Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge: Week 5

This week, I chose books that may not be completely non-fiction but are largely based on true events or people. I felt that these books tell stories that are valuable to young readers. I especially wanted to read the work of one author, Patricia Polacco, who has written many children’s books, most of which are based on true events or family history.


That Book Woman by Heather Henson

Many years ago, there were women who traveled up to the mountains where people did not have access to libraries. They were called traveling librarians because they took books to the people in these remote locations and traded them out for new books every so often. In this book, the young man despises how his little sister sits around reading books from the book woman all the time while he works to help his family survive. Eventually, though, he becomes curious and decides to learn to read. He comes to see the real value of the book woman quickly. This is a great story about the importance of reading which reveals history that may be little known, especially to children. I would recommend this book to students from kindergarten to 4th grade.


The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

A young girl decides she wants to turn her garment that she has outgrown into a quilt. The women in her family help her to make this quilt. Throughout the generations, the quilt is passed along from mother to daughter to granddaughter and so on. The story of a family is told through alongside the journey of the quilt which eventually leads us to the author herself and then to her daughter. This is a beautiful story about family heritage and traditions as well as love for one’s family. I would recommend this for children in 1st grade to children in 4th grade.


Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Polacco wrote this book about two real-life young men who served in the Civil War and despite their skin color or upbringings, became friends. Pink is a young black boy who is fighting in the war and comes across Say, who is wounded. Pink takes Say back to his home where he and his mother nurse Say back to health. Pink tells Say that they must return to their units in order to  keep his mother safe from the marauders. Despite the boys’ good intentions, tragedy strikes. This story is a tear-jerker and is one that should be for older elementary students due to the death of Pink’s mother and the violent nature of the Civil War.


Image result for thank you mr. falker

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

In this book we see the struggles of a young Patricia Polacco as she longs to learn how to read but cannot seem to make sense of the letters. No one seems to believe in her except for her grandparents who soon pass away. When Polacco moves to a new state and a new school, she hopes that things will get better but they only get worse…until she gets Mr. Falker as her teacher. This is a great story for ensuring young students who may struggle with a learning disability that there is always someone out there who believes in them and if they work hard, they can overcome. I would recommend this book for students in 2nd through 4th grade.


Stay tuned for next week. I am not sure what, if any theme, I will choose but would love to hear some feedback on what I should read this week!


It’s Monday: What Are You Reading? Week 5

I absolutely LOVE reading Newberry Award winning books so this week, I chose to read not just one but two. Like usual, I was not let down except to be left wishing there were more of these books to read.


Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes is a book about a boy who is always at the wrong place at the wrong time, supposedly due to a curse that was placed on his family many years ago by a gypsy woman. Stanley Yelnats is sent to a work camp for boys when he once again finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Though Stanley struggles during his time at the work camp, he makes an unexpected friend in another boy named Zero. When Zero decides to run away from camp, Stanley decides he has to rescue him. Through their adventure, the boys find a way to set things right. This book will not only help children to learn about friendship and never giving up but also give them a glimpse into the real-life struggles of less fortunate children. I would recommend this book for students in 4th or 5th grade.


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Josh “Filthy McNasty” and JB Bell are twin brothers who are the stars of their basketball team. The twins may not always see eye to eye but they have a strong brotherly bond until JB starts seeing a girl who seems to drive a wedge between them. Through the course of events, Josh becomes more and more distanced from his brother and eventually gets suspended from the basketball team. When the boys’ father has medical trouble during their playoff game, their world suddenly changes. This book is written in a beautiful rhythm-like poetry that gives it life. It can share the pain and the beauty in family relationships with children. I recommend this book for children in 5th or 6th grade due to the more mature material regarding death.

Reading Reflection

I just logged onto my Goodreads account and recorded 6 more books for a grand total of 60 so far this semester. I know, that sounds like an awful lot of books for only being about one month into classes but I am hoping to triple that by December. There is a bag laying on my couch that holds about 7 books just checked out from the library this morning that are just waiting to be cracked open. I have always loved to read but this class has completely reignited my passion for reading and has already challenged me to read outside of my comfort zones.



My Goodreads Account



Reading non-fiction has never been a thrill for me unless it was a really well-written bio or autobiography. Spending hours wrapped up in a blanket with a hot cup of coffee on the porch swing lost in a world of fiction fantasy and conflict is more up my “reading rural route”. In these past few weeks, however, I have found a new love for children’s non-fiction picture books. These have to be written in story form, though. My mind craves to relate to that of a child and revel in what is exciting and imaginative whether it is a true story or not.


Non-fiction picture books like this one have changed my ideas about reading non-fiction. 



Like most people, I love a great story. Adventure and suspense are literary devices that are sure to draw me in as a reader but I love rhythm and poetry as well. After reading Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, I have discovered that verse is more appealing to the eye and to the mind.




I honestly can’t say that any of the books I have read these last 5 weeks have been “bad”. There were a few that didn’t pique my interest quite as much but I’m not sure it was the so much the genre or the subject matter that didn’t appeal but more the way they were written. Due to the fact that all of the books that fell short for me were award-winning books, I would rather not list them explicitly. I will say that those books were winners of the Coretta Scott King award and the Sibert award but again, my lack of satisfaction was not due to the subject matter but rather the way that some of the information was presented.



When you read that book that doesn’t quite hit home. 



The Pura Belpre award category and the Golden Sower award category were my favorite to choose and read from. Of course, many people enjoy the Newberry winners but the Golden Sower seemed like a great category to choose from since I will be teaching in the state of Nebraska and the winners are chosen by students in Nebraska. I think the Pura Belpre award winners are an excellent choice because there is much less emphasis placed on Latino and Latina authors than on African-American authors.




So far my favorite grade or age-level to read from has been anywhere from 4th grade (upper elementary) to Young Adult. These books, regardless of genre, just seem to be imaginative yet many of them focus on real-life situations. The stories are often rich and although there usually aren’t many illustrations to go along with them, they are typically not needed.



I Love to Read by Carlos Porto is licensed by CC by 2.0



I hope to expand my experience with different genres of books still this semester. Maybe I will try out a few graphic novels which haven’t ever been a big favorite of mine. All I know that if I am making time to read, I am spending that time enjoying it. The time never feels like it was wasted and I already have so many ideas of books to share with my future students!


Reading by Ben Ward is licensed by CC by 2.0

It’s Monday: What Are You Reading? Week 4

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Let me begin by saying I loved this book! The instant I finished this book I told my 4th grader that she would enjoy it and recommended that she read it in her spare time. In this story, which is based on some actual events, the main character, Ivan introduces his friends in the shopping mall from inside his “domain”. We learn that Ivan is a silverback gorilla who has lived most of his life in this enclosure inside the shopping mall. We also meet Stella, an elephant, Bob, the dog, Mack, the owner of the mall and of the animals, Julia, the young girl, and George, the janitor. Eventually we find out that Ivan is not necessarily happy but not really sad. He has come to terms with living in his domain and doesn’t have hopes of it ever changing. Stella, however, will never give up hope. Soon, Mack begins to lose business and decides to purchase a baby elephant to add to the exhibit. Ruby is a young elephant orphan who is very afraid of everything. Stella takes her under her wing and soon all of the other animals learn to love Ruby. When Stella becomes ill from an infection and dies, Ivan decides he must keep his promise to her and save Ruby from the despair of living out her life in the domain. Ivan and Julia work together with Bob to make this happen.





The exposition of the plot was done skillfully. Applegate gave us insight into each character and their personality as well as their history. Just as we began to see the plot unfold, we began to look deeper into Ivan’s history and what made him who he now is. I would say this was a good precursor for the rising action. When Ruby is brought in and Stella passes away, we see Mack become more abusive towards the animals. It is here that the plot thickens and the climax is introduced. Once Julia and George realize that Ivan has a plan to save Ruby they help him get the ball rolling. Soon, investigators begin to come examine the conditions of the exhibit and the animals who reside there. This is where we see the falling action. Applegate does a great job ensuring that the plot is gripping but also apparent to the reader.



The setting in which the story takes place is the Exit 8 mall. Of course, this may not be the exact name of the real shopping mall where the real Ivan was kept but it definitely serves the imagination of the reader when relating the story’s events to a place. We don’t get much clue to a time period or era when this took place but it doesn’t seem to be needed in this story. We can see that the most important aspect of the setting is the physical location: the shopping mall. It helps the reader to sympathize with the conflict of the animals and makes their being on exhibit in such a seedy place seem even more absurd. The setting was tied to all of the events that took place in the book which gives it plenty of worth. I felt that if the setting had been anywhere else or exposed any other way, the story would not have been as appealing.




It would be difficult to assign just one theme to this book. We could say the theme is “freedom” or “bravery” or “keeping your promise” or even “protecting our environment”. There are so many good lessons throughout this book that I would hate to assign it just one. The author obviously had a great true story to work with here but also took the time to develop the characters and give them a fictional personality which in turn helped to develop the plot and the theme of the story. I would say my favorite theme of this book would be Bravery because we all need to be reminded of who we are and just how capable we are of literally stepping outside of our own domains.




This book was rightly awarded the Newberry Award and I will keep my personal copy in my library for students to read from here on out.

Non-fiction Picture Book Challenge: Week 3

I know that I read chose non-fiction picture books focused on animals last week and I had planned on choosing a much different topic this week but since our class is reading The One and Only Ivan I chose to read some children’s non-fiction picture books about gorillas and chimpanzees. Unfortunately, I was unable to get to the library earlier this week due to being ill so my post is a few days late. I highly recommend all of these books for younger children and I hope you will find time to read and enjoy them, too!


Koko’s Kitten by Dr. Francine Patterson

This is a true story about a gorilla who lives in captivity and is cared for by human scientists. Koko has learned how to speak to her caregivers using American Sign Language and tells them that she wants a cat for her birthday. After learning she does not want a toy cat, they finally get her a real kitten. Koko and her cat, All Ball, become like family to one another. This is a wonderful story that is not only warm but amazing.


Looking For Miza: True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family Who Rescued One of Their Own by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu

Miza is a baby gorilla who is a part of the Kabirizi troop of mountain gorillas in a National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is in Africa. Miza and her mother disappear one day and the rangers along with Miza’s father, Kabirizi, search for them. Finally, Miza is found but sadly, her mother is never found. This book offers photographs of the actual gorilla tribe and the rangers. It also discusses the reasons gorillas need to be protected. Children of all ages will enjoy this book as it is full of interesting facts about gorillas and the area where these particular gorillas reside.


The Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours by Jane Goodall

Of course, any book written by Jane Goodall must be a good read! This book tells the story of how she began to study chimpanzees in the wild and how she learned about their habits, likes, dislikes, and their personalities. The story Jane tells is full of great facts that are sure to keep children interested and maybe even get them interested in doing further research on primates or the work of Jane Goodall. The end of the book tells about Jane Goodall’s work to teach children what they can do to help save the earth and its inhabitants, wild or domesticated.


Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate

I did wait until after I had read The One and Only Ivan before reading this picture book. Of course, this book tells the true story…just the facts with no additives. It is a remarkable story, as the title suggests. It will help children to understand why wild animals must be protected and be free to live their lives in their natural habitats rather than to be kept as pets or special attractions for human entertainment.


Stay tuned for next week…I really have no idea what I will be reading so be prepared for a surprise!



It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Week 3

This week’s reading probably totaled about 8 hours rather than 4. I’m not sure why I chose to read so many longer books this week but I enjoyed all of them to varying degrees and I learned about some book awards that I wasn’t previously aware of.



The first award I chose a book from was the Coretta Scott King Award which is awarded to African American authors and illustrators.


Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

This book tells the life stories of ten black men who’s revolutionary ideas and persistence helped to shape and win the Civil Rights movement in America. I found the stories to be very informational and interesting. I would recommend this book to students in 5th grade or higher as there are some radical ideas discussed especially regarding leaders like Malcom X.


The second award category I chose from is the Pura Belpre award which is given to Latino and Latina illustrators and authors.


The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

This book is about an actual author who grew up during the revolutionary times in Cuba. It is written in beautiful poetry form and is creative in its story-telling. Tula is a young girl reaching the age when she will be given over by her family  to an arranged marriage. Tula, who is a creative, free-thinking girl cannot imagine marrying a stranger whom she does not love. She hides her love for reading and writing from her family but is soon sent away to her grandfather’s plantation where she begins to roam the countryside and finds freedom. I loved this book and hope to include it in my reading list for junior high-aged readers.


The next award I chose a book from was the Sibert Medal which is reserved for the non-fictional and informative books for children.


March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

This graphic novel is the 3rd instillation of the story of the Civil Rights movement in which Congressman and author John Lewis played a major role alongside other major leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This book is very straightforward and includes a lot of graphic material. It uses some foul language and sexual content as well as violence, therefore I would recommend this for only juniors or seniors in high school or for college students.


The fourth award category I chose from was the Schneider Family award which is reserved for authors who write about disabilities.

Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander

This is a children’s picture book that tells the story of a young dog who cannot write letters as well as his classmate and is afraid to ask for help due to embarrassment. After telling his best friend about his difficulties he is encouraged to ask for help from the teacher who shows him that just because he doesn’t get the letters down as easily as others doesn’t mean he can’t do it. He also learns he isn’t the only one in his class who struggles. He finds the motivation and confidence to learn to write just as well as the rest of the class. I enjoyed this book because it can help children see that there is no reason to be embarrassed about being different and there is no reason to treat people who are different badly. I would recommend this book to students in 1st and 2nd grade.


The next award I read from was the (Theodore Seuss) Geisel award which is given to authors and illustrators of children’s picture books or beginning reader’s books.


Goodnight Owl by Greg Pizzoli

This book is about an owl who cannot go to sleep because he keeps being disturbed by a sound. He cannot seem to find the source of the sound and in the process of trying to find it he nearly destroys his home. Finally, he discovers the mouse making the sound and is able to sleep. The book is written with simple words that are appropriate for beginning readers and the illustrations are cute and clever. I would recommend this book for kindergarten and 1st grade students.


The final award I chose from is the Golden Sower award which is an award which is chosen by students in the state of Nebraska.


The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sage is an orphan who does what he can to survive even if it means breaking the law. But soon, Sage finds himself being purchased by a wealthy regent of the king’s court. Sage and three other boys are chosen from several orphanages to keep the regent’s devious plans a secret…or else. This story is one that will draw you into the world of Sage and the other boys. Once you begin it, you will not be able to put it down! There are twists and surprises all the way through the book that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I can definitely see why this book was chosen by a group of young readers in Nebraska as one of their favorites! I can’t wait to read the sequel as well! I would recommend this to readers in 4th or 5th grade.

I truly enjoyed this week’s reading even though it took me about double the assigned time to read them all. I really have an appreciation for reading about the civil rights movement and about human relations topics. I feel I would use at least half of this list in my own classroom someday.




Too Busy for Books??

Have I struggled to find time to read? YES! Does this mean I don’t love to read? NO!

My struggle with reading has been the cause of some stress in my life, especially this past week with the holiday weekend and our family Labor Day camping trip cutting into my time. However, I did take books with me and I did kick back with a hot cup of coffee brewed in the percolator over the campfire with a book in my hand in my zero-gravity lounge chair and loved every second of it.

Since I work as a substitute para for the school district here (and they are in severe need of substitutes) I have had to use lots of edge time to get my reading done. I have taken the suggestion of several others and started to carry books with me everywhere I go. I read on my lunch break, I read in the mornings after taking my daughter to school on days that I don’t work. I read for 20 or 30 minutes at a time while I wait for my daughter to get out of dance lessons or while I’m waiting at an appointment. Then, there are times that I can’t stop reading and find myself finishing a chapter book in just a few hours.

Last week I read about 12 books, only 4 or 5 of which were picture books so I feel I am accomplishing a lot in the 4 hours of reading that has been assigned each week. However, I think I could possibly maximize this if I were to purchase some books on my Kindle app and maybe download some books on audio through Audible or one of those apps.

The major obstacle I’ve had to overcome in my reading time is distractions. Distractions from kids, distractions from my significant other feeling that as soon as I sit down to read he should strike up a conversation with me, distractions from the dogs and even worse, the kitten who loves to lay right on top of my book or laptop…grrr. I find the most peaceful time for me to read are those days when I am home alone and can lock myself in the bedroom and lay on the bed and read.

Although I feel I’ve done fairly well finding a balance between my hectic schedule and reading time, I hope to improve on the quality of time I have to read as well as how much reading I can get done each week.


time by Sean MacEntee is licensed under CC by 2.0


Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge: All About Animals

This past week, I decided to choose a theme for the non-fiction picture book challenge. I thought long and hard about what theme I wanted to go with before making a decision. There are tons of options when it comes to themes in children’s non-fiction books and although some of them definitely hold more interest for me (for instance, I wasn’t too keen on reading about science experiments this week), I put more consideration into what children may be more interested in reading about. Since most children have an innate love for animals, I chose to read some books about this topic. Here are a few that I read and felt would make good reading choices for students.

How to Talk to Your Dog by Sue Truesdell

This book tells all about how dogs communicate with people from the movement and positioning of their tails to their barks and their sniffs. It covers a great deal of factual information and gives many helpful hints that even adults can use and enjoy reading about. Children whose families have a pet dog may especially take interest in this book. It includes some adorable illustrations as well as photos. I would recommend this book for 3rd grade and up as the language is somewhat advanced for younger children.


How to Talk to Your Cat by Jean Craighead George

Of course, if we’re going to read about dogs, we mustn’t forget their feline counterparts! This book is very similar to How to Talk to Your Dog but is specific to cats. It discusses how cats communicate with their pupils, the movement and position of their tails, their personalities and attitudes, and how they are different from dogs. The illustrations are just as adorable as in the dog book and the hints are maybe even more helpful since cats seem to be slightly more mysterious than dogs. I would also recommend this book for 3rd grade and up due to the advanced language.


Image result for Wildlife Rescue: The Work of Dr. Kathleen Ramsey

Wildlife Rescue: The Work of Dr. Kathleen Ramsey by Jennifer Owings Dewey

In this book, we read about a veterinarian who has devoted her life to rescuing wild animals and coming up with innovative ways to help them overcome illness and injury. This book is excellent because it tells true stories of animal rescues that the veterinarian has made possible. There are photos of some of the actual wildlife and the doctor and staff. Due to the graphic nature of some of the animals’ injuries and how they occurred, this book would be more suited for 4th or 5th grade students.

I have already begun to devise a plan for next week’s theme so stay tuned!

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