Celebrating National Cat Day with 2017 Cat Picture Books, My Favorite Cats in Children’s Literature, and a Few Cat Books for Adults by Angela Ferraris

Our beloved Lorenzo who recently went to Rainbow Bridge.

I haven’t been able to post for almost a week. I somehow hurt my back putting away the groceries last Sunday.  Seriously. Putting. Away. The. Groceries.  After the doctor told me that I should not go back to work until Monday, I found myself thinking, Nah, I can go back tomorrow. I did not know what I was talking about and  was stunned by how much pain I was in and for how long. I missed a week of work which was very hard for someone like me who has the attention span of a hummingbird. So, I told myself, Okay. Look. Let’s just take this time and post all of those picture book reviews, do the book fair fliers, author visit preparations, and lesson plans for November. The problem with that plan was that I did not have a full understanding of how steroids, muscle relaxers, and Tylenol with Codeine could turn me into a mindless blob. I became a couch potato only able to concentrate on mindless binge watching  and the occasional walkabout in my own home. It is what it is I told myself trying to see if I could squat and pet the cat that kept going around my legs. Could not do it. He was not going to go on his hind legs either for pets on the head.

I missed petting my cats and one in particular, Lorenzo, our old kitty who recently passed. He would have been sleeping beside me day and night. We think he was about 18-19 years old. It’s hard to tell with a rescue cat. When he was good, he was very good; but when he was bad…Well, we still have his tooth marks on the furniture and book corners. I dedicate this blog in remembrance of him on National Cat Day.

Some New 2017 Cat Picture Books

Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He's the Favorite

Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Edward Hemingway. Pencil, ink, and digital media. 2017. Published by Two Lions.

Brief summary: Mr. Fuzzbuster and Lily have been together since they were both tots sharing life events throughout the years. Mr. Fuzzbuster is concerned with the additional pets (Fish, Frog, Bird, and Dog) and that he may no longer be Lily’s favorite. He writes her a note asking what pet is the favorite. Lily walks through the house telling how each of her pets are her favorite in a certain category. Mr. Fuzzbuster gets the favoritism he seeks but then wonders…

Comments: Mr. Fuzzbuster is a true cat–always wanting to be the center of attention.

Buy here.Big Cat, Little Cat

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper; illustrated by Elisha Cooper. 2017. Black and white illustrations. Published by Roaring Brook Press.

Brief summary: There is a white cat living alone in a house until a black kitten arrives learning all about how to live the house through the white cat’s teachings. The black cat grows to be the same size as his new friend. They spend many years together until the white cat gets older and does not come back. Then one day, a white kitten joins the black cat who shows the new kitten how to live in the house.

Comments: This cat picture book continues in the mind of the reader. The life cycle. This would be a good story for the school counselor to read when a student’s pet dies. One could share this book to help explain death and dying and how we go on.

Buy here.

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz, and Amy Shrodes; illustrated by SueCornelison. 2017. Published by Crown Books for Young Readers.

Brief summary: Kunkush, a beautiful white cat, and his family must leave Iraq to find a safe place to live. Sura and her four daughters and son  pay smugglers to get them out of the country only being permitted to take food and water. Kunkush is concealed in a basket. The cat stays hidden as they go to one country to another. They arrive in Greece and must all get on a small rubber boat. Once they land though the frightened cat flees into the woods. After searching for hours, the family has to leave. Two volunteers, Amy and Ashley, notice a white cat living with a colony of cats on the island and take it to the vet to get help and cleaned up. They rename him Dias. Amy keeps the cat in her apartment. The two volunteers are determined to find the owner and put up a Facebook page. Amy’s time in Lesbos has ended. She takes Dias back to Germany where some of the refugees traveled. A British couple keep him. Soon Dias is found by his family who are living in Norway. Doug, a photographer, take Dias to Norway to reunite the cat with his family.

Comments: This is a story that can be shared with students by showing the cat’s journey on Google maps and learning about countries the family traveled through on their journey.  Refugees and immigrants can be discussed. What causes someone to flee their country? How would you feel only being able to take food and water with you? This story could be used to discuss feelings. How do you think Sura felt when her husband was killed and she had to flee? What did she think was going to happen to her and her family? How did the family feel while being smuggled? What about when they could not find Kunkush? How did they feel when they were reunited in Norway? There are  photos  of the cat and map of his journey. This is a  picture book that could have several discussions and lessons not only with elementary schoolers but for older students as well. Warning: Kunkush dies in 2016 from a feline virus.

Buy here.

Caring For Your Lion

Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer; illustrated by Troy Cummings. 2017. Artworks was created digitally.  Published by Sterling Children’s Books.

Brief summary: A boy has been waiting for almost a month for his new kitty to arrive. He has all of the pet supplies ready. The pet delivery truck arrives with a giant wooden crate with a note on it. “Congratulations on your new lion! We know you ordered a kitten, but we ran out of those.” There is an instruction sheet of ludicrous fourteen steps to follow.

Comments: Be sure to look the front end pages where the story begins. Troy Cummings’ hilarious 50s/60s cartoon style brings the story alive with one humorous step to the next. I would use this book as a writing exercise. Students could think of a wild animal that they would receive in the mail and what steps they would need to take to care for it. Drawings could be included.

Buy here.

The Lost Kitten

The Lost Kitten by Lee Sakai; illustrated by  Komako Sakai. 2017(translation).  Arylic colors and oil pencils. Published by Gecko Press.

Brief summary: Hina and her mother open the front door to find a sickly kitten with a mama cat and her other kittens standing aside. The mother cat meows and nods her head as to ask for them to take care of her baby before leaving. Hina’s mother agrees to keep the kitten and brings it inside. She gently wipes the goo from the kitten’s eyes explaining to her daughter that they will take it to the vet tomorrow to make sure the little feline is okay. Hina learns how to take care of the tiny kitten as it explores the house. Her mother must go to buy cat food leaving Hina with her sleeping Grandmother. Hina tries to come up with a name for the new family addition and realizes the kitten is no longer in her sight. She  searches all over the house becoming very upset recalling the time she was lost in a store and wanted her mother. She felt the little kitten must have felt the same way and must be found immediately. Not seeing it anywhere inside, Hina concludes the kitten must have slipped outside when her mother left to go for food. The girl opens the closet door and starts to put on her coat when she looks down finding the kitten on the bottom of the closet floor safe and sleeping. The little girl begins to cry relieved to have found her new lost baby. Her mother comes home learning Hina has come up with the name for the newest member of the family.

Comments: This book was originally printed in Japan in 2015. The unique illustrations of  Komako Sakai stand out with this book through her soft and muted brushstrokes and black pencil. I could not find a lot of information about this author and illustrator but hope to have more books translated in the future.

Buy here.

Popular Cats in Children’s Literature

These are some of the cat books that are always circulating in my elementary library. Some are rarely in, and some cause a lot of arguing when they are in. I have to take out the big dice on my desk and see which child rolls the highest.

Pete the Cat  Splat the Cat

Bad Kitty

Kitten's First Full Moon

The Cat in the Hat

Puss in Boots

Mr. Pusskins

Rotten Ralph

Chester

I Must Have Bobo!

Cat the Cat, Who is That?

Cat Novels for Adults

I rarely have any time now to read fiction with cat characters, but there are several I have enjoyed.  I hear some of the older teachers talking about what they are going to do when they retire from teaching. I just smile inside. Librarians never retire from books. There are several interesting cat mystery books that I would like to read. These are two cat mystery series that I have started:

Cat in the Stacks Mystery

Cat in the Stacks Mystery Series

The Cat Who...

The Cat Who…series

I am ending with THE KITTY: Who Rescued Me After I Rescued Him by a new author, Shawn P. Flynn, who discovers for the first time what it is like to be loved by a cat and to love a cat. I wish him the best with his new kitty.

The Kitty Who Rescued Me After I Rescued Him

6 Reasons Why I Believe Labeling Reading Levels on Books for Young Readers is More Harmful Than Good by Angela Ferraris

(Commentary)

There are many reasons why I do not support labeling children’s books by reading levels in the school library. Although this is a commentary, I’m not stating my opinion without merit. I have been working in libraries for twenty-nine years  and with twenty in school libraries. I have seen children come into my library crying, because they were so worried about not finding a book that their teacher would approve. It broke my heart.  They were only six years old and already hated reading.

What Does the Score Mean? 

Well, first things first.  How do they get a reading level for a student? There are many different assessments that can be given, so I suggest you contact your child’s teacher for that information. Here is a Google search of the various correlation charts.  At that time in that child’s life, he/she scored this level. It does not tell if that child was having a bad day. It does not tell us what the child’s interests are or maturity level. It doesn’t tell us that Johnny loves origami and wants to take out origami books to learn how to fold just like his grandpa. It doesn’t tell us that Sally is taking out cookbooks to make dinner for her little brothers, since Mom is too tired to cook when she gets home late at night. The reading level is a temporary assessment of one part of the child; not the whole child. It doesn’t reflect the passion, the curiosity, and the dreams they are seeking. It is used as ground zero in which your children will need to improve upon.

And as obvious as this may be to us, several of my students do not realize that the score will change. Mary may be the highest leveled reader today in her class, but she may just be average when everyone else catches up (or not) in six months. When the next school year starts, she may not have read a single book over the summer, because now she hates reading. The pressure(real or imagined) to always be the best reader got to her. She went down the summer slide and is reading at a lower reading level now then at the end of last year. I’ve seen it happen.  I also have seen it when a child’s score has shot up over the summer.

1. Censorship  

In my opinion, visibility marking reading levels on books is a type of censorship. It narrows the child’s reading resources. It’s telling them they may only read these few books at this time in their life. When really, we should be fostering exploration of the many nonfiction topics and reading styles  that a student may not even be aware of in his/her world. Not all students have access to a public library. The school library is it and sadly, in some cases, only the classroom library.

Elementary children have this amazing curiosity of the world around them and should have  unrestricted access to those reading materials to expand their knowledge and promote critical thinking. “A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians.” I totally agree.

Think about it this way.   Imagine going to the public library’s check-out counter  with  books that took you an hour to gather.  Picture books that you are going to read to your children. A field guide to identify the tracks you are seeing in the mud behind your house. How to build your own backyard fairy garden. Fairy tale books to use to refer to for making a castle for that fairy garden. The latest recipe book for the Paleo diet. Several romance novels. A juvenile origami book with step-by-step illustrations so you can make animals as a table centerpiece for your son’s birthday party. Five current magazines that were just put out when you walked over to the periodical section.  Now. Imagine how excited you are to take these books home and can’t wait to start reading and learning. BUT. When you go to check out with the librarian, he/she sets all of your books aside. “Sorry, Mrs. Smith. These books are below your reading level. You will need to go back and only get those with Lexile number…(wait while I get the list out that has your level on it) Oh, here it is. Level 1200 on the spine. You may only read those in the textbook area over there.”

Seriously? Would you ever want to read again? Wouldn’t  you be embarrassed in front of your neighbors that you were reading above all of them or what if you were reading way, way below them? Would that excitement of finding a book treasure ever return? Reading would be a chore and not a pleasure.  You would have to read only  textbooks. You would   have limited access. Why should our children be limited?

2. Not Realizing That Books are More Than Just Words But  Can Be Shared Aesthetic Experiences 

Not all school libraries have primary and intermediate books on each topic. Keeping that in mind, one can learn so much from just looking at illustrations.  The Eyewitness Books(usually a middle school reading level) go out constantly in my library, because students learn from all of those great photos and charts. The Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe it or Not always involve a circle of kids looking at the photos together and talking about math and comparison, and “Mrs. Ferraris! Look how long this person’s nails are!!!  Can you imagine having long nails like this?  Do we have any books on monsters? Do we have any books on cats? Do we have any…” The spark is lit. Please don’t put out the fire by limiting access.

3. Invades privacy 

Again, the ASLA states it brilliantly:  “Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels.”  Peers should not know another student’s reading level. It  shames and labels those who are not reading at the “normal” grade’s reading level. I have seen students lose the desire to read, feel ashamed of reading lower than everyone else, and also, at the same time, being arrogant reading above everyone else’s. I have had some students not take out books each week. They leave them at home on purpose, so they would not have to go through the ordeal of picking out a book at the “proper” reading level.

4. Does not Allow the Development  of Browsing  and Choosing a “Good Fit” Book Skills 

Having books labeled in a school library does not allow children to develop the skills of picking “just right” books on their own. This is a skill that we develop to help us later successfully choose books as middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, and adults. One way of learning how to pick our books is by the failure of doing it correctly. There will be too many hard words or the plot was too complicated. It’s been two weeks and only the first chapter has been read. Let them fail. Let them fall. They will get up and try again with our encouragement from the sidelines.

I have had children melt because they could not make a book choice. They have had their choices all made for them. There is  a time for making their choices but not in the library. They need to learn browsing skills and how to make good book choices now so that they will have them mastered later on in their higher academic life. THEY need to choose the books.

5. Instead of Putting Them On a Diet, Let’s Feed Their Minds with  Well-Balanced Meals

I want my students to come in and get new books each week when they visit.  My goal is to develop lifelong readers who enjoy reading. My goal is for them to be excited about finding information about topics they are interested in learning more about. My goal is for them to explore and love the library. I want them to find valid information on the internet. I want them to get excited about a book and stand around a table reading it together and wonder. I want THEM to find the treasures. I am providing the best books. The organic food. The good stuff.  I want them to fill their plates each visit. Their minds are rapidly developing and only eating celery  is not going to develop a strong mind.

6. Does not Foster the Joy of Reading 

Sometimes, it’s not about picking out a book that is a good fit.   Judi  Moreillon says, “Sometimes the easier text is just what readers need to maintain their confidence or reignite their enjoyment.” Reading just for the joy of it.  Do you do that? It is essential for them to have access to all of the books in a professionally developed library collection where a certified, full-time librarian is there all day for the children to come and explore. A library that is always opened. A library that has books representing everyone. A library where students(and teachers) have access to informational texts for curricular assignments. A place where we can feed our minds!  Where we can have fun learning!

Having students only reading their reading level makes reading boring. It defeats the whole purpose of creating “lifelong learners” or other terms like “forever readers” or “book lovers” by making reading a chore, boring, and not relevant to their lives. Example: I found out that during recess students discovered a large caterpillar on one of the trees.  They were still talking about it when they came into library class, so I showed them the field guide books in the reference section. I helped them figure out what the caterpillar was and going to be. They were ecstatic by that. It was relevant to them. It did not matter that they could not read that field guide. They were able to look at the photos. I taught World Book Online the next week and saw that they were looking up all types of topics they had questions about. I showed them how to have the text read to them. Do you think I showed them how to narrow down their search by reading level? Yes, I confess, I did. Anyone do it? No. They just wanted to explore and share with their neighbors what exciting topics they found.

How I Meet in the Middle

My school’s online library catalog can search and print a list of books at a certain reading level that are available in the library if teachers or parents want to narrow a child’s book choices.  My library policy for grades 1-5 is to  allow students to take out what they want and  learn from their mistakes. I tell them to pick a good fit book to read for the classroom’s silent reading or assignments, but allow them to get a “just for fun” book too. I teach a book selection class at the beginning of the year where they  learn how to figure out if a book is too easy, too hard or just right with the Five Finger Rule and  I Pick methods.

They are shown where the books are located  that are good for their grade levels. I explain that this is the time they can explore the collection and figure out what they like or dislike. “Don’t like spiders? Well, have you seen these books about spiders? You may change your mind. Keep an open mind so new facts, new likes can be explored.”  We go over how they need to pick out a book for reading at school or researching for school assignments. I define a  “for fun” book to be something they enjoy just looking at the amazing illustrations, maybe  how-to books, or books a little too easy or hard. Many students take out chapter books for their parents to read to them at bedtime. Some take out easy picture books to read to their younger siblings. It’s all good with me. I don’t care what their reading levels are. I just want them to enjoy reading and learning fun library lessons. I am building a library foundation with them that will support them for a lifetime. I want it to be strong with the love and joy of reading.

(You may have noticed that I did not include kindergarten. They browse in the picture book area of the library, and I place nonfiction books for them on a table  to choose from instead of letting them go into the stacks where there are many reading levels. When they can read a bit more, like in first grade, they will have the full reign of the library).

What Should We Really Be Focusing On?  

Each school should have a certified, full-time librarian. Librarians are trained in library school how to develop collections without bias. We constantly are reading and examining books. We breath children’s books. They are our worlds.  We strive to have libraries that represent all students, have a wide range of topics, have all reading levels, and I could go on all day. We seek out books for curriculum. We talk to students about books. We book talk with teachers and other librarians. We go to workshops where we talk about books all day long and LOVE IT. We teach reading literacy, technology literacy, information literacy, and media literacy. Kids will want to read harder and more complicated books if they enjoy reading, have the freedom to choose, and have access to a wide range of books. We let them do that. We are the book people. We are the information people. You are living in the age of the librarian.

Bottom line: Invest in a school librarian.  They are one of those teachers who wears the most hats in your school. They teach all of the students (and teachers). They are ever-changing and reinventing. A good certified full-time librarian per school can put your reading and technology climate   on FIRE!  Recognize that librarians are feeding the brains of the future.  Recognize this. We take that very seriously. You should too.

Suggested Reading:

*Baraboo School District. “Choosing a “Just Right” Book.” Youtube. N.p., 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 July 2017. <https://youtu.be/XxoF-FDQ6Qo>.
*Cregar, Elyse. “Browsing by Numbers and Reading for Points.” Knowledge Quest, vol. 39, no. 4, Mar/Apr2011, pp. 40-45. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=60127371&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
*”Does Labeling Children’s Books Constitute Censorship?.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2, Winter2012, pp. 90-92. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=84747597&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
*Eaglen, A. “Labeling the Dummies.” School Library Journal, vol. 36, no. 6, June 1990, p. 68. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=9008061198&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
*Greene, Peter. “Librarians Take Reading Level Stand.” CURMUDGUCATION. N.p., 14 July 2017. Web. 15 July 2017. <http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2017/07/librarians-take-reading-level-stand.html?spref=fb>.
*Grigsby, Susan K. S. “The Story Is More Important Than the Words.” Knowledge Quest, vol. 43, no. 1, Sep/Oct2014, pp. 22-28. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=97937359&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
*MOREILLON, JUDI. “Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection.” School Library Monthly, vol. 29, no. 5, Feb. 2013, pp. 28-29. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=86739754&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
*Admin. “Position Statement on Labeling Books with Reading Levels.” American Association of School Librarians (AASL). N.p., 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 July 2017.<http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/labeling>.
*Admin. “Questions and Answers on Labeling and Rating Systems.” Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. N.p., 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 July 2017. <http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/qa-labeling>.
*Tanyareads. “How to Choose a Good Fit Book.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 July 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwtHGh0PVHo>.

What I Learned From Failing the Google Certified Educator Level 1 Online Test by Angela Ferraris

fail

I woke up extra early today so I would not feel rushed as I made a medium-sized breakfast without coffee.  I thought the coffee would make me jittery or have to go to the bathroom. This was the day I was taking the three-hour long Google Certified Educator Level 1 Online Test.

Test Preparation study

Weeks before, I searched online for advice from other educators who took the test; noticing that several  people had failed and were surprised they failed.  That concerned me.   I had been studying the online training classes for three weeks now at the training center.    I knew that I had to make sure I knew everything that was taught in those fundamentals training courses, so I looked further online for more advice.

I had gone over the skill checklist that Eric Curts had put together. I read Sylvia Duckworth’s blog How to pass the Google Certification Exams.  I viewed several of Brett Petrillo’s prep sessions  on Youtube when I wasn’t sure about an app.  I checked through the topics on the Google for Education Help Forum and even made a set of study flashcards on Quizlet. 

I have been using some of the apps for years. The others, I practiced being sure to explore all of the features.  I was confident this morning. I put in the hours. I felt like I knew those apps inside and out; even the new updates.

Equipment and Room Preparation 

I had done my hair and makeup for the camera that was going to watch me during the test to make sure I was not letting someone else take the test for me.  I had a backup Chromebook all updated and ready to go just in case something happened to the first one.  The cats were fed and sleeping. My husband had the TV on mute. I had my notes beside me. I  had gum, cookies, and water nearby. The fan was on across the room just in case it got warm. I went to the bathroom beforehand. I had my mindset in positive mode and ready to pass this test somewhere in the 90s percentile.

I logged in with the special website, username and password. My camera came on showing my smiling face with the closed blinds behind me and all the lights on in the room to prevent the glare that happened yesterday during the trial run. I took a deep yoga breath. I wiped my hands on my skort, and  I clicked to start the exam.

Taking the Test  

I began the test checking each multiple choice question and answers twice. I went on to the tasks.  I had no idea that I was being a snail. I just went along at my normal speed. I was not aware of the time passing until my husband sneaked up the steps and waved that he was leaving. That was when I realized that two hours had gone by.  I was never going to make it! I remained calm not really sure just how much of the test I had to go. “Just focus on what is on hand. Stay calm. You know this,” I told myself. The cat jumped up on the table and startled me. I gently pushed him down.

I continued and after a while I  noticed for the first time that there was a clock on above my camera image. Had it always been there?  I was down to my last fifteen minutes. I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I watched in defeat as the clock’s last few seconds ran out, and the screen changed.

The Results      

I think I was 3/4ths of the way finished. I waited for verification. I failed. All the air was released from my body. My shoulders slumped.  I felt a kick in the gut. I had not failed a test in many decades. I forgot that feeling.  The sudden blow of mixed emotions. I felt like screaming and crying. I know this stuff!  I was just too slow. Too slow. I closed the Chromebook and went downstairs to make lunch. I was so depressed that I did not want to eat.

The test results e-mail listed three topics that it thought I should work on. I smiled at that e-mail, because I was just starting to do those when the time ran out. It wasn’t that I did not know them. I knew them. I was just too slow. I felt old. I felt frustrated. I knew my short attention span had something to do with it.  I realized then just how much emotion my students must have felt when they had to take long tests. I can barely remember having this feeling of defeat before when taking a test. I was the student who worked really hard and got the A. Not this time.

Acknowledging and Self-Talk 

What would I have told a student if this happened to her or him? Growth mindset. “Okay. Yes, you failed this test, but you are not a failure.  It’s going to be okay. Let’s move past the failure.  What do you know? What do you not know? What can  you do to pass in two weeks? You can do this.” I started to make a to-do list and realized that I had to practice getting faster. Faster with the apps that I had already been using for years. I would just have to become so familiar with them that I would not need to think where a feature was located. I would just move the cursor right to it in a second.  I could do this. I am not too old for technology. I use it all the time. I use these apps at work and in my personal life. I just need to move faster. I can adapt. I’ll set off a timer every half hour. I got myself back on track. I had a plan.

Moving Past It  

I then heard my husband’s car coming up the drive. I knew he would ask. I had to tell him that I failed. I did not finish. I was too slow.  That was the hard part. He. My friends. Family. Knew how much I had studied. My choice was to acknowledge failure, figure out what I learned from it, and come up with a way to not let it happen again. Failing has taught me that I had to self-reflect with blatant honesty and learn how to succeed next time. Well, I sure hope I succeed next time. I can do this! I have two weeks to move from a technology sloth to a savvy, technology tiger.

11 Qualities I Look for That Make a Good Picture Book by Angela Ferraris

Ten Characteristics

How and Where

I was asked how I decided what picture books end up on my book review blog.  I do not review books on my blog in exchange for a free copy of that book. I look through several  book sources featuring the newest picture books being released and then reserve them at the public library. Ironic that I live on the same street as the library? Well…it was one of the attributes of buying the house.

I should add that I am fortunate to be in an area of the USA where several of the library systems are ranked highly in the nation. I often am able to add a reserve to books that are “on order” and not even released yet.  I appreciate the quickness that librarians in the  Central Library Consortium of Central Ohio Libraries catalog and process those books and get them into the libraries for people like me always hungry for the latest in picture book literacy.

Sorry. I digress.  Not a surprise. I have the attention span of a hummingbird. That could be why I prefer picture books over children’s chapter books? So, that is how and where I get the picture books. But, what is it that I think makes a picture book worthy of being reviewed on my blog? There are eleven qualities that I look for as I’m going through the large piles sitting on my dining room table.

11 Qualities

Because picture books really rely on the story being told with illustrations more than other types of books,  I have to admit that I look at the cover first and then flip through to look at the pictures. Do they match the spirit of the story? Are they unique? Do they vary with close-ups, double-page spreads, and  white space? Would another medium have worked better?

Title. Catchy title? Is it funny? Do the words rhyme? Is the font scary or silly in the title? Kids do judge a book by its cover and the title really can grab a child’s attention (and mine). Will it be remembered easily? Does it sound like another famous book?

I look at the type of font that is used. Is it in cursive? I have many students who sadly cannot read the cover’s title, because cursive writing is not taught until they are older (or even at all). Is the font large enough for a child to read?  A smaller font usually tells me that the picture book is one that an adult would read to a child.  Since I’m an elementary school librarian, I am looking for books that my students can read with a large font.  Does the font’s size vary with the actions and conversations in the book? Are there different fonts for different emotions?

The words. Does it have word patterns or words kids like to say? Does it have a repeating refrain that kids would like to say? Is there alliteration? “Fee Fi Fo Fum” Does it rhyme well, or is it too cliché? Are there words kids like to say aloud like “underwear” or “banana”? How is the rhythm of the book? Does it match the illustrations? Onomatopoeia?  Similes? Metaphors?

Is the theme of the book something children find interesting in their world? Can they relate to the story? Sometimes it is okay at the beginning if they have no idea what the theme is as long as they know it by the end of the book. Is the theme too mature or immature for the targeted age group?

Is it funny? Is it kid-friendly humor or hokey? Does it give a funny perspective to a common situation? Students are always asking me for funny books. If it is not funny, and let’s say, a serious story, is it told in a way that young readers can understand?

How does the story flow? How is the plot? Does the plot move along?  Is there a problem that needs to be solved?Are there so many characters that the reader cannot remember them? Can they identify with the characters? Is there a resolution? Are the readers able to relate to the problem and how it is solved? Is the story too long or wordy?

Is there any participation from the reader? Interactive? Do they have a role? Will it make the students think of comments or questions in their heads as they read? What if  it is a story without words? Will students be able to think of the story as they see the illustrations?

I look for  diversity, multiculturalism, and various relationships. Is this a book about children that are not usually represented? I want all children to find books in the library that are like them, but also books not like them as well. Will this book help them understand others like them and others NOT like them? Will this expand their world? Will this encourage connections with others? Will the book open their horizons to other worlds? Will they see themselves in the story for the first time? Will they understand a fellow student’s life a little more after reading the book?

Sometimes,  a book just stands out. Unique. No one has done anything like it before. The reader experiences a shared aesthetic experience with other readers. Do we think about the book after it is read? Do students talk to me about it a week later? Do they retell the story to Wolf Wolf, our library’s stuffed plush?

Curriculum. (I can hear the groans from here). Yes.  Sometimes I am actually thinking, “Wow. This book really explains a certain unit of study, or this book could be read first as a hook to a certain unit of study.” I know. I know. But, sometimes, a good picture book can make the topic more understandable for children. Fun.

Two Things I Avoid

I have had several teachers ask me to buy a book just because of the author. Well, that gets tricky. I don’t want to buy books by an author just because they received an award for a book written two decades ago. I expect the same quality.  If the book is not up to snuff, so to speak, I don’t review it. I do buy it though for the library if a teacher requests it  as part of their classroom author study. I am sort of a softy about teacher requests.

I do not write-up bad reviews for books.   I may read 30-40 picture books before I find one that I feel deserves to be in my blog. So, I do not want to write-up all those books I did not choose and why as well as those I think  stand out.  But, just because it is not in the blog does not mean I did read it. There are thousands and thousands of books these days. I’m so excited to see all of the Canadian, British, and Australian books now immigrating into the USA bookstores and libraries. So many new books each year. What an exciting time to live.  It would not be impossible for me to miss some great ones.

Why

My passion has always been picture books and now I can share that with more people through the internet as well as with my school’s staff and students. It makes me happy to be able to do this now and work as an elementary school librarian. It has also been a blessing to be on the same avenue as a public library. This is quite a convenience.  I go in several times a week and usually with my husband in tow to help me carry all the books. By the way, yes, at times, my house does look like an explosion of books and cat toys all over the place. I have a very patient and understanding husband with a great sense of humor.

 

Top Five St. Patrick’s Day Picture Books That I Like to Read by Angela Ferraris

stpatrick'sday

It’s almost that time again when there will be  a sea of little  green people walking down the hallways. Holidays are big with children. They plan, dream, and celebrate more than we do. We all should stop, and take more notice of the holidays. Teaching in an elementary school does that. Some holidays involve special foods. Some involve candy. St. Patrick’s Day is about color. Kids with green hair, painted green faces, or glittery shamrocks on their cheeks. Everyone wore green when I was a kid, and if you forgot, sneaky pinching was done to you. The teachers never saw it.  No pinching is allowed now.

It is this Friday; the last day before spring break. Oh, and yes, it’s hat day too. Could someone check to see if it will be the full moon as well? Oh, wait. That’s today. (Maybe that is why the Maine Coon keeps meowing in my face?) Daylight savings today. Tomorrow, we’re suppose to get snow. Oh, and don’t forget about that AIR testing this week. (Correction: They are actually AFTER spring break!) What a busy week. Thank heavens I was evaluated last week.

I hope I remember to wear green on Friday (and a hat; maybe a green hat). Last year, I forgot. I was asked a bazillion times by a bazillion elementary students why I didn’t wear green like everyone else. The green paper shamrock I pinned to my shirt was not cutting it with them. I’m not going through that again.

I somehow have digressed. Here are some of the St. Patrick’s Day picture books I enjoy sharing:

*(I may get a commission for purchases made through links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books reviewed were checked out of the public library and not sent to me free for review).

St. Patrick's Day Gail Gibbons

St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons 1994 Buy here.*

Green Shamrocks

Green Shamrocks by Eve Bunting 2011 Buy here.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover by Lucille Colandro 2012 Buy here.*

 

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potatoe by Tomie dePaola 1997 Buy here.*

 

How to Catch a Leprechaun

How to Catch a Leprechaun by Adam Wallace. 2016 Buy here.*

When Did You First Meet Dr. Seuss? by Angela Ferraris

When Did you First Meet Dr. Seuss?

It was in first  grade when I first met the world of Seussville and not in the usual way a six year  old would be introduced to that world. I did not have a school library. My parents had not yet discovered the several public libraries in our area. I do not think it ever occurred to them to buy books as gifts.  No book fairs. No Scholastic Classroom Book Clubs. We lived way out in the middle of nowhere; in the middle of farm fields. Our stories were from our imaginations or from the cartoons shown on one of the three channels we had. No one our age was around  for miles. We were very limited when it came to stories.

My grandmother gave us one of the most important gifts ever. She had bought my sister and me a year’s long subscription of Dr. Seuss books. One would magically appear in the mailbox at the end of the long graveled driveway.  I never knew when the flat rectangular cardboard box would arrive. I had not put together they would arrive every month. My sister and I would race down the driveway after seeing the mailman move to the next house. Nope. Just letters. We would slowly walk back to the house. Next day. No. Again. Another walk back with the cats. Tails held high with a little crook. Rubbing around our legs as we handed our mom the long envelopes.

I would open the metal box and peer in day after day. Just grown-up mail. Then there were the magical days.  My heart would leap as I reached in pulling cardboard out. My sister and I would smile as we ran back up the driveway with the cats running after us. We would sit on the stoop while I tore open the box revealing another Dr. Seuss book. I would immediately read it aloud since my sister could not read yet. We would laugh and point at the crazy creatures and repeat the rhyming words. We bonded then. She learned how to read. I learned how to be a  librarian. The cats played with the boxes.

Then the books stopped coming. The mail was just letters that I had to get from the mailbox after the school bus released me at the end of the driveway.  We assumed that those were all the books he must have written as we looked at our books over and over. We had not yet been taken to a library. We had no idea what a library was or that a treasure trove of Dr. Seuss books waited inside.  That would not happen until second grade.

Ten Cool Bookmarks…Just for You…Not the Kids by Angela Ferraris

Just for YouIt is that time again when I see bookmarks sprinkled all over the library’s carpet–between the islands, under the table, and by the rocking chair. I am standing by the Smartboard that has the large infograph slide of the library’s time structure. I just finished the mini-lesson about World Book Kids. There was inside recess–again. The students are full of energy and ready to go to number 3–browse.

“Fast five!” I firmly say raising my right hand with fingers spread. They raise their hand with fingers spread and mimic me as I slowly and silently count down to zero with my fingers and then flutter down to my side at the conclusion.

“Do you think when I see bookmarks on the floor that I want to buy more bookmarks for you or not buy more bookmarks?” I ask.

“Not buy more bookmarks,” a small voice answers.

Someone raises a hand and points out that the bookmark box is empty. “When are you going to put out more bookmarks?”

“I put them out each month. When they are gone; they are gone.”

“But there aren’t any in there now.”

“Yes. I put out four hundred on the first of each month. That is why you may only take one. If you have a bookmark that is in good condition and you no longer want it, you may put it in the bookmark box.”

“But I need a bookmark now. The box is empty.”

“Remember when we talked about if you do not have a bookmark that a piece of scrap paper could be used instead? The scrap paper is in the scrap paper box. You may make a bookmark after checking out your books. The crayons are in the crayon box.”

“But I want a REAL bookmark. The box is empty.”

“Well, the next group of bookmarks do not come out until March 1st. I suggest you look on the floor.”

Ten Cool Book Marks

(prices as of 2/08/17)

Chinese Style Metal Bookmarks 4 Pcs,JoyTong Golden Hollow Mini Creative Book Mark,Plum flower(mei),Orchid (lan),Bamboo(zhu),Chrysanthemum (ju)

4 Chinese Style Metal Bookmarks  
$8.99

Metal Bookmark Ruler Set of 4,JoyTong Creative Hollow Mini Cute Bookmarks Template (Carousel,Birdcage,Hot Air Balloon,Tub)

Metal Bookmark Ruler Set of 4, JoyTong Creative Hollow Mini Cute Bookmarks Template (Carousel,Birdcage,Hot Air Balloon,Tub)
$9.99

Long Magnetic Bookmarks - Longer Premium Beautiful Page Markers Chakra Colors Useful Info On Chakras No Scratch To Your Pages Or Metal Surfaces (Set of 8 Pieces, 1 x 3.2 inch Folded Size)

Long Magnetic Bookmarks – Longer Premium Beautiful Page Markers Chakra Colors Useful Info On Chakras No Scratch To Your Pages Or Metal Surfaces (Set of 8 Pieces, 1 x 3.2 inch Folded Size)
$12.98

D & B Mixed Designs of Antiqued Bronze Colour Elegant Metal Bookmark [Set of 14] $17.50

D & B Mixed Designs of Antiqued Bronze Colour Elegant Metal Bookmark [Set of 14]
$17.50

Harry Potter Crest Bookmark Collection

Harry Potter Crest Bookmark Collection
$39.50

wicked witch handmade bookmark

Wicked Witch Handmade Bookmark
$24.99

premium-quality-color-silicone-bookmark-6-pack

Premium Quality Color Silicone Bookmark – 6 Pack $5.99

Fred & Friends PAUSE Cassette Bookmarks, Set of 2 $7.13

Fred & Friends PAUSE Cassette Bookmarks, Set of 2
$7.13

Oriental Carpet Bookmarks - Authentic Woven Carpet (Set of 4) Assorted Designs $17.95

Oriental Carpet Bookmarks – Authentic Woven Carpet (Set of 4) Assorted Designs
$17.95

Serenity Beaded Bookmark

Serenity Beaded Bookmark
$2.95

(I may get a commission for purchases made through links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books reviewed were checked out of the public library and not sent to me free for review).

Love is All Around Us: 12 Valentine’s Day and Love Picture Books by Angela Ferraris

valentines-day-1955238_1920

Valentine’s Day. Do you remember your elementary valentine days? I still remember decades later.

Valentine Art

I recall learning how to make a large heart by cutting on the line the teacher had drawn on my folded-in-half red construction paper. Another year, we traced around heart stencils made of heavy stock paper.  Once, I thought I was so clever when I was able to cover a construction paper heart with tin foil and imprinted “I love you” on it with a small plastic knitting needle.

Penmanship

I was given a list of all the students in my class sometime before the week of the love holiday. It was always the rule that we had to give everyone a valentine whether you loved that person or not.  Thank heavens children’s valentines were very inexpensive or my parents would have made me make all of mine. Let’s just say I was not bad at art, but not good at it either.  I sat at the kitchen table printing my name on all of the valentines, sealed them, and wrote each child’s name on the envelope. Parents did not write out their child’s cards then. There really were not too many helicopter parents yet. Through practice, we developed our own handwriting style and recognized each other’s handwriting on those cards. Sometimes, there would be a student with signed valentines but with blank unaddressed envelopes. I remember wondering why.

The Day Has Arrived

In primary grades, we wrote our name across the top of a paper bag, decorated it with crayons,  and taped it  on the front of our desk with masking tape. In the intermediate grades, we were to make our own Valentine boxes at home and bring them in to set on our desk the day of the party. We passed out those little valentines in white envelopes early in the morning. We could not wait to open our valentines after lunch.  Heart-shaped frosted cookies. Red punch mustaches. Seeing who could withstand the most red hots at one time. Reading and eating little chalky hearts from a tiny box.

After the Big Party

I would get off the school bus and walk up the long driveway carrying my treasures.  Mom would share her large box of chocolates.  It was fun then, but things changed in middle school, high school, college and now. As adults, we do not have to pass out valentines to everyone, just to those we cherish. I still have some of those kept in a box somewhere in the back of a closet.

Picture Books

I never read a Valentine’s Day picture book before I went to library school. I do not recall any of my teachers reading one to us in the classroom. I did not have an elementary library where I could hunt for the red heart sticker on the spine. The only story about Valentine’s Day I remember was the special on TV that only aired once a year–“Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown.” I learned empathy towards others from that story.  My heart ached for poor Charlie Brown.

llamallamailoveyou

Llama Llama I Love You by Anna Dewdney

petethecatvalentinesdayiscool

Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool by Kimberly and James Dean

lovefromtheveryhungrycaterpillar

Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

happyvalentinesdaycuriousgeorge

Happy Valentine’s Day, George! by H.A. Rey, N. Di Angelo, Mary O’ Keefe Young

thedayitrainedhearts

The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond

loveyouforever

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw

guesshowmuchiloveyou

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

cliffordsfirstvalentinesday

Clifford’s First Valentine’s Day by Norman Bridwill

froggysfirstkiss

Froggy’s First Kiss by Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz

Here Come Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda

Here Come Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda

thebiggestvalentineever

The Biggest Valentine Ever by Steven Kroll and Jeni Bassett

lovesplat

Love, Splat by Rob Scotton

Preparing for Groundhog Day: Short Video Clips, Picture Books, and Nonfiction Books by Angela Ferraris

Preparing for Groundhog DayI have noticed that many of my little students do not know about animals like I did when I was a child. I first found this out when reading The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Over half the class had not seen or were familiar with goats. Learning from my students,  I often pair picture books and nonfiction books for my story times. I also found they love when I add short videos with the animals in their habitat.

Short Youtube Videos about Groundhogs

Groundhog Day by MOnature Kids (2:48) Short clip about groundhogs and Groundhog Day.

The History of Groundhog Day by WatchMojo.com (3:40) Short clip about the history of Groundhog’s Day

Fun Facts About Groundhogs by SciShow Kids (3:44) Jessi explains about groundhogs and some very special ones known around the nation.

Picture Books About Groundhogs or Groundhog Day

Groundhog Gets a Say

Groundhog Gets a Say by Pamela Curtis Swallow; illustrated by Denise Brunkus. 2005.

Grumpy Groundhog

Grumpy Groundhog by Maureen Wright; illustrated by Amanda Haley. 2014.

Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. 2005.

Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. 2005.

Gregory's Shadow

Gregory’s Shadow written and illustrated by Don Freeman. 2002.

whowillseetheirshadowsthisyear

Who Will See Their Shadows This Year? by Jerry Pallotta; illustrated by David Biedrzycki. 2011.

Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub; illustrated by Kristin Sorra. 2009.

Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub; illustrated by Kristin Sorra. 2009.

Groundhog's Runaway Shadow written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki. 2016.

Groundhog’s Runaway Shadow written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki. 2016.

Nonfiction Groundhog or Groundhog Day Books

Preparing for Groundhog's Day

Groundhogs by Chadwick Gillenwater. 2013. Capstone Press; Pebble Plus.  A primary nonfiction book with the very simple and basic information about groundhogs and their burrows.

Preparing for Groundhog's Day

Groundhogs: Woodchucks, Marmots, and Whistle Pigs by Adele D. Richardson. 2003. Capstone. Basic facts about groundhogs.

Preparing for Groundhog's Day

Groundhog Day by Julie Murray. 2014. ABCO Publishing Company. Discusses the European origin of Groundhog Day, the characteristics of groundhogs, and the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil.

groundhog day

Groundhog Day! by Gail Gibbons; illustrated by Gail Gibbons. 2006. Holiday House. Discusses about groundhogs and how Groundhog Day originated.

Groundhog's Burrow

Groundhog’s Burrow by Dee Phillips. 2012. Bearport Publishing. Colorful photos and diagrams discussing groundhogs, groundhog burrows, and the origins and traditions of Groundhog Day.

(I may get a commission for purchases made through links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books reviewed were checked out of the public library and not sent to me free for review).

2017 Caldecott Winner and Honor Books by Angela Ferraris

Caldcott Winner and Honor BooksThe results are in for the Caldecott Medal. Congratulations to these wonderful authors and illustrators! Celebrate your talent today.  We thank you for sharing it with us, and we look forward to more books in the future.

The 2017 Caldecott Winner is

Radiant Child written and illustrated bJavaka Steptoe.

Radiant Child

2017 Caldcott Honor Books

They All Saw a Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

They all saw a cat

Du Iz Tak? written and illustrated by Carson Ellis

Du iz tak

Freedom in Congo Square  written by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Freedom in Congo Square

Leave Me Alone! illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol

Leave Me Alone

(I may get a commission for purchases made through links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books reviewed were checked out of the public library and not sent to me free for review).