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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Giving 7 Great Picture Books

I do like to mix up my gift boxes with fiction and information titles. Each of these titles deserves a complete blog post so please read all the way through and don’t make me have to post each individually.

The Vowel Family: A Tale of Lost Letters by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by Kevin Luthardt. Carolrhoda. © 2008. I love playing with this book. I wonder if everyone can read it as easily as I did or if you have to have taught early elementary to be able to easily insert missing letters from vowel families? 

The students I show this to one-on-one or in small groups think they are the most brilliant students in the world when they successfully fill in the missing vowels on each page. I wonder if struggling readers will appreciate this to the same extent. What has your experience been?

Activity Suggestions for how to use this title from Margo Dill’s blog

A review from The Reading Tub includes these pros and cons:
"Pros: Kids who enjoy word play will laugh at this story about what happens when words are missing vowels. 

Cons: You will need patience and a sense of humor to work through the book. The focus on trying to read the "words" and having to explain that the Vowel family member has to be on the page to make the words work takes away from the value of the story."

While being included in Book Links Lasting Connections of 2008, I’d expect this title to be recognized more. It is included in critical thinking catalogs, gifted and talented catalogs, and reading/language arts resources. I hope everyone has their copy. 

I’m off to continue making words by inserting vowels into the consonant strands on the inside front cover.

Corkscrew Counts: A Story About MultiplicationCorkscrew Counts: a story about multiplication by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen with pictures by Anna Currey. (A companion to The Wishing Club which dealt with fractions) Henry Holt & Co. © 2008. ISBN: 978-0-8050-7665-3

Corkscrew Counts will not magically teach your children multiplication. To benefit from the grouping possibilities, it will take a teacher or librarian’s leadership. If I were in storytime with this title, I’d set out 14 objects for students to manipulate with one distinguished as Corkscrew the pig and one as Pirate the parrot. After reading the first time through, I’d ask the students to move the objects into groups so they could see and feel that Corkscrew and Pirate were left out of the play for most of the book.
Teaching Mathematics through Reading: Methods and Materials for Grades 6-8
There is a page of more sophisticated ideas at the end of the book that any math teacher could utilize. Taking literature into the math class helps bridge that learning for linguistic students who struggle mathematically. One of the best books I brought home from AASL was Teaching Mathematics through Reading from Linworth. Aimed at grades 6-8 this title has become an instant hit with my change coach. 

About Rodents: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill and illustrated by John Sill. Peachtree. © 2008 ISBN: 978-1-56145-454-9

About Rodents Let me slip in a book that defies classification. About Rodents is a picturebook that is informational. Will you put it in the rodents section? Yes, it does contain information about the rodents, particularly in the back when each illustration plate is explained in more depth. But, it is a story book to read aloud to the early elementary students. This would make a perfect read-aloud for first grade classes which always seem to be reading and studying about mice and other rodents. It is respectful to its audience and introduces a wider variety of rodents than many straight nonfiction titles. Part of the About series, this is an essential purchase for rodent research for young students.

Awards: 2009 Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List (primary)
Nominee, 2009 North Carolina Author Awards (AAUW Award for Juvenile Literature) 

In the Night Garden by Barbara Joosse and illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles. Henry Holt & Co. © 2008 ISBN: 978-0-8050-6671-5 

In the Night GardenI’m always looking for a good bedtime story. This one helps parents with children who just can’t seem to let go of their imaginative waking world to enter dreamland. Barbara Joosse on the jacketflap says, "Children fight sleep because they don’t want to leave the most magical time behind – the velvety, moonlit night. I wanted to weave a story that suggested they don’t have to." 

Awards: Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. This title is not related to the UK TV program with your favourite characters, Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka, but I couldn’t resist giving you their link

Double Trouble Groundhog Day  Double Trouble Groundhog Day by Bethany Roberts. illus. by Cauley, Lorinda Bryan. Henry Holt and Company. © 2008. ISBN 978-0-8050-8280-7 PreS-Gr 3 Reviewed by Dana Stem last year on this blog. Just in case you forgot to order your copy, I thought I’d mention it in time for this year’s orders. 

Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp by Denise Fleming. Henry Holt and Company. © 2008 ISBN: 978-0-8050-7892-3. 

Be sure to check out the activity sheets for this title available from the publisher. 
Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp
Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp would be a good book to offer students who are facing a night away from their own homes for the first time whether its camp or a sleepover. 

Buster’s fear of staying somewhere new away from his family is understandable in this preschool-grade 1 title.( Awww. Nice touch with the wanted poster and the use of negative space for his friend Betty.) Even when Buster is having fun, he still misses and loves his family. Yet he learns to try new things because he might be better than he thinks and to enjoy his moments of play. 

Awards: American Library Association Notable Children’s Books; CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI); CPL: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best; Virginia Young Readers Award Master List.

No Mush Today CoverNo Mush Today by Sally Derby and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Lee & Low Books. 

Be sure to check out the interview on Lori Calabrese Writes. You’ll be amazed at how Lori combines text and illustrations in this interview. Between Lori Calabrese and Jules of Seven ImpossibleThings Before Breakfast, I enjoy the best author interviews by bloggers! 

No Mush Today was featured on several blogs and has some important reviews. 
Write for a Reader,
The Brown Bookshelf,
Anastasia Suen’s Picture Book of the Day
Big A, little a  

While this book features an African-American family and is a vital addition to the multicultural books we have available in elementary for our students to relate, it is an important story about being the older sibling and just wanting to run away to a better home sometimes – especially a home where they don’t serve mush. 

The author’s note at the front of the book explains what mush is. I’m including that definition below. When I grew up my family would eat things like oatmeal, white rice with sugar, cinnamon & raisins on it, and Cream of Wheat. Ou of those I could only stand Cream of Wheat, if it was drenched in milk and sugar and I ate it with at least 2 slices of very buttered bread. Now I enjoy grits and polenta, but I still won’t touch oatmeal. I’ve never had mush but I’m not in a hurry to eat it either. 

"Mush is a cornmeal that has been stirred into boiling water and cooked until it has turned into a thick, soft sort of porridge. Nonie eats her out of a bowl, like oatmeal, with milk and sugar or syrup poured over it. Mush may also be chilled overnight in a loaf pan, then sliced thin and fried crisp in bacon drippings. Served with butter and maply syrup, fried mush is a heart breakfast. Grits and polenta are also types of cornmeal similar to mush."

Awards: Best Children’s Books of the Year Bank Street College of Education

Every time we hear about the dearth of multicultural books for children, I am grateful to the hard work of Lee & Low Publishing. From their website: LEE & LOW BOOKS an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. It is the company’s goal to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy. LEE & LOW makes a special effort to work with artists of color, and takes pride in nurturing many authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.  Keep up the good work Lee & Low, and librarians, if you have visited their site lately, please do. 

I also appreciate the links on various blogs including note of a review by M. LaVora Perry. While I was seeking Click here to Enlarge Imageout her review on her site (as opposed to just being mentioned on the No Mush illustrator’s site), I discovered this page of reviews on M. LaVora Perry’s book Taneesha Never Disparaging. Great cover by Floyd Cooper drew my eye to the book and then I read the reviews. Now I have a new title to seek out for my students. Let me know if you’ve read this, too. I’m afraid River Valley will have to buy their own copy of Taneesha Never Disparaging, because I am closing the lid on this box of books. It’s rare to find a book with a Buddhist character and I need it at my school.

I want to apologize for the authors and publishers who have been waiting for me to write about these titles. I don’t know how I became so busy that I let these pile-up around me. They are wonderful titles and they deserve to be in the hands of students immediately. I’m sealing the box and sending them to River Valley right away. I finally got around to it.


  1. Terry Doherty says:

    What a great collection of books. I have not yet seen Taneesha, which looks like a great selection for helping expand our kids’ understanding of faith and religion. Thank you for including the excerpts from the Reading Tub review. I’ve only seen the book mentioned a couple of places, it may be for the idea you point out – readers who are not yet doing within word patterns may not understand how it fits together.