Category Archives: educational

I Yam a Donkey – Making Grammar Fun

donkey coverTeaching children grammar doesn’t have to be boring. In the same vein as the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Cece Bell has created a winner in I Yam a Donkey.

This book helps children see the difference in saying “I Yam” versus “I am,” comically explained to a donkey by a yam. The donkey in this story does not use proper grammar and the yam tries to correct him, but doesn’t get very far. What helps this story along is the fact that the donkey fails to comprehend anything that the yam says, which only gets the yam more riled up.

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The fact that kids enjoy it is huge. In North Carolina, many of the school libraries participate in the NC Children’s Book Awards each year. I volunteer weekly in one of our local libraries and watch as the librarian reads them all of the nominated books and then has the kids vote on their favorites. This year, the winner of the picture book category, by an overwhelming majority, was I Yam a Donkey. Each year children nominate their favorite picture books, librarians read those books to their students, and then children vote on which was their favorite.

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The fact that a third of the votes cast this year went to I Yam a Donkey speaks volumes. Kids loved this book. They read it in the library and then checked it out to read at home. A book about grammar! Parents will also get a kick out of the book, especially if they ever heard the classic routine of Who’s on First by Abbot and Costello (a childhood favorite of mine). A book that was completely silly yet drove its point home. Cece Bell, job well done!

Usborne Book of the Week – Flags of the World to Color

So in addition to writing this blog because I have a general obsession with children’s books, last year I became an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More. I did this because I wanted every book I saw and needed to figure out a way to pay for that, but also, because the company is dedicated to promoting literacy in our children. From time to time I like to write about the books that we cover, but I’m trying something new – focusing on one book each week.

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This week, I would like to highlight the books Flags of the World to Color. I’m really taken by this book because J just finished learning all of her United States capitals and so I figure she is ready to get working on learning all of the countries. Continue reading →

Celebrating Earth Day

Earth day is this Saturday and it is such an important time to make sure that you are educating your children about the world that we live in and how to keep that world around for the future generations. This is our time to take care of our environment and to remind our kids that it is our job to heal the world.

Earth Day 2017

One great way to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills is to compost. Compost is a great way to feed our earth and take pressure off of our landfills. Not everyone has the ability to have a compost pile, but for those that do, Compost Stew, by Mary McKenna Siddals, is a great way to encourage kids to get involved. Siddals does a great job of simplifying the process in a fun A-Z manner. In her author’s note at the beginning and “chef’s note” at the end, she also gives kids some great facts and ways to get started.compost stew inside Continue reading →

Picture Books about the Holocaust

At the end of April, Jews across the world will take a special moment to pause and reflect about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Passover, another Jewish holiday that started Monday night, is also a time where we often focus on commemorating and retelling the tragedy of the Holocaust and the amazing efforts that many Jews took to escape the Nazis and start a new life.

There are many truly amazing books for younger readers about the Holocaust. While a number of them are what you might consider middle grade fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, there are also some picture books that tell the story very well. It is a difficult topic to touch on, so all good books have to tread somewhat lightly and focus on the resilience and perseverance of a nation of people rather than on the tragedy itself. Here are a few of the books we have managed to read.

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10 Picture Books about the Writing Process

One of the most wonderful things you can do for a child is to teach them a love of books and writing. For some, one comes easier than the other. Sometimes it is a matter of age – you can tell a story before you can actually read or write the words. Sometimes it is mind over matter or simply trusting your voice. I definitely see both sides of the spectrum with my two girls. J is 10 and while she loves to read, she isn’t as comfortable creating stories. E is 6, and she could tell stories and create worlds of her own all day if you let her. So when I come across books that encourage the writing process and story writing confidence I definitely feel the need to share them.

10 Books Aboutthe Writing Process

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Welcoming the Immigrant

A few weeks ago, my family visited New York and took a trip out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It is such an awe inspiring place and I wanted my girls to understand the importance of the immigrant in American society. I’m not sure exactly when they really start getting in to the meat of American history in school, but there is such value in going to places and seeing it yourself and, of course, reading about history in wonderful books.

April is also National Poetry Month. While we don’t read a ton of poetry, there are some amazing books and one of the books below focuses on the history of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem that helped pay for the pedestal of Lady Liberty.

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Digging into the American Revolution

Digging into the American Revolution

We have Hamilton fever in this house. One of the great things that has come out of that, apart from listening to the music non-stop, is that it has gotten my girls interested in learning more about our history around the time American Revolution. We had been thrilled to read Aaron and Alexander back in the summer, but when we were at the library recently, I happened upon the section covering this period in history and started grabbing (973.4 for anyone interested). Continue reading →

If You Were the Moon

When children are starting to learn about the sun, moon and planets, there are not a ton of books that really engage them. So I was very excited when I was able to get a hold of an advance copy of If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jaime Kim.

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At first glance, this book looks like a simple bedtime story in fiction format. But once you get past the first spread the entire book is filled with fascinating facts about the moon! A little girl looks up at the moon one night and wishes that she could “do exactly nothing, just like you.” moon-1

The moon responds by telling her all of the various things he does.  Each page has a really basic explanation of the moon’s role with supplementary blocks of text in a different font that give the reader detailed facts. moon-phases

So between the text and the outstanding illustrations, a young mind will understand that the moon impacts Earth’s balance,  that while it appears to glow it is really “catching” and “throwing” light from the sun, and that its gravity is what creates the tides in our oceans.moon-tide

The moon also is important to a lot of different animals and cultures. Nocturnal animals use the moon as an alarm clock. Sea turtle hatchlings need the light of the moon to guide them to the ocean. In terms of people, not only has the moon inspired great works of art, but farmers across the globe have used moon phases to guide their seasons and the race to put a man on the moon challenged our space program.

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There are also silly items like the fact that the moon spins like a ballerina making a full turn every 27 days or that it wouldn’t be very good at playing dodgeball because it never gets out of the way of meteorites that crash into it.

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This is a really wonderful book to share with a young child to get them more interested in astronomy and science. It is also still good for an older child to comprehend some of the more confusing aspects of the moon. There really are not a wealth of great books that engage children on this subject, so this is a welcome addition.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

Learning of the Legacy of Harriet Tubman

It is hard for children to comprehend the notion of slavery as it once was in this country. However, slavery, and the horrors that went along with it, is something that we need to retell so that it never happens again. It is also an important part in understanding how divided this country has always been in terms of race. When looking for books on strong female figures in our history, I came across two really wonderful books about Harriet Tubman that not only tell her story, but tell the story of slavery for future generations to understand.

apple-for-harrietIn An Apple for Harriet Tubman, author Glenette Tilley Turner does a marvelous job telling the story of young Harriet Tubman and how she became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Through beautiful illustrations by Susan Keeter and words that are meant for a child to understand Tuner tells the story of what it was like to be a slave, to endlessly work but never taste the fruits of your labor, to constantly fear being whipped, to fear that you will be sold and separated from those you love. These are things that children can understand and relate to.

Harriet Tubman had promised herself that one day she would be free. Through the kindness of strangers along the Underground Railroad, she finally got a taste of freedom. But rather than stay safely in the North, she risked her life repeatedly to save others. Additionally Harriet Tubman loved apples, but as a slave was never able to eat them. In her freedom, she planted apple trees and every fall she invited the town around her to pick their fill. Those apples “were a symbol of freedom for everyone to share.”

mosesA more fictional and spiritual look at Harriet Tubman and her work on the Underground Railroad comes in Carol Boston Weatherford’s Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom.

Through lyrical text and conversations with God, this book shows Harriet Tubman as a Moses figure for slaves. She leaves her family behind to avoid being sold and to finally gain her freedom. All she takes with her is her faith in God. She is guided North and into the helpful hands of workers on the Underground Railroad. She is led to church where she finds that it is a stopping place for the Underground Railroad and where she learns how to be a conductor herself.

This version is more complex for a young child to understand, but is still a beautiful way to look at such a remarkable woman. Older children can also get a wealth of information from a very well written and researched author’s note.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

Nonfiction 10 for 10 2017 – Black History Month

Every year there is a meme for lists of nonfiction picture books called the 10 for 10. I don’t always remember to participate, but I am thrilled that I managed to get my act together this year. I started thinking about my list when I was deep in the throws of Multicultural Children’s Book Day and also finding some really wonderful books about strong women. So for my contribution this year, I give you 10 picture books about important aspects in African American History and one book that is less picture book and more a great listing of important people and moments in Black History.

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Thank you to Cathy Mere from Reflect and RefineMandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning  and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge for hosting this meme. Click here to read all of the top ten lists shared.

28daysEvery February we are reminded that it is Black History month. Author Charles R. Smith, Jr. admits that he has a love-hate relationship with Black History Month and I can see his point. Why? Because school children hear the same few stories over and over again and don’t really learn anything. In 28 Days, we are shown 28 subjects in chronological order from Crispus Attucks in 1776 through Barack Obama. This masterpiece brings Black History month to life.

apple-for-harrietAn Apple for Harriet Tubman brings to life what it was like to be a slave, to work endlessly but never taste the fruits of your labor in a way that children can understand. To continuously fear being whipped, to fear that you would be sold and separated from your family. It also teaches of the miracles that Harriet Tubman and those working on the Underground Railroad achieved.

henry-boxThe stories that people tell of escaping from slavery through the Underground Railroad are amazing, but learning of Henry’s story in Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad was astonishing. As a slave, his life was difficult, but with his family around him he made it through. When his wife and children were sold to different owners, however, he could no longer take his life. A few weeks later, he devised a plan along with help from others to literally ship himself to freedom.  His story became famous and is a very interesting perspective for children to read.

juneteenthEvery year there is apparently a celebration of freedom that I had never heard of. According to author Floyd Cooper in Juneteenth for Mazie, every June 19th “Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the entire United States.” This sweet story is told as a father reminds young Mazie of the important time when her great-great-great-grandfather crossed into liberty. It reminds all children of the hardships that African-Americans faced in this country, the struggles that they continued to deal with after earning their freedom, and just how far they have come.

first-stepWhen we think about the fight to end segregation in schools, we usually think about Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954. But in The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, we learn the story of how Sarah Roberts and her family started that fight back in 1847 in Boston. Her family knew that the Otis School was for white students only, but it was also tremendously closer than the closest school for African-Americans and far superior. She went to the Otis school without a problem until the school board realized and a policeman came and escorted her out. Her parents fought the rule of school segregation, led by a law team of Robert Morris and Charles Sumner, an African-American and a white man who “despised the way his country treated African Americans.” They lost, but they started a spark. Sarah’s father got people to sign petitions that said that all children should be able to attend their neighborhood schools and the people of Boston agreed. In 1855, Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools. This outstanding book showed how the fight had to continue through the Civil War, the KKK, Jim Crow laws and finally with Linda Brown and her family taking the case to the Supreme Court but this time winning. A very powerful and moving book.

books-and-bricksEducation plays a common theme in books about the African American experience. In With Books & Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School, we see the amazing story of how Booker T. Washington created what is now Tuskeegee University. As a child, Booker T. Washington got a glimpse of a schoolhouse while a slave and felt a magical pull. When slavery ended, Washington wanted to learn to read more than anything else, and while he did learn, he still had to work back-breaking hours in salt and coal mines. When he heard of a school in Virginia that actually taught Black students, he saved money to find his way there.  After getting his own education, he became a teacher himself. He got a job in Tuskegee, but there was no building. He slowly built a school, brick by brick. Amazing perseverance and determination.

thestoryofrubybridgesWe can all learn an invaluable lesson from young Ruby Bridges as eloquently described in The Story of Ruby Bridges. In 1960 she was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Every day, she was ushered into school with Federal Marshalls because the local police didn’t want to help her and there were large crowds of angry white people telling her that she didn’t belong. She learned to read and write in a classroom all by herself for, out of protest, none of the white children were sent to school. Each day, before and after school, she prayed for the people around her, not for herself, “because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re doing.” Ruby Bridges showed true bravery and this is a wonderful tribute to her.

ruth-and-green-bookWe take for granted that we can drive across the country and find the amenities we need just off the road. We even have signs telling us what food, gas, and lodging awaits us at the next off-ramp. But for African-Americans, that was definitely not always the case. Ruth and the Green Book tells us of young Ruth who was leaving Chicago for the first time to drive to her grandmother’s in Alabama. Along the way, they struggled to find bathrooms and hotels that would give them the time of day. In Tennessee, a friend gave them a warning about Jim Crow laws and struggles as they went further south and told them to look out for Esso gas stations. At the first Esso they found they were told about the Negro Motorist Green Book which listed places that black people would be welcome and it changed the rest of their travels. A wonderful lesson about a trying time in American history and the power of a group of people to band together, support each other, and make the best of it. The book also has a wonderful page of the history of the Green Book in the back.

ellingtonA look at Black History would be incomplete without a look at jazz music. One of the jazz greats was Duke Ellington. This colorful book by Andrea Davis Pinkney tells of Ellington’s early years and how ragtime music brought him back to playing the piano. He became a legend in the musical world. With great illustrations and lyrical text, this book tries to bring jazz to the reader.

charlestonHey Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band brings us the history of the Charleston along with the wonderful story of Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins. Reverend Jenkins inadvertently set up an orphanage for young boys in 1891. To drown out the colorful words coming from the prison next door, Jenkins had the boys singing. That gave him the idea to teach the boys how to play musical instruments along with their regular school lessons. Before long, the Jenkins Orphanage Band was playing music with a rhythm and style known as rag and some of the boys would lead the band by doing a dance inspired by their Geechee heritage. When they went to play in New York City, people didn’t know the name of the band and would instead yell out, “Hey, Charleston! Give us some rag!” People would dance along with the leaders in what would become the Charleston. This was a fascinating book about an important part of musical and cultural history not to be missed!

willieBaseball is America’s sport. Willie and the All-Stars  gives voice to the time before Jackie Robinson, a time when African-Americans were not allowed to play on the white teams. Back then, there was the Negro League where exceptionally talented Black men could play baseball. The story is a wake-up call for young Willie who loves baseball, but doesn’t even realize that there is a Negro League. He dreams of being a baseball player and the Major League is where the “real” players play. But Ol’ Ezra teaches him that “being a Major League ballplayer is about a lot more than how good a fella is. It’s also about the color of his skin. And yours is the wrong color.” The Negro Leauge is an important part of baseball history, just as the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League is. This is a marvelous book for baseball fans and historians alike, although I think it would have also been great to mention the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

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