Thursday, July 2, 2015

Building Community in Primary Grades: 15 New Must Have Books for this Fall

from  Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem (Bilingual Cooking Poems). 

Argueta, Jorge. (2015). Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem (Bilingual Cooking Poems). Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Translated by Elisa Amado. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.

I love this series of books that Jorge Argueta has created. This is sure to be a favorite with the children. An ultimate how-to book. You and your students will love making this salsa recipe.

from Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox.
from Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox.
Daniel, Danielle. (Metis)  (2015). Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Time to make masks and emulate the text! An introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals, told through 12 brief speakers who explain their chosen mask, such as deer, moose, beaver. 

from How the Sun Got to Coco's House
Graham, Bob. (2015). How the Sun Got to Coco's House. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 
A book to read aloud to start the day.

from The Little Gardner
Hughes, Emily. (2015). The Little Gardner. London, UK: Flying Eye Books.
An original tale to delight over and images to savor.  After reading this, make art with the kids. Bold colors.

from A Fine Desert Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat.

Jenkins, Emily. (2015). A Fine Desert Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Now this is a history book children will beg to hear again and again.  Make the recipe that traveled across four centuries.

from Bright Sky, Starry City

Krishnaswami, Uma. (2015). Bright Sky, Starry City.  Illustrated by Aimee Sicuro. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
What I love about this book is the mixture of story (a little girl and her dad want to see the night sky in the city) and science (afterwards) wrapped up in child-like illustrations.

Kulling, Monica. (2015). Grant and Tillie Go Walking. Illustrated by Sydney Smith. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Based in part on the life of artist, Grant Wood, mixed with a bit of fiction.  Grant and his cow go for a walk.

from Sidewalk Flowers

Lawson, JonArno. (2015). Sidewalk Flowers.  Illustrated by Sydney Smith. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
A wordless book to dwell on. Small things, small gestures often yield big feelings. A treasure.

Messner, Kate. (2015). How to Read a Story. Illustrated by Mark Siegel. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
10 easy steps.  Step 1: Find a story. Step 2: Find a reading buddy and so on...A delightful romp through reading.  You'll read this one over and over again.

from Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle
Paul, Miranda. (2015). Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle. Illustrated by Jason Chin. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
A book to wonder about, together. Told through poetry. Oh my. Jason Chin's art is lush.

from The Tea Party in the Woods

Miyakshi, Akiko. (2015). The Tea Party in the Woods. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
An original fairy tale to read aloud. A study in minimal color.

from What James Saw

Rosenberg, Liz. (2015). What James Saw. Illustrated by Matthew Myers. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
A book about misunderstandings, art, and friendship.

from Beautiful Birds.
Roussen, Jean. (2015). Beautiful Birds. Illustrated by Emmanuelle Walker. London, UK: Flying Eye Books.
An ABC book to read and reread.

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. (2015). I Used to Be Afraid. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Another book for students to emulate. I can imagine a wall story being made by young children borrowing the structure of this text.

from How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz.

Winter, Jonah. (2015). How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz. Illustrated by Keith Mallett. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
This demands to be read out loud!  Introduce the children to language that riffs and Jelly Roll Morton.

Shadow Worlds

House by the Tracks (M.A. Reilly, 2009)


I've spent the last few months mucking about in myths. Knee deep you might say. Some believe in religion. In science.  I believe in mythologies. In stories. In the sacredness of breath. Nothing less. No matter the myth or its place of origin, myths are energies that speak so directly that words are a type of sound and meaning gets (un)made through the repetition of sound.

We feel it, bone deep.


And here, I want to tell you--everything is connected.

We story ourselves, feel
story as verb, not merely noun.


There are no true meanings. There's just now.
Put aside your interpretations for they'll block your weariness.
They'll justify the content of war, greed, malnourished selves too over indulged
or sciences divorced from the very earth you and I will return to
regardless of the subterfuge of caskets and prayers.

Susan Sontag writes:
To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world— in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings" (p. 7). 
She's writing, in part, about art interpretation, but she could be writing about the limitations of learning at school, or the slow touch known so infrequently in less-awake lives.

We are buried beneath interpretation.


At schools, the powers insist upon close reading. An interpretive move that is to be applied against all that is read across all 13 years of school. Close reading is singularly about interpretation, about right readings of text--and this, alone, should give us pause.

Again, Sontag tells us:
For decades now, literary critics have understood it to be their task to translate the elements of the poem or play or novel or story into something else (p.8).

Yet, she tells us that the most alive art is the one with mistakes.
Perhaps the way one tells how alive a particular art form is, is by the latitude it gives for making mistakes in it, and still being good.


Art need not be about particular things--nor learning.
That was the first myth we forgot.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

6 Bold Books: Graphics Gone Wild

from Space Race
Cole, Tom Clohosy. (2012). Space Race. London, UK: Nobrow.

Cosmos, Golden. (2012).  High Times: A History of Aviation. London, UK: Nobrow.

Lie, Bjorn Rune. (2012).  The Wolf's Whistle. London, UK: Nobrow.
from Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical
Revah, Noemie. (2014). Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical. Illustrated by Olimpia Zagnoli. Brooklyn, NY: Enchanted Lion Books.

from Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space.
Walliman, Dominic. (2014). Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space. Illustrated by Ben Newman. London, UK: Nobrow.

from A Long Piece of String.
Wondriska, William. (2010). A Long Piece of String. San Francisco, CA Chronicle Books.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


South Bronx on the Map (M.A. Reilly, June 2, 2014)

             - Rita Dove

Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn’t had time to stick;

back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file . . .

the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.

I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn’t know their names?

Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.

Rita Dove from On the Bus With Rosa Parks. Copyright ©1999 by Rita Dove. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

8 New Traditional Tales: Books to Anticipate

I have spent the last few months ensconced in making ebooks filled with instructional maps and plan focused on teaching traditional tales such as fables, fairy tales, myths, and epics in picture book and novel form. The stories these tales tell are impressive and the language is memorable.  I'll be releasing all of four ebooks in July and they will be downloadable through iTunes (for free!). Some is work I have composed across the last three years and much of it has been used in K-5 classrooms in Newark, NJ. The remainder is new and with a group of teachers we will be using these materials while teaching this year.  Of course, the teachers and children will be changing and adapting the instructional maps as they work.  

Given the ebook form, I'll update as we go along. Maps need not be static. 

In this post I want to highlight a few upcoming books I think you will treasure.  These are all original traditional tales and I have my eye on them as I think about upcoming books to create.

sample page spread from the book “The Hunter’s Promise”, written by Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
from The Hunter's Promise. Illustration by Bill Farnsworth.

Bruchac, Joseph. (Sept., 2015). The Hunter's Promise: An Abenaki Tale.  Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales. 

from The Hare and the Hedgehog. Illustration by Jonas Lauströer. 

Grimm, The Brothers. (Sept., 2015). The Hare & the Hedgehog. Illustrated by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide: Minedition. 

sample spread from the book “Princess Rosie’s Rainbows”, by Bette Killion and Kim Jacobs
from Princess Rosie's Rainbows. Illustration by Kim Jacobs.

Killion, Bette. (October, 2015). Princess Rosie’s Rainbows. Illustrated by Kim Jacobs. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales. 

Sadako's Cranes cover image

Loske, Judith. (Sept., 2015). Sadako's Cranes.  Bargteheide: Minedition. 

Miyakoshi, Akiko. (August, 2015). The Tea Party in the Woods. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

from Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph. Illustration by Leo Espinosa.
Rozier, Lucy Margaret. (Sept., 2015). Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph. Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. New York: Schwartz & Wade. 

sample page spread from the book “The Green Musician”, written by Mahvash Shahegh and illustrated by Claire Ewart
from The Green Musician. Illustration by Claire Ewart. 

Shahegh, Mahvash. (August, 2015). The Green Musician. Illustrated by Claire Ewart. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales.

sample spread from the book “Whispers of the Wolf”, by Pauline Ts’o

from Whispers of the Wolf by Pauline Ts'o.
Ts’o, Pauline. (October, 2015). Whispers of the Wolf. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Faint Music

Bass (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
Faint Music

Maybe you need to write a poem about grace.

When everything broken is broken,   
and everything dead is dead,
and the hero has looked into the mirror with complete contempt,
and the heroine has studied her face and its defects
remorselessly, and the pain they thought might,
as a token of their earnestness, release them from themselves
has lost its novelty and not released them,
and they have begun to think, kindly and distantly,
watching the others go about their days—
likes and dislikes, reasons, habits, fears—
that self-love is the one weedy stalk
of every human blossoming, and understood,
therefore, why they had been, all their lives,   
in such a fury to defend it, and that no one—
except some almost inconceivable saint in his pool
of poverty and silence—can escape this violent, automatic
life’s companion ever, maybe then, ordinary light,
faint music under things, a hovering like grace appears.

As in the story a friend told once about the time   
he tried to kill himself. His girl had left him.
Bees in the heart, then scorpions, maggots, and then ash.   
He climbed onto the jumping girder of the bridge,   
the bay side, a blue, lucid afternoon.
And in the salt air he thought about the word “seafood,”
that there was something faintly ridiculous about it.
No one said “landfood.” He thought it was degrading to the rainbow perch
he’d reeled in gleaming from the cliffs, the black rockbass,   
scales like polished carbon, in beds of kelp
along the coast—and he realized that the reason for the word   
was crabs, or mussels, clams. Otherwise
the restaurants could just put “fish” up on their signs,   
and when he woke—he’d slept for hours, curled up   
on the girder like a child—the sun was going down
and he felt a little better, and afraid. He put on the jacket   
he’d used for a pillow, climbed over the railing   
carefully, and drove home to an empty house.

There was a pair of her lemon yellow panties
hanging on a doorknob. He studied them. Much-washed.   
A faint russet in the crotch that made him sick   
with rage and grief. He knew more or less
where she was. A flat somewhere on Russian Hill.   
They’d have just finished making love. She’d have tears   
in her eyes and touch his jawbone gratefully. “God,”   
she’d say, “you are so good for me.” Winking lights,   
a foggy view downhill toward the harbor and the bay.   
“You’re sad,” he’d say. “Yes.” “Thinking about Nick?”
“Yes,” she’d say and cry. “I tried so hard,” sobbing now,
“I really tried so hard.” And then he’d hold her for a while—
Guatemalan weavings from his fieldwork on the wall—
and then they’d fuck again, and she would cry some more,   
and go to sleep.
                        And he, he would play that scene
once only, once and a half, and tell himself
that he was going to carry it for a very long time
and that there was nothing he could do
but carry it. He went out onto the porch, and listened   
to the forest in the summer dark, madrone bark
cracking and curling as the cold came up.

It’s not the story though, not the friend
leaning toward you, saying “And then I realized—,”
which is the part of stories one never quite believes.   
I had the idea that the world’s so full of pain
it must sometimes make a kind of singing.
And that the sequence helps, as much as order helps—
First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing.
Robert Hass, “Faint Music” from Sun Under Wood. Copyright © 1996 by Robert Hass. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.