humor, illustration, spotlight

Spotlight: This is a Taco/No Such Thing

This is a Squirrel Taco (Oni Press)
Written by Andrew Cangelose
Illustrated by Josh Shipley

For ages: 3-7
This is the story of Taco the Squirrel. But it’s also a book sharing actual facts about squirrels. Taco has agreed to help children learn about his species by being the focus of the book’s illustrations. Unfortunately, mistakes are made, and he is mislabeled as a flying squirrel, making him a hawk’s target. At this point, Taco finds a red marker and starts editing the book to add more of what he loves, tacos. The result is an excursion in silliness, wordplay, and irony.

This is a great fourth wall-breaking book that challenges readers’ expectations. They have become much more prevalent in recent years, but this one still feels fresh & funny. Taco’s anxiety is something readers can empathize with and find humor in as he becomes increasingly exasperated about how the text is putting him in danger. Aided by colorful & most importantly, expressive illustrations, I highly suspect students will be laughing wildly when they get a read-aloud of this one.

Activities

1. Because this is creative nonfiction, there are objective facts for students to learn. A T-chart with Fact & Opinion would be a great activity. On one side, students record facts about squirrels; on the other, they record Taco’s very expressive opinions.

2. Have students pick an animal and find a fact about that animal. Fold a sheet of paper in half. On one side, have students write down the facts. On the other side, they should draw their animal, expressing an opinion about what they think of this fact.

3. For an even more significant challenge, have students dramatize the book and record it using tablets or phones if your school allows it. Students can work in pairs, with one narrating the prose while the other plays Taco in that scene. This also helps model expressive reading.


No Such Thing (Flying Eye Books)
Written & Illustrated by Ella Bailey

For ages: 4-8
Georgia is a little girl noticing things around the house are being changed. It’s late October, and the spooky atmosphere is palpable. Everyday objects are moved, disappear, and even break. Georgia is a skeptic and convinces herself there must be a rational explanation. There is no such thing as ghosts; she is convinced. Your students will notice before the book directly informs them that ghosts are hidden on every page of the book. These aren’t evil spirits out to harm but silly little ghosts who like playing pranks on living people. 

The standout for me is the masterful artwork by author-illustrator Emma Bailey. She provides so many details into backgrounds that other creators must brush over. An open fridge is full of items kids can spend a few minutes scouring over. Decorations on the shelves and lush patterns in wallpaper and carpets give the book a cozy texture. This is a world you want to snuggle up inside of. Bailey’s art style is reminiscent of work from the 1950s/60s but all her aesthetics. This is a great success for a debut picture book and has me looking forward to reading more of her work.

Activities

1. Bailey uses some excellent vocabulary for students to work with: snatched, suspected, presumed. These are just some of the juicy words in this book. A Frayer Model graphic organizer using one or more of these words would help build vocabulary with your class. 

2. The book provides a fun activity of going back and spotting all the ghosts. To extend that, have students pick their 3-5 favorite ghosts and compose a sentence describing them. They will need to use the text for evidence and develop descriptive words that help the reader imagine what it must look like.

3. A fun activity, especially at home, would be to print out this free ghost and hide it. Once someone finds it, they have to write down a sentence about where it was and what it was doing. Then hide it again. This would be a great autumn/Halloween season activity.

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