.  The art is magnificent and showcases Robin's artistic talents superbly.  And how fitting is it that an artist with the last name Robin has illustrated a book about birds?
Anyway whatever happens next, I love having material to get him thinking about being kind and thoughtful (including to birds) developing good citizenship, and being involved in doing something good. Never too early to begin and never too late to start - counting birds and reading.

Stemple, Heidi E.Y.  Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Featured Friends. (Young Naturalist).  Illustrated by Clover Robin.  Seagrass Press.
Update 2019 -- Counting Birds was named the Northern Lights Award Winning title in the STEM category.  More information at the award website at:

Previously this book was named:

A 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12
- The National Science Teachers Association and Children's Book Council

A 2019 Green Earth Book Honor Award in the Picture Book category
- Awarded by The Nature Generation

A 2019 Best STEM Book for K–12 Students

- The National Science Teachers Association and Children's Book Council

Read more about the author, Heidi Stemple on her website at  Follow her on Twitter @heidieys and Facebook as Heidi E.Y. Stemple.
Read more about the collage artist and illustrator Clover Robin, on her website at  Follow her on twitter  @cloverrobin; and on instagram @clover_robin, or on Facebook as cloverrobincollage.  

If you have other great books about birds, great field guides for identifying birds, or identifying bird calls or other great collaborative reads please post those suggestions in the comments.

And if you wish to have Quarto Books' great 8 page teachers guide to this book you will find a pdf of the guide on Stemple's website  (a free downloadable guide).

This book gets ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ five hearts.

Collaborative reads/views:

Kid Time Story Time. (2018 December 20). Counting Birds - Reading for Kids (a STEM Christmas book). — a reading of the book by Heidi E. Y. Stemple, with interspersed comments by the reader. Retrieved from

 Public Broadcasting System (PBS). (2013, November 24). Counting birds. Retrieved from — a 56 minute narrative about the history of and the bird count origin and the contemporary counts in NH, ME, Ecuador, and Cuba. National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

Richmond, Susan Edwards. (2019). Bird Count. Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Peachtree. Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends. Illustrated by Clover Robin.  Quarto Kids.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Little Green Witch (or maybe The Little Red Fort)

Fall is coming and that brings along some favorite books for Halloween.  But before we can really enjoy one of my favorites Little Green Witch by Barbara Barbieri McGrath. Illustrated by Martha G. Alexander. (Charlesbridge, 2005) we need to start now and read all the versions of "Little Red Hen" that we can get our hands on.  Check out the lesson sequence created for the "Little Red Hen" tale at
Read the poem "The Mouse, The Frog, and the Little Red hen"  - a copy can be found at  And then during the last week in October read Little Green Witch by Barbara Barbieri McGrath.
It'll be worth a search to find this gem.  And pay close attention to the illustrations and the literary allusions to the little red hen.  Alexander's sly inclusions are inspired.
And when checking the companion books mentioned, don't miss making Great-Granny's Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake.
Check this blog entry: 
Image result for Little red fortBut if you have missed any of the chances to share Little Green Witch as a finalé during the fall be sure to read this brand new twist on Little Red Hen -  The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, with illustrations by Sonia Sanchez (Scholastic, 2018).  This is a girl-powered perspective on cooperation today.  A great read.

Little Red Hen's Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake

Big Brown Rooster is Little Red Hen's grandson and shades of his grandmother BB Rooster has the same difficulties getting help as did the Little Red Hen.  But all comes out well in the end when the menagerie of friends finally share a strawberry shortcake.

As presented by Big Brown Rooster in Janet Steven's book 
Great-Granny's Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake

is easy to make and a delight to share after reading a copy of Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel  (Harcourt, 1999)

Great-Granny's Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (one stick)
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup milk
3 to 4 cups strawberries, washed and sliced
whipped cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Sift flour, then sift together dry ingredients.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add egg and milk, stirring by hand just enough to moisten.  Spread dough in greased 8 x 1 1/2 inch round pan. building up edges slightly.  Bake for 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove cake from pan; cool on rack for 5 minutes.  Split into two layers; lift top off carefully.  Alternate layers of cake, whipped cream, and strawberries, ending with strawberries on top.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Pumpkin Book Characters — Creativity on Display

Willy the Gorilla

Creating favorite book characters from pumpkins is not a new idea but it is certainly one that inspires creativity.  This activity is especially popular during the fall season when pumpkins are popular.  One of my favorite six-year-olds (PEB) attends an elementary school that has used this idea in the past, and again this year (2019).  He wanted to be involved -- and he was emphatic that it wasn't a contest.  And that fake pumpkins should be used.  Best information I got ... but it was enough.  Many schools and libraries specify pumpkins that are not cut or carved (to prevent decay).

Flyer from Selmaville Elementary
Click on image to access
a larger copy of this sample flyer.

Get Started in YOUR School or Library - Encourage Creativity and Reading

Many schools have developed procedures for creating a focus on reading and thinking about book characters by promoting maker activities to create book characters from pumpkins.  An elementary school in Selma, Illinois has developed a successful contest using the pumpkin book character concept.  Their exemplary handout - outlining their procedures may help provide a starting point for your own flyer announcing your school's pumpkin book characters display.

Back to Echo Hill and Still a Gorilla

The first thing I asked, "So what book character do you want to do?"
PEB: Willy the Gorilla
Book - Still a Gorilla! by Kim NormanThe character was Willy, a gorilla, from a book Still a Gorilla by Kim Norman (Orchard Books, 2017).  As it turns out Willy was PEB's current favorite.  Willy wants to be anything but a gorilla... a lion (If Willy, "roars will he be a lion, no, still a gorilla").  Tusks do not make him a walrus, nor can Willy be a billy goat, an alligator, or a kangaroo.  No matter what he does Willy will be "Still a gorilla." 

So, I asked, "How will Willy be a pumpkin."  PEB had an answer, "If Willy painted himself orange he would be a pumpkin."  The conversation took the logical path,  "Would he be a pumpkin?"  His answer (with an impish grin), "No, still a gorilla."  So his project was born.
Felt would make the face, with eyes and mouth.  The face could then be glued to the pumpkins - one orange pumpkin for the pumpkin Willy, and one black pumpkin for the Still a Gorilla Willy.

And as book characters are brought into the library, Katie Merulla, library media specialist, takes the picture and posts it to the school Instagram site @echohilllm.

Celebration of creativity and reading.

A great experience:
Celebrating reading, creativity, parent and child connections, and a chance to showcase favorite books of the moment.

Please share other campaigns you have developed for encouraging similar overreaching goals.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Grandparents Day

Grandparents Day

Any day can be a day to celebrate grandparents and Grandparents Day is a great day to get started.  We've put together some great books to share with young scholars who may want to talk about their own grandparents and perhaps make a card, write a letter, or just make a phone call to tell them how much they mean to them.

Grandparents Day is a national holiday or observance, celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day, although it is not classified as a federal holiday.
2019 - September  8   
2025 - September 7
2020 - September 13
2026 - September 13
2021 - September 12
2027 - September 12
2022 - September 11
2028 - September 10
2023 - September 10
2029 - September  9
2024 - September 8
2030 - September  8

Alma Flor Ada shares a story of a young grandchild who loves her visits with her European-American grandmother and grandfather on Saturdays; and her visits with her Mexican-American Abuelito y Abueltia on Los Domingos (Sunday).  A quiet story of favorite family days.

Based on an Yiddish folk story, Jim Aylesworth tells of a grandfather who is able to recycle his handsome blue coat to become a smart jacket, and as each item becomes worn and shabby, the jacket becomes a vest, then a tie, and finally the worn tie is made into a toy for grandfather's great-grandson's kittens, and when the kitten is finished, a mouse makes use of the remains for a cozy nest for her babies.  Grandfathers often have many talents - and making something from nothing is a talent.

Those familiar with "the House that Jack Built" will recognize the early cumulative refrains of this story of a family dinner.  From the sunflowers on the table to the diverse selection of dishes: squash, and potatoes, and tasty tamales, samosas, and homemade bread and pies (and faces) each family member contributes his/her own part of the meal to be shared around the table that Grandad built.  The final pages make this a great story to share around thanksgiving time - "For these hands we hold, for tasty good food, for family and friends ...for the grace that is given and love that is shared, we give thanks ...around this table that Grandad built."

Thursdays are special days.  Papa has a normal routine each day -- but Thursdays well that is the day he has a special routine.  And his granddaughter shares the quiet story of a grandfather and his granddaughter.
Joowon Oh's spare text and his watercolor and cut-paper illustrations are sure to delight even the youngest of readers and inspire stories of special days with grandparents - from readers of all ages.

The author, Mina Javaherbin, writes what seems like a personal story of a believed grandmother that was a constant presence during her childhood in Iran.  Where every grandma was - there was Mina.  Mina's friend and neighbor, Annette, had a grandmother too.  Their grandmother's were best friends too.  The grandmother's knit together, and while one went to the mosque the other went to church but each loved and prayed for the other.  Both were kind and good. A story that must be shared and shared again.  A lovely story of a grandchild's love and admiration for a grandparent, and a story that instills, subtly the idea that diversity in religion does not preclude shared fun, kindness, and friendship. 

At the end of this story readers may realize that Grandpa spends his days gardening because he is grieving for the "Granny who is dead." But Henry does not understand why his grandpa does not hear him.  "Give him time" says Henry's mother.  And Henry does "six and a half minutes."  Eventually Henry engages Grandpa with his challenge to name his top three - sandwiches, then jellyfish, and onto other favorites.  It is  those other favorites that readers will not only understand the love that Grandpa has for Henry, but also for Granny, and the love Granny had for Henry.  A beautiful tribute to a memory of love past and love that is still held dear.  And it just might be the next best book to share when someone loses someone they love dearly.  What are your top threes... might just be the way to remember that someone.

If you are interested in using the books on this list with other ideas for reading and sharing access this free resource at