Tag Archive for read aloud

A Home for Mr. Emerson

Written by Barbara Kerley
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

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Ralph Waldo Emerson loved his home in Concord, Massachusetts. Perhaps more than most people love a home. And yet, this book is not only about the home, but the man who lived there.

He was a little boy in Boston who wanted to go to the country and be outdoors. As a young man his family moved about a lot, but they did end up in the country. He collected books and friends. He married a woman who loved chickens and rosebushes.

Reading this biography feels like getting to know a good friend. The narration is smooth and inviting while also being full of quotes from Mr. Emerson’s writings.

The illustrations are large and draw the reader right into his office filled with books and papers and a favorite rocking chair.

Fire strikes late in the night when Mr. Emerson is sixty-nine years old. The whole town comes to help save books, papers, clothes and furniture. But it is his spirit that is hurt the most. Finally, weeks later his friends convince him to go away on a trip to rest and recover. Only while away in England and then Egypt he missed his favorite people and home more than ever. When he returned to the Concord train station the whole town was waiting to greet him. The biggest surprise was how beautifully the town had rebuilt and refurnished his beloved home.

Third grade readers will enjoy this well-told biography and learn their literacy skills of using primary sources when doing their own reports.  They will also see how possible it is to include read quotations in a new narrative.

Librarians and teachers can use this as a wonderful read aloud and satisfy the core curriculum in the areas of biography as well as American literature. Art teachers can use the variations in illustrations to highlight usage of color to distinguish distance as well as personal attributes showing emotion along with many other well done techniques.

This biography is a joy to read again and again. It is a well done transition from real life facts to real life story.  The great team work of Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham also created the books, What To Do About Alice? The Extraordinary Mark Twain, and Those Rebels, John & Tom. It is a very talented duo!

  • Home for Mr. EmersonTitle: A Home for Mr. Emerson
  • Author: Barbara Kerley
  • Illustrator: Edwin Fotheringham
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-35088-4
  • Genre: Biography, nonfiction, community
  • Level: Grades 3-7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, list of primary sources and source list for original quotations

Beautiful Ballerinas

Written by Elizabeth Dombey
Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

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Becoming a ballerina is the dream of many little girls and this book tells them exactly how to make it happen.

It is a charming combination of cartoon like watercolor paintings of little girls and boys inter-mixed with beautiful photographs of real ballerinas at practice and in performance.

The vocabulary of ballet is explained in text and illustrations. Readers are encouraged to try what they see in the pictures on their way to becoming ballerinas. There is a lengthy explanation of pointe shoes that includes their history, their manufacture, and the length of time that they last. Readers will be surprised to learn how many different pairs of pointe shoes a professional ballerina might go through in one year.

The history of the dance is told in the last section of the book.

The book has been designed and written for second grade readers and third grade readers in mind as well as the core curriculum. Children are interested in the arts and enjoy learning more about them.

It will be a wonderful read aloud for librarians, teachers, parents and ballet teachers, too.

  • Beautiful BallerinasTitle: Beautiful Ballerinas
  • Author: Elizabeth Dombey
  • Illustrator: Shelagh McNicholas
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap, January 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: paperback/unpaged
  • ISBN:  978-0-448-46714-6
  • Genre: narrative nonfiction
  • Grades: K to 3

Fortunately, the Milk

Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Skottie Young

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Middle grade readers will giggle all the way through this silly tale through time and space. Supposedly, all these adventures and time travelers happened to father on his way home from the store with the milk. The children wondered what took him so long.

It is a typical kind of story that parents often try to make up for children using what they see about the kitchen as far as labels or character ideas.

One child is quite skeptical about father’s adventure tale, but the daughter just hopes that somewhere in the story there will be ponies. So, of course, father puts in some ponies.

The one constant in the whole silly escapade is the bottle of milk carefully protected in father’s coat pocket.

Teachers and librarians will use it successfully for read aloud time.

The cartoon type pencil sketched drawings add greatly to the fun and silliness. It would be of particular interest to low readability/ high interest students. The many drawings and large amounts of dialogue make for a great deal of white space in the book that will help to encourage newly independent readers.

  • Fortunately the MilkTitle: Fortunately, the Milk
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Illustrator: Skottie Young
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover,128 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-06-222407-1
  • Genre: Humorous Fiction/ Science Fiction
  • Grade level: Third up

Anna Was Here

Written by Jane Kurtz

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Ten year old Anna Nickel is mad at her father for moving from Colorado back to Oakwood, Kansas to be a minister in a church that is having problems. There are lots of relatives here that Anna hasn’t ever had the chance to get to know before and she isn’t really anxious to meet them now.

Anna is also not happy about living in tornado alley. She is a very cautious young lady who always likes to be prepared. She has a safety club and keeps a notebook about things to do when a hurricane strikes or a rattlesnake bites you.

In this humorous coming of age story, a family that takes God’s teachings to heart must struggle with a new house, new town, new school and all the challenges that come with it. On top of all that, her mother goes away to take care of Anna’s grandparents. Leaving her alone for a while with her preacher dad and some relatives she has never met.

This story is great fun and exciting, too. Third grade students will love the short chapters and wide margins on the pages, as will fourth and fifth grade readers. It will be a great read aloud story or can be a wonderful book club book. Readers of Katherine Paterson’s books will love this one, too.

Literacy classes can find many skills to study and reinforce throughout these pages that are all seasoned with laughter.

  • Anna Was HereTitle: Anna Was Here
  • Author: Jane Kurtz
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-06-056493-3
  • Genre: Realistic fiction

The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

Written by Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrated by Abigail Halpin

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Dini, our young main character, is finally home from India and looking forward to spending time with her best friend Maddie. The book about her time there was called, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. Now, in the sequel, she is back in America but still a huge fan of Dolly Singh, the big star of Bollywood in India. So she goes completely wild about helping arrange a trip and tour for Dolly in America. Who could imagine all the problems involved with a lost passport? An escaped elephant? Finding a good rose petal milk shake in an American hotel?

Dini is confused by all the changes that happened while she is away. Like her best friend, getting another best friend. How is that supposed to work? She is also confused by jet lag.

This is a fun story about girlfriends trying their best to get along and make a parade, a milk shake and a cake for their favorite movie star. They also work out a dance routine for her grand opening that uses flowing ribbons and swaying dance steps. It illustrates their background as East Asian Americans and the beautiful blend of cultures that they experience.

It would make a great book club or read aloud for third graders. The literacy skills strengthened include: humor, cause and effect, dialogue and the differences between things that are real and those that are fiction. As Dini finds out, life is not always like the movies.

  • Slightly HeroicTitle: The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic
  • Author: Uma Krishnaswami
  • Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
  • Publisher: Atheneum, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Harcover, 274 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-2328-2
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade Level 3

Halloween Sleepwalker

Written by Thomas Freese
Illustrated by Fran Riddell

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On Halloween night, Shelby Sherman Sanford and his family chat about what spooks them the most. His mom hates ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns creep out his dad, and his older sister never wants to meet a real witch. But Shelby, who is only eight, feels brave. Nothing scares him – he’d walk outside in the middle of the night if he could. After his parents put him to bed, he has a dream so vivid that it feels like he is walking alone through the cornfields near his home. He stumbles upon five witches waiting for him. The youngest gives him an enchanted apple and dares him to take a bite. When he does, he gains a “second sight” and can see the spirit world.
He glanced down at the cauldron and saw the spirits of the potion, reaching out with ghastly green hands, wanting to escape from the bubbling brew.

Ghosts fly about and the dead reach for him from their graves. The oldest witch sticks Shelby on her broomstick and he goes on a wild ride before crash-landing into a pile of leaves. He runs home, covered in bits of straw and twigs. When Shelby wakes in the morning, he shares his weird dream with his family. His sister notices the twigs stuck to his pajamas. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all…

This spooky tale with its Twilight Zone-like ending is gentle enough for third graders to enjoy and could work as a classroom read aloud. Freese’s writing style is that of a good-natured, sit-around-the-campfire storyteller, and potentially scary images are tempered by Riddell’s folksy artwork – a mix of cartooning and scrapbook paper cutouts.


  • Halloween SleepwalkerTitle: Halloween Sleepwalker
  • Author: Thomas Freese
  • Illustrator: Fran Riddell
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4399-5
  • Genre: Picture Book / Fiction

Pizza in Pienza

Written and Illustrated by Susan Fillion

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A young Italian girl professes her love for pizza in this bilingual (English/Italian) picture book. Told through a series of paintings, readers are introduced to the girl’s hometown of Pienza, where life is simple and sometimes old-fashioned, but everybody knows each other, and the constants are comforting: extended family, large midday meals, and, of course, pizza.

I love to eat pizza anywhere, anytime.
Even when it rains, I eat it walking in the street.

Whether cooked in a hot brick oven at her favorite restaurant, or made from scratch in her grandmother’s kitchen, the young girl thinks about pizza so much that she goes to the library to learn more. Here, Fillion offers readers a simple history lesson, easily digestible for a third grade audience.

Ancient Greeks and Italians ate flatbreads with onions, herbs, and honey.
…But pizza as we know it was really born in Naples Italy.

This book would work well as a classroom read aloud, as there are many opportunities to engage students in discussions about food, languages, and culture. Children of all ages will gravitate to Fillion’s illustrations, painted in acrylic with rich, warm colors. She has a sense of humor, too – look for surreptitious slices of pizza popping up in portraits of the Mona Lisa and World War II soldiers, among others. Back pages include an Italian pronunciation guide, a “Brief History of Pizza” (designed for parents, teachers, or upper elementary grades to dig in to), as well as a recipe for Pizza Margherita – a tasty finish.


  • PizzaTitle: Pizza in Pienza
  • Author/Illustrator: Susan Fillion
  • Publisher: David R. Godine, 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56792-459-6
  • Genre: Picture Book, nonfiction, history, food

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso

Written by Jonah Winter

Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

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This biography of the first modern artist is designed for third grade readers and fourth grade readers and is a beautifully full-colored picture book illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. It tells the story of his life in a chronological manner. When he was in school, he worked faster and better than any of his classmates. He was very good at painting landscapes but became quickly bored and wanted to try something new.

He had a blue period and a rose colored period, but he always felt the need to move on and experiment with new subjects and techniques in the world of fine art.

This is the story of a true creative spirit. As soon as Picasso had mastered one technique, he moved on to something newer and more exciting. Some of his ideas came from visiting other museums, like the time he saw masks in an African display and went home to create a painting of various faces that looked like masks taken apart and rearranged in wild new ways.

Many of Picasso’s actual works are shown in this pictures of this book so students will be able to recognize them at other times and places.

Pablo studied and worked in both Spain and Paris. Sometimes the critics didn’t like his work or his new ideas. It hurt his feelings, but he went on painting true to his heart.

This book would be a great read aloud for any elementary or middle grade students. It should be included in any study of art comprehension. Literacy skills like sequencing, part to whole, picture clues and reading for details can be strengthened by using this book in a small or large group setting.

Children who need to have confidence in themselves and their ideas bolstered will find that kind of support in this story. Hopefully, it will help them keep their curiosity and creativity bursting through with unbounded energy.

Extras: This book contains pictures of Picasso’s work and in the back lists the names of the paintings, as well as in what Art Museums around the world they can be found.

  • Pablo PicassoTitle: Just Behave, Pablo Picasso!
  • Author: Jonah Winter
  • Illustrator: Kevin Hawkes
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-13291-6
  • Genre:  biography, nonfiction
  • Lexile: NA
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