BER Online Learning for Educators

Five New Children's Books Your Students Will Love

Judy Freeman is a BER presenter, nationally recognized children’s book expert, librarian and author. Every year, Judy selects her top 100+ new children’s books out of the 2,000+ books she’s read over the year, and compiles them into a seminar for BER called What's New in Children's Literature and Strategies for Using It in Your Program (Grades K-6).

For this blog post, Judy has selected five standout titles every K-6 teacher and librarian will want to know, all having to do with the school experience. For each entry, Judy shares a detailed review and description of the book, as well as a “Germ” – a brief, do-able idea or activity that you can try with your kids and grow or “germinate” as you see fit.

Happy reading!

School’s First Day of School. Rex, Adam. Illus. by Christian Robinson. Roaring Brook, 2016. {ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-964-1; 32p.} E (Gr. PreK-2) RL: 2.9   

Surely you’ve read plenty of books about kids and even teachers who are nervous about the first day of school. In an unusual and whimsical twist,   in School's First Day of School  it’s a newly built school building, named Frederick Douglas Elementary, that is apprehensive about all those children taking over its space. The rectangular brick structure sports big windows, a blue door, and front steps that curve into a smile, anthropomorphizing the building into a friendly looking face and place. The school makes friends with Janitor who mops and buffs the floors and washes its windows. As Janitor tells the school, “Won’t be just us for long. Soon the teachers will come and then you’ll be filled with children.” The next day, a multicultural mix of children arrives on foot, by bus, by bike, and even on skateboard. They open and close the school’s doors and lockers, drink from his water fountains, and play on his playground. Over by the back fence, a few bored naysayers gather. “This place stinks,” says one and another adds, “I hate school.” This makes the school gasp and sag a little. An obstreperous little girl with freckles has to be carried into the building by her mother. “I must be awful,” the school whispers. He watches the kindergarten kids telling their names to their teacher, and the same little girl whispers, “I don’t like school.” “Maybe it doesn’t like you either,” the school thinks. When the fire alarm goes off and the children must exit the building, the school feels embarrassed. Fortunately, the rest of the day goes more smoothly, even for the little girl who draws a portrait of the school. The school marvels, “It looks just like me. Except glittery. It’s like she’s known me all my life.” What a quirky and thoughtful text this is, along with Christian Robinson’s friendly, kid-filled acrylic and collage illustrations. The school can’t wait for everyone to come back tomorrow and realizes that he is lucky to get to be a school. We feel lucky to get to know him, too.

GERM: As a first week of school read-aloud, this book acknowledges children’s fears and encourages them to think of their own school as a living and breathing entity that they should treat with kindness and affection. If you’re doing the School Rules speech with your kids, ask, “What does our school want us to do to keep it happy? What shouldn’t we do and why?” Take your group outside to draw pictures of the building and put themselves in it. Introduce the janitor, the most important person in the building (or maybe even get the janitor to read the book to your kids). Ask them to describe the things the school learned on his first day and compare it to what they learned and did. How did the school change his attitude toward children and why? Download the publisher’s colorful six-page activity guide here.

Dory Dory Black Sheep. Hanlon, Abby. Illus. by the author. Dial, 2016. {ISBN-13: 978-1-10199-426-9; 160p.} FIC (Gr. 1-3) RL: 3.3

Glory be and hallelujah, our favorite screwball six-year-old, Dory Fantasmagory, AKA Rascal, is back for a third book in the uproarious Dory Fantasmagory series, along with her coterie of real and imaginary friends and enemies. This time around, Dory is having reading problems. In school, instead of being paired with her new best friend Rosabelle, who is already reading hard chapter books, her assigned reading partner is her off-the-wall friend, George. Their teacher gives them a set of easy readers called Happy Little Farm which they immediately recognize as baby books, though Dory quite likes the illustration of a black lamb she names Goblin. “Raise your hand if you hate reading,” George says, and, with defiant looks on their faces, they both do just that. Arriving home in a funk and a fury, Dory locks herself in the bathroom with her imaginary monster friend, Mary, and all the Happy Little Farm books so she can teach herself to read them. Children and teachers will understand her frustration as she attempts to sound out each word and make sense of the boring, repetitive text. “Who writes these books anyway,” she says. The next thing she knows, Goblin the lamb inexplicably squeezes himself under the door and into the bathroom. To bring the lamb back to the farm where he belongs, Dory must get into the book. Literally.

GERM: Unlike her feisty fictional counterparts—including Junie B. Jones, Ramona, Clementine, Piper Green, and Fudge Hatcher—Dory thrives on her rich imaginary life, brought to life with her nonstop storytelling. To see how Abby Hanlon created such the insouciant character of Dory, read an interview with her here. She says, “The feeling of the story of the youngest child comes from my own childhood as the youngest of three, but all of the details and humor of the book come from my twins.” What are some funny things that have happened to you and your family that you could turn into a story?

 Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. Anderson, John David. Walden Pond, 2016. {ISBN-13: 978-0-06-233817-4; 300p.} FIC (Gr. 4-6) RL: 3.3

“Rebecca Roudabush has cooties. I’m not making this up. We’ve run tests. She came up positive on the cootometer, all red, off the charts. Steve and Brand and I are in full quarantine mode.” So begins Chapter 1 narrator, Topher, sixth grader in room 213. Rebecca denies this of course, calling the boys idiotic and chasing them away until they run into their teacher. Ms. Bixby, her blond hair streaked with pink, is smart and savvy, a master teacher and mentor to her students. Topher categorizes her as “one of the Good Ones . . . who make the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable . . . The ones you don’t want to disappoint.” Three weeks later, she breaks the news to her class that she has been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, or pancreatic cancer. She will beat this thing, she says, but will not be able to finish out the school year. When the three boys learn that she is in the hospital and will be transferred to a hospital in Boston on Saturday, they skip school on Friday. Surely it can’t be too difficult to take a bus to the hospital for a special visit with their favorite teacher. This wildly funny, original, poignant, and unforgettable one-day adventure is narrated in alternating chapters by the three friends, each with his own recognizable voice, problems, and life-changing connections to their favorite teacher.

GERM: If you don’t have the opportunity to read the entire book aloud to a class (and this would be a downright shame as it’s memorable in the same way as R. J. Palacio’s Wonder), then for heaven’s sake, read aloud the first chapter where the voice of the first narrator, Topher, makes an indelible impression. Discussion Point/Writing Prompt: Ms. Bixby is that one-of-a-kind teacher you remember your entire life. Who was one of yours? Students can research adenocarcinoma to find out the treatment and other facts about the cancer. Find an excellent teacher’s guide here.

Steamboat School. Hopkinson, Deborah. Illus. by Ron Husband. Disney-Hyperion, 2016. {ISBN-13: 978-1-4231-2196-1; 32p.} E (Gr. 2-4) RL: 2.7

In St. Louis, Missouri, in 1847, James is unnerved the first time he follows his older sister, Tassie, down the basement steps of their church into the windowless darkness of the Tallow Candle School. Their teacher is Reverend John who tells them, “We make our own light here.” Reverend John, born a slave, bought his own freedom and founded their church. The sheriff and his men raid the school and close it down, saying, “The state of Missouri has a new law—no reading or writing for you folks—slave or free.” The law reads, “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the state of Missouri as follows: No person shall keep any school for the instruction of negroes or mulattoes, reading or writing, in this state.” In response, with the help of James and Tassie, the Reverend outfits and restores an old steamboat. He ferries his students by rowboat to his new Freedom School. While running his school may be illegal in Missouri, the Mississippi River is on federal property, not subject to that unfair law. This uplifting historical fiction picture book, narrated by James, is based on a true story about Reverend John Berry Meachum.

GERM: Before you even show the cover, ask each student to pick up the pencil you’ve laid out for them on their table. Ask them if it took courage to do so. Ask them what could be dangerous about a pencil? Could you break the law with a pencil? How could it change your life? Then hold up the cover and read the first page.  Why was it considered “dangerous” in 1847 to allow slaves or free blacks to learn to read or write? One thing this book will do is make children aware of the sheer injustice of those years and help them appreciate the precious nature of their freedoms and their right to a free public school education. An Author’s Note provides information on Meachum’s life. Find an extensive teaching guide written by Katie Cunningham here.

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled. Perkins, Lynne Rae. Illus. by the author. HarperCollins, 2016. {ISBN-13: 978-0-06-237345-8; 32p.} E (Gr. K-3) RL: 2.7

“One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank.” So begins the story of two new friends, a redheaded boy and the black dog he and his parents rescue from the dog shelter. “Both of them were pups. They had a lot to learn.” Right away they find they have a lot in common—they both like to run and to eat pizza. Outside together, they begin to learn all about the world around them, studying firsthand all those subjects one customarily takes in school. Lucky observes, wonders, and asks himself questions about ducks, squirrels, and other animals, about weather and water. He helps Frank learn about Botany and Entomology when Frank must groom the dog to remove the plants and ticks embedded in his fur. They learn about Chemistry when Frank and his mom experiment with different substances to remove the smell molecules while bathing a skunk-sprayed Lucky. In the course of the story, the two learn first hand about Astronomy, Reading, Math, History, Art, Geography, and Spanish. The delicate, meticulous pen and ink and watercolors are stupendous, ranging from panels to full-page vistas saturated in color, sprinkled with small dialogue balloons.

GERM: Ask children what they’ve learned from dogs, cats, or other animals. Ask everyone what they’ve learned on their own and how they did it—books, TV, the Internet, personal experience and experimentation, etc. Then ask them to make a list of what they still are eager to learn, know, and find out. Have them come up with personal strategies to acquire this knowledge. If you listen to the NPR interview with NPR producer Lucy Perkins and her mother Lynne Rae Perkins, you’ll discover how and why the author based the book on her own son, Frank, and his dog, Lucky, and why she didn’t include Lucy as a character. On her website, Lynne has a list of eight “Fun things to do after reading.”

This post was written by BER presenter Judy Freeman

If you are interested in attending one of Judy's seminars, you can find her schedule here.

Judy also has an audio version of her seminar that is available on CDs or as an MP3. The audio product for her most recent seminar will be available January 2017 on our website.


Tags: BER , books , children's lit , library , librarians , children's librarian , Judy Freeman ,

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