Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig


Steig, William. 1969. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Ill. by William Steig. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN-13: 9780812401042

In the classic book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig tells the story of a young donkey that stumbles across a red, magic stone one day on an adventure in the woods.  Immediately, Sylvester finds himself amazed at the fact that, when he holds the stone in his hand and makes a wish, it invariably comes true.  Trouble strikes, however, when Sylvester meets up with a mean, vicious-looking lion.  Without taking the time to think it through, Sylvester wishes to be turned into a rock in order to escape the fate that awaits him between the lion’s jaws. His strategy works, but now, as an inanimate object, he is unable to wish himself back to being a donkey.  Sad, alone, and unable to return his normal life, Sylvester is forced to face the next month as a rock until one day his grief-stricken parents decide to take a walk.  Sylvester’s mother and father randomly find themselves picnicking right on top of the rock that is actually their son, and they express a fervent wish that Sylvester could be with them once again. Just like that, Sylvester is restored to his normal, donkey self, and tearfully reunites with his stunned parents.

Children of all ages and cultural backgrounds will fall in love with this simple yet powerful story.  Inevitably, they will find themselves cheering for the seemingly impossible happy ending and will feel a wide array of emotions along the way as they get to know the unforgettable main character, Sylvester.  In 2005, Publisher’s Weekly stated that Sylvester and the Magic Pebble “has charmed a generation of readers and will no doubt go on to attract a new one.”  No matter the reader’s age, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble sends a clear message that sometimes what we currently have is all we will really ever need.

The diverse use of color, shapes, and lines in Steig’s illustrations allow the reader to easily connect with the emotions of each character and recognize the intended mood.  Colors appear brighter, characters are seen with looks of jubilation, and the bright sun comes out to shine on pages where the mood is obviously a happy one.  Conversely, colors are darker and tears of sadness fall down the character’s faces when Sylvester disappears and grief overtakes his parents.  Emotions are even depicted in the body language of the characters.  For example, Sylvester’s parents appear slumped over and jaded while he is missing and upright and thankful when he is found.

As Williams Steig has had a very successful career authoring many children’s books, taking the time produce an “author spotlight” would be a great opportunity for the library to encourage literacy among children and their families.  Additionally, displaying other books with themes of people or objects being lost (and eventually found) may spark thematic conversations and connections among children and contribute to a love of reading.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was a recipient of the Caldecott Medal in 1970, was nominated for an Audie award in 2013, and was mentioned in the 2005 USA Today Book club.  Additionally, it was selected as one of the 100 Best Books of the Century by the National Education Association.

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. Accessed September 7, 2013.

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka


Raschka, Chris. 2011. A Ball for Daisy. Ill. by Chris Raschka. New York: Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0375858611.

Without the use of a single word, Chris Raschka introduces us to the world of a dog, Daisy, and the deep love she has for her precious red ball.  Through the use of bright, vibrant watercolors, Daisy is seen chasing her ball, carrying her ball, and even sleeping right beside it.  All is well and good until the climax of the story when Daisy takes a trip to the park with her owner and a fellow dog playmate steals the red ball and pops it.  Immediately afterwards, Raschka’s illustrations allow the reader to experience Daisy’s sadness as she falls into a deep depression, believing that she will never again experience the love she once had. The plot is resolved when Daisy finds herself back in the park to find the same playmate that popped her ball, along with a new ball in the process! in the end, Daisy goes home with her precious new blue ball and couldn’t be happier.

Using only brush strokes, Raschka is able to create an incredible amount of emotion in his character, Daisy. He does so by using ever changing lines on Daisy’s mouth, eyes, and eyebrows.  Throughout the course of the book, Raschka successfully portrays Daisy as happy, joyful, tired, sleepy, perplexed, nervous, depressed, surprised, anxious, and jubilated. This stylistic choice can also be seen in Raschka’s fences, children’s clothing, walkways, trees, and trashcan.

The use of color also contributes greatly to the portrayal of Daisy’s moods.  On pages sixteen and seventeen, the colors gradually darken to create a depressed mood as Daisy realizes the fate of her precious red ball.  In addition, the sky appears in shades of light yellow, green, and blue when Daisy is happily playing with her red ball in the beginning and then again returns to those shades during the happy ending.  During the climax and before the resolution, the sky appears in shades of purple and gray, almost as if a storm has moved in.

The array of emotions felt by Daisy as she loses her ball, shares a new one, and makes a new friend are all emotions  that children are very familiar with, making this book extremely relatable.  As a School Library Journal reviewer put it in 2011, “Raschka’s genius lies in capturing the essence of situations that are deeply felt by children. They know how easy it is to cause an accident and will feel great relief at absorbing a way to repair damage.” Children will walk away with the satisfaction of a closed ending and will hopefully be able to process the underlying message that resolution and happiness can come from forgiveness and sharing.

A Ball for Daisy won the School Library Jounral’s best book award of the year in 2011, a Caldecott award in 2012, and ALA’s notable book for Children award in 2012.  In addition, it has been nominated for a Golden Archer award in 2013 and has appeared on many bestseller lists including, Barnes & Noble, Booksense, Publishers Weekly, and the New York times.

A Ball for Daisy would be a perfect book to use for an ESL children’s audience in the library setting.  This book would allow children to use their imaginations to the fullest and create the story in their head in whatever language they choose.  It would also allow librarians to slowly introduce English words like “ball,” “dog,” “girl,” and “friend” as children point to the objects displayed in the illustrations.  Other bilingual books about dogs or making new friends could be paired with A Ball for Daisy to create a storytime theme.

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. Accessed September 7, 2013.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems


Willems, Mo. 2012. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. Ill. by Mo Willems. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 9780062104182

Get ready to laugh your head off as you read Mo Willem’s reimagining of the classic “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story.  In this version, the reader gets acquainted with three dinosaurs, Mama Dinosaur, Papa Dinosaur, and the unforgettable Dinosaur “that happened to be visiting from Norway.” As the three dinosaurs prepare their home with three bowls of porridge pudding, three chairs, and three beds that are “just right,” the dinosaurs leave the house for “someplace else” hoping that “no innocent little succulent children happens by their unlocked home.” As the dinosaurs slyly look on, Goldilocks (none other than Knuffle Bunny’s Trixie) traipses into a strange house and eats all of the chocolate pudding.  After realizing that all of the chairs are too tall for her to sit on, Goldilocks wises up and takes a long(er than usual) moment to stop and think. Just in the nick of time, she realizes that she is the dangerous home of dinosaurs, not bears!  Luckily for her, the dinosaurs foolishly left the back door unlocked, so Goldilocks is able to escape and realize a happy ending.

By using irony and wit throughout, Willems builds a humorous, complex text that will keep children on the edge of their seats and expand their vocabulary at the same time. Words like “succulent,” “unsuspecting,” “traipsing,” “barging,” “groggy,” “gloating,” and “coincidentally” will force children to make contextual sense of these words as they work to make sense of the story.

Not only does Willems use humor in his text but also in his illustrations. For example, as Papa dinosaur is preparing the chocolate pudding, a dinosaur with two human feet sticking out can be seen in the picture on the refrigerator! Also, the original sign on Goldilocks’s path reads “.2 miles to trap!” Children will have a blast discovering these colorful hidden treasures as they learn to make predictions about what may happen next.

No weaknesses can be found in this Willems hit as the dramatic text, the cleanly drawn illustrations, and the incredibly well executed humorous come together to form this crowd-pleasing hit.  As Booklist points out, “Willems has delivered his very best work so far this is a tasty treat for kids already fluent with the original, and for any fan of funny, and everybody will want to read it again and again and again (2012).”

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs has received many nominations and awards since it was published in 2012.  Some of these include Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2012, School Library Journal Best Books of the year in 2012, Beehive Children’s Picture Book award in 2013, American Library Association Notable books for Children in 2012, and Colorado Children’s book award in 2014.

Because the classic tale of Goldilocks and The Three Bears is familiar to almost all children, this Mo Willem re-imagining allows children to use analytical skills to compare and contrast the old with the new and make predictions about what will happen next in the story.  This also allows librarians to cultivate rich conversations during storytime or any other literacy event in the library.  Librarians could, for example, empower children to create their own version of this tale in a beginning, middle, end booklet (shown below).  Example titles are available both on the inside front and back cover if children need inspiration to get the writing process started.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. Accessed September 7, 2013.

Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan


Bryan, Ashley. 2003. Beautiful Blackbird. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishng. ISBN 9780689847318

In Ashley Bryan’s Beautiful Blackbird, a group of colorful African songbirds love and praise the titular creature who they deem the prettiest among them. All of the birds love blackbird so much, in fact, that they want to have black markings on their own feathers just like he does. Blackbird tries to let his feathered brethren know that altering the outside appearance doesn’t change what is within, but all of the birds beg Blackbird for black markings, and so he complies by making paint in his gourd and applying the brush himself. At the conclusion of the story, all of the newly black specked and spotted birds affirm that yes, black is indeed beautiful.

The songlike rhyme and chanting textual portions, when coupled with the strikingly colorful illustrations, give the reader a glimpse into the culture of the Ila-speaking people from the African country of Zambia.  Children will find this pour quoi tale easy to listen to, especially if the storyteller reads it in a chant-like manner placing emphasis on the rhymes throughout.

The book’s weakest element may be seen in the deliverance of its message.  Although some may interpret the message to be a positive one, that of self-esteem and discovering the beauty within oneself, others may gather that it promotes a message of envy and jealousy.  The delivery of the message is most confusing in the end of the book when the colored birds find the beauty within only after being painted black.  The one message that does come across very clearly, however, is that black is beautiful.  The phrase, “black is beautiful” is used multiple times in the chant of the birds, often being emphasized with an “uh huh!”

Whatever confusion may be created in the message is certainly made up for in the lively illustrations.  Children will be drawn to the simplicity of the cut-out shapes of the birds and the array of colors used.  As Booklist states, “Bryan employs boldly colored, cut-paper artwork to dramatize the action. The overlapping collage images fill the pages with energy.” The author’s note at the end of the book explains that the scissors pictured in the endpapers used to create the colorful illustrations actually belonged to his mother.

A paper craft would be a great addition to a library storytime or literacy event.  After reading Beautiful Blackbird, a librarian could take the time to have children really focus on Bryan’s illustrations and brainstorm ways in which they believe them to be constructed.  The librarian could then share Bryan’s story of how the illustrations were created and set children loose with paper and scissors to see what kind of creative works of art they could come up with.

Beautiful Blackbird was the recipient of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Award and was nominated for a Bluegrass Award in 2005.   Additionally, it has received many positive reviews from reputable publishing companies.

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. Accessed September 22, 2013.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs


Isaacs, Anne. 1994. Swamp Angel. Ill. Paul O. Zelinsky. New York: Penguin Books, Inc. ISBN 978-0-14-055908-8

From the very first page of the book, readers of Swamp Angel know they are in for a real tall-tale treat.  There, readers are introduced to the unforgettable main character, Angelica Longrider, who is seen as an enormous baby in the arms of her startled parents.  Although Isaacs states that “there was nothing about the baby to suggest that she would become the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee,” the irony of that statement is soon revealed.  At the young age of twelve, Angelica is seen heroically saving many settlers from a flooding disaster by picking up wagons with ease and placing them on higher ground. From then on, everyone on the frontier refers to her as the Swamp Angel.  Her most heroic feat comes when she saves her town from a menacing black bear named Thundering Tarnation, who has cleaned out nearly half the cellars in Tennessee. Often being compared to the female version of Paul Bunyan, Swamp Angel swings Thundering Tarnation around like a Tornado, wrestles him for three days straight, avoids drowning by drinking an entire lake, and eventually outsmarts the bear by snoring down a tree that falls directly on top of him.  The tale ends with a huge celebration where the whole state of Tennessee enjoys “bear stakes, bear cakes, bear muffin, and bear stuffin’, bear roast and bear toast.”  And of course, there are just enough bear goodies left over to fill all of the empty storehouses for the winter.

Whether in a small group, a classroom setting, or alone, children will be mesmerized by the humor, exaggeration, and picturesque language Anne Isaacs uses in the creation of the plot and characters in this book. As Booklist accurately states, “Isaacs tells her original story with the glorious exaggeration and uproarious farce of the traditional tall tale and with its typical laconic idiom–you just can’t help reading it aloud.”  Although children won’t be wrestling a bear for three days anytime soon, they will hopefully leave with the message that with hard work and determinations, dreams do come true.

The amount of detail used in Zelinksy’s folk-art oil paintings is truly stunning. The illustrations, appearing in a rotation of ovals, semi-circles, and rectangles with cherry, maple, and birch wood backgrounds, give the paintings an antique picture frame look.  This style seems to be a great match for the American frontier setting of the story.  If children look closely, they’ll be able to discover tiny scenes taking place in the background of the main story plot scenes.  Animals and characters the sizes of a thumbprint are seen with animated expressions on their faces, mirroring the mood created within the text.

Although Zelinksy’s oil paintings seem to steal the show, Isaacs’ descriptive text is certainly not forgettable.  Children will be introduced to a host of similes that will kick their imaginations into overdrive. They will be imagining how Swamp Angel “lifted those wagons like they were twigs on a puddle” and how Thundering Tarnation “snored like a locomotive in a thunderstorm.”  As both illustrations and text come together to form the perfect synchronization, School Library Journal had it right when they stated that “It’s an American classic in the making.”

Bringing a professional storyteller into the library to read Swamp Angel  would be an excellent opportunity to pique children’s (and their family’s) interests.  As Sylvia Vardell puts it, “There is nothing quite like hearing a story told by a professional storyteller (Varell 2008, 103).  If the library budget is tight, introducing the audio book and handing out multiple copies of the book for children to follow along would be a great way to recreate the storytelling environment.  Ideally, the narrator would have a great deal of enthusiasm while reading.

Swamp Angel was nominated for a Caldecott Award in 1995, a Show Me Readers Award in 1996, and a Boston Globe Hornbook Award in 1995.

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. Accessed September 21, 2013.

Vardell, Sylvia. Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague


Teague, Mark. 2013. The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf. New York: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 978-0439915014

Mark Teague’s fractured fairy tale version of The Three Little Pigs opens on a farmhouse scene, as the three pigs are told that their farmer owners will be moving to Florida. Upon leaving the farm, the first pig decides to save money for potato chips by building his house out of straw.  Following the junk food theme, the second pig saves money for “sody-pop” and builds his house out of sticks.   Although the straw and stick houses are admittedly too small and too “dusty and musty,” the first and second pigs don’t seem to mind, as they are preoccupied with a shared love of junk food.  The third pig, spending all of her money on bricks and mortar, doesn’t have any money left over for food, so she responsibly decides to plant a garden and is very satisfied with her efforts.  On the other side of town, the hungry wolf (after being snubbed by the town’s local fast food joints) is so impressed with his skills in blowing down the first and second pig’s houses that he allows each of the portly siblings to escape to the third pig’s house.  After trying relentlessly to blow the third house down, the wolf faints.  Instead of running off, the pigs revive him with smelling salts, feed him, and welcome him into their home.

This tale will encourage higher order thinking as children try to decipher meaning from the book.  Children may have a difficult time doing this, however, as the lines between good and evil are blurred.  Readers, especially children, may not be pleased with the lack of a sense of justice portrayed in the end of the book. Without a logical explanation, the wolf, portrayed as the antagonist in the beginning of the story, ends up on equal ground, even becoming friends with the three protagonists.  Multiple meanings can be inferred from the reading (being responsible and eating healthily seem to pay off, making friends with your enemies can be a good thing, and people can be changed for the good), but none of them seem to come across strongly.  As Booklist puts it, “Trading in the original story’s sense of justice for the notion that villainy can be cured by a good meal seems a bit off-track, even for a fractured tale.”

Regardless of the message, children will have an animated, fun time reading this tale.   They will laugh at the child-like antics of the wolf and enjoy the cartoon-like oil painting illustrations that move the plot along smoothly.  In addition, children will be mesmerized with Teague’s bright use of color and his strategic placement of farm animals (cats, ducks, rabbits, and roosters) throughout.   Even if confusing, the happy ending for all of the characters will leave children with an overall feeling of satisfaction.

Although cultural displays are not at the forefront of this book, there are some physical differences in the three pig protagonists that are not displayed in the original version.  The first and second pigs (the irresponsible ones) appear to be male and dirty with brown spots covering their bodies while the third pig (the responsible one) appears to be female, as she’s seen with a blue bow on her head.  Although it can be inferred from the illustrations, the gender of the pigs is never revealed directly to the reader.

As there is a distinct beginning, middle, and end and a limited number of characters in Teague’s variant tale, librarians are afforded an excellent opportunity to use a tri-fold felt board to display cut-outs as the story is being told.  Happenings in the beginning of the story would go on the left side, happenings in the middle in the middle section, and happenings in the end on the far right side of the board.  This would serve to both help children better understand the parts of a story and encourage participation and discussion.

While The Three Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf has not won any awards to date, it has received several positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. Accessed September 13, 2013.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis


In his book, Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie, J. Patrick Lewis takes readers on an incredible journey by taking fourteen famous poems and turning them into math teasers.  Many of the poems contain rhyme, and all of them contain beautifully rendered illustrations by Michael Slack that enhance the reader’s visual experience.  Children will discover goofy poems about yaks, eighty-foot long frankfurter buns, and termites (among other oddities) all the while sharpening their math skills. On the final two pages of the book, children get a glimpse into the lives of the fourteen poets whose works were borrowed, as small biographies and caricatures are displayed.

Lewis does on outstanding job of incorporating rhyme and rhythm into each of his fourteen parodied poems.  Nothing about what Lewis writes seems forced but instead flows very naturally.  Some poems, like “William Carlos Williams’s Pizza” contain shorter lines that create a clipped rhythm while poems like “Lewis Carroll’s Fish and Chips” contain longer lines that help to develop a more in depth plot. Reading these poems out loud would be an ideal way for children to hear the rhythm and beat of the poem as well as the rhyming words.  Then having children read out loud to each other or in small groups would help to improve individual reading fluency.  Although younger audiences would not be able to solve the math problems, listening for rhyme would help to build phonological awareness.

Perhaps the most striking poetic element that Lewis seems to execute well is his careful choice of language.  It is obvious that every word was meticulously chosen to surprise readers and keep them on their toes.  Although the choice of words can often come off as bizarre or goofy, it never seems that any of the words are placed without purpose. In what other children’s book would you be able to find words and phrases like “noggin,” “gourd,” “fish and chips,” “sieve,” and “tut-tuttingly strut” all within the same poem?  The answer may be a poem written by J. Patrick Lewis. School Library Journal agrees when they write their own poetic response to Lewis’ poem:

“I shall never solve

A poem that makes my brain evolve

Word problems are made by fools like me

But only Patrick Lewis can make poems like these.”

The colorful, often bizarre illustrations created by Michael Slack go a long way to help children visualize and interpret what is occurring in each poem.  Although the illustrations will not help in the visualization of each math teaser, children can easily avoid frustration by referring to the answer written upside down at the bottom of each page.  As pointed out by School Library Journal, some of the illustrations include “A mustachioed cowpoke and his horse, clad in their “tightie whities,” standing before a clothesline hung with colorfully printed boxer shorts; a girl eating a doughnut “flying” above a lengthy train with the help of three birds holding her umbrella aloft with their feet.”  All of the illustrations follow the same zany tone set in the poems themselves, creating the perfect combination.

Because of the varied difficulty levels of the math problems, this book would be best suited for upper elementary and middle school students.  While using this book in a library program, students could get into small groups and take the time to solve the math problems.  Coming back together as a group, students could then discuss their answers and the methods they used to arrive at those answers.   As an aside, this book would afford elementary and middle school math teachers an excellent opportunity to present a “poem of the week” to their students.

Additionally, librarians could locate the original poems parodied in this book and have students compare and contrast elements like language, rhythm, and rhyme, noting the degree to which the parodied version differs from the original.  Students could then attempt to create their own parodied version based upon their favorite subject in school.  These versions could include riddles or be subject-specific.

J. Patrick Lewis’ birthday is May 5th.  Taking time to display some of his books or a poster about his life would be an excellent way to honor his work.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie has been nominated for a Great Lakes’ Great Book Award this year and has received positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library. (Accessed October 3, 2013).

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2012. Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems. Ill. Michael Slack. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0547513386

Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country) by Kathleen Krull


Like any traditional biography, Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer take their readers on a journey in their picture book biography, Lincoln Tells a Joke, as they present facts about the life of Abraham Lincoln.  Much like any other informational book would do, Lincoln Tells a Joke informs readers that Lincoln was born in a log cabin, studied to become a lawyer, married the sometimes moody Mary, was elected president in 1860, passionately objected the idea of slavery, and eventually led the country through one of its toughest times to date.  However, all of this information is presented with a very unique twist!  Interspersed throughout the text are quotes to highlight how Lincoln used his sense of humor and wit to overcome trials in his life.  Filled with quirky anecdotes and jokes told by Lincoln himself, readers will get to know the young adult that he truly was growing up and how humor contributed to the great man that he would eventually become.

Author Kathleen Krull does an excellent job of presenting her words in an objective manner and not talking down to the reader.  Young readers will be challenged to define words like, “harsh,” “bleak,” “tactics,” and “merriment.”  In addition, Krull’s passion for the subject is evident in the research she did to find direct quotes from Lincoln.  These quotes, often presented in the form of jokes, are presented in a contrasting flowery font, which helps them to stand out textually to young readers.  Lincoln Tells a Joke can easily be read in one sitting.  Therefore, reference aids are neither used nor necessary to help organize the text.

Illustrations are presented in an exaggerated acrylic style.  Often, Lincoln is seen with arms and legs that are extremely disproportionate to the rest of his six foot-four inch body.  The artistic exaggeration, however, is not overbearing and seems to fit well with the overall serious yet humorous tone set by the text.  School Library Journal points out that, “Innerst’s colorful and unconventional acrylic illustrations cover the entire page and are the perfect complement to both the text and the subject matter, making this a standout biography.”

A sources list is presented in the back of the book and mostly contains reputable books written between 1888 and 2003.  Additionally, an author’s note located in the back of the book informs readers that “Lincoln’s jokes in this book are from collections compiled by a variety of people, often after his death.  Some of his clever remarks were passed on by eyewitnesses; some are second-hand, third-hand, or further removed.”  These elements, in addition to knowing that Kathleen Krull has written numerous award-winning picture book biographies, can help the reader conclude that the information presented is accurate.

Lincoln Tells a Joke sends a well-rounded message that Lincoln had flaws and experienced real life problems.  Throughout his life, Lincoln was very unpopular, struggled on and off with depression, and fought feelings of self-consciousness about his homely appearance.  Knowing all of this, readers will learn to respect Lincoln even more as they realize that behind the presidential appearance, Lincoln was a human being like anyone else. In his personal conversations, he often joked about outhouses and flatulence, and commented that during his time in the military he survived, “a good many bloody battles – with mosquitoes” (Krull 2010, 11).   Just like so many do, Lincoln used humor to get through the tough times.

Because picture book biographies allow the text to be read in just one sitting, creating a group timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life would be an excellent activity to use in a library event and then display in the library afterwards.  After reading Lincoln Tells a Joke, the group could discuss each event that happened in Lincoln’s life.  This would allow participants to strengthen their sequencing skills and would lead well into an event being assigned to each child.  On a single sheet of paper, each child would write about that event and illustrate it.  After each child is done, the group could come together to create the timeline.  An example timeline can be viewed at An example single entry is outlined below.


Lincoln Sees Slaves


 “Lincoln grew to be a tall and strong teenager. In 1828, at 19, he helped take a flatboat down the Ohio River to New Orleans. There Lincoln saw for the first time slaves being sold in the marketplace. Lincoln would work to end slavery for the rest of his life.”


 Lincoln Tells a Joke was honored as a Smithsonian’s 2010 Notable Book for Children and has been recommended by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.


Berwick Academy. 2013. “The Life of Abraham Lincoln: An Illustrated Timeline for Young Readers.” (Accessed October 25,  2013).

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. Accessed October 25, 2013. n.d. “Other Biographies.” lincoln (Accessed October 25, 2013).

Krull, Kathleen & Paul Brewer. 2010. Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country). Ill. by Stacy Innerst. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0152066390

Animals Nobody Loves by Seymour Simon


In his photo essay book, Animals Nobody Loves, Seymour Simon presents readers with facts and photographs depicting twenty animals that are often hated and feared.  Among others, these animals include the grizzly bear, the devil ray, the gila monster, the man-of-war, and the piranha.  In this book, Simon works to dispel bad reputations based upon myths, pointing out in his introduction that many of these “animals are not bad or evil.  They do what they must in order to survive.”

Known for incorporating eye-popping photographs into his work, Simon does an incredible job of carefully choosing the compositions in this book.  As he explains, “photographs I use in my books have to be accurate, informative, and highly dramatic.  They have to have the “GEE-WHIZ” impact on the viewer.” (Vardell 2008, 250).  This description is certainly true of the photos presented here.  Perhaps Booklist describes the photographs best when they point out that ”they’ll draw a crowd and a chorus of ‘Gross.’”  Additionally, Simon uses alternating brightly colored pages and alternating fonts in the headings, which both contribute to a great visual experience.

In terms of accuracy, readers can trust the information presented knowing that Simon has a great reputation in the field, having written over 250 books on science subjects (Vardell 2008, 249). Photo credits are available on the inside front cover.  Although the title of the books suggests a possible stereotype, Simon presents facts in the text that subtly subvert these stereotypes.  Text is clear and interesting, and Simon’s passion for the subject shines through.  Throughout the course of the book, we learn that devil rays have the power to turn over a boat (Simon 2001, 22), the great white shark’s teeth “can rip though wood and even metal (8), and after the first severe front, an entire colony of wasps dies (44).  The presentation of the text and Simon’s careful word choices will feed the curious minds of many children.

The overall presentation of the book is well organized. A table of contents is presented in the front of the book which allows children, especially struggling readers or early readers, to pick and choose what text to read without being overwhelmed by the book as a whole.  Generally speaking, Animals Nobody Loves caters to a younger audience, as text appears in 2-3 brief paragraphs that present information on twenty different animals.  This would not be an ideal book for older readers who are conducting a report on a single subject, as not enough information is presented.  This book, however, would be a great starting point to grab children’s interest on a subject and inspire them to do more research.

Introducing a KWL chart (What I Know, what I Want to know, and What I Learned) would be a great way to help children process information presented in Simon’s text as well as learn “how to use and understand this genre fully” (Vardell 2008, 260). In the beginning of the program, children could discuss what they already know about the subject as well as what they want to know and after they reading, what they learned.  All of this information could be written in an enlarged KWL chart (example shown below).  Depending upon the age of the children, the librarian could encourage participation by inviting participants to write their own ideas on the KWL chart.

classroom kwl chart (1)

Additionally, bringing a nature expert to expand upon information presented in Simon’s book would be a great way to enrich a library program.  Ideally, the nature expert would be able to bring real bats, spiders, rattlesnakes, rats, fire ants, and/or wasps, but even allowing children to interview the expert would allow the subject to come alive for children.

Animals Nobody Loves was nominated for a 2005 North Carolina Children’s Book Award and has received positive reviews from Booklist and Kirkus Reviews.

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. (Accessed October 25, 2013).

Book Index with Reviews. Texas Woman’s University (Accessed October 25, 2013).

Simon, Seymour. 2001. Animals Nobody Loves. New York: SeaStar Books. ISBN 978-1587171550

Vardell, Sylvia. 2008. Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery


With whiskers like a cat and soft feathers that make it flightless, the kakapo may be considered the world’s strangest parrot.  Once ubiquitous, the kakapo has struggled for many years to remain present in this world. It has been hunted by indigenous groups, killed by predators introduced by humans, and struggled with the birth of unhealthy offspring.  Today, only around ninety remain.  Luckily for them, they have a group of highly dedicated volunteers and scientists by their side helping to ensure their existence in this world and a government that cares enough to fund this effort.  In her book Kakapo Rescue, Sy Montgomery and the New Zealand National Kakapo Recovery Team work to discover the mysteries of these rare flightless parrots.  Why are the breeding seasons and behavior of the kakapo so rare and irregular?  What triggers the mating season?  Could it be food or possibly something else?  Read the book to get answers to these questions and go on an emotional journal with each volunteer as he/she triumphs when new information is discovered and is broken-hearted when sad news is heard.

One of the most striking elements of the book, besides the well-written text, is the colorful, crystal clear photographs.  Each photograph is well placed and tells the story of the volunteers who tirelessly work to save the Kakapo.  Photographs include striking images of Codfish Island’s kakapos in their natural habitat, volunteers doing their work, and kakapo/human interactions. In April of 2010, Booklist wrote, “Bishop’s photos of the creatures and their habitat are stunning; an awe-inspiring, closing image of the world’s eighty-seventh known Kakapo emerging from its shell captures the miracle of birth, for any species.”

As the inside back cover of the book tells readers, research and data collected and presented in the book was done through the authors’ own means.  Research conducted in this form is likely the most accurate, so readers can be certain that the information is true.  A list of helpful books in the form of a biography is also provided.  Kakapo Rescue was published in 2010.  For readers wishing to stay updated on the kakapo and human struggles to combat extinction, updates can be found at

Quotes and commentary from the rescuers add a personal touch and help set the book apart as not just an informational book, but literature as well.  For example, on page twenty-seven, rescuer Jeff comments about his first time holding a kakapo chick saying, “To be holding something there’s eighty-seven in the world of … it’s really, really great!”  On page forty-four, Jeff later expresses sadness after realizing the chick he once helped has died, saying “Everything looked so promising last night.” The presence of emotions in the volunteer rescuer’s speech as well as Montgomery’s obvious delight in the subject combines to present an enthusiastic text that will grasp reader’s attention from the start.

This book would be enjoyed to the fullest if read from cover to cover in one sitting.  Unlike most informational texts that allow readers to peruse through different headings to choose what to read and what to skip, Kakapo Rescue reads more like literature with characters, a plot, a setting, and multiple problems and solutions. As Booklist astutely states, Montgomery “nimbly blends scientific and historical facts with immediate, sensory descriptions of fieldwork.” Generally speaking, this text would be most appropriate for late elementary to middle school aged children and young adults.  Enough factual information is available for children of this age to complete a research project.

Kakapo’s Rescue would be an excellent addition to a public library book club.  After giving children and young adults an appropriate amount of time to read the book in its entirety, the librarian could lead a discussion about what they believe the author’s intent was in writing this text.  The librarian could then use the website where a recorded “meet the author” book recording is available to allow children to listen to the author’s explanation.  Additional activities could include drawing a kakapo using chalk, writing letters to The Kakapo Recovery Programme to offer support, or organizing a fundraising activity to help support Kakapo Rescue financially.

Kakapo Rescue was nominated for a Young Hoosier Book Award in 2012 and won a Robert F. Silbert Informational Book Award in 2011 and an American Library Association Notable Books for Children Award in 2011. Additionally, it has received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal and is ranked number twenty-seven in the category “children’s books > art, music, and photography” on

References 1996 – 2013. “Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field Series)” 0618494170 /ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382834904&sr=8-1&keywords=kakapo+rescue (Accessed October 26, 2013).

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. Accessed October 26, 2013.

Montgomery, Sy. 2010. Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. Photographs by Nic Bishop. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0618494170 2001-2013. “Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot Meet-the-Author Book Reading” (Accessed October 26, 2013).