Archive for May 10, 2013

What’s in the Garden?

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Cris Arbo

Winner of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Award (Children’s Picture Book)

2013 NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award

2013 Mom’s Choice Gold Award

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Marianne Berkes has made a habit of writing wonderfully inspiring, ‘interactive’ books for children. The series Over In The….(Forest, Ocean, Jungle, Arctic, Australia) contained detailed information hidden in crisp rhymes. She has repeated the feat in her new book What’s in the Garden?

The book is written as easy-to-solve riddles. The short verse on the right-hand page poses a riddle, but you have to turn the page to find the answer. There is also an easy-to-make recipe associated with that fruit or vegetable. This is the first verse:
  Delicious, nutritious, what could it be?
  In spring there are blossoms all over the tree.
  Red, green, or yellow, with fruit that is round.
  If you don’t pick it, it plops to the ground.
The answer is apple — red, green or yellow. The accompanying recipe describes how to make applesauce. Each full page spread is an accurate, vibrantly colored illustration that draws the reader in. So detailed are the illustrations that you can almost feel the texture of a leaf, the fine hairs along the pumpkin stalk.

One fruit “has a long ear, but never an eye,” another “doesn’t have ears, but does have eyes.” Second grade readers will surely enjoy solving the riddles and making the accompanying dishes.

The back matter is rich with additional information. “Food For Thought” provides more information on the fruits and vegetables mentioned in the book. Older readers would benefit from this for their projects and term papers. “How Does Your Garden Grow?” describes how a plant starts and what it needs to prosper. Many projects and reading activities can be created from the book as children learn where their fruits and veggies come from. Here is an entertaining song (Dirt Made My Lunch) with the same idea:

  • Whats in the GardenTitle: What’s in the Garden?
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Cris Arbo
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-190-7
  • Genre: Picture Book/ Non-Fiction


Prairie Chicken Little

Written by Jackie Mims Hopkins
Illustrated by Henry Cole

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A delightful spin on a classic story, Prairie Chicken Little provides a fresh look at how panic starts on the wide open spaces of the grasslands when a nervous prairie chicken spreads rumor of a stampede. With no trees around, there are no acorns falling, but these animals fear a stampede more than the sky falling, so “a rumbling and a grumbling and a tumbling” is enough to cause quite a stir. When Mary McBlicken runs to tell her friends on the prairie about the imminent stampede, they are all aflutter until Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan come along to calm them down.

This brightly illustrated book would fit nicely in a unit about different ecosystems of North America or a unit about wild animals. There are also several nice lessons about how prepositions like, “over,” “through,” “around,” and “down” guide our imagination and the storyline. Students may even write and illustrate their own colorful story told with a dozen different prepositions. To test the readers’ comprehension after reading this story aloud, students may describe the problem, what Mary wanted to do about it, and how it was finally resolved.

With such a common story line, there are loads of extension activities for the classroom. For a generous collection of activities, visit This site offers activities for the language arts, science, character development, and critical thinking. It also links visitors to several audio versions of the classic tale of Chicken Little. Many may easily be adapted to use with Prairie Chicken Little. After reading this updated story, students may also be encouraged to write their own twist on a different classic tale.

  • Prairie Chicken LittleTitle: Prairie Chicken Little
  • Authors: Jackie Mims Hopkins
  • Illustrators: Henry Cole
  • Publisher: Peachtree
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
Hardback, 38 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-694-9
  • Genre: fiction/folk tale/Chicken Little

Noisy Bug Sing-Along

Written and Illustrated by John Himmelman

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Each little bug in this creative presentation has a fresh and intricate image and is identified by the noises it makes. The second grade reader will come away knowing exactly what field crickets look like and have a good idea what their “chirp”-ing sounds like. Colorful two-page spreads follow for tree crickets (reee-), mole crickets(dirt-dirt-dirt), click beetles (click), tiger moths (squeaka), dog-day cicadas (ZZZZ), bumble bees (zzzz), mosquitoes (mmmm), butterflies (…), true katydids (ch-ch-ch), bush katydids (tick-tick-tick zeezeezeezee), and grasshoppers (keraack). Last, the author brings all the sounds together in a vibrant chorus, decorated with sound waves.

The illustrations are at least as important to this book as the words. Most children of this age have probably never stopped to take a close look at or listen to different types of bugs. The detail is unbelievable, with each tiny dirt fragment accounted for in the mole cricket drawing. The bat hunting the tiger moth is very genuine. Even the ear into which the mosquito flies is realistic.

The “Listening to the Noisy Bugs” section provides a lot of possibilities for reading activities. For example, readers can go on the publisher’s website,, and listen to real bug noises. Then, the reader can test herself by guessing what bug she’s listening to. In “About the Noisy Bugs,” the author shares more about each type of bug. For example, dog-day cicadas have hollow abdomens, like drums. They tighten and loosen the muscles there to make the ZZZZ sound. The author’s website,, also has resources to use.

  • Noisy BugTitle: Noisy Bug Sing-Along
  • Author/Illustrator: John Himmelman
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-192-1
  • Genre: Picture book, Insects, Nature


The Matchbox Diary

Written by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

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Candlewick picture books never disappoint! The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, offers second grade readers and up a synergistic blend of old world charm and contemporary youthful innocence and curiosity through an immigration tale with illustrations that will appeal across generations. The Matchbox Diary reminds me of another classic picture book called One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II written and illustrated by Lita Judge.

Ibatoulline’s illustrations are so realistic they look like they could walk off the pages on which they are printed. Through his illustrations Ibatoulline not only captures the heart of the relationship between the little girl and her great grandfather in present day, but he also conveys the challenges and hardships that most immigrants faced when leaving their home country to enter a new one. Each spread consists of an illustration of the object on one side and on the other side is an illustration of an old photo that tells the story behind the object.

Fleischman utilizes a diary of objects versus a writing journal since his young protagonist (great grandfather) can not read or write in English or Italian when he first arrives into the United States. Because he wants to remember every detail of his journey, he collects small objects that represent his experiences and places them in a matchbox for safe-keeping and sharing with future generations.

Fleischman got the idea for The Matchbox Diary from New Hampshire artist, Gary Hamel who exhibited a matchbox diary of a recent trip he had made to Italy. Fleischman was so intrigued by the idea, he got Hamel’s blessing to borrow and reinvent his matchbox concept.

I see endless uses for The Matchbox Diary in the classroom where second grade teachers and up can tap into core subjects like language arts using this book as an aid. Parents and grandparents can use this book to open up a dialogue on their own immigration story. We all come from somewhere, right?

  • Matchbox DiaryTitle: The Matchbox Diary
  • Author: Paul Fleischman
  • Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Hard cover: 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-4601-1
  • Genre: picture book

Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring The Bell

By Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated by Arthur Howard

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This book is about an old man, Mr. Putter, and his cat, Tabby.  They are great companions and do everything together.  They especially like eating their next door neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry’s, rhubarb trifle, along with her dog, Zeke.

One day, while enjoying fall activities, Mr. Putter hears the ring of a school bell and decides that he misses school, pencils, and books.  He decides to go back to school just for a day.  He asks the first grade teacher at school if he can come to show and tell with Mrs. Teaberry, Tabby, and Zeke.  The teacher tells Mr. Putter that her class loves animals and she is led to believe that both Mr. Putter’s cat and Mrs. Teaberry’s dog, Zeke, can do tricks.  The story continues with lots of funny antics that second graders will love!

Students will love the illustrations depicting the moods of the animals and characters in the book, along with their funny behavior.

What a great story for teachers to use as a read aloud for second graders at the beginning of the year to introduce show and tell time to the class!  It would also be a great book to introduce new readers to chapter book formats.

This book is written by Cynthia Rylant and is one of numerous in a series of Mr. Putter and Tabby books.  The author also writes the popular Henry and Mudge books that most young readers are familiar with and love.

The illustrator is Arthur Howard, who also illustrates the rest of the Mr. Putter and Tabby books.

  • Mr. PutterTitle:  Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
  • Author:  Cynthia Rylant
  • Illustrator:  Arthur Howard
  • Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer:  Rebecca L. Wagner
  • Paperback:  43 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-547-85075-7
  • Genre:  Fiction/Animals/Old age/Autumn
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