Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
I suspect this one will make many lists. The story of a child and her father venturing out into a cold, winter night to go owling, it is a model of “perfect words in perfect places” – an essential ingredient for the best picture books, according to Mem Fox. Yolen’s wondrous sensory images help set the mood in an almost magical way. This is a book that can be used and enjoyed by students at all grade levels and returned to many times to study craft.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas.
Another classic. This one tells the story of a young boy who helps an old friend remember her past. It can be used to show young writers how to uncover the stories in their treasured objects, and it is also a great mentor text for creating character sketches. I often use it to study alliteration and show writers how the ending echoes the beginning. Wilfrid Gordon helped me find the focus of the personal essay I wrote for the Pennsylvania Writing Project Institute many years ago.
Jeremiah Learns to Read by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson.
Jeremiah has lived a good life and can do many things. But he doesn’t know how to read, and he wants to learn. So he goes to school where he gives as much as he receives, and learns to read the beautiful poems he eventually shares with his beloved wife, Juliana. I remember well the first time I read this book. I was in the exhibit hall at a conference browsing through a bookseller’s bin. The title caught my eye, and I started to read, and I couldn’t put it down, and before I knew it, there I was in the middle of the exhibit hall with tears streaming down my cheeks. This book continues to bring tears to my eyes every time I read it, and that’s why I chose it for this list – because the best books make you feel. Jeremiah is model of caring, sharing, and life-long learning.
Painting the Wind by Patricia MacLachlan & Emily MacLachlan, illustrated by Katy Schneider.
I love this book for many reasons, but mostly because it is a tribute to the power of mentorship. A young boy, living on an island, awaits the return of the painters every summer. Each one teaches him something about art as he stands beside them watching, painting, and learning. This particular summer, with the help of the landscape painter, he is finally able to do something he could not do before – paint the wind. This book offers a multitude of reading and writing lessons that can be used for students of all ages, and I continue to notice things about it every time I read it. In particular, you will notice the many ways the authors incorporate listing, using a variety of punctuation.
Follow the Moon by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Suzanne Duranceau.
I used to do quite a bit of staff development on guided reading, and I always used this book in my presentations. The story, which is actually a song, is about a young boy who finds a baby turtle stranded on the beach. He has not heard the voice in his head which tells him to follow the moon to the safety of the sea. The boy stays with him until he figures it out, gently guiding when the turtle starts to go down the wrong path. It’s a wonderful metaphor for what we do as teachers – knowing when to step in with the right intervention, using just the right amount of guidance, with the ultimate goal of independence for our students.
Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke.
Fletcher is the kind of character young students can easily relate to. He has a sense of curiosity that shows his eagerness to make sense of the world around him. In this book (there are several in the series, now), Fletcher is trying to figure out why his favorite tree is changing and losing its leaves. The book is a great model of story structure, with several attempts to solve the problem and clearly illustrating the importance of setting. The wonderful vocabulary and rich descriptions offer many reading and writing lessons that can be used throughout the year.
Barn Savers by Linda Oatman High, illustrated by Ted Lewin.
This book holds special importance for me because it helped me understand that even first graders can notice what an author does, offer suggestions for why the author did that, and imitate that strategy in their own writing. It is the story of a father and son who carefully dismantle an old barn so that all of its parts will live on in new barns and houses. Linda Oatman High skillfully demonstrates the importance of word choice and the power of a well crafted simile.
Crab Moon by Ruth Horowitz, illustrated by Kate Kiesler.
This book tells the story of one summer event when Daniel saves a marooned horseshoe crab. It has become a special mentor text that I use to teach elaboration, appeal to the senses, focus, use of dialogue, word choice, and more. Although this book tells a fictional story, the author includes additional information about horseshoe crabs that can contribute to a science unit or perhaps spark an interest in a young researcher. The understated message is that we must care for all the creatures of the earth.
Shortcut by Donald Crews
This is my favorite Donald Crews book. In it, he tells of the time he and his brothers, sisters, and cousins almost met with disaster when they decided to take the shortcut along the train tracks to get back to their grandmother’s house. It has just the right amount of intrigue and tension to captivate all readers. I have used this book with first graders up to fifth graders as a mentor text for teaching focus, sentence structure, sentence length, punctuation, organization, vocabulary, inference, and mood.
Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin HenkesLily is perhaps my favorite Henkes character, and in this book we learn so much about her and her teacher, Mr. Slinger. Henkes’ style of writing lends itself to showing young writers how they can elaborate an idea, use description, dialogue, and actions to create memorable characters, and write a satisfying ending that combines actions, feelings, and wishes.
As I looked over my choices one last time, I realized my list is lacking in nonfiction. That is certainly not because I don’t think nonfiction picture books are valuable. I have many favorites in that genre as well, so maybe nonfiction should be my focus for next year’s event. Thanks for hosting, Cathy and Mandy. Can’t wait to see what others have posted!