Welcome to Boston and #alamw16

ALA Jan 2016 20x2 banner

We’re traveling to Boston today and looking forward to seeing all of you attending the American Library Association’s 2016 Midwinter meeting there!  You’ll find us at Booth 1917 in the Exhibits…and why would you want to find us? Because:

We’re bringing cool new picture books, comics, and books for older youth from a variety The_Boy_Who_Drew_Catsof quality publishers, including Pajama Press (Canada), Leminscaat (Netherlands), Gecko (New Zealand), Floris Books (Scotland), Karadi Tales (India), Udon Entertainment (Canada/Hong Kong), and, from the United States, Diamond, Tilbury House, Gannon & Wyatt, Namelos, No Starch, and Two Lions.

We’ve got audiobooks and audiobook programming information from Oasis, AudioFile Magazine, and the Audio Publishers Association’s literacy initiative, Sound Learning APA.

EMMA_SC_FRONT_Fin1We’re hosting signings by Rebecca Emberley, Bill Thomson, Licia Morelli and Jennifer E. Morris, and Susan Schwake.

We have a librarian staff who know books, audiobooks, and kids.

Plus, we are a lot of fun and generous, too…hmm, prizes anyone?

Using picture books with English language learners

Many picture books offer opportunities for children, and even adults, new to English to explore both the written and spoken language they are acquiring. How picture books are put to this purpose requires sensitivity to potential learners and wise choices of books to use.

English language learners represent a wide range of ages, life experiences, literacy levels in their home languages, and–just as important–linguistic and cultural histories. Many speakers of Latin American Spanish dialects, for example, may indeed be learning English as a second language. However, those coming to North American English from the Indian subcontinent and some Northern African cultures probably are conversant in multiple languages already and thus have a different skill set to use when learning yet another–third, fourth, fifth–language.  Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 10.01.10 AM

Working with English language learners who are present in classes with native speakers also draws attention to the need to be inclusive, rather than focusing attention on the use of specific books as a means of gaining English fluency. With these varying potential student needs in mind, how and why can picture books become part of the learning experience?

A number of the Book-based Activities we develop for this site address the potential uses of titles with English learners. What do these books share?

  • They offer content that makes use of general life experience that is not culturally bound
  • They provide opportunities for relatively sophisticated discussions of the theme, plot technique, character development, or art presented
  • They introduce culturally specific tall tales or geography information that builds out the English language learner’s general acquisition of idiomatic expressions, local history and/or physical environment, and vocabulary used in a contextually engaging manner

One example of how such picture books can expand upon the English language learner’s current strengths is the Neighborhood Map activity described for Detective Gordon: The First Case. This activity works well for the English language learner who is mainstreamed with native speakers and can even allow her to excel in undertaking the exercise, which is based on observation and documentation through drawing.

A group of English language learners, who may within the group share no language other than beginning English, may find that the What If…? activity, suggested for The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic, provides the opportunity for sharing information about their own experiences with earthquakes, work together to create a model that expresses possibilities, and expand their academic understanding both of STEM-related content and articulating ideas in their new language.

Building empathy into the experience of sharing picture books in a group that includes English language learners and native speakers can also expand everyone’s horizons. Inhabit Media, a wholly owned Inuit publisher, includes titles that are published in Inuit as well as English. The written language is unlikely to be familiar to anyone in the group, giving all a level playing field for understanding how an old language may be new to this reader.

What activities do you find comfortable for new English speakers and readers when you share and expand their reading choices? We’d love to hear from you!

Detective Gordon: The First Case getting rave reviews

Booklist_StarROD_badgeFeatured as Booklist‘s Review of the Day, 14 May 2015!

What the book’s about

Squirrel is beside himself. A thief has been stealing the precious nuts he has been hoarding for winter. So he goes to chief of police for help. Detective Gordon, a portly, philosophical toad with a fondness for tea and cakes, takes down Squirrel’s information and assures him that he’s on the case. But while Detective Gordon has “long experience,” he isn’t so good at climbing trees or staking out suspects. He’d rather be inside, thinking and drinking tea in front of the fire. Luckily, he happens upon a nimble, young mouse who makes the perfect assistant. While Buffy goes clambering up trees and spying on “the most dangerous and cunning animal of the forest,” Detective Gordon stays at the police station, making a list of suspects and stamping important papers. As the two struggle to solve the case, they develop a friendship that’s as sweet as chocolate cakes with black currant jam and as comforting as a warm cup of tea.

Lucky for readers of this new chapter book series, Detective Gordon and Buffy’s adventures have only just begun.

Detective Gordon: The First Case Activities, for Kids 1st through 4th Grades, by Jessica Young

1. Same and Different (1st – 4th Grades)

Kids create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Chief Gordon and Buffy and then create another diagram to compare and contrast their own personal characteristics – likes and dislikes, things they’re good at, etc. — with those of a friend or classmate.


  • Paper (You can use the Venn diagram template here, or have kids draw their own)
  • Pencil or pen


After reading Detective Gordon: The First Case, brainstorm a list of the characteristics displayed by Buffy and another list of those depicting Detective Gordon, listing contributions on the board. Encourage students to note which characteristics Buffy and Detective Gordon have in common as well as ones they don’t share, including things they like or dislike, things they’re good at achieving, and other attributes.

Make a Venn diagram on the board, labeling the unique areas for each character. Invite volunteers come up and write the characteristics in the appropriate places on the diagram (Buffy’s, Detective Gordon’s, and shared). Discuss how Detective Gordon and Buffy make a great team because they’re different.

Then, students pair up and do their own Venn diagrams comparing and contrasting the characteristics each person in the pair identifies as belonging to each or both work partners.Invite each student pair to discuss how their own attributes complement each other to make them a good team, based on their similarities and differences.

2. The Usual Suspects (1st – 4th Grade)

 Kids will make a chart of suspects and identify a prime suspect using a process of elimination.


  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Scenario script (below)


After reading Detective Gordon: The First Case, recreate the chart Detective Gordon’s used to narrow down suspects (p. 55). (He listed some animals in a column, then made other columns with the headers “this animal likes nuts,” “can climb trees,” and “makes tracks in snow.” Then he put crosses in the appropriate columns for each animal suspect.)

Divide kids into small groups to work on solving a new case by creating their own chart of suspects much as Detective Gordon did in the book.

Read the following or write it on the board: “When Squirrel woke up in the morning, his scarf was gone. He’d washed it and hung it to dry on a branch of his tree and forgotten to take it down before going to bed. There were no tracks in the soft earth below the tree, and he hadn’t heard a single noise all night. All day long, all of the forest animals had admired his scarf, especially raccoon, rabbit, fox, and bear.”

Using this scenario (or a similar process of elimination problem that you make up), students discuss and identify characteristics of the thief based on the information about the crime. For example, “nocturnal,” as the crime happened at night; “does not make tracks;” “can reach high branches;” “can carry a long scarf;” and “is quiet.”

Write a list of animal suspects on the board: toad, bear, fox, rabbit, owl, snake, eagle, raccoon, wolf so students can copy the suspect list, on their own sheet of paper, in a vertical column, Atop each other vertical column, each student writes a characteristic the group brainstormed together, creating a grid with suspects running down the side and the characteristics the ultimate suspect would need to possess to pull off the theft as headers for columns next to it. Have students put “x”s next to the characteristics that apply to each animal. Explain that the animal with “x”s in all columns is most likely the thief. Have them write down their conclusion and be able to justify it using their chart. (Answer: owl. She had not seen the scarf during the day. She spotted it on the branch while hunting at night and took it home to line her nest.)

3. Neighborhood Map (1st – 4th Grade)

Using the Map of Detective Gordon’s police district (see the back of the book) as a model, kids draw and label maps of their school and surrounding neighborhood. Alternatively, they can make up their own fantasy kingdom maps and label them.


  • Large drawing paper or roll paper
  • Pencils/colored pencils/crayons/markers, or paints (
  • Alternative: Collage materials, such as construction paper or magazine pictures and words to make map features


After reading Detective Gordon: The First Case,  kids study the map in the back of the book, and identify landmarks from the story.

Have them brainstorm what buildings, parks, businesses, trees, transit stations, homes or other landmarks are located in the neighborhood.  Kids then draw their own maps, either individually or in small groups, and label them.

When the maps are finished, they can make up a mystery story of their own that can be followed on the map.

Want to build a crocodile?

What would you do if you discovered a snaggle-toothed, gleaming-eyed crocodile under your bed?

In There Is a Crocodile Under My Bed! by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert (Lemniscaat), this is what happens upon such a discovery:

“There’s a crocodile under my bed!” says Sophie. “And I am not scared at all!”

The surprise visitor quickly turns into a friend as Sophie and Carl, the crocodile, perform circus stunts and prepare a pancake feast. Then it’s on to crocodile crafts and a bedtime story.

You can make a crocodile, too! This is just one of the many activities Publisher Spotlight provides to help you connect good kids books with kids who like to make and do, as well as read. Browse the Book Based Activities section of PS We’re Reading for complete information on this crocodile craft and others!

by Jessica Young