Drummer Boy of John John

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Art, Biography, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Music Smart, Onomatopoeia, Print Concepts, Range of Reading, Social Studies, Vocabulary | 0 comments

drummer-boy-of-john-john-largeMaybe it’s the vibrant art or maybe it’s the tropical setting of Trinidad, but on this snowy March day, I am in love with Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood with illustrations by Frane Lessac. Knowing that it’s a biography (so it hits the Common Core standard of Range of Reading) that incorporates music and art makes me love it even more.

It’s almost time for Carnival and everyone in Winston’s town is getting ready to celebrate with calypso music. Winston wishes he were in a band, because the best band in the parade will get free rotis from the Roti King. (Is your Craft and Structure Common Core Standard alarm ringing? Lots of interesting word choices in this book!) But Winston has no gourds full of seeds that go “shoush-shap/ shukka-shac” and no bamboo to pound on the ground with a “click clack/ rappa-tap” (Check Print Concepts off on your Common Core score card). When Winston throws his mango pit into the junkyard, he hears a “pong ping pang” as the pit hits old metal. Winston makes his own instrument from the dented metal containers – the first steel drum. Winston’s friends hear this music and form a junkyard band. They paint pots, pans, tins, and cans rainbow colors and experiment with the dents and bumps in the metal to make different pitches. Winston’s band is crowned the best band in the Carnival parade, so they all feast on rotis and mango lemonade.

This book has so many tie-ins for art, music, and social studies. (I wish I’d found it a month ago, so I could’ve used it for Carnival/Mardi Gras, but it’s a fun lesson any time of year.) Students can use recycled cans, jars, bottles and containers to make their own instruments. Paint them in the tropical rainbow colors Lessac used in her art. Play a clip of steel drum music for students (you can get cd’s from your local library or use this Youtube clip: Steel Drums in Trinidad and Tobago. Bring in mangos for students to taste after they try dancing under the limbo pole like the Roti King does. Use your recycled instruments to play a “listen and repeat” rhythm game to build listening skills. Winston Simon began with junk from the junkyard and ended up touring London and Paris with the Trinidad All Stars Percussion Orchestra. Who knows where tin cans and this inspirational book might take your students?

For more information about the author, visit:
For more information about the illustrator, visit:


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The Day-Glo Brothers on a free app – what a bright idea!

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013 in Art, Biography, Early Learning, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Range of Reading, Science, Technology | 0 comments

I’m a librarian partly because I couldn’t afford my book habit if I had to buy every book I read. So when I’m looking for e-books, I usually look for free ones (some call me cheap, I prefer “fantastically frugal”). But I don’t want crummy books – I want the good stuff! Leave it to Reading Rainbow to hook me up with quality children’s books for free (and a huge variety of even more titles if I want to pay for a subscription).

I downloaded the free Reading Rainbow app to my iPad and was greeted by Levar Burton ( a man who has lured more children to reading  than the Pied Piper lured rats, but you don’t have to take *my* word for it.) I was thrilled to find one of my favorite biographies, with complete text and art, a bit of fun animation, and even a game to play.

The Day-Glo Brothers: the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s bright ideas and brand-new colors is written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani. Bob and Joe Switzer were in their father’s drugstore when they discovered that certain chemicals glow under ultraviolet light. With lots of experimenting and some accidental luck, the brothers invented colors that would glow even in sunlight, those neon colors called Day-Glo. It’s a “brilliant” story about perseverance, for, as Joe used to say, “If just one experiment out of a thousand succeeds, then you’re ahead of the game.”

So now you can share this enlightening biography (CCSS Range of Reading – check!) with your students for free in paper-book form from the library, or you can share it on iPads with the free Reading Rainbow app. Charlesbridge has a free activity guide to go with the book, along with an author interview and an animation on how fluorescence works.  How fun would it be to put a blacklight  in a lamp in your classroom and get fluorescent markers for an art project. Students can try making one of the props Joe used in his magic shows, or you can have students demonstrate with Day-Glo colors why we see the phases of the moon. A great biography on a free app – what a bright idea!


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Dream Something Big

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Biography, Early Learning, Letter / Number Knowledge, Logic Smart, Math Tie-In, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading, Vocabulary | 0 comments

Dream Something Big: the Story of the Watts Towers, written by Dianna Hutts Aston with collages by Susan L. Roth, is a visually stunning biography of an artist you may never have heard of before. Simon Rodia was simply Uncle Sam to his neighbors in Los Angeles. Over 34 years, Sam built towers from broken bits of tile, glass, and cement that soar up to 99 feet high. His incredible recycled-art structures are now a National Landmark.

At the end of this gorgeously illustrated book you’ll find jaw-dropping photos of the Watts Towers. I’m including a close-up of the towers here so you can see the details as well as a photo that shows just how huge these works of art are. Share Dream Something Big with your students and do a fun math activity. Just how tall is a 99-foot tower? Get out the rulers and chalk and head to the playground or parking lot. Divide 99 by the number of students you have and let them take turns measuring and marking out each foot in 99 feet. Stand at one end of the length when you are done and imagine that distance soaring into the sky. Decorate the 99 feet with chalk “collages”, coloring bright shapes to resemble Sam’s art. Build your own towers with scrap materials, pipe cleaners, clay, etc. and encourage your students to “dream something big” like Sam did. For more inspiration, visit Dianna Hutts Aston’s website: or Susan Roth’s website:

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You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Biography, Early Learning, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading, Self Smart, Vocabulary | 0 comments

Baseball season is here, and while Detroiters are cheering on Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, many kids are going (pea)nuts over Sandy Koufax. Never heard of him? I hadn’t either, until I read You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho. This picture book biography hits it out of the park. It has a conversational writing style, slick illustrations, cool statistics that sports fans love, and a subject you can’t help but admire. Sandy Koufax was a teenager from Brooklyn playing for the Dodgers back when there weren’t many Jews in professional baseball. His career took more twists than a curve ball, going from the dubious honor of throwing the most wild pitches in 1958 to becoming “the greatest lefty who ever pitched”. He struck out Mickey Mantle, Willie Stargell, even Willie Mays. Koufax was supposed to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series, but he sat the game out – it was a Jewish High Holy Day, and he honored his religious beliefs by not working that day.

I love biographies that show how long and bumpy the road to success is. Sandy Koufax threw his uniform in the trash after one awful season, basically quit the team. He returned the next season, not to instant success, but to more struggles which he had to work through in order to become the great player we now know. Reading You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! can inspire a wonderful “self smart” discussion with your kids. When have you felt the urge to give up? What did you do to get past that feeling? What are you really good at? What do you struggle with? What do you wish you were better at, and what could you do to improve? Andre Carrilho created some super-cool art for this book (the cover looks like it’s moving!) including some pieces that look like baseball cards. Have your students make a “baseball” card of themselves, a card that shows them as successful adults. Kids can draw themselves on the front in action (playing a sport, making art, doing what they love to do) and they can include statistics on the back like “2020: first author to win both the Caldecott and the Newbery for the same book”. (OK, that statistic is on my future dream card, but I’ll let others borrow it.) Kids can keep these cards as inspiration to get them through the slumps, and who knows? One day, those statistics they created might come true!

For more information, visit Andre Carrilho’s website:


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