Monday, September 15, 2014

The Great Big Green

The Great Big Green
Written by Peggy Gifford and Illustrated by Lisa Desimini
Published by Boyd Mills Press in 2014

Grades PreK – 6

Book Review

The thing is,/ the thing is green./ And the green is the green is green./ And by green I mean…” Peggy Gifford, author of the Monty Maxwell chapter book series, offers a picture book homage to our green green earth, a tribute that trips off the tongue. Oozing with alliteration, assonance, consonance, and wondrously over-hyphenated phrases, it is impossible to not read this book aloud. For example, try the following: “It’s got green grasshoppers springing / from green groomed lawns…” and “eat-your-broccoli greens / your bunch –of-green-grapes green/ your watermelons-sparkling-in-the-sun greens.” With perfect pacing, the free verse text lists flora, fauna, and human-invented greens; offers layers of clues; and invites readers to guess what the “thing” is. The it, earth, is never named but Lisa Desimini’s lush illustrations ensure no doubt lingers in young readers’ minds. Rendered in digital collage, Desimini’s images incorporate rich textures and entice the reader to pore over the book, drawn in to the range of color and variation. The Great Big Green has great big potential for classroom explorations of art and science, conservation and observation, and language play through poetry.

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

Grades PreK - 3

Earth from Space: Colors in Satellite Images. Using an overhead projector, display images of earth from space using the NASA website. Then, use Google Earth to zoom into your location. Allow children to explore Google Earth in a computer lab or on iPads. What colors do they see when they explore the continents? Make connections to geographical features, such as deserts, mountains, and the polar ice cap. Invite students to draw their own images of our earth, choosing colors that match their home environment.  

Creating Color Collages. Arm your students with cameras or iPads, and have them look out the window or take a walk with them around the school or neighborhood. Assign each student a different color and have them take photos of all the different objects they can find that are that color. Then, have them study the photos to compare and contrast the various shades of that color. Invite them to name and label each shade, such as “bumpy-dusty-sidewalk gray” or “gleaming-taxicab-yellow.” Collaborate with your art teacher to use prints of the photos to create a collage images for each color. Create a museum display or a class composed book. If digital cameras are not available to you, have students cut out colors and textures from magazines.

Color Text Set. Read The Great Big Green in a Solar System Model (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry) along with other books that celebrate the colors of our world such as Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow, Fleming’s Lunch,  Jenkins’s Living Color, Seeger's Green, Seeger’s Lemons are Not Red, or Shannon’s White is for Blueberry. Create a note-making chart and guide students to compare how information is presented in the books, the design and role of the illustrations, and the structure and style of the text. After your review of the text set, invite students to compose their own color texts.

Except where it’s blue…”: The Great Big Green as a Mentor Text. The last phrase of The Great Big Green is a clear invitation to teachers and students to extend this text – to create a companion book. Invite your students to write The Great Big Blue, using the text and illustrations of The Great Big Green as a model for their writing.

Green Pledge. Read The Great Big Green along with other texts that encourage “green” actions, such as Gabby and Grandma Go Green, The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save The Earth, or Ten Things I Can Do to Help My World. Discuss with your students some action steps that you can take in the classroom over the course of the school year, and ask each students (or the class as a whole) to make a pledge that commits them to carry out one or more of these action steps. Students can document their pledge by illustrating and writing their goals. These can be displayed on a bulletin board or bound into a class book.

Duet Model Reading with Green. Read The Great Big Green in a Duet Model (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry) with Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Green. Both texts explore the variations of green found in our world, but there are subtle differences worth teasing out. Discuss the illustrations as well as the texts. Your students are sure to notice that both books include striking images of a tiger! Following your focused comparison, invite students to compose their own illustrated explorations of green.

Grades 2 -6

Language Play: Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance. In The Great Big Green, Peggy Gifford provides us with many wonderful examples of language play using alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Help your students to understand these elements of style by writing examples from the book on sentence strips. Read the phrases aloud, focusing students’ attention on the sounds of the language. Sort and label the phrases. Ask students to keep an ‘ear out’ while they read other texts and collect additional examples of these stylistic elements.

Performing Poetry. You and your students are going to love reading The Great Big Green aloud. Invite students to practice reading the text aloud to achieve fluent reading and plan a performance of the book for neighboring classes. You could also build a reading of this text into a performance of other poems featuring color and nature such as those found in Joyce Sidman’s award winning book Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Color.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Author Website: Peggy Gifford

Illustrator Website: Lisa Desimini

NASA Visible Earth

Google Earth

YouTube: Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Natural Resources Defense Council: The Green Squad

Earth Day Network

Think Green: Discovery Education


Ehlert, L. (1992). Planting a rainbow. Orlando, FL: Voyager Books.

Fleming, D. (1995). Lunch. New York: Henry Holt.

Jenkins, S. (2007). Living color. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Katz, K. (2002). The colors of us. New York: Holt.

Reynolds, P.S. (2012). Sky color. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Seeger, L. V. (2008). Lemons are not red. New York: Roaring Brook Press. 

Seeger, L.V. (2012). Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Shannon, G. (2005). White is for blueberry. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Sidman, J. (2009). Red sings from treetops: A year in color. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Earth Works Group. (2008). The new 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth. Ill. by M. Montez & L. Bodger. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishers.

Walsh, M. (2008). Ten things I can do to help my world. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Wellington, M. (2011). Gabby and Grandma go green. New York: Dutton

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar
Written by Alan Rabinowitz and Illustrated by Cátia Chien
Published in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Grades K-5
ISBN: 978-0-547-87507-1

Book Review

“Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t get the words out. So people ignore or misunderstand or hurt them, the same way people ignore or misunderstand or hurt me.” In A Boy and a Jaguar, Alan Rabinowitz recounts his childhood as a boy whose stuttering led to painful misunderstandings by others and feelings of brokenness but also led to his passion for animals and the lifelong bond he developed with them, especially jaguars. There were two things he did as a boy without stuttering—singing, admittedly not well, and talking to animals. As a boy, Alan made a promise to animals, that if could ever find his voice that he would be their voice and keep them from harm. In Belize, he became the first person to study jaguars, and he went on to use his voice to advocate for the world’s first and only jaguar preserve which soon after became a reality. Catia Chien’s acrylic and charcoal pencil-art illustrations captivate readers and help evoke Alan’s feelings of brokenness as well as those of elation and wonder. A birds-eye view of the jaguar preserve will make your heart soar as you see the great cats roam free on the yellow grasslands. A Q&A at the end of the book provides readers with additional context for Rabinowitz’s work, conservation efforts, and stuttering. Sure to engage students from start to finish, this memoir will support students to listen and look closely, to wonder about the power of their own voices, and to consider issues of conservation and discrimination from a new perspective.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades K-5

Studying Memoir.  As a memoir, the book is written in the first-person and provides a model for students for how to tell a story from your own life using “I” for effect. Use A Boy and a Jaguar as a mentor text for student memoirs supporting students to consider how memoirists choose moments from their lives that will impact others in some way. Draw students’ attention to the language choices Rabinowitz uses and how Rabinowitz varies his sentences both in length and structure. Many of his sentences are technically not sentences. Encourage students to reread the book noticing simple, compound, and complex sentences as well as fragments that are used for effect. Building on this craft study, support students to then look at their own personal narrative writing noticing the impact of their topic, their own sentence variety, and the structures they use for effect.

Protecting Endangered Animals. Rabinowitz is the founder of Panthera, an organization dedicated to the conservation of great cats. Following a read aloud of the story, visit Panthera’s website and learn more about the work Rabinowitz and Panthera have done to protect these endangered and highly sought after animals. Dig deeper into the research process and consider having students independently or in small groups study a particular endangered animal reporting through writing, drawing, or speaking about what is being done around the world to protect various endangered species and what we can do to help. Build a text set for students using some of the following titles featured on The Classroom Bookshelf: Kakapo Rescue,

Promises: How Will You Use Your Voice? As Rabinowitz leans in to the jaguar’s cage at The Bronx Zoo we learn that he whispers something to the great creature but are left wondering what those words were. Later, we read his promise to his own pets and to all of the animals of the world that he will use his voice to keep them from harm. Reread the page with Rabinowitz’s promise and support students to share promises they want to make to others by using their voice to do good in the world.

Exploring Feelings through Writing. As a boy, Rabinowitz was sent to a class for “disturbed” children due to his stutter despite his parents’ protests. This experience led him to feel broken. Later, as he explored the jungles of Belize he felt alive. When he was studying the bears of The Great Smoky Mountains he felt at home. Look back throughout the text to track Rabinowitz’s various feelings and the progression he experienced moving from feeling broken to whole. Support students to write, draw, or dictate moments when they have experienced strong feelings. Encourage students to consider moments when they have felt excited and happy as well as times when they have felt alone, frustrated, or unwelcome. Allow for a range of feelings.

Gratitude. The end of the book concludes with Rabinowitz saying “thank you” to a jaguar. Engage the class in a discussion about what they think Rabinowitz was thanking the jaguar for. Open up a dialogue about the word gratitude and support students to share people, places, animals, and experiences they have had that they are grateful for. Encourage students to recognize that sometimes things we persevere through can lead to feelings of resiliency and gratefulness in the end, despite hardship or challenges we may have faced.

Grades 3-5
Fifteen Minutes to Make a Message. When Rabinowitz met with the Prime Minister of Belize he had fifteen minutes to deliver his message. He knew his voice had to be clear, concise, and impassioned. For a person who stutters, he knew this was a great challenge. Support students to consider messages that are important to them and engage students in a speech writing unit beginning with brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and delivering speeches. View TED talks on topics you think your students may be interested in noting the topics, messages, and delivery methods various speakers use for effect. TED speakers have 22 minutes to deliver their messages and the subtitle to TED talks are “Ideas that Matter”. What are the ideas your students think matter? Consider filming your students’ speeches and sharing them with families through digital spaces.

Reading and Writing Interviews. On the back endpaper, Rabinowitz shares a Question and Answer session. Support students to notice the kinds of questions that were asked and what his responses reveal about who he is and what matters to him. Then, invite students to write interviews for people in their own communities or in the world-at-large that they would like to interview. Consider people within your school building, family members, community members, living authors of your students’ favorite books, and local leaders working to make a difference. Consider writing a shared interview as a class and sending questions to Alan Rabinowitz himself!

Complexity of Conservation. Rabinowitz shares briefly that Belize is one of the poorest countries in the world, and as such, convincing the Prime Minister to spend funds on the preservation of jaguars may have been an even greater challenge given the economic needs of the people of the country. Discuss with students the complexity of conservation and the need for funding to preserve animals and lands when people locally and globally are also in financial need.

Critical Literacy and Social Justice

Challenging Notions of Difference as Deficit. As a boy, Rabinowitz was hurt by the judgment and discrimination of those who misunderstood his stutter, particularly adults, including teachers. However, Rabinowitz explains in the Q&A as well as in other interviews that his stutter in many ways led to the person he became and the passion he developed for animals. Share other examples of individuals who believe that what makes them different is also what has made them interesting and passionate individuals including Temple Grandin, a spokesperson for Autism Spectrum as well as a writer, speaker, and inventor, William Hoy, a major league baseball player who was also deaf and often credited with the hand signals used in games today, or Spencer West who climbed Mount Kilamanjaro without the use of legs.

Further Explorations
Online Resources
Book Website

Houghton Mifflin Author Interview

Illustrator’s Site

Panthera, Leaders in Wildcat Conservation

The Stuttering Foundation

RadioLab Feature Story

Alan Rabinowitz on The Moth

Colbert Report Interview with Alan Rabinowitz

TED Talks

Authored by Alan Rabinowitz
Rabinowitz, A. (2014). An indomitable beast: The remarkable journey of the jaguar. (2nd ed). Island Press.

Rabinowitz, A. (2000). Jaguar: One man's struggle to establish the world's first jaguar preserve. (2nd ed.). Island Press.

Figures With Special Needs Who Changed the World
Grandin, T. (2012). How the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world. HMH Books for Young Readers.

Wise, B. (2012). Silent star: The story of deaf major leaguer William Hoy.  New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.

Memoirs for Middle Grades
Ehlrich, A. When I was your age: Original stories about growing up. New York, NY: Candlewick Press.

Fletcher, R. (2012). Marshfield dreams: When I was a kid, a memoir. Square Fish.

Spinelli, J. (1998). Knots in my yo-yo string. Ember Press.

Endangered Animals (Blogged about on Classroom Bookshelf)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Pilot and the Little Prince

The Pilot and the Little Prince
Written and illustrated by Peter Sís
Published in 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
ISBN # 978-0374380694

Grades K and up

Book Review 

Aviator, pioneer, inventor, war hero: In The Pilot and the Little Prince, we learn that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was all this and more. With characteristic charm, wonder, and grandeur, award-winning author/illustrator Peter Sís’s picture book biography pays homage to the beloved author of the classic book The Little Prince. Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Saint-Exupéry grew up in a world that was taking off on new adventures and using new kinds of transport to do so. Sís captures this rapidly progressing world and innovative spirit with multi-layered textual and visual delight. The book’s main text lines the bottom of the pages, filled with the kinds of questions and tidbits about Saint-Exupéry’s life that would tantalize a child. Floating and swirling above those words in whimsical illustration, Sís offers more fascinating nuggets about Saint-Exupéry’s life and the historical era in which he lived. But perhaps most mesmerizing and astute are the illustrations themselves: clever, humorous, fantastical, and evocative renderings of a child’s perspective of Saint-Exupéry ’s life. Together, these elements provide, against a subtle chronicle of the impact of aviation on the world, a rich and surprising account of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s rise from determined dreamer to celebrated  author. Ideal for read-alouds, small group exploration, or individual entertainment, The Pilot and the Little Prince won’t stay on your bookshelf for long.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K and up

Peter Sís Illustrator Study. Gather all of the picture books illustrated by Peter Sís. Survey his illustrations, and identify his artistic style, his artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. What is similar and different across his illustrations? For older students, you might ask: How does the work he does with other authors compare to the work he writes and illustrates on his own? What themes emerge in his illustrations? How does he convey humor in his illustrations? Have your students spend time examining the illustrations in this book and then, watch the YouTube video listed in Further Explorations below to hear about Sís’s artistic process form the illustrator himself. How did their conclusions match up against Sís’s explanation?

The Creative Process. Using some of the links listed below, have students research Sís’s own creative process. Then have them research the creative processes of some of their other favorite picture book authors and illustrators. Compare and contrast what each author and illustrator says, and then have your students try out some of the strategies they describe when attempting their next piece of creative writing or artwork.

Grades 3 and up

Art Imitating Life. Read aloud The Little Prince to your students (or have them read it themselves), and then read The Pilot and the Little Prince. Have them identify parts in Sís’s biography that resemble events and experiences in The Little Prince. You can have them chart this information to show the connections and inspiration explicitly, or encourage students to script and role play an interview with Saint-Exupéry that explains the similarities between his life and his book.

The Impact of Aviation. Sís writes that Saint-Exupéry jumped at every chance to be part of the new directions and opportunities that aviation developments presented. Use some of the websites listed below in Further Explorations to research the impact of aviation on human life more fully. How did it aid or hinder communication and relations among peoples and nations? How did it advance knowledge about our planet? Have students then create multimedia presentations of what they learned.

Sís’s Pioneers. The Pilot and the Little Prince is the latest picture book biography by Sís about a noteworthy figure whose restless and adventuresome spirit helped pioneer new eras in world history. Have students read Sís’s other biographies of these people, such as Gallileo, Christopher Columbus, and Charles Darwin (see Books below). Compare and contrast how Sís frames these pioneers through his text and illustrations. How does each medium work to tell a particular kind of story about each man? After this exercise, have students write and illustrate a picture book biography about another pioneer in history, attempting to emulate Sís’s style.

Analyzing Fantastical Picturebook Illustrations. Many of Sís’s illustrations convey multiple layers of meaning, particularly because they tend to depict fantastical scenes. And yet, in conjunction with close reading of the text, those illustrations make sense in deep and surprising way. For example, the double page spread of the French and Spanish landscape and the illustration of New York City are not literal depictions. Model how one might dissect the illustrations in The Pilot and the Little Prince. Ideally, you would examine the illustrations using a document camera to project the images. How did Sís create emotional impact through the use of color, line, page breaks, and perspective? It may also help students to practice analyzing other fantastical picture books, such as Shaun Tan's Rules of Summer, or famous works of art by Picasso, Chagall, and the surrealists. 

Grades 6 and up

Is It a Children's Book? It has been argued that The Little Prince is not actually a book for children, but an allegory for adults, due to its abstract and dense style. What evidence is there in both The Little Prince and The Pilot and the Little Prince to support that claim? Have students closely read each text, or excerpts of each text, as well as any other material that might shed light on this argument (see, for example, some of the books or websites listed below in Further Explorations). Then, divide students into groups based on the conclusions they reach, to debate for what audience The Little Prince is intended.

Continuing the Story. While The Pilot and the Little Prince ends with the mystery of Saint-Exupéry's final flight, we do know a little bit more about what may have happened. Have students research the news articles that reported the discovery of evidence in the waters south of Marseille, France, as well as other reports of found wreckage (see Further Explorations for some websites). Challenge students to put the pieces together to determine what happened during that last flight, and to perhaps continue writing the rest of the picturebook biography. You may want to have students read Shelley Tanaka's Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator as a paired text.

Further Explorations 
Online Resources

Peter Sís’s website

Foundation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry exhibit at the Air and Space Museum of France (website in French)

NPR Interview with Peter Sís

Slideshow – Why Peter Sís made The Pilot and the Little Prince

Video - Peter Sís on His Studio and The Pilot and the Little Prince

Slideshow – Morgan Library & Museum exhibit of “The Little Prince: A New York Story:

Article – “The Strange Triumph of The Little Prince” in The New Yorker

The Aviation History Online Museum

Aviation History Timeline

Documentary – The Flying Years – Aviation History 

Articles and Reports about Saint-Exupéry's Last Flight


de Saint-Exupéry, A. (1943/2013). The little prince. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

de Saint-Exupéry, A. (2002). A guide for grown-ups: Essential wisdom from the collected works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Sís, P. (2002). Follow the dream: The story of Christopher Columbus. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Sís, P. (2000). Starry messenger: Galileo Galilei . New York: Square Fish.

Sís, P. (2003). The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin- Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker . New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux

Tanaka, S. (2008). Amelia Earhart: The legend of the lost aviator. Ill. by D. Craig. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.