In today's edition of Fiction Friday I am going to share some of my favorite picture books from my 2015 reading.
I discovered Lesa Cline-Ransome early this year and immediately fell in love with her picture books. The amazing illustrations are by her husband, James Ransome. I'm always on the lookout for new picture books that show diversity, and Light in the Darkness is a book that would be a great read-aloud during Black History month - or any other time! It covers a subject of which I was totally ignorant, the "pit schools" that slaves would dig to secretly teach one another how to read and write. It is told from the perspective of a child who went at night with her mother (they gave up sleep to learn) and does a wonderful job of portraying the fear and tension of doing something that could lead to severe punishment or even death. At one point they are almost discovered by whites patrolling and stop their meetings, but eventually they risk their lives again for education. My students were completely engaged by this story of people who risked everything for something we all take for granted and we had some great discussions in the classroom.
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth is a book that my tier 3 reading intervention group used at the end of the year. We are fortunate at my school to have a large package of books sets from Scholastic that we can check out for small group use. I had not read this book but thought it might interest my 3 kiddos and it turned out to be a wonderful choice. It is the story of three children and their neighbor - a giant panda named Stillwater. Each child spends time with Stillwater, who helps them discover some life lessons through three short stories (the Zen shorts). Students, of course, think the Zen shorts are the swim trunks Stillwater is wearing in the cover illustration! It was such a hit that I went to my public library and checked Zen Ties and during the last week of school the kids passed in around and each read it on their own. These are three very low readers and it was so exciting to see them embrace this book!
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candice Fleming is one of those books that is just so much fun to read to a group of kids. When Mr. McGreeley decides to plant a garden he does not realize he is embarking on a battle to save his veggies from three hungry bunnies! These bunnies are smart - no matter what he builds to try to keep them out, they find a way to get to the food. In my classroom this spring I used this book as a hook for a STEM activity. By reading just the first couple pages, I set up the problem -- how to keep bunnies out of the garden -- and then gave groups a tub of supplies with the challenge to construct a way to keep out the bunnies (our gardens were a paper plate with pictures of vegetables on them!). After they presented their solutions we sat down and finished the book. Many of them had tried things that were very similar to what Mr. McGreeley did in the story.
Sometimes when I am at the library - usually to pick up something I have on hold - I like to go into the children's section and randomly choose a few picture books I've never seen before. I pretty much base my selections on the title and the cover, and I have found some gems this way. The story Calvin Can't Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie jumped into my pile based on the title! I'm so glad it did, because I loved this story of a starling who spends his time reading instead of learning to fly. When it is time to migrate, this presents a huge problem. His family comes up with a way to save him and as it happens it's a good thing they did. On the flight, they encounter a hurricane and are saved by Calvin's "book smarts!" This book will resonate with the book nerds among us.
OK, enough time at the computer. I need to get back to my reading! Until next Friday . . .