Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE HATSELLER AND THE MONKEYS

Author/Illustrator: Baba Wague Diakite
Publication Info: Scholastic Press, 1999
ISBN: 978-0590960694
Source: Library
Intended audience: ages 4 and up
Genre: picture book (fiction)
Themes/topics: folk tales, fables, Mali, monkeys, cleverness, tricksters
Opening and synopsis: ”BaMusa the hatseller was a joyful man. He traveled from town to town selling hats, which he piled high on his head.”
Eager to sell hats at the festival, BaMusa sets off without breakfast. Tired and hungry, he lies down for a nap, and clever monkeys steal his hats. BaMusa must figure out how to get them back.
Why I like this book: CAPS FOR SALE by Esphyr Slobodkina is a family favorite. I had no idea that its source was a folk tale that is told in many countries, including Mali. This is the same story set in Mali and illustrated with beautiful ceramic-tile paintings. I also appreciate that this telling of the story emphasizes that BaMusa had not eaten breakfast, so he didn’t have energy and couldn’t think clearly. He can only figure out what to do after he’s eaten. My favorite quote from the book is, “It is with a full stomach that one thinks best.”
  • Diakite includes and author’s note with the history of the folktale, as well as a list of other versions of this tale, including CAPS FOR SALE.
  • Reading to Kids has discussion ideas and a couple of craft suggestions, including making hats or drawing a picture of a saying your mom says.
  • A full lesson plan, including step-by-step hat-making instructions, are at Easy Literacy.
  • Children can learn more about Mali on National Geographic’s site.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.


Research: What I learned from LEGO League

For the past five weeks, I’ve been coaching my son’s Jr. FIRST LEGO League. At this level, students learn teamwork, research skills and how to use LEGOs as tools rather than toys. Our team is learning about cars from the 1950s. The boys (yes, they are all boys) must research how cars have changed from then to now before building a model. Last week we talked about where they might find information.

As a teacher and a nonfiction writer, I was reminded of how many places we can look for information. Here are some sources our came up with:

  • “We can Google it!” This was the first response I received. The internet offers so many sources, some credible and others not. I tend to prefer online databases I can access through the library or my university. GoogleScholar also provides access to scholarly publications.
  • Print materials. Cooper and I went this route, taking a trip to the library. While there, we talked about using the card catalog to look up books, or asking a librarian. He opted to go straight for the shelves, since he knows where the juvenile transportation books are shelved.
  • Interviews. Our group interviewed a senior citizen (my mom) about what cars were like when she was a child. Interviews are an often overlooked source of information for students and writers.
  • First-hand exploration. On the way home from the library, we passed a classic car show. I’m sad to say we didn’t have time to stop, since first-hand experience is a wonderful sources of research.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, I’d love to hear how you learn about your subjects.

Also, I’m not the only one writing about research this week. Check out the Teaching Authors blog for resources for writers of fiction and nonfiction.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Wall

Author/Illustrator: Peter Sis
Publication Info: Macmillan’s Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-374-34701-7
Source: Personal collection
Intended audience: ages 8 and up
Genre: picture book (nonfiction)
Themes/topics: world history, communism, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, Czechoslovakia, autobiography
Opening and synopsis: “As long as he could remember, he had loved to draw. At first he drew shapes. Then he drew people. After drawing whatever he wanted to at home, he drew what he was told at school.”
This multi-layered, picture-book autobiography recounts Peter Sis’s life growing up in communist Czechoslovakia. Sis writes the main narrative in simple sentences. However, he rings that simple narrative with drawings, captions, excerpts from his journals and historical timeline information.
Why I like this book: This book was a library-book-sale find. I lived in West Germany when The Wall crumbled, and so Sis’s story spoke to me. Later I found out this book is a Caldecott honor book and earned starred reviews upon publication. I definitely think this book is for upper elementary students. The topics of communism, the Cold War and the Iron Curtain are certainly too complex for young readers. However, this book would be a wonderful way to explore how children experienced communism first-hand.
  • A teacher’s guide is available here.
  • Multimedia resources including an author interview about the book are available on here.
  • The New York Times’s Learning Network has a number of Cold War resources.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers has several free lesson plans and other resources.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site

Happy 1st Anniversary Rate Your Story

Do you have a story to tell? Writing for children is a common dream, but how do you know if your story has what it takes in today’s competitive market? Enter Rate Your Story.

Rate Your Story is a free manuscript ranking service. Submit your story, and an RYS judge will rank it using a scale of 1 through 10, with one being the highest. The judges also provide general comments for improving your story, though this is not a line-by-line critique. The site does have links for fee-based critique services, as well as free critique group resources.

All RYS judges are recently published authors with editing/critique experience. RYS is always looking for volunteer judges.

I’ve submitted three manuscripts to this service. Typically, I submit to my critique group first, incorporate their feedback and then submit my work to RYS only when I feel it’s publication ready. I find it helpful to have feedback from someone who doesn’t know me (and whom I don’t know). My story has to stand on its own.

I highly recommend Rate Your Story. A big shout out to Miranda Paul who started this venture.

Egyptian mummy birthday

Frequent readers of this blog know about Finley’s love affair with Egyptian mummies. Ever since he saw his first mummy at the Getty Villa, he’s been obsessed. So, when it came time to celebrate his 4th birthday, we opted for an Egyptian mummy party.

He took these mummy cupcakes to school. We spread a thin layer of icing on the cupcakes, and then used a flat tip to apply the bandages. The eyes were mini M&Ms dotted with food-safe decorator markers.

Because I couldn’t find a lot of Egyptian decorations, I used my newly acquired Silhouette to print and cut the gift bags and banner. Most of the artwork came from, which has some adorable clip art. My mom used an online hieroglyphics translator to find out what the kids’ names would be in Egyptian. The gift bags included mummy pretzel sticks made from drizzled white chocolate and M&M eyes, as well as an Egyptian activity book and bookmark from Amazon.

We planned three games. The first was a chariot race. My mom made a pharaoh costume for Spider Man. He rode in the “chariot,” which was the trailer for our wagon outfitted with a harness (thanks to my husband and mom). We timed each child as he ran the course, with the fastest child winning. There was a catch — if King TutanSpidey fell out, the child had to stop and put him back in.

Just for fun, we let the children take turns wrapping each other with toilet paper to make mummies.

Finally, I downloaded The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” for a modified version of musical chairs. Instead of chairs, I printed out Egyptian clip art and glued it to card stock. The children had to scramble for squares instead of chairs. Those who were “out” got to walk like an Egyptian on the sidelines.

For the cake, we baked a sheet cake and covered it with icing and graham cracker “sand.” We cut graham crackers to make pyramids and then added a Nile river. We used LEGO Pharaoh’s Quest figures for decoration.

The birthday was a success!


Author: Bonnie Pryor
Publication Info: Enslow, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7660-3817-2
Source: Publisher-provided copy
Intended audience: grades 3 through 6
Genre: historical fiction, chapter book (160 Pages)
Themes/topics: American Revolution, pirates
Opening and synopsis: The third book in the Hannah Pritchard series finds Hannah (disguised as the ship’s cook, a boy named Jack) aboard a new ship and looking for buried treasure. But the crew isn’t the only one hunting for the treasure: American pirate Captain Cutter is searching too. Meanwhile Hannah’s crew, now part of the Continental navy, must watch out for the British in this Revolutionary War tale.
Why I like this book: Fiction is a wonderful way to learn about historical events and periods. Studies have shown that we often remember information better when it’s linked to a narrative. The Hannah Pritchard story is compelling, especially once the crew leaves Portsmouth and heads out to sea (Chapter 5). This book contains additional resources that illuminate the figures and events mentioned in the story and give sources for further reading. This helps young people separate fact from fiction, which is often difficult in not-so-well researched historical stories. Also, Hannah is a strong character and role model; she’s courageous, generous, and sticks to her principles.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: COUNT ON CULEBRA

Author: Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrator: Ethan Long
Publication Info: Holiday House, 2008
ISBN: 978-0823421244
Source: Library copy
Intended audience: ages 4 and up
Genre: picture book (fiction)
Themes/topics: Friendship, language learning
Opening and synopsis: ”Iguana stumbled on a stone.
‘OWWWWWWWWWWW!’ she cried.
Tortuga poked out of his shell. ‘What’s wrong?’”
Iguana stubs her toe on a rock. There is no way she can make her cactus butter candies now. But Culebra has a plan that will have her feeling better in no time. But the friends will need un rolling pin, dos kettles and much, much more.
Why I like this book: I normally feature nonfiction books on Perfect Picture Book Fridays. However, this series has become quite popular in our house, and this book is the hands-down favorite. My three-year-old thinks Culebra’s antics are hilarious. He loves to count along in Spanish too. I appreciate the fact that the Spanish words are woven seamlessly into the text. Children can decipher the meaning from the text itself, though a glossary is included.
  • Find Ann Whitford Paul’s classroom activities here.
  • The book itself has a recipe for dulces made with butter, peanut butter, graham crackers and powdered sugar. Yum!

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

I read banned books

In honor of Banned Books Week, I thought I would share some of my favorites from the list. Then I started reading through the lists. I could not believe how many classics have been banned or challenged. These are books I was fortunate to read in high school and college English and beyond. I’m talking about books like Zora Neal Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, Jack London’s THE CALL OF THE WILD, Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD….all banned or challenged at one time.

So, instead of listing my favorites, I thought I would look at the list of 97 banned or challenged classics and see how many I have NOT read. The answer: 8 books out of 97. I’ve read all other 89. I guess I should add THE SATANIC VERSES to my list.

If you prefer contemporary fiction, you can look at the most frequently challenged books of the 21st Century here. You will undoubtedly recognize several titles like TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES.

I challenge you to look through the lists this week and see how many banned books you’ve read. Maybe you’ll find a couple more to add to your “to read” list.