White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies

white-owl-barn-owlWhite Owl, Barn Owl

by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Michael Foreman

  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Pub. Date: April 2007
  • ISBN-13: 9780763633646
  • Sales Rank: 429,812
  • Age Range: 5 to 8

Red Clover Nominee: 2008-2009

Synopsis (from bn.com)

An award-winning author and illustrator swoop into the wondrous world of the barn owl.

A young girl and her grandfather look for a barn owl night after night. Will a distinctive heart-shaped face appear at the window? Michael Foreman’s lush, intimate paintings are a perfect companion to Nicola Davies’s lyrical text featuring intriguing facts about a rare bird indeed.

Classroom Ideas:

This book combines a story of a girl and her grandfather with factual information about owls. The different types of font within the book make it easy for readers to differentiate between the fiction and the nonfiction.

Info about the author:

Info about the illustrator:

Review: (from bn.com)

Children’s Literature

Around the story, narrated by a child, of the efforts of her grandfather and herself to set up a nest for a barn owl, information about the life, appearance, activities, and family of barn owls is clearly delineated. The tale of the wait for an owl to come to nest and of the observations of the two watchers is told with wonder and printed in large type. On the same pages, useful facts are added as if in penned notes. The visuals are bathed in the evening’s deep blue, starting on the endpapers where a leafless tree sits in an otherwise unbroken blue landscape. The title page introduces the humans and a ladder to the tree; then we follow them as they carry a large box for the nest. Watercolors and pastels create the people, atmosphere, and objects with convincing clarity and a sense of wonder. Eventually the owl settles in and we see close-ups of its soft whiteness against the darkening sky. On the back endpapers, the tree in the same landscape has leaves, while two owls fly off into the sky. An added note is an encouragement to help bring back barn owls by making a nest box. There is also an index.


Dadblamed Union Army Cow, by Susan Fletcher


Dadblamed Union Army Cow

by Susan Fletcher

ilustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root

Red Clover Nominee:  2009-2008 school year

  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Pub. Date: June 2007
  • ISBN-13: 9780763622633
  • Sales Rank: 416,772
  • Age Range: 5 to 7
  • 32pp

Synopsis (from bn.com)

She just won’t git! A Union army soldier can’t shake his dadblamed cow in this uplifting tale based on a true story.

“THAT DADBLAMED COW!” She follows her owner into the Union army and then straight on south to fight in the war. She needs unstomped grass to eat, she gets stuck in the mud, and she’s just plain DANGEROUS in battle. But this peculiar cow also gives the weary soldiers some surprising comforts. Based on stories and newspaper reports from the Civil War and full of lively illustrations, this is a heartwarming tale of one wonderfully dadblamed PERSISTENT cow.

Classroom ideas:


Publishers Weekly (from bn.com)

Inspired by the true story of a “celebrated cow” that traveled with the Fifty-Ninth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War (a sprightly endnote supplies the details), Fletcher (Shadow Spinner) and Root (Don’t Forget Winona) weave first-class fiction. In their version, the cow belongs to a rank-and-file soldier who thinks he’s left the farm behind. But “that dadblamed cow” just can’t say goodbye. She follows him right onto the train and charms his captain (those big, sad cow eyes are mighty irresistible). And “When the bullets went whistlin’ past our ears, she got spooked and bolted-around a clump of cannon, through a bramble patch, over a hill, and right smack-dab into a pack of horse dragoons,” says the narrator. ” ‘You’re a dadblamed dangerouscow,’ I said.” But if the soldier never stops calling her “dadblamed” he soon values her company: she offers warmth, milk and a reminder of home when the going gets rough. Root’s pencil and watercolor drawings vividly render the Civil War landscape, from the bedraggled encampments to the pitch of a battle. She doesn’t anthropomorphize her bovine heroine, and yet there’s something special about the unnamed cow-she seems as much called to help the soldiers as Clara Barton herself. A terrific read-aloud, and a marvelous approach to history. Ages 5-7. (July)

Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope, by Nikki Grimes

barackobamaBarack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope

by Nikki Grimes

illustrated by Bryan Collier

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
  • Pub. Date: August 2008
  • ISBN-13: 9781416971443
  • Sales Rank: 340
  • Age Range: 5 to 10
  • 48pp

Synopsis (from bn.com)

Ever since Barack Obama was young, Hope has lived inside him. From the beaches of Hawaii to the streets of Chicago, from the jungles of Indonesia to the plains of Kenya, he has held on to Hope. Even as a boy, Barack knew he wasn’t quite like anybody else, but through his journeys he found the ability to listen to Hope and become what he was meant to be: a bridge to bring people together.

This is the moving story of an exceptional man, as told by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier, both winners of the Coretta Scott King Award. Barack Obama has motivated Americans to believe with him, to believe that every one of us has the power to change ourselves and change our world.
Classroom ideas:

School Library Journal (from bn.com)

K-Gr 5    A bright child of humble background is encouraged by the adults around him to believe that he is capable of doing anything he wants to do. Sound familiar? It’s called the American Dream, and the boy is Barack Obama, a biracial child who has gone on to change the course of history. This picture-book biography serves to educate children not only about Obama’s journey thus far, but also to connect his circumstances to their own. In particular, children of color now know that they too have boundless potential. Grimes’s imagery, however, is occasionally overblown as both Hope and God speak directly to Obama. His impressive life story needs no inflating, and the heavy imagery gets in the way of the message. Collier’s vivid watercolor and collage artwork brings the varied aspects of the man’s life together. From the sparkling beaches of Hawaii where he played as a child to the brown, arid village in Kenya where his father was buried, readers see Obama always reaching toward the future. Despite the overly laudatory tone, this book is an appealing addition to biography collections.-Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles

The Story of Ruby Bridges


  • Author: Robert Coles Illustrator: George Ford
  • Publisher and date: Scholastic, 1995
  • Genres: biography
  • Age/Grade: 1-3

Author’s perspective: According to Scott London:

Coles describes himself variously as a doctor, child psychiatrist, oral historian, social anthropologist, teacher, friend, storyteller, busybody, and nuisance. Interviewers, journalists, and reviewers often seize on the apparent contradictions — he is a physician without a conventional practice who teaches college literature; a psychiatrist who rejects much of the language of his field; and a Harvard academic who spends much of his time volunteering in ghetto schools.

Coles was moved by the moral spirit and leadership of Ruby Bridges and other children (both black and white) who became friends during a turbulent era and ended up helping to change segregation laws. Dr. Coles spent 30 years studying Ruby Bridges and other children and wrote about it in various works. He writes as an insider due to his extensive research on the subject.

Literary Elements:

Style: The author provides accurate facts. I like how the illustrator emphasizes the size and youth of Ruby and the other girls through his use of perspective (pages 6, 10, and 14 are some examples). It is told as if a story, but filled with facts about Ruby starting at the school.

Tone: Although he worked so closely with Ruby Bridges, the book has a detached feel to it, not a lot of feeling, more of a retelling. You don’t get a lot of Ruby’s feelings and thoughts. There are reactions and thoughts from her teacher and family. I have found the lack of feeling from Ruby leaves the students wanting to read other books about Ruby in order to find out more information about her. It has an objective feel to it, even though Dr. Coles worked closely with Ruby.


This book tells the story of Ruby Bridges, a first grader who was also the first African American child to go to William Frantz Elementary School. The book shows Ruby’s brave and forgiving heart in spite of the cruel actions by the adults around her.

Curriculum Connections:

I love this book and this topic because the children in my class are in first grade. They love hearing about the brave girl who helped to change the world and was the same age as they are. I feel this empowers my class and shows them how change can happen without using fists. It shows them to stand up for what you believe is right. I read this book after reading several books about Martin Luther King, Jr. By the time we read this book, the students have had quite a bit of background knowledge about segregation and civil rights.

Some years, after reading this book, I have shown the movie: Disney’s Ruby Bridges. There are some scenes in the movie I feel I need to skip over because of the violent threats made against Ruby. By the time I show this movie, the students understand that this is about a true story. I still can’t watch this movie without crying.

Some questions during read aloud:

  • How do you think Ruby felt when she was told she had to go to a different school?
  • Why were the marshals brought in?
  • How do you think Ruby felt when she walked into the school for the first time?
  • Why did the grown ups act the way they did?
  • Would you be able to be as brave as Ruby? What would you have done if you were Ruby?

After reading, list words that describe Ruby Bridges.
Web Resources:


From Publishers Weekly
Ruby Bridges was the sole African American child to attend a New Orleans elementary school after court-ordered desegregation in 1960. Noted research psychiatrist Coles tells how federal marshals escorted the intrepid six-year-old past angry crowds of white protestors thronging the school. Parents of the white students kept them home, and so Ruby “began learning how to read and write in an empty classroom, an empty building.” Although there are disappointingly few words from Ruby herself, Coles’s use of quotes from her teacher adds to the story’s poignancy (”Sometimes I’d look at her and wonder how she did it…. How she went by those mobs and sat here all by herself and yet seemed so relaxed and comfortable”). The story has a rather abrupt ending; the concluding page reprints the prayer that Ruby said daily, asking God to forgive the protesters. Coles cursorily finishes the tale of Ruby’s unsettling year in an afterword (two boys and then the rest of the students returned to school; the mobs dispersed by the time Ruby entered second grade). Ford (Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; Paul Robeson) contributes affecting watercolors that play up Ruby’s moral courage. Ages 5-9.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Booklist
Ages 5-9. Sustained by family and faith, one brave six-year-old child found the strength to walk alone through howling protesters and enter a whites-only school in New Orleans in 1960. Ruby Bridges did it every day for weeks that turned into months. The white parents withdrew their kids, and Ruby sat alone with her teacher in an empty classroom in an empty building and learned her lessons. Harvard professor Cole has written powerful adult books about children in crisis and about children’s moral and political lives. Here he tells one girl’s heroic story, part of the history of ordinary people who have changed the world. He tells it quietly, as an adult, and the simplicity is moving, though kids might want some indication of Ruby’s personal experience, what it was like to be her. Ford’s moving watercolor paintings mixed with acrylic ink are predominantly in sepia shades of brown and red. They capture the physical warmth of Ruby’s family and community, the immense powers against her, and her shining inner strength. Hazel Rochman –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Martin’s Big Words: The LIfe of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport


Author’s perspective: Doreen Rappaport, although not African American, does have an insider’s perspective on the fight for civil rights. She participated in the March on Washington in 1963. She then taught in a Mississippi freedom school during the summer of 1965. In the author’s own words, “I saw firsthand the fragility of being black in white America.”

Literary Elements:

Vocabulary – I love reading this book because of the powerful vocabulary used. Martin Luther King fought injustice through the use of powerful words rather than physical violence. I love using this book and having the children experience the power of words. Some examples: courage, peace, freedom.

Tone and Style: The author provides accurate information but in a way that many children can access. The book provides a wonderful starting place for class discussion on deep subject matter (segregation, civil rights, fair/unfair, equality, peace, courage, protest).

The author combines Martin Luther King’s own words with her own to help tell the “story” of a man who helped change the world. Martin Luther King’s words are shown in large, bold, and colored type so they stand out from the print of the rest of the book. The children in my class love to reread his words when they look at the book on their own. The page where the author talks about his death is always very moving to the kids in my class. The author uses short sentences to state the fact of his death [On his second day there, he was shot. He died.]. This is combined with a black page, dark type for the words, and a dark illustration. Readers can’t help but react with sadness about the loss of Martin Luther King.


The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is told using his own words as part of the text. Martin Luther King is seen as a young boy growing up in the segregated South. We then follow him through adulthood as he becomes a minister and then works to create equality for all. The illustrations and text help to show his belief in peaceful protest. The end of the book has a timeline of important dates in Martin Luther King’s life.

Curriculum Connections:

I use this book as the second book in my Martin Luther King unit in January. Vocabulary to focus on: peace, equal, march, courage, protest.

Questions during read aloud:

  • What does “white only” mean? Why do you think people put those signs up? How did Martin feel about that?
  • What do the following words mean: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
  • Why was Rosa Parks arrested? Was that fair?
  • What did Martin mean when he said, “Love is the key to the problems of the world.”
  • How did Martin use words to change the world?

The time line (in a list format) at the back of the book is a great resource. Many times, this is the first time line the students have seen.  Sometimes, I have taken some of the info from the time line and made a linear time line with other dates on it such as when I was born, when they were born, etc. It starts to give them a sense of time.

I have the kids choose a phrase of Dr. King’s to put on our “powerful words” list.

This also ties into our anti-bullying curriculum by using our words instead of fists to solve problems.

At the end of the unit, I have kids write about something they would like to change in the world and how they would do it.

Web Resources:

Review:From Publishers Weekly
This picture-book biography provides an ideal introduction to this leader and his works. Juxtaposing original text with quotes from King’s writing and speeches, Rappaport’s (Escape from Slavery) narrative offers a pastiche of scenes from King’s life, beginning with his childhood experience of seeing “White Only” signs sprinkled throughout his hometown. He questions his mother about their meaning, and she assures him, “You are as good as anyone.” Listening to his father preach, the boy asserts that “When I grow up, I’m going to get big words, too.” Rappaport also touches upon King’s role in the Montgomery bus strike that followed Rosa Park’s 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger and his subsequent efforts as a civil rights crusader. After briefly describing the circumstances of his death, the story concludes, quite abruptly, with the statement, “His big words are alive for us today.” The author relies on her subject’s own words, and his power, passion and pacifism shine through. Collier’s (Uptown) striking watercolor and cut paper collage art feature closely focused, lifelike images of King and other individuals against an inventive montage of patterns and textures. The portraits of King exude his spiritual strength and peaceful visage. In the background of some scenes are intricate recreations of stained glass windows, which, Collier explains in an introductory note, he interprets as a metaphor for King’s life. An elegant, understated pictorial biography. Ages 5-9.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Collier combines his distinctive watercolor-and-collage art with Rappaport’s uncluttered text to sum up King’s life and work. Each two-page spread begins with a short paragraph about King and his crusade for civil rights, followed by a powerful sample of his own words set in oversized, boldface type. Both portions of the succinct text work together to emphasize the leader’s courage, commitment, and, ultimately, sacrifice without sensationalizing his death. King’s assassination during the 1968 Memphis garbage strike is summed up in just two short sentences: “On his second day there, he was shot. He died.” The book concludes with a reassuring reminder that his words are immortal. Rappaport advises readers to use “Martin Luther King” as the search term to find more than 200 Web sites dedicated to King and the civil rights movement. Both author and illustrator preface the book with brief notes to explain specific aspects of King’s life and death that inspired them in their collaboration. The result is a stunning, reverent tribute.

Catherine Threadgill, DeKalb County Public Library, Atlanta, GA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Phineas L. MacQuire… Blasts Off!, by Frances O’Roark Dowell

blasts-offPhineas L. MacQuire … Blasts off!

by Frances O’Roark Dowell

  • publisher and date: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 2008
  • genre: fiction
  • age/grade:ages 8-12

Synopsis (from: www.bn.com)

Houston,we have a problem!

Phineas L. MacGuire (a.k.a. Mac) is less than up-to-date on planetary happenings. (Marsquakes? Who knew?) If he’s going to be the best scientist in the fourth grade, Mac has to set his sights pretty high. To outer space, actually. But Space Camp is expensive. Where is he going to find enough money for a week on Mars (or a pretty close simulation thereof)?

Houston, we have another problem: a gigantic, slobbery dog named Lemon Drop. Mac can earn the money he needs by walking Mrs. McClosky’s yellow Lab, but first he needs to survive the walks and the slobber! Good thing Mac is a scientific genius with friends like Ben and Aretha. Together the three of them discover that Lemon Drop is no ordinary dog — that Lab is a real-life Lab-oratory.

What Nan says:

This book made me laugh out loud. It was the first Phineas L. MacQuire book that I have read, but it won’t be the last. I’m using the book in my after school program with 3rd and 4th graders.

There are some science experiments at the end of the book which are the same experiments Phineas does in the story.

I couldn’t find any lessons  online that other teachers have done, but here some some links to some of the things mentioned in the story:

Dog Saliva – the Next Wonder Drug

A 7th Graders Science Experiement: Does Dog Saliva Kill Bacteria?

Information about Gila Monsters

Honeysuckly House, by Andrea Cheng

honeysuckle houseHoneysuckle House

by Andrea Cheng

  • publisher and date: Front Street, 2004
  • genre: realistic fiction
  • age/grade:grades 3-5

Synopsis (from www.bn.com)

Alienation, longing, prejudice, and cultural difference is touched on in this immigrant story told in the voices of two ten-year-old girls. Sarah and Tina are fourth graders. The most important thing in the world to Sarah – American-born Chinese – is the recent departure of her best friend, Victoria. She misses her terribly. Tina has just recently moved to Cincinnati from Shanghai, and is trying to make sense of a whole new world – pretty much clueless to all the things Sarah is hip to.

The two girls are paired together in school, as if Asian appearance were proof of parallel lives and experience. (”I don’t speak Chinese,” Sarah keeps having to explain.) It’s the daily, common stuff of childhood intrigue that finally manages to connect their stories and forge a friendship. A whole constellation of adult concerns swirl around them – green card worries, assimilation, absent fathers, family tensions – but Andrea Cheng remains true to the heart and voice and vision of two ten-year-old girls, in a story which blends tears and games, drama and play.

Author’s Perspective: Andrea writes with a interesting perspective. She is the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. She grew up in Ohio, speaking Hungarian at home and hearing stories of the war and the holocaust. Her husband is the son of Chinese immigrants. When the met, they loved the similarities between their families. According to Cheng:

Most of my stories about Chinese and Chinese-Americans were sparked by watching our three children and by listening to stories of my husband’s parents.  For example, Goldfishand Chrysanthemums (Lee & Low, 2003) is based on a story told to me by my husband’s mother.  As a child, she used to love helping her grandfather in Suzhou tend his chrysanthemums and his fish.  I think the story that is closest to me and also involves the Chinese-American experience is Honeysuckle House (Front Street, 2004). There are two alternating narrators in the novel, Sarah and Ting.  Sarah, who is Chinese-American, is based on both of my daughters, Jane and Ann, and Ting is based on one of Jane’s friends who immigrated to the United States with her parents.  Many of the incidents in the book were observed in our own backyard, full of honeysuckle bushes. From: Papertigers.org

Literary Elements:

Character – The characters of Sarah and Ting (Tina) tell the story in alternating chapters in their first person perspective. The characters are compelling. Sarah, doesn’t want to be lumped in with Ting as Chinese. Tina also is missing her best friend who has moved away. She is tired of telling people that she doesn’t speak Chinese. Ting is in the process of learning English and a new culture. Both girls desperately want a friend. Ting and Sarah realize that they have preconceived expectations about each other based on their Chinese heritage. Throughout the story, the preconceived ideas become chipped away and a true friendship forms.

Theme – Friendship, acceptance, and the meeting of cultures are themes throughout the story.

Tone and Style– The alternating voices of the characters help to create the story.

Curriculum Connections:

  • Write a letter – In the story, Ting writes a letter to her friend in China, Mu Ying. Pretend you are Ting, and write the letter.
  • Compare and Contrast housing, transportation, food, and clothing in Shanghai and Cincinnati. (idea from: Activity Guide, Children’s Book Award Nominees 2006-2007)

Web Resources:


Publishers Weekly (from www.bn.com)

Alternating between the perspectives of two fourth-grade narrators, Cheng (Marika) proves herself a gifted and sympathetic observer of middle-graders’ conflicts and concerns. In the opening chapter, Sarah tries to make sense of the news from her best friend and next-door neighbor, Victoria, that she is moving. Victoria’s mother isn’t reliable, there’s no moving van, and Victoria doesn’t know where they’re going. But that afternoon Victoria and her mom leave, with some but not all of their things. At school Sarah feels bereaved and alarmed when Victoria’s seat gets filled by a new girl, Tina, just arrived from China. Sarah, who is Chinese-American, steels herself: “I’ll have to tell everyone all over again I don’t speak Chinese.” Tina brings her voice to the next chapter, describing her trip from Shanghai to join her parents in America. Cheng uses perceptive details to highlight the enormity of the adjustments Tina must make. Separated from her mother for more than a year, Tina almost doesn’t recognize her because her smell has changed her soft perfume has been replaced by an alien scent. “When I smelled the sharp soap,” Tina says, she finally understands why her grandmother has told her to be brave. Both Tina and Sarah must come to terms with classmates and teachers who assume that their Chinese facial features confer automatic intimacy and affection, allowing Cheng to make important points about assimilation and prejudice. Eventually, however, the mystery of Victoria’s disappearance opens a path for the two girls to channel their feelings of loss and, in the process, create a genuine friendship. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal (from www.bn.com)

Gr 3-5-The honeysuckle house (a spot under a large honeysuckle bush) is where fourth-grader Sarah, a Chinese-American girl, plays with her friend Victoria until the girl suddenly moves away. Sarah’s story is juxtaposed with her classmate Ting’s, a new immigrant from China. Told in first person in alternating chapters, the narratives balance well between large issues (like Ting’s parents’ employment and legal problems and Victoria’s abrupt departure) and more intimate ones (people assume that Sarah can speak Chinese, and Ting has to adjust to all of the new smells in America). With a smoothly drawn and interesting plot, strong characters, and graceful writing, the story has more immediacy than much realistic contemporary fiction. There are some truly memorable scenes, such as when Ting and Sarah explore Victoria’s deserted house, and when Ting breaks a vase in the house where her mother cleans. With a strong social conscience behind it as well, this absorbing novel has a lot going for it.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.