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May 1, 2015


The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster

To a little girl, the window in her grandparents’ home is magical.  From the outside, she can peek in and see her Nanna and Poppy in their kitchen with “all kinds of pictures from the olden days.”  From the inside, she can see the world – the neighbor’s dog in the garden, the pizza delivery guy, or perhaps even the Queen of England coming for tea.

Raschka won The Caldecott Medal for his playful illustrations full of bold colors and happy faces that seem to be the work of an incredibly talented child.  They fit perfectly with the narrator’s voice, artfully constructed by the great Norton Juster, author of my personal favorite,The Phantom Tollbooth.  Juster knows how children think, which makes this story sound as if a child really were writing it, rather than an adult’s interpretation of a child’s world.  Case in point: “When I get tired I come in and take my nap and nothing happens until I get up.”

The Hello, Goodbye Window reminds adults that children see magic in the mundane.  In my classroom, I read this book to young children and then began a conversation about what their own grandparents are like.  Do they play the harmonica like Poppy?  Do they make special meals like oatmeal with hidden raisins?  Sometimes I ask my students to sit by a window – at school or at home – and to draw what they see, whether or not other people can see it, too.  When they share their drawings, I am always transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen window, where sun catchers refracted light along the walls and tablecloth, and I found gold at the end of every rainbow.


On Earth by G. Brian Karas

Calling all future astronomers!  Do you know the difference between revolution and rotation?  Do you know why we have seasons?  Why the days are getting shorter?  G. Brian Karas’s poetic prose and cheerfully informative drawings will answer these questions and more.  On Earthdemonstrates how shadows are created, explains the change of seasons in each hemisphere, measures the lengths of days and years by the movement of the earth, and introduces the existence of gravity.  Did I mention it’s a 29-page picture book?

Although even the youngest readers will understand the On Earth’senchanting illustrations and diagrams, the science lessons presented are suitable for all elementary school children, as well as their parents.  Standardized science tests, such as the 5th Grade FCAT in Florida, often include multiple-choice questions about the implications of the Earth’s position relative to the sun.  This book offers early exposure to the sort of graphic representations kids will see on those standardized tests.

In Kindergarten classrooms, this book is a comprehensive science text that explains the big ideas I want my students to understand.  In the upper elementary grades, it is an engaging way to start a series of lessons about our Earth and Solar System.  I ask older children to create their own picture books to explain the Earth’s rotation (around its axis) and revolution (around the sun) that they can share with younger family and friends.  Then we pretend that we are the Earth, spinning and circling, making time pass with every movement, every lesson.

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Here is a little ode to an often beleaguered mark, the exclamation point.  Sure, it’s overused these days, particularly in text messages.  (OMG!!!  LOL!!!!!)  When I read it in an email, I feel like the sender is yelling at me.  As an editor, I tend to replace every exclamation point I see with a kinder, gentler period as a matter of style.  For this reason and others, I want to come out and publicly apologize to all those well-meaning marks.  It’s not their fault that they represent an inherent sense of urgency and excitement.  They’re the adrenaline junkies of the punctuation world.  They have a need to be big and bold.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld have put together a happy picture book that shares the coming-of-age and coming-to-terms story of the exclamation mark.  The little guy tries to fit in with a pack of periods, but he sticks out (literally) and feels out of place.  Then he meets a question mark, who loudly and proudly asks as she pleases, and the exclamation mark learns to be true to itself.  It was meant to make some noise, and it learns quickly to revel in this vocation.

Elementary teachers find this book to be the perfect introduction for using exclamation marks.  Students love the personification of punctuation and understand immediately that this mark has a special purpose.  The illustrations are so rudimentary that they’re easily mimicked by young readers who want to make their own stories about their favorite punctuation.  After reading the story, ask your child to tell the tale of the quotation marks who learn to share the spoken word or the comma, who sets aside the phrases that need their own space.  Even the littlest readers will understand that every mark has its purpose and is useful in its own way.  Without the exclamation, we would never be able to shout, “that was a great book!”

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