Thursday, April 30, 2015

Endangered Elephants
by Bobbie Kalman

Endangered Elephants is an easy-to-understand and easy-to-follow informational book about the incredible elephant.

Book Talk
Kalman puts together a wonderful non-fiction book about endangered elephants that is well paced and well sequenced with relevant information about the elephant. The book presents information that is simplistic, yet interesting to kids.  

Endangered Elephants contains typical features of an informational book, making it easy for student readers to follow and an excellent mentor text for informational writing.  There are topic headings in bolded,  large font at the top of the left hand page (Elephant Bodies) and the topic is explored in the open  two pages spread.  Subtopics on the page spread are introduced by  a smaller, bolded font (The amazing trunk). Photos, drawings and diagrams on the page layout balance out the text.  All photos, drawings and diagrams have their own captions written in italics to add additional information to the topic on the page.  Topic-specific and/or scientific words are bolded, explained when they appear in the text and can also be found in the glossary in the back.

With each turn of the page, a new topic is explored making it very student-reader friendly.

Endangered Elephants includes a table of contents, a glossary, an index and a “Learn More!” page (with websites to visit along with encouragement to visit the local library!).

An example of the text: 
Pages 6-7 feature the topic What are Elephants?.
After the explanation that elephants are mammals and what exactly mammals are, there is the subheading called “Like no other”. This is the accompanying text for that subheading:

Elephants belong to the Elephantidae family.  They are the only type of animal in this family. Elephants are huge animals that have big ears, long trunks, and tusks. Tusks are long pointed teeth.”

I plan to look for other books in this “Earth’s Endangered Animals” series.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text: 
Book Genre: Informational
Reading Workshop strategies: Search for and Use Information, Question, Summarize
Writing Workshop:  Informational Writing
Grammar: Sentence fluency

Curricular Themes:  Science, Animal Adaptations 

About Bobbie Kalman:

Twilight Comes Twice
 by Ralph Fletcher
 Illustrated by Kate Kiesler

Ralph Fletcher’s free verse allows the reader to journey with a girl and her dog as they discover the beauty, the activities, the similarities of dawn and dusk.

Book Talk
In Twilight Comes Twice, Ralph Fletcher beautifully describes the natural similarities between dawn and dusk.

One of my favorite lines opens the story and sets the stage of the rhythm of the book:
“Twice each day 
a crack opens 
between night and day. 
Twice twilight 
slips through that crack.”

Kate Kiesler’s illustrations help to  guide the reader through the flowing, descriptive free verse as we follow a girl and her dog discovering the many activities that transpire when that crack between night and day briefly opens up.

At dusk, they watch as the colors of the sky deepen, change and darken. Mosquitos, bats, fireflies wake up;  kids finish up their Little League game, and adults come home. Crows gather in a tree to ‘gossip’ and fisherman try for the last catch of the day.

At dawn, many of the opposite activities begin to greet a new day: the crows return, the spiders wake up, boys gather to fish, the baseball diamond shines in the morning dew waiting for the day's game.

My husband’s favorite line is from the book’s final page:
“As you set your table for breakfast,
dawn sets its own table,
with light that ushers in 
a brand new day.”

Suggested Uses as A Mentor Text
Genre:  Free Verse / Poetry
Writing Workshop Genre: Poetry
Reading Workshop strategies: Visualizing, Connecting
Grammar:  Using descriptive words

Ralph Fletcher’s website:

Ralph Fletcher’s blog:
Farfallina and Marcel 
by Holly Keller

Award: Charlotte Zolotow Award 

was drawn into this book by the interesting characters names in the title and the beautiful blue green earth tones in the cover illustration.

The book did not disappoint.

Book Talk
Taking place in one of my favorite, peaceful, serene settings—the pond, the story centers around an adorable caterpillar, Farfallina, and her new friendship with a young gosling named Marcel.

Right away, the theme of a caring friendship is evident: the friends play hide and seek, but when hiding, they consider the other’s limitations and hide where it is almost easy to be found.

My favorite lines from this part of the story:
"Farfallina hid under a fern close to the ground because she knew that Marcel couldn't climb. And he hid right behind the tree because he knew that Farfallina moved slowly."

Eventually, as with all friendships—things begin to change—but not in the usual ‘I am growing away from you type’ change.  One day Farfallina feels ‘uncomfortable’ and goes to the top of the tree.  Marcel, being the friend that he is, waits at the base of the tree….and waits and waits and waits for her over the course of several weeks.  Little does he know that she has spun her cocoon and is beginning her metamorphosis into a butterfly.  Marcel finally gives up waiting, but notices that he too, is changing.

Time passes, a new butterfly emerges from the cocoon—our Farfallina.  She flies around looking for Marcel, yet cannot find him. She sadly finds her way to the pond where she discovers a large, male goose swimming in circles.  By exchanging their sad stories of losing a friend to each other—they happily realize that they are back together again!  Their friendship picks up where it left off and deepens.

Suggested uses as a Mentor Text:
Genre:  Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Connecting, Character development
Writing Workshop:  Fantasy Narrative
Curricular connections/ themes: Science: Lifecycle, Pond Life; Character Ed/Lifeskills (friendship)

An interview with Holly Keller:
by Judith Voirst  
Illustrated by Nola Langner Malone

Earrings! is a humorous book about a girl who really, really, REALLY wants her ears pierced. Her parents say no, which—-of course—makes her want her ears pierced all the more! 

Book Talk:   
A young girl wants her ears pierced so badly that she  promises to do all kinds of things—like walking the dog, reading a book (one a week) and even being nice to her brother!!!

But Mom and Dad won’t give in to her arguments and they have all kinds of (good) reasons for her to wait…

The girl is a great example of persistence—-she doesn’t give up in her desire to have pierced ears!  (She doesn’t get them by the end of the book—-but the reader has the strong feeling that she will definitely keep on trying!)

The book is written in a fun, first person dialogue as the narrator (the young girl) explains to readers how seriously—(and desperately!) she wants earrings.  Voirst’s writing style in this particular book and the way she uses the narrator’s voice would be an interesting study for perhaps grades 5-8 in Writing Workshop.  (It is similar to Alexander’s ‘voice’ in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.)

My favorite lines from the book:
“I tell my mom and my dad all the things I would do
If only
If only
If only
If only
If only they would let me have pierced ears:
Like, walk our dog everyday for a whole year.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Genre: Realistic Fiction   (strong female character)
Reading comprehension strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Connecting
Writing Workshop:  Opinion/Persuasive language, Personal Narrative, Use of Narrator’s Voice
Curricular connections: Character Ed /Lifeskills (persistence, patience)

About Judith Viorst

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

 by Seymour Simon

Author Seymour Simon is well known for his outstanding non-fiction /  informational books for young children.

Book Talk
True confessions:  When I grew up, reading informational texts was not taught or encouraged.  It was not necessarily discouraged, but other than encyclopedias, I really don’t remember reading—or seeing—many non-fiction books.

So, as motivated as I am to try to digest non-fiction and how I truly find many non-fiction topics fascinating, I still find informational books sometimes difficult for me to read….

….until I have read Seymour Simon’s books—and Sharks is a prime example of his well-written, engaging writing style for informational texts.

Whereas the book is not a narrative non-fiction, the presentation of facts is written in a flowing,  engaging  and easy-to-understand way.

An example of the Simon's informational writing style:
"The largest shark, and indeed  the largest fish in the world, is the whale shark. It can grow as long as sixty feet and weigh as much as twenty tons--as long and heavy as a huge trailer truck."

On the first page, Simon dispels the myths about sharks being man-eating monsters.  In the subsequence pages, he presents intriguing information and facts that teach the reader about the fascinating animal that sharks are.

If you were not a shark fan before you read this book, you will come away with a new respect and a bit of wonderment about these incredible animals.

Kids will love this book.  The pictures are close-up and graphic-but not scary- they match and add support to the text on the opposite the page.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Genre: Informational
Writing Workshop: Informational Writing, Opinion Writing
Reading Workshop Strategies: Questioning, Search for and Use Information
Grammar: Commas: in a series and introductory phrases, Sentence fluency
Curricular Themes: Science: Sharks,  Animal Adaptations

Seymour Simon's webpage:
Suki’s Kimono  
 by Chieri Uegaki 
Illustrated by Stephanie Jorisch

In search of a spunky, confident female character? Look no more….try reading Suki’s Kimono!

Book Talk 
Suki is getting ready for the first day of first grade.  She has decided to wear the kimono that her Grandmother (obachan) had given her during the summer.  Suki’s older sisters are horrified that she would choose traditional clothing for the first day of school rather than something ‘cool’ and ‘new’.  Suki doesn’t care and tells the reader why the kimono is so meaningful to her—she  wore the kimono when she went with her grandmother to a traditional Japanese festival—eating Japanese food and dancing Japanese dances.  The memory is so special to Suki, that she wants to wear the kimono again on another special day—the first day of school.

But the other students do laugh and chuckle, point and tease—just like her sisters had predicted. Except for her friend, Penny.  When the teacher asks the students to share something about the summer, Suki explains to the class about her kimono and getas (clogs). Then—to the amazement of her classmates—she demonstrates the dance that she did with her Grandmother!  As she walks back to her seat, the classroom is silent, until her kind (of course) teacher breaks the silence setting off a huge applause.

On the way home, Suki is as happy as can be—and her sisters?  Grumpy because no one notice their ‘cool’ and ‘new’ clothes.

A favorite part of the story:
""You need something new, Suki." "You need something cool."
But Suki shook her head. She didn't care for new. She didn't care for cool. She wanted to wear favorite thing. And her favorite thing was her kimono."

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Genre: Realistic Fiction  (Strong female character) 
Reading Workshop strategies:  Questioning, Connecting, Predicting, Summarizing
Writing Workshop genres:  Narrative Writing , Opinion Writing, Elaboration
Curricular themes: Diversity /We Need Diverse Books, family traditions; Character Ed/ : (confidence, believing in self)

Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm
 By Jerdine Nolan 
Illustrations by Mark Buehner

A wonderful fantasy! Tons of fun and imagination in this story!  Beautiful, bright, colorful illustrations!

Book Talk
A young girl narrates this delightful story of Harvey Potter, a local farmer who grows and harvests—of all things—balloons!

No one in the farming community  knows exactly how Harvey does it, but in his fields he grows every shape, kind and brilliant color of balloon. The balloons grow at the top of what looks like a corn stalk. When he brings the balloons into town to sell, the folks flock around his truck to purchase the beautiful crop of balloons.

We learn that Harvey is simple, plain and strange.  He wears the same clothes all the time and carries a conjure stick under his arm at all times, no matter what he is doing.

The young girl decides she wants to befriend Harvey (which she does) to learn how he grows balloons (  which she doesn’t-yet!).  She often sits with him on his porch sharing lemonade. Her hope is that he will share his secret to growing balloons with her, but he never does.

Some favorite lines from this part of the story: “After a while, I just liked going around him.  He didn’t ask you no questions about why you weren’t this or that.  He just let a person be. He let a person sit and think out loud sometimes, and…well…that’s a mighty good thing to do.”

One night the girl decides to watch Harvey in his field because that is when he does his farming.  She climbs a tree and witnesses some amazing and magical dances and levitations by Harvey and his conjure stick!  The next day he has new balloons growing in his field and tells the girl she can take a few of the plants.

The book ends with the girl telling readers that Harvey grew a balloon big enough for her to use to fly away in.  She settles somewhere else,  grows up, starts her own farm and cultivates—you guessed it—balloons!

One last favorite use of words by the author: “Harvey Potter went on growing the best, prettiest balloons this side of anywhere.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Questioning
Writing Workshop: Fantasy Narrative, Writer’s Voice
Grammar: Subject-verb agreement (dialect)

Jerdine Nolan’s website

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain
 By Verna Aardema
 Pictures by Beatriz Vidal

A delightful blended /hybrid story—a story of an African plain that is written as a poetic folktale using a variation of the cumulative English nursery rhyme, “The House that Jack Built”.

Book Talk
Storyteller Verna Aardema skillfully blends three types of writing (poetry, folktale, nursery rhyme)  to create a beautiful read-aloud about the Kapiti Plain in Kenya.  

The original tale is taken from the Nandi people and written in English by Sir Claud Hollis in 1909.  Aardema adds a repeating refrain to tie the folktale closer to the rhythm of “The House that Jack Built”.

An example of the building, poetic, folkloric text:

From this:
“This is the cloud,  
     all heavy with rain,              
That shadowed  the ground
     on Kapiti Plain”
To this:
“These are the cows,
all hungry and dry,
Who mooed for the rain,
to fall from the sky;
To green-up the grass,
all brown and dead,
That needed the rain
from the cloud overhead—
The big, black cloud,
all heavy with rain,
That shadowed the ground 
on  Kapiti Plain”

Students will love the rhythm and rhyme of this cumulative story and how it continues to grow!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Folktale (thru poetry)
Reading Workshop strategies: Fluency, Predicting, Questioning
Writing Workshop: Folktale, Poetry
Curricular Themes: Diversity/We Need Diverse Book, African cultures & folktales

About Verna Aardema

A Call for a New Alphabet 
 by Jef Czekaj

A delightful book the centers around the thoughts and wishes of the letter ‘X’—who is tired of being at the end of the alphabet!  

Book Talk
‘X’ comes up with an elaborate (and humorous)  scheme to convince the other letters to rearrange the alphabet so that he can be in the front of the order.  It is finally decided to take a vote of all the letters.  The night before the vote, ‘X’ has a dream outlining what life would be for him if he were another letter.  He is surprised with the not-so-wonderful consequences, wakes up and casts the deciding vote!

Czekaj embeds humor in the text as well as the illustrations.  The text reads as half narrative, half beginning graphic novel adding to the enjoyment of the story.  Czekaj also cleverly introduces interesting ways that various letters are used in the English language, as well as sprinkling in a few grammar and spelling rules.

A sample of Czekaj’s writing style:
"I always end up at the back of a book with a picture of an x-ray and a xylophone.  Why don't more words start with me? Why am I always third to the last?" asked X."

Despite the word ‘alphabet’ in the title—this is not an ABC book!  Layered with humor and spelling information, it makes a perfect text for grades K-2 to enjoy.  Grades 3-5 could easily use this as a mentor text for writing workshop to model different forms of writing (a well as a fun reminder of some pesty spelling rules!).

Suggested Ways to Use as a Mentor Text:
Genre: Beginning Graphic Novel / Fantasy hybrid
Writing Workshop: Opinion Writing
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Predicting, Questioning, Summarizing, Fluency
Grammar: Spelling Rules

Jef Czekaj’s website:
Jef Czekaj’s blog:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Stray Dog 
by Marc Simont  

Award: Caldecott Honor

A fun story about a family enjoying a beautiful picnic day in the park outside the city.  

Book Talk: 
A stray dog is attracted by the family sounds….and the smell of hot dogs on the grill no doubt.  The children immediately start to play fun games with him: fetch, leap frog AND they give him a name: Willy.
The dog and boy and girl play happily all afternoon, then it is time to go home. The kids beg the parents to take the lovable  dog home, but the parents say no.

ALL week long, the sweet, adorable, playful, lovable dog invades each member of the family’s thoughts—causing them to do clumsy and silly things.

The next scene is a week later and we find the family back at the same exact spot with another picnic—looking and longing for Willy to return.  He does—-but runs by them in a hurry as he is being pursued by the dogcatcher!!

The boy and girl come to Willy’s rescue in a very clever way—-and Willy ends up with the family settling in as if he had always belonged there.

Favorite lines from the book: “The boy took off his belt. “Here’s his collar,” he said. The girl took off her hair ribbon. ‘Here’s his leash,” she said.

The text is simple in this text making it an excellent picture book for grades Pre-K to Grade 1.  The illustrations are wonderful— depicting happy kids doing kid-type stuff (standing on the bench at the picnic table to eat, etc) and important details are highlighted with color ( the family’s red car in the dark, drab, brown, busy city)  The family is not given names- only ‘the boy’ and ‘the girl’.  

The only named character is the most important—Willy, the dog.

Suggested Uses as A Mentor Text:
Genre: Realistic Fiction   
Reading Workshop comprehension strategies:  Questioning, Connecting, Summarizing
Writing Workshop Genre:  Narrative, Memoir (possible)
Curricular connections / themes: Pets, Families,  Illustration

Short biography on Marc Simont's life and his contributions to children's literature:

Awards: Caldecott Honor 2001.
My Man Blue
 Poems by Nikki Grimes
Pictures by  Jerome Lagarigue

WOW!  Incredible use of poetry to narrate the sweet, poignant story of growing up.

Book Talk
Nikki Grimes masterly uses the power of poetry /free verse to take the reader through the trials of a young boy, Damon, as he and his mother resettle in her childhood neighborhood.  She rekindles a friendship with a childhood friend named “Blue”,  (who, of course is now a man).  Blue, in turn, befriends the fatherless Damon and plays a pivotal role in the young boy’s life, advising him of the dangers of the ‘street’, playing hoops and ball with him and generally being a positive presence in the boy’s life.  The friendship between man and boy beautifully fulfills a need for both of them as they develop a trusting relationship.  

Each step of Damon and Blue’s relationship is told in the form of a narrative poem.
Each page has a different poem relating to a specific issue that the two are facing or just describes a way the two relate to each other.

Nikki Grime’s poems are powerful, yet tender.  The poems are wonderfully written and a beautiful way to weave this story of this important, developing relationship between two people who need each other.

A favorite poem from the book (They are all powerful!) 
His Hands
   His hands
are a rough sculpture
of thick fingers
& thumbs tipped
with work proud
callouses, his badges
of tough, honest labor
down on the docks.
   His hands
are strong stories.
He tells them 
sometimes when
I let him hold mine.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text 
Book Genre: Poetry / Free Verse
Reading Workshop Strategies: Fluency, Connecting, Inferring, Analyzing, Questioning
Writing Workshop: Poetry (Narrative)
Grammar: Punctuation (in poetry)
Curricular themes:  Diversity / We Need Diverse Books

Nikki Grimes website:

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Relatives Came
Story by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Award: Caldecott Honor

This is one of my favorite Cynthia Rylant's books! I love the imagery that she creates by her use of easy-flowing language.

Book Talk: The relatives live in Virginia and they travel to the storyteller's home.  When they arrive, there are endless rounds of hugs at the the yard to the house.....and through the house.

One of my favorite lines: "You have to go through at least four different hugs to get from the kitchen to the front room.  Those relatives!"

The storyteller describes the meals together and the after-meal 'glow'.  Her description of the crowded sleeping arrangements is humorous, yet sweet.

Another favorite line: 
 "It was different going to sleep with all that new breathing going on."

The summer continues, the relatives stay for weeks and weeks--eating, fixing things, playing music, sleeping and of course, hugging!

The story ends with the relatives going back home to Virginia in their rainbowed colored car--with promises of returning next summer.

Stephen Gammell won a Caldecott Honor Award for his explicit, yet humorous, colorful illustrations.

Suggested uses as a Mentor Text:
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Making Connections, Inferring, Visualizing, Maintaining Fluency
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies:  Narrative, Memoir, Writer's Voice
Grammar: adjectives, sentence fluency
Curricular themes: family, extended family, traditions

Cynthia Rylant's webpage: