Don't Miss Out on Chris Van Dusen!

'The Reading Crew's'  theme this week is 'Best Books for Grade ?'  I’ve chosen to focus on a few books by one of my favorite authors, though choosing one favorite author is like trying to pick my favorite kind of chocolate.  These books are great for use with any elementary grade.

Have you heard of author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen?  I hadn’t until a few years ago and what a treasure he is.  I remember reading one of his books to a second grade class and they burst out into spontaneous applause at the end!  How often does that happen?

Two of my Van Dusen favorites are Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit and The Circus Ship.  Both books are written in rhyme (as are many of his titles—not sure, maybe they all are), and you’ll be awed at Van Dusen’s ability to spin a story using complex and interesting vocabulary while rhyming!  Randy is really bad at baseball, but really good at math, robotics and space study.  When he realizes a huge fireball is going to crash into his town, he devises a plan to save everyone.  Amazingly, it involves all of his special skills and culminates in his very first home run!  It’s a doozy! 

“The fireball sailed out of sight,
A rousing cheer began:
“Hooray for Randy Riley
and his giant metal man!”

And as the crowd went crazy,
Randy stood there with a grin
and mumbled, “How predictable—
a fastball, low and in.”

I use this book to discuss how we all have things we’re good at and not so good at.  It’s also great for talking about how important it is to believe in oneself—Randy knew there was a problem, and though no one believed him, he believed in himself and used his talents to make a HUGE difference.  Perseverance is yet another theme.

Now, for a little teaser about The Circus Ship:

Horribly, the circus ship, carrying all the animals, crashes in the ocean.  Though the boss, Mr. Payne, saves himself, he leaves the animals to drown.  Luckily, they make it to shore.  But, they invade the small town there, making nuisances of themselves! 
“Soon animals were everywhere,
And into everything
“There’s an ostrich in the outhouse!”
“There’s a hippo in the spring!”
“There’s a tiger in the tulips!”
“There’s a line on the lawn!”
“There’s a python in the pantry!”
It went on and on…”

When one of the town’s children gets into trouble though, tiger saves the day and the townspeople come to love and appreciate the animals.

But, we haven’t heard the last from Mr. Payne.  He sails back to the island to collect his animals and put them back to work.  No one wants this curmudgeon to get his way.  So, the town devises a clever plan…the animals hide or camouflage themselves.  (The two page spread with the hidden animals engrosses every child.  They won’t move on until the find every last animal!)  Mr. Payne leaves empty handed…

“And from that day they like to say
their lives were free of “Payne.”
It was a happy, peaceful place
upon that isle in Maine.”

Van Dusen shares that the idea for The Circus Ship came from an actual event, which he describes.  Pretty fascinating stuff.  This book is guaranteed to be read again and again.  It’s a great one to use to talk about character and problem solving.

Don’t miss Van Dusen’s other entertaining titles!  See his Amazon author page here:
P.S. My son LOVES If I Built a Car

Happy Reading!  --Janiel

Click on the links below to read more about great books!  And, If you'd like to link up, jump in below!


  1. I picked one of his books for my list too. I just love them. I used Randy Riley as a mentor text for a superhero writing prompt last year, and it was perfect. Chris Van Dusen was a great author to highlight too since he's fairly new. Have a great day, Janiel!

    1. I saw that out of the corner of my eye when I linked up this morning. I can't wait to read your post. I love the idea of using Randy Riley to stimulate thinking about heroes. While all the other kids were playing, he was busy working on his plan to save the world! Anyway, gotta' love Chris Van Dusen. :) -Janiel


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