Category Archives: Nan Recommends

Little starlings and little darlings

It’s late November, and during my Thanksgiving travel I was entertained by flocks of starlings swooping and soaring as they migrated. This flock motion is called murmuration. Today I mentioned it to my Kindergarten library class, and was delighted to hear that a few of the students recently had seen the same phenomenon. We talked about the word, “murmuration,” and how its meaning differs from two other big seasonal terms, migration and hibernation. I read the picture book, Calvin Can’t Fly: the Story of a Bookworm Birdie, by Jennifer Berne and Keith Bendis. In the story, Calvin is a little starling who prefers reading to flying lessons. When the time comes to migrate, Calvin cannot fly, so his extended family attaches tethers to him, prepared to carry him along. Calvin’s extended periods in the library pay off when he understands that the flock is in danger from a hurricane, and that they must seek shelter. All’s well that ends well, and in Calvin’s case, his joy causes him to jump about, flapping his little wings, until he surprises himself — and his family — by flying. The Kindergartners loved the story (little darlings); I hope they will remember the concept of murmuration. Go from fiction to nonfiction with this 6-minute video of starling murmuration in Scotland, by Cameron Presentations, with music by Gerry Clark.

Murmuration from Cameron Presentations on Vimeo.


Adventures in weeding, Fall 2017

An important part of curating a great school library is the regular weeding of outdated or unused items. This morning while weeding the 600’s (applied sciences in the Dewey classification), I came across a fifty-year old title, Man the Maker: a First History of Tools and Machines, by Anne Jolliffe. (Hawthorn Books, 1967). Although dated by gender stereotypes and its depiction of 1960’s computer technology, I like the book’s mod illustrations and topic. Anne Jolliffe is a trailblazing female animator from Australia who was the talented force behind the animation of Jeremy Hillary Boob in Yellow Submarine, the animated Beatles movie. She also was instrumental in creating the psychedelic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sequence in that film.  By the way, I decided to remove the book from the circulating collection, relocating it to my office.

bottom right: Jeremy Hillary Boob, from Yellow Submarine

Thinking about Jolliffe’s achievements reminds me of a new gem of a book about another animator, Mary Blair (1911-1978). Blair, like Joliffe, incorporated unconventional color combinations and styles. Blair worked for many years for Walt Disney Studios, overcoming gender bias in a male-dominated workplace. One of her most lasting designs is the “It’s a Small World” ride, introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair, and enjoyed by millions of visitors to Disney parks. Pocket Full of Colors, by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager, tells Mary’s story.

Ten Picture Books About Taking (Good) Risks

It’s time for the annual #pb10for10 Google Community to share favorite picture books. This time around I have highlighted books that feature characters challenged by their own fear or reluctance to take a risk. The risks include trying new food, taking on a physical challenge, or risking engineering failure on the way to ultimate success. Enjoy these books and add to the list through comments! Scroll over the book covers for brief captions. These books are available through or your favorite independent booksellers. I have included a bonus title: The OK Book, which I have used in a Makerspace activity with Kindergartners, reminds us that there are plenty of things we are “OK” at — the kids remembered trying the monkey bars and other “firsts” that they risked trying and continue to perfect.

What’s the big idea?

I have created a special display of picture books about people who, sparked by imagination or insatiable curiosity, had big ideas they developed in order to help others. As I explained to our students, big ideas can come from observing nature or from identifying a community need. Big ideas can lead to social justice, new realms of study, artistic breakthroughs, and even new kinds of toys. Here are a few of my favorites. Scroll over the images for captions. These books are available through your local independent bookseller or several online sources.

World Elephant Day

Today is #WorldElephantDay! Celebrate with these books, available in the CHS Library. I can’t recommend Babar, even though it is considered a classic by many. (First, him mom is killed by an elephant hunter. Themes of colonialism, assimilation and power abound, along with other negative stereotypes. Use with caution and a great deal of discussion!)


Little Charmers, Revisited

bracelet copyI think it’s time to update this post from 2009 with some new additions. Enjoy these short novels with your children! April 2016

Are you looking for a read-aloud that won’t take months to read to your child? In this post I recommend what I call “little charmers,” gentle stories told in 120 pages or less. These are not raucous or irreverent adventure stories; rather, they are the kinds of books grandparents will enjoy reading to their grandchildren. In fact, a couple of the selections may be older than some of our CHS grandparents! The plots are linear and the characters are allowed to develop and grow, in spite of the shortness of the books. Rich vocabulary combined with simple illustrations make these great read-alouds for bedtime.

BuriedBonesMysteryThe Buried Bones Mystery (Vol. 1 of the Clubhouse Mysteries) by Sharon M. Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson). Here is a great introduction to chapter book mysteries, written by a five-time Coretta Scott King award winner. Ziggy and his friends Rico, Rashawn, and Jerome dig a hole in Ziggy’s yard to bury their secret treasures. When the boys try to hide their treasures, however, they uncover a box of bones and are swept up in a mystery — who could have buried that box of bones behind their clubhouse?

FortunatelyFortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young. What should be a quick errand for a loving, responsible father — running out to get some milk for his children’s breakfast cereal — turns into a series of outrageous events that he describes to the children upon his return. CHS First grade teacher Mrs. Crain also enjoys this rollicking tall tale.

LuluLulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith. This nifty cautionary tale begins when Lulu, a spoiled child accustomed to getting her way, has a tantrum because her parents will not allow her to have a Brontosaurus as a pet. Lulu undertakes a search for one anyway, not knowing that the Brontosaurus she finds wants her for a pet, as well!

TheStormThe Storm (Vol. 1 of the Lighthouse Family series), by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Preston McDaniels. Pandora the cat and Sebold the dog both live in isolation, she in a lighthouse, he on his boat at sea. A storm brings the two together, and eventually they learn that families can come in many different configurations. This is one of my new favorites!

whippingboyThe Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sis. This Newberry Medal winner is full of adventure and mistaken identity as spoiled Prince Brat and his whipping boy Jemmy, who appear to have nothing in common, are abducted and learn to empathize and appreciate each other.

catwingsCatwings, by Ursula LeGuin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Four young cats born with wings leave their dangerous alley in the city in search of a safe place to live. They encounter dangers in the countryside, as well, but finally meet two children with kind hands. This little book is the first volume in the Catwings series.

dragonMy Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett and Ruth C. Gannett. Mother and daughter combined talents to create this first volume of a delightful trilogy. A young boy determines to rescue a poor baby dragon who is being used by a group of lazy wild animals to ferry them across the river on Wild Island. Many children enjoy looking at the frontispiece map throughout the story.

cricketwinterCricket Winter, by Felice Holman, illustrated by Robyn Thomas. A little boy exchanges Morse code messages with the cricket that lives in his house and together they trap the rat that has been plaguing the boy’s father and the cricket’s friends.

batpoetThe Bat-Poet, by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. A bat who can’t sleep days makes up poems about the woodland creatures he now perceives for the first time. This slender volume may inspire young poets to write poems based on their own observations.

abelAbel’s Island, by William Steig. Castaway on an uninhabited island, Abel, a very civilized mouse, finds his resourcefulness and endurance tested to the limit as he struggles to survive and return to his home.

jennycatJenny and the Cat Club, by Esther Holden Averill. First published in 1944, this book introduces readers to Jenny Linsky, a black cat who lives in New York City, and her adventures with the neighborhood cats who belong to the Cat Club.

sarahplainSarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlin. When their father invites a mail-order bride to come to live with them in their prairie home, Caleb and Anna are captivated by her and hope that she will stay. Winner of the Newberry Medal.

keycollectThe Key Collection, by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Yangshook Choi. A ten-year-old boy in the Midwest misses his Chinese grandmother, who always lived next door until her health caused her to move. Currently out of print, this book is available from used book dealers and the CHS library.

fireworkThe Firework-Maker’s Daughter, by Phillip Pullman, illustrated by S. Saelig Gallagher. In a country far to the east, Chulak and his talking white elephant Hamlet help Lila seek the Royal Sulphur from the sacred volcano so that she can become a master maker of fireworks like her father. The author of the complex and challenging “His Dark Materials” trilogy wrote this short gem of a quest story for young listeners.

jackplankJack Plank Tells Tales, by Natalie Babbitt. When a pirate ship falls on hard times, Jack Plank is let go because he is not very good at plundering. He moves into a boarding house and begins to look for work. Unfortunately, Jack is not well suited to be a farmer, baker, fortune-teller, fisherman, barber, goldsmith, actor, or musician, each for a different reason. Jack’s efforts to find his calling, and his explanations to the other boarders, make for a very engaging read-aloud. (At 128 pages, this book exceeds my original 120-page limit, but it’s too good to miss!)

You Go, Girl! True Stories to Inspire Everyone


On the heels of the previous post, here is another “10 for 10” list. Here is a list of ten books I enjoy sharing with my students. They may be used for a Girl Power book club, but they are not just for girls!  These talented, resourceful girls pursued their dreams, perhaps despite overwhelming challenges.


Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark; illustrated by April Chu. This new book describes how Ada, fascinated by mathematical calculation and inventions as a young girl, defied stereotypes of her time to design an early computer and complex algorithms for it. The work she did in the 1840’s involved breaking down complex mathematical problems into a series of simple steps — programming techniques still used today.

Drum Dream Girl

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  This winner of the Pura Belpre Award tells the story of how a Chinese-African-Cuban girl named Millo Castro Zaldarriaga broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers in the 1930’s. The rhythmic text pairs well with the topic of a young percussionist.

Stone Girl, Bone Girl

Stone Girl, Bone Girl: the Story of Mary Anning by Laurence Anholt; illustrated by Sheila Moxley. Here is the story of the girl who discovered important fossils of dinosaurs in early 19th century England. Mary became the inspiration for the familiar tongue-twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore.”

nf2kateshelleyKate Shelley: Bound for Legend by Robert D. San Souci; illustrated by Max Ginsburg. This book tells the story of how a brave teenager made a terrifying trek through a storm in 1881 to inform train station agents that the railroad bridge downstream was washed out and men from an earlier train were trapped in the raging river. Her brave actions saved the men and diverted disaster.

nf2soniaSonia Sotomayer: a Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter; illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. Bilingual texts tell the story of the girl who dreamed of becoming a judge. Her intelligence and hard work eventually led her to the Supreme Court of the United States, where she became the first Latin American justice.

nf2firebirdFirebird by Misty Copeland; illustrated by Christopher Myers. This poetic story of inspiration may encourage other girls to follow their own dreams. An author’s note provides further information of how Misty Copeland worked hard, following her own dream to be a successful ballerina. Beyond the story: In 2015 Copeland became the first African-American woman to be promoted to Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theatre.

nf2mejaneMe…Jane by Patrick McDonnell. This simple biography of Jane Goodall focuses on the naturalist’s childhood, when she dreamed of “a life living with, and helping, all animals.” Author’s notes take readers beyond the story to information about Goodall’s continuing story as founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

nf2rubyThe Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles; illustrated by George Ford. First graders love this story of the brave six-year-old girl who became the first African-American child to enter an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. This is a fine example of a book that shows students that children can help change the world.

nf2wilmaWilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by David Diaz. This is the story of a young woman who was so determined to overcome a polio-inflicted disability that she became a runner and won three gold medals in the 1960 summer Olympic games. The bright illustrations stand out against sepia-toned photo backgrounds.

nf2malalaMalala: a Brave Girl from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter. Here is the story of Malala Yousafzai, who, at age eleven, began speaking out against the Taliban’s oppressive policies regarding educating females. Despite being shot, Malala continued her activism She is the recipient of many humanitarian awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, of which she is the youngest-ever winner.

Upcoming Author Visit: Susan L. Roth

Self-portrait collage by Susan L. Roth

I am looking forward to a visit from author/illustrator Susan L. Roth as a highlight of Concord Hill School’s 50th birthday celebration! Susan is an award-winning collage artist whose works are beloved by students and teachers worldwide. She will join us on Saturday, October 3rd, offering two collage demonstrations followed by book-signings.

Coincidentally, as we celebrate 50 years of Concord Hill, Susan is celebrating publication of her 50th book! Another fascinating tidbit: Susan was born on a Leap Year day, so technically she has not had very many of her own birthdays; I’m delighted to share ours with her! Her books been honored around the world, including:

  • Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books (co-author Karen Leggett Abouraya) won the 2013 Arab American Book Award for Children.
  • Parrots Over Puerto Rico (co-author Cindy Trumbore) won the prestigious 2014 Robert F. Siegel Medal for Most Distinguished Informational Book for Children.
  • The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families (co-author Cindy Trumbore) won the 2012 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. This award, given by the Jane Addams Peace Association, is given annually to the children’s book that effectively promotes the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races. This book also was an ALA (American Library Association) Notable Children’s Book in 2012.
  • Hard Hat Area was a Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club selection and was named a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Book.
  • The Great Ball Game (co-author Joseph Bruchac) was a Junior Library Guild selection, and it also won a Maryland Black Eyed Susan Picture Book Award for its depiction of a Native American legend about animals and lacrosse.
  • Listen to the Wind: the Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea was a #1 New York Times bestseller.
  • Leon’s Story (co-author Leon Walter Tillage) won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Nonfiction.
  • Made in Mexico (co-author Peter Laufer) was a National Council for Social Studies / Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People in 2001.
  • The Biggest Frog in Australia won an Aesop Accolade from the American Folklore Society in 1996.ParrotsOverPRI will be highlighting Susan’s books and collage technique during library classes leading up to her visit. For more information about Susan and her books, see her website.

Ten Great Picture Books for Young Makers

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Picture Book 10 for 10 Google+ Community #pb10for10

As back-to-school day approaches, I am looking forward to sharing picture books and maker activities with the students at Concord Hill School. First, however, I am happy to be part of the Picture Book 10 for 10 Google+ community, which highlights members’ lists of favorite picture books on the 10th of August.

Over the past year I have seen first-hand how picture books can inspire young makers in our school Makerspace to invent, build, and create, both individually and collaboratively . When choosing picture books to match with maker activities, I consider these questions:

  • Does the book inspire student imagination?
  • Can I design an age-appropriate, fun maker activity for this story?
  • Can this story and maker project extend the classroom learning?
  • How much time do we need for this activity? Is one class period enough? If not, where can we store works in progress?
  • What materials are required? (I use recycled items whenever possible.)
  • Do the story and activity support our school’s mission, in terms of character development, diversity, ecology, collaboration, etc.?

Here are ten of my top recommendations. Clicking on the book image will take you to its page.

  1. The Most Magnificent Thing (AshSummerReading02ley Spires) While this picture book may be used to launch just about any maker activity, I found it particularly applicable to the Makey Makey projects that our 3rd graders undertook. They invented musical instruments and games that relied on an understanding of conductivity and Scratch programming.
  2. Rosie Revere, Engineer (Andrea Beaty & David Roberts). Another wonderful picture book that promotes perseverance in the face of perceived failure — in this case a “first flop” that RosieRosie learns is not a global failure of her ideas. In preparing for the Global Cardboard Challenge, many of our students did encounter a first flop in the design or fabrication of their cardboard arcade games, but inspired by Rosie, they persevered and triumphed.
  3. If I Built a Car (Chris Van Dusen). This popular picture book, with its vivid illustrations, inspires the imaginations of young students who are asked, IfIBuiltACar“what would YOUR dream car look like?” Three- and four-year old children made balloon powered cars to race around the library. (Children selected materials, cut masking tape, and threaded bamboo skewers through plastic drinking straws for axles. The Librarian helped push the axles through plastic bottle cap wheels.)
  4. The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge (Hildegarde Swift & Lynd Ward). Generations of children have enjoyed this story of an anthropomorphic Lighthouse1lighthouse that learns that being small can be just as important as being big. In a Makerspace activity connected to their classroom exploration of city sights,  Kindergartners collaborate using Cubelets and a red Solo cup to make a working little red lighthouse. Older students can make a more complex lighthouse using littleBits component
  5. Galimoto (Karen Lynn Williams & Catherine Stock). In this story a young boy scrounges and trades for pieces of loose wire so he can make a galimoto. GalimotoAfter hearing and discussing the book, Kindergarten students used different kinds of wire and washers to make their own toys. This is the first of several “loose parts” activities in which students create objects using wires, corks, drinking straws, and other items.
  6. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia.  (Miranda Paul & Elizabeth Zunon). This is the true story of Isatou Ceesay, who realized discarded plastic bags were OnePlasticBagkilling village goats and contributing to local pollution and disease. Her solution? Cut the bags into strips and use them to crochet wallets and purses to sell. Second- and third-grade girls’ “Eco-friends” group recycled discarded plastic bags to make woven (rather than crocheted) door mats for the school playhouse and other locations.
  7. The Little Squeegy Bug (Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson).SqueegyBug2 This little bug wants a stinger in its tail like the bee has, and undertakes a quest to find one. Along the way, the little bug makes friends and ultimately gets something different and uniquely his own. Students created take-home squeegy bugs from loose parts. I keep loose parts in Tinker Trays, and the children love combining them. The loose parts include corks, different types of wire, washers, glue sticks, craft sticks, plastic straws with connectors (Strawbees), and round glass pebbles.
  8. Leaf Man (Lois Ehlert). TLeafManhis is a staple of my fall library classes. Children enjoy finding animals and landforms in this book of leaf collages. After hearing and discussing Leaf Man, three-year olds collected leaves and seed pods on a nature walk, then created their own collages in the Makerspace using paper, glue, and a great deal of imagination..
  9. Boy + Bot (Ame Dyckman & Dan Yaccarino) During National Robotics Week Boy+Botin early April, we highlighted fiction and nonfiction books about robots. Third graders learned about simple and parallel circuits and made 2D paper circuit robots with LED eyes that illuminate when the parallel circuit is closed.
  10. Roller Coaster (Marla Frazee). Oh, the anticipation! The excitement! And then, we’re off — climbing up, up, up, then zooming down and around, hearts in throats. Follow the story by creating marble runs. Store-bought or home-made, these activities are RollerCoasterenticing and impart a bit of physics. Materials may include cardboard tubes with tape, pool noodles, blocks and ramps, marbles, and ping pong balls. Open-ended activities such as this allow the students to be the designers and inventors.If using a store-bought kit, hide the instructions!


For additional ideas for picture book-related Makerspace projects, see my ISTE2015 presentation documentation, Pairing Picture Books with Maker Activities.