Simona Ciraolo is one of my favorite new authors. Her stories are powerful and hold a valuable lesson for readers of all ages. Her illustrations are captivating and convey relationships and emotions in a beautiful way.

The Caterpillar Corner has partnered with Flying Eye Books to bring you a very special Instagram giveaway! One winner will win these three exceptional books by Simona Ciraolo—The Lines on Nana’s Face, Whatever Happened to My Sister, and Hug Me!

Click here for complete giveaway rules and how to enter.

Lovely Multicultural Reads

I am such a huge fan of the Bharat Babies books. They feature diverse characters, introduce different cultures and challenge gender roles.

Padmini is Powerful* by Amy Maranville is a board book that is perfect for babies. Each page introduces a different Hindu god and highlights an attribute of the god that Padmini possesses. She is generous and kind like Lakshmi and she creates like Brahma. The comparisons are supported by the bright and colorful illustrations, making the connections easy for the reader to see. I love that Padmini’s character transcends gender stereotypes, from her appearance to her interests.

Sarla in the Sky* by Anjali Joshi is an inspirational early readers about Sarla Thakral, the first Indian woman to earn her piloting license in 1936. Sarla dreams of flying from an early age. She imagines herself as a bird, a kite and even a butterfly in hopes of one day sailing in the wind. The odds are stacked against her, and many people told her that flying planes was not for women.

The illustrations by Lisa Kurt have a dream-like quality to them with simple backgrounds of clouds and landscapes which places the focus on the characters themselves.

Sarla remains focused on her goal of flying and overcomes a series of obstacles in order to achieve her dream. Sarla in the Sky teaches the importance of not giving up in a beautiful way. Like Padmini is Powerful, it tackles gender stereotypes in a way that empowers girls to pursue interests and careers that have been traditionally identified as being for boys. 

Click here to purchase a copy of Padmini is Powerful and Sarla in the Sky (affiliate links).

*I received a complimentary copy of Padmini is Powerful and Sarla in the Sky in exchange for my honest review.

 

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Pam Munoz Ryan is one of my favorite writers for kids ages 10-14. Her books have serious depth, with complex characters dealing with real-life issues that are not easily resolved. They go through significant changes, sometimes big and other times subtle, always with the help of important relationships. If you have young readers in your life and you want to expose them to some sophisticated texts, check out any of Pam Munoz Ryan’s books.

I was super excited to borrow Echo from the library. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a solid three months to read through it because we do have a young baby at home. When I reached suspenseful parts, I would find pockets of time to read it out loud to our little one just so I could find out what happens next.

The story begins with a young boy named Otto who meets three sisters in the forbidden forest. He learns that the sisters are trapped in the forest by a witch’s curse. They share with him the prophecy and they gift him a harmonica to pass on when the time is right.

The book is then divided into three sections, each belonging to a different preteen who encounters the harmonica and recognizes the magical quality it possesses. First we meet Friedrich living during the rise of Nazi Germany, whose face is marked by a large birthmark that so many cannot see beyond. Mike is an orphan living during the Great Depression who is fiercely loyal to his younger brother. Lastly, Ivy a young girl living in California whose family members are migrant workers. They move to Orange County to care for the farm of the Yamamoto family, who has been sent to an internment camp following the attack of Pearl Harbor.

Each section is beautifully crafted, infusing rich historical details of the different times and places without overwhelming the reader. These characters are brave, thoughtful and proponents of social change. The harmonica is the thread that connects their lives as it makes its way to the intended owner in order to fulfill the prophecy that will set the three sisters free.

Echo blends elements of fantasy in a mostly historical fiction book in an extraordinary way. This book is great for kids ages 10-14. Click here to purchase a copy of Echo (affiliate link).

The Trees of the Dancing Goats

Patricia Polacco is a phenomenal author. Her children’s picture books address important issues in a sophisticated way. She crafts strong characters who face real-life problems with courage and integrity. The Trees of the Dancing Goats is no exception.

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Based on a true childhood memory, Patricia Polacco wrote the story of young Trisha and her family preparing for the eight days of Hanukkah. Everyone is hard at work. Her cherished Babushka makes the candles and potato latkes. Her Grampa is hidden away carving marvelous animals as presents for the kids.

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Trisha’s mother sends her to the Kremmels’ house for cornmeal and she discovers that the family is quite ill. She learns that scarlet fever is affecting many of the families in the neighborhood. Her own family is one of the few not impacted by the epidemic. They try to continue preparing for the holidays as planned, but it just doesn’t feel right while so many of their friends and neighbors are unwell.

Thinking about the meaning of Hanukkah and the miracle of the light that it celebrates, Trisha’s family decides to make the holidays special for their neighbors as well. Even if they celebrate different ones.

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They cut down parts of trees to make small Christmas trees and decorate them with their own wooden carvings. Though Trisha is initially sad that she will not be able to enjoy the beautifully carved figures her Grampa made, she knows it’s the right thing to do. They pack baskets with chickens and latkes and her Babushka even puts one homemade Hanukkah candle in each and they deliver them to their ailing neighbors.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats is a fantastic picture book with a powerful message. It teaches the importance of friendship and making personal sacrifices for the happiness of others. It also recognizes one commonality between Hanukkah and Christmas, the coming together of friends and families to celebrate their traditions and histories.

In a classroom setting, this would be a wonderful mentor text for a memoir writing unit.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Trees of the Dancing Goats (affiliate link).

 

Multicultural Children’s Literature

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When I first saw the cover of Dr. Tamara Pizzoli’s book Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO, I knew I HAD to read this picture book immediately. Can we take a moment to recognize how awesome Tallulah is sitting on the side of her chartreuse colored sofa staring right at the reader with her amazing outfit, fabulous golden hoops adorned with teeth, and a wonderful afro?

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO is the story about the business behind the tooth fairy. From marketing plans, and employment training to maintaining a work-life balance, Tallulah is a wonderful mentor for budding entrepreneurs. Like all great CEOs, Tallulah stays connected by continuing her home visits to collect teeth.

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One day a boy named Ballard does the unexpected. Instead of leaving a tooth, he leaves a note for the tooth fairy explaining that he lost his tooth. Not even the Tooth Fairy manual has a protocol established for a lost tooth. She decides to consult the board and improvise, much like real-life CEOs do each day! Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO is a perfect picture book for kids ages 8 and up.

Click here to purchase Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO (affiliate link).

 

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After reading Tallulah I wondered what other books Dr. Pizzoli has written and I discovered two additional picture books that celebrate diversity and multiculturalism.

For a younger audience, M is for Mohawk is an alphabet book that features a different hairstyle for each letter. I LOVE this book because it captures so many diverse hairdos. Those inspired by different textures, colors and lengths of hair. Those inspired by different cultures as well as trends.

Click here to purchase a copy of M is for Mohawk (affiliate link).

 

 

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And last but not least, M is for Marrakech, which is another alphabet book that features a different city for each letter. The illustrations resemble old-fashioned posters, colorful and highly stylized. This book would be great to read alongside a map to identify the different cities all around the world.

Click here to purchase a copy of M is for Marrakech (affiliate link).

Both M is for Mohawk and M is for Marrakech have two audiobooks available online for viewing and listening to! (Click on the links to listen along.)

Promoting a Love of Math and Science

In my experience as a classroom teacher, I often encounter students declaring, “I don’t like math” or “I’m not good at math.” I hear this more frequently from girls than boys. Each time I hear these phrases uttered in my classroom, I take it as a personal challenge to change students perceptions of themselves as mathematicians. A big part of this has been getting excited about math myself. Digging deeper into messy problems and working collaboratively to solve them. Even as a teacher, there are strategies or approaches that I prefer. The most memorable math experiences are when young mathematicians tackle a problem in a way that not even I had ever considered before, and we are able to engage in a conversation that levels the playing field and deepens all of our understandings.

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Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty is a wonderful picture book to introduce a strong female character who unapologetically pursues her curiosity. Right from the start, Ada is not your “typical” kid, not saying her first word until the age of three. Her parents gave her space and time to be herself. Until one day, she asks the question, “Why?” From that moment on she asks question after question because she wants to know all about the world.

img_3483While trying to identify what causes a specific terrible, toe-curling smell, she develops and tests multiple hypotheses, one of which involves the cat. (Thankfully her parents intervene.)

 

Ada Twist, Scientist encourages a love of learning and asking questions in all children. And even her parents learn an invaluable lesson, they remake their world because “That’s what you do when your kid has a passion and heart that is true.” This is a great book to introduce a love of science and math in young learners. It lessens the importance of finding the right answer, while celebrating risk taking and experimentation.

Click here to purchase a copy of Ada Twist, Scientist (affiliate link). 

Saving Mr. Terupt

Saving Mr. Terupt is the 3rd book in this series by Rob Buyea. Each chapter of the book is written from the point of view of one of the seven different narrators. As this is the third book with the same characters, I began to feel very familiar with the characters as if I’m seeing them grow up before my eyes.

In the first book, Because of Mr. Terupt, the characters are in 5th grade. I’d recommend that book for use in 4th-5th grade classes. In the sequel Mr. Terupt Falls Again, the students are now in 6th grade and the content of the story becomes more mature. In this third book, Mr. Terupt’s crew has moved on to 7th grade at the local middle school. The content becomes more serious, dealing with bullying, health issues and school budgets. But once again, this is a story about friendship and perseverance.

I am a big fan of the Mr. Terupt series. I think the characters and the issues they face are realistic. I would recommend the 1st book to upper elementary aged students. This book may even make a great whole-class read aloud that taught into different points of view and the importance of empathy in life. In the past, I’ve had 4th and 5th graders devour the first book and then ask to read the next two. I usually check in with their parents, give them a heads up about the content and get the okay from them before lending out my copies. I would recommend the entire series for 6th grade and up.

Click here to purchase a copies of Because of Mr. TeruptMr. Terupt Falls Again, and  Saving Mr. Terupt (affiliate links). 

Developing Big Ideas About Characters

As an upper elementary school teacher, a lot of the work we do in reading fiction books is developing big ideas about the characters. This is something I have to model continuously through read alouds and then provide a lot of guidance with during small group and individual conferences.

Here’s how it works. As you are reading a book or even a short story, you are having ideas about who the character is as a person. It’s important to jot down those ideas so that you can add to or revise them as you continue to read. Sometimes you realize that the character is in fact changing. Perhaps at first he was self-centered but now he is learning to consider the feelings of others more readily. Noticing character change helps reveal the bigger theme or lesson of the story, but alas that’s for another post. Other times, you realize that maybe your initial impression wasn’t that exact. Maybe the character isn’t self-centered, maybe he’s actually insecure. As your ideas about a character evolve, it’s important to support your thinking with details from the text. At the end of the book, you can pull together all of the different ideas or noticings that you had about one character and then come up with at least one character theory.

My 4th grade colleagues and I decided to teach into this using a picture book read aloud. They recommended Fox by Margaret Wild.

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One day, Dog rescues Magpie, who has a burnt wing. Magpie is devastated and wants to be left alone, she imagines that a life without flying will be impossible. However, Dog is a loyal friend who invites Magpie to ride on his back. He assures her that it will be close to flying. From that day on, Dog and Magpie live a peaceful and harmonious life together. That is until one day the sneaky Fox arrives. Fox is envious of the friendship between Dog and Magpie. He convinces Magpie to go for a ride on his back, assuring her it will be even more like flying. At first she resists, but eventually poor Magpie is persuaded.

As I read this story to my 4th grade class, I had an absolutely captivated audience. Every few pages I asked them to turn and talk or stop and jot their response to the following prompt, “What big ideas are you having about _____ now? What character trait words would you use to describe _______? Use details from the text to support your idea.” Later on in the story I invited them to add to or revise their ideas. It was very important to model this because I have been noticing that most of my readers are content naming one character trait per character and one example from the text per book and then never revisiting this.

This read aloud was perfect for this purpose! The students had so much to say about the characters and about how their ideas changed over the course of the book. They captured all of this in their reading notebooks. At the very end, we came together and explored a little bit of character theory work, but for me the most important part was having them consider the character multiple times.

Revisiting Texts that Address Bullying

About a year ago I wrote a post about picture books that address bullying, an important topic in school communities today. This summer I am enrolled in a class on Contemporary Adolescent Literature. One of the books we were assigned to read is Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco. I found this to be a powerful text about Jodee’s firsthand experience with bullying from her last years of elementary school through high school. Though it is a text that one might consider using with high-school-aged children, the content and level of physical, verbal and emotional bullying Jodee experiences make this not a suitable text for a younger audience.

Our course instructor then recommended All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury. This is a short story about a group of children in a school on Venus. It had been raining on Venus for seven years straight and according to scientists the sun was coming out that day. Among this group of 9 year olds is Margot. She stands apart from the children. Margot is different from the other kids, she was born on Earth.

The narrator describes Margot in the lines, “She was different and they knew her difference and kept away. There was talk that her father and mother were taking her back to Earth next year; it seemed vital to her that they do so, though it would mean the loss of thousands of dollars to her family. And so, the children hated her for all these reasons of big and little consequence. They hated her pale snow face, her waiting silence, her thinness, and her possible future.” The children in this story torment Margot and there is evidence of physical, verbal and social bullying. They end up locking her in the closet and forgetting her there when suddenly the sun comes up and they all run outside. When the children return to the classroom, saddened that the sun has vanished and will not reappear for another seven years, they realize that Margot was still trapped in the closet. Bradbury slows down this part of the scene in the passage,

They stood as if someone had driven them, like so many stakes, into the floor. They looked at each other and then looked away. They glanced out at the world that was raining now and raining and raining steadily. They could not meet each other’s glances. Their faces were solemn and pale. They looked at their hands and feet, their faces down.

Then the story ends with the children unlocking the door and Margot emerging.

In addition to being a story about bullying, this is a tale about jealousy and difference. I would definitely use this short story in my class to engage students in a conversation about bullying and the treatment of others. The ending of the story sets readers up for a conversation about the actions of Margot’s classmates and their repercussions. Students can be asked to consider how the children in the story feel when they realize Margot was trapped in the closet and how this experience may or may not impact their treatment of her in the future. In addition, they can be asked to consider how Margot feels at the end of the story.

This is an important text that challenges students to consider their actions and the way they engage with their peers.

How do you introduce the issue of bullying in your classrooms? Do you use texts to engage students in discussions about bullying and its consequences? If so, which ones?