Fantasy Books for Children

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Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Fleischman, Paul. Weslandia. Illus. Kevin Hawkes. New York: Candlewick Press, 2002. Print.

This book is about a young boy, Wesley, who decides to spend his summer vacation building a new civilization because the one he lives in now puts too much pressure on him. He does this by creating an 80 character alphabet, and by growing a new plant that grows fruit called swift. This fruit serves many purposes, even allowing Wesley to use the bark to make hats. Ages 9-12.

Thematic Topics: Civilizations, plants, math, family

Literary Elements: Imagry, developing characters, supporting characters, plot, mood

Possible Activity: Have children read the book and tell them to keep in mind all the new things that Wesley created. When the book is read, ask the children to list at least five new things that Wesley created for his civilization.

This book provided a lot of concept material, such as a new aplhabet and number bases. These concepts could be used to help students understand the existing concepts and where they might have originated from.

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A Mighty Fine Time Machine by Suzanne Bloom.

Bloom, Suzanne. A Mighty Fine Time Machine. Illus. Author. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2009. Print.

This book is about a gang of young animals who trade treats for a time machine. But the time machine seems to be broken and needs some fixing. After fixing the time machine and racing it down a large hill, they find that the future is really pretty boring. Back in the present time, the animals decide to turn their time machine back into a box to hold their books. With the books the animals make their own adventures, much better than the future could provide. Ages 4-8.

Thematic Topics: Time machines, reading, trading, fixing things

Literary Elements: Plot, Setting, Mood

Possible Activity: Since all the animals must have had a different experience, write a summary of the book from the point of view of only one of the animals.

I thought that the ending provided a nice moral: that reading can be adventurous. I do not think this would be a book for children who like time travel however because they would disagree with the characters in the book.

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Traditional Literature

Analyze folktales from different cultures, such as “Jack Tales,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

Versions of folktales differ from culture to culture. Take the below example of the Chinese version of “Little Red Riding Hood.” There are many differences between the American version that many of us are used to and the Chinese version that not many of us have heard.The first main example of this is seen at the very start of the book. Instead of one young girl being gone after by the wolf, there are three sisters. And it is not them that leave the house, it is their mother who is on her way to visit the girl’s grandmother. Many other differences can be seen throughout the two stories.

Original question from: Stoodt, Barbara D., and Linda B. Amspaugh. “Traditional Literature:Stories Old and New.” Children’s Literature: Discovery for a Lifetime. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall, 2001. 104. Print.

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Lon Po Po, by Ed Young. Illustrated by Ed Young.

Young, Ed. Lon Po Po. Illus. Author. New York, NY: Philomel Books, 1989.

This book is about the story of Little Red Riding Hood, only written through the Chinese heritage point of view. There are three daughters, Shang, Tao and Paotze who are left alone when their mother goes and visits their grandmother. The girls were warned to lock the door and keep it shut but after the mother leaves, there is a knock at the door that is supposedly their grandmother. The girls let the grandmother in, who is really a hungry wolf, and they realize this right away. They outsmart him and then in turn kill him. Ages 6-9.

Thematic Topics: Chinese Culture, Traditional Literature, Little Red Riding Hood.

Possible Activity: After reading both this version and also the “American” version, have the students write down the differences between the two stories.

This book would be a good way to teach the similarities and differences in culture. Since most children have heard the “American” version, I think that students would be interested to hear the Chinese version. The pictures are very well drawn and will catch the students eyes and interest.

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The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola, Illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

DePaola, Tomie. The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Illus. Author. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile Publishers, 1988.

This book is about a young American Indian named Little Gopher. He is not very good at the other skills that young boys show off. Then he has a Dream Vision where he sees the bright colors of the sky and he decides to paint, also called picture writing. By using bright colors inspired by his dreams and surrounding landscapes, Little Gopher “invents” the idea of picture writing. This way their stories can be told for many many years. Ages 6-9.

Thematic Topics: Folklore, American Indians, Artists.

Possible Activity: Have the children use picture writing to tell the story of Little Gopher.

I enjoyed this book, and thought it was a nice way for children to learn about how legends are created. This book would also allow children to learn more about the American Indians and their traditions.

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The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith.

Scieszka, John. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Illus. Lane Smith. London, England: 1996.

This book retells the story of the Three Little Pigs, only told through the eyes of Alexander T. Wolf. He tells his audience that it was not his fault that the previous tragedy of the Three Little Pigs happened. He tells this story from his cell at prison. Wolf begins his story by explaining that he started talking to the pigs because he wanted some sugar for a cake that he was making for his granny. The pigs really were mean to him and made him sneeze, blowing the houses over. Ages 6-8.

Thematic Topics: Three Little Pigs, Parody, Newspapers

Possible Activity: Using this as a comparison book, ask the children to write down the differences between the original Three Little Pigs and this story.

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Teaching in a culturally responsive manner is seen when teachers present students with knowledge about that culture, and experiences that students may have encountered. This can help students because it can help relate material learned in school to experiences that may happen at home.

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Apple Pie 4th of July, by Janet S. Wong, Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine.

Wong, Janet S. Apple Pie 4th of July. Illus. Margaret Chodos-Irvine. New York: Harcourt Inc, 2002. Print.

This book is about a young girl who is watching her parents make Chinese food on the 4th of July in America. She thinks that it will not sell because “Americans don’t eat Chinese food on the Fourth of July.” As the day goes on, she continues to worry. Towards the end, people smell the Chinese food on the street and come in to eat it, doing so until it is completely gone. Fireworks explode in the air as the young girl dines on the American food of apple pie. Age 4-8.

Thematic Topics: Fourth of July, Chinese people, Chinese-American people, Traditions

Possible Activity: Have the children read the book and then ask them how they would feel if they were in the young girl’s situation.

Literary Elements: Setting, plot, characters, mood

This book relates to being culturally responsive because it allows students to see how the young girl feels in a situation that is different from her family’s culture. This book shows a nice mix of two cultures.


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Blue Bottle Mystery, by Kathy Hoopmann.

Hoopmann, Kathy. Blue Bottle Mystery. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2000. Print.

This book is about a young boy Ben, who has Asperger Syndrome. Since he cannot understand some things as well as others, teachers yell at him and his only friend is a boy named Andy. When they are at school one day, Ben and Andy find a blue bottle on the playground. First they imagine a genie lives inside and they wish their wishes, which eventually come true except the last one which appears towards the end of the story. This is the mystery mentioned in the title. Ages 7-11.

Thematic Topics: Asperger Syndrome, Wishes, Mystery, Family, Friends, Growing Up

Literary Elements: Developing characters, setting, theme, plot

Possible Activity: Look at each of the wishes that Ben and Andy made. Evaluate each of them, describing the good and bad points that are seen.

This book is culturally responsive because it takes a look at the way that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders deal with daily life, and the way in which they interact with other children. The experiences that Ben has are shared and easily relatable to students in the classroom.

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Concept Books

There must be a distinction between the terms concept and content. Concept is the general idea that the author is trying to get across to the reader. Content is the words and composition of the book that helps get the concept across. For example, with an ABC book, the concept would be the ABCs, while the content would be the words in the book that help get this point across.


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Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth, Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Gerth, Melanie. Ten Little Ladybugs. Illus. Laura Huliska-Beith. Atlanta, Georgia: Piggy Toe Press, 2001. Print.

This book is about ten little ladybugs and their journey home, although a reader would not find their destination out until the last page. Categorized as a counting book, this one counts down starting at ten. On the first page there are ten ladybugs, then nine, then eight, etc. Ten Little Ladybugs uses a rhyming pattern of words to take the reader through their numbers, and also three dimensional ladybugs placed on each page, so one by one they each disappear with the turn of a page. Ages 4-7.

Thematic Topics: Ladybugs, Counting, Rhyming poetry

Possible Activity: Using the same rhyming method that was used in the book, students will create an alternate ending to this book using the number zero as the number on the last page. This page will need to have both words and illustrations.

I enjoyed reading this counting book, and especially enjoyed the fact that it counted backwards instead of most counting books that count forward. The three dimensional ladybugs on each page are also very nice because it gives the reader something that they can feel and look at on each page.


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Matthew A.B.C. by Peter Catalanotto

Catalanotto, Peter. Matthew A.B.C.. Illus. Author. NewYork: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Publishers, 2002. Print.

In this book, there is a teacher whose students all have the same first name: Matthew. She tells them apart by finding a characteristic about them that matches a different letter of the alphabet. Then a new boy comes into class and earns the letter Z. His characteristic is that his clothes are always full of zippers. Ages 4-10.

Thematic Topics: Alphabet, classrooms, nicknames

There was a great use of diversity in the illustrations drawn by Catalanotto. The only major problem I saw was that he seemed to stretch a little bit for some letters. For example Matthew L had a LEAKY nose. Another objection that I found in this book is that poor Matthew N is nearly naked. This would not be appropriate for the younger audiences.

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Project Mulberry and Diary of a Worm

How can you integrate books of contemporary realistic fiction into all of the content areas?

Considering the four main content areas (math, language arts, science and social studies), there are books that fit into each and every one of these areas. For instance, there are books that explore science areas, such as Project Mulberry (seen below). Project Mulberry can also relate to social studies, when looking at the racial issues included in the book, and also the content area of math, when the children are figuring out when the eggs will hatch and grow. Not all books of contemporary fiction will relate to all of the content areas, but there certainly are books out there that will touch on each of the subjects.

Original question from: Stoodt, Barbara D., and Linda B. Amspaugh. “People Now: Contemporary Realistic Fiction.” Children’s Literature: Discovery for a Lifetime. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall, 2001. 140. Print.

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Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park.

Park, Linda Sue. Project Mulberry. New York: Yearling, 2007. Print.

This book is about two young children, Julia and her best friend Patrick, who decide to do a project in husbandry for their “Wiggle Club” project. Julia’s mother comes up with the idea of raising silkworms, and Julia dislikes it due to the fact that she thinks it is “too Korean” (Julia’s heritage is Korean).  After trying to sabotage the project, Julia finds she is hurting Patrick’s feelings so she begins to go along with the project. Getting mulberry leaves from a man named Mr. Dixon, she forms a friendship with the man even though her mother dislikes this idea. Once the worms are growing and eating these leaves, Julia starts to grow very fond of these worms and hurting them once they are full grown seems horrible to her. In the end she decides to compromise with the silk-making process and embroider the life cycle of the silkworm, entering both the embroidery and the husbandry project into the county fair. Ages 8-12.

Thematic Topics: Husbandry, Friendship, Silkworms, Korean Culture, Family, Embroidery

Literary Elements: Developing characters, plot, imagery, setting, mood

Possible Activity: The teacher will help the students grow their own silkworms. Students will have to care for these silkworms daily where they grow in school, and write a journal every day that they care for the silkworms. These pages of the journal should have a written entry and also a picture of the stage that the silkworm is in. The silkworms should be able to live their entire lives out, with no silk making involved.

This book would be a good way to show students friendship. This is because they will be able to see the conflicts between many characters such as Julia and Patrick, Julia and Kenny, and Julia’s mother and Mr. Dixon.


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Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Harry Bliss.

Cronin, Coreen. Diary of a Worm. Illus. Harry Bliss. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2003. Print.

This book is about the daily life of a worm. It is written in a diary form with dates listed beside each entry. Throughout the book, this worm describes many true facts about worms, such as the fact that they decompose waste in the soil. Worm introduces his friend Spider (who there is also a separate diary about) and they have adventures when Worm tries to teach Spider how to dig, and Spider tries to teach Worm to hang upside down. Funny moments come up in Worm’s diary when he does the hokey-pokey, only being able to stick his head in and out. Ages 4-8.

Thematic Topics: Worms, Diaries, Friendship

Possible Activity: Have the students select their favorite animal and also choose a book in the library about them; they can then have a better background knowledge about their animal. After reading up on their animals, students will write a diary, pretending to be the animal that they have chosen. The diary will need to be ten pages long and have illustrations to go along with the written text.

I enjoyed reading Diary of a Worm and seeing the “worms perspective” on life. I think this would be a good book to teach the diary entry form of writing to young students because they will find the text both funny and a bit informing with bright colorful pictures.

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Historical Fiction Picture Books

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Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by James Ransome.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Illus. James Ransome. Maryland: Random House Children’s Books, 1995. Print.

This book is about a slave named Clara who dreams of escaping the plantation she works on, and finding her mother. Using her seamstress skills, she designs a quilt that maps out the pathway to freedom. Fellow slaves help her by relaying information about the Underground Railroad to Clara, and she in turn sews the pathways and landmarks into a quilt. In the end Clara and a fellow slave escape to freedom, leaving the quilt with her aunt, so she can help future slaves escape to freedom. Ages 5-10.

Thematic Topics: Slavery, Quilting, Underground Railroad

Literary Elements: Developing characters, mood, plot

Possible Activity: Teachers: Hang a map of the school at the front of the classroom. Divide the map into squares and assign each student a square. Have them think of some sort of monument that represents their individual square. In color, ask the students to design a quilt square that will combine with the other quilt squares in the classroom to create a giant quilt-map of the school.

This book would be a good way to show students some of the ways that the African-American slaves escaped to freedom. They may not have heard about anything but the Underground railroad so this book could further educate them.


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When Jesse Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, Illustrated by P.J. Lynch.

Hest, Amy. When Jesse Came Across the Sea. Illus. P.J. Lynch. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2003. Print.

This book is about a young girl named Jesse, who lives in a small town in eastern Europe. While Jesse teachers her grandmother to read and write, her grandmother teaches her to sew. When the Rabbi of the town is sent a ticket to America, he chooses Jesse to take it and go across the sea. Jesse and her grandmother separate with the hope that they will one day see each other again. On the boat Jesse is lonely but makes friends by sewing things that others need sewed. Once in America, Jesse learns to speak English and saves money that she makes sewing. With this money she purchases a ticket for her grandmother to come to America. Ages 5-10.

Thematic Topics: Immigration, Sewing, Life in Early America

Literary Elements: Developing characters, plot, theme, mood

Possible Activity: Teachers: On a previous day, ask the students to ask their parents about their heritage. Today: Give each student a world map and small stickers. Have the students place the stickers on the countries where their ancestors came from. Make sure to tell them that everyone has an American background also, so everyone should have a sticker on America. Have student volunteers share their maps and the countries that their ancestors are from.

This book would be a good book to teach students about immigration and the hard life that some people had when they came over to America. It uses an example of a young girl so this will help the students relate to the book. The only main question that came to me was why the European community would let such a young girl travel alone to America.

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