After Christmas Read-Aloud: My Penguin Osbert

For my first story time with Kindergarten after the winter break, I decided to share a perfect “after Christmas” book:

my penguin osbert My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

In this amusing book, Joe asks Santa — very specifically — for a real, live penguin.  (There have been some misunderstandings with Santa in the past!)  He is delighted to find exactly what he asked for under the tree on Christmas morning.  But as the days wear on, he realizes that there’s a lot to taking care of a penguin that he hadn’t really considered.

my penguin osbert page

So he writes Santa another letter, and fortunately the solution is easily arranged.

Before sharing the book, I asked the kindergarteners if they had asked for and received something for Christmas this year that wasn’t quite as much fun as they expected it to be.  Sure enough, several raised their hands to shares tales of Transformers that were too difficult to transform (I could totally relate to that one!), electric scooters that were too hard to ride, and a remote control car with a mind of its own.

As we read about Joe’s struggles to do what was best for Osbert, rather than what Joe wanted to do, the kids shared some tidbits of information that they knew about penguins, which is nice preparation for the penguin unit they will begin in class later this month.

I should probably mention that there’s a sequel, too, although we didn’t read it this week.  Maybe for Valentine’s Day!

my penguin osbert in love My Penguin Osbert in Love

What books are you using with students this week?  Please leave a comment and share them!


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A Picture is Worth How Many Words?

Here’s another idea I shared during my Comics in the Classroom workshop last month:

For years teachers have been using wordless books to encourage creative writing with their students, but imagine putting a new spin on it by having students write dialogue and narration using a comic book format!  It’s easy when you use speech bubble sticky notes, and the same book can be used over and over again.

Here are two simple examples:

red book From The Red Book (Caldecott Honor Book) by Barbara Lehman

The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over!


Students could even use this as a starting point for writing their own graphic novel sequel to show what happens to the boy who finds the book at the end of the story!


lion mouseFrom The Lion & the Mouse (Caldecott Winner) by Jerry Pinkney

A wordless adaptation of one of the well-known Aesop fable, in which an unlikely pair of animals learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted.


Students studying fables could use this activity as inspiration to re-write other fables as comic books.  In this video, Jerry Pinkney offers an explanation of the thought process behind the book:


Of course, not all wordless books lend themselves to speech and/or thought bubbles, but here are some others that would work well for the comic format:

girl and the bicycle The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

“A little girl sees a shiny new bicycle in the shop window. She hurries home to see if she has enough money in her piggy bank, but when she comes up short, she knocks on the doors of her neighbors, hoping to do their yardwork. They all turn her away except for a kindly old woman. The woman and the girl work through the seasons, side by side. They form a tender friendship. When the weather warms, the girl finally has enough money for the bicycle. She runs back to the store, but the bicycle is gone! What happens next shows the reward of hard work and the true meaning of generosity.”

chalk Chalk by Bill Thomson

“A rainy day. Three kids in a park. A dinosaur spring rider. A bag of chalk. The kids begin to draw. . . and then . . . magic! The children draw the sun, butterflies, and a dinosaur that amazingly come to life. Children will never feel the same about the playground!”

secret box The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

The story of what happens when three children find a secret box that was hidden long ago, and travel across town and across time on a puzzling adventure.  It’s up the the reader to interpret the ending, and to imagine what happens next.

Click here for additional teaching suggestions for this book.



farmer and the clown The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (who I LOVE!)

“A baby clown is separated from his family when he accidentally bounces off their circus train and lands in a lonely farmer’s vast, empty field. The farmer reluctantly rescues the little clown, and over the course of one day together, the two of them make some surprising discoveries about themselves—and about life!”
Click here for an interview with Marla Frazee about the book.  And don’t miss this blog post from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast filled with artwork (and pre-artwork) from the book!



bluebird Bluebird by Bob Staake

The story of a beautiful but brief friendship between a lonely boy and a cheerful bluebird.

Click here to view the artwork for this award-winning book.


unspoken Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

“When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn, she is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger’s fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience, and she must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him?”

Here is Henry Cole “reading aloud” from the book.  This is a great introduction to show students how to think about and interpret a wordless book.


If you’d like to purchase pre-cut speech bubble sticky notes, here are some that I found online:


Can you recommend another wordless book that students could use to write narration and dialogue?  Please share it in the comments!

Note: When you purchase sticky notes or books 
via the links in this post, I receive a small 
commission (4%) from Amazon in the form of a gift card.
I use these gift cards to buy books for teachers 
to use during special reading projects and celebrations.
Thanks for your support!

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The WWW is Back!

One of the ways I’ve shared technology with my teachers in the past is to email them a WWW (Weekly Wednesday Website) to share an online resource that might be useful in the classroom.  Starting today I’m resuming those emails, and I’ll be sharing the sites here as well.  I’ve also created an archive of all the sites I’ve shared so far so that teachers can find a particular website without having to search through a list of emails.

Today’s WWW is…

discuskids    DISCUS Kids

The South Carolina State Library provides access to $2.2 million worth of research, reference, and learning resources for students in our state via the DISCUS website.
These resources include:

  • Britannica Elementary (general encyclopedia)
  • BrainPop Jr.  (early elementary lessons and online activities)
  • CultureGrams (social studies resources)
  • Kids InfoBits  (general encyclopedia, with magazine and newspaper articles)
  • NovelList K-8 Plus  (fiction and nonfiction book recommendations)
  • Searchasaurus  (kid-friendly search engine)
  • Biography in Context (biographical information, including photos and videos)

If you don’t live in South Carolina, I’m sorry to say that you can’t access these databases.  If you do live in South Carolina, I hope you’ll take advantage of them!

Discus Kids



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My Final Summer Reading of 2014

I spent one final long weekend at the beach last week (goodbye, Summer!) and thanks to all the rain we had, I was able to finish four of the novels I took along with me:

one for the murphysOne for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This book has been in my To-Be-Read pile for awhile, and I finally got around to reading it this week.
Carley has just been placed with a foster family after a devastating family incident, and her new situation is completely different from what she’s used to.  Letting her guard down and sharing herself with new people isn’t easy for Carley, but neither is trusting her own family again after what happened.
Please have some tissues ready because this story gets you right in the heart!  Best of all, it keeps you guessing about how things will turn out; and it has some plot twists that you don’t see coming, yet are totally believable and not at all forced.

hiding out at the pancake palaceHiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino

I just picked this book up at our local bookstore right before the trip, partly because of the “NPR Best Book of the Year” seal on the front, partly because it takes place during the summer, and partly because hey, PANCAKES!
The plot revolves around a contestant on a musical reality show seeking privacy after an embarrassing freeze onstage, and a local girl who is desperate to hear the song the pine trees played on the night she was born.  Each fills a need for the other as the two join forces in their attempt to connect with music again.
The lyrical text says a lot without saying too much, and it’s a feel-good read that’s not at all syrupy.  (Pun intended!)

timmy failure mistakes Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

     Calvin And Hobbes meets The Riot Brothers (and Chet Gecko and Greg Heffley) in this grin-a-minute romp with Timmy and his sidekick/business partner, Total the polar bear, filled with silliness that your reluctant readers will flip for.
The book trailer gives you a taste of what to expect:

The advanced vocabulary words sprinkled throughout the text are rendered less intimidating by the super-short chapters and the cartoon drawings on every page.  You can find lots of fun resources for kids, parents, and teachers at the Timmy Failure website.  Book Two (Now Look What You’ve Done) is already out, and Book Three (We Meet Again) debuts in October of 2014.

fourteenth goldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

I accessed a preview copy of this book via NetGalley, and I can’t wait until its official release on August 28 so I can add it to my library!
When Ellie’s scientist grandfather (Dr. Sagarsky) shows up on her doorstep looking like a teenager and announces that he’s found a way to reverse the aging process, it marks the beginning of a period of discovery for Ellie as well.  In this funny yet thoughtful story, we follow the two of them — along with an unlikely accomplice from Ellie’s school– as they attempt to recover Grandpa’s notes and specimens from the laboratory he no longer has access to.
Holm does a wonderful job of painlessly injecting plenty of science into this coming-of-age (for the second time for Grandpa!) novel, as well as encouraging readers to ponder the idea that scientific discoveries, for better or for worse, inevitably change the world permanently.  It will serve as an inspiration to girls who already enjoy science, and may spark an interest in the subject for girls who don’t.


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Modern Art Collages and Jazz Picture Books

As we were making Matisse-inspired collages the other day as part of our family summer art project, one of my children was working solely with black and white paper.  It seemed like the perfect time to bring out two picture books that I had been saving for bedtime reading.

ben's trumpetBen’s Trumpet, a Caldecott honor book (1979) by Rachel Isadora, is the story of a young boy who is excited by the jazz music he hears in his neighborhood and longs to play the trumpet himself.  He practices outside the corner jazz club with an imaginary trumpet, until the laughter and jeers of some of the other kids send him sadly home.  Just when he’s given up on his dream, the horn player from the club invites him inside to give the trumpet a try.

ben's trumpet zig zag ben's trumpet zig zag club

Although all of the artwork in this book is done in black and white, the illustrations are bold and expressive, and easily convey the energy of the music.  As we read it, we noticed the jagged lines on the end papers, then smiled when we saw the sign on the first page for the Zig Zag Jazz Club. (Click the page of Ben on the fire escape for an enlarged view of the jazz club sign.)

ben's trumpet art deco 1We talked about the geometric Art Deco elements in the illustrations, and I explained how popular that was in the 1920s as a style of architecture, interior decoration, jewelery design, etc.  We compared the use of the angular shapes in this book to the shapes used by Henri Matisse in his collages.  (I wish I’d also had my copy of Snow White in New York by Fiona French, with its glamorous Art Deco illustrations depicting NYC in the 1930s, with me to show them!)

bring on that beatThen we read Bring on That Beat, also by Rachel Isadora but published twenty-three years later!  This book takes a similar concept — children in a 1930s Harlem neighborhood enjoying the jazz music played by local musicians — but here the artist embellishes the black and white street scenes with splashes and pops of wild, vivid color, and tells the story in rhyming couplets rather than straight prose.

wake up that street 1 wake up that street 2

When I use these two books in my library lessons (either in January when our 5th graders study the Harlem Renaissance, or in February during our Black History Month celebration) I follow them up by giving students a page with one of five different  black-and-white silhouettes of a jazz musician on it, and some crayons or markers.   Each student writes his/her own original rhyming couplet on the paper, and then adds colorful flourishes while we listen to jazz music from the 30s.

At home, we were already listening to jazz as we collaged, and one of the kids decided on a last-minute addition of a little jazz color to his picture.  I love it!

Midnight Jazz

Midnight Jazz

When we get ready to do painted-paper collages a la Henri Matisse, we will also look at some other books by Rachel Isadora that show her delightful take on that style of artwork.

there was a tree    princess and the pea    fisherman and his wife


Books used today:

ben's trumpet
Ben’s Trumpet
by Rachel Isadora

bring on that beat
Bring on that Beat
also by Rachel Isadora

Also mentioned:

snow white in new york
Snow White in New York
by Fiona Finch



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Modern Art and Matisse Day 2

head hands heart logo medium

I wanted the first project in our family summer art study to involve creating our own paper collages, so after learning a little about modern art in general and Henri Matisse in particular, we examined some additional resources to help us get started.

lives of the artistsIn Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, we read a brief biography of Matisse and learned that he embraced his label as King of the Wild Beasts and never let the critics deter him from creating the type of art he loved.  We were also intrigued to discover that he had created a book of  collages titled Jazz that included works in colors so bright that to look at them on the walls of his studio Matisse had to wear sunglasses to look at them!

p. 88 from The Great Big Art Activity Book Click to enlarge

p. 88 from The Great Big Art Activity Book
Click to enlarge

We then turned to The Great Big Art Activity Book by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins to take another look at Matisse’s The Snail, which we examined yesterday, and to get some tips for creating abstract art and collage art. I really like the oversize format and clear examples in this book, as well as the simple instructions with step-by-step photographs for each project. Readers are encouraged to use the suggestions to make unique artwork, rather than simply copying the samples in the book. It’s well-organized with table of contents, index, and glossary; and includes over one hundred techniques to try!

p. 230 from The Great Big Art Activity Book
Click to enlarge.

Interesting note: One of my children was surprised to learn that a collage could depict a realistic scene, as shown in these examples. All of his previous experiences with collage had involved arranging random shapes in abstract designs, so this was a new concept for him.  It led to a great discussion of the difference between collage and mosaic, and later that evening as we were cracking eggs for omelets we decided that broken up eggshells might be an interesting medium for creating a mosaic.


The Sorrows of the King (1952)

Next we looked at another of Matisse’s cut-paper collages, The Sorrows of the King, in The Usborne Art Treasury by Rosie Dickins.   The cheerful colors and patterns used here create the effect of music and dancing, meant to distract the king from his sorrows.  Was the King of the Beasts giving us a glimpse into his own life here?  We know that he only took up “drawing with scissors” near the end of his life, after he became too frail to paint anymore.  It seems likely that his new experiments with shape and color kept his spirits up while allowing him to continue making art in spite his illness.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury. Click to enlarge.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury.
Click to enlarge.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury. Click to enlarge.

The accompanying activity in the book shows the reader how to make a collage of musical instruments that celebrates Matisse’s style.  We surmised that the author chose this subject because of Matisse’s connection with jazz, and agreed that when we started creating our own artwork we would have some upbeat jazz music playing in the background as additional inspiration.

Finally, we watched a brief video clip of Matisse working on a collage.

We wondered what type of paper he was using; it looks so fluid, yet we know that he was cutting out paper that had been painted with bright colors, which we would have thought would be much stiffer than this appears to be.  We plan to experiment with several different types of paper to discover which we like best.

In just two days we’ve learned a lot about color, shape, and composition.  We’ve also made a new friend in the art world — Henri Matisse!

Books Used on Day 2

lives of the artistsLives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull

great big art activity bookThe Great Big Art Activity Book
by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins

usborne art treasuryThe Usborne Art Treasury
by Rosie Dickins


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Summer Art Institute At My House

HeadHandsHeartNow that the school year is officially over, I’m embarking on a summer learning project with my own two children that I’m really excited about.  I call it Head, Hands, Heart: Getting Smart About Art, and it involves a little bit of art history, a little bit of theory and technique, and a whole lot of making art together.  I do not have a degree in art, and I don’t consider myself particularly artistic (I’m much more likely to create on the computer than with my hands) so this is an opportunity for me to embrace the “be a life-long learner” attitude that we teachers strive to instill in our students!

I am putting together all the resources and activities myself from scratch, and this is the most excited I’ve been about developing a unit since the Genius Hour project I created back in March.  I’ll admit that I have a tendency to get far too caught up in researching new ideas — must be the librarian in me! — but it has been a real joy to steep myself in the lives and works of groundbreaking artists.  It’s also giving me an opportunity to explore some new technology resources, which I always enjoy, and find new ways to use old favorites like Blendspace, VoiceThread and ThingLink.

BookShelfFor the next several weeks my blog posts here will be primarily devoted to what we’re discovering and creating.  I’ll be sharing photos of our artistic process and completed works, as well as links to my online and printed resources.  My first approach to any project is to look for a book on the topic in question, and this art study is no exception!  Here’s what our art bookshelf looks like right now, with more books to come.  Many of these books are from my school library, so I’ll really get to know my art collection well this summer and be ready to fill in some gaps next year.





I found a big desk (the top measures 4 feet by 2 1/2 feet) at our local Goodwill for only $20 and stocked it with basic art supplies that we had around the house.  As you can see, the desktop extends beyond the back wall to form an overhanging counter, which means we can pull extra chairs up to it so that all three of us can work there together and leave our projects spread out for as long as needed.

I’ve also just created an account with Amazon Affiliates, which means that if you see a useful resource here and purchase it on Amazon via a link from this site, I will receive a small commission (4% of your purchase) in the form of an credit.  If you’re purchasing books for a library, you probably buy from a vendor that provides library bindings, just as I do; but if you’re shopping for yourself, Amazon offers some very attractive discounts as well as reader and editorial reviews, and (usually) a chance to look inside the book and see for yourself whether it will meet your needs.

I hope you enjoy following our journey across the world of art, and I hope our discoveries will inspire you to create some art yourself.  If so, please share it in the comments!


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