Childrens Book Reading Extravaganza 2010: Picture Books # 46-42

We have cleared the half way point!  Cleared it!  Are you still with me or do these posts pop up, you roll your eyes and wonder when I’m just going to let it go?  Either way, I committed to reading and reviewing the Top 100 Picture Books.

Today, starting us off at #46 is Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt.  Not that we should encourage our little friends to judge a book by it’s cover, but this is a pretty freaking cute cover.

Scaredy Squirrel (Click on the images for links and hold on to your credit cards!)

Scaredy Squirrel is scared of everything and would prefer to stay in his same old nut tree and stick to his daily predictable schedule.  However, one day when a killer bee startles Scaredy Squirrel, he drops his emergency kit and leaps to catch it as it falls out of his tree.  And he discovers that he…can…(wait for it)…fly!  Suddenly he forgets about all his fears and changes his ways to incorporate some time away from his tree experiencing the world around him.

So, Scaredy Squirrel SO reminds me of one of my closest friends who also was a homebody (complete with schedule and a kit for any situation…labeled of course) who has had to fly from her nest.  She has done it with grace and amazing resilience, making new friends and realizing how strong we all knew she always was.  I know, super personal connection, but it makes me love this book even more and there’s nothing wrong with a good old text-to-self connection, is there?

This is a super cute book though, that your first and second grade friends would love. It’s a quick read with a fantastic new message about being brave and trying new things.  And couldn’t we ALL use a lesson like that from time to time??

At #45 is one of everyone’s faves…The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  (Caldecott alert!)  I loved this book and, although I rarely do, I also loved the movie. As soon as Mini Mimi is old enough, I see this becoming a holiday viewing tradition.  (Clearly, she will be introduced to the book first though.)

The Polar Express

Do I really even need to summarize this Caldecott award winning holiday favorite?  I’m going to go with no, I don’t.  (Nor do I need to make these posts any longer than they already are.)  While I don’t know where you stand on the issue of reading holiday classics in your classroom…I mean, there is some mention of the Claus in here…but if you do it, do this book.  Or show the movie.  I know it’s like a big secret, but c’mon, everyone loves to pop in the old DVD right before Winter Break, right?    

Hold onto your cannolis because #44 is my all-time fave Italian friend Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola.  I mean, I do a pretty mean accent during this oh-so-dramatic read aloud.  I love every single book in the Strega Nona series.  Every. Single. One.  Run, do not walk, to your local Barnsey and buy this, love this, and work this read aloud!

Strega Nona

Strega Nona is a witch, but not a pointy black hat wearing witch, an Italian witch in a rural village who helps the local people with aches, pains, warts and baldness.  You know, the usual.  She takes in a well-meaning but not so smart farm hand, Big Anthony, to help her around the house.  He overhears her talking to her magic pasta pot one night and…while Strega Nona is away, decides to show everyone in the village that he isn’t so dumb and make some magic happen (with the pot of course.)  He decides to make pasta for everyone but…since he didn’t watch the magic ritual carefully…he can’t make the pasta stop and soon it overtakes the village. Strega Nona comes home to discover the mess and, after stopping the pasta, decides that Big Anthony needs to be punished.  Cut to him eating all that pasta…As a fan of logical consequences, I totally want to high five Strega Nona every time I read this. 

Besides winning and Caldecott and generally rocking pretty hardcore, this book has a fantastic story that will totally hold the attention of your friends.  It’s a longer read aloud (more pages and more text on each page), so that is important.  I always used this book during our Tomie dePaola author study – which I held off until later in the school year because of the length of many of his books.  Although, these books (there’s a bunch of Strega Nona stories) work well if you chop them up over a number of days too.  In addition to making a rockin’ character study, I also used Strega Nona and Big Anthony as character studies in my classroom.  Basically, I am a woman obsessed.  Join me.

At #43 is Tuesday by David Wiesner.  (Mr. Wiesner in all his fabulousness has already appeared at #58 on this list with the Caldecott award winning Flotsam  and again at #54 with The Three Pigs – another Caldecott winner.  Talk about rockstar.)  This book is new to me and I’m pretty pumped to check it out.


I am totally digging this book.  TOTALLY!  First of all, the illustrations are gorgeous with a capital AMAZING!  And although there is almost no text (really just specific times of day are given), the story is phenomenal.  One Tuesday night a bazillion frogs fly into a little town on lily pads…by people’s windows, through their laundry, over houses until they all leap off and away in the morning leaving only mysterious lily pads behind.  Then the NEXT Tuesday, we see the shadow of a flying pig…

SAY WHA?! What a great opportunity to do some oral story telling or even some shared writing with your class.  I think this book could work with such a wide range of grade levels – from sparking the imaginations of our littlest of small fries to encouraging some really creative shared story writing from our older friends (second, third, fourth graders…).  I’m sold.

And, last but certainly not least, is the very classic Curious George by H.A. Rey. Year after year, my friends LOVED these books.  LOVED.  They think George is hilarious and in first grade (or even in kindergarten) he makes a fab character study.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George, Anniversary Edition

I know most of you are pretty familiar with the Curious George stories, so I’ll spare you the lengthy summary.  Just know that this is the one where The Man with the Big Yellow Hat gets George from Africa and brings him home.  Some of the shenanigans he gets himself into include calling the fire department (when there is no fire), escaping from his subsequent jail time and floating high over the city while hanging on to a bunch of balloons.

I mean, this story comes in at a level G (according to this leveled book list which utilizes Fountas and Pinnell’s philosophy of leveling books) which makes it totally perf for first grade independent reading.  Or as a guided reading text.  It’s up to you.  Also, as a set of read alouds, the Curious George series makes for a nice easy starting point to encouraging your friends to make connections or look for patterns across texts. 

All right, my friends and fellow nerds in loving picture books with all our hearts, I think it might just be cocktail time.  Don’t forget the sunscreen!


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  • I taught 5th grade last year, and my kids loved Scaredy Squirrel! We also used Tuesday and created our own wordless sequel! It was great! Love your posts!

    July 24, 2010 at 7:01 pm
  • I just wanted to leave a comment saying that while I don't always respond to these book reviews, I very much enjoy reading them! The kids I will be teaching in the fall are a bit older (middle school) but I love seeing your take on some of these books and remembering some favorites from my childhood. I look forward to seeing what books are next!

    July 24, 2010 at 7:01 pm
  • Scaredy Squirrel is also a favorite of the bigger kids. I've used it with my 4th graders (and will use it with 5th graders this year). They love the illustrations and laugh at how "boring" Scardey Squirrel's life was before he became more "adventureous". I use it with writing — we talk about how sometimes it is definitely OKAY to break away from the norm and try something new. Tying that idea in with this cute book is one of my favorite lessons.

    July 24, 2010 at 7:01 pm
  • I'm am COMPLETELY obsessed with Strega Nona, and every year I manage to hook my kids and get them into the series. I own them all. One of the first things that instantly hooked me is that Strega Nona is from Calabria, as is my family.

    I use this series to teach my kids some Italian, which they love. I have never had a class that didn't love Strega Nona as much as I do.

    I even have a "magic pasta pot" (a black plastic caldron that I bought at Halloween) that I filled with a skein of white yarn, cut into 'spaghetti.' We love making it overflow when Big Anthony doesn't know the magic trick. So lisamuch fun!

    July 24, 2010 at 7:01 pm
  • Thanks for posting Plummy! Glad you are enjoying since this is all I seem to be able to post lately!!!

    Friends, I promise, once I get my Mini Mimi on a schedule (and you know how I heart a good schedule), more posts to come.

    July 24, 2010 at 7:13 pm
  • Strega Nona is one of my all time favorites also. If you've never heard the book on tape, listen to it and then BUY it! It's FABULOUS!

    July 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm

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