Sunday, March 1, 2015

Old School Sunday: Different Dragons by Jean Little (1987)

Different Dragons
by Jean Little
1987. Puffin.
ISBN: 9780140319989

Ben is nervous about staying alone with his Aunt Rose while his parents are away. When she welcomes a large dog named Gully into the house for the weekend, he becomes even more worried. He doesn't want to admit to Hana, a girl his age who lives near Aunt Rose, that he is afraid of dogs, especially since Hana thinks Gully is so great, but he's also not sure he'll be able to survive sharing his living space with a dog even for just a couple of days.

In this novel, celebrated Canadian author Jean Little demonstrates a strong sense of empathy for quiet kids with big fears. Little creates a three-dimensional and believable child in Ben, and she describes his anxiety about interacting with dogs - and about taking chances in general - with great compassion. Many kids are afraid of dogs, and this book does a nice job of first validating their fears before attempting to dispel them. Ben comes to appreciate Gully on his own terms, not just because others say he must, but out of his own determination and gumption, and the result is a very satisfying story. The message - that we all have different dragons to overcome - is a perfect and necessary lesson for upper elementary school readers.

This book was first published in 1987, but it holds up quite well. There is very little reference to cultural or technological phenomena of the 80s, so it doesn't feel like an old book, and the subject matter is so universal, that it will never really stop being relevant. It has been republished as recently as 2007 (thought with an unfortunate cover sure to turn off kids who are apprehensive about dogs!), and though it is currently out of print, used copies seem plentiful online.

Different Dragons is similar in tone and style to books by Kevin Henkes, such as Junonia and The Year of Billy Miller. It may also appeal to kids who enjoy other "boys with fears" stories like the Alvin Ho and Justin Case series.

I own a copy of Different Dragons.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reading with Little Miss Muffet: February 2015

New Book Behaviors

  • Stacking and unstacking. Little Miss Muffet has started to discover that items can be piled on top of one another - blocks, cups, pieces of paper, and naturally, books. As pleasing as it is to make a pile, it's even more exciting to knock one down, so usually by the end of the morning, the living room floor is carpeted with picture books and Miss Muffet is slipping and sliding all over them as she walks to the kitchen for lunch. 
  • Frustration. Miss Muffet is also beginning to understand that books have certain limitations. End papers are often fastened to the front and back covers, library book jackets are taped and glued in place, and the flaps in life-the-flap books have to be moved  a certain way in order to get them to open. When things don't work as she expects them to, Miss Muffet gets frustrated and pounds on the book or throws it to show that she is angry and/or wants help. 
  • Orientation. Within the past couple of weeks, Miss Muffet has started to notice when she is looking at a book upside down, and she will turn it around to make sure everything is facing the right way. In one case, there was  an animal on a page who was intentionally upside down, and she actually turned the entire magazine she was reading upside down so she could see him going in the right direction. 

Five Current Favorites

  • Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth KrommesI picked up this book for myself because I had heard good things about it, but had not yet seen it. Little Miss Muffet loved it from the first reading, and it was her most requested read-aloud for the duration of the time it was checked out from the library. Her favorite illustrations were of the two dogs, at whom she would bark every time they appeared. Because she loved it, I read the book so many times that I starting reading too much into it and making up entire subtexts that were not implied by the author or illustrator! This is definitely the book I have read to her the most times in her life so far. 
  • Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie FlackWe have acquired some of the books I had as a child, including many I received from the Children's Choice Book Club when I was a preschooler. Angus and the Ducks is one of these. Miss Muffet loves to say "woof" and "quack" so this is an ideal story for her. It's also just short enough that she can sit through the whole thing once before losing interest and demanding to hear something else. 
  • You... by Emma Dodd
    This is the UK version of a book that was published in the US as More and More. It features a pair of monkeys - a parent and a baby - and Miss Muffet is obsessed with their faces. She especially likes one page where the monkey sits with his hand on his head, and she likes to point out the moon in the nighttime scene. Though I have read this book a fair number of times, this is one she also frequently looks at on her own. 
  • First 100 Words by Roger Priddy
    In the interest of exposing her to words other than animals and their sounds (which she has mostly mastered), we purchased the oversized version of this board book for Miss Muffet. She loves to name the objects she recognizes and point to others so that I will tell her what they are called. We liked this book so much, we also bought a second one by the same author: Colors, ABC, Numbers.
  • All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
    This is one of my favorite picture books, and I really didn't expect to be sharing it with my child until she was at least in preschool. It turns out, though, that she loves pointing out all the people in the illustrations, and looking for things like the ball left behind in the rain and the man standing alone on the dock as the sun goes down. 

One Tip from Mom 

  • Keep some of the books you own in reserve. My husband and I are both librarians, so we buy lots of books and receive lots of books as gifts. At any given time, Miss Muffet has access to probably half of the books that are appropriate for her current developmental stage. The rest are kept in a cabinet. I do a rotation of her books periodically, mostly to add some variety to my read-aloud repertoire, but I have also been known to pull out a long-forgotten interesting book to curb crying when she doesn't want to be in the playpen, but I need her to stay in there for 10 minutes. At this age, her memory is pretty short, so every time we bring out a book that has been hidden away, it's like we bought a brand-new one. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Easy Reader Review: Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules (ARC)

My Family Adventure
by Jacqueline Jules
2015. Capstone
ISBN: 9781479557905
My Family Adventure is a brightly colored collection of three easy-to-read bilingual stories for beginning readers. Sofia Martinez is an outgoing seven-year-old girl with a large extended family, whom she loves. In the three stories collected in this book (Picture Perfect, Abuela's Birthday, and The Missing Mouse), Sofia fights to stand out from her siblings, works on a well-intentioned but messy gift for her grandmother's birthday, and accidentally lets a mouse loose in her house.

With the growing emphasis on the need for diversity in children's books, the Sofia Martinez series is very timely. Not only is Sofia's family Hispanic, but the text also incorporates simple words and phrases from the Spanish language into each story. For children learning to read in both English and Spanish this feature is strongly appealing. Each Spanish expression is highlighted with a different font and color from the rest of the page, so new readers can easily tell when the switch between languages is made, and a glossary at the back of the book defines each Spanish word for kids who are not familiar with them. While non-Spanish speaking kids might find the Spanish words distracting and difficult to sound out, Spanish speakers can enjoy seeing their own cultural experiences playing out on the page using their own language.

The writing in this book is strong. Sofia's magnetic personality draws the reader into her world, and her adventures - even the cliched experience of losing a rodent in the house - are fun to read and well-described. The author makes great use of dialogue, and the illustrations focus heavily on facial expressions, which help the reader understand how each line of speech is to be construed. Sofia's motivations (to stand out, to please her family, to solve problems) are common to many children of her age, which makes it very easy to relate to her experiences.

Jacqueline Jules is also the author of the Zapato Power chapter book series. Though both series are strong (and multicultural!), Sofia Martinez is the author's best work yet, and it will be a perfect addition to easy reader collections, especially those who serve bilingual beginning readers.

I received a digital ARC of My Family Adventure from Capstone via NetGalley.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

4 Story Time Themes for St. Patrick's Day

Having trouble finding books to suit a St. Patrick's Day themed story time? Think outside the box and try one of these related themes instead.


Many Irish legends talk about looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so rainbows are a perfect St. Patrick's Day topic! A rainbow theme can incorporate almost anything having to do with colors, so every children's librarian can use this theme, regardless of location or collection size.

Suggested Books:

Extension Activities:

Orange, White, & Green 

Orange, white, and green are the colors on the Irish flag. Using this theme, you can add a little Irish flavor to what is essentially just a color-themed story time with a specific focus.

Suggested Books: 

Extension Activities: 

Magical Creatures 

Irish folklore is filled with leprechauns, fairies, unicorns, and other mythical beings. Connect your story time to Ireland by focusing on these fantastical creatures.

Suggested Books: 

Extension Activities: 


Enjoy the luck of the Irish at story time with a focus on good luck!

Suggested Books:  

Extension Activities: 

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