BIG CAT, little cat

A deceptively simple book that tackles the short life span of pets.

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K through grade 3; Reading Level: 2.0
5 out of 5 stars

Using mostly black and white line illustrations, Elisha Cooper has crafted a beautiful story that perfectly portrays cats and the joy and meaning they bring to our lives. The story begins with a white cat enjoying life as an only pet. One day a black kitten joins the family, and the big cat shows the kitten what to do — “When to eat, when to drink, where to go, how to be, when to rest.”
Time passes and the reader sees the black kitten grow bigger than the white cat, and then watches as the white cat ages. Cooper does not specifically address that the old cat died, but states that one day he left the house and “didn’t come back.” I think the death of the cat is handled very well. The next page shows the black cat sitting all alone and states, “And that was hard.”

Cooper doesn’t dwell on the death of the pet and friend, but does validate the feelings of sorrow and loss that happen. The story is perfect for young children with pets. They need to understand that our beloved pets do not live as long as humans do and that death and grief are part of life. Cooper provides a book that will not overwhelm young readers, yet he doesn’t whitewash the facts and doesn’t talk down to young children.

The story ends on a happy note as the family gets another kitten and the black cat now assumes the role of “big cat.”
The illustrations manage to be very simple and expressive at the same time. Like the story itself, they balance the line between providing the reader with enough information and not overwhelming the text.

The entire story is very well-done!

Big Cat, Little Cat
by Elisha Cooper
Roaring Book Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-62672-371-9

This is My Book!

This is a fun interactive story featuring a frustrated author/illustrator and a fun-loving panda named Spike.

Picture book, interactive
Interest Level: Pre-K through grade 3; Reading Level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars

This picture book can be enjoyed on several different levels. First, and probably the most important, is that it is a fun interactive story featuring a frustrated author/illustrator and a fun-loving panda named Spike.

The author, Mark Pett, is featured as the main character of the book. He breaks through the literary fourth wall and begins the story by addressing the readers directly. He lets us know that he is the author and illustrator who is in control of everything that appears in his book. Which certainly seems true, until he draws a picture of a panda. His panda has a mind of his own, and begins to take over the story.
Quite frankly, Spike has a much better idea of what appeals to young readers than the author! He adds color to the boring white pages, and creates other characters to make the story more interesting. He adds flaps and pull-tabs, and best of all….pop-ups!! As the author has a meltdown, the panda imparts some literary wisdom, “But it’s not just your book. It’s ours, too…And it’s their book, too,” he adds as he points to the readers.

For young readers, this book is just plain fun! The mischievous panda and the interaction with the reader is very appealing. This would make a fun read-aloud experience. For adults, especially teachers and librarians, this book could be used as a mentor text to remind young writers that when they write they need to bring their characters to life. In This is My Book! that happens literally and would make a fun intro to a writing lesson.

Additionally, I love how the story reminds writers that the readers are integral to the story. Basically, once a story is written and published, it becomes the property and story of whoever is reading it. We all bring different viewpoints and experiences that influence how we receive a story. Authors need to be able to let go of their stories and allow readers to experience it how they will.

Overall, the illustrations are fun, the interactive components work well with the story, especially the pop-up page, and this book will make you smile.

This is My Book!
by Mark Pett (and no one else)
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
ISBN 978-1-101-93790-7


It’s the game of Frogger in a picture book!

Picture book, beginning reader
Interest level: Pre-K through K
3 out of 5 stars

Jane Yolen has a subscription service where every day you can receive a poem that she has written. All that she asks is that you don’t publish any of her poems with out her permission (she does need to make a living!) and that at the end of a month of poems, you either buy or check out one of her books.

For my first month, I decided to select the lesser-known Hoptoad. This is a relatively simple story. A frog is crossing a fairly deserted road when a truck looms in the distance. The reader urges “hop toad, fast, faster,” but the frog has frozen in the middle. Because this book is intended for very young readers, there is of course a happy ending.

The toad starts and ends his journey with two friends — a turtle and a lizard. It is fun to speculate how they got to be friends, and why were they crossing the road? The text is minimal, repetitious, and at a basic beginning reading level. Young readers just beginning to sound out words and tackle reading on their own will be able to access this story.
The illustrations are a good fit for the tone of the text. I especially love hos Schmidt has rendered the clouds in the sky.

Any adult who has ever played the video game Frogger will make a connection with this story. It’s impossible not to!

If you are interested in receiving poems from Yolen, you can sign up here: <a href=""

by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt
Silver Whistle, Harcourt, 2003
ISBN 0-15-216352-2

Sea Monkey & Bob

Two friends conquer their fears together.

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K through grade 2; Reading Level: 1.3
4 out of 5 stars

In this fun story, the reader is introduced to two friends — Bob, a puffer fish and his friend, Sea Monkey. Bob is bright yellow with green spots and orange fins that look like spiky hair. Sea Monkey is red and white striped and wears a very fashionable bow tie. Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s illustrations really make these two friends stand out in the underwater world she illustrates.

Their personalities stand out as different as well. Sea Monkey is afraid that he is going to sink to the bottom of the ocean. It’s dark down there and he is also afraid of the dark. Bob tries to make him feel better by declaring, “You will not sink,” to which Sea Monkey replies, “I could sink Bob. I am much heavier than I look. Heavy things sink.” As Sea Monkey’s argument starts to convince Bob that sinking could be a real fear, Bob realizes that he is afraid of floating.

The text that Aaron Reynolds have crafted is perfect for these two unlikely friends. The style of conversation is very formal sounding, which is a funny contrast to the silly look of the characters. This would make a very fun read-aloud if the reader utilizes different voices for the two characters.
Ohi has done a great job illustrating the text so that readers can clearly tell which character is speaking. The text floats in the water and the color of the letters match each character. Bob’s words are yellow with a green outline, and Sea Monkey speaks with white letters that are outlined in red. It is also fun to notice some of the secondary characters as they give the two worrying friends strange and questioning looks.

This is a fun story that shows that sticking together can be a good way to conquer your fears. The text is accessible to young  independent readers, or this would be a great read-aloud.

Sea Monkey & Bob
by Aaron Reynolds; illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4814-0676-5

The playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life

Kwame Alexander has written a motivational book that combines a stunning visual design with inspirational quotes and motivation stories of successful people.

Motivational book, nonfiction
Interest Level: grades 4 and up; Reading Level: 6.7
5 out of 5 stars

The hook that will draw many children to this book will be the sports theme. The colors used throughout are orange, black, and white — the same colors that were used in Alexander’s Newbery winning book, The Crossover. The end papers are raised and provide the textural feel of a basketball. There are many black and white photos of people playing sports. The book is even divided into four quarters, like a basketball game.

Each quarter of the book features a different inspirational theme: grit, motivation, focus, and teamwork and resilience. Halftime is a brief piece about passion, the warm-up goes over the rules, and overtime covers tenacity.

However, for all of the sports feel, this book is meaningful to a much larger audience than just the sports fan. The book features quotes from famous individuals, along with further words of wisdom provided by Alexander. While many are sport related, the meaning for most can also be used to talk about academics or life in general.

Rule #35
There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices, and persistence.
–Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America

Brief biographical sketches feature Wilma Rudolph, LeBron James, Pele, Venus and Serena Williams, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. All sports are covered in the book, male and females are equally represented, and athletes and non-athletes are included.
The book is visually appealing and each two-page spread looks like an inspirational poster. This book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Reluctant readers will like the visuals and limited text. Sports fans and athletes will be drawn to the theme and athletic quotes and stories. Teachers or parents can give this to students who may need some inspiration to get through tough times in school.

For maker space areas in libraries or schools, there are many quotes that focus on overcoming failure. Since part of the purpose of maker spaces is to encourage children to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, we need to let them know that failure is part of the learning process.

Rule #22
If you’re afraid to fail, then yo’re probably going to fail.
–Kobe Bryant, five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers</blockquote
Kwame Alexander has written another book that will appeal to a diverse group of people.

The playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life
by Kwame Alexander; photographs by Thai Neave
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-57097-9


The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning!

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K-grade 1; Reading Level: 1.6
4 out of 5 stars

This story features a young child who yearns to go outside and play in the rain. Unfortunately, like many adults, his grandfather doesn’t see rain in the same magical way as the child, and he is told he must wait until it stops. While the child waits, the reader gets glimpses of the boy’s vivid imagination. Finally, the rain stops and the boy and grandfather go to mail a letter. Being outside unleashes the boy’s full imagination, delighting readers with a trip on a floating city complete with “acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen.”

I really loved that the main characters of the story were a child and a grandparent. I think the relationship between older and younger generations is an important one that should be nurtured. While the grandfather did not immediately play with his grandchild in the rain, once there, they seem to embark on a wonderfully fun experience together. The two characters reflect at the end that “the very best things are always worth waiting for.” This is a very good lesson for young children to reflect upon. If a teacher was using Notice & Note with young readers, this could be pointed out as a Word of the Wiser.

This book also celebrates children’s imaginations and the joy they find in life. The boy likes going out in the rain because, “You can catch raindrops, splash in puddles, and look at everything upside down.” When the boy is stuck inside the house, we see him gazing out the window where he is imagining things from his room coming to life in the rain. The culmination of his fantastical imagination comes to life when he is allowed to venture outside into the watery world.
The greatest strength of Rain lies in the pictures created by Sam Usher. Starting with one of the most incredible covers I have ever seen, Usher skillfully depicts rain drops and the watery world they create in a way that truly brings the scenes to life. Raindrops on a window look so real you almost want to wipe them off. The wavy reflections in the water are so well done that they evoke memories of times the reader has experienced these watery, upside down worlds.
The cover of Rain is a 3D masterpiece that sets the tone for the story. Readers cannot help but run their hands over the raised raindrops and smile at the hazy, watery reflect of a young child enjoying the world.

The sense of wonder at the story’s ending would be a fun one to share with young children. Children and adults might come away from this story with a renewed sense of how magical rain can be.

by Sam Usher
Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-9296-4

Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach All Learners

I found this to be a great resource for furthering knowledge about Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Professional development; Universal Design for Learning
5 out of 5 stars

UDL is a research based pedagogical theory that advocates approaching curriculum design by meeting the needs of all students in an inclusive classroom. The different strengths, weaknesses, needs, and abilities of all students are addressed up front in the development of learning opportunities. It is similar to differentiation, but it provides choice and options to all learners.

I utilized Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach All Learners in a graduate level class to support a research paper. I found this to be a good resource to teach the theory of UDL as well as to provide solid examples of how choice can be incorporated into lessons.

Universal design for learning in action: 100 ways to teach all learners
by Whitney H. Rapp
Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2014
ISBN 978-1-59857-514-9