"It didn't matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home."
-Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land

Friday, January 30, 2015

Travel back to 1955 with Eloise

Thompson, Kay. 1955. Eloise. Ill. by Hilary Knight. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 067122350X

This book is the story of Eloise, a precocious 6 year old who lives in the penthouse of the Plaza Hotel.  She spends her days roaming through the hotel and creating mischief wherever she goes.  Her antics range from cute - pretending to talk to Mars through a paper cup while in the bathtub - to downright naughty - hitting the barber in the kneecap.  Eloise does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, more often than not annoying the adults around her.  While she interacts with numerous people in the hotel throughout the day, her one regular companion is her British nanny, Nanny.  The story is told from Eloise's perspective.  Kay Thompson neglects to use punctuation to end her sentences.  Therefore, the books is written as one long run-on sentence, giving the readers the impression that they are really listening to a rambunctious 6 year old speak.  

This year, Eloise celebrates its 60th anniversary.  It is widely considered a classic piece of children's literature.  Kay Thompson has created a book that has stood the test of time.  The style in which she writes really gives Eloise a strong voice and conveys what a big personality this little girl has.  While her choice of setting, the Plaza Hotel, may not be relatable to many children, the actions of Eloise are.  Without much adult supervision, she has the freedom to explore the hotel and give in to her impulses, which are usually quite inappropriate.  Young readers can relate to having those feelings of curiosity and also wanting to misbehave from time to time. 

Being that this book was written in 1955, there are many references in it that children today may not understand.  Nanny's use of a corset, the Switchboard Operators, the step to flush the toilet, and the red garters on her tutor are just a few examples.  The book has had some editing changes throughout the years, however, to make it more accessible for children.

Hilary Knight cleverly drew the illustrations in black and white, with pink being the only accent color.  For a little girl, the use of pink makes this book that much more appealing.  Additionally, he uses a lighter version of the pink to illustrate things that Eloise is imagining.  This helps the reader really get into Eloise's mind.  Knight clearly depicts the various emotions Eloise is experiencing on her face, as well as the frustration and exhaustion on Nanny's face and other adults who interact with Eloise.

This was the first time I had ever read Eloise, and I personally thought it was a really difficult book to read aloud, due to the fact that the sentences have no end marks.  It is much longer than the usual 32 page picture book, and I found myself losing interest the longer I read.  Also, I couldn't help but feel bad for Eloise throughout the entire book.  It doesn't seem like she has any friends her own age, and all the adults in the hotel only tolerate her because her mother knows the owner.  And where are her parents?  Her mother is always jet setting to some sophisticated location, and there is no mention of her father.  Her suitcase is always packed on the off chance that her mother will send for her; this all seems like a very lonely existence for a 6 year old.

However, my own 6 year old really enjoyed this book.  Her response to hearing it for the first time was, "I loved this book!  I liked that she kept putting different things on her head and pretending they were hats."  In fact, as I sat down to write my review, I couldn't locate the book.  My daughter had actually taken it and put it away on her book shelf!

#76 on School Library Journal's Top 100 Picture Books

From AMAZON.COM - "Eloise's exploits are non-stop, and - accordingly - the text uses nary a period.  Kay Thompson perfectly captures the way children speak: in endless sentences elongated with 'and then...and then...and then...'  Hilary Knight's drawings illustrate Eloise's braggadocio and amusement as well as the bewilderment of harassed hotel guests.  Eloise's taunts are terrible, her imagination inimitable, her pace positively perilous.  Her impertinence will delight readers of all ages."

From Edward I. Koch (former NYC mayor) - "Eloise is one of the more delightfully fiendish literary heroines of our time."

Read the subsequent books in the series.  Discuss the similarities and differences.
  • Thompson, Kay. Eloise in Paris. ISBN 0689827040
  • Thompson, Kay. Eloise at Christmastime. ISBN 0689830394
  • Thompson, Kay. Eloise in Moscow. ISBN 0689832117
  • Thompson, Kay. The Absolutely Essential Eloise. ISBN 0689827032
  • Thompson, Kay. Eloise's Guide to Life or How to Eat, Dress, Travel, Behave, and Stay Six Forever! ISBN 0689833105
  • Thompson, Kay. Eloise Takes a Bawth. ISBN 0689842880
Watch the 2003 movie "Eloise at the Plaza."  Discuss similarities and differences.

Have a discussion about proper behavior.  Give examples of how Eloise behaved inappropriately and what she could have done to behave better.

Imagine that you were able to explore a hotel all day.  Where would you go?  What would you do?

Talk about how things were different in 1955.  What did you notice in the book that doesn't happen anymore today?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Get ready to laugh with Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type


Cronin, Doreen. 2000. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN 0-439-21648-6

This is the story of Farmer Brown and the highly intelligent animals who live on his farm.  His cows have discovered a typewriter and begin to type letters to him, demanding they be given some electric blankets.  When Farmer Brown refuses, the cows go on strike and refuse to give milk.  The hens get involved and demand their own electric blankets.  Again, the farmer refuses, and subsequently, the hens go on strike, too.  Eventually the cows and Farmer Brown come to an agreement; he will give them and the hens electric blankets if they return the typewriter.  The story ends with the ducks, who are now in possession of the typewriter, typing a letter with their own demand - a diving board for the pond.  The last page is a simple illustration of a duck diving into the water from a diving board, leaving the reader to assume that not only did Farmer Brown acquiesce to their request, but his troubles are far from over.

The combination of Doreen Cronin's lighthearted text and Betsy Lewin's comic watercolor illustrations make this book a true gem.  The story begins in the midst of Farmer Brown's unusual problem; his cows like to type.  As Cronin points out, these cows only speak "moo."  But in a hilarious turn of events, the cows are somehow able to communicate in English with the farmer through the letters they type.  Rather than reacting in shock and awe that his cows know how to use a typewriter, Farmer Brown becomes furious that they would have the audacity to make such demands.  Cronin engages the readers and invites them to participate with her repetition of "Click, clack, moo.  Click, clack, moo.  Clickety, clack, moo."  She even adds humor the adults will appreciate, referring to Duck as a neutral party in this conflict between farmer and cows.  The themes of conflict resolution and compromise are woven into the story in a humorous way that even young readers can understand.

The illustrations in this book complement the storyline and add even more hilarity.  Lewin uses bright watercolors and paints the cows and hens with wide eyes, giving them a look of almost perpetual confusion.  The illustrations tell parts of the story that the text does not.  The cows and hens are depicted sleeping peacefully with their newly acquired electric blankets, letting the reader know how happy they are with the way things worked out.  The duck jumping off the diving board tells the readers what became of the request the ducks had made.  It also causes the reader to speculate that perhaps Farmer Brown will be receiving more letters in the future.   

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type has been a favorite of mine since I began my teaching career in 2001.  I used this book as a silly way to motivate my first grade students to write.  This is a picture of a poster I had hanging in my classroom.
 Now, my own children enjoy this book almost as much as I do.  We've read it together numerous times, and it never fails to cause lots of giggles!  My 6 year old daughter said, "I liked how the cows could type, and then at the end, instead of giving the typewriter to Farmer Brown, the ducks kept it for themselves!"  My 4 year old son liked "the part when the farmer got out his own typewriter.  It was funny at the end when the duck jumped in the pond!"

2001 Caldecott Honor Book

2007 National Education Association "Teachers' Top 100 Books For Children"

2012 School Library Journal "Top 100 Picture Books"

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Plucky barnyard denizens unite to improve their working conditions in this hilarious debut picture book from Cronin (appropriately enough, an attorney)...Lewin's bold, loose-lined watercolors set a light and easygoing mood that matches Farmer Brown's very funny predicament.  Kids and underdogs everywhere will cheer for the clever critters that calmly and politely stand up for their rights, while their human caretaker becomes more and more unglued."

From BOOKLIST - "Lewin's wild line-and-watercolor cartoons are perfectly suited to this barnyard farce about animals that go on strike to demand better working conditions."

From Esme Raji Codell, Bookbag Magazine - "This hilarious story with a surprise ending is a great tribute to fair play and the introduces the power of communication in a way that even the youngest listener will enjoy."

Read the subsequent books in this series.  Discuss the similarities and differences in each book.
  • Cronin, Doreen. Giggle, Giggle, Quack. ISBN 0-689-84506-5
  • Cronin, Doreen. Duck For President. ISBN 0-689-86377-2
Use this book as an introduction to persuasive letter writing.

Discuss personification - when an author makes an animal or object take on characteristics of people. How did the author use personification in this book?  Can you think of other books where personification was used?

Do a creative writing activity where students are asked to write about what their pets would say and ask for if they could talk.

The cows in this story get cold at night.  Discuss other ways they could keep themselves warm.

Draw a picture of the ducks' pond.  Add any other features (besides the diving board) that you think the ducks would like. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Take a swim with This Is Not My Hat


Klassen, Jon. 2012. This Is Not My Hat. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0-7636-5599-0.

This is the story of a small fish who steals a hat from a large fish. The small fish thinks he is sneaky and will be able to swim away and hide without the large fish realizing what happened. The large fish, however, is much more observant than he is given credit for. He subsequently follows the small fish and takes back his hat.

Jon Klassen has created an entertaining and memorable story. The story is told from the perspective of the small fish. He is an overly confident character who believes he will "probably" get away with his crime of stealing the large fish's hat. The small fish takes the reader on his journey of taking the hat and his ensuing escape through the ocean to the tall plants. Throughout the story, the small fish is oblivious to the fact that he is being pursued by the large fish. Klassen uses repetition in his narrative by using the word "probably" again and again. This proves to demonstrate the confidence of the small fish in his thieving abilities. In fact, if the reader only read the words and paid no attention to the illustrations, he/she would believe that the small fish was successful in his escape.

The true magic in this book is in the illustrations. The illustrations tell a completely different story than the narrative of the small fish. They depict the large fish awakening and realizing immediately that his hat is missing. He then takes off after the small fish and ultimately reclaims his hat. Klassen uses primarily blacks and grays as his main color scheme. The blue hat and red crab provide the only bursts of color, which I believe help demonstrate their importance. The blue hat is the object that was stolen, and the red crab points the large fish in the direction of the small fish (although the small fish believes the crab will not tell anyone where he went).

It is important to note that the last several pages of this book have only illustrations. The conclusion of the story is played out through the pictures, meaning the reader has to "read" the pictures in order to find out what happens. Klassen humorously ends his story with an illustration of the large fish wearing his tiny blue hat, looking extremely self-satisfied. The hat does indeed look ridiculous on him, and the reader comes to appreciate why the small fish took it in the first place. It also leaves the reader to wonder what became of the small fish?

Personally, I find this to be an exceptional book. I was first introduced to it several months ago when my first grader brought it home from her school's library. I really enjoyed reading the small fish's tale, while watching the large fish's own story play out. My children found this to be a hilarious book and were quick to explain what was happening in the pictures. They especially loved telling me what was happening at the end of the story, when there isn't any text. In response to this book, my 6 year old daughter said, "This book is so funny. Whatever the little fish says won't happen, ends up happening right away!" My 4 year old son's take on the book was, "I don't know why the fish took the hat, but it was really funny." This book has become a favorite in my house!

2013 Caldecott Medal

2014 Kate Greenaway Medal

Winner of Amazon Best Picture Books of 2012

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Klassen combines spare text and art to deliver no small measure of laughs in another darkly comic haberdashery whodunit...Hats off!

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Simplicity is key in both text and illustrations. The black underwater provides the perfect background for the mostly gray-toned fish and seaweed while the monochromatic palette strips the artwork down to essential, yet exquisite design. Movement is indicated with a trail of small white bubbles. This not-to-be-missed title will delight children again and again."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Klassen excels at using pictures to tell the parts of the story his unreliable narrators omit or evade."

Read I Want My Hat Back. Find similarities and differences between the two books.
  • Klassen, Jon. I Want My Hat Back. ISBN 0763655988 

Act out the story, with volunteers taking the parts of the small fish, the large fish, and the crab.

Have a discussion about what happened to the small fish. Did he get away? Was he eaten by the large fish?

Create captions or thought bubbles for the illustrations in the story.

Research different types of fish, and write a report on one.

Have a discussion about why it is wrong to steal. How does it make you feel?

Design a new hat for the small fish, so he won't need to steal another one. Think about what types of materials you would use.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Welcome to My Blog!

Hello!  Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  I will be using this blog to post my own personal reviews of children's literature from a variety of genres.  These reviews will correlate with my coursework at Texas Woman's University, where I am currently studying to become a Library Media Specialist.  I have a lot of experience with children's literature, between my 10 years teaching experience and reading daily to my two children.  I love to read and hope to inspire that same passion in my children and others!