Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Think About How Everyone...

I have always loved the kind of books that Harriet Ziefert creates.  I love them for a number of reasons - the silliness that is so simply incorporated in the text, the way the books aren't overly complicated, but are readable time after time.  Her comprehension of literacy and how preschoolers are attracted to reading about subjects is really superb.  Her books teach, but in a very natural way.  And her text always pairs so well with Emily Bolam's illustrations - Bolam has a simple, colorful style that coordinates so perfectly with Ziefert's text.  So last year, on a SLJ webinar, I heard about a new series from Blue Apple Books (Ziefert's own publishing company) from Ziefert and Bolam, and was thrilled to receive it from the publisher a few weeks later.

There were four titles sent to me from the First Nonfiction series: Does a Bear Wear Boots?, Does a Camel Cook Spaghetti?, Does a Panda Go to School? and Does a Woodpecker Use a Hammer?  Each one of  these titles encourage preschoolers to think about topics they might otherwise take for granted.  For instance, you might be able to predict that in Does a Bear Wear Boots?, preschoolers will be thinking about what everyone wears (a popular topic in daycares everywhere).  But there are also topics that encourage more complex thinking, such as understanding how everyone learns and how animals use tools.  Let's take a closer look at each of the titles, because they are each unique.


Does a Woodpecker Use a Hammer? focuses on tools.  Each section of the book starts out with a question about an animal" "Can an octopus hammer?"  The animal in question is attempting to use a hammer, which can look really silly, depending on the animal.  The octopus has eight hammers tightly grasped in its tentacles, but it's difficult to find something to hammer on underwater!  When the reader turns the page, they'll find one or two facts about how that animal really uses tools and why.  For the octopus, tools are used more for protection.  The illustration on that page also shows the octopus using the tool correctly.  The text transitions very smoothly from chimps, who use tools in some of the same ways humans do, to humans constructing and manipulating tools.  Astonishingly, Ziefert then takes on what could be the gargantuan task of summarizing the human history of a book for preschoolers!  And even though it feels like an incredibly difficult topic, she writes about it in a simple and informative way.  Ziefert travels from cavemen to plows, Egyptians and Romans, to modern-day tool use.  In the last double-paged spread, all of the tools are labeled so readers can begin to match the vocabulary with the picture.  The book ends with questions for the reader: "Does your mom use tools? Does your dad?  Do you?"
On the front cover of Does a Bear Wear Boots? ,  a polar bear is shown wearing very fashionable red polka dotted boots.  He might be able to carry off this look, except for the grouchy look on his face!  The pattern is much the same as the first book, where a question is asked: "Does a musk ox wear an overcoat?"  The musk ox looks very entertaining in a purple overcoat, but the next page explains that its thick fur acts as insulation, keeping it warm.  This text moves from silly questions "Do ducks wear diapers?" to facts - that babies wear diapers until they are potty-trained.  In this title, Ziefert and Bolam  go through many of the types of clothing we wear everyday (although it is fairly Americanized - there aren't any recognizably diverse pieces of clothing).  These are all clearly labeled.  There are also clothes for certain occupations, special occasions, or costumes.  As I mentioned before, this title in particular would be perfect in a preschool classroom as it is a standard classroom topic.  This book brings humor to the topic (reminiscent of Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing), while also challenging readers to draw comparisons and contrasts between ourselves and the animal kingdom.
If you are wondering Does a Camel Cook Spaghetti?, of course the answer is no.  But young readers may not have previously considered how animals get their food.  They can learn that a camel may go a month without food if necessary, or that a raccoon with food may "wash" it without water if none is available.  The human part of this book ties together themes from the other two, as it integrates tools and clothing for cooking.  It also briefly discusses gardening and how people eat in different cultures.  And last but not least, it explains that animals must eat what is in their territory.  They can't eat a taco since it isn't in their territory.  As in the other titles, the books finishes with questions pointed at the readers to draw them in.
The final book is Does a Panda Go to School?  And while we know the answer is no, it is interesting to observe how animals do learn in their own environments.  In this one, young children are guided through a typical school day with animals in the classroom.  An ostrich could not go to school, because it could not follow directions or put its backpack away.  The one animal who might have a good time in the classroom?  A chimp - they learn through very similar methods.  But even the chimp has its limitations!!  This book has a slightly different rhythm than the other three.  It has the added benefit of introducing school structure and routine to preschoolers in a non-threatening way.  They will enjoy the idea of animals cavorting in the classroom and then can learn more about how chimps learn.
I've said a little about the illustrations, but I love Bolam's ability to keep their illustrations clean, realistic and sharp.  Everything is outlined in black lines, which makes it easier to grasp what is going on.  And she has a real talent for showing what's going on in a realistic way.  But that realism also has plenty of humor in it.  An armadillo sits in the story circle, trying her hardest not to squirm.  A chimpanzee holds hands with a little boy as he crosses the street with a backpack on.  A duck looks bemusedly at its bottom, festooned in diapers.  Bolam helps emphasize the absurdity in us expecting animals to do things just like we do.
Each of the titles begins a letter from Ziefert to parents.  It addresses how parents can involve children in reading the books together.  It encourages parents to bring the books to life by drawing parallels to the child's own life.  She also discusses the illustrations and how readers can expand on those outside the story.  Finally, Ziefert explains the pages of questions and answers at the end of each book.
I think the Think About section at the end of each title in the series makes these books useful to a much larger population than just preschoolers.  There are questions to help readers compare and contrast different groups of animals and humans: "What are some things animals eat that you like to eat?"  "If animals don't go to school, what do they all day?"  There are also Research, Observe, and Write, Tell or Draw sections.  In families with children of various ages, this book might be a read-aloud to a younger child and then an older child could work through the Think About section.  It's a series that is equally at home in the picture book or nonfiction sections at the library too.  Blue Apple continues to add new books in this series, and I can't wait to read more of them.
Does a Bear Wear Boots? Harriet Ziefert; illustrations by Emily Bolam.  Blue Apple Books, 2005, 2014.
Does a Camel Cook Spaghetti? Harriet Ziefert; illustrations by Emily Bolam.  Blue Apple Books, 2007, 2014.
Does a Panda Go to School?  Harriet Ziefert; illustrations by Emily Bolam.  Blue Apple Books, 2003, 2014.
Does a Woodpecker Use a Hammer? Harriet Ziefert; illustrations by Emily Bolam.  Blue Apple Books, 2014.
sent by the publisher upon request


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