Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 9, Poetry and Short Stories

Module 9: A Curious Collection of Cats

Title: A Curious Collection of Cats

Author:Betsy Franco

ISBN: 978-1-58246-248-6

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books


A Curious Collection of Cats is a book of brightly illustrated cat poems that detail all of the quirks and personalities found in cats.The poems are often as unruly as the felines they portray, with upside down poems, curved words, and even a poem shaped like the fat cat that it is about. Each poem takes on a personality of its own, and helps any cat loving reader get closer to their purring pets.

Franco, B. & Wertz, M. (2009). A curious collection of cats. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.

My Impressions:

This collection of concrete cat poems will have readers of all ages laughing out loud. Each poem in the collection is unique, and brilliantly illustrated. The art and the poems work well together- one would not be the same without the other. Several of the poems stuck out to me after I finished the book. I loved the hilarious haiku poems included, and thought that they could not have done a better job of portraying some of the less endearing personality traits cats posses. Perhaps my favorite  poem in the collection was completely symmetrical. The illustration is stunning, and captures the picture of two cats sitting on a chair perfectly. Cat lovers and haters alike will all find something worthwhile in this collection of poems. I recommend this book to readers of all ages.

For Use in the Library:

This collection would pair well with a work of fiction about cats, such as What Will Fat Cat Sit On? by Jan Thomas. As it contains examples of many different types of poems, this collection would make an excellent addition to a poetry unit. The collection includes several great haiku poems, and even a symmetrical poem that could be used to supplement a geometry unit.


In an ideal match of subject and form, poet Franco uses the sinuous shapes and playful motions of cats to distill the essence of felines in all their grace and ridiculousness. Each of the thirty-two concrete poems is a mini-depiction of a particular cat, as in “Veronica Goes Wide”: “Veronica’s gotten so pudgy / and PLUMP, / she now mostly acts like a snuggable / lump”; the poem is written across the yellow cat, with the M in lump formed from her ears. Cats interact with dogs, with squirrels, with one another, and with people in a variety of funny ways, but Franco uses words so precisely to capture cats’ behavior that cat-lovers will feel a shock of recognition. Cat-haters may, too, as Franco lays bare the lesscharming aspects of life with cats, as in “cat haiku 1” (“Tuna fish dinner / Kitty washes down her meal / sips from toilet bowl”) and the self-explanatory “that cat peed on my hat.” Wirtz’s illustrations, monoprints adjusted in Adobe Photoshop, keep the words that wrap and weave around the cats readable while still creating visual interest in the backgrounds. Together, poet and artist convey the silliness of cats and their humans without ever being silly themselves. s.d.l.

S. D., L. (2009). [Review of the book A curious collection of cats, by B. Franco & M. Wertz]. Horn Book Magazine, 85(3), 314-315. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 7, Non-Fiction

Module 7: Poop Happened!

Title: Poop Happened!

Author: Sarah Albee

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2077-1

Publisher: Walker & Company


Poop Happened! takes the reader through history, looking at how humans have relieved themselves and disposed of their waste over the ages. It begins by discussing why this study is so important. Albee explains how people did not understand the connection between unclean living conditions and water and human health. She goes on to show how each century changed in its view points on sanitation, discussing things such as professions, diseases, and even how clothing has changed in relation to how society uses the restroom. Albee concludes by explaining how toilets advanced due to technology, and how pollution still a factor in our world.

Albee, S. (2010). Poop happened! A history of the world from the bottom up. New York, Ny: Walker & Company.

My Impressions:

This one will be an instant hit in my classroom, and I am stoked to tempt my reluctant readers with it. Albee takes on a conversational tone with her reader as she discusses this unconventional subject, reminding young readers that reading is fun. The text features throughout this text are amazing. Readers will love the array of pictures and captions, as well as the silly cartoons flitting along the pages. The chapters are organized well, and are full of eye catching side bars or boxes that draw the reader in. I read this entire book in one sitting. And I found myself repeating interesting facts I had learned to my family and friends several days after I finished. I enjoyed Albee’s lighthearted tone, adored the clever chapter titles, and couldn’t get enough of the content. I recommend this text for every 4-8 grade classroom. Readers will be waiting in line to read this one!

For Use in the Library:

This is an excellent text to suggest to a reluctant or struggling reader. The title and subject matter of this book is unconventional, and will make hesitant readers feel at ease while reading. The vocabulary is very kid friendly, and the content is highly engaging. Talk this one up to your classes, and you will have kids begging to be the next in line to read it.


Gr 4-8–This self-proclaimed “number one book on number two” takes readers inside the fascinating world of excrement, ranging across the historical spectrum from “Hellenic Hygiene” to “How Do Astronauts Use the Toilet in Space?” Albee’s focus is not only on bodily functions, but also on the larger public-health challenges created by mass urbanization in the ancient and modern world as well as the ability of societies to deal with these problems, which provides readers with an excellent introduction to social history. With a focus on the Western world in general and England in particular, the author touches on an array of topics from diseases such as cholera and plague to the development of increased sanitation in large urban areas such as London. The exciting format is comprised of a two-color (pastel green and blue) layout with numerous illustrations and photos. Interesting sidebars describe occupations and “hygiene heroes” such as Edwin Chadwick and bathroom fashion. The fluid writing style that ensnares and holds readers’ attention from beginning to end. By bringing history alive, this captivating work is without a doubt an essential purchase.

Odom, B. (2010). [Review of the book Poop happened: A history of the world from the bottom up, by S. Albee]. School Library Journal, 56(5), 126. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Elementary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Module 6: Henry’s Freedom Box

Title: Henry’s Freedom Box

Author: Ellen Levine

ISBN: 978-0-439-77733-9

Publisher: Scholastic, Incorporated


A true story of the underground railroad, Henry’s Freedom Box, tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who did whatever it took to gain his freedom. Henry was fortunate to grow up working as a slave for a master who was kind to him. But Henry’s master fell ill, and soon called for Henry and his mother. Henry wondered if his master was going to grant them freedom, but he just gave him to his son instead. Henry quickly realized that his new master was not kind like his old one, and though he was good at his job, Henry was frequently beaten by the boss. As a young man, Henry met his wife, Nancy, and started a family. They lived in happiness for a while, but soon, Nancy’s master lost his fortune, and agreed to sell off his best slaves. Nancy and her children were taken away, and Henry was left alone and desperate. Henry devised a plan to runaway and find his family. He made contact with the underground railroad, and decided to hop in a box, and mail himself to a free state in the north. Henry’s mission was successful. He gained his freedom and a new life.

Levine, E. & Nelson, K. (2007). Henry’s freedom box. United States: Scholastic, Incorporated.

My Impressions:

This is an absolutely beautiful book. Nelson’s illustrations are exquisite, and do a wonderful job of enhancing the story. Levine tells her story expertly, with simple kid friendly language, making this book friendly for readers of all ages. I enjoyed Henry Brown’s story, and was definitely on the edge of my seat when he decided to mail himself to freedom with only a few biscuits for food along the way. This sets a suspenseful image in the mind, and very much allows the reader to the desperation that Henry feels at the loss of his family. My only complaint is that the author concludes the story without telling the reader whether Henry was ever able to find and free his family. Even the author’s note on Henry Brown at the end of the book did not mention anything about his family.  The story felt incomplete without knowing the fate of Nancy and the kids, and prompted me to do my own research on the subject, simply to satisfy my own curiosity. I suppose if it prompts my students to do the same, encouraging them to research things that interest them, I can’t be too upset by the author’s choice to make the reader dig for more information. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.

For Use in the Library:

Henry’s Freedom Box would make an excellent addition to any library. Whether it is for pleasure reading or a classroom lesson, readers of every age will fall in love with Henry “Box” Brown. Use this title as an opening library lesson during black history month. Pair it with titles such as Salt in His Shoes, by Deloris Jordan, or My Brother Martin, by Christine King Farris.


In a true story that is both heartbreaking and joyful, Levine recounts the history of Henry “Box” Brown, born into slavery. Henry works in a tobacco factory, marries another slave, and fathers three children; but then his family is sold, and Henry realizes he will never see them again. With nothing to lose, Henry persuades his friend James and a sympathetic white man to mail him in a wooden box to Philadelphia and freedom. Levine maintains a dignified, measured tone, telling her powerful story through direct, simple language. A note at the end explains the historical basis for the fictionalized story. Accompanying Levine’s fine, controlled telling are pencil, watercolor, and oil paint illustrations by Kadir Nelson that resonate with beauty and sorrow. When Henry’s mother holds him as a child on her lap, they gaze out at bright autumn leaves, and the tenderness is palpable, even as she calls to his attention the leaves that “are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.” There is no sugarcoating here, and Henry is not miraculously reunited with his wife and children; however, the conclusion, as Henry celebrates his new freedom, is moving and satisfying. S.D.L.

Lempke, S. D. (2007). [Review of the book Henry’s freedom box, by E. Levine & K. Nelson]. Horn Book Magazine, 83(2), 186-187. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Cinderella Skeleton

Title: Cinderella Skeleton

Author: Robert D. San Souci

ISBN: 978-0-15-205069-6

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company


This is not your typical Cinderella Story. In Cinderella Skeleton, the story is told through verse, and of course all of the characters are skeletons. Cinderella Skeleton lives with her stepmother and her nasty stepsisters, and is always kept busy hanging cobwebs, displaying dead flowers around the house, and feeding the bats. When Prince Charnel announces he is throwing a party, Cinderella Skeleton has to stay home and work. She decides to go and visit a witch to seek a solution to her problem, and is quickly transformed into a glamorous skeleton. With a warning that she must return by morning, the witch sends Cinderella Skeleton off to meet her prince. At the ball, they instantly hit it off, and Cinderella Skeleton looses track of time. She rushes out of the ball, and as the prince grabs for her, her entire foot comes off in his hand. The prince searches the land until he at last finds Cinderella Skeleton, and matched her foot to her leg. Cinderella Skeleton gets her happy ending at last.

San Souci, R. D. & Catrow, D. (2000). Cinderella skeleton. San Diego, CA: Silver Whistle/Harcourt.

My Impressions:

Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. Sansouci was a fun read. When I picked up this title, I was expecting a typical Cinderella story with a skeleton twist. But this was so much more than that. The story was told in verse, complete with stanza, rhyme, line repetition, and rhythm. And the illustrations were so original in their design and detail. I loved the vibrant colors in the scenery and on the characters themselves. I would like this book for the fantastic illustrations alone, but the addition of the clever story is a plus. This would be such a great story to pair with a poetry unit! Overall, I would recommend this story to 3-5 grade readers, or to teachers looking for a fun mentor text to use while teaching poetry.

For Use in the Library:

Read this title around Halloween as a fun, spooky read aloud. Then ask the students to turn one of their favorite fairy tale characters into a skeleton. For older students, ask them to try and re-write their favorite fairy tale into verse, using Cinderella Skeleton as a guide.


Cinderella Skeleton / Was everything a ghoul should be: / Her build was long and lean and lank; / Her dankish hair hung down in hanks; / Her nails were yellow; her teeth were green–/ The ghastliest haunt you’ve ever seen. / Foulest in the land was she.” San Souci (Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story) takes his interest inCinderella variants one step further by creating a bony heroine whose trip to the ball has a distinctly Halloweenish cast. Even children who’ve never heard of The Addams Family will recognize the conventions (Cinderella Skeleton’s housework consists of hanging up cobwebs instead of taking them down), and the plot follows the original folktale closely, with one grisly exception: instead of retaining her glass slipper, Prince Charnel gets her entire foot, snapped off halfway up the leg bone. This and other potentially scary moments are made humorous in Catrow’s caricatures, which employ the long lines and angles of the skeletons to create particularly dynamic compositions in pencil and watercolor. Cinderella wears a fluttering cobweb gown and a blooming dandelion as her headdress, while Prince Charnel is just as handsome with deeply sunken eyes and ornamental cockroaches scurrying over his Napoleonic dress uniform. Although San Souci’s unusual rhyme scheme, complex syllables, and breaks in meter may trip up a few unwary readers, much remains to be admired in this sweet tale of corpse-meets-corpse.

Burkam, A. L. (2000). [Review of the book Cinderella skeleton, by R. D. San Souci & D. Catrow]. Horn Book Magazine, 76(5), 589-590. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: Crow Call

Title: Crow Call

Author: Lois Lowry

ISBN: 978-0-545-03035-9

Publisher: Scholastic, Incorporated



Crow Call is a touching story about a little girl’s day out with her dad after he returns home from war. She is trying to get used to having a dad again, and feels shy and uncertain around him, and about going hunting with him to kill the crows that are eating their crops. Her dad does everything that he can to make her feel at ease. He sees her looking at a shirt in the window of a store and buys it for her. He orders her cherry pie at a diner because she says it is her favorite. He plays around with her in the woods by making “calls” to different types of animals. As the girl begins her crow call, she has so much fun, and gets so caught up in the moment, that before she know it she has crows flying all around her. Her dad just sits and watches, enjoying his daughter’s delight. In the end, the dad decides not to hunt the crows that day. He knows it would bother his daughter, and he is happy to simply have been able to spend time making her smile.

Lowry, L., & Ibatoulline, B. (2009). Crow call. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

My Impressions:

What a touching story. The vivid descriptions, and exquisite illustrations in this story do a phenomenal job of working together to tell this post war story of a father reconnecting with his daughter. I loved how lifelike the illustrations were, and how I could see every detail on the characters’ faces. It really added to my being able to connect with the little girl. I felt transported into the story, as if I myself were the girl heading out on a hunting trip with my father. Lowry picked the exact right words to describe the people and places in her story. She uses beautiful language and varied sentence structures, which caused me to remain invested in the story, and not grow bored by repetition and predictability. Overall, I highly recommend this title to readers of all ages. It would make a great story to read with students in the library in celebration of Father’s Day, or Freedom Week, or as a father daughter bed time story.

For Use in the Library:

I would recommend using this title as a mentor text for teaching descriptive writing in narrative. Take some time to analyze which of the five senses this story uses the most, and create a chart of the descriptions used.


( October 15, 2009; 9780545030359 )
*Starred Review* Drawing on a childhood memory, Lowry offers a story where the specific becomes universal. Lizzie’s father is back from the war, and to her, he is almost a stranger. He doesn’t even know how much she loves cherry pie. But he does understand when she picks out an unconventional adult-size hunting shirt, which at least she won’t outgrow. One cold morning, Lizzie dons her shirt and goes out with Daddy to hunt crows. Crows eat crops; of that there’s no doubt. Daddy has his shotgun. He’s given Lizzie a crow call so she can gather the birds together in the trees. In a subtle dialogue, Lizzie says things without saying the big thing on her mind: I wish the crows didn’t eat the crops. . . . They might have babies to take care of. Not wanting to disappoint her father, Lizzie calls the birds until they fill the sky, and then, after a breathless moment, her father, not wanting to disappoint Lizzie, takes her home. Each frame of the story is captured like an old-time movie in Ibatoulline’s tender watercolor and acrylic gouache artwork. Particularly effective is the double-page spread in which father and daughter walk among the leafless trees on that chilly autumn day, when their words seemed etched and breakable on the brittle stillness. In the end, words aren’t needed after all.–Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2009 Booklist

Cooper, I. (2009). [Review of the book Crow call, by L. Lowry & B. Ibatoulline]. The Booklist, 106(4), 50. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: The Dark

Title: The Dark

Author: Lemony Snicket

ISBN: 978-0-316-18748-0

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers



The Dark is a story about a little boy who is afraid of the dark. He sees it lurking everywhere, and does his best to stay out of all of The Dark’s hiding places- especially the basement. One night, the boy’s night light goes out and the dark comes to visit him in his room. It calls to him to follow, and claims it has something to show him. The boy wanders around the house, following The Dark’s voice, until he finds himself in the basement. The Dark instructs him to open the bottom drawer of the dresser, and inside the boy finds a light bulb to fit his night light. the boy realized that The Dark was his friend, and they were able to live peaceably together from that moment on.

Snicket, L., & Klassen, J. (2013). The dark. New York, NY: Little Brown & Company.

My Impressions:

This book was so wonderful I re-read it several times in one sitting. I love the way Lemony Snicket personifies the dark, and how throughout the story, the boy slowly develops a friendship with the dark, much as he would with a boy his own age. The description of the dark is beautiful, and works to build up more and more suspense on each page. Klassen’s illustrations expertly work in concordance with the plot to build suspense. Each page is a juxtaposition of light and shadow that works to help the reader to relate to the little boy’s fear of the dark. Overall, this is a fantastic book, both for its original story, and its clever illustrations. I would recommend this book to readers age 7 and older.

For Use in the Library:

The Dark would be a fantastic book to read to introduce a lesson on personification. Students will enjoy analyzing the pages to discover all of the ways Snicket describes darkness as having human-like qualities. It will cause them to ask themselves, what does personification add to this story? Would the story be as good as it is if the author had not personified the dark? After reading and discussion, students could then attempt to add some personification to their own writing.


( March 01, 2013; 9780316187480 )
*Starred Review* What if the dark meant more than the absence of light? What if the dark were someone? Laszlo, dressed in blue footie jams, his hair precisely parted, is afraid of the dark. Mostly, the dark lives in the basement, but one night, when his night-light fails, it arrives in Laszlo’s room. The dark leads Laszlo through the rickety house and down to the basement, and bids him to open the bottom drawer of an old dresser, where he finds night-light bulbs. Laszlo is emboldened, peace is restored, and Laszlo and the dark, presumably, live happily ever after. Snicket’s atmospheric narrative personifies the dark with indelible character, its voice as creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows. Klassen renders the expansive, ramshackle house in mottled sepia tones, visible in the sharp beam of Laszlo’s flashlight as it interrupts the flat, inky black. Even the dialogue respects the delineation, with Laszlo’s words set in the swaths of light and the dark’s written in the dark. But just as important are the things Klassen omits: rooms are empty of furniture and people. Laszlo feels alone. In its willingness to acknowledge the darkness, and the elegant art of that acknowledgment, The Dark pays profound respect to the immediacy of childhood experiences. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Snicket and Klassen? This’ll be huge.–Barthelmess, Thom Copyright 2010 Booklist


Barthelmess, T. (2013). [Review of the book The dark, by L. Snicket & J. Klassen]. The Booklist, 109(13), 58. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Title: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Author: Mo Willems

ISBN: 978-0-06-220309-0

Publisher: HarperCollins


At first glance, That is Not a Good Idea! appears to be a typical cautionary tale, but it comes with a surprise ending. A hungry fox meets a goose on his stroll down the street one day. As these stories typically go, the fox decides to lure the unsuspecting goose to his house so that he can eat her for dinner. The fox takes it one step at a time, by first luring her into the woods, then to his kitchen and his pot of soup. In between each step of the plan, the goose’s chicks warn, “That is not a good idea!” (That is Not a Good Idea!, 2013, p.10). Throughout the story, the reader assumes that the chicks are warning their mother about the trickery of the fox. It is not until the end that the reader realizes that the goose had her own plan all along. She surprises the fox and puts him in his own pot of stew. As the goose and her babies feast on their stew dinner that night, the reader realizes that it was the fox that the chicks had been warning all along.

Willems, M. (2013). That is not a good idea! New York, NY: Balzer Bray.

My Impressions:

I am a huge fan of Mo Willems, so when I found out that he wrote a book that I wasn’t aware of, I jumped on the opportunity to read it for my literature in youth class.What grabbed my attention the most was the style and structure of the text and illustrations. It reads like a silent film. First comes a piece of action without words, represented in illustration. The words come on the next page, all white on a solid black background. The sentences themselves are very simple, much like would be in a silent film. This format remains throughout the book. I was impressed by the clever way Willems told such a simple story. There was also an element of surprise that added excitement and humor to the plot. When I realized at the end of the story that the chicks were warning the fox all along, and that the goose had made her own tricky dinner plans, I laughed in excitement. At that moment, I celebrate the whole composition of this book. The pictures, text, and structure/layout of the pages all work together to make this such a wonderful read. I would recommend this title to readers of all ages.

For Use in the Library:

I can imagine using this title for all kinds of activities with children. One that comes to mind is using this title to introduce the idea of Trickster Tales at the beginning of a fourth grade unit on fables. The characters in That is Not a Good Idea! easily exhibit the traits we look for in a trickster, and follow the typical plot of a trickster tale. From there, the students could practice finding the moral or lesson of the story, or work on their inferencing skills.


Willems, whose Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs also operated on a balance of threat and humor, models this suspenseful picture book after a silent movie. The sequence concerns a dastardly villain, played by a smirking fox in a top hat, and an in-genue, played by a coy duck in a blue headscarf. The fox invites the sweet-looking duck “for a stroll.” When she agrees, he asks, “Would you care to continue our walk into the deep, dark woods?” “Sounds fun!” she answers. Each time the duck accepts the fox’s invitations, an increasingly alarmed audience of six yellow peeps pops up to shout some version of the title: “That is not a good idea!” This being a Willems vehicle, a sudden twist reveals which character the peeps have been addressing all along. Cinematic conventions, like neatly framed white-on-black intertitles and gauzy iris-eye close-ups of the eyelash-batting heroine, join allusions to classics like “Henny Penny,” Rosie’s Walk, and perhaps even Mighty Mouse. Trust Willems to blend silents, animation, and comics for a wickedly droll poultry-in-peril yarn. Ages 4-8.

(2014). That is not a good idea! [Review of the book That is not a good idea!, by M. Willems]. Publishers Weekly, 261, 48. Retrieved from