For Book Talk Tuesdays during November I'll feature picture books from the themes on the Picture Book Month website's calendar.
For a list of books on each theme, click the links to Page in Training, a great blog written by a twitter friend.
Nov 1: Alphabet
The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, by Mordicai Gerstein
There are lots of things to love about this inventive alphabet book. First, it's one big long sentence with each creature eager to take action against the next. For example, "E, is extremely evil and eager to exterminate...F..."
Second, each letter is illustrated to show the characteristics of the monster (or wacko, or ignoramous) with hilarious expressions. I particularly like the rude and rotten ruffian, who has an untrustworthy glint in his eye.
Third, the word choice will keep writing workshop flowing for lessons upon lessons. There's no dumbing-down for the child audience here; Gerstien flaunts words like bumpkin, cantankerous, and oaf - an open invitation to break out a dictionary. (Recommended for grades 2+)
Nov 2: Outer Space
Goldilocks is sick of her mom's overly strict expectations, so she jets off to find herself a new planet to live on. Well, sure enough, none of the planets is "just right" - except for Mars.
This silly story told in rhyme with vivid painted illustrations is a fun example of a twisted folk tale and a good text for teaching about "just right" books.
(Recommended for grades 2+)
Nov 3: Seasons
City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems
This is a beautiful book about the friendship between an unlikely pair: a dog and a frog. Large-size watercolors document their antics together through three seasons, but when winter comes we need to use our inference skills to understand why frog doesn't show up to play one day. Tender and bittersweet. (Recommended for grades 1+)
Nov 4: Bears
The Biggest Bear, by Lynd Ward
This Caldecott winner is one of my all-time favorite books. The theme of boy and his doomed pet gets me every time. (The Yearling, A Day No Pigs Would Die...)
Johnny Orchard wants to shoot a bear. Everyone else in his town has done it, and he's tired of being the only one who doesn't have a bearskin on the side of his barn. But when he goes into the forest looking for a bear to shoot, instead he finds a bear to love. He adopts the cub, brings it home, and everything goes fine until the bear begins to look for more food. He drinks all the maple syrup in the sugar shack, ransacks Ma's pantry, and ruins the neighbor's corn field.
Johnny may end up shooting a bear after all, but not the way he wanted to.
(Recommended for grade 1+)
Nov 5: Colors
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, by Joyce Sidman
This Caldecott Honor book looks at the tones of different colors through the seasons. Red in spring is not the same as red in the fall. The same is true of yellow and all the other colors.
They take on different hues depending on what is happening around them. In the spring, green is "new and shy", but in the fall it's "tired, dusty, crisp around the edges".
The accompanying mixed-media illustrations support the concept; we see how tones of the colors change with the seasons, just as the free verse describes.
(Recommended for all ages, especially for use at higher grades as part of color study.)
Nov 6: Transportation
I Stink!, by Kate and Jim McMullan
These two books, one about a big garbage truck and the other about a plucky tug boat, are written in a fun conversational tone. Both are great for talking about active verbs and for introducing transportation words: push, pull, shove, ram.
The illustrations put us right in the action as the machines do their jobs. We get a good sense of the scale of each one, sometimes zooming in close and other times getting a wide angle view to see them at work with others.
(Recommended for grades PreK+)
Nov 7: Birds
Sparrow Girl, by Sara Pennypacker
Set in communist China, 'Sparrow' girl refuses to stand by and watch as thousands of birds drop from the sky after being blasted by farmers in an effort to save crops. She secretly saves a few of the sparrows in the family's barn.
When Mao's plan is foiled by a plague of insects that ruins the harvest, the sparrows she rescued end up saving the day.
Folk-style paintings emphasize the historical content. This would make a good introduction for older students to the Communist Era in China or for younger students as an example of taking the moral high ground and of personal integrity.