Pigs Dancing Jigs (Lawley Enterprises LLC)
Written by Maxine Rose Schur
Illustrated by Robin DeWitt & Patricia DeWitt-Grush
For ages: 3-7
Yet another alphabet book. Why do you need this one? Well, I think it stands out because of the illustrations. I was immediately taken back to the 1970s/80s/90s work of Steven Kellog (The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash). This is the same style of detailed pencil work and watercolors. The accompanying rhymes are wonderfully silly, and the art completely matches them. I also think this will push readers further with some higher-level vocabulary thrown in. I remember that “sculpting” is used in one sentence, and the illustration provides plenty of context clues to help students determine the meaning.
With each page, we get a sentence, like “Pigs Dancing Jigs,” and a picture to go with it. Students are introduced to various animals; some they will know, and others will be brand new. Quetzal and zorils make appearances using some of the more challenging members of the English alphabet. Because pages are dense with detail, students will want to pour over this book on their own, finding the “secrets.” This is an alphabet book that won’t bore your class to tears.
1. As a class, complete a T-chart of rhyming pairs in the book.
2. Once you have rhyming pairs, pick one pair and have a timed tournament to see who can write down as many rhyming words as possible. Save this chart and use this as a daily/multiple times-a-week activity. It’s a fun way to build fluency.
3. Have students make their own rhyming pair of words and write a sentence. Then illustrate their sentences and share them with the class.
The Station Cat (DK Children)
Written & Illustrated by Stephen Hogtun
For ages: 5-9
This is going to be a tearjerker for adults & kids alike. Told in some of the most sumptuous prose you’re likely to come across in a picture book; The Station Cat is about a young kitten who wanders into an English train station. The people there are bustling through their lives, and most feel pretty miserable. The cat provides a sense of hope; it looks at them each with a kind of love they haven’t felt in a long time. The cat learns about different passengers and tries to exude what they need to help them get past anxiety, fears, and trauma. Eventually, the cat must hop on a train and depart, which is when we begin to understand what has been happening in this station all along.
Despite being published this year, The Station Cat immediately feels like it belongs on the shelf next to The Velveteen Rabbit. They are both splendid meditations on mortality, loving oneself, and the importance of having people who love you. This isn’t a children’s book you will rush through. The sentences are long and complex. The ideas are incredibly deep. The Station Cat is a book that would make a perfect read for the start or end of the year. It centers our thoughts on what matters in life, reminding us to appreciate our time and use it to make our world better and happier.
1. A good carpet conversation after reading should be centered around the author’s purpose. What message did the author want to communicate to his audience? How did he do that? Do you think the author was successful? Why or why not? All of this can become reflective journaling when students return to their tables.
2. Have students pick a person from the station. Then have the students write a paragraph describing the person, their problem, and how the cat helped them.
3. Have students work in groups to write an obituary for The Station Cat. This is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the audience when writing. Use obits from your local paper to help students see the format of this writing. A fruitful discussion surrounding this would be, why do we honor loved ones when they pass away?