When I see a book by the talented author-illustrator Ross Burach, I know it's going to be hilarious. His latest, The Very Impatient Caterpillar, is no exception. This book drew me in and made me chuckle from the first lines of dialogue between two caterpillars: "Hey, what are you guys doing?" "We're going to metamorphosize."
This charming book cleverly takes a topic that every preschooler studies - the stages of a butterfly - and marries it with an emotion that every child feels: impatience. The bold, colorful illustrations are delightful and the text is hilarious. Any kid who's every said "Are we there yet?" will crack up at lines like "Am I a butterfly yet?"
The premise of this book is that the main character, the very impatient caterpillar, isn't aware that he can transform into a butterfly and doesn't know how the process works. So, the caterpillar essentially learns about metamorphosis (and the value of patience) along with the reader.
I'd highly recommend this book for kids ages 4 to 8 and for teachers and parents looking for a fun way to cover the (seemingly unrelated) topics of impatience and butterflies.
Education.con contains a comprehensive plan for teaching the butterfly lifecycle.
This article from First Cry Parenting has some suggestions for parents on how to teach patience to young children.
About the Book
The Very Impatient Caterpillar
Russ Burach - Author/illustrator
For ages 4 to 8
For more reviews of Perfect Picture Books, please see author Susanna Hill's website.
"Evan and his dog did everything together." The first line of THE ROUGH PATCH by Brian Lies sets up the deep friendship between Evan, a fox, and his dog.
In this book, Evan especially enjoys sharing his love of gardening with his canine friend. The two friends did everything together, until..."
one day the unthinkable happened."
The author doesn't come out and say that the dog died. Instead, an artful two-page spread explains that "Evan laid his dog to rest" and shows the fox, dejected, digging a hole in his garden. The art on the right-hand page shows a swirling cloud with the text "and nothing was the same" surrounded by moody, dark colors. Any child (or adult) who has lost a pet would be familiar with the emotions elicited by this powerful combination of words and images.
This book depicts Evan angry and sad about the loss of his friend, until gardening eventually is his salvation...and the path to a new canine friend. I love how this book shows that getting over grief takes time and that it ends on a hopeful note.
It's not easy to write about death in a way that's both moving and accessible to children. New York Times-bestselling author/author Brian Lies has done a fabulous job with this book, which I'd recommend to any child who's ever lost a pet.
The Rainbow Bridge has a worksheet that kids can complete to help them work through the grief of losing a pet. Younger kids can be helped by a parent or teacher or can only complete the appropriate parts.
This article from Psychology Today also has some tips, including the idea of creating a "Bowl of Memories" with scraps of paper with memories (written or drawn) about the pet.
The Rough Patch
by Brian Lies
Published by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2018
Ages: 4 and above
For more Perfect Picture Books, please see Susanna Hill's blog.
Ada Rios grew up in a town made of trash." So begins the moving and inspirational true story: Ada's Voiolin, the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.
I don't read a lot of non-fiction picture books and discovered this one through my participation in Reading for Research (ReForReMo). And what a fantastic discovery!
The story takes place in a slum town in Paraguay, where the inhabitants' main source of income is picking and selling trash from a landfill. In this environment, Ada struggles to stay out of trouble and focus on school.
One day, a new person comes to town and starts offering music lessons to the local children. But, he only has three instruments and 10 students. And that's not that only problem. In a town "where a violin is worth more than a house," it's not safe for the children to take the instruments home to practice.
Fortunately, the teacher comes up with an extremely innovative solution: making instruments from the materials at hand: recycled trash!
Over time, more and more children join the "recycled orchestra," which began to improve...so much that the orchestra of kids from one of Paraguay's poorest towns go on to perform around the world!
This tale of hope, creativity and the power of music is lyrically written by Susan Hood and beautifully illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. A Spanish-language version is also available.
If you're interested in the fascinating, real-life story behind this book, here's an interesting YouTube video.
Title: Ada's Violin the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
Author: Susan Hood
Illustrator: Sally Wern Comport
Published: 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Age range: 7-10
To read more reviews of Perfect Picture Books, check out author Susanna Hill's website.
Sometimes, I feel that picture books have become too snarky and comic book-esque. While there's a place for humor and brevity, I sometimes feel that the current market undervalues lyrical, truly well-written books. Sometimes, I feel that the stories we read to our young child have become almost too simple. That's why I was so happy to discover Whale in a Fishbowl, a book that to me is everything a picture book should be.
It's lyrical. It's beautifully written. Gorgeously illustrated. And it conveys a message in a non-didactic way.
Whale in a Fishbowl begins with a compelling hook: Wednesday lived in a fishbowl. It was the only home she knew.
As we read more, we discover a fishbowl (which turns out to be in an aquarium) is not where Wednesday should really be. In this tale of self-discovery, a child helps a fish realize that the sea is where she belongs.
I loved this book, which I got from the library. I plan to buy my own copy from my local bookseller because this is a book that belongs on my bookshelf.
The Facts: Whale in a Fishbowl
In the beginning, there were three colors: reds, yellows and blues. So begins the seemingly simple but deceptively deep MIXED A COLORFUL STORY by author/illustrator Arree Chung. This tale of acceptance begins with the three primary color groups living a life of "color harmony" until a disagreement breaks out and the colors decide that segregation is the answer.
Of course, this solution doesn't last because the colors start mixing. Before long, yellow and blue get married and end up with a little green baby. The book ends with everyone living together in a "new city full of color."
I love how this book takes the complex concepts of interracial marriage and acceptance and explains them using colors, something that all crayon-coloring kids can relate to.
Interestingly, this book reminded me of an older, Spanish-language book that I used to read to my son when he was younger: Alma Flor Ada's Amigos.
RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS:
Please see this article from Education World for five great classroom activities designed to teach tolerance.
For more picture book recommendations, see Susanna Hill's Perfect Picture Books.
Making and keeping friends is an essential childhood skill, which explains why there are so many picture books about friendship. For a book on friendship to stand out on the shelves, it must have something special. MAKING A FRIEND by author Tammi Sauer and (the aptly-named) illustrator Alison Friend fits the bill.
Beaver was good at making lots of things...begins this sweet book. But, like many children, he struggles with making friends. Beaver fails
in his attempts to befriend the other animals, perhaps because he's trying too hard or trying the wrong tactics, e.g., he gives birthday balloons to Porcupine!
When it starts to snow, Beaver sees the perfect opportunity to make a friendly snowman. He's soon joined by Raccoon, who's also in the market for a friend.
Can you guess what happens? It turns out that the snowman isn't as fun as Beaver and Raccoon had hoped. But in the process, the two animals discover they've made a friend in each other.
Aw! The adorable illustrations match the clever text and heartwarming message in this book about friendship that's perfect for young children between the ages of 3 and 7.
Resources for Teachers
Here are a few ideas for friendship-related classroom activities:
Say Nice Things. For younger kids, show a picture of each child, one by one, and have each of the other kids say something nice about that person. Compile the lists and hang them by each child's picture. For older kids, break the classroom into pairs and have sets of kids interview each other, using questions like: What am I good at? What could I help other kids with? What do you like about me?
We're Alike. Break classroom into small groups of about four kids. Ideally, kids who aren't already friends should be together. Have each group come up with four things they all have in common and then share with the rest of the class. For more great friendship ideas, see this article, which was the inspiration for the above ideas.
If you're interested in picture books and associated resources, check out Susanna Hill's Perfect Picture Books.
The Facts about MAKING A FRIEND:
The Stuff of Stars is a gorgeously written and illustrated exploration of the origins of the universe.
I was hooked on The Stuff of Stars from the moment I saw the stunning cover with its swirling images and vivid colors. The rest of the pages are as visually appealing. As I flipped the pages, I found myself using my finger to trace some of the colorfully explosive images that convey a sense of motion and emotion. Kudos to illustrator Ekua Holmes for creating a book that's truly a work of art.
The text of The Stuff of Stars is equally lyrical and evocative, beginning with the opening line: In the dark, in the dark, in the deep, deep, dark.. Author Marion Dane Bauer makes expert use of repetition, strong action verbs, concise text and some unexpected words (hippopotami, mitochondria) to trace the origins of the universe, the earth and then YOU, the reader. With lines like Waiting, waiting, dividing, changing, growing. Until at last, YOU burst into the world, The Stuff of Stars is poetically playful, the type of book that begs to be read and re-read.
On her author page, Marion Dane Bauer has a link to a Pinterest page with STEM resources related to the topics covered in the book.
I discovered The Stuff of Stars at the library, but definitely tend to make it part of my permanent picture book collection.
For more great picture books, see Susanna Hill's Perfect Picture Books.