Exclamation Mark!

Exclamation Mark9780545436793_p0_v1_s260x420Exclamation Mark!

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Author

Tom Lichtenheld, Illustrator

Scholastic Press, Fiction, March 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5 and up

Themes: Fitting In, Standing Out, Punctuation

Opening “!  He stood out from the very beginning.”

Synopsis:  An exclamation point feels that he stands out from all the periods.  Although he tries to fit in, he isn’t like the other marks.  He is depressed until one day he meets a question mark ?, who pellets him with questions until he yells Stop!  He tries bigger words: Wow!  Yippee!  Way to Go!  Cool!  Boo!  Then more exclamations rush from his mouth and he shows all his friends what he can do.  At last he’s found his purpose.

Why I like this book:  Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld have teamed up to create another very simple and creative  story that both children and adults will find an entertaining way to understand the role of a period, question mark and exclamation mark. The story idea is brilliant. I also think their humorous story will spark many meaningful discussions at home and in the classroom about fitting in, self-expression and finding one’s place in the world.  Lichtenheld’s illustrations really bring the punctuation marks to life in a delightful way for kids.  The background looks like lined homework paper. The marks all have facial expressions.  The art is simple and progresses to an explosion of colorful words at the end.  This book is a must for the classroom.  Visit Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld at their websites.

The Weird Series

Weird9781575423982_p0_v1_s260x420Weird!

Erin Frankel, Author

Paula Heaphy, Illustrator

Free Spirit Publishing, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages:5 and up

Themes: Bullying, Fear, Courage, Self-Confidence,  Accountability

Opening/Synopsis:   “Hi.  My name is Luisa and I have a problem.  There is a girl in my class named Sam who thinks that everything I do is WEIRD!”   When Luisa raises her hand to answer a question, tells a joke to her friends, hugs her mom after school, or wears her favorite polka dot boots, Sam says she’s WEIRD.   Luisa tries to change what she does, but Sam continues to call her WEIRD.  Luisa doesn’t feel like herself anymore.  “Everyone misses  the way I used to be.  Everyone else, including me.”  After talking with her mother, Luisa makes some positive changes and throws Sam a curve ball.

Dare9781575423999_p0_v1_s260x420DARE!

Book 2

Opening/Synopsis: “Hi.  My name is Jayla and I’m scared.  See that girl?  That’s Sam.  She’s tough.   She picked on me a lot last year, but I never stood up for myself.  I didn’t DARE!  No one stood up for me, either.  They didn’t DARE.”   Jayla is relieved when Sam stops bullying her, but feels bad when she sees Luisa the next target.  Jayla remembers too well how it feels when no one dares to stand up for her.  Even though Jayla tries to mind her own business, Sam begins to DARE Jayla to say mean things to Luisa.   Jayla is scared and caves into Sam.  Jayla feels bad for Luisa.  “This isn’t the kind of person I want to be.”   Jayla musters the courage to make her own DARE and reclaims her power from Sam.

Tough9781575424002_p0_v1_s260x420TOUGH!

Book 3

Opening/Synopsis“What are you staring at?  I’m not the weird one.  My name is Sam and I’m TOUGH!  That Luisa.  She’s weird.  She dresses weird.  Acts weird.  She talks weird.  Someone has to tell her, so I do.”  Sam has had a lot of practice learning to be TOUGH.  Her brother bullies her and she’s had to learn to stand up to him.  Sam acts tough so people won’t mess with her.  She discovers that people aren’t following her rules anymore, so things are getting a bit tough for Sam.  Her teachers want to help her, but is she through with being TOUGH?

Why I like this series:  Erin Frankel has written a very powerful series on bullying.  The Weird Series shows kids bullying from three different points of view:  Luisa who is bullied in WEIRD!, Jayla who is the bystander in DARE!, and Sam who is the bully in TOUGH!  The books can stand-alone, or be used as a series.  I recommend that classrooms read the books as a series because the stories are interwoven.   Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear, and anger.  The characters are realistic and the language is simple, but edgy.  These books are going to be hits in the classroom.  Paula Heaphy’s black and white illustrations are highlighted with splashes of color, usually focusing on a specific character.  They are bold, emotive and capture the great body language of the characters.

Resources:  Each book has extensive pages of backmatter for kids, parents and teachers on the topic at hand (i.e. victim, bystander and bully).  There are summaries of lessons learned, discussion points, activities, suggestions for courage, confidence and kindness clubs, and role-playing.  Visit Erin Frankel at her website.  Teachers can download a free  Leader’s Guide  from Free Spirit Publishing.  The following is an interesting interview with both author and illustrator that I believe you will find interesting.

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These books have been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Making Friends Is an Art!

Making Friends9781934490303_p0_v1_s260x420Making Friends Is an Art!

Julia Cook, Author

Bridget A. Barnes, Illustrator

Boys Town Press, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes:  Friendship, Interpersonal relations in children, Life Skills

Opening/Synopsis:  “My name is Brown.  I spend a lot of time in a pencil box with a bunch of other colors.  We are all different.  Some of us are sharper than others.  Some of us are long and others are short.”   Brown is the tallest pencil in the box.  This means he is the least used pencil in the box.  And he doesn’t feel like he fits in very well with the others.  “I don’t have much to smile about.  I am Brown, tall geeky and lonely…that’s me!”  Brown envies Red, BlueOrange, Yellow, Green, and Purple who color and play together.  Blue gives hugs.  Orange likes to have fun.  Green is honest. White keeps the peace.  Pink listens.  And everyone loves Red.  When Brown talks to Blue and Green, he learns that if wants good friends, he has to be a good friend.  So he asks all the other pencils why they don’t like him and learns a lot of surprising things about himself.  It is Black who points out that “when all the colors are mixed together they make Brown.”  He has all the colors inside him.  Will he be able to use all the other colors to like himself, recognize his own strengths and be a better friend?

Why I like this book:  Julia Cook has written a humorous fun and colorful book that all kids will identify with.   What better way to teach kids about differences than through art.  There are tall kids, short kids, popular kids,  shy kids, happy kids and sad kids in every classroom.  Differences add to the dynamics of the classroom.  This book really focuses on helping children building interpersonal relationships with other children.   Bridget Barnes’ illustrations are bright, lively and expressive.   This title is the first in a new series of Julia Cook’s books focusing on relationship-building  skills for children.  It is perfect for the classroom.

Resources:  There is a backpage at the back of the book with constructive tips for parents, teachers and counselors to work with kids in building the life skills they require to be a good friend.  In the classroom, ask each child to pick the color of a pencil he/she feels they could identify with most and why.   This will make for an interesting classroom discussion.  Visit Julia Cook’s website,  to view the many books she has written.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

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The Dot — International Dot Day

The Dot

Peter H. Reynolds, author and illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 15, 2003

Suitable for: Ages 5 and up

Themes:  Art, Imagination, Self-Confidence, Inspiration

Opening/Synopsis “Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair.  Her paper was empty.  Vashti’s teacher leaned over the blank paper.  ‘Ah! A polar bear in a snow storm,’ she said. ‘  ‘Very funny!  said Vashti.  ‘I just can’t draw!”  Her teacher asks Vashti to just make a mark.  Vashti angrily gives the paper a jab.  She asks Vashti to sign it.  One morning Vashti walks into art class and sees her signed “dot” hanging in a frame behind the teacher’s desk.  She decides she can make a better dot and begins to paint dots of all colors and sizes.

Why I love this book:  Peter Reynolds has written and illustrated an inspirational book that encourages children of all ages to be brave and “make their mark.”  There is no right or wrong way.   He wants kids of all ages to imagine, dream and create.  And this week over 500,000 children in all 50 states and around the globe  will be participating in International Dot Day, whether in their classrooms or at home.   Many kidlit bloggers will be making their dots this week.  My dot is below.

Resources:  Create your own dot.  Visit http://www.thedotclub.org/dotday/ to learn more about International Dot Day, activity suggestions, resources, a global map showing participants and a peek at the dots being created by celebrities.  There also is a Facebook page devoted to International Dot Day with frequent updates.   There also is a teacher’s resource guide for Reynold’s The Dot and Ish.  Below is the dot I created on my iPad with ArtRage.  Check out the dot made by my colleague  Beth Stilborn , who also encouraged bloggers to post their dots.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

My Dot

Patricia Howe Tilton 2012

Keep Your Ear on the Ball – Perfect Picture Book

Keep Your Ear on the Ball

Genevieve Petrillo, Author

Lea Lyon, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for:  Grades 3 to 6

Theme: Visual Impairment, Disability, Self-reliance, Sports

Opening/Synopsis:  “Davey looked like every other new kid that ever came into our class.  Ms. Madison walked him in and said, ‘Boys and girls, this is Davey.’  He was medium height.  He had medium brown hair and medium brown eyes.  A regular kid.”   When Davey asks the teacher if he can look around, he walks around the room touching the book-case, blackboard and his desk.   Davey is blind.  The students realize that Davey is very resourceful and can do just about everything the others do.  All of the kids try to be helpful and offer to do things for Davey.  His response is always “Thanks, but no thanks.”  When they play kickball, things escalate a bit and no one wants him on their team.

Why I like this book:  Based on a true story, Genevieve Petrillo has created a heartfelt story about how students respond to a blind student.   Lea Lyon’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and full of action.  Once again she uses students from a visually impaired classroom to act out scenes for her sketches.  Davey is determined to be self-reliant.  He doesn’t want anyone doing anything for him.  He wants the kids to see what he can do.  When he has difficulty playing kickball and still refuses help, the kids are frustrated.  But together they begin to observe Davey, recognize what he can do, and figure out how to help him in an unusual and respectful way.

Resources:  Click on Reach and Teach  for special classroom activities designed especially to go with Keep Your Ear on the Ball.   There is more information about the real Davey.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Just a reminder for May 7:   I will be interviewing NYT bestselling author Kristin Hannah about her new book Home Front.  There will be a book giveaway.  Her interview will launch my focus on Military Families in May. 

Books for Kids Going to Summer Camp

Camp K-9, written by Mary Ann Rodman and illustrated by Nancy Hayashi.   Recently published in May 2011, this charming book will sure to be a favorite among kids. Rodman attended summer camps as a child and later became a camp counselor.   The illustrations are in lovely pastels and set the tone for the book.  Hayashi began writing and illustrating her own books in third grade.

Roxie and her fellow dog campers are headed for Camp K-9.   But, Roxie has a secret she tightly guards in her pooch pouch — her blankie.   From the beginning she and all the campers are taunted by a white Standard Poodle, Lucy.   It’s rotten luck for Roxie when she is paired with the large canine trouble maker.  They share a bunk and are partners in many camp activities that include swimming, boating, and arts and crafts.   One day Lucy is missing.  The camp is in an uproar searching for  Lucy.   But, Roxie  finds Lucy and discovers that she has a secret.  Will she tell?

Plantzilla Goes to Camp, written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by David Catrow for kids 4-8 years of age.   I must say this is one of the most imaginative and vividly designed books I’ve run across.  The text is written in letters, post cards and telegrams.  It is  heartwarming with a very subtle message about friendship and self-confidence.  The illustrations are bold, colorful and quirky, which just adds to the total charm of the book.  Kids will love this book!  It is the second in a series, the first book is Plantzilla.

Mortimer Henryson is off  to Camp Wannaleaveee for a month.   He’s following family tradition and attending the  camp his father attended as a boy.  The only problem is that he’s not allowed to take along his pet.  For Mortimer this means he’ll be separated from his beloved  exotic plant, nicknamed Plantzilla by the kids in his class, and his dog.   His teacher offers to plant-sit and dog-sit.  At camp, Mortimer shares a cabin with a bully who is the biggest kid in camp.  He pleads to come home.  Plantzilla, sensing his friend is in trouble , shows up to camp.   That’s when the fun begins and many lessons are to be learned by all.

Cowboy Camp, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Mike Reed, for kids 4-8 years of age.  The illustrations are colorful, bold and humorous.  They beautifully support the text and western theme.   Cowboy Camp is another book kids will  identify with, and want to read again and again.

Avery knew the minute he arrived at Cowboy Camp, that he didn’t fit in.  All the kids were larger than he was, and had names like Hank and Jimmy Dean.  His belly heaved when he ate cowboy chow.  Even worse, he was allergic to horses.  How would he ever live up to Cowboy Dan’s expectations to act, walk and talk like a buckaroo.   Avery sits alone by the campfire one evening contemplating his situation, when he hears a strange noise and sees a shadow.   Avery acts in his own unique way, and  becomes the camp hero and  the bravest cowboy of all.

Going to summer camp is a rite of passage for children.  For many, it is their first time away from home.    I like these three books because they address all the fears and concerns kids face on their own.  They worry about not fitting in,  homesickness and  bullies.  There many good summer camps available to children including scouting, sports, horse, music and art, and  weight-loss camps.   Attending a camp can be a great way for kids to begin to build independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence.

Unstoppable Me! and No Excuses! Mental Health Awareness Month

Unstoppable Me!  10 Ways to Soar Through Life, is written by Dr. Wayne Dyer, with Kristina Tracy, and is published by Hay House, Inc.   The illustrations by Stacy Heller Budnick, are colorful and enchanting.  Although Dr. Dyer would like the concepts in his books introduced to children as early as two years of age, I believe kids ages  4 to 8 years, benefit most– and parents.  This book is based on Dr. Dyer’s adult book What Do You Really Want for Your Children?

Dr. Dyer has effectively used rhyme in a fun way to communicate the 10 concepts in his book.   It is a heartwarming  book that encourages kids to become the most that they can be.    He begins with “You’re great-no matter what,  persistence pays off, welcome to the unknown, you have a choice, farewell to worry, peace begins with you, enjoy the here-and-now, healthy me, creativity is the key, and what can you give.”    Dyer’s messages build such positive self-esteem for children, in ways that a child will easily and eagerly understand.  For example he says, “change is a good thing and if you embrace it instead of fear it, life will always be an adventure.”    His challenge to children is to think about what “you can give and not what you can get.”   At the end of the book is a very important section where children and parents can answer questions about how they might handle a situation.  A great way for a parent to learn about what is on their child’s mind. 

No Excuses!: How What You Can Say Can Get in Your Way  is another book written by Dr. Wayne Dyer with Kristina Tracy and illustrated by Stacy Heller Budnick.  It is for children 4 to 8 years of age. 

This is a  story about a boy who loves turtles and wants to become a marine biologist,  but isn’t supported and encouraged by those around him.  He begins to doubt himself  and gives up on his dream saying  “I’m not smart enough…it’s too hard…it will take too long and cost too much .”   While visiting an aquarium, the boy meets a marine biologist who changes his life,  and gives him the first encouragement he needs to begin to work through his excuses and gain self-confidence.  This book delivers a  powerful message.  It’s well-suited for parents and teachers to use with children, to help them name the excuses they make that prevent them from reaching their full potential.  As with all Dr. Dyer’s books, there is a list and a quiz at the end where kids can discuss whether a sentence is an excuse.

I believe we are undergoing a major paradigm shift in how we teach our children.  Children are so open and receptive to new thoughts and ideas.  Dr. Dyer’s book would be great tools for teachers to use with pre-schoolers through elementary.   After giving this more thought, it would be good for parents to start introducing his books at age two, and continue to read them repeatedly through elementary school.   What better way to affirm your child’s greatness, encourage possibility and reach their full potential.