Happy Birthday!

March 22, 2011

Today is Randolph Caldecott’s Birthday!  I had my first graders write in their journals this morning about the significance of this day.  I also had them choose a book that they think deserves a Caldecott Medal.  Needless to say, I had some very original responses!


This sentimental, yet sometimes humorous, tale of Primrose Squarp was a wonderful read.  Polly Horvath writes of Primrose, an 11-year-old girl dealing with the loss of her 2 parents.  Her father was out at sea when a typhoon arose and her mother left in her own sailboat to find him.  Primrose struggles with their loss and although her hometown hosts a memorial service for them, she refuses to attend, because she is certain that her parents are safe…somewhere…missing her. 

Primrose is taken under the wing of Kate Bowzer, the owner of The Girl on the Red Swing Restaurant where everything (really, everything) is served on a waffle.  Kate explains the significance of Primrose’s mother going out into the storm to look for her father.  She describes this as an act of true love, something that is very rare in this world. 

Primrose endures several unfortunate events throughout the book: losing a toe, undergoing scrutiny at school, and being placed in foster care.  Nevertheless, she never gives up the hope of her parents still being alive…somewhere, safe and sound.  One of my favorite parts of the book occurs when Primrose is walking along the beach with her “family” when a boat coasts by.  It is then that Primrose sees her parents again.

I can definitely understand why this book was selected to receive a Newbery Honor.  The entire book is full of vivid imagery, phenomonal detail, and a heart-warming story too!  The love between Primrose’s parents made me think of that of my own parents, which made me appreciate the book even more!

Here is a link to Polly Horvath’s website, which provides information about other books she has written:


Image obtained from http://www.barnesandnoble.com

I must begin with a simple, “Wow!”  I LOVE this book!  The words and illustrations, both by John Muth, are breathtaking.  Muth takes the idea of Zen, which are meditations similar to fables or parables, and entangles them within a children’s book about a giant panda named Stillwater and 3 children who live nextdoor.  Stillwater uses Zen Shorts at various points within the book to help each of the children reexamine their thoughts.  Basically, there are 3 mini-stories, which teach a moral or lesson, that are intertwined within the book.  These mini-stories are off-set, as the illustrations are different.  While the pages featuring Stillwater and the children are light, colorful illustrations, those that feature the Zen Short stories have thicker black lines and less color. 

I’m not really sure if I can pinpoint the exact reason why I love this book so much, but it gives me goosebumps every time I read it.  There is so much depth within such a seemingly simple tale of a Panda and 3 children.  I think I relate to the story because the last Zen tale taught me so much even as an adult.  This book features lovable characters, wonderful parables, a glimpse of Asian culture, and beautiful watercolor illustrations.  I own 3 copies – one in my classroom, and one for each of my two children!

While searching for an image of this book for my blog, I happened upon an amazing website (http://www.merrymakersinc.com) where you can purchase your very own Stillwater the panda, like the one pictured below!  I have to have one of these for my classroom!

Images obtained from http://www.amazon.com and http://www.merrymakersinc.com


Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin has been a favorite book in my  household for several years.  I first stumbled upon this book as an undergraduate student and instantly fell in love with this hilarious story as well as the big-eyed farm animals who graced the pages of the book.  Betsy Lewin, the illustrator of this comical tale, used watercolors to bring the animals fromFarmer Brown’s farm to life.  Each creature is bright-eyed and is sure to bring a smile to a child’s face.  I’ve read this book countless times in my classroom and to my own children at home.  In fact, after reading Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, I also purchased Giggle, Giggle Quack, Duck for President, and Dooby, Dooby, Moo, which were also written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. 

My love for this story also takes me back to my childhood.  I grew up next to my grandfather’s farm and loved to travel his farmland looking at his livestock and any other animal that set foot on his farm.  As an adult, my adventures with farm animals continue as my two-year-old soon has a fascination with cow, goats, and any other animal that makes a “funny” noise.

I stumbled upon this Scholastic Video on Youtube: an animated version of the story read by Randy Travis… Enjoy!

Image obtained from http://www.goodreads.com.  Video obtained from http://www.youtube.com

Kitten’s First Full Moon, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes was the 2005 Caldecott Award Winner.  This sweet story of a young kitten who mistakes the moon for a bowl of milk is a great way to teach children that things aren’t always what they seem.  Readers follow the little kitten throughout her adventure as she tries again and again to reach the giant bowl of milk in the sky.  She encounters several mishaps along the way, and each time the “poor kitten” gets up and tries again.  At the end of the story, the “lucky kitten” comes home to a bowl of milk that was prepared just for her.  The pages in this book feature classic, black and white illustrations.  Although children are typically drawn to vivid, colorful images, these illustrations make the reader appreciate this timeless tale of a young creature trying again and again to achieve her seemingly “unreachable” goal.

Kevin Henkes is a favorite author/illustrator of mine.  I own several of his books, including Kitten’s First Full Moon.  Some of my favorites include: Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, Chrysanthemum, A Weekend with Wendell, Owen, and Wemberly Worried.

Images obtained from http://www.amazon.com and http://www.barnesandnoble.com

The Hello, Goodbye Window, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka, winner of the 2006 Caldecott Medal, is one of my favorite children’s books of all time.  It is an absolutely beautiful story about a little girl who loves to visit her grandparents.  Nanna and Poppy’s house is a place where wonderful things happen and it’s all because of the kitchen window – a window that looks like a normal window…but it’s not.  It’s the Hello, Goodbye window!  The illustrations within the book are somewhat abstract.  Colors are “outside the lines,” which make it more appealing and childlike.  When reading the story, it’s almost as if the little girl (the main character) has written and illustrated the story all by herself.  As she shares her memories, you feel as though you are experiencing them with her via the bright, colorful illustrations.  My favorite pages are those of the night sky as she sees it from looking out of the Hello, Goodbye Window with her Poppy.

I cannot say enough about this book.  I can only reiterate that it is one of my absolute favorites.  In fact, I own 3 copies.  I keep one in my elementary classroom, and I have 2 copies (one for each of my children) at home.  If you haven’t read this book, you should.  My advice is to skip the library, and just buy yourself a copy.  Once you read it, you will want a copy of your own…or maybe 2 or 3 copies…

Image obtained from http://www.barnesandnoble.com

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems is a humorous story of a little pigeon who has dreams to someday, drive a bus.  The bus driver makes it clear to readers at the beginning of the story, “Whatever you do, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.”  Children love the interactive style of this book, as they actually get to be the ones to say “No!” as the pigeon begs, pleads, and even tries to trick readers into letting him drive.  The illustrations throughout the book are simple, yet hilarious.  They enhance the story so much, and I am quite sure the story wouldn’t be a favorite of mine if the illustrations were any different.

The first time I ever read this story was back in 2004.  I was an instant fan, as the book made me think back to my childhood days.  My brother, Brandon, actually raised pigeons for several years.  He was (and still is) an animal lover, and pigeons were one of the many animals you could find at our home.  I had never read a book in which the main character was a pigeon, and I found that concept to be quite comical as well as original.

I actually had the pleasure of meeting Mo Willems at the KRA conference in Louisville a few years ago.  He was a keynote speaker at the conference, and he autographed one of his books for me.  I am a huge fan of his!  Other books that he has written/illustrated include Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late, Knuffle Bunny, Leonardo: The Terrible Monster, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and Edwina: The Dinosaur who didn’t know she was Extinct.

Image obtained from http://www.weebabystuff.com