Sunday, February 28, 2016

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior With Words

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior of Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya and illustrated by L.C. Wheatley is a beautifully written and illustrated biography of Malala's life and the obstacles she has overcome in her life. The story starts by giving a brief explanation of who Malala is and why she is so important, and then explains the beginning of Malala's life and the achievements she has had despite so much resistance.

The book lends itself well to teaching about social justice, standing up for what is right, the importance of education, and ideas of terrorism in the Middle East. I really liked the way the book addresses the darkness of terrorism and the Taliban, while still making it accessible and appropriate for children. For example, the text says, "The Taliban ordered everyone to obey very strict rules. They said that girls should not be educated and women should not work outside their homes. Malala wrote that this was a very dark time. 'We have some people who are afraid of ghosts and some people who are afraid of spiders, and in Swat we are afraid of humans like us.'" This shows how the text models this darkness, without being too graphic.

This book has wonderful illustrations that mix paint, photographs, and other textures that create a beautiful collage on every page. The text appears to be written on notebook paper, making it seem as though it is from Malala's very own diary.

I look forward to using this book to talk about different cultures and beliefs. I think, as teachers, we so often want to discuss problems in the news, but are unsure of how to do so. Malala Yousafzai: Warrior of Words gives teachers a way to breech tough subjects in an honest, yet still guarded way. The story also could be helpful in reminding students how important schooling is, and how school is not easily accessible to everyone in the world. Malala holds the power in this book, so it could be a very encouraging book to young females, especially those of minorities.

The book also has a great map of Pakistan in the back and a general overview of important need-to-know facts. It also has a "You Can Help" page that gives kids ideas of how they can help encourage positive change in our world and help everyone go to school. It could be great for getting kids involved.

Here is a link to the ebook trailer:

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Journey by Aaron Becker is a wonderfully drawn wordless picture book. Without a word, it tells the story of a lonely girl who draws a a magical world for herself using a red crayon. The red crayon takes her to castles, onto giant ships, atop a magic carpet ride through the desert, and back into her world where she meets a friend with his own purple crayon.


The story's illustrations have clean lines, crisp colors, and beautiful color contrasts that leave the reader floating through each scene alongside the main character. The book clearly values art, imagination, and animals. When the little girl stands up to adult soldiers who have captured her special, purple bird, the author clearly makes a statement that children, their creativity, and animals are to be valued and treated with kindness.

The story does not make much reference to the outside world, but rather takes place in a fantasy world where skies are blue, buildings are coated in gold, and trees are lined with floating lamps. Therefore, this story does not make much of a statement regarding equality, race, or family dynamics. However, it does show that being yourself can lead to finding friends with similar passions and perspectives, just like the character meets her friend who also prefers to draw the world around him.

This book would probably engage all students, but would be especially wonderful for elementary grades. I would also probably use this book with ELLs to practice writing a story in their second language, since the story itself is already created, but just needs words.

Journey by Aaron Becker is just that-- a beautiful journey through a  awe-striking land that makes the reader want pull out crayon and draw the world around them, too.

Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen is an adorable picture book about a kind little girl who knits colorful, warm sweaters and wraps for people and things in her town. The story starts with an  illustration of a dark, snow-covered town that the author describes as "cold" and covered with "soot from chimneys". Annabelle, the main character, finds a small box of yarn. She knits herself a sweater, and then one for her dog, Mars. Afterwards, she still has extra yarn. Annabelle begins to sew for her neighbors, her family, her classmates and teacher, and the animals in her neighborhood. Two leafs of the book show the town still covered in snow, but now with colorful houses wearing sweaters. At one comical point, Annabelle is actually knitting a sweater for a pick-up truck. Later in the story, the evil archduke arrives to Annabelle's town, offering to pay a large sum of money for her ever-refilling box of yarn. She politely rejects his offer, leaving the archduke to steal the yarn box. However, once he steals the box, he realizes that it is empty. Enraged, the villian tosses the box into the ocean, shouting that the child will never be happy again. The story, nonetheless, ends on a happy note, with the box landing on Annabelle's shores, a smile on her face.

This book is wonderful for teaching about goodness and the power of a simple, small acts of kindness. It models how doing one nice thing can bring joy to others and encourages the recipient to keep giving; a lovely lesson for children to realize.

Extra Yarn is a quality picture book due to it's simple colors and lines that highlight the idea of the simple message. It also is quality literature due to its cute moments that make the reader laugh, like when Annabelle knits the pick-up truck's sweater, and also due to its empowering message.

This book would be wonderful for teaching students in grades PreK- 3 about kindness and following your passion. It's message is simple, yet powerful. It also emphasizes the power of children, especially young girls, and shows that even the smallest of people can make a big difference in the world around them. When Annabelle stands up to the archduke, she holds complete power and the reader feels pride for the little girl. She models strength and integrity even against the most intimidating figures. I also like that Annabelle's message is about warmth and giving to those around you without spending money or showing off-- she has a thoughtful hobby.

Extra Yarn is perfect for putting a smile on a child's face and reminding them to be compassionate, genuine citizens.

Annabelle busily converses with the archduke

El Deafo

  • One of my favorite books I have read yet this semester is one that I least expected to enjoy. When I heard, "graphic novel", my first thought was, "ugh". I was shocked when I ended up turning each page of El Deafo by Cece Bell before bed with the mindset of "just one more page. Okay, one more chapter." 


  • El Deafo is about the author's journey with deafness as a young child. Since the story is her own, the reader believes her every word and is hooked by her credibility. The story starts when Cece contracts meningitis and loses her hearing at only four years old. The reader immediately likes her, not because they feel sorry for her (although her sickness is sad), but because she is so relatable with her personable corks-- like preferring to wear a swimsuit everywhere she goes and making goofy jokes with her friends.

  • We watch as Cece goes through Kindergarten up to fifth grade. We learn of her different friends (some of whom she loves and some who drive her mad), different teachers, and different feelings from grade to grade. Although Cece stands out, she is also just like the other kids in her class with her desire to fit in and make caring, true friends. 

  • Not only is the story itself relatable, but Bell's choice to tell the story in graphic novel form makes the story accessible to a variety of readers. The pictures aid in understanding and since the story is mainly told through dialogue, the reading goes quickly and is not very difficult.

Cece's Kindergarten class has students just like her.

  • When I first started reading this book, I thought it might be good to suggest to some of the hearing impaired students I know in my school. However, the more I read, I realized that, as Bell notes in her afterword, not all hearing loss is the same, and people approach it differently. I realize I would want to be mindful about suggesting this book to a student with hearing loss, and would want to preface them with the fact that it might not be exactly like their situation, but could give them a sense of comfort, and if it doesn't, that is okay, too-- they do not have to like the book or even finish it. However, I think if my hearing-impaired students did like the story, they would find Cece to be empowering, especially with her super-hero-self, "El Deafo".

  • After going through these thoughts, I realized that this book might even be better for students without hearing loss. Just as I learned more about deafness and how it works, my students could benefit from learning more about it. I would hope they would realize how similar these kids are to them and how "normal" they are.
Like any kid her age, Cece has a crush on a peer.

  • I considered reading this book aloud to my third graders since I enjoyed it so much, but I realize it is better to read individually since the pictures and thought-bubbles are so essential to every moment of the story.

  • I think all students in grades 2-6 could benefit from picking up the heart-felt and approachable El Deafo by Cece Bell. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Great Frog Race

The Great Frog Race and Other Poems by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Kate Kiesler is a wonderful story of poems from Kristine's childhood.  The book won the 1998 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and for good reason. The poems draw a picture of a childhood spent outdoors discovering the beautiful surprises of nature. The author describes simple aspects of nature like "falling stars" and "weeping willows". She uses language that kids can relate to and grab ahold of. For example, in her poem "Garden Hose", she claims that the hose "dozes/ in the/ warm sun/ and wonders/ what to/ be when it/ grows up./ It imagines fat black/ irrigation pipe/ aqueducts,/ transcontinental/ pipelines". These personified ideas appeal to the viewpoint of a child, and leave the reader wanting more.

The Great Frog Race is an excellent choice for introducing poetry to a class. Some poems rhyme, some do not. Some poems are long, some are short. The poems exemplify how poems differ, but also are all very relatable making them accessible and welcoming to children. This book does not discuss many relationships between people, but rather relationships between children and the world around them. The illustrations bring the world to life, although my one criticism would be that all of the children in the illustrations are Caucasian. However, people are not shown in every illustration, so a teacher could be thoughtful in choosing which poems to read aloud to their class. The Great Frog Race clearly values the small moments in the world around us. It holds a positive outlook on discovering nature, and recognizing little details-- like getting lost on a "Sunday Drive with Mom", or watching a crow steal the ice cream cone someone dropped on a sidewalk.

I think children and adults can relate to and enjoy this book of poems due to its light-hearted nature and recognition of simple, everyday passing moments.
An example of a poem in The Great Frog Race, courtesy of  Kristine George's website

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Dinosaurs!

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Dinosaurs! by Kathleen V. Kudlinski is a non-fiction book that explains how scientists have learned more and more about dinosaurs and other ancient creatures by finding new fossils. The story models the idea that science is an ongoing process with open-ended questions that are sometimes left unanswered. This text goes through recent discoveries about dinosaurs, versus previous thinking. It has wonderful illustrations that leave the children laughing and engaged.

In my third grade classroom, I used this book to explain the importance of fossils and using different types of fossils to learn about different parts of dinosaurs' lives. For example, we discussed how the outline of feathers on fossils showed how dinosaurs' bodies might have felt and looked, and how the size and shape of dinosaur leg bones suggest that they were fast and graceful much like deer today. It was neat to see the way students considered the thinking of the past, versus the thinking of today. I think it showed them how important inquiry can be, even for adults!

A great illustration showing the textures of the various dinosaurs

This book is great for read-alouds, due to its brilliant, vibrant illustrations. I would recommend breaking the reading up into two days, as it is a bit of a long book for students to sit through for its entirety. They are certainly interested in the information, but having the information stretch over two days could prove the most meaningful. I would also be cautionary of the fact that the text assumes that children already have some background on how dinosaur bones and fossils are found and handled. Providing a mini-lesson on this idea would be helpful prior to reading this text to a class.