Hillbilly Elegy

Sociology, poverty, stereotypes, access to knowledge, and interactions with the working class weave through this memoir. I love the way J.D. Vance reaches out his hand in the introduction and like the Ghost of Christmas Past, shares what is and what can be- to help define what is. Anyone interested in current working class politics will find new insights and unravel old understandings by reading this memoir. The real struggles of communities in Appalachia and beyond are important stories, and would have such impact to contemporary economic discourse. A long overdue conversation. #HillbillyElegy

Books to Give

This time of year many are giving books to loved ones of all ages.  On this first Snow Day of the 2016-2017 school year, I found a little time to share some of my favorite books to give as presents. 

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Two beautiful adventure narratives by Kate DiCamillo are sure to become treasures to the reader who meet these charming characters (a china rabbit and a brave little mouse) - who will melt your heart- and have you wondering about them between every page you turn, and long after you put the book down.  Both stories will leave you feeling hopeful and empathetic for the tangles we all face, and for the fire fueled spirit that burns inside all creatures big and small. 
Gary D. Schmidt will quickly become a favorite after reading  Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. Schmidt has something special and his complicated characters, will guide you through an abundance of emotions, weaving around complex experiences and curve balls, and in the end, wondering how you feel (in a good way). Both books had me slowing down at the end, so I could savor the last moments with these characters I had become attached too.

I have always been a huge fan of Kate & Jim McMullan's humor transportation picture books. The colors are vibrant, the text text fluent and filled with voice and personality, and along all the fun is some informative information about vehicles and the jobs that they do each day. 

In 2015 their book I'm Cool! introduces a Zamboi for all of us hockey fans, and the text continues to offer sentence fluency, onomatopoeias, bold font, meaning supporting endpapers, and an abundance of peritextual features making this a model mentor text series.

More fun than a baby sibling?

The presentation in regards to the attractive smaller square size, the black, white, & red vibrant graphic color palette , and the impressive peritextual features (end pages, title page) all support the cohesive nature of this narrative. The text is sandwiched between both decorative and meaning generating red endpapers, and pages decorated with an explosion of small items to be found in the story (always a welcomed interaction for readers of all ages). Any kid experiencing a younger kid get away with something they are socially obligated to have outgrown doing already (crying for random reasons, demanding attention just because), can relate to this thread of dilemma. Philip (accused of being childish) and his emotional baby sister Phoebe (who can do no wrong) become woven in the fantasy of wishing for the greener grass. With the help of a red cape, his imagination, and several thinking bubbles, Philip gets to work turning his sister into more promising entertainment. Does Philip find success or hope for his sister just as she is? I am not a huge fan of the typeface (font), but it does work with the book. I read this to a classroom of kindergarten age students and they enjoyed the book very much, especially when Philip turns his sister into a giant ice cream cone!

Economic Struggles in Picture Books

Sipe (2005) explained:
The ability to imagine a different society may be partly based on the ability to impose a new narrative construction on the social facts at our disposal: to tell a different story. If this is the case, then reading stories to children is a profoundly political, transformative action (p. 246).

The Most Magnificent Thing

The joy of the journey, the purpose of process, ownership over learning, engagement- concepts that weave together and unravel the same hopes and dreams we have for all the children in (and not in) our lives. Contemporary social norms and life styles often result in a hurried up and get through agenda. Even with the best of intentions and accomplishments earned via this rapid pace-nurturing, the moments that have kids present in their inquires (and all its failures and feelings), can not be underestimated. The Most Magnificent Thing is a narrative that celebrates STEAM driven thinking and Growth Mindset. It has us embracing the chaos and feeling the strong emotions, along side the young inventor and her dog. Sometimes we don't know where we are going to end up when we start something, or how often the questions we started with might change. A reminder that invention and new ideas are hard earned and of great value for those who bathe in its highs and lows. The content of this picture book is supported with these soft industrial hues and clean drawings and fonts.  I appreciate the use of white and black space and splash of color where it really matters. The use of panels, spreads, and placement of text that is both controlled and varied, delivers the presentation the content deserves. This book belongs on bookshelves at home, school, and libraries.

Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen has a NEW book...

It was a pleasure to be able to review this content, and I feel proud to be acknowledged

DiCamillo & Van Dusen Strike Again

There is a Necessary Journey to be taken by Baby Lincoln, and this time her older bossier sister Eugenia is not calling the shots. For the mountain of fans that await the new adventures from Kate Dicamillo & Chris Van Dusen, here it is!  This Necessary Journey will speak to both, the quest for adventure we all have inside our hearts, and our desires to be an independent thinkers inside all our souls. Underneath the excitement of reinventing oneself and taking paths alone -the people who you love - and love you back- will be waiting right there for you when you return.  #candlewickpress

David Biedrzycki

At the 2016 International Literacy Association Conference I met author and artist David Biedrzycki at a book and signing & give away by #Charlesbridge Publishers. He also is the illustrator of the popular book, The Beetle Alphabet Book (and many more). This cover instantly flashed me a warm smile and asked for a hug. And I have the best idea how to use this as a mentor text with writers too (more on that later)! The illustrations are done in Adobe Photoshop, and I must admit, it is not usually my favorite medium- but this has made me revisit that mind set. I appreciate the TV broadcaster organization and presentation. On the bottom of each action packed double spread full-bleed, is Breaking News Ticker Tape, accompanied by speech bubbles, weaving you through the regularly scheduled story line. The offerings of mystery, humor, irony, and opportunities to infer, predict, and laugh are abundant. There is ample diversity of gender, ethnicity, age, and even social class to infer. Part of a cute series.
So back to mentor text use at writer's workshop in kindergarten. Elementary kids love news and when they share a personal story it is contagious. First, my writers learn about double spread full bleeds and the language of illustrators, so this will serve as models for visual literacy in that way. Writers in kindergarten also learn and write using features like speech bubbles. So my idea is to make a blank page like this sample page, It will have the ticker tape that says Breaking News followed by a place for kids to write their breaking news ( I fell at recess and needed an ice pack or Joe got a new hamster).  Next I want to take a photo of each kid holding a microphone and I will print them large enough to fit on their page. The other scaffold will be to then add the empty speech bubble for the writers to add their voice (I cried for 10 minutes, the hamster is so soft). They will each have a breaking news page to create a supporting illustration for the news (the scene of the playground injury, the hamster into mischief), color, and share.

A Crow of His Own

Illustrator David Hyde Costello's watercolor illustrations are beautiful, meaningful, and woven so delicately around the text by author Megan Dowd Lambert. His art offers an opportunity to discuss the choices around the use of double spreads, full bleeds, vignettes, and speech bubbles.  In one vignette the isolated feeling rooster stands behind a rock wall, back to the viewer, and staring at the wandering away farm animals with the text, "The animals' words left Clyde in a state of speechless distress." And later when that scrawny rooster finds himself facing a tangerine dawn sun rise with confidence,  followed by the loudest COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! that could fit on two pages, we investigate the use of double-spread full bleeds.  I have to add, the farm animals have the sweetest faces, with grins to match their humor and wit. These characters are developed and their eyes and experiences invite the reader in for an interaction. I hope to see them all again. #charlesbridge

Engineering in Kindergarten

In the Block Area is a book shelf,  with choices offering inspiration and ideas
Sometimes we do not have the same materials...we question if this is fair
Working with a team means COLLABORATION, all team members have to compromise and offer ideas

Ocean Animals, from head to tail

Stacey Roderick * Kwanchai Moriya

I love the salty blue ocean, books about the animals that call it home, and cut paper collage as an illustration choice. This book has the reasons why I am a fan of all those things.  The illustrations are playful yet informative, and full of interesting details (like a glipse of a shipwreck in the background behind a colossal squid) and authentic features (the spiky puffs of a blowfish in danger). I even appreciate how the font appears to be cut paper block letters. It just felt like the perfect highlight on a new haircut. The organization  of leading with a question, offers the listener an opportunity to infer, predict, and interact with the text and illustrations in an engaged and active manner.  The big round eyed seahorse is so beautiful and the fact shared about this small fish not being a strong swimmer and how to has to prevent being swept away by ocean currents, pulled empathy from my heart. This book weaves in some powerful vocabulary that is supported or defined by the context; words like, predators, sieve, venom, and currents. A sweet informational text that would serve as a writing mentor text, an example of cut paper illustrations, and the perfect science read aloud.

As Time Went By

As Time Went By by Jose' Sanabria

I gazed at the enticing end papers for as long as I did the cover, and every page that followed. This beautifully illustrated graphic delight is organized as Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Its about what is and what isn't. About loss, change, growth, and harmony. And perhaps most importantly, the value and spirit of belonging.

Vocabulary like merchant, abandoned, luxury, excess, poor, residents, homeless, and important are woven through the text, nudging opportunities for critical discourse and reflection. Sanabria has created a narrative that honors the inquisitive curiosity and innate wisdom that children bring to their interactions with picture books. Readers of all ages will appreciate the art, the fluency of the words, and the abundance of symbolism throughout.

Tell Me A Tattoo Story

I do not have any tattoos, nor does my husband, brother, or parents. The mousetrap that caught me to this picture book, was the match up of author Alison McGhee (Someday, Bink & Gollie) and illustrator Eliza Wheeler (Doll Bones, What does it Mean to be Present). But only a few breathes in did I find joy in the idea of how many kids could see a reflection of the people in their lives in this book, as so many have loved ones with a tattoo. The words and illustrations weave through the ink on a father's body, a historical narrative of a life is shared with a son. Any fan of oral stories and writing will verify the impact of hearing oral stories throughout childhood and life. My father loved to tell me stories about his life. Every tale told again and again, still revealing themselves like a new treasure with every single retell. I can relate to the son's attentive loyalty in this book. McGhee and Wheeler did a seamless partnership in representing this story in such a delicate manner, when so often the images of tattoos are drenched in grit. This belongs in libraries and classrooms, as kids always need access to models in picture books to help validate their understandings of the world they live in. This one is personal for a lot of kids.


OOKO is an innovative type of picture book. It might join the same collection as,  Kyo Maclear and Matte Stephen's Mr. Flux. A picture book that walks away from the ordinary narrative and modern day bling, and lets the reader marinate in a thoughtful pause on every single page. OOKO is a fox that wants a friend. The story unravels his process of changing himself for others to being his best true self and making the best friend of all. While this lesson slowly unearths, a lot of other subtle opportunities to ponder greet you. The illustrations are a juxtaposition of sweet and unconventional. The illustrations begins with tender pastel color toadstools and flowers like Blue Bonnets and red poppies. There are hedgehogs, cattails, and even a fluffy pink poodle. About the time you figure out where the journey might be going, there is a boy wearing  bathing trunks with a matching bathing cap and is fishing, to a character with hairy legs and a bun in her hair larger than her head. By the time you read the last sentence, "To each their own." every choice the artist made, makes sense and feels right. I appreciate the level of sophistication and respect it offers young readers. I think the author / illustrator exhibit grit by doing such, and the same time, the delicate art is interesting and poetic. It feels like the artist was joyful while they worked. The font, the full bleeds, are a snapshot of the numerous ways the presentation of this book is appealing.

Happy Like Soccer

They cheer for me by the number on my uniform, not knowing my name.  Every girl has someone there but me.

"Nothing makes me happy like soccer-" begins the narrator, a young urban girl first appearing like so many other picture book characters. "But nothing makes me sad like soccer, too," she soon adds. The unraveling of a character whose story is not new or unlike someone we know, yet absent from most picture books read to kids, exposes socioeconomic tension and conflict in an approachable way. Sierra, who lives with her auntie in an isolated neighborhood, outside the city where the buses don't run, wishes her auntie could come watch her play soccer. Because game days are the busiest days at the restaurant where auntie is a waitress, she can't ever attend soccer games.

Magic Words

A beautiful Inuit oral tradition shared with the weaving of invoking words deconstructed by translation, and juicy illustrations of a vibrant and joyful nature. A display of imagination, culture, and the natural world. This book presents ideas of animals and humans sharing space, bodies, language, and minds.

Collaboration Work

Interactive Writing
Schema about building through mentor read aloud choices

Teams had to work together on the same goal (not easy)

compromise, debate, anger, sadness, frustration were some emotions we had to work through

I couldn't resist looking back at the photos of the homes my students made when I taught 4th grade.