A Bookish Advent Calendar

During a recent trip to Target, I was alerted to the fact that Christmas is fast approaching. Never mind that Christmas is still more than a month away. As my 4-year-old son and I strolled down the aisles, giant, iridescent baubles hung from the ceiling above us, lively Christmas carols played and — before I knew what had hit me — I found myself eyeing a cute set of Christmas towels while my son enthusiastically pointed out the matchbox cars he hopes to receive for Christmas.

In the face of nigh-irresistable Christmas glitz, it seems to require a little effort — or at least forethought — to make Christmas a meaningful holiday for children.

A Bookish Advent Calendar: A picture book a day to read aloud during advent. (See blog post for book recommendations!)

This year, my family is celebrating the advent season with this bookish advent calendar. I have selected twenty-five stories that I am looking forward to sharing with my children during advent. Each day, my children will unwrap a book, and we will read it aloud together. 

I hope that this new holiday tradition will ensure that we set aside quiet time to be together as a family and reflect.

I borrowed most of the books for this advent calendar from my local public library. Alternatively, you could invite friends and family to each purchase a book to contribute to your child’s advent calendar.

A Bookish Advent Calendar | Delightful Children's Books

1. Toot and Puddle: Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie. Here is my pick to kick off the advent season. In this tender story, best friends Toot and Puddle anticipate Christmas, go cross country skiing and make thoughtful gifts for each other. Ages 3+

2. Wombat Divine by Mem Fox and Kerry Argent. A humorous story in which Wombat, Emu and others prepare for the nativity play. Ages 3+

3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. The classic, Caldecott-winning story of a boy whose belief in Santa is restored when he takes a train ride to the North Pole. Ages 4+

4. What’s Cooking Jamela? by Niki Daly. A lively Christmas story set in South Africa. Jamela is charged with raising her family’s Christmas chicken. When Jamela befriends the chicken, she must find a way to keep it from being eaten for Christmas dinner. Ages 4+

5. The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. A beautiful tale of kindness between Christian and Jewish neighbors. Patricia’s family is busy preparing for Hanukkah. When Patricia discovers that her Christian neighbors have scarlet fever, Patricia’s family helps them celebrate Christmas. December 5th is the last night of Hanukkah this year. For those interested in learning more about Hanukkah, Akhlah: The Jewish Children’s Learning Network is a great resource. Ages 5+

6. Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer. One of my favorite books in the Olivia series. In Olivia Helps with Christmas, Olivia goes to great lengths to help with Christmas. Predictably, chaos ensues. Ages 4+

7. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett or 12 Days of Christmas by Rachel Isadora. Two wonderful books for young musicians. Jan Brett’s version of The Twelve Days of Christmas features intricate, Scandinavian-influenced illustrations, while Rachel Isadora’s version features colorful scenes from various African countries. Ages 2+

8. Christmas Tree Farm by Ann Purmell and Jill Weber. A warm, colorful description of the Christmas season from the perspective of a family who owns and operates a Christmas tree farm. Ages 3+

9. Franklin’s Christmas Gift by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark. A story about an issue that arises at my house this time of year. In Franklin’s Christmas Gift, Franklin struggles with choosing a toy to give away to the Christmas toy drive. Ages 3+

10. Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Renee Graff. The true story of Laura Ingalls’ family’s simple 1860s Christmas celebration. Laura and her sister Mary relish a rare visit from cousins and gifts of candy canes and red mittens. Ages 3+

11. Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini and Henry Cole. A hilarious (ask any kid) story about a moose who plans his family’s Christmas celebration in great detail but forgets to get a Christmas tree. Kids will get a kick out of Moose’s solution. Ages 3+

12. The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson and Jon J. Muth. An unexpectedly calm depiction of Santa. While others depict Santa and his elves frantically churning out toys, Thompson and Muth depict Santa methodically feeding his reindeer, polishing his sleigh bells, darning his socks, carefully selecting toys for each child on his list and patiently waiting for the Christmas magic to come. Ages 3+

13. Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jane Dyer. A book that teaches kids new vocabulary words and life lessons. Each lesson is creatively tied into depictions of kids baking Christmas cookies: E.g. “Reciprocate means, today I’m making cookies at my friend’s house, and then next time I’ll invite her to make them at my house.” Ages 3+

14. Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold. A funny, off-beat story about a lovable dog named Olive who, mistakenly thinking she is a reindeer, joins Rudolph and the gang to deliver presents. Ages 4+

15. Night Tree by Eve Bunting and Ted Rand. A memorable story about a family who decorates a tree in the woods with Christmas decorations for the animals. Ages 3+

16. The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie de Paola. A lovely story to read on the first day of Las Posadas. A miracle occurs that saves the Las Posadas celebration. December 16th is the first day of Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain, now celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and the southwestern United States. Here is a great video to share with children about how how one family celebrates Las Posadas: Las Posadas Navideñas by Maura Wall Hernandez. Ages 4+

17. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. A jaunty tale, first published in 1963, in which Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree is shared by a fun cast of characters. The original cover nails it: “Small boys and girls will laugh with delight.” Ages 3+

18. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco. A heartwarming story with gorgeous illustrations. Patricia Polacco’s stories, with themes of kindness, gratitude and the importance of family, are the perfect antidote to holiday consumerism. Ages 4+

19. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers. The perfect picture book to read before seeing The Nutcracker ballet. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers features lush illustrations and succinctly tells the story of The Nutcracker as it is typically depicted by ballets. See also The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig. Ages 3+

20. Lili on Stage by Rachel Isadora. The story of a girl Lili who gets to perform in The Nutcracker ballet for the first time. Ages 3+

21. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr. A beautifully-illustrated, poetic description of a girl and her father venturing into the forest on a cold, crisp winter night in search of an owl. Owl Moon does not mention Christmas. Instead, it centers on the relationship between a dad and daughter and their outdoor, winter adventure. Ages 3+

22. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. A Mexican folktale about a girl who offers weeds to Jesus. The weeds miraculously turn into poinsettias. Ages 4+

23. Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff. A story about barnyard animals anticipating and preparing for Jesus’ arrival. Simple rhyming text and woodcut illustrations make this a good read for young kids. Ages 2+

24. Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and Christopher Wormell. If you do not have a favorite version of Clement Clarke Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas, may I suggest checking out Christopher Wormell’s version. Ages 3+

25. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. Last but not least, here is my pick for Christmas Day. With its entertaining story, fun wordplay and message about the meaning of Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the perfect story to read aloud to friends and family gathered together on Christmas Day. Ages 3+

the grinch illustration

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: ‘How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!’ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’

-Dr. Seuss

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New! On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein is a picture book biography written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. This book introduces young readers to Albert Einstein and celebrates curiosity in a way that will be appreciated by readers of all ages.

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne

Two features make On a Beam of Light stand out from the vast majority of picture book biographies published.

First, in On Beam of Light, author Jennifer Berne seemlessly weaves together facts about Einstein’s life with questions that Einstein asked and answered. On one page, Berne describes Einstein’s first job working in a government office. On the following page, Berne describes Einstein, presumably on a lunch break, wondering how sugar cubes dissolve into hot tea. Just like that, Berne jumps from describing Einstein’s life in simple chronological order to describing one of Einstein’s biggest discoveries. Berne goes on to explain that Einstein was the first person to propose that all things are made of tiny particles called atoms.

Second, the entire book — from the illustrations to the endpapers to the typesetting to the front and back covers to the endnotes — is beautifully designed. Vladimir Radunsky’s design reflects great attention to detail, on one hand, and an effort to avoid busyness, on the other. The front endpaper is decorated with a plaid pattern that matches the pattern on Einstein’s suit. The back endpaper has drawings of Einstein’s favorite blue cup, formula, compass, violin and more. Radunsky’s restraint makes those things included really shine: the back cover features an Einstein quote; the author’s endnotes are succinct; a single, cleanly-design font (Didot) is used throughout…

Radunsky’s illustrations are full of energy and looseness and perfectly match this book’s subject matter. Radunsky’s illustrations were rendered with gouache, pen and ink, on textured, beige paper. He uses free-flowing, energetic black lines that seem to reflect Einstein’s free-flowing, energetic mind. The textured paper adds further energy and depth to images that might look two-dimensional on stark white paper.

On a Beam of Light - %22…he was racing through space on a beam of light.%22

The theme of curiosity is woven throughout On a Beam of Light. Berne introduces Eintstein’s character by describing a moment when Einstein was given a compass: “Albert was so amazed his body trembled. Suddenly he knew there were mysteries in the world — hidden and silent, unknown and unseen. He wanted, more than anything, to understand those mysteries.” Berne does not begin this book by describing Einstein’s childhood friends or favorite activities. Instead, Berne begins this book by describing how Einstein reacted to a compass.

Each time Berne explains one of Einstein’s discoveries, she does so by sharing a question that Einstein asked. Einstein’s discovery of atoms begins with Einstein asking how sugar cubes dissolve in hot tea and how smoke from his pipe disappears into the air. Einstein’s discovery of the relationship between speed and time begins with Einstein wondering what it would be like to ride his bicycle along a beam of light. Berne’s approach highlights the fact that Einstein’s curiosity was a key factor that led to his discoveries. Berne’s approach is also a very effective way to explain Einstein’s discoveries in a way that makes sense to young kids.

The theme of curiosity is reflected in the book’s design. The front cover and title page have images of Einstein wondering. The back cover features a quote about curiosity:

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

-Albert Einstein.

On a Beam of Light - %22Albert watched a lump of sugar dissolve…%22

The picture book biography is a tricky beast to review. It is part picture book and part nonfiction book. The criteria that make for an excellent picture book (i.e. focus, good storytelling and beautiful design) often conflict with the criteria that make for an excellent nonfiction book (i.e. accuracy and precision and thorough citations).

On a Beam of Light is, in my view, a smashing success when reviewed as a picture book. It is also important to evaluate the book’s success as a nonfiction book, and, in particular, to consider whether the information contained in it is accurate.

Is the information in On a Beam of Light accurate? On one hand, the author is not an Einstein expert (few picture book authors are experts on the subjects they write about), and there is no subject expert credited with reviewing the book. On the other hand, the author states that she read fifty books about Einstein and cites five books that appear to be up-to-date, unbiased sources. An Einstein expert has a quote on the cover. Berne’s portrayal of Einstein feels authentic. She describes Einstein’s eccentricities without resorting to caricature. I feel satisfied that Berne has tried to paint an accurate portrait of Einstein. [Einstein experts, speak up now!]

While many Einstein biographies have been written, none match On a Beam of Light for successfully introducing young kids, ages five to ten, to Einstein. Furthermore, with On a Beam of Light, Berne does more than simply introduce readers to Einstein and the questions Einstein asked. She inspires readers to ask questions of their own.

To the next Einstein, who is probably a child now.

-Jennifer Berne

Recommended for: Ages 5 and up. This is a wonderful book for teachers, librarians and parents to share with inquisitive kids. Teachers can use On a Beam of Light to help teach the scientific method or to introduce kids to famous scientists.

5 Fascinating Facts about Illustrator Vladimir Radunsky

I was so impressed by Vladimir Radunsky’s work in On a Beam of Light that I had to learn more about him. Here are five fascinating facts that I discovered from his website:

1. First, I discovered that I was not entirely unfamiliar with Radunsky’s work. Radunsky illustrated three Woody Guthrie children’s songs — Howdi Do, Bling Blang and My Dolly — that I have enjoyed reading to my kids. These three books feature silly rhymes that are very fun to read aloud to toddlers and preschoolers.

2. In addition to teaming up with Woody Guthrie (if it’s possible to “team up” with someone who is dead), Radunsky has teamed up with Bill Martin Jr. (twice), Chris Raschka (thrice) and Mikhail Baryshnikov among others.

3. Radunsky both wrote and illustrated a book entitled: Manneken Pis, a Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed on a War. Proof:

Manneken Pis by Vladimir Radunsky

4. Radunsky also wrote and illustrated a set of four, variously-shaped books in a box entitled: Square Triangle Round Skinny. This is perhaps the most creative (and fun) introduction to shapes that I have seen.

5. By now it should come as no surprise when I share this last — and best — bit of information with you. Radunsky created an art exhibition entitled Cross Dressed that consisted of life-sized clothes for children’s book animal characters. Radunsky’s exhibition included an anaconda’s wedding dress, Ritz Hotel Paris pigeon’s uniform and Babar the Elephant slippers. I wish I could see this exhibit in person!

Babar the Elephant slippers by Vladimir Radunsky

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Leveled Early Readers: Valuable Tool or Marketing Ploy?

The number of early readers being published has exploded. On one hand, this trend is great. Kids learning to read today have many more options to choose from than they have had in the past. They are more likely to be able to find an early reader on a topic that excites them and motivates them to read, such as Toy Story, Pinkalicious or Fly Guy. Furthermore, these new early readers tend to be affordable.

On the other hand, in their rush to churn out early readers, publishers are publishing many early readers that are certain to frustrate your children. Many of the books being marketed as early readers look like early readers, with their standard 6.5″ x 9″ dimensions, size 18 font and ample white space. However, if you hand one of these books to the typical first grader, they are likely to throw up their hands a page or two into the book, and you are likely to end up wondering whether your child is stupid, lazy or both.

Leveled Early Readers: Valuable Tool or Marketing Ploy?

I assure you that your child is neither stupid nor lazy. Many of these early readers — sometime referred to as “easy” readers — are not easy. Take, for example, Best Dad in the Sea, an enticing looking book featuring one of our family’s favorite movie characters: Nemo. Best Dad in the Sea is billed as a Step Into Reading Level 1 book intended for preK and K. Yet, this book includes very challenging multiple-syllable words such as “different,” “careful” and “caught.”

The Berenstein Bears Level 1 early readers (part of the I Can Read! series) include words like “neighborhood,” “wizard” and “knocked.” The Pete the Cat “My First” early readers (also part of the I Can Read! series) throw in words like “lunchtime,” “sandwich,” and “castle.”

What world do the authors and publishers of these books live in? The first graders I know are not learning how to read words like “caught,” “neighborhood” or “castle.” My first grade daughter is learning to sight read words like “to” and “what” and sound out words like “bed” and “zoo.”

In contrast, well-written early readers go to great lengths to help your child read. Learning to read is no easy task. It requires a great deal of effort on your child’s part. Well-written early readers meet your child half-way. They offer your child opportunities to practice newly emerging skills and just enough challenge to teach but not discourage.

High quality early readers feature:

1. A limited vocabulary that matches the developmental level of their intended audience;

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Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

The very first early reader was published in 1957: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. In From Cover to Cover, Kathleen T. Horning explains that Dr. Seuss was the first author to write an entertaining book for children with a limited vocabulary. “He acquired a limited vocabulary list from the textbook division at Houghton Mifflin and spent more than a year shaping just 237 easy-to-read words into a story.” (Horning, pg. 115).

2. Short sentences, or, for more advanced readers, a few longer sentences interspersed in a book that consists primarily of short sentences;

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Biscuit Wants to Play by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

3. Repetition; and

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Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same the Same! by Grace Lin

4. Illustrations that help tell the story and give readers breaks from sounding out words.

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Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes

Well-written early readers vary in complexity from the very easiest early readers (e.g. Biscuit books by Alyssa Satin Capucilli) to more challenging early readers (e.g. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss) to books for kids who are starting to get the hang of this reading thing (e.g. Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel). But, all of these early readers have certain things in common. They do a lot with a limited vocabulary, avoid long sentences, include repetition and incorporate illustrations thoughtfully and intentionally into the story.

As I first mentioned, the explosion in early readers published is not entirely a bad thing. There are more affordable early readers available today than ever before. It is important for parents, teachers and librarians to help children sift through and select good early readers that match that emerging reader’s developmental level. The levels assigned to books by publishers are generally unhelpful in this regard.

Excellent Early Readers

I recommend my favorite books for early readers in these two posts:

20 Fantastic Books for Kids Learning to Read – This booklist features books that are great for teaching emergent readers skills, such as letter recognitions, phonics and prediction. These books are great for preschoolers, kindergarteners and older children working on these skills.

15 More Fantastic Books for Kids Learning to Read – This booklist includes books for kids learning conventional reading skills. Books are arranged by how challenging they are: start here (for typical kindergarten and 1st graders), next up (for typical 1st and 2nd graders) and getting rolling (for typical 2nd and 3rd graders).

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New! Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown is the story of a tiger who becomes bored with behaving properly. One day, Mr. Tiger decides to ignore the expectations that society has for him and “go wild.” In the process, Mr. Tiger inspires others in his community to loosen up.

Mr Tiger Goes Wild I

One might expect a picture book with the plot that I have just described to feel too messagey: “BE TRUE TO YOURSELVES, KIDS! BE TRUE TO YOURSELVES!” To the contrary. Brown skillfully avoids delivering a heavy handed message by entertaining readers with unexpected plot twists (e.g. “If you must act wild, kindly do so in the wilderness!”) and humor.

This story’s humor begins on page one, where Brown depicts the prim and proper characters who inhabit Mr. Tiger’s city. In Brown’s illustrations, we see animals wearing old-fashioned suits and dresses complete with top hats and bustles. From Brown’s illustrations, it is apparent that these animals are expected to walk upright and avoid eye contact. These animals exchange prim and proper dialog that is both funny and fun to read aloud.

Mr. Tiger expresses his boredom with the current adherence to convention by looking with a consistent, deadpan expression straight at readers. This feels analogous to the technique by actors in comedy T.V. series who, for humorous effect, express their frustration by looking straight at the camera and rolling their eyes.

Brown tells this story very effectively through a combination of text, dialog and illustration. For example, the sentence: “Mr. Tiger was bored with always being so proper.” is followed by a series of illustrations depicting Mr. Tiger looking bored and a panel with dialog depicting Mr. Tiger sounding bored.

Brown has chosen to convey two key plot twists via illustrations rather than via text. Brown shows rather than tells readers that Mr. Tiger has chosen to no longer conform with expectations about how he should act with a two-page illustration of Mr. Tiger walking on (gasp!) four legs, rather than two. Brown later shows rather than tells readers that Mr. Tiger has taken things a step further with a two-page illustration of Mr. Tiger posing proudly sans clothes.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild II

One thing that really stands out about Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is Brown’s effective use of color to help tell the story. Brown uses a limited color pallet in two ways. First, the color pallet is used to highlight Mr. Tiger and illustrate the fact that Mr. Tiger does not fit in with the prim and proper characters that surround him. Throughout the first half of the book, Brown uses browns and greys to depict the city buildings and animal characters – aside from Mr. Tiger. In sharp contrast, Mr. Tiger is bright orange.

Second, the color pallet is used to illustrate the transformation that occurs when Mr. Tiger goes wild. When Mr. Tiger goes wild, he heads off to the wilderness, which Brown has painted in shades of green, blue and salmon. When Mr. Tiger returns to the city, he brings these colors back to the city with him.

While many illustrators stick with a consistent medium to illustrate all of their books, Brown varies the medium he uses. In The Curious Garden, Brown used thick paint to give his garden images a rich, lush feel. In Creepy Carrots, Brown used pencil and line to create expressive, cartoon characters. In this latest book of his, Brown has chosen to use “India ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper…digitally composited and colored.” I do not know what to make of Brown’s choice. This choice of media neither adds to nor detracts from the book for me.

It is hard to avoid mentioning that Brown’s illustrations in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild look very similar to Jon Klassen’s signature style: abstract plants, lots of texture, washes of color, a muted color scheme and paint splattered throughout. This is not problematic for me. I am a big fan of Klassen’s illustrations, and, if Brown too is a fan and wants to try out aspects of Klassen’s style, I see no problem with this. Artists borrow ideas from each other all the time.

Brown’s illustrations in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild are masterfully rendered – not a poor imitation of Klassen’s work – and distinct from Klassen’s illustrations in a couple of ways. The color scheme that Brown uses in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is warmer than the color scheme Klassen typically chooses. However, what distinguishes Brown’s work most from Klassen’s work is Brown’s characters. Brown’s characters have a certain amount of heft, fun facial expressions and feel consistent with Brown’s past work.

The only shortcoming with this book in my mind is that a couple transitions near the end of the story feel abrupt. I would have appreciated some support in either the text or illustrations a) to demonstrate that Mr. Tiger went “a little too far” when he disrobed and b) to explain why things began to change when Mr. Tiger returned to the city. That said, Brown clearly values brevity: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is a mere 20 sentences in length. Within the confines of this approach, there is little room for elaboration.

I also think that Mr. Tiger Goes Wild lacks the originality of The Curious Garden. This will not stop me from recommending Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and doing so enthusiastically. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is a beautifully illustrated, humorous story with broad appeal and a nice message.

Recommended for: Ages 3 to 8. Kids who are a bit wild themselves or who stand out from the crowd in other ways may relate to Mr. Tiger.

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25 Children’s Books About Friendship

The recent onslaught of anti-bullying books has been rubbing me the wrong way. Many anti-bullying books focus on what kids should not do rather than what they should do. Many anti-bullying books encourage kids to label each other as “bullies” and “victims,” which, in my opinion, does neither those bullying nor those being bullied any good.

In lieu of an anti-bullying booklist, I share this list of books about friendship and kindness. The books below encourage kids to develop positive social skills. They encourage kids to share, communicate, be kind, include kids in their play and develop empathy. This booklist includes many of my favorite stories about friends and many of my favorite stories period. Enjoy!

friends

Friendship-Themed Stories

Toot and Puddle: You Are my Sunshine by Holly Hobbie. This book is one in a series of books about two adorable pigs, Toot (the adventurer) and Puddle (the homebody), who are best friends. In all Toot and Puddle books, the two friends are affectionate, picking out thoughtful gifts, writing postcards to eachother, and looking out for each other. In Toot and Puddle: You are my Sunshine, Puddle goes to great lengths to try to cheer up his friend Toot. Ages 3+

Days With Frog and ToadDays With Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. Days With Frog and Toad includes five short stories — or fables — about two best friends: Frog and Toad. Arnold Lobel is a wonderful storyteller. Lobel’s stories have quirky plots, authentic characters and humor. They are held together by the affection depicted between the two main characters. In Days With Frog and Toad, Frog gently encourages Toad to clean, the two work together to fly a kite, Frog gives Toad a birthday present that does not fit and Toad feels rejected when Frog decides to spend some time alone. Ages 3+

A Sick Day for Amos McGeeA Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a very sweet book about a friendship between a zookeeper named Amos and the animals he cares for. When Amos gets sick, his friends elephant, tortoise, penguin, rhinocerous and owl come to his house to comfort and care for him. Ages 3+ 

George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall. First and foremost, this is a collection of truly entertaining little stories about two best friends, George and Martha. As with real best friends, George and Martha’s interactions are not always perfect (e.g. Martha paints over one of George’s paintings). I like how these stories depict the two friends looking out for each other, learning to balance telling the truth with being considerate of others’ feelings, and arguing and making up. Ages 3+

Friends - Rob LewisFriends by Rob Lewis. Oscar moves to a new town with his mother and tries to make friends. At first, Oscar is critical of each new kid he meets and refuses their invitations to play. Oscar eventually realizes that in order to make friends he will have to be more flexible and try playing new things. Ages 3+

FriendsFriends by Helme Heine. In Friends, three best friends go on an outing together. They play hide-and-seek, pick cherries, discover an old boat and pretend to be pirates. One line lessons about friendship are interspersed throughout the story. E.g. “Good friends always decide things together.” and “Friends are always fair.” While these lessons would make an older kid cringe, my young kids have all enjoyed this story and not been the least bit deterred by the explicit messages it contains. Ages 3+

Crazy Hair DayCrazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg. Readers will feel for the main character in this story, who mistakenly dresses up for crazy hair day when it is picture day, and appreciate his classmates’ super, compassionate response. A wonderful story. Ages 3+

Best Friends for FrancesBest Friends for Frances by Russell Hoban. Russell Hoban is among my favorite storytellers for children. He does a fantastic job of depicting childhood emotions. In Best Friends for Frances, Frances is left out by her good friend Albert. In retribution, she decides to befriend her sister and go on a no boys outing. In the end, the friends decide that they will not leave each other out in the future. Ages 4+

Hunter’s Best Friend at School by Laura Elliott. This story describes a scenario commonly encountered by preschoolers and kindergarteners: the best friend getting in trouble at school. In this story, Hunter’s best friend Stripe is acting too silly at school. Hunter follows along, until Hunter’s mom suggests a better solution. Ages 4+

Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes. A super entertaining story, with brilliant illustrations and humorous characters. When Lilly moves into the neighborhood, Chester and Wilson are initially suspicious of Lilly’s eccentric ways. After Chester and Wilson get past their initial distrust, they discover that they have things in common with Lilly, have fun introducing eachother to new things, and ultimately end up being great friends. Ages 4+

Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores by James Howe. An entertaining story about three spunky mouse friends who mistakenly succumb to the lure of the Mega-Mice (No girls aloud!) clubhouse and The Cheese Puffs (No boys allowed!) clubhouse. In the end, Dolores speaks up and starts an inclusive club devoted to activites that Horace, Morris, and Dolores all enjoy. Ages 4+

Vera's New SchoolVera’s New School by Vera Rosenberry. Critics of this and other Vera books have noted that Vera Rosenberry’s stories are not particularly reassuring. True. And, I would not recommend this book to a child moving to a new school. I love Vera Rosenberry’s books not because they reassure but because they accurately reflect feelings that many kids face. In this way, Vera Rosenberry’s books remind me of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. In Vera’s New School, Vera attends her first day of classes at her new school. While many kids at Vera’s new school miss opportunities to reach out to her, one girl befriends her. This engaging story provides opportunities to discuss what the kids at Vera’s new school could have done to make Vera feel welcome. Ages 4+

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. A funny story, with instructions for turning a best enemy into a best friend. A very entertaining and satisfying read. Ages 4+

Should I Share My Ice CreamShould I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems. Mo Willems series of early readers are not to be missed, whether you are looking for books for emerging readers to read themselves, humorous books to entertain or stories about friendship. Those looking for stories about friendship should check out Should I Share My Ice Cream?, Can I Play Too? and My Friend is Sad. Any messages about friendship flow naturally from the stories Willems tells about best friends Elephant and Piggie. Ages 5+

Those ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones. In Those Shoes, the main character’s family cannot afford a pair of the shoes — black high tops with two white stripes — that all of his classmates are wearing. Despite feeling left out, the main character is able to reach out to the one other kid in the class whose family can’t afford “the shoes” with a neat act of kindness and generosity. Ages 5+

The Name JarThe Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. The Name Jar is a story about Korean immigrant Unhei’s first few days at school. Unhei decides to embrace her Korean name, and a boy Joey reaches out to and befriends Unhei. A wonderful story about difference and about reaching out to the new kid at school. Ages 5+

Feelings by Aliki. There are several good books about feelings. This book stands out because it is useful for helping kids understand feelings associated with common kid-to-kid interactions (e.g. how sharing or not sharing makes both the sharer and recipient feel). This book has lots of little vignettes depicted in cartoon format. Ages 5+

 Each KindnessEach Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E. B. Lewis. In Each Kindness, a new girl Maya moves to town. It is clear from Maya’s old and ragged clothes that Maya’s family does not have as much money as do her classmates’ families. Maya’s classmates refuse to talk to or play with her. Each Kindness is told from the perspective of one of Maya’s classmates. When Maya leaves school, the narrator regrets not being kind to Maya. Ages 6+

Instructional Books About Being a Good Friend

Sharing TimeSharing Time by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen. Sharing Time provides simple, explicit instructions for how to share toys. This book is very useful for toddlers and preschoolers. Readers can practice asking for (rather than grabbing) toys and learn a short list of options for sharing toys. Ages 2+

You are FriendlyYou Are Friendly by Todd Snow and Melodee Strong. You Are Friendly gives young children concrete examples of things they can do to be kind to others (e.g. ask someone to play, give someone a hug when they are sad, hold the door for someone whose hands are full). An empowering book for young people. Ages 3+

The Best Friends Book by Todd Parr. In this upbeat and humorous book, Todd Parr describes best friends as friends who accept you as you are, forgive you, share, visit you when you are sick, make you laugh etc. Ages 3+

How to be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Laurene Brown. How to be a Friend has explicit instructions about how to be a good friend that would likely sound too preachy to an older kid. However, for the four to seven-year-old kid in the throws of learning how to treat friends, this book has valuable suggestions for joining others who are playing, handling bosses and bullies, and settling arguments. Ages 4+

Do Unto OttersDo Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller. This book — Do Unto Otters — and the following book — How Full Is Your Bucket? — are both excellent books to read at the start of the school year. Do Unto Otters offers readers a humorous introduction to the golden rule. In this story, three otters move into Mr. Rabbit’s neighborhood. Mr. Rabbit is worried that he and the three otters will not get along. Mr. Rabbit recalls an old saying: “Do unto otters how you would have otters do unto you.” He then brainstorms all of the ways he hopes the otters will treat him. Ages 5+

How Full is You Bucket for KidsHow Full Is Your Bucket? for Kids by Tom Rath, Maurie J. Manning and Mary Reckmeyer. How Full Is Your Bucket? introduces kids to the concept of an invisible bucket. Readers learn that everyone has an invisible bucket that holds good thoughts and feelings. When a person’s bucket is full, they feel good. When a person’s bucket is empty, they feel bad. How Full Is Your Bucket? encourages kids to be bucket fillers. Ages 5+

Growing Up With a Bucket Full of HappinessGrowing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life by Carol McCloud and Penny Weber. Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness elaborates on the concept of an invisible bucket. Aimed at older kids, this book discusses ways to fill people’s buckets, how to avoid dipping into other people’s buckets and how to “use your lid” to guard and protect the good thoughts and feelings inside your own bucket. Ages 8+

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10 Authors for Elementary School Social Studies Teachers to Know

The Common Core State Standards are being rolled out this fall, and teachers around the United States are looking for ways to incorporate more nonfiction books into their lessons. I have been devoting this week to helping teachers find excellent nonfiction books to incorporate into their lesson plans.

On Monday, I discussed the main goal of the Common Core language arts standards and the role of nonfiction children’s literature in helping teachers meet this goal. On Tuesday, I recommended science texts for teachers to incorporate into their lessons. Today, I share social studies texts for teachers to incorporate into their lessons.

Day 1. Introduction: The Common Core Standards are Here

Day 2. Common Core Science Texts

Day 3. Common Core Social Studies Texts

In Tuesday’s post about science texts, I recommended sixteen picture book series. While there are many high quality series of science picture books, the same cannot be said for social studies picture books. Thus, rather than recommend social studies series, I have decided to highlight ten authors who consistently write high quality nonfiction books about various social studies topics.

Social Studies Texts

1. Barbara Kerley

Kerley - Those RebelsKerley - Walt Whitman

Kerley - One World One Day

Books: Those Rebels, John and TomWalt Whitman: Words for AmericaThe Dinosaurs of Waterhouse HawkinsWhat to Do About Alice?The Extraordinary Mark TwainOne World, One DayYou and Me Together: Moms, Dads and Kids Around the WorldA Cool Drink of WaterA Little Peace

  • Lexile: 550-970
  • Grade level: K+

2. Jeanette Winter

Winters - The Librarian of BasraWinter - BiblioburroWinter - The Watcher

Books: The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from IraqFollow the Drinking GourdBiblioburro: A True Story from ColumbiaWangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from AfricaThe Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the ChimpsKali’s SongNasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from AfghanistanDiegoThe Secret World of HildegardSeptember RosesMy Name Is Georgia: A PortraitCalavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet BookBeatrixEmily Dickinson’s Letters to the WorldCowboy Charlie: The Story of Charles M. Russell

  • Lexile: 580-780
  • Grade level: K+

3. Monica Brown

Brown - Pablo NerudaBrown - Waiting for the BiblioburroBrown - My Name is Gabriela

Books: Tito Puente, Mambo KingPablo Neruda: Poet of the PeoplePele, King of SoccerWaiting for the BiblioburroMy Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia MarquezSide by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar ChavezMy Name is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela MinstralMy Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz

  • Lexile: 850-910
  • Grade level: K+

4. Kadir Nelson

Nelson - Heart and SoulAbe's Honest WordsNelson - Henry's Freedom Box

Books: Nelson MandelaI Have a DreamHeart and Soul: The Story of America and African AmericansA Nation’s HopeMama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of KenyaTesting the Ice: A True Story About Jackie RobinsonCoretta ScottAbe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham LincolnWe Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League BaseballHenry’s Freedom BoxMoses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom

  • Lexile: 380-1050
  • Grade level: 1+

5. Deborah Hopkinson

Hopkinson - Apples to OregonHopkinson - Sky BoysHopkinson - A Band of Angels

Books: Apples to OregonSky BoysAnnie and HelenA Boy Called DickensMichelleJohn Adams Speaks for FreedomSusan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women’s RightsA Band of AngelsSweet Land of LibertyTitanic: Voices From the DisasterShutting Out the SkyUp Before DaybreakWho Was Charles Darwin?

  • Lexile: 590-950
  • Grade level: 1+

6. Betsy and Giulio Maestro

Maestro - The Discovery of the AmericasA More Perfect UnionThe Story of the Statue of Liberty

Books: The Discovery of the AmericasExploration and Conquest: The Americas After Columbus, 1500-1620The New Americans: Colonial Times, 1620-1689Struggle for a Continent: The French and Indian WarsLiberty or Death: The American Revolution, 1763-1783A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our ConstitutionA New Nation: The United States: 1783-1815The Story of Clocks and CalendarsThe Story of MoneyThe Story of ReligionThe Story of the Statue of LibertyComing to America: The Story of Immigration

  • Lexile: 740-1110
  • Grade level: 2+

7. Andrea Davis Pinkney

Pinkney - Duke EllingtonPinkney - Sit-InPinkney - Hand in Hand

Books: Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin’ CowboyElla Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal VirtuosaDuke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His OrchestraAlvin AileySit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting DownHand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America

  • Lexile: 500-1000
  • Grades: 2+

8. Joseph Bruchac

Bruchac - A Boy Called Slow

Bruchac - Jim Thorpe's Bright PathChildren of the Longhouse

Books: A Boy Called Slow, Buffalo Song, Crazy Horse’s Vision, Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, Many Nations: An Alphabet of Native America, Navajo Long Walk, Rabbit’s Snow Dance, Rachel Carson, Raccoon’s Last Race, Squanto’s Journey, 13 Moons on Turtle’s Back, Turtle’s Race with Beaver, The First Strawberries: A Cherokee StoryChildren of the LonghouseSacajawea

  • Lexile: 690-950
  • Grade level: 2+

9. Jean Fritz

Fritz - Can You Make Them Behave King GeorgeFritz - Shh! We're Writing the ConstitutionFritz - The Great Little Madison

Books: Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?Who’s That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?Where Was Patrick Henry on the 19th of May?What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?And Then What Happened Paul Revere?Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?George Washington’s BreakfastGeorge Washington’s MotherShh! We’re Writing the ConstitutionThe Double Life of Pocahontas, The Great Little Madison

  • Lexile: 780-1030
  • Grade level: 3+

10. Russell Freedman

Freedman - The Boston Tea PartyFreedman - LincolnFreedman - Eleanor Roosevelt

Books: The Boston Tea Party, Buffalo Hunt, Lincoln: A Photobiography, Out of Darkness, The Wright Brothers, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery, Children of the Great Depression, Children of the Wild West, Immigrant Children, Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence, In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights

  • Lexile: 1000-1110
  • Grade level: 4+

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Teach Science With These Excellent Nonfiction Picture Book Series

The Common Core State Standards are being rolled out this fall, and teachers around the United States are looking for ways to incorporate more nonfiction books into their lessons. For many teachers, selecting nonfiction books to have students read is a daunting task. Here are sixteen excellent nonfiction series to get you started.

When looking for nonfiction books to incorporate into lessons, it makes sense to begin by becoming familiar with high quality nonfiction series. For teachers, becoming familiar with nonfiction series is an efficient way to become familiar with a lot of nonfiction books quickly. For students, reading multiple books in the same series helps students gain literacy skills. Students become competent at using the tables of content, indices, glossaries etc. that various series employ.

Myra Zarnowski recently wrote an article for School Library Journal with suggestions for incorporating nonfiction series into lessons entitled Nonfiction Series and the Common Core State Standards. Take a look!

Common Core Science

1. About… by Cathryn Sill and John Sill

About BirdsThe Sills’ About… series offers clear and concise introductions to the basic characteristics of various groups of animals and habitats. By concise, I mean concise. Each book is roughly ten sentences long. Kids will enjoy looking at John Sill’s detailed illustrations. Each book includes an afterward with more information about each animal pictured.

  • Books in series: About BirdsAbout MammalsAbout ReptilesAbout InsectsAbout AmphibiansAbout FishAbout ArachnidsAbout MollusksAbout MarsupialsAbout CrustaceansAbout RodentsAbout PenguinsAbout RaptorsAbout HummingbirdsAbout DesertsAbout GrasslandsAbout MountainsAbout Wetlands
  • Narrative* v. informational*: informational
  • Lexile: 290-770
  • Grade level: K+

2. Looking Closely… by Frank Serafini

Looking Closely Through the Rainforest

My kids love all of the books in Frank Serafini’s Looking Closely series. These books encourage kids to pay attention to the the details in nature. Each book has the same format. A detail from an image (e.g. a butterfly’s wing) on one page is followed by the entire image (e.g. the entire butterfly) on the following page.

  • Books in series: Looking Closely Along the Shore, Looking Closely Through the Forest, Looking Closely Inside the Garden, Looking Closely Across the Desert, Looking Closely in the Rain Forest, Looking Closely Around the Pond
  • Narrative v. informational: informational
  • Lexile: 500-610
  • Grade level: K+

3. Lets-Read-and-Find-Out Science by various authors

Animals in WinterWhile the books in the Lets-Read-and-Find-Out Science series vary considerably, they are (generally speaking) very well written. They do a great job of both informing and entertaining kids. Some are written in a narrative style. Some are written in an informative style. Most bridge the gap. The books are rated as either stage 1 or stage 2 books, but this rating system is not always accurate. Favorite authors: Franklyn Branley, Melvin Berger, Roma Gans, Wendy Pfeffer and Aliki

  • Books in series: There are nearly 200 books in this series, including Animals in Winter, The Big Dipper, Mission to Mars, Big Tracks Little Tracks, Bugs Are Insects, Digging Up Dinosaurs, Fossils Tell of Long Ago, Germs Make Me Sick! and Rock Collecting.
  • Narrative v. informational: both
  • Lexile: 300s-800s
  • Grade level: K+ (These vary considerably.)

4. Becoming Butterflies, Two Blue Jays and One Bean by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey

Becoming ButterfliesNot quite a series, these three books by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey are so great that I had to include them. These books describe curious kids studying butterflies, birds and a bean plant. They are written in a narrative style that is very engaging.

  • Books in series: Becoming Butterflies, Two Blue Jays, One Bean
  • Narrative v. informational: narrative
  • Lexile: 500-730
  • Grade level: K+

5. A __________‘s Life by John Himmelman

A Ladybug's LifeEach book in John Himmelman’s series offers a fairly straightforward description of a plant or animal’s life cycle. For example, A Luna Moth’s Life begins: “One night in late spring, a luna moth lays her eggs on a leaf. A week later, the luna larvae–or caterpillar–begins to hatch…” These stand out from other life cycle books because they are written clearly and concisely. They also feature neat illustrations that give readers a bug’s eye view of the world.

  • Books in series: A Dandelion’s Life, A House Spider’s Life, A Hummingbird’s Life, A Ladybug’s Life, A Luna Moth’s Life, A Mealworm’s Life, A Monarch Butterfly’s Life, A Mouse’s Life, A Pill Bug’s Life, A Salamander’s Life, A Slug’s Life, A Wood Frog’s Life, An Earthworm’s Life
  • Narrative v. informational: narrative
  • Lexile: 580
  • Grade level: K+

6. Caroline Arnold’s Animals: A __________’s World by Caroline Arnold

A Wombat's WorldCaroline Arnold’s books feature beautiful cut paper illustrations and engaging descriptions of the lives of young animals. For readers interested in learning more, Arnold includes introductory facts, glossaries, maps showing where each animal lives, fun facts, etc.

  • Books in series: A Polar Bear’s World, A Walrus’ World, A Moose’s World, A Bald Eagle’s World, A Koala’s World, A Kangaroo’s World, A Platypus’ World, A Wombat’s World, A Panda’s World, A Zebra’s World, A Penguin’s World, A Killer Whale’s World
  • Narrative v. informational: narrative
  • Lexile: 630-740
  • Grade level: K+

7. The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

The Magic School Bus Inside the Human BodyWhile The Magic School Bus books are not among my personal favorites, I include them because they are such a hit with kids. This series succeeds in making learning fun. In each book, teacher Ms. Frizzle takes her class on a magical adventure on a school bus. The Magic School Bus has journeyed to the center of the earth in search of rocks, under the ocean to examine sea creatures, up into the clouds to learn about the water cycle and more.

  • Books in series: The Magic School Bus…At the Waterworks, Inside the Earth, Inside the Human Body, Lost in the Solar System, On the Ocean Floor, In the Time of the Dinosaurs, Inside a Hurricane, Inside a Beehive, And the Electric Field Trip, Explores the Senses, And the Science Fair Expedition, And the Climate Challenge
  • Narrative v. informational: narrative
  • Lexile: 180-610
  • Grade level: 1+

8. Kingfisher Young Knowledge by various authors

Animal HomesThe Kingfisher Young Knowledge books are introductory chapter books that can be used to introduce kids to using various text features (e.g. table of contents, index, glossary) to search for information. In Reptiles, kids can read very short two to three sentence chapters about temperature control, reptile skin, reptile senses and more. Each book in this series includes three craft projects.

  • Books in series: Reptiles, Weather, Insects, Planet Earth, Materials, Deserts, Whales and Dolphins, Animal Disguises, Senses, Solar System, Apes and Monkeys, Animal Homes
  • Narrative v. informational: informational
  • Lexile: ?
  • Grade level: 1+

9. Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing… by Jim Arnosky

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the BirdsIn this series, a fictional character named Crinkleroot goes on walks in the woods and, along the way, introduces readers to trees, birds, butterflies & moths and animal habitats. This format is engaging. Author Jim Arnosky provides an excellent introduction to each subject for budding naturalists.

  • Books in series: Crinkelroot’s Guide to Knowing the Trees, Crinkelroot’s Guide to Knowing the Birds, Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Butterflies & Moths, Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Animal Habitats
  • Narrative v. informational: narrative
  • Lexile: 730-920
  • Grade level: 1+

10. All About… by Jim Arnosky

All About FrogsEach book in Jim Arnosky’s All About… series begins with introductory questions to peak readers’ interest in the topic. These books are well written and feature accurate illustrations of various species. Informative side notes provide additional information for those interested in learning more.

  • Books in series: All About Alligators, All About Deer, All About Frogs, All About Lizards, All About Manatee, All About Owls, All About Rattlesnakes, All About Sharks, All About Turkeys, All About Turtles
  • Narrative v. informational: informational
  • Lexile: 770-930
  • Grade level: 1+

11. Jump Into Science by Steve Tomecek

StarsAuthor Steve Tomacek does an excellent job of explaining complicated subjects in a manner that is just right for kids. When I compiled my stars and space booklist and rocks booklist, I read numerous books on these subjects. In both cases, Tomacek’s books were among the best — written in a clear, engaging manner.

  • Books in series: Stars, Sun, Moon, Rocks & Minerals, Dirt
  • Narrative v. informational: informational
  • Lexile: 840-860
  • Grade level: 1+

12. Nic Bishop’s books: Spiders, Marsupials, Frogs etc.

Nic Bishop LizardsNic Bishop is a fantastic wildlife photographer. Many kids enjoy perusing Bishop’s books simply to marvel at his amazing images. While Bishop’s photographs will hook kids, the text of his books is clear and worth reading.

  • Books in series: Snakes, Lizards, Marsupials, Butterflies and Moths, Frogs, Spiders
  • Narrative v. informational: informational
  • Lexile: 820-950
  • Grade level: 2+

13. Peterson Field Guides For Young Naturalists

Peterson Field Guides for Young NaturalistsFantastic first field guides for children! The Peterson Field Guides For Young Naturalists include several features to help children learn to identify birds and butterflies themselves: a limited selection of species that kids are likely to see, illustrations as well as photographs of each species, and arrows pointing to features to look for when identifying each bird or butterfly.

  • Books in series: Backyard Birds, Butterflies, Songbirds, Caterpillars, Birds of Prey, Shorebirds, Bizarre Birds
  • Narrative v. informational: informational (field guides)
  • Lexile: ?
  • Grade level: 3+

14. Scientists in the Field by various authors

Scientists in the FieldEach book in the Scientists in the Field series describes a real life team of scientists engaged in field research. The Scientists in the Field books are more advanced than their lexile ratings suggest. They are long and describe subjects that will be unfamiliar to most young readers. Look especially for the books in this series written by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop.

  • Books in series: Kakapoo Rescue, Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, The Tarantula Scientist, Digging for Bird Dinosaurs, The Snake Scientist and more!
  • Narrative v. informational: narrative
  • Lexile: 830-950
  • Grade level: 4+

15. Ranger Rick Jr. and Ranger Rick magazines

Ranger RickChildren’s magazines like Ranger Rick Jr. and Ranger Rick are an excellent resource for teachers looking for informational texts to share with students. Each issue includes articles about a variety of science and nature topics.

  • Narrative v. informational: informational
  • Grade level: K+ (Ranger Rick Jr.), 2+ (Ranger Rick)

16. Click and Ask magazines

AskThe editors at Click and Ask magazines were clustering* long before Common Core experts began batting the term around. Each issue of Click and Ask focuses on a particular theme (e.g. simple machines, caves, gardening) and includes a variety of articles on that theme.

  • Narrative v. informational: both
  • Grade level: K+ (Click), 2+ (Ask)

*informational texts – Books written for the purpose of informing (i.e. nonfiction books). Informational texts have an expository style and no narrative arc.

*narrative texts – Books written for the purpose of informing (i.e. nonfiction books). Narrative texts have a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end.

*clustering – Selecting a variety of texts for students to read within the same genre or on the same theme.

You may also be interested in these booklists: 

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The Common Core Standards are Here: Time to Incorporate More Children’s Literature in Classrooms

This coming school year, teachers around the United States will begin implementing new teaching standards: The Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards are a consistent, national set of standards for teaching language arts and math to kindergarten through 12th grade students. Forty-five states have adopted these standards and will begin implementing them sometime between 2013 and 2016.

Common Core State Standards

The main goal of the Common Core language arts standards is to promote literacy. Research has shown that language arts instruction in the United States is deficient in two ways:

1) Students are not becoming proficient in reading and understanding “informational texts” (i.e. nonfiction), and

2) Students are not being exposed to sufficiently complex reading material.

To address these deficiencies, the Common Core standards require teachers to incorporate more informational texts and more complex reading material into the curriculum.

In short, claims Christopher Harris, coordinator of New York’s Genesee Valley school library system and School Library Journal columnist…

The textbook is dead.

While some textbooks may wander your school halls like zombies for the next couple of years, make no mistake…the textbook as we know it is dead. Common Core calls for shorter, well-crafted texts that kids can consider more deeply. The focus is on primary (or maybe secondary) sources, not the predigested tertiary writing found in many of today’s textbooks.

Christopher Harris, School Library Journal (March 16, 2012)

As a huge fan of nonfiction children’s literature, the prospect of teachers around the country throwing away their textbooks and replacing them with nonfiction picture books strikes me as both scary and exciting. On one hand, I fear that teachers will replace textbooks with poorly written nonfiction books. I fear that publishers will begin churning out poorly written nonfiction books to meet the demand created by the Common Core.

On the other hand, I envision teachers — with the help of school librarians — incorporating more excellent nonfiction books into their lesson plans. I envision students reading books that make subjects ranging from birds to maps to the Revolutionary War come alive for them in ways that textbooks have not.

I am devoting this week to helping teachers find excellent nonfiction books to incorporate into their lesson plans.

This week’s posts will help you find:

  • High quality nonfiction books.
  • A variety of informational texts and narrative texts.*
  • Books that are the right complexity for your students.

Day 1. Introduction: The Common Core Standards are Here

Day 2. Common Core Science Texts

Day 3. Common Core Social Studies Texts

I hope that the Common Core State Standards will succeed in inspiring teachers to incorporate more excellent children’s literature into classrooms.

Read More About the Common Core State Standards:

These articles and key Common Core State Standards provisions provide a good introduction to the standards.

Aronson, M. and Bartle, S. (2012, November). Wondering how to put common core into practice? It’s easier than you think. School Library Journal. 58(11): 28-31.

Zarnowski, M. (2012, November). Nonfiction series and the Common Core State Standards. School Library Journal. 72.

Aronson, M., Cappiello, M.A., & Zarnowski, M. (2013, January). Deconstructing nonfiction | On Common Core. School Library Journal.

Common Core State Standards –> English Language Arts Standards –> How to Read the Standards

Common Core State Standards: Standard 10 – Range of Text Types for K-5

Common Core State Standards: Appendix A – Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards

*A Couple New Terms:

informational texts – Books written for the purpose of informing (i.e. nonfiction books). Informational texts have an expository style and no narrative arc.

narrative texts – Books written for the purpose of informing (i.e. nonfiction books). Narrative texts have a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end.

You may also be interested in:

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5 Tips for Encouraging Your Child to Read This Summer (It’s not too late!)

With the coming school year right around the corner, this is an excellent time to take steps to encourage your child to read. I truly believe that every child can learn to love reading. If you have a child who is unenthusiastic about reading, I hope that one or more of the tips below will help you ignite a love of reading in your child.

5 Tips for Encouraging Kids to Read This Summer

1. Throw out that summer reading list.

It is a rare adult who — for fun — reads through a booklist compiled without regard for his or her interests or tastes. If you want your child to have fun reading, it seems unwise to ask your child to read through a booklist compiled without regard for your child’s interests or tastes.

If not books from a summer reading list, then what should my child read?

PokemonEncourage your child to choose his or her own books. Head to the library, and enthusiastically help your child find any book — and I mean any — that interests them. I have spent recent library trips enthusiastically helping my children track down Strawberry Shortcake graphic novels, Garfield cartoons and Pokemon books.

In addition, check out a few extra books that you think your child might enjoy. The goal is to gently encourage your child to expand their reading horizons.

Consider checking out:

Summer reading lists are valuable for helping children who are voracious readers branch out and discover new books. If your child falls into the voracious reader category, look here for book recommendations: 37 Super Summer Reading Lists for Kids Ages 0-10. However, if your child does not fall into the voracious reader category, a summer reading list may cause more harm than good, turning what should be a fun activity into a tedious or intimidating one.

2. Cut back on your child’s screen time, including time spent watching television and playing with iPads, iPhones etc.

This one is tough. As a fellow parent, I know that you do not want to wade into screen time battles with your child. I also know that screens are, in many circumstances, convenient parenting tools.

At the same time, imposing restrictions on screen time is, I think, critically important for freeing up time for children to read (and play). Screen time restrictions can take many forms. You could restrict screen use to that dreaded hour before dinner or to one set time per week. Only you can make the call about what is going to work for your family. Speaking from personal experience, if you were to suddenly outlaw screen use during car rides, your child would initially protest but then adjust surprisingly quickly. Both you and your child would survive the transition.

Do not make your child read instead of watching television. Pitting screen time against reading time is likely to make your child loath reading. Simply restrict screen time, and let your child decide whether to spend the extra time that is freed up playing outside, building with legos or, on occasion, picking up a book.

book box3. Two words: product placement. 

Entice your child to read by making books readily available. Put a nightstand or box of books next to your child’s bed. Keep a box of books in your car. Stick a couple books in your purse or backpack to pull out while you and your child are waiting at the doctor’s office.

4. Read aloud to your child.

Some children with little interest in reading alone will jump at the chance to read with a parent or other adult. As an added bonus, reading aloud to children promotes literacy — even for children who already know how to read.

When you read to your child, model how much fun reading books can be. Choose books that both you and your child enjoy.

Remember that read aloud time need not happen right before bed. During the summers at our house, evening activities often interfere with read aloud time. Instead, I spend the most time reading aloud to my kids first thing in the morning. Be on the lookout for opportunities to read aloud that best fit into your family’s summer schedule.

library card5. Take advantage of the free entertainment your local public library is offering this summer.

Public libraries have your back in your quest to help your child learn to love reading. Public libraries have been going to great lengths this summer to entice children to visit the library. They have been showing free movies, hosting magicians and storytellers etc. Take a look at the activities your local public library has planned for the rest of the summer.

Please, share your tips for encouraging children to read below! How have you been encouraging your child to read this summer? What has worked, and what hasn’t? If your child recently learned to enjoy reading, what first sparked their interest in reading?

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We’re Reading Through History

This summer, I plan to share my favorite children’s books about U.S. history with you. I hope that these booklists will be valuable for teachers planning lessons for the coming school year and for families visiting historic sites this summer.

Read Through History Booklists

The kids and I began our Read Through History project by drawing a timeline with major events in U.S. history. We left spaces on the timeline to record the kids’ favorite books.

Many historical children’s books are worth reading simply because they entertain. My kids were the ones who initially suggested we “Read Through History.” They had enjoyed reading biographies about historical figures ranging from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Satchel Paige to Margaret Knight, and they wanted to read more. My son was especially interested in reading more about “famous presidents” and native americans who lived here long ago. My daughter was interested in reading more about early settlers. I look forward to helping my kids put these subjects that interest them in context.

Read Through History

I plan to share one booklist for each of the following time periods / themes. I invite your feedback on the books I recommend and topics I cover.

I. Early American Civilization

II. Early Explorers & Colonial Times

III. The Revolutionary War & The Founding of the United States

IV. Westward Expansion (1800-1850)

V. Slavery & The Civil War

VI. Frontier Life & Native Americans (1850-1900)

VII. Immigrants

VIII. Women’s Suffrage Movement (early 1900s)

IX. The Great Depression & The Dust Bowl (1920s-1930s)

X. Two World Wars

XI. The Civil Rights Movement (1960s)

XII. Post World War II (1945-today)

Posted in Ages 5+, Ages 6+, Ages 7+, Ages 8+ | Tagged , | 31 Comments