Thursday, April 20, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – THUNDER BOY JR. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

Have you ever thought about having a different name? Why is your name just right for you? I really liked the way the character in this book took time to think about his name.

Summary from the publisher:

Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal that's all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn't want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name...Lightning! Their love will be loud and bright, and together they will light up the sky.

Thunder Boy Jr. was written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. It was published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company.


“Hello, my name is Thunder Boy. Thunder Boy Smith. That’s my real name.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

There is a strong voice in this book, since it’s written as though the main character is talking to the reader. I really loved all the fun possibilities the main character comes up with for choosing a new name. This is another good example of a story with different layers and an important message about being yourself.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book would a great addition to a classroom and school library collection. Not only does it reflect the perspective from a native American culture, it also shows a strong relationship between a son and his father. I would be so great to read early in the school year when students are getting to know each other and learning about each other’s names. I love the line: “I want a name that sounds like me.” Discussing all the possibilities for a new name would provide lots of opportunities for students to talk about some of their accomplishments and experiences.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: family, names, sense of self  


List at least five experiences you are proud of. What names could you make up for yourself?

Choose an important adult in your life. What things do you love about him or her? In what ways do you want to be different?

Here’s the book trailer:

Sherman Alexie discusses the book:

Monday, April 17, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT by Linda Oatman High

If you're looking for a book to help cope with feelings of sadness or grief, this might be a good choice. I like animal stories, and I really liked the chance to think about a situation from the perspective of an elephant.

a story about a girl and and elephant finding their way through grief togetherDescription from the publisher:

A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.

Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.

One Amazing Elephant was written by Linda Oatman High and published by HarperCollins in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a touching, emotional story of a girl making friends with an elephant and learning to love each other in the face of their fears and sadness. I didn’t expect part of the story to be told from the elephant’s perspective, and it took me a little while to get used to it, but I thought it was an interesting way to tell the story. I feel so sad for Lily, having to cope with her grandfather’s death as well as the way her mother treated her. Along with Queenie Grace, I really liked Lily’s new friend Henry Jack, who stuck by her side when she needed someone.

“Don’t worry,” says my new friend, and his voice is like a warm, fuzzy blanket thrown over me when its cold.”

If you’re a writer… 

This is an interesting book to study if you’re considering writing from the perspective of an animal. The story is told using a first person point of view in present tense, which brings a feeling of immediacy to the story events. I admired the way the author created so much emotion though the rhythm of the language.

“I run and run, tears gushing down my cheeks, through the empty and quiet trailer park, not caring what anybody thinks or says or does.”

If you’re a teacher…

There are possibilities for class discussions about animal cruelty, animal emotions and how humans care for animals would capture student interest. This book might pair nicely with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, another story written from an animal perspective.

Opening line:

“I’m finally riding the elephant, my grandpa Bill’s circus elephant, Queenie Grace, and it feels kind of like I’m riding the universe.”

Other info:

In an interview with Kathy Temean, Linda talks about the novel:
“It is my hope that ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT not only raises awareness about the plight of elephants not as lucky as Queenie Grace, but that it helps readers to get inside an elephant’s head.”

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – ARE WE THERE YET? by Dan Santat

A great choice if you're interested in interactive picture books. Or wanting something to read on a long car trip!

Summary from the publisher:

"Are we there yet?" Every parent has heard this classic kid question on a long car ride--and after reading this astonishingly inventive new book (that even turns upside down for several pages!), you'll never look at being bored the same way again.

Let's face it: everyone knows that car rides can be boring. And when things get boring, time slows down. In this book, a boy feels time slowing down so much that it starts going backward--into the time of pirates! Of princesses! Of dinosaurs! The boy was just trying to get to his grandmother's birthday party, but instead he's traveling through Ancient Egypt and rubbing shoulders with Ben Franklin. When time flies, who knows where--or when--he'll end up.

Are We There Yet? was written by and illustrated by Dan Santat. It was published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company.


“The car trip to visit Grandma is always exciting! But after the first hour, it can feel like an eternity.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Dan Santat has taken the classic “joke” of a long car trip and turned it into an entertaining story. I loved the expressions on the character’s faces and the interactive element of turning the book to “go back in time” is so clever! The detailed illustrations invite the reader to take their time and the comic book style frames with speech bubbles were so cool! I also really liked the deeper layer of meaning that is hinted at: “And you never know where life may take you…”

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

It would be fun to talk about the different time periods shown in this story. This book could also be used as a starting point for discussing different modes of transportation. An interesting project might be to look at a few of the different books Dan Santat has illustrated to study his illustration style.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: family, imagination, car trips,


If you were in the car on the way to Grandma’s house, what “side trip” would your imagination take you on. Draw a picture to show where you’d travel.

Create a paper book with a few pages and try to recreate the cool reversal that happens in this story to see how it works. Use arrows to show where the story goes.

What is your favorite scene from the story? Explain why.

Check out this fun book trailer: