10 Wonder Books and a New Feature

10 Wonder Books via Wonder Teacher I am excited to announce a new monthly feature around here. It’s called Spotlight on… A Featured Wonder Teacher. My first spotlight will shine on a truly wonderful educator, Carol Cook.  I first met Carol about 10 years ago when she was teaching 2nd grade and I was supervising a student teacher placed in her classroom. She knocked my socks off. I loved the way she interacted with her students (loving, supportive, calm and consistent) and I was especially impressed by the way she taught writing.  Carol was (and still is) one of those teachers who understands how to make learning interesting, authentic, and fun. For example, I remember watching her lead her 2nd graders through a math unit on money and addition/subtraction. Know how she hooked them? She turned her classroom into a “café” where the parents ordered from a menu, were served by the students, and paid the “tab” when it was over. The kids had to add up the “bill” and make change. You’ve never seen a group of kids so excited about math!

Fast forward to the present: today Carol serves as the Teacher Coach at my husband’s school. She has been instrumental in transforming literacy practices there; some of her contributions include establishing a large leveled text library so that teachers can differentiate reading instruction, leading the faculty to embrace a  strong culture of “Writer’s Workshop” (Lucy Calkins style), and guiding the school’s professional development plan over the past few years. The school has made tremendous literacy strides under her guidance and expertise.

I had the joy and privilege of spending an hour with Carol the other day, picking her brain about education and her lessons learned over the years.  She is so wise and has so much to share; tomorrow I will post the full interview. Don’t miss it!

Today I’m going to share 10 of Carol’s favorite children’s books. As a literacy coach, she frequently uses mentor texts to introduce students to examples of good writing. I asked her for some recommendations. After acknowledging that she has far too many beloved titles to select 10 official “favorites,” she pulled these off her shelf for me to share:

Cover images via Amazon.com- click the highlighted book title to go to the book’s Amazon page. 

Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements –
Night of the Veggie Monster Carol says: I use this book for elaboration. It has become my go-to text when I’m talking to kids about stretching out the action.  I tell them, “Don’t speed past the moment- stretch it out!” This is about the moment when a little boy puts a pea in his mouth at the dinner table. It’s really funny and the kids love it.

Susan Says: My favorite part of the story are the parents’ pithy comments (in speech bubbles) as they watch the action unfold. I can relate! My kids can be quite dramatic about vegetables too.

Carol says she loves books that have a deeper message about people and how they treat each other and how the world works. You read the book and may not even catch on the first time but then you read it again and see the deeper meaning.  The next three books are great examples of that.

Painted Words and Spoken Memories by Aliki  Marianthe’s Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories by Aliki

Carol says: This is my all-time favorite. The little girl in this story doesn’t speak English. She’s new to the country and the school and one of the kids teases her. She can’t defend herself with words so she communicates her feelings through her art.  It’s powerful. Kids get this book- they really do.

We used to do the “wrinkled heart activity” with this story. You get the kids’ attention by cutting paper while you are talking. The cut paper ends up as a heart. You talk about how when people aren’t nice or say mean things it hurts your heart. With each example you fold the heart and make a crease. Then you unfold the heart and smooth it out but (of course) it’s still covered with wrinkles.  Finally you explain that when you hurt someone, you can apologize and make it better but you can’t take away the wrinkles. Every hurtful word or action leaves a mark.

Susan says: This is such a cool book because it’s actually two books in one. (It’s one of those where the back cover is actually the cover of the 2nd story and the endings meet in the middle.) Painted Words is the one to read first (described above by Carol.) Spoken Memories comes next once the little girl has enough English to tell her immigration story. It’s a fantastic book on many levels- the power of art/ images to communicate, social lessons about being kind to new students and English language learners, and the current-day circumstances related to immigration to the U.S. Highly recommended.

Those Shoes Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones –

Carol says: In this one the little boy desperately wants the cool, new shoes but his grandmother says they only have room for “needs” and not “wants.” When his own shoes fall apart, the guidance counselor gives him a pair of used shoes with velcro and cartoon characters- more embarrassing than his old pair. The boy and his grandmother go looking for a pair of the “cool shoes” at thrift stores and find a pair that end up being too small. The boy wants to keep them but ends up giving them to a needy classmate. It’s a great “deeper meaning” book.

Susan says: What a wonderful book. I read this to my own children (who have never known the pain of unmet want) and they were quiet and wide-eyed at the thought of the little boy having to go without the shoes he wanted so much. I think that’s the power of the story- it works as a lesson for privileged kids (not everyone has what you have) as well as children living in poverty (you aren’t the only one who goes without.) Well-told story with creative illustrations that add a lot to the text.


Melissa Parkington's Beautiful, Beautiful Hair Melissa Parkington’s Beautiful, Beautiful Hair by Pat Brisson and Illustrated by Suzanne Bloom

Carol says: This is a beautiful book that I discovered once when I was doing a search for realistic fiction. Every time people see Melissa they say she has beautiful hair and she gets tired of it. She wants to be known for something other than what grows out of her head. This book is a great model for realistic fiction because she tries different things to solve her problem.  That’s what we tell kids- if a character has a problem he tries different things- he doesn’t solve it right away. Melissa tries basketball and she’s not good enough She tries art but isn’t happy with the results. But as she tries these things she ends up helping other children, and she finally realizes that what she’s good at is helping other people. She ends up cutting her hair for a “locks for love” kind of thing. It’s great for realistic fiction but it also has a deeper meaning.


Read Anything Good Lately? Read Anything Good Lately? By Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman and Illustrated by Vicky Enright
Carol says: This is a great ABC book introducing genres. The illustrations include cool cut-away close-ups of book pages within the genre. This book lends itself nicely to a sorting activity where you invite the children to decide whether each page shows fiction or nonfiction. It leads to an interesting discussion on which category some genres fit within since some have elements of both.


Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosehthal  Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Carol says: This one I love for the whimsy of it. It’s just fun!

Susan says: Fun is right! This little pea is forced to eat candy to get dessert! What a wonderful twist on real-life situations. I read Carol’s copy of Little Pea to my children and they were delighted.


I Didn't Do It by Patricia MacLachlan  I Didn’t Do It by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest and Illustrated by Katy Schneider –

Carol says: This book is so cute. It’s a great example of free verse. There is a Lucy Calkins mini-lesson on talking to the object or talking as if you were the object- sort of seeing through an author or poet’s eyes. I Didn’t Do It goes perfectly with that idea. In each poem, you’re in the puppy’s world and thinking like a puppy thinks.


Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems  Edited by Georgia Heard

Carol says: This one is just kind of cool and it has a unique format. Kids often write shape poems (sometimes very poorly!) and this book has great examples of shape poems done well.




Wave by Suzy Lee

Wave by Suzy Lee

Carol says: This is a wordless book. I use it when I talk about story language. I tell children they could write one sentence that tells what this book is about- ‘A little girl went to the beach and had fun.’ Or they can say something much richer like “Splash! Splash! I play in the waves.” That’s story language. I have them turn and talk and come up with rich story language for each page.


Kitty Princess and the Newspaper Dress Kitty Princess and the Newspaper Dress
by Emma Carlow and Trevor Dickinson

Carol says: This is the book I grab when I want to keep kids engaged and smiling. It’s adorable and also has a good social message about the danger of being too bossy.

Susan says: Precious! I loved the mixed-media illustrations with collage elements.This book makes an interesting mentor text because it has two voices: the narrator who relates the story events and the fairy godmother (god-mouse) who speaks to us in the 1st person. It’s an effective storytelling technique.

Remember to come back tomorrow to read my interview with Carol. 

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  1. Mary Diemer says:

    Hi Susan,
    Don’t forget about the older kids! I check your blog out all the time and I love your ideas!

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