The book Dangerous! by Tim Warnes is such a fun read aloud! It is an excellent text for teaching a love of words and friendship.  It begins, “Mole loved labelling things. All sorts of things. Anything really. Naming things was what Mole liked best.”  Cute illustrations accompany this text with labels like moss, anthill, poop, pebble, caterpillar, and frog.

One day he finds a mysterious object and begins to identify it – bumpy, lumpy, peculiar, mysterious, gigantic.  When the mysterious object almost wakes up with a big yawn and exposes its large teeth, Mole adds a new label – dangerous. He then tries to sneak away, but the mysterious creature wakes up and gobbles up all the labels. Mole angrily stomps away in disgust at his labels being devoured, but the lumpy, bumpy thing follows.  When Mole insults the lumpy, bumpy thing after more labels are eaten, the lumpy bumpy thing puts on his own label – sorry. And Mole has a new one to add too – friend.  And on the inside of the end cover there are a bunch of new labels Mole has given his friend – persistent, harmless, forgiving, beautiful, precious.

This book is an excellent motivator for activities like a word wall or labeling the room. How fun would it be to switch classrooms with another class and label each other’s rooms?

Also, it is great for a discussion on making friends. The first labels Mole gave the mystery creature all had to do with appearance (warty, heavy, spiky, slimy), but in the end the labels focus on inside characteristics (determined, funny, kind, safe.)

I have created a free pdf download of 6 images of animals that will likely be strange things to your students. Have the students create labels to describe each animal. This could also be extended into creating narratives or informational texts about the interesting animals.


Clark the Shark

Clark the Shark is a fun read aloud that my son immediately requested to read again. Clark loves school, but his excitement can be a bit too much for the classroom, the cafeteria (where he eats all his friends’ lunches), and the playground where he soon doesn’t have anyone to play with. With help from his teacher, Clark learns, “There is a time and place for everything. Sometimes you stay cool.” He realizes if he makes a rhyme for each situation, like to only munch his lunch, he can remember to make appropriate choices. And there are times like recess with the new, and also big-sized student Sid the Squid, that Clark can still be rough.

This is a great book for students who struggle with talking too loud and natural rough and tumble play. It allows the teacher a gentle way to remind the student that he or she needs to “stay cool when in school.”

My cousin’s son received a “red card” on the first day of kindergarten because he was so excited he couldn’t stop talking to all the other children. I hate that he has that as a first experience in school. All of his natural enthusiasm needs to be celebrated and gently directed into appropriate channels instead of being labeled as bad or poor behavior on the first day.

The book is a great read aloud for Pre-K through 3rd grade. I have created some fun reading and writing activities specifically geared for first and second grade. The download includes a discussion guide, character analysis activities, creative writing, and opinion writing. It is available here in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

clark the shark clark the shark 2


Items for Baby’s First Easter


With no warm breaks in the weather for the past few months, I am dreaming of time outside, and watching my littlest one enjoy his first Easter. We already have so many toys appropriate for the one year old age, it is a little bit of a challenge to think of meaningful and useful things to fill his basket with. Here are some of our previous favorites and some new items that will be in our little man’s first Easter basket.

1. Bunnies by the Bay Carrot Rattle – This is great for a newborn’s basket. It is soft, easy to grab, and when the baby gets older he or she will love grabbing at the green stem. I think it would also make a nice, small first Easter keepsake.
2. Egg Shakers – These were the most loved items in my eldest son’s first Easter basket. They are great for dancing around to music, nice to take in the diaper bag (the noise they make is soft and pleasant), and a toy that will be used for ears. Perfect for little babies who can’t play with small items that typically go in an Easter basket. My 10 month old plays with them every day!
3. Where Are Baby’s Easter Eggs? – Both of my sons have loved the Karen Katz board books. The bright colors and easy to lift flaps are a hit. I will never be able to get read of our Karen Katz books – even though they are completely worn out – because of all the great reading time we’ve had with them. I can’t wait to add this title to our collection this year.
4. Easter Weebles – We love spinning Weebles across the floor, and they are great for little hands to handle. This is another great egg shaped item for Baby’s basket.
5.Snug Bugs – I was so happy to find these. I can still remember the Fisher Price snap beads from when I was little. I love this take on that classic – absolutely perfect for my little Love Bug. He makes the cutest face when he pulls things apart!
6.Bunny Hat and Booties – Oh I wish they had this in larger sizes than the 0-3, but for a newborn this is absolutely perfect!
7.Bunnies by the Bay Cuddle Coat – If I had a little girl, I would have to have this (but I would purchase before Easter for longer wear). I have this one for my son, and absolutely love how soft it is.
8.Folkmanis Puppet Floppy Bunny Rabbit – Instead of the traditional stuffed bunny, I think I will add to our Folkmanis puppet collection. All of their pieces are so lifelike, and my little one is much more captivated by puppets than regular stuffed animals.
9.Gerber Graduates Sippy Cups – My little guy is in need of some new sippy cups – Easter is the perfect time to make necessities fun.
10.Organic Yogurt Melts – These are the equivalent to chocolate for my little one. I love buying these bulk on Amazon since our local store doesn’t have the organic ones. These are always in our diaper bag and save us on long car rides.
11.Bumkins Bibs – These are my favorite brand of bib. We are in need of some new ones, I just have to decide which pack to choose. There are so many cute ones!
12.Baby Banz Retro Banz and Baby Sunscreen – We are longing for days full of playing outside. I can’t wait to see my handsome little guy taking his first steps outside with these on. And sunscreen is another must that will be in his basket.

James H. Banning Biography



After reading The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner, I was interested in reading more about the pilot James Banning. It was shocking and saddening to find that his death was tragically tied to discrimination and racism. He was the passenger in a fatal plane crash as he was not permitted to be the pilot. Otherwise, most of the information I found was similar to the content included in The Hallelujah Flight

There is not a wealth of information about Banning, so it made me appreciate even more the way Bildner made Banning come vividly to life. 

I have taken the basic information about Banning’s life and created a short biography for students to read and compare to the story book. I created three versions of the text (advanced, easy, and easy without reference to Banning’s death) for you to pick the text most appropriate for your students. The text can be downloaded here via Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Apples to Oregon


My first exposure to the Oregon Trail was playing the video game on my parents’ computer in the early 1990s. Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter follows the route I learned so well without any of the dreaded illness, drowning, or running out of food.  The book does include those beloved landmarks of Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock and the perils of crossing the Platte River. Even better, the book is such a rich, colorful experience compared to the black and white game I loved so much.

While this book is based on the historical Oregon Trail, it is told as a tall tale from the point of view of Delicious, the daughter of a pioneer who is bringing his fruit trees from Iowa to Oregon. He worries about the survival of his saplings along each peril of the journey. And Delicious makes a scrumptious heroine as she saves the apples.

The book is a gold mine of figurative language. Hyperbole, idioms, similes, metaphors, alliteration, and personification – this book is great for reading and rereading to analyze the excellent use of figurative language. For example, the climax of the book is Delicious’s personified battle against Jack Frost where in the end “that low-down scoundrel was hightailing it out of there.”

Phrases like “muddier than a cowboy’s toenails” and “I spied a foul-looking bunch of clouds stomping around the sun just fit to be tied” make the book a fun read; one that is wonderful to read aloud. The book is appropriate for k-6, but will be most enjoyable to students with background knowledge about the Oregon Trail.

While the book is best classified as a tall tale, it is also historical fiction. The book is inspired by Henderson Luelling who did bring the first apple trees to Oregon in a covered wagon along with his wife and eight children.

Apples to Oregon Discussion Questions Based on Common Core Reading: Literature Standards:

  • Who is the narrator of the book?
  • What were some of the major problems the family experienced on their journey to Oregon?
  • How would you describe the tone of the book? Is it serious, funny, sad…why?
  • Look at the first picture of the covered wagon on the way to Oregon. What do you notice about the wagon? What does this tell you about the family?
  • Delicious is the hero of this book. What actions does she take that make her a hero?
  • This book is a tall tale. The definition of a tall tale is story that has unbelievable or exaggerated events that are told as if true. Many tall tales are set in the American frontier. Give examples of why this book fits the definition of a tall tale.
  • Pick a page or two of the book to reread. What language is used to make the page interesting?

The Hallelujah Flight

The Hallelujah Flight

Historical fiction is my all-time favorite genre. I fell in love with the Little House on the Prairie books as a child and never looked back. But I don’t remember reading historical fiction picture books, so as a teacher and parent, I am completely in love with this genre. I love finding great books like this one,  The Hallelujah Flightwhere I can learn about amazing people in United States history, in such a quick and engaging manner.

This book is based off the first transcontinental flight by an African American pilot, James Banning. He was joined by Thomas Allen, as his copilot and mechanic, in the historical 1932 flight. Together they fixed up a dilapidated plane and prepared to take off from California to New York. They knew the plane wouldn’t make it without additional work, and they didn’t have the money for food or fuel.  Putting their faith in fellow humankind, Banning came up with the idea of having people who offered help along the way sign their names on the tip of the wing. Everyone would then become part of the historical flight, and his plan worked!

The Hallelujah Flight does a great job of honoring Banning and Allen, who became known as the Flying Hoboes, and all those who helped them on their flight. The book also gently touches on the discrimination they experienced in some areas of the United States. Overall, the tone remains positive and uplifting, making it an appropriate text for kindergarten and up.

Bildner found a treasure in this story. Not much information is recorded on Banning and this flight. A quick Google search on Banning doesn’t turn up much. His Wikipedia page is short and sad – he died in a 1933 flight where he was the passenger as a flight instructor had refused to allow him the pilot’s seat. Records of Allen’s remain, so Bildner used him as the narrator. The dialogue between Allen and Bildner is easy to follow, and the book is fun to read aloud. The illustrations are engaging with a retro feel and rich colors. This is a great book for Black History Month or anytime of the year.

Common Core Discussion Questions Based off K-3 Reading: Literature Standards

For The Hallelujah Flight

  • Who is the narrator of the book?
  • Banning and Allen did not have enough money for the flight across the United States. What plan did they come up with to make their dream possible?
  • Why do you think Banning and Allen wanted to fly across the country?
  • Why were Banning and Allen called the Flying Hoboes?
  • Would you have wanted to sign the wing of the plane? Why or why not?
  • What words would you use to describe the plane?
  • What does it mean, “we encountered something far more dangerous than hot weather and nightfall: prejudice”?
  • Why do you think Banning and Allen named the flight, “The Hallelujah Flight?” What feelings do you think they had with the word hallelujah?
  • What lessons can we learn from this famous flight?

Bear Has a Story to Tell

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

The award winning duo of  Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead have created a beautiful tale with Bear Has a Story to Tell. In the story, Bear is excited to tell his story, but all of his friends are busy with preparations for winter. He helps each animal get ready until it is time for him to hibernate as well. When spring arrives, Bear is finally ready to tell his story. He kindly greets each of his friends, and when the time arrives to share his story, he forgets! What should one do when no story comes to mind? With the help of his friends, he is ready to tell the story of his patient wait.

This book, appropriate for ages 2-6, has a variety of themes to discuss. There is the changing of seasons, the need to be patient and wait, the kindness friends show each other, and the love of telling stories. The calming mood created by the text and illustrations makes this a great book for students who need a quiet story time. It is also an excellent bedtime story.

Common Core Discussion Questions for Bear Has a Story to Tell based on Reading Literature: Grades K-2

–          What did Bear want to do?

–          What words would you use to describe Bear’s personality? Why?

–          During what seasons of the year did the story take place?

–          Which of Bear’s friends had to leave for the winter?

–          How do you feel after reading this book? How do you feel after looking at the illustrations? Do you feel energetic or relaxed?

The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Matchbox Diary is magical storytelling. Objects hold such appeal to young children. Exploring, finding treasures – it is something every child loves and can relate to. This gorgeously illustrated picture book (illustrations of the present day are in warming hues and those from the past look like sepia photographs) begins with a young girl and her great-grandfather. She can pick any object for him to tell a story about, and she picks the perfect one – his matchbox diary. Before the grandfather could write, he kept a diary of small items inside matchboxes to help him remember his journey from Italy to the United States and the challenges and joys he found in America.

The grandfather’s immigration story simply and powerfully tells common themes found in the stories of immigrants – hunger, being apart from family while money for tickets is saved, dangerous storms, medical inspections at Ellis Island, working in factories, discrimination, and a passionate desire to be educated.

The age range on this book is 6-9, but with the illustrations and gentle, interesting stories to accompany each object, my 4 year old is able to enjoy it as well.

Here are some discussion questions for the story based on the Common Core Reading Literature Standards for grades 1-3. Pick and choose as appropriate.

Questions for The Matchbox Diary

  • Who are the main characters in the story?
  • What was life like for the grandfather when he lived in Italy?
  • Why was the grandfather separated from his father?
  • Why did the grandfather keep a matchbox diary?
  • Describe the trip from Italy to America.
  • What was the grandfather scared of when the family reached Ellis Island?
  • Was life in America how the grandfather expected it to be? Why or why not?
  • Why did the grandfather have a tooth in a box?
  • How would you describe the grandfather’s personality?
  • How did the grandfather learn to read and write?
  • What do the grandfather and granddaughter have in common?
  • What life lessons did the granddaughter learn?
  • What mood do the color of the illustrations create?
  • How does reading this book make you feel? Why?
  • The grandfather tells his granddaughter at the end of the book, “Lucky girl. You’ll be writing before you know it. Till then, I’ll bet you’re a good collector. Like me.”  Do you collect anything? Why do you think collecting is important to many people?