Tag Archive for literacy skills


Written and Illustrated by Leila Rudge

Gary is a pigeon. A racing pigeon who doesn’t fly. When the other pigeons go out to race, he sits at home and waits for the others to return. And dreams of all the places he could have gone. He has a scrapbook of their mementos and stories. Accidentally, he goes out with the flock one day. Since he can’t fly, he’s left to figure out how to return home by other means. When he steps off the bus and tells the others of his adventures, they see the wisdom of solution and start using alternate transportation themselves.

The beautiful and detailed illustrations complement the story perfectly. Gary has things in his scrapbook that help him find his way in the world: what appears to be a subway map, a street map, drawings of various modes of transportation so he can recognize them. The pigeons wear jerseys. A few wear backwards baseball cap or stocking caps.

As a read aloud or independent reading for second graders, this book offers a jumping off place for learning about venturing out into the world. Kids will have fun spotting all the details in the illustrations and figuring out how Gary gets home. Heartwarming and funny at the same time.

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  • garyTitle: Gary                                                            
  • Author/Illustrator: Leila Rudge
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Picture book
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8954-4



Pizza at Sally’s

Written by Monica Wellington

Definitely worth another look, this book from ten years ago still has a fresh approach to learning about where the food we eat comes from. Sally grows tomatoes, destined for the pizza, in her garden. Wheat comes from the farm, helped along by the farmer and his equipment. Cheese, from the shop next door, is made from milk. When Sally opens her shop, she takes the orders and assembles the finished pizza for take-out and eating in. She begins by mixing and working the pizza dough. Sauce, cheese, and added ingredients follow.  

As an illustrator, Wellington includes all sorts of information, such as many of the things other than cheese that come from milk. This is a helpful, simple, and subtle message that promotes comprehension and literacy skills. Each step of the process is deftly shown, complete with many details. Through it all, Sally’s cat assists her. Kids can look for details such as the names of the ingredients, the names on the order pad (which partially match the book dedication), different vehicles, Italian words and their translations, etc.

A fun book about a favorite food. 

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  • pizza-at-sallysTitle: Pizza at Sally’s
  • Author: Monica Wellington
  • Published: Dutton Children’s Books/Penguin, 2006
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Fiction, Picture book, Food, Cooking
  • ISBN: 978-0-525-47715-0
  • Extras: Pizza recipe

Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jill Dubin

The latest installment of the Marianne Berkes series has a lot going on. It is a counting book, reinforced by both the numbers of baby animals and the lineup of African gourd rattles. It is poetry, set to the rhythm of the traditional song “Over in the Meadow.” It is for learning about the African savanna and the animals that inhabit that area. It is hunting for nearly hidden animals in the pictures. It teaches about the song itself and about the techniques used by the illustrator.

Over in the grasslands
Where the acacia trees grew
Lived a tall mother giraffe
And her little calves two.

Altogether, first or second graders get to learn about twenty animals. Some of them may seem familiar from the zoo, – zebra, giraffe, elephant – but many are probably animals the readers have never seen – redbilled oxpeckers, naked mole rats, leopard tortoises. And none of them live your backyard. In the last pages, Berkes writes about the many themes used, including the ten different adjectives and the different baby names used. She also mentions many places to learn more, and she was careful to expalin that the numbers of babies each animal can have is fictional. Dubin writes about her collage technique, how important the different papers are, and what inspired the details.

A great addition to the counting library.

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  • over-in-the-grasslandsTitle: Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Jill Dubin
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nature, Geography, Counting, Poetry, Music
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-568-4
  • Extras: Fact or Fiction?, Life on the African Savanna, Who Are the “Hidden” Animals in the Grasslands?, About the Animals, Tips from the Author, Tips from the Illustrator, Over in the Grasslands [music]

A Moon of My Own

Written by Jennifer Rustgi
Illustrated by Ashley White

Inspired by the notion that the moon follows us wherever we go, this new book would work well as a read alone or as a part of a unit on the Moon or the seven continents. Each two-page spread shows a child near a famous landmark, shown in silhouette, with the moon in the sky. This gives the book a mysterious quality kids will love. The landmarks are scattered across all seven continents: the Eiffel Tower in Europe; the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal in Asia; Serengeti National Park in Africa; Sequoia National Park in North America; the Amazon Rainforest in South America; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; a penguin colony in Antarctica; and the Aurora Borealis above the Arctic Circle. The Moon is shown in progressive phases. The gorgeous illustrations are accompanied by simple questions and observations, such as “And when I’m tired, you’re there to guide me home.”

The end material suggests many ways to learn more about the Moon and its phases. It includes facts and activities, such as creating a Moon journal and demonstrating how Moon phases happen.  The resources included are both websites and books. Great for learning about the world around you.

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  • a-moon-of-my-ownTitle: A Moon of My Own
  • Author: Jennifer Rustgi
  • Illustrator: Ashley White
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nature, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-572-1
  • Extras: Wonderful Places Around the World, Seven Continents of the World, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents, Recommended Resources

About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

After reading this book, the reader will have a good handle on the variety of mammals that live in the oceans, as well as what makes an animal a mammal. All mammals need to come to the surface to breathe. They all give birth to live young, whether in the ocean or on shore. They all nurse their young. All are warm blooded. Some live in warm water, while some live in arctic zones. Some are predators, while some eat plants. Some are small, while some are huge.

John Sill’s vibrant yet subtle watercolors let the reader know exactly how these animals look in their natural environments. Especially instructive is the plate with the blue whale. He includes short-beaked common dolphins for scale.

The afterword and resources give second graders a great place to begin further learning. This and all the books in the “A Guide for Children” are valuable tools for elementary school classrooms.

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 About Marine Mammals

  • About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-906-3
  • Extras: Afterword, Glossary, Suggestions for Further Reading, Resources

Little Red

Written and Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

What if Little Red Riding Hood outsmarted the Big, Bad Wolf even before she entered Grandma’s house? Would she still be scared? And what would happen then? How could any smart little girl be fooled by a wolf in Grandma’s clothing? With stark and simple illustrations, this empowering retelling answers these and other questions. Red is completely aware of the dangers in the forest and in Grandma’s house. In fact, she seems aware of everything. But she surges ahead, unafraid. As a result, she has a brand new wolf coat to wear home.

This would be a great opportunity for a teacher or parent to discuss the original story, how this version differs, and which one is better. Also, it would encourage kids to be aware of their surroundings and be proactive. Don’t miss the scary, toothy wolf on the un-jacketed book cover.

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  • Little RedTitle: Little Red
  • Author/ Illustrator: Bethan Woollvin
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, Retold fairy tale, Literature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-917-9



Emma and Julia Love Ballet

Written and Illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Ballet is the star of this story so beautifully done by award winning-illustrator Barbara McClintock. Emma is a little girl who lives in the country and takes ballet lessons. Julia is a grown-up ballerina. The story is beautifully told in parallel fashion as we see each girl get breakfast and go through their day. Besides the comparison between how they do things because of their age, is the comparison of rural versus city life. It is a fascinating dance within the story itself.

The diversity factor also plays in this story as Julia is of African American descent, reflecting the realities of our current prima-ballerina in the United States. A marvelous conclusion to the story has Emma asking for Julia’s autograph with Julia answering, how she once shared Emma’s dream of becoming a ballerina. So this is a different kind of circle story. Where the mouse ends up wanting another cookie, in this instance, the book clearly tells little girls who love ballet their dream can be realized.

Stretches and poses were carefully studied thus beautifully illustrated. Current and former ballet students will recognize the positions. Other types of dances are also represented and encouraged.

This book is a delight and should be part of every school and public library. Teachers will fulfill many core curriculum standards in literacy such as picture clues, sequencing, comparing and contrasting, as well as, main idea.  An all-around winner!

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  • Emma and JuliaTitle: Emma and Julia Love Ballet
  • Author/Illustrator: Barbara McClintock
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-439-89401-2
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2


Arctic White

Written by Danna Smith
Illustrated by Lee White

How many shades of white do you see around you?

Danna Smith introduces the nuances of white in the beauty of the arctic using short melodic sentences. Lee White does an exquisite job of illustrating various whites amid classic winter blue hues.

But grandfather has a secret about something extra special he can only show the children in the darkest dark. He leads them out on an adventure. What might it be?

Something sure to delight every reader. The double-paged spread depicting the Northern Lights is glorious.

But the story doesn’t end yet. The children hurry home to recreate marvelous full color pictures to display inside their igloo. The double meaning of colors existing on the inside, will intrigue adults and children alike. It could lead to interesting discussions.

While this book easily fulfills core curriculum standards in literacy, geography and science; the art teacher might get the most mileage from it. Surely the children can produce wonderful colors from any part of the world to decorate their winter hallways.

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  • Arctic WhiteTitle: Arctic White
  • Author: Danna Smith
  • Illustrator: Lee White
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-62779-104-5
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

Never Insult a Killer Zucchini

Written by Elana Ezose and Brandon Amancio
Illustrated by David Clark

The setting is a science fair and the participants are exceptional. Each and every project is unusual, advanced, and possibly impossible. There are twenty-six projects in total, one for each letter of the alphabet. But each project also represents a basic concept in physics, concepts that explained in detail in the last pages of this fun book. Some of the projects are not only possible but currently in use in some form. From Antimatter and the Bionic Limb to the Youth Serum and Zero Gravity, Mr. Farnsworth must judge them all. The Killer Zucchini comes in at “K,” where Mr. Farnsworth threatens to put ranch dressing on it. AT “D,” the student is eager to demonstrate his Doomsday Device. At “M,” the Mind Control project receives a promise from Mr. Farnsworth for first prize.

The cartoon-style illustrations are wonderful and detailed. They help to make this a delightful experience.

Second graders can read the main text with a little help and can learn a little physics along the way, especially with the help of the explanations. Older students can use this as an introduction to many of the concepts presented. All in all, a fantastic way to spur interest in science.

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  • Killer ZucchiniTitle: Never Insult a Killer Zucchini
  • Author: Elana Ezose and Brandon Amancio
  • Illustrator: David Clark
  • Published: Charlesbridge, February 9, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Early reader, Science, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-58089-618-4

Merry Christmas, Mr. Mouse

Written and Illustrated by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

Hidden pictures add to the excitement of this new book by the creators of, Snowmen at Night.

This rhyming story tells of a mouse family that moves into a nook under a kitchen floor. Their first discovery is special cooking and decorating done by the people of the house. Without missing a beat, Mr. Mouse hurries back to the nook and begins the same party preparations for his own family.

Grade one and grade two readers will enjoy reading this story on their own. Preschool listeners will be awed by the bright colored multi-layered illustrations. There are even hidden pictures on every page, with answers provided on the backside of the cover. What a neat idea!

Everyone will enjoy recognizing the everyday items carried into the nook by the mice to be used for their own furniture, clothing and snacks. Perhaps a discussion will follow about other household items to see how they could be used by others. What an interesting look at spatial relationships to see Mrs. Mouse using a birthday candle as a living room reading lamp.

Librarians, teachers, and parents should put this on the purchasing list right away. Literacy skills will be met in the core curriculum standards in multiple areas. Picture clues, rhyming words, predicting outcomes, and cause and effect, are just examples of the skill practice possible.

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  • Merry Christmas MouseTitle:  Merry Christmas, Mr. Mouse
  • Authors/Illustrators:  Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner
  • Publisher:  Dial Books, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-4010-5
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2
  • Extras: Hidden pictures in the illustrations.
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