Books You Can Use…

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Among the many spring books that have caught my eye are a few that are ready made for classroom (or home) projects. Both of these books will spark discussion and activities and are guaranteed to inspire creative writing in your classroom or some good conversations at the dinner table. 

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (ages 4-8)

I’m tempted to write this review using all exclamation marks because I loved the book, but also because the story makes you cheer for the title character – an exclamation mark who is looking for his role on the page. And he has such a cute little round face! There are lots of witty touches in this book: pages that look like elementary school writing paper, rows of smiling periods, and a funny question mark who, naturally, asks too many questions. As in many of her books (like Spoon) Rosenthal includes excellent wordplay….my favorite is after the exclamation mark has heard enough from the question mark, and our hero breaks free “from a life sentence.”

Amy Rosenthal spoke at Inly a few years ago – after the publication of Duck! Rabbit!  I was already a fan of her work, but when I heard her presentation, I became a true loyalist. Our library owns almost all of Rosenthal’s books – have you seen Chopsticks? Little Hoot?

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (ages 7-11)

This book, by one of my favorite authors, is a ready-made conversation starter.  The Matchbox Diary is about a little girl who goes to visit her great-grandfather in his home which is clearly filled with objects from a lifetime of travel and adventure. “Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story,” he tells her.  What she chooses is a cigar box which, it turns out, is filled with matchboxes that are “his diary.” The matchboxes contain items that tell the story of his life – and his family’s journey from Italy to America. Every item, from an olive pit to a ticket to a baseball games, conjures up the great grandfather’s memories of a person or an event. As he tells her the story of each item in the box, a bond develops between the older man and the young girl. 

The illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline enhance the book perfectly. It feels like you are looking through a detailed – and very beautiful – family scrapbook.  The Matchbox Diary could inspire a conversation at a family event. Older people’s homes are often filled with interesting and unusual objects (a phone book? a black and white photograph?), and it would be fun to encourage younger members of a family to select something they want to know more about. I can also imagine using this book with a class writing project and asking students to learn about an object in their own homes. 

If you’re looking for a funny book about the original emoticon (!!) or a heartwarming book about the bonds between family members, I recommend both of these books enthusiastically!


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