Monday, December 24, 2012

Review: A Pirate's Night Before Christmas

Day 6!

A Pirate's Night Before Christmas by Philip Yates
Illustrated by Sebastia Serra

"'Twas the night before Christmas aboard the Black Stark. 
Not a creature was stirrin', not even a shark!"

This book is a lot of fun to read! It's basically The Night Before Christmas but written in pirate speak and it takes place on a ship. The book still has the awesome rhyme that goes through everything. Pirate slang is used throughout the book which makes it fun.

Instead of Santa Claus, this book has Sir Peg and the eight reindeer are eight seahorses named Salty, Scurvy, Sinbad, Mollie, Cutthroat, Cross-Eyes, Roger, and Jolly!

I think this take on the classic story would be entertaining to children. Especially children who like pirates! Andy is a sailor and I knew he would love this book! He and his brother love pirate talk too, so that makes it even better. Philip Yates and Sebastia Serra released another pirate Christmas tale in October. This book is titled A Pirate's Twelve Days of Christmas. I assume it's very similar in concept to this book. From the front cover you can see that the illustrations are very similar.

The illustrations in this book are fun and colorful. Every page is a full bleed two page spread. Since it's a Christmas book, red and green are pretty big colors throughout, but since it's also on the ocean, blue's an important color too! This story is very cheerful and the reader can see this through the illustrations. All the characters are smiling and happy in the pictures. According to the book, the illustrations were created with pencil and ink on parchment and then digitally colored. I think that really helps to keep the colors bright and lively.

At Cynsations, you can read an interview with Philip Yates, the author, about A Pirate's Night Before Christmas. I believe that this is Sebastia Serra's illustrator blog, however, the whole thing is written in Spanish since he lives in Barcelona, Spain and I can't read any of it! The blog is mostly pictures though.

At the end of the book, there's a "Pirate Glossary" which defines many of the pirate words in the book. Including the glossary keeps the book light and funny and it is a great way for readers to fully understand the story. The author adds his sense of humor to this part of the book as well. As all Night Before Christmas stories end, so does this one...

"Merry Christmas, me buckos, an' a Happy New Yaargghhhhhhh!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: Ten Christmas Wishes

Day 5!

Ten Christmas Wishes by Claire Freedman
Illustrated by Gail Yerrill

This is a really sweet Christmas story where all the little animals each wish up a star. Each page has a star and a rhyming story to go with it. On each new page, a new star appears for a new animal to wish upon. The animals wish for snow, family, warmth, presents, pie, and lots more in this book! The last star is saved for the reader to close their eyes and make their wish.

I thought this book was really cute and I love that it rhymed because I feel like that just made it sound nicer. Each animal had their own star to wish upon, except Little Bear seemed to have two stars. I'm not sure why though! Also, I know that Christmas for some people is all about presents, but I felt like Little Bear wishing for lots of presents could have been changed to something less materialistic. I still think the book was really cute, and that was actually the only animal that wishes for presents.

Claire Freedman and Gail Yerrill have written and illustrated two other Christmas stories. These two stories include The Christmas Angels and A Magical Christmas. Just from the front covers, you can see that the illustrative styles are very similar to Ten Christmas Wishes. If these books are anything like this one, they should be very cheery and just a feel-good Christmas story. However, while I was reading reviews, I saw that The Christmas Angels did not get the best review on Amazon, so I would definitely like to check that one out at some point.

The illustrations in this book are very warm and colorful, despite the book being about making wishes on stars at night and from the first impression of the book from the front cover. Every page is a full bleed two page spread. I think it's great how in every picture, there is a window or door and the little animal is looking outside, but the house is colorful to represent the happiness and love that is inside with the family. I think that's a great way to depict it. I also like that in each picture a new star is added. Children could easily follow along with this book and practice counting the stars as they got to each page.

Claire Freedman is also the author of the popular children's book series, Aliens Love Underpants illustrated by Ben Cort. This series includes:
Aliens Love Underpants
Aliens in Underpants Save the World
Dinosaurs in Underpants
Pirates in Underpants
Aliens Love Panta Claus
This sounds like an interesting series of books. I might have to check out a couple of these and see what all the hub-bub is about. Also they seem to have a Christmas book as well! How did I miss that one for my special Christmas edition of my blog?!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: Gingerbread Mouse

Day 4!

Gingerbread Mouse by Katy Bratun

When Mouse's house is destroyed by a falling tree, she has to find a new place to live! She travels that night to find a new home. Mouse finds a house off in the distance and heads to it to see if she can move in. Inside the house, there's a little house, just her size! She moved into her new gingerbread house and makes all her furniture out of boxes and cardboard.

That night, Santa arrives! He drops gifts off for the two kids at the house and sits down to eat his cookies with Mouse. He tells her that her house is lovely, but she really needs a more permanent house. Santa leaves a gift for Mouse and scurries up the chimney. Mouse opens her box and finds a beautiful doll house that she can call home. At the very end, Mouse finds a little red gift outside her door from one of the humans in the house with a note saying, "Merry Christmas Gingerbread Mouse."

I thought this book was really cute! It starts our sad when Mouse's house is crushed by a tree! I am a little confused about how Mouse heard the crack of the branch while she was asleep and she got outside fast enough that she didn't get crushed by it. It seems a little unrealistic, but so is a mouse that talks, so I guess that's okay.

This book was written and illustrated by Katy Bratun. The illustrations are very pretty, full of color and on two page full bleed spreads. The illustrations are often done in dark, warm, homey colors that make the story feel happy and lets you know that even though Mouse had a rough start, she's going to be okay! Katy Bratun has worked as an author and illustrator on many other books. Many of her illustrations in other books are quite similar to Gingerbread Mouse illustrations.

On the last page of the book, the author has included the recipe for Gingerbread Mouse's Cookie Recipe. I'm not a big fan of gingerbread cookies, but it might be a cute thing to make after reading this book!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Pete the Cat Saves Christmas

Day 3!

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin
Illustrated by James Dean

In the most recent book from the Pete the Cat saga, Pete has to save Christmas because Santa is sick!! He thinks about how small he is but how at Christmas we have to give it our all. He hops in his minibus to head to the North Pole. The elves load up his minibus and hook up the reindeer. They're off! Pete delivers all the presents and saves Christmas for Santa!

Throughout the story Pete sings his song "Give it your all, give it your all. At Christmas we give, so give it your all" and that's what he did! He gave his all even when he was small. I thought this was a great message about Christmas and doing your best even when you don't think you can do it. No matter how much you can give, give it your all!

When you read this book with your class, make sure you download the Free Song! You can find it here: Pete the Cat Saves Christmas. The author, Eric Litwin reads the story and sings Pete's song with the help of some children. I let my sister and Andy experience Pete the Cat the right way with the music when I read it to them the other day! All his other books also come with a free downloadable song for you to play when you read the book. He has also written Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, and Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes.

Andy got me the whole set of Pete the Cat books for Christmas! He's the best ever! I decided to share this book today because I had to take him to the airport so he can go home to Maine for Christmas. Pretty lame if you ask me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review: The Biggest Snowman Ever

Day 2!

The Biggest Snowman Ever by Steven Kroll
Illustrated by Jeni Bassett

"One there were two mice who fell in love with the same snowman, and this is how it happened."

There's a snowman-making contest in Mouseville and all the little mouse kids want to win the contest! Two of the city mice make their own snowmen. One girl makes a princess and one boy makes a martian. Both very respectable looking snowmen, but not big enough to win the prize!

The house mouse, Clayton, and the field mouse, Desmond, went to their homes to make their own snowmen. Each boy egged the other on to see who could make the BIGGEST snowman ever! Both boys worked on their snowmen on their own, adding more and more snow. The story progresses as one boy does something to his snowman, the other boy does the same thing to his snowman. (Even though they're both at their own separate homes and can't see one another.)Their dads both came out to check the snowmen and said "It's going to be big, but will it be the biggest?" and the boys smiled and said "I'm just getting started!"

The boys both come to realize that their snowmen are the same size as everyone else's snowmen, so maybe they should work together to make the biggest snowman! Clayton and Desmond think it over and decide that's a great idea. They build a HUGE snowman! Bigger than both of them!! They win the contest and realize that it's good to work together with your friends.

I think this is a really cute book with a great message about friendship and working together - teamwork! I think children would get a lot out of it too. They need to learn to work together with their friends as well. Making and keeping friends is definitely something that we talk about in kindergarten because so many of our little guys say that so and so isn't their friend.

I thought the illustrations were really cute in this book too. The illustrator, Jeni Bassett, has done a great job showing how the two boys were working on their snowmen but were separate. When one boy is working one the left page, there is a huge tree where the pages fold, the other boy can be seen really small in the background on the right page. I think that showed how what the boys were doing paralleled one another.

Steven Kroll and Jeni Bassett have created a series of books that follow Clayton and Desmond through special times in their lives. Below are five that I could find. There might be more, but I couldn't find them on Amazon and it doesn't seem like there's a website that talks about all of them either!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: It's Snowing!

It's official! I have finally finished this semester of Grad School! I did presentations for Science Methods & Social Studies Methods last week. I turned in three pretty substantial papers for Reading Methods yesterday and I took my Math Methods final last night! Oh my gosh! I'm actually done with the semester!!!!

With all this free time.. (what?! FREE TIME?!) I decided I will start a Christmas Book Review section. Sort of like The Twelve Days of Christmas, but since I'm seven days away and I only have ten Christmas books.. It'll be a Seven-Ten Days of Christmas: Christmas Book Reviews! This time next year I will hopefully be needing to be aware of all the great holiday books to read with my future students. :)

Day 1!

It's Snowing! by Gail Gibbons

I bought this book when my Reading Methods' professor gave us Scholastic Order Forms that I haven't seen since probably middle school. It was in a Holiday pack and I am so happy I bought it!

This informational, nonfiction picturebook is full of awesome facts about snow! The book is written as sort of a story, but as it progresses, new vocabulary and whatnot are introduced. There are diagrams of the snow/water cycle. There are pages that just show different kinds of snowflakes that we might see. There is information about the varying levels of snow storm. There is information about how to stay warm outside and fun things we do in the snow. The book seamlessly weaves all of this information about snow into a cute story about snow.

The book introduces map skills, briefly, when it shows a map of North America and places where it snows is white, places where it doesn't really know is green. It also goes on to show snowy places on each continent. However, on the map of the world, it does not reference where the places the author selected to include are located.

Gail Gibbons author study from A Place Called Kindergarten
When new vocabulary is introduced, it is written in all capital letters with the definition below it. I think that is helpful to make the new snow words stand out. The book is structured so that there are headings and subheadings, etc. but I don't think this would be the ideal book to discuss those things with because the headings are above a piece of dripping ice, like an underline that is melting ice... if that makes sense. I just think that it gets lost in the illustrations and might be hard for students to differentiate. I've looked at this book multiple times already and I just noticed it, so I think it might not be as noticeable for children.

At the end of the book, there is a page about being prepared if a snowstorm is coming. I think that's great so that students will feel prepared if anything was to happen because of the snow. Since it is an informational book, Gail Gibbons provides resources for where you can find more information about snow. On that page there is also fun facts about snow that are pretty interesting.

Gail Gibbons is the author and illustrator of this book. She has written many, many nonfiction books for children during her career and is considered "A Master of Children's Non-Fiction" and "America's Leading Non-Fiction Author" (according to her website). The list of books she has published is extensive and covers a huge range of topics. For my Children's Literature class this summer, I watched the video from Reading Rockets below when we discussed nonfiction books. It is really interesting to hear how she decides what to write about and it's exciting for children to actually see and hear an author speak.

There are so many things in this book I had no idea about! I think kids would really enjoy this book. I know I did!

Here's a cool snowflake activity from KidsBooks. The picture of many of Gail Gibbons books on the bookshelf is from A Place Called Kindergarten where the teacher in the class did an author study on her books. This just shows how even in kindergarten we can do author studies with our students! Very cool project!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross by Becky White
Illustrated by Megan Lloyd

This book is so cool! It is the story of the creation of the first flag of the United States of America as made by Betsy Ross. It follows how she cuts the red for the flag, then the white. Then she cuts out the white stars and dyes the blue square. Then she sews it altogether! It is a very simple story, but very nicely written.

It is written as a poem and each page only has up to five words maximum on it. The first half of each stanza is on one double page spread and then the second half is on the next double page spread. Many of the lines fit together well because they rhyme. I really like how the author used simple language that young children could understand.
Betsy ripped.
Rip, rip. (p. 1)
Seven rich,
Crimson strips. (p. 3)
Another thing that makes this book even more awesome than I'm making it sound, are the illustrations by Megan Lloyd! They're not painted, drawn, or anything like that. The illustrations are pieces of fabric sewn onto cloth!! It's amazing and it looks SO COOL! I don't know if it's too hard to see the individual pieces on the picture to the right, but it is just so cool how she made the pictures. In the Illustrator's Note in the back of the book, it says that she hand-stitched the pieces of fabric onto a cotton background. She also says that when something was just cut out by Betsy, like the stars before they got sewn onto the flag, she used a special iron-on material that fuses fabric together because they're not supposed to look like they've been sewn yet. I really am just blown away by how amazing this book looks.

As this is a historical, nonfiction book, the author included an Author's Note that discusses how legend has it that Betsy Ross make the first American flag. In the note, the author tells how George Washington's original drawing had stars with six points, but Betsy Ross said she thought five point stars would look nicer. She showed Washington a simple way to make these stars with one snip. The last page in the book is titled "Make Your Own Betsy Ross Star" and it provides the instructions to easily make your own perfect five point star with one cut! This would be a great activity to include when reading this book with children. The instructions are basically the same as they are on US History's website. The video below also shows how to do it, it's pretty sweet.

Here are some websites with cool ideas for 4th of July activities that incorporate this book:
Jump Into A Book
Lesson Pathways

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review: The Relatives Came

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

This Caldecott Honor book is a story of a family who takes a trip to visit their relatives one summer. In this book, the family is traveling from Virginia and taking a very long trip to get to their relatives' house.

This book is beautifully written, per the usual from Cynthia Rylant. Her writing is similar to much of her writing style in her other books. She uses very long run-on sentences connected with ands throughout the whole story. She also uses very descriptive language throughout, which makes you really feel like you're traveling with the family and you're there when they arrive.

One thing that I thought was a little unrealistic were how many people were in the car! At the house, there were only three or four people. There's no way ten people fit in the little car that the relatives pulled up in!

Another thing I liked in this book was the repetition. At the beginning of story, they were loading up their car with their snacks and heading out at 4am. They thought about their grapes that weren't quite ready to pluck. Then they drove past strange houses, different mountains, and thought about the family they were going to visit. On their way home, they packed up all their snacks, left at 4am and thought about their grapes that were ready to pick. They drove past strange houses, different mountains, and thought about the family that they missed already. I thought that was a really great way to connect the beginning and ending of the story!

The illustrations in the book were done in colored pencil by Stephen Gammell. The color pencil generally made the illustrations very light and washed out. It also gave the pictures a lot of texture. Every page is a full bleed, two page spread. I think this was a great way to be able to add a lot of little details in the story. The illustrations also made the story funny. Whenever the car is shown, bags are always flying off the roof and when it gets to the relatives house, they ran into the fence! Gammell is also the illustrator of many many more children's picturebooks, including the Scary Stories books.

I used this book as part of a Read-Think-Write Aloud Lesson with a third grade class today. (I was super nervous, but it turned out pretty great!) I had students do their own creative writing about what the family might be dreaming about happening next summer because the last time of the book was "And when they were finally home in Virginia, they crawled into their silent, soft beds and dreamed about the next summer." The kids were so creative in their stories, I was so impressed!

This was a very nice book and I think all the students in the classroom I was working in could relate to it in one way or another. Whether they themselves have gone on a trip to see their relatives, or their relatives have come to see them.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Well hello, it's almost Christmas already! This semester has been crazy busy, but I finally read a new book and had time to write about it. Enjoy! :)

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

This book is the first book published by C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia book series, but the second book when they are put in chronological order.

In this book, four young children are sent to live with a professor in a big house after they are sent away from London at the beginning of WWII. The children spend a lot of time exploring the house and playing games to pass the time. Lucy, the youngest sibling, climbs into a magical wardrobe that takes her to the magical world of Narnia. When she returns, Peter, Susan, and Edmund don't believe anything that she says. Edmund eventually makes his way into Narnia as well. When a tour group of the professor's big house is making its way to where the children are playing, they all hide in the wardrobe and reach the magical world of Narnia.

The children find out about how evil the White Witch is, who calls herself the Queen of Narnia. She cast a spell on the land of Narnia so that it is always winter, but never Christmas. They also learn about Aslan, the Great Lion who is needed to help the children take down the White Witch. The children meet many other helpful creatures while they explore the forests of Narnia.

I remember reading this book when I was in fourth grade and I don't remember enjoying it that much. Reading it now though, I felt like the book was actually really short. I expected a lot more plot details, I guess. The children all got to Narnia fairly quickly and once they were there, the book just kept going, but it wasn't exactly that adventurous and suspenseful. The first time I read it, I also didn't have any idea about all the Christian themes throughout the story, mostly surrounding Aslan's character. I think reading it this time it was very obvious, however, I don't think other children would pick up on that if they were in fourth grade, so I still think it's a very appropriate book for children to read, regardless of their beliefs. Ultimately, I guess that should really be up to the parents to decide, but I think it's ok!

I did like this book a lot more reading it now than I did before. I might like to read the rest of the series sometime when I have some free time. Although I am a little confused about the series because I'm pretty sure most of the other books don't feature Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, but they were the main characters in this book. The other books in the series are:

The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

I would recommend this book for other children to read. My Reading Methods course colleagues and I read this book as an assignment where we are blogging with a fourth grade class in Indiana. Both the students in my class and in the fourth grade class have really enjoyed the book and have enjoyed talking about it with one another.