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Children's books that stand the test of time.

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I've mentioned a number of books in the past which are great read-alouds for substitutes to carry with them to elementary school assignments. Recently, as lesson plans and guidance have become more thorough and helpful, the chance to use these books has been less and less - which is a good thing, right? There's no question that when the day remains consistent for the class even if their teacher is absent, having a substitute is less disruptive, and behavior in general is more easily managed.

There are a couple of outcomes of this laudable trend (great work, teachers, who routinely seem to maintain an ongoing template of the day which can be updated with precise lessons and readily supplied to the sub!) First, while the day goes smoothly, occasionally there is a moment when I, as the sub, would love to bring something unique to the class - a book I love, bearing some additional enrichment in relation to their Social Studies, for example - which isn't possible with the daily script. The sub has become just a monitor, directing the flow of the day but adding nothing to the sum of experience. Second, once you expect that the plan will go well, and perhaps even leave your books behind - then comes that day when the absent teacher is so utterly essential to the behavior of the students that immediately, everything falls apart! At once you realize that the only hope for surviving the day is to completely reinvent it. Then you need your trusty book collection to redirect the energy - "The Big Orange Splot" by Daniel Pinkwater is a good place to start - as it beautifully redefines conformity, celebrates individuality, and engages the children to imagine a home and a world in which they have what they need to express themselves. Have I done this? Yes, once; and no, once - and the 'no' day, (when I didn't have my books, from a false sense of security), has to have been one of my most stressful.

So for substitutes and for parents who want books for their children that go beyond Disney Princesses and superheroes - here are some of the best!

The Big Orange Splot
The Big Orange Splot B. Ellor from Daniel Manus Pinkwater illustration

The Big Orange Splot

A lyrical tale of individuality and self knowledge, set against conventional standards of community.  A mysterious splot of orange paint triggers a surprising outcome.

What would this discussion sound like?
What would this discussion sound like? B. Ellor from Daniel Manus Pinkwater illustration

What would this discussion sound like?

The peaceful conversation can be role-played with a class or with your child - set the atmosphere with props, lemonade with little umbrellas...

A strange folktale from the American South.
A strange folktale from the American South. B. Ellor from cover art by Jerry Pinkney.

A strange folktale from the American South.

Jerry Pinkney is the master of atmospheric detail and character - the illustrations are fabulous.  The story celebrates kindness and honesty with the traditional contrast between Blanche, her sister Rose and their 'wicked' mother.  A Southern dialect and the minute details in the illustrations make this a picture book to treasure.

Blanche resists temptation and does as the old woman told her.
Blanche resists temptation and does as the old woman told her. B. Ellor from illustrations by Jerry Pinkney.

Blanche resists temptation and does as the old woman told her.

The key to the story is in following advice from those we have come to trust; and understanding that shiny objects may not be what they seem!  Wait and see!  (Alert - there IS a somewhat gruesome detail about the magical old woman - check before you read it out loud.)

Somehow you know he won't stick to that!
Somehow you know he won't stick to that! B. Ellor from hardcover illustration by David Catrow,

Somehow you know he won't stick to that!

The sheer exuberance of the cover and the illustrations draw children in to marvel at the excess of the little painted character!  Using black and white for scenes that are supposedly 'normal' adds to the drama.

Each part of his body receives creative upgrades!
Each part of his body receives creative upgrades! B. Ellor from illustrations by David Catrow.

Each part of his body receives creative upgrades!

Another feature of the text is the use of rhyming which enables children to predict the next part of the body - "I just can't rest 'til I paint my... " Pause... "Chest!" everyone calls out.

Just can't stand not to paint my...
Just can't stand not to paint my... B. Ellor from illustrations by David Catrow.

Just can't stand not to paint my...

This illustration provides the quickest, simplest activity opportunity.  After reading, children can draw an outline of their hand and decorate it in any way they like - or if you can give each one a large outline print, they'll have more space to work.

An 'almost' bedtime story.
An 'almost' bedtime story. B. Ellor from cover art by Adrian Johnson

An 'almost' bedtime story.

Kate Lum and Adrian Johnson have created a charming, hilarious story with a Granny of pioneering stock - the kind who built the West and was daunted by nothing.  

Carpentry blueprints from the Granny.
Carpentry blueprints from the Granny. B. Ellor from cover art by Adrian Johnson

Carpentry blueprints from the Granny.

One small oversight - Granny forgot to plan for her grandson's accommodations - what kind of Granny is that?  The one you want if you're ever in the wild with no shopping mall!

All the main characters introduce themselves.
All the main characters introduce themselves. B. Ellor from cover art by Mordicai Gerstein

All the main characters introduce themselves.

The Japanese influence of the story and illustrations make this a great choice for children steeped in Martial Arts.  Some children can relate to the stages of training, and study the illustrations with glee.

The hapless Daimyo seeks help from the Samurai school.
The hapless Daimyo seeks help from the Samurai school. B. Ellor from illustrations by Mordicai Gerstein

The hapless Daimyo seeks help from the Samurai school.

This stylized motif builds gradually as the Daimyo upgrades the threat level from novice to master, and the sky darkens ominously from hopeful beginning to desperate final request...

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