food, humor, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight: The Sour Grape/Donuts: The Hole Story

The Sour Grape (HarperCollins)
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald

For ages: 4-8
You are likely already familiar with the Food Group series of picture books, and this is the latest (as of this writing) addition to the collection. The Sour Grape is a grumpy person who spends time explaining how they ended up this way. It started when the Grape planned an elaborate birthday party, but no one showed up. The Grape went from being sweet to bitter and then sour, lashing out at anyone who crossed their path. A relatable situation.

Continue reading “Spotlight: The Sour Grape/Donuts: The Hole Story”
animals, illustration, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight: The Littlest Yak/Carnivores

The Littlest Yak (Simon & Schuster Children’s)
Written by Lu Fraser
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

For ages: 4-8
No matter the period, it seems like children always feel a sense of inadequacy from being so much smaller than the world they are born into. Some kids are just itching to grow up because they feel left behind, unable to do all the things the big kids do. Gertie feels just the same, the smallest yak among a herd of very big ones. She sees the other yaks with their “hugest of hooves and humongous horns” and yearns for the same. Gertie’s mother tries to convince her to cherish these times of being a kid but Gertie just won’t have it. 

Continue reading “Spotlight: The Littlest Yak/Carnivores”
humor, illustration, spotlight

Spotlight: Blue Bison Needs a Haircut/Attack of the Underwear Dragon

Blue Bison Needs a Haircut (Random House Studio)
Written by Scott Rothman
Illustrated by Pete Oswald

For ages: 4-8
Haircuts can be a surprising source of anxiety for children. This excellent picture book helps find humor in the situation. Blue Bison wants to look a particular way and tells his mother he *needs* a haircut, which she corrects that he *wants* one. However, Blue Bison gets increasingly annoyed as things don’t seem to go his way, and the local barber has closed down for a rest. His little sister Bubble Gum Bison is eager to help and clicks her scissors in his direction. Our protagonist has none of that. This is one of those children’s books that does not purport to serve up some profound message but lives in the silly place where kids start laughing and cannot stop. 

Continue reading “Spotlight: Blue Bison Needs a Haircut/Attack of the Underwear Dragon”
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.

Continue reading “Spotlight: This is a Taco/No Such Thing”
humor, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight: Ice Cream Face/Two Dogs

Ice Cream Face (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Written & Illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield

For ages: 3-7
It’s hard for kids not to have a strong opinion about ice cream. Ask your students what their favorite flavor of ice cream is the next time you’re gathered on the carpet, having a morning meeting. The conversation will keep itself alive for much longer than you likely plan on it. In Ice Cream Face, readers meet a little boy who loves the tasty cold treat just as much as your students. What’s happening in the book is less a celebration of dessert and more an exploration of emotions and how we express them through our faces.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Ice Cream Face/Two Dogs”
asian-american, humor, illustration, science, spotlight

Spotlight: The Upside Down Detective Agency/Usha and the Big Digger

The Upside Down Detective Agency (Kane Miller Books / EDC Publishing)
Written by Ellie Hattie
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

For ages: 4-8
As a child, I loved books with intricate maze-like illustrations. You could spend hours on a single two-page spread pouring over the details. Within those illustrations were other small stories that sparked my imagination. As a teacher, I have seen that these types of books always draw in even the most hesitant independent readers. It gives them something to latch onto through the illustrations so that even if they cannot read every printed word they are experiencing storytelling. The Upside Down Detective Agency is exactly that sort of book and it made me grin ear to ear while I was reading it.

Stella & Stan are a pair of sloths that work as detectives. One day someone knocks on their office door. It’s Lady Veronica Velocity Speed, a famous race car driver whose specially designed diamond warp drive has been stolen. Stella & Stan rush into action…well, as quickly as sloths can rush and they need the reader’s help in noticing clues. There is no way this book can be read without audience interaction and that is going to make it a crowd pleaser in your home or classroom. It’s a book that helps children develop their observation and attention to detail, all while having fun in the process.


1. Have students pick their favorite page from the book. Discuss what elements make it their favorite page. Then have the student take what was talked about and compose a short paragraph about their favorite page.

2. Any good detective agency needs an advertisement to let people know they are there. Have students make a brochure for the Upside Down Detective Agency. They need to explain who the detectives are and give a testimonial from their latest client, Lady Veronica Velocity Speed.

3. For your students that want a big challenge, have them write the next adventure for the Upside Down Detective Agency. They will need a client, a crime, and a solution. A colorful detailed illustration should also be an expectation.

Usha and the Big Digger (Charlesbridge)
Written by Amitha Jagannath Knight
Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat 

For ages: 4-8
While billed as part of a series of Math storytelling books, I wouldn’t say this book is a great example of the concept it’s trying to convey: orientation. It’s lacking some concrete STEM explanations in the back matter but that is okay because it’s an incredibly charming story. Usha is lying in the backyard with her big sister Aarti looking at the stars one night. Aarti points out the Big Dipper constellation but that is not what Usha sees. The little girl sees a big digging machine and insists that is what the stars are shaped like. Cousin Gloria arrives and contemplates things further by saying she sees a kite in that cluster of stars.

The illustrations here are perfectly done to draw in the eye. They burst with color and expressive faces. I appreciate the diversity on display with dark skinned Southeast Asian people represented. It is implied that Gloria is actually bi-racial (Black as well as South Asian). While the content isn’t hard math, it does provide some good social-emotional lessons in perspective. None of the three girls is wrong, they are just seeing something different in the same place and learning how to accept each other’s views is what is important. For a book about Math concepts, it was a little difficult for me to see it but this is a fantastic book overall.


1. Introduce the constellations to your students. There are a total of 88 so go with some of the more well-known ones (e.g. The Big Dipper, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, etc.). Have students turn the images around until they see something. Have a discussion about why they see what they see.

2. Now that your students know about the constellation, have them write a short myth that explains how that constellation came to be in the sky. You will likely want to read a short fable from the past that does this so they have a sense of what their story should be like.

3. Have your students write an email to Aarti and Usha. They should help them figure out how not to get into such big arguments.

animals, humor, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight: Pigs Dancing Jigs/The Station Cat

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. 

Continue reading “Spotlight: Pigs Dancing Jigs/The Station Cat”
humor, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight: Don’t Hug the Quokka/I Want To Be A Vase

Don’t Hug the Quokka! (Magination Press)
Written by Daniel Errico
Illustrated by Mia Powell

For ages: 4-8
If you have never heard of the quokka, you are in for a treat. Quokka are a small marsupial found on some small islands off the coast of Western Australia. It would be best if you googled them because I guarantee their pictures will surprise you. They have such an open, happy face and have little fear of humans. They are cases of a quokka biting a person, but for the most part, they are curious when these outsiders visit them. They have no natural predators on their island, so they have never needed to develop fear-based instincts to survive. Quokka can carry salmonella, though, so touching them is not safe. 

Author Daniel Errico and illustrator Mia Powell take the incredibly enticing quokka and use it to illustrate the importance of consent in their book. The quokka is so cuddly and friendly that every fiber of your body wants to hug & cuddle it. But you can’t just do that. If the quokka says “No,” you must respect it. Throughout the book, the child proposes different scenarios to ask if it’s okay to hug the quokka now. With each one, the adult reminds the child that the animal said No, which means No. Only if the quokka says “Yes,” may you hug one. Much like in life, we shouldn’t violate people’s personal space & always ask permission to touch another person, respecting their No. 


1. Have students work in groups to make posters warning visitors that they should not hug the quokka without permission. The posters should emphasize the text’s central theme that consent is critical.

2. Having students research the quokka or other Australian native creatures is always a great idea. The diversity & uniqueness of animal life in that region always captivates children. 

3. Students can write a reflection about consent. What do they think about the message of the book? Why is asking for consent necessary? What should we do if someone is not respecting our choice?

I Want To Be a Vase (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Written by Julio Torres
Illustrated by Julian Glander

For ages: 4-8
Shapes are all around us. Comedian & former SNL writer Julio Torres is obsessed with shapes, which you would know if you saw his HBO special. Torres brings his love of shapes & inanimate objects to this lovely children’s book, all about defining your own shape. Plunger knows he was not meant to sit by a toilet his whole life only used to unclog it. He’s meant to be something beautiful & admired. Instead, Plunger wants to be a vase. This starts chaos among the other objects in the bathroom and eventually the whole house. Some things want everyone to stay as they are, while Plunger has awakened others. They have always felt off, and now they want to be who they truly are.

It’s pretty easy to see this is a text about gender identity. Still, it’s also about pushing back against the negative thoughts people get tangled up in so easily. So often, people are labeled and shelved by society. They tell us that because of a few external physical features, they know who we are. But anyone who listens to themself and is truly honest knows we are so much more than that. Torres brings along illustrator & animator Julian Glander, who delivers digital images that feel like something torn out of the 1990s but also still so fresh & relevant. There will not be another book on your classroom shelf that looks anything like this one; I guarantee it.


1. Have your students pick an everyday household object they can imagine themselves being. In writing and/or illustration, have students explain what they would do if they got to spend their day as a teapot, for example. 

2. Taking this a step further, create a T-chart with students. On one side, give Plunger and the other objects’ reasons for wanting to be other things. On the other side, list the vacuum cleaner’s rebuttals from the text.

3. Taking the T-chart from the last activity, have students compose a single-paragraph opinion essay about whose point of view they agree with more. Make sure they defend why they think that character has the right perspective with details from the text.

culture, food, spotlight

Spotlight: Paletero Man/Meet the Latkes

Paletero Man (HarperCollins)
Written by Lucky Diaz & Dr. Carmen Tafolla
Illustrated by Micah Player

For ages: 3-7
Very few things are as satisfying as an ice-cold treat during these scorching summer months. A Latinx boy has the same idea, but he can’t find the Paletero Man. So he races down the streets, hearing the sounds of the Paletero Man’s bell. Along the way, he runs into other street vendors and shopkeepers encouraging him. Eventually, everyone in the neighborhood comes together, and the boy is so inspired he makes sure everyone gets to enjoy paletas. As temperatures rise, that sounds absolutely divine to experience.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Paletero Man/Meet the Latkes”
humor, spotlight

Spotlight – I Don’t Want to Read This Book/Gladys the Magic Kitchen

I Don’t Want to Read This Book (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Max Greenfield
Illustrated by Mike Lowrey

For ages: 4-8
For years, actors have tried their hand at picture book writing. I always meet these books with some skepticism, often wondering if the celebrity isn’t trying their hand at it because they perceive children’s book authoring as easier than writing for grown-ups. But, those of us who have spent years pouring over texts for kids know it takes a skilled person, almost a poet, who can parse big ideas with simple words. Max Greenfield (The New Girl) has presented his attempt at this seminal venture, and it’s not too bad.

Continue reading “Spotlight – I Don’t Want to Read This Book/Gladys the Magic Kitchen”