Saturday, March 22, 2014

The King of Little Things

Lepp, Bil, and David Wenzel. The King of Little Things. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2013. Print.

 ISBN:   978-1-56145-708-3

Audience: Ages 4-8, Grade PK-3

Summary:  In this original fairy tale, King Normous wants to be the Ruler of All the World and only the King of Little Things stands in the way of his plans. However, when he attacks the Little Kingdom the king, who “has all he needs and doesn’t need more,” doesn’t back down. His loyal subjects back him by fighting back and then continue to support him even after he is imprisoned. When the little things strike against him, King Normous realizes that little things do matter after all.

Strengths:  This book introduces unfamiliar vocabulary in a way that makes it accessible and fun. Lepp is also a master of figurative language, who manages to weave in alliteration, metaphors, similes, and rhythm without ever losing the narrative storyline. Wenzel’s illustrations include amazing detail and highlight the humor in Lepp’s tale. This book is a joy to read!

Weaknesses: I feel the recommended ages for this book should be expanded. While it would be appropriate for younger grades as a read aloud or a genre example, it could easily be used in the upper elementary grades for an exemplar text. The language is masterful and much of the vocabulary is grade-level appropriate for older students.

Uses:  This book would work well for a genre story on fairy tales and fables (CCSS ELA:RL.2 Grades 2- 4) or a discussion of themes (CCSS ELA: RL.2 Grades K-6). The expressive language and vocabulary would make it a perfect mentor text for writing (CCSS ELA:L.4 Grades 3-5 and CCSS ELA:W.3 Grades K-6) as well as one to take apart for an in-depth study of figurative language (CCSS ELA:L.5 Grades 1-6).

  • The Three Pigs -   David Wiesner (Wiesner’s unique take on the traditional tale)
  • The Lion & the Mouse- Jerry Pinkney (A familiar story with a similar theme)  
  • The Once Upon a Time Map Book- B.G. Hennessey (Detailed maps of fairy tale lands.)    
  • The Teacher in the Patriotic Bathing Suit – Bil Lepp   (Audio recording of the author telling stories.)

Parent’s Choice Gold
Bank Street Best Books finalist

Other:  Starred review in Kirkus

A Home for Mr. Emerson

Kerley, Barbara, and Ed Fotheringham. A home for Mr. Emerson. New York: Scholastic Press, 2014. Print.
ISBN:  978-0-545-35088-4

Audience: Ages 8-12, Grade 3-7

Summary:  This picturebook biography focuses on the early life of Ralph Waldo Emerson as he grew up in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. While he was raised a city boy, he dreamed of a life in the country. Eventually, he moved to Concord to raise his family and became an integral part of the small town life. When Emerson was 69 years old his home was destroyed by fire and he traveled in order to recover from the trauma. When he returned, the people of Concord had rebuilt and restored his beloved home. Emerson is brought to life through many colorful, warm illustrations that fill the pages in this oversized book.

Strengths: Emerson’s life story is told in a very accessible style with kid-friendly vocabulary. From the front cover with the oversize flying book, he is shown as a larger than life figure who loves reading and writing. The large hand-drawn illustrations and bright color palette invite the reader into his world. The text is full of quotes from Mr. Emerson’s writing which are set apart from the rest of the story through changes in font and color. The endpapers also illustrate some of his famous sayings. The book also contains an Author’s Note with a photograph of Emerson, an activity page that encourages students to think about some of his quotations, a list of primary sources, and source notes for the quotations.

Weaknesses:  The book does not really go into the reason why Emerson is a famous figure in American literature or anything about his early life before he moved to Concord. A student who comes to this book without knowing anything about Emerson would need other sources to get a complete view.

Uses: This well-written biography would be a good resource for younger students to write research reports (CCSS ELA: W.7 Grades K-6), and to introduce the idea of primary sources through the quotations included in the text (CCSS ELA:RI.3 Grades 2-6). It would also serve as an example of how to include quotations in a report (CCSS ELA:W.2b Grades 4-6). Obviously, biography is an excellent way to talk about character as well (CCSS ELA:RL.3 Grades K-6). Art teachers could use the bright spreads to talk about color, especially warm versus cool colors.

·      The Extraordinary Mark Twain – Barbara Kerley (Written by the same author, the biography of the writer Mark Twain.)
·      Electric Ben- Robert Byrd (Picture book biography of Ben Franklin that also includes many quotations)
·      Wonder – R.J. Palacio (A novel that includes the idea of quotations through Mr. Browne’s precepts.)
·      Mermaid Queen – Shana Corey (Beautiful picture book biography by the same illustrator.)
·      Father, We Thank You – Ralph Waldo Emerson (An illustrated picture book version of one of Emerson’s poems.)

Other:  Starred review in Publisher’s Weekly

Resources for Librarians & Teachers:


Becker, Aaron. Journey. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2013. Print. 
ISBN:  0763660531
Audience: Ages 4-8, Grade PK-3

Summary: In this wordless picture book, a young girl tries to get her busy family to interact with her. The beginning spreads are dull with a almost colorless palette, broken only by a few touches of color created by the girl’s red crayon. When she fails, she uses her crayon to draw a door on her bedroom wall and goes through it into another magical world. The palette turns green and blue and the pages explode with light. Everything the girl draws magically becomes solid, and she explores the new world with the help of the transportation (boat, balloon, carpet, bicycle) that she creates. When an evil king captures her, a mysterious purple bird appears, and she follows it to a satisfying escape and solution to her loneliness.

Strengths: This wildly creative book would encourage any child to use their imagination – I think they would immediately be drawn into dreaming up new adventures for the main character. The wonderfully illustrated book is a feast for the eyes. The spreads are gorgeous and full of detail that made me want to stare at it for hours. That Becker was able to create such detailed illustrations with pen and ink and watercolor is truly amazing.

Weaknesses: At times, students can be frustrated by wordless books and feel that they are too “babyish.” They are a hard sell to teachers, as well, who often don’t know how to effectively use a book that they can’t use as a traditional read aloud.

Uses: A wordless book can be used to develop students’ ability to notice key details (Common Core State Standard ELA:RL.1 Grades K-3) by discussing what they see as they “read” the story and then transferring these details to writing their own narratives (CCSS ELA:W.3 Grades K-4). It also is a perfect venue for retelling of a story (CCSS ELA: RL.2 Grades K-2) and identifying literary structure (CCSS ELA: RL.5 Grades 2-5). An Art teacher could also use this book to discuss technique and color palette. Themes (CCSS ELA: RL.2 Grades K-6) include loneliness, adventure, and creativity. Finally, this book would be a great one to put in the hands of an ESL student or a reluctant reader who could understand the story.

·      Harold & the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson (The classic story of a boy who uses a purple crayon to draw things that come to life.)
·      Castle- David Macaulay (Intricate illustrations of castles)
·      hello! hello! – Matthew Cordell (The family is too busy to spend time with their daughter because of their digital devices.)
·      Blackout- John Rocco (The family is too busy to spend time together until a blackout hits the city.)
·      The Red Balloon   - (The classic Academy Award winning 1956 film of a boy who follows a red balloon through Paris.)

Caldecott Honor
Amazon Best Books
NYT Best Illustrated
Junior Library Guild

Other:  Starred reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal,  & Publisher’s Weekly, featured on Calling Caldecott

Resources for Librarians & Teachers:
Book Trailer: