From the Book Shelf – July 2017

Each month I spotlight two books guaranteed to delight readers and provide fun activities to further extend the meaning of each reading experience. With so many wonderful titles available, this is no easy task! I bring a 33-year teaching career, literacy expertise and a passion for creating joyful readers to every column I write. I certainly hope you enjoy this month’s picks as much as I do.

Giant Squids: The Largest Creatures on Earth

Lurking far beneath the surface of the world’s oceans, where the water is inky blank and icy cold, lives the largest of all cephalopods…the giant squid. For centuries, this mystic creature has frightened fishermen and claimed the starring role in such legendary tales as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and more current titles such as Harry Potter and Finding Dory. Previously relegated to folklore status and scientific “best explanations” as pieced together by sightings and clues left behind by carcasses washed ashore, this enormous creature was captured on film in its natural habitat in 2012, thanks to oceanographer and biologist Edith Widder’s invention of a soccer ball-sized lure that mimicked the movement of a struggling jellyfish.

Giant Squid

Award-winning Candace Fleming asks as many questions as she answers about the mysterious “giant of the dark seas” in this informative, highly engaging picture book. Complimenting the well-researched and cleverly written text is the stunning artwork of Caldecott Medal winner, Eric Rohmann. Just as scientists and fishermen have pieced together information about the giant squid over centuries, author and illustrator have assembled characteristics of this remarkable cephalopod, one word and one brushstroke at a time. Across pages of murky ocean water, the enormity of the giant squid is realized; a portion of each part is captured on a page. The non-fiction text begins with a rich description of two 30-foot long tentacles.

The tentacles seize their prey.

They surround their thrashing meal.

They latch on with powerful

sucker-studded clubs.

Row after row of suckers.

Suckers ringed with saw-like teeth

that rip into the skin and hold on tight.

A fitting end…the predatory barracuda is left behind in a cloud of ink as the reader opens a dramatic yard-wide page foldout of the (almost) entire giant squid.

Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables

Whenever this highly acclaimed duo gets together, readers can be assured of a treat. Scieszka and Smith have discovered a way around the often frowned-upon practice of gossiping, by following the lead of Aesop, a Greek slave and storyteller, who is credited with over 600 fables.

Jon Scieszka shares his simple philosophy of the fable: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, change the guy’s name to Donkey or Squid.”

A host of characters, from a Piece of Toast & Fruit Loops to the Duckbilled Platypus & BeefSnakStik, ensure this modern collection of 18 fables is a delight for readers young and old. The use of creative, whimsical illustrations and varied fonts adds a layer of playfulness. The title of the book is from the fable of Deer, Mouse, Rabbit, & Squid. Trying to please everyone is often a challenging task! After Squid repeatedly responds that every idea his three friends have is “boring,” Squid goes home, and the other three critters take off to do as they please.

Moral: “Squids will be squids.”

Extension Activities:

Art and Writing

In Fleming’s prologue, she tells readers that if you cannot see something, you must take whatever clues you have, and dream it. Prior to 2012, no one knew exactly what the giant squid looked like—it was left to the imagination.

  1. Envision a sea creature that could live near the bottom of the ocean floor, hidden from view.
  2. Draw what you imagine with as much detail as possible. Be creative—the more unique and colorful, the better!
  3. Write (or have someone scribe for you) a list of the sea creature’s parts; give as much detail as you can. For example, arms shaped like lollipops; fins as big as airplane wings; skin that looks like a zebra.
  4. Give your description to a family member or friend and have them draw your imaginary sea creature.
  5. Compare their drawing to yours!

Comic Strip Fables

Scieszka and Smith give readers much to enjoy in this highly engaging book of “beastly fables with fresh morals about all kinds of bossy, sneaky, funny, annoying, dim-bulb people.” Each two-page spread shares a modern day fable, utilizing a different artistic style. For example, Smith uses a comic-strip-style approach to “show not tell” the animated expressions of the cast of characters in the fable from which the book title emerges…Squids Will Be Squids. In like manner, select one of the sayings common to Aesop’s Fables (from the list below) and create a fable of your own with talking animals as the main characters. Use artwork and add speech bubbles to tell the fable. There are many comic strip templates available online; a terrific one is available on Be sure to share your fable with someone special!

  • Think before you act.
  • Slow but steady wins the race.
  • Whatever you do, do it with all your might.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep.
  • There are two sides to every truth.