Happy Read Across America Week! We have several activities and spirit days planned at my school this week, including something new: Book Cover Bingo!
By using the Bingo Baker website I was able to create custom Bingo cards featuring images of books I know most of my students will recognize. You can search for premade cards, or you can create your own cards from scratch. You can use words, numbers, or images — or a combination of all three — and choose the size of the grid you want to use (3X3, 4X4, 5X5, 6X6, or 7X7). You can even play question & answer bingo! Print your cards out to play in person, or share a link with users to play online.
I made two sets of cards; one featuring picture books for younger readers and another set with chapter books for older readers. You’re welcome to use them as-is, or edit them to suit your needs.
Note that with a free account you are limited in the number of cards you can print out. I ended up purchasing a lifetime membership so that I could print enough for each grade level, but I know I’ll be using the site many more times so I feel like it was a good investment.
Love – or at least like – is in the air, and valentines are changing hands. Valentine’s Day is a big deal in elementary school, and these books and activities will help you celebrate with your students without getting too mushy!
This is Not a Valentine – written by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
A book for when you care about someone, but not in a romantic, sugary kind of way; for when want to show you like someone every day, not just one day a year; for when you have a true friendship and want to make sure the other person knows how you feel.
This is a great book to reinforce the idea that Valentine’s Day isn’t just for boyfriends and girlfriends but rather for all friends. The illustrations depict an inclusive classroom, and the ideas for showing someone you care are meaningful and practical for the elementary audience.
Valensteins– written and illustrated by Ethan Long
The members of the Fright Club are all wondering what Frank K. Stein is making with his scissors and pink paper. Of course, the kids will know right away but that won’t stop them from giggling at all the wrong guesses before the valentine is revealed!
Choose this read-aloud for your younger students who want a silly story for Valentine’s Day. This book is part of the Fright Club series, which features funny/scary stories about ghosts, werewolves, and of course Frankenstein for your readers and listeners. You can find somefollow-up printable activities at the author’s website.
Here Comes Valentine Cat– written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Cat does NOT like Valentine’s Day. It’s much too mushy, and no way is he making anyone a valentine—especially not his new neighbor (Dog) who keeps throwing bones over the fence and hitting him in the head!
Your students will have fun making predictions and writing their own valentine messages from Cat to Dog when you share this book. My introduction to this Here Comes Cat seriesfrom Underwood and Rueda was the book Here Comes Santa Cat, and I was instantly in love! The expressions on Cat’s face in EVERY illustration are absolutely spot on, and the stories are brimming with humor. See for yourself in this Valentine Cat read-aloud video from Brightly Storytime.
This book sends a lovely message about doing for others, as opposed to thinking only about what you’ll get on Valentine’s Day, and provides an important reminder that you can show appreciation for your loved ones any day of the year. You might need a little practice with the rhythm of the rhyming text, and there’s a lot of small detail in the illustrations so it’s best to use a document camera if you’re sharing the book with a group.
Our follow-up activity when reading this book is to use origami paper to create valentines that fold up into their own envelopes. You can find the directions at the Tinkerlab website, which includes a great step-by-step photo tutorial.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll share your winning Valentine read-aloud books in the comments!
My last post was focused on polar bear fiction books and included a variety of activities to go with them, so today I’m going to share some nonfiction titles that make good read-alouds. Criteria for inclusion in this list includes narrative style with nonfiction text features, large format for group sharing, and of course plentiful facts for learning!
A Day in the Life of a Polar Bear – by Sharon Katz Cooper
Follows a mother polar bear throughout her day with her cubs as they hunt for food, swim, play, bathe, and go to sleep.
I like this book because it includes action-packed photos that actually relate to the information being shared, rather than just stock photos of random polar bears walking around. The text is quite child-friendly and lends itself to a chronological retelling by students (perhaps even using a Judy clock to reinforce the skill of telling time). Includes a “Polar Bear Lifecycle” diagram and some critical thinking questions.
This book (which is part of a series that includes a dozen other animals) is a great introduction to an animal research project, and presents a perfect opportunity to compare primary and secondary information sources. It’s also told in the second person, addressing the listening audience directly. The author includes a collection of simple facts, along with a glossary and a bibliography of additional books and websites for curious readers.
The text in this book is a little more dense than the previous two, but it’s still relayed in a second-person conversational style that will grab listeners’ attention and put them in the center of the action. Most of the photos are large and clear (although the book itself is not oversized) and there are a few nice closeups of the clawed paw and hollow fur. The author includes a page of fun facts about polar bears, along with a glossary and a bibliography of additional books and websites for further exploration.
Physically, this is the largest of these four books, measuring almost 11″ x 11″ and it features cut-paper illustrations (versus photos) that are easily seen in a group setting. The main story is told in narrative fashion, with caption boxes providing additional facts and statistics on each page, and follows a mother and her cubs for the first two years of their lives. Labeled illustrations of other arctic animals the bears encounter are included, although no other information about them is provided. The author does include a map of their native habitat, a list of polar bear fun facts, and a glossary. The author also shares a variety of follow-up activities for her books on her website.
If you have a favorite nonfiction polar book to use with students, I hope you’ll share it in the comments!
We haven’t had any snow (yet) this year, but that won’t stop us from enjoying some polar bear fun in the library! After all, February 27 is International Polar Bear Day and these animals need our help. Polar bears happen to be one of my all-time favorite animals, thanks in part to the amazing polar bear exhibit we used to have at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC. There was an underwater viewing window in their habitat where I would gaze completely enthralled at the playful bears, just longing to swim with them. That exhibit closed long ago, so now I have to settle for tuning into a polar bear zoo cam. (I’ve included links to a few at the end of this post.)
In the meantime, I can enjoy sharing polar bear books like these with my students:
The Bear Report – written and Illustrated by Thyra Heder
Sophie seems a little bored by the polar bears she’s supposed to be reporting on, but when one (named Olafur) appears and takes her on a tour of his home she becomes a big fan. Includes an author’s note about her trip to Iceland. And may I say, I really love these light-infused illustrations!
It’s obvious that this book makes a great introduction to a unit on researching and writing about animals, and the idea of Sophie taking a tour of a polar bear habitat provides a natural introduction to using videos as information sources in addition to using print resources. Along with presenting facts (in narrative style) about polar bears, this book also touches on whales, seals, arctic foxes, and glacier mice as well, which makes it a good segue story into other polar animals. And there’s also a mention of the northern lights, which would make a perfect prompt for a watercolor project.
You’re Snug With Me – written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry
A mother bear has given birth to two cubs, and as they snuggle cozily together she shares a lyrical description of what the world is like beyond their warm den. Try to use a document camera or ebook version of this story when sharing with students, because the dazzlingly intricate illustrations deserve close-up examination.
As someone who enjoys zentangle and mandala drawing myself, I was immediately inspired to pick up a pen and create some drawings of my own, so I searched out some line-drawing clip art of polar animals to give my students so they could try some patterns themselves. If your kids don’t have time to draw their own patterns, Teaching Books has some coloring sheets available for download. The author also provides some activities on her website.
Hush Little Polar Bear – written and illustrated by Jeff Mack
Follow a little polar bear through his dreams to places anyone would love to visit: the beach, the farm, a waterfall, the jungle, and more until finally he drifts into the home of a sleeping girl who dreaming of polar bear travels herself.
The rhyme scheme of this book totally lends itself to singing the words (to the tune of Hush Little Baby), although it’s a bit long for a performance. Naturally it makes a wonderful bedtime book to send home with your younger students, and it would make a sweet bedtime song. You can find instrumental versions of the song on YouTube.
I like to use this book as the basis for an art exercise, where I read the words to the students but I don’t show them the pictures. Students then either activate prior knowledge about the locations in the story or use their research skills to find out about them. They then create their own illustrations to share with the class.
The Three Snow Bears – written and illustrated by Jan Brett
A retelling of the Goldilocks story substituting polar bears for woodland bears, Brett incorporates elements of the Inuit lifestyle into this entertaining story. As we enjoy the tale of Aloo-ki investigating the bears’ igloo and then getting caught by them, we also follow the story of the bears’ day out as well as the adventure her own huskies have when they float out to see on a loose patch of ice.
This is another book that students will want to get a good look at, as the drawings in the margins are rather small, so a document camera or a small-group setting would be best.
Brett always scrupulously researches clothing when she’s drawing characters from other cultures, and the designs she used in this book can be compared to the Indian patterns in You’re Snug With Me. For this book she traveled to Iqualuit, capital of the Nunavut Territory in northern Canada, to meet and learn about the Inuit people. Read her newsletterto learn more about how she prepared to write this book.
This makes a great addition to a fairy tale comparison unit, but it’s also a fun stand-alone story. You could also compare it to similar books by Brett, such as Trouble With Trolls(inspired by a trip to Norway), and The Mittenwhich has a Ukrainian influence. Or you could contrast it with her Three Little Dassies which features bold African printed clothing, and the Persian folktale The Tale of the Tiger Slippers.
Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favorite nonfiction Polar Bear books. In the meantime, please share your favorite polar bear books and resources in the comments, and here are the links to the Polar Bear Cams I promised you:
School is out for the summer in most locations, but many teachers and librarians are still working with students in summer programs. I myself am involved in summer school within my district and have chosen a beach theme for my library. Hey, if I can’t enjoy the sand and sea for real, at least I can pretend! This means I’m looking for beach books to use in read-aloud sessions with my elementary students. In order to bridge the gap between humans and the ocean, I’m introducing the theme with the topic of mermaids!
I guess I myself am somewhat fascinated by the idea of mermaids, and since I loved to swim as a child (and still do!) my parents sometimes teasingly called me a mermaid. There’s a definite allure to the idea of diving underwater and exploring the wonders of the sea, and who better to serve as a guide than a mermaid? In my last large school library book order I purchased a few new mermaid books to go along with the ones we already have. Here’s a look at our Mermaid Collection and how I’m using these books with kids. Click the book title links to look inside each one. Click the author and illustrator links to go to their official webpages (or the closest thing I could find). For each book I’ve included a summary, my favorite things about the story, and some ideas and resources for extension activities. Note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, so if you use the link and make a purchase I receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Well this is officially the MOST ADORABLE mermaid I’ve ever seen, and these illustrations just made me want to buy all the books Figueroa has illustrated, as well as order some art from her Etsy shop! The hair, the stripy tail that is giving me subtle clownfish vibes, the expressions on her tiny face – it’s all just perfection. In fact, the whole color palette for this book sets the tone for underwater adventure as this determined mermaid and her otter sidekick embark on a quest to retrieve a shining crown resting in the deep, dark rift. The delightful twist after the recovery makes Oona’s tenacity all the more admirable, and provides a satisfying ending to the tale.
Writing Prompt: How Would You Get a Crown? – students will explain (with writing, drawing, or both) their plan to retrieve the crown
Whale Songs – Oona listens to the whale singing when she needs comforting during a frightening event. Students will listen to whale songs and learn about how these ocean giants communicate. I found a short video explaining whale communication and put it in a YouTube Whale Playlist with some other videos of actual whale sounds for kids to enjoy.
I have been a fan of Jan Brett for over 30 years, and I’m always awed by the details she includes in her artwork and her knack for telling two stories at once by using the margins of her illustrations. This book is a clever retelling of the Goldilocks tale, influenced by a trip Brett took to Okinawa. Instead of bears, we have Papa (Otosan), Mama (Okasan), and Baby Octopus, and of course the intruder is an adventurous young mermaid named Kiniro who is traveling with her puffer fish friend. When reading this book to a large group, you really need to be able to show the images on a large screen using a document camera so the audience can appreciate all the small details, including just what type of hat Baby Octopus is wearing on his head and what is happening to the Octopus family while Kiniro explores their home. This is another book where a crown features prominently, and the ending here – just as it did in Oona – reveals the generous nature of our heroine.
In this simple story, Maya goes to the beach with her parents but is too shy to join the other children playing in the sand. She falls asleep on her turtle float and dreams of the creatures below the waves, including a friendly mermaid. They explore together until Maya wakes up to a real girl inviting her to pretend to be mermaids together. The illustrations are childlike, and the endpapers totally remind me of an “I Spy” book.
I Spy – create a list of items for kids to look for in the illustrations
Stamping or Sponge Art – provide rubber stamps and ink, or sponge stamps (kids can even cut out their own) and paint for students to create their own undersea illustrations
Greeting Cards – tell students that as an artist, Pugsley designs greeting cards to sell. Allow them to take their art a step further and design and stamp their own greeting card for someone.
In this modern variation on the traditional tale of The Little Mermaid, Pinkney substitutes a friendship for a romance as Melody trades her voice to the Sea Witch for the opportunity to meet a girl who lives on land. The girls enjoy an adventure-filled day together before Melody is called back to family to save them from the Sea Witch. The author’s note amusingly explains that “while my research of the natural world was extensive, I used no live models for the mermaids.” This is a book best shared with a document camera if reading to a large group; otherwise students will miss many of the details of the illustrations, which beautifully change from cool blues below the ocean to vibrant yellows above the water. I also appreciate that this story includes mer-people of both sexes.
Compare and Contrast – have students note similarities between this and the traditional tale (either a printed story or a movie version)
Giving Up Your Voice – Zion tells Melody she should never give up her voice for anything. Discuss the deeper meaning of “your voice” and what it means for individuals today.
Seashell Jewelry – the mer-people in this story wear beautiful seashell necklaces and bracelets. Allow students to create their own shell jewelry to wear.
As a South Carolina resident, I’m partial to this Sea Islands folktale passed down from African American slaves and filled with Gullah dialect. Sukey toils hard at her chores under the watchful eye of her stepfather, until one day she meets spends a stolen afternoon on the beach and meets a mermaid – Mama Jo – near the shore. When Sukey worries aloud that she’ll be punished for wasting the afternoon, Mama Jo gives her a gold coin to appease her parents. Mama Jo continues to watch over Sukey until the young woman chooses to marry a good man, a final gift from her “mermaidy godmother.” The illustrations are done with Pinkney’s signature scratchboard technique.
Scratchboard Art – allow students to create their own scratch art mermaid illustrations, either from scratch (no pun intended!) or using commercial scratch cards
The Pinkneys – explain that Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney are father and son who both create children’s picture books. Allow students to share interests they have in common with a parent or grandparent.
In what apparently started out as an Instagram challenge, Soosh created a series of mermaid watercolors that eventually became the illustrations for this book. In it, a girl who doesn’t fit in well at school is surprised to encounter a real-life mermaid (who looks more than a bit like her) who becomes her friend. The two take turns enabling one another to enjoy adventures underwater and on land, until the day Mermaid becomes tangled in an abandoned net. The ending provides an environmental plea as well as a message about friendship and inclusion, and the epilogue is a sweet glimpse into the future.
Draw Your Mer-Person Twin – allow students to imagine what they would look like as a mer-person and then draw it on paper
Coloring Pages – I usually prefer for kids to create original art rather than use printed coloring pages, but Soosh has provided some mermaid coloring sheets on her site
Ghost Nets – provide some background on the dangers of discarded nets, and inspire students with the Ghost Net Exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum which includes the largest collection of ghost net art in the Southern Hemisphere.
I’m always in favor of sharing series books with kids because it helps them with the sometimes difficult decision of what to read next. I also appreciate that for such a “girly” series, Kann includes the boys by giving Peter a role in the story. When Pinkalicious discovers a tiny mermaid named Aqua at the beach, she immediately gets excited about showing her new friend the human world, even when Aqua isn’t comfortable with some of the activities. When the brother and sister finally agree to take Aqua home, she reveals that she doesn’t live in the ocean at all. This story provides several opportunities to discuss the importance of listening to our friends and respecting their wishes.
Design a Castle for Aqua – using whatever building materials are on hand, students will design and construct a castle for Aqua, just like Pinkalicious and Peter built her a sand castle. (If no blocks, Legos, etc. are available, students can design a castle on paper.) Students will build it to scale so that it fits one of our our mini mermaid dolls.
Mermaid Show Videos – students might be interested to know that there are mermaid shows in various locations similar to the one Aqua performs in. Here are clips from the show hosted at Ripley’s Aquarium.
I’m sharing this book here because it does include a mermaid, but I believe it would fit better into a unit on Folk Tales and Legends better than it fits a summer beach theme. Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.
I’m working on a page of instructions, resources, and supplies for the Mermaid Extension Activities I’ve listed here if you’d like more information about those suggestions, and I’ll link to it when it’s ready. I hope you’ll also leave a comment to share your favorite mermaid books, crafts, and activities!
Now that travel and gatherings are becoming safer for folks, it’s likely that many families will be planning holiday reunions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. If you’d like to tap into the excitement (or trepidation) that students might be feeling about that, you can’t go wrong with these four picture books:
In this Caldecott honor book, Lil Alan looks forward to the annual family reunion at the farm where Daddy grew up, but everyone is supposed to share something special and Alan worries about arriving with empty hands. As he goes on a tractor ride, enjoys family meals, attends church services, and listens to his relatives share memories, he realizes he can use the gifts of their land to pay tribute to his family’s roots and strength. Lyons use of imagery and metaphor keep the language lively, and Minter’s illustrations are awash with pattern and symbolism that reinforce the idea of family values and traditions. There is so much to notice and ponder in this beautiful book, you’ll want to allow plenty of time for discussion after you share it.
Teacher’s Guide from Peachtree Publishers – we all know that some teacher’s guides are kind of lame (summary, superficial discussion questions, coloring sheet) but this one is PACKED with thinking questions, cross-curricular activities, and links to additional resources. And don’t miss the information about the Adinkra symbols used by Minter in the illustrations!
“Early one morning the relatives pile into their rainbow station wagon and drive down the twisty mountain roads to spend the summer with their relatives. The weeks that follow are filled with hugging and laughing and eating and sleeping and enjoying one another, until it’s time for the trip back home.” This is one of my all-time favorite books ever, in large part because of the happy marriage between the poignant text and the exuberant illustrations that make me grin every time I look at them. (The station wagon hitting the mailbox
“Everyone coming to the reunion is bringing a signature dish, and Ruby wants to contribute something too. How discouraging that everyone tells her she’s too small to work in the kitchen! What can she prepare that is special enough to share and simple enough for her to make?” For the listeners who really look forward to the family feast (and really, who among us doesn’t?) this book is a love letter to down-home cooking, and the emphasizes the importance of food in family traditions. Dalton’s descriptive language will have your mouth watering as you read: “The crack and sizzle of chicken and catfish frying up…the slow babbling of collard greens simmering…the zing of Aunt Lena’s pickled okra that crunch when you bite them…” Delicious!
Enjoy a read aloud video performed by the author and illustrator, courtesy of TeachingBooks
Family Reunion – written by Chad and Dad Richardson, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
Not all kids get excited about attending family reunions, and this book (written by a father and son) acknowledges that reluctance. Aaron is sure it will be boring, and he’d rather stay home and play video games, but from the first welcoming hug from PopPop he’s drawn into the spirit of the gathering. As Aaron participates in the the dance party, the church service, and the family stories, he realizes how enjoyable – and meaningful – family get-togethers are. Bonus: The whole book is written in haiku format!
October is the month when thoughts turn to pumpkins, ghosts, witches, and spiders. Oftentimes our younger students want to be swept up in the thrill of a spine-tingling story, but they don’t want it to be so scary that they actually become afraid. Here are some just-right books for younger listeners:
Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara
This book became an instant favorite with me when it debuted. The simple orange, black, and translucent white color palette won it a spot on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008 list as well as starred reviews from Booklist and Horn Book. (Yes, I still remember that 11 years later. That’s how big an impression this book made on me!) The illustrations of the girl and her cat reacting to the ghosts and then catching them are amusing, and the sight of the white cat in his black cat costume is delightful. This one never fails to please young audiences.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything written by Linda Williams and Illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Our title character is traveling through the dark woods when she realizes she’s being followed by some creepy clothing items. She bravely tells each “You can’t scare me!” until she’s finally confronted by a huge jack-o-lantern who sends her hurrying home. She ultimately conquers her fear and puts the pumpkin-headed man in his place — literally! The audience will enjoy repeating the refrain “Clomp clomp wiggle wiggle shake shake” with you, and adding movement to the chant can give energetic children a chance to move a little as well.
Bone Soup: a Spooky, Tasty Tale by Alyssa-Joan Capucilli
The tale of Stone Soup gets a seasonal makeover in this version of the folktale favorite. The witches and monsters are absolutely not scary looking, but the ingredients (slimy sludge, old toenails) used in their bone soup deliver the “ick” factor nicely. Bonus: The author includes a recipe in the back of the book listing the creature ingredients and their corresponding human ingredients. For example, you can substitute 3 Tablespoons of olive oil for the juice of a toad and 2 carrots for wrinkled fingers. A tasty tale, indeed.
Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette
The bouncy, repetitive text in this counting book is just begging to be read aloud, and the titular ghost encounters one surprising creature after another as he slip-slides through the house. The audience is given an opportunity to guess who will appear around each corner before he/she/it is revealed, and can repeat the “monster” noises that signal each encounter, which keeps them engaged in the story. Note that this is a lift-the-flap book, so you could even have audience members take turns revealing the surprises.
Pumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming
Rhyming books – when done well – make great read-alouds, and this one is definitely done well. The playful rhymes (toothless hags with tattered rags) will appeal to older listeners as well as little ones. I’m a big fan of Denise Fleming and her handmade paper illustrations, and the technique is quite effective here. The theme of trick-or-treating has become somewhat outdated as more organizations host fall festivals instead, but the thrill of donning a costume and collecting candy is still a popular one.
The Too-Scary Story by Bathanie Deeney Murguia
This reads well as a bedtime story, but can also be used for a story time session since there is so much to notice and discuss. Grace wants a SCARY store but Walter doesn’t want it to be too scary, so every time Papa introduces a plot twist (creatures, footsteps, growling) Walter puts a benign interpretation on it while Grace’s imagination runs wild. Ultimately the darkness in the room makes even Grace nervous, and Walter finds his courage to confront the frightening shadow. Bonus: Students will enjoy looking for the little owl on each page spread.
What are your favorite read-alouds for younger readers? Please share in the comments!