Tag Archives: picture books

Measurement Books

One of our co-ops is starting a new theme on measurement.  We often do very little to go along with our co-op themes.  We might check out a few books from the library and we talk about what we’re learning about in the co-op, but otherwise, I haven’t been connecting it with other aspects of our schooling.  However, this time around, I thought it might be a good chance to take a break (mostly) from our math curriculum and do a unit on measurement at home too.  I bought the Math Mammoth blue series book on measurement.  Here are the kids measuring their new books with paperclips and crayons.  BalletBoy insisted that they all needed to be green crayons for some reason.  Some of the content is a little too sophisticated for my first graders, but much of it will be a good little text for us to do as we explore the topic.

We also checked out an absurd pile of books on measurement from the library.  Here are some highlights.

Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy
As always, Loreen Leedy’s clever book leads the pack for measurement.  This is a classic one.  A girl measures her dog in every way she can imagine for a school project.  It’s an inspiring sort of book in that it’s easy to use it as a jumping off point for measuring more things.

Room for Ripley and Super Sand Castle Saturday by Stuart J. Murphy
We found these two titles from Stuart J. Murphy’s MathStart series.  They’re both good.  In the first, volume is explored in simple terms as a boy fills up a bowl for a new fish.  In the second, many kinds of measurements are explored as kids build sand castles.

How Tall How Short How Far Away by David A. Adler
This cheerfully drawn book gives a quick introduction to the history of measuring length, showing little pictures of Egyptians measuring with their arms to make cubits.  After talking about what measurements we use today for length, it invites the reader to think about which ones are right for which tasks.

If Dogs Were Dinosaurs by David Schwartz
This book, along with its companion, If You Hopped Like a Frog, use excellent illustrations to show a comparison of sizes and lengths.  This is a creative little book that’s short enough to be enjoyed by younger kids, but interesting enough to be enjoyed by adults.  There’s no story, but each page is a thought provoking little summary.

How Fast Is It? by Ben Hillman
This book, with glossy photoshopped images, was full of fun facts comparing the speeds of different things.  Each page had a different topic.  It highlighted not only some of the fastest things, but also just compared some unexpected things like the speeds of swimming birds and flying fish.

Science Factory: Units and Measurements by Jon Richards
We checked out several measurement activity books, but all of them quickly went back to the library except this one.  Almost all the projects in this book involve making your own measuring devices, such as an hourglass with two bottles and a balance out of a coat hanger.  I want the kids to make a measuring wheel and measure the distance around our block.

Math Picture Books

We’ve gotten back to math picture books in the last week or so.  Last year, we didn’t do a formal math curriculum for kindergarten, so games and picture books were a cornerstone of what we did.  This year, we’ve moved away from using them, but I picked out a few things at the library and pulled some stuff off the shelves and I was reminded of how much fun math picture books can be.  There are many, many math picture books, but here’s a few of our favorites.

Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base
This little tale is part environmental parable, part seek and find book and part math.  The numbers of all the different elements in the story ascend and descend in different ways – counting, doubling, prime numbers, multiplication.  It’s a fascinating little book that can be read again and again for different elements.

One Grain of Rice by Demi
Demi is such a great illustrator.  I like her detailed art with its Asian influences.  The kids like her use of shiny gold.  She’s also a good storyteller.  This book tells an old folktale with a mathematical lesson.  As a reward, the emperor agrees to give a woman a single grain of rice on the first day and double it every day for a month.  Obviously, emperors should be made to study more math.

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumisa Anno
Any of the Anno books could have made my list.  We own two of the Anno’s Math Games books and I also think Anno’s Counting House is an excellent book for learning what combinations of numbers add up to ten.  However, we’ve been enjoying simple numbers this week, looking for patterns and counting things out.

Math-terpieces by Greg Tang
This is one of the kids’ all time favorites.  Each page shows a famous work of art and an element next to it you need to group into certain numbers in different ways.  Such as finding four ways to group Monet’s water lilies so they make eight.  Greg Tang has other math picture books, but this is by far the best, especially for younger kids.  I can’t sing this book’s praises enough.

More, Fewer, Less by Tana Hoban
We use this book much the same way we use Anno’s Counting Book, by looking at patterns and counting out numbers.  The book contains only photographs without text.  The reader is invited to compare sets of things in the photos – such as different colors of shoes or sandals to boots.  I also ask the kids to find certain numbers of things.

My Favorite Book About the French Revolution

This is going to sound crazy, but my favorite book about the French Revolution is about a small turtle named Mack.  Think about it.  Yertle the Turtle is the story of a despot who orders all the turtles to allow him to stand on their backs in order to build up his kingdom.  Honestly, it’s not even that different from this famous cartoon of the era, showing the first and second estates riding on the back of the third.  Like in the French Revolution, or in any revolution, it turns out that they people on the bottom have power by virtue of being on the bottom.  Mack helps overturn the order of things in the pond.  In the final illustration, he sits on Yertle’s old rock perch while Yertle is stuck in the mud.  When I taught school, I used to begin my lessons on the French Revolution with this book.

Last week, when I sat down to think up a list of picture books for older readers, I very nearly included some Seuss because I think many of the Seuss titles work extremely well as ways to begin to tackle bigger topics.  Sure, some of them hit you over the head a little bit, like The Butter Battle Book‘s blatant Cold War allegory.  However, others, like The Sneeches or The Lorax are clearly about social issues, but don’t have an exact parallel and provide a good way to begin thinking about an issue for elementary and middle school students, whether you agree with Seuss’s perspective or not.

I think this is one of the services that picture books can bring us.  They provide us with simple ways to meet complex topics.

Picture Books that Aren’t for Babies

In response to the New York Times article declaring that parents see picture books as primarily for very young children, I’ve made an off the top of my head list of picture books that are not for for the preschool set, or at least, not best appreciated by them.  For more titles, the blog Tinderbox wrote an excellent defense of picture books through the lens of the homeschool curriculum Five in a Row, which creates entire units of study based on picture books.  Here’s a list of the Five in a Row books.  And here’s the books I thought of:

Grandfather’s Journey by Allan Say
This book is the perfect example of how a picture book can convey complex themes and ideas through a very simple story.  It’s the story of immigration on a personal level.  While younger children might get something out of it, the emotions shown aren’t something that younger children can easily connect with.  I found it useful when I was teaching middle schoolers.  Allan Say’s brilliant art enhances the story and keeps the very adult feel to the book.

MosesWhen Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Weatherford
Like Grandfather’s Journey, this is another example of a beautiful nonfiction picture book that’s not for younger readers.  The story is a detailed one and beautifully told by Weatherford, who is also a poet.  I could go on and on listing picture book nonfiction and biographies.  Especially in the last decade, there have been many amazing ones released.

The Three Golden Keys by Peter Sis
Sis has written board books for young children, but his most amazing works are books that don’t seem to be for children at all.  This book, which brings together the legends of Prague as well as Sis’s own personal history with the city, is incredibly complex, in both the artistic style and the language.  Sis has several other mind-blowing autobiographical picture books that aren’t for young children, including his book of intricate mandalas, Tibet Through the Red Box, and the more recent memoir of communism, The Wall.  He’s also the author of a number of picture book biographies.

The Stinky Cheese Man (and Other Fairly Stupid Tales) by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Most of the Scieszka and Smith ourve can be enjoyed by younger children, but is really best for children in the elementary school years.  My boys thought this book was interesting when they were younger and found it on the shelf, but it wasn’t until they got to kindergarten that I heard them suddenly start laughing when we read it.  Like many of the great fairy tell retellings (I almost put David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs on this list too), these stories aren’t enjoyable until you’re old enough that you really know the original story and can get the jokes.

The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wisniewski
Does this book even make sense to very young children?  The art style is silly and light to match the text, but it’s not for preschoolers.  The jokes are the sort of things that only children sophisticated enough to have observed grown-ups a little longer would get.  Wisniewski has several other titles, including the radically different Golem, which is appropriate for older children as well.

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
This intricate tale was so popular when it was released that even adults enjoyed puzzling out the mystery.  I can’t imagine many kids could figure it out before first or second grade, at least not without a great deal of help.  Base has another book, Enigma, which is perhaps even more difficult.

Zen Shorts by Jon Muth
This beautifully illustrated philosophical tale has been thought-provoking for adults and children alike.  The story isn’t short either.  It’s one of the few very popular books of recent years that I would say is clearly not for preschoolers.


The Worst Party Ever

Popcorn Party [Book Elf book #468]We’re just back from visiting with family along with another week of summer camp.  Possibly more about that amazing summer camp and other North Carolina adventures later.  For now, I just wanted to review a book, one that’s no longer in print.  One of Mushroom and BalletBoy’s grandfathers has a pile of books that his parents gave him from his childhood so he could read them to to the kids.  Among the bizarre treasures of this 1950’s era collection is the book Popcorn Party.  I can’t stand it.  Mushroom begged me to read it and I succumbed so I got to be reminded why I can’t stand it.  And now you get to find out too!

Popcorn Party tells the story of a grandmother who lives what sounds like a really boring life.  For her hundredth birthday, she decides to have a little excitement (but only a little, mind you) and throw a popcorn party for the neighborhood kids.  In the process, she gets more popcorn than she needs.  She’s never gotten more of anything than she needs before but she decides to just go with it.  Well, big mistake, Grandma.  She pops too much and her whole house is nearly destroyed in a horrific popcorn accident reminiscent of the spaghetti problem in Strega Nona.  As far as I can tell, the moral is: don’t do anything exciting and don’t ever indulge in luxury.  Sorry, depression-era authors and publishers, I just don’t get it.  Also, can I just add that this book is such a study in how picture books have changed.  It has at least twice as many words as a similar book would today and the text hasn’t been arranged with much care the way it would be now.

Of course, so many good books are the old ones.  For an antidote to Popcorn Party, head over to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves.

Goodnight, Books

As I tidied up some of the books, putting things back on the shelves, I noticed that there is a whole category of books we haven’t read in ages: goodnight books.  I guess at almost six, the kids have just outgrown them.  We still read many picture books aloud, but those early childhood books read with a soft voice meant to lull little ones to sleep has passed.  I think so many of these books become the most enduring classics because they are repeated so often as part of a ritual.  If that moment hasn’t passed for you, in addition to Goodnight, Moon, Guess How Much I Love You, and the more recent staple How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, may I suggested this unknown treasure about a little boy who is too excited to go to sleep on a train.  William and the Night Train by Mij Kelly and Allison Jay has bright illustrations and beautifully crafted language.  The metaphor of the train as nighttime is carried through the story with pictures of the smoke coming out of the smokestack turning into counting sheep and dream images.  This was a favorite of ours once upon a time.

Five Picture Books That Always Make Me Laugh

Humor is important.  And it’s difficult to craft a picture book that is amusing to adults and kids alike.  Here, in no particular order, are five that crack me up every time and amuse the kids too:

Squids Will Be Squids by Jon Sczieska and Lane Smith

Everything by Jon Sczieska is pretty funny. His most famous collaboration with Lane Smith, The Stinky Cheese Man, is probably more clever, but this one is much better for absurd, laugh out loud fun.  Each fable in the book is extremely short.  There are enough that by the time I reread the book, I’ve usually forgotten one and can be surprised by the silly moral.

Big Plans by Bob Shea and Lane Smith

I’ve got big plans, big plans, I say!  I’m laughing already.  I won’t bother to summarize the plot.  Just suffice it to say that the narrator is a little boy with big, silly plans.  This is probably my most favorite book to read aloud in the whole world.  I have actually begged my children for the opportunity to read it again.

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by Steven Kellogg

This is the story of a pet boa constrictor who gets loose on a farm, causing a chain reaction of events that would astound anyone.  It’s funny to begin with, but the humor is all in the telling.  Meggie only tells the story in little pieces, saving the most absurd bits.  When I read it aloud, it’s hard to keep ramping up the shock in the mother’s voice as she hears how things come out.

I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo Willems

All of Mo Willems’s work is pretty funny.  For a long time, I thought he could never top There is a Bird on Your Head. Then came the day that the kids and I spotted a new Elephant and Piggie book in the library.  I pulled it out and we curled up in a corner to read it.  By the end, I was literally crying with laughter and the kids cried, “Again!”  Just so you know, I never, ever read books twice in a row.  My kids rarely ask for immediate rereads anyway.  But this time they asked and I said yes and laughed nearly as hard the second time around.

The Wuggie Norple Story by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Tomie DePaola

This is one of the strangest children’s books ever written.  Actually, you could probably start any review of a Daniel Pinkwater book with that sentence.  It’s the story of a cat that grows to an enormous size that no one except the father seems to recognize.  Most of the humor is in the bizarre names that Daniel Pinkwater has given every character.  That, and the fact that all they eat is onions.  You have to have a certain sense of humor to appreciate this one, but I apparently have that sense of humor and I appreciate it very much.  Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it’s out of print so maybe I’m one of the few.

Money Picture Books

The other day, Mushroom looked at our homeschool shelves and complained that we don’t have any books about money.  So, to the library we went to rectify the situation!

We got some good options.  We started with Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst.  I love the Alexander books.  I also just find them fun to read aloud because every single one of them allows you to do your best angry, put upon, why me voice.  After reading this one once, I pulled out a lot of change and as Alexander loses, spends and gets fined out of every cent in his precious dollar, we took Alexander’s fortune away and watched it dwindle.  Goodbye fifteen cents!

We also found a nice title by Loreen Leedy, who is the author of many wonderful math concept picture books for elementary school.  Follow the Money traces the path a single quarter takes over time with cute illustrations.  This wasn’t my favorite Loreen Leedy title, but all of her stuff is excellent.

We got two more from the nonfiction section.  First, Making Cents by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson and illustrated by Bob McMahon told the tale of a group of kids who want to build a huge clubhouse.  They need to raise a lot of money and they begin by finding a penny and work their way up to various other kid business ventures like walking dogs and holding a yard sale.  Each time they add money, it goes up by one denomination and you get to see what each amount would buy.  The penny buys a penny nail, but a nickel buys five penny nails or one wood screw, and so forth.  This was a great idea for a story, but I wish that the illustrations had continued to show the number of nails, screws, sandpaper squares, etc. get bigger and bigger.  The page where the kids earn a dollar shows a hundred nails, but beginning with the page with five dollars, it simply tells you 500 nails and shows a single nail, which is less impactful and hard for a kid to visualize or understand.  I’m sure it could have been done by shrinking down the images or showing a huge pile of some of the items.  The second book was Smart About Money: A Rich History by Jon Anderson.  This one reminded me of an Usborne book because it had little cartoons and asides as it told just a few snippets of history and fun facts about money.  Mushroom was especially drawn to that one.

One more book that was sadly not in at the library was If You Made a Million by David Schwartz and illustrated by Steven Kellogg.  I love trying to introduce big numbers.  David Schwartz has written a number of these books about the number one million and all of them are excellent.  Because Steven Kellogg has illustrated so many titles (not to mention that we saw him speak and draw at last year’s National Book Festival), Mushroom and BalletBoy always greet his books with enthusiasm and recognition of his style.

I have a million more thoughts about teaching about money and what to do with play money and whether we’ll ever get allowances to work, but I’ll save those for another post.