Monday, September 15, 2014

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker
written by Laurie Ann Thompson
2014 (Simon and Schuster)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's easy to criticize the generation that comes after you. I have found myself veering into "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!" territory and I haven't even hit a half century on this earth yet. You might think that teenagers are just a bunch of texting and video game playing zombies occasionally revved up by an energy drink. You would be wrong. I know plenty of teens, including one in my house, who work their tails off and are great people. They try to spread kindness and want this planet to be a better place. Most of them are also getting prepared for college and one of the things they should do is show an interest in volunteering in their community and the world beyond. One of the ways you could help such a student is to find a copy of Be a Changemaker. Laurie Ann Thompson has created a great guide for young people (and old geezers like me!) who want to take up a cause and make a difference. Each chapter guides the reader as to how they can get started. I recommend viewing the table of contents on this link so you can see how Thompson covers all of the bases and then some. There are chapters on doing research, running meetings, budgeting, using social media, and planning events. One of the best parts of this book is the profile of a successful venture in each chapter. For example, the chapter on meetings features a group of young women in Massachusetts who want to improve their neighborhood. Young people will appreciate these examples of peers who have been successful in their social ventures.

Be a Changemaker is a unique and important book. It provides the tools needed for young people who are seeking to be a positive influence. If you are a middle or high school teacher that sponsors a club, you will want your students to have access to this book. A group that puts together a food drive or a car wash to raise money for a charity will find these chapters invaluable. My wife teaches high school social studies and I'm giving her my copy of the book. Find a group and help them become changemakers.

Visit the other blogs that are part of this tour:
*Thanks to Sue Heavenrich for the cut and paste!

Tues, Sept 9 ~ at Girl Scout Leader 101 
Wed, Sept 10 ~ at Unleashing Readers 
Thurs, Sept 11 ~ at Teen Librarian Toolbox
Fri, Sept 12 ~ at The Nonfiction Detectives
   and Kirby's Lane   
Sat, Sept 13 ~ at The Styling Librarian  
Mon, Sept 15 ~ at NC Teacher Stuff   
Tues, Sept 16 ~ at The Hiding Spot 
Wed, Sept 17 ~ at Kid Lit Frenzy   
Thurs, Sept 18 ~ at GreenBeanTeenQueen   
Sat. Sept 20  ~ at Elizabeth O. Dulemba  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Boy on the Page

The Boy on the Page
written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

How much time do you spend on your phone? How much time do you spend in lines? If you are like me, probably way too much time and not enough time on important things like family and friends. Do we stop often enough and ask ourselves, "Why are we here?" The Boy on the Page asks himself this question and I'm glad he did. One day the boy finds that he has landed on the page of a book. Initially alone, he sees a world beginning to appear around him. As it grows, he does too, but he is troubled as to why he is there. He has experiences like riding a horse and catching a fish. The boy paints, plays an instrument, and saves an animal. Eventually he falls in love and sees the world through the eyes of his child. Having aged and experienced much more, the boy is now an older man but is still wondering why he landed on the page. In his search for an answer, he leaps off the page. What happens next surprises him and provides the answer he is looking for.

Peter Carnavas, an Australian author/illustrator, is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Like his previous book, The Children Who Loved Books, Carnavas gives readers a sweet story with plenty of depth packed in two page spreads. My wife, a high school teacher, read this book last night and remarked on how lovely it was. With the question that is at the heart of the story, I think you could read this book to people of all ages and have them think about who they have influenced. I think young readers will connect and think about all of the people in their lives. Older readers may need to reach for a Kleenex if they're not careful. One of my favorite books of the year.

Here is a video of a song Peter Carnavas wrote that is based on the book. Your students will enjoy listening to this.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bob is a Unicorn

Bob is a Unicorn
written and illustrated by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Bob's friends think he is having an identity crisis. Bob thinks he is a unicorn. Bob's friends think differently. Marvin, a moose, can't tell that he is a unicorn. Ted, a polar bear, doesn't realize what is on Bob's head. Margo the rabbit thinks Bob is just being silly. Other animals in the neighborhood are either too busy, too old, or too important to play with Bob or realize that he really is a unicorn. It's not until Bob meets a like-minded fairy princess that he finds someone who thinks he is a unicorn.

Bob is a Unicorn is a story that runs strictly on a dialogue between Bob and his friends. Bob's parts are in a white font and his friends' in a black font. This is very different than the standard format of a picture book. This was a bit of a challenge for the kindergarten class that I share these books with, but their teacher was pleased about having something different and wants to read it again. I like books that show us something we haven't seen before or very often. Bob is a Unicorn is a great book to share with preschool or kindergarten students when you want to talk about using your imagination or being yourself. It's easy to follow the standard paths, but much more difficult to do what Bob does which is to stick to your dreams even though others want to "tut-tut" you along the way. Take a break from convention and imagine yourself as a unicorn or whatever floats your boat. Bob the Unicorn would approve.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Hank Has a Dream

Hank Has a Dream
written and illustrated by Rebecca Dudley
2014 (Peter Pauper Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the back flap of this book, it states that Rebecca Dudley is a builder, creator, photographer, architect and artist. I wouldn't be surprised if she climbs mountains and makes a mean lasagna or can do anything else in this world. When you look at the artwork for Hank Has a Dream, you're just amazed at all of Dudley's handiwork. She made everything in the illustrations. Check out the dirigible in the picture below.

Look at the hummingbird in the nest above. The visuals are terrific, but don't overlook a sweet story where Hank recalls his dream for his hummingbird friend. In the dream, Hank is flying over different settings. He finds a path and follows it to the sea. Later, in his dirigible, Hank flies through the clouds and gently floats back down to earth. The final page of the story is a lesson in friendship and how to include others.

Hank Has a Dream would be a great text to promote imagination and spur young writers and illustrators to share their dreams. Teachers can use this book to teach sequence and talk about being a friend. It would be fun to have students read this book and then write about their dreams. Hank Has a Dream is amazing visually, but with a story that teaches a sweet lesson on friendship.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nonfiction Minute Next Week

The good folks at iNK(Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) are rolling out the Nonfiction Minute next week. Different authors will be presenting a short selection for students to read each day. Here is the line-up for the first week:

9/8  How to Interview an Historic Building by Andrea Warren --
You will be amazed at how willing a building is to communicate with Andrea Warren.
9/9 What Is a Light Year? by David M. Schwartz 
Math maven David Schwartz is going to throw some pretty big numbers at you.
9/10 Something's Rotten in Rome by Sarah Albee --
Pee-ew!  There's something really smelly going on in Ancient Rome and Sarah Albee is going to tell you how to make an equally big stink .
9/11 September 11, 2001, a poem for young readers by Vicki Cobb--
Scientist Vicki Cobb turns to poetry to share her grief over the 9/11 attacks.
9/12 Hard Crackers in Hard Times by Jim Whiting--
Jim Whiting will explain why tens of thousands of men have appreciated the chance to eat maggot-filled crackers.

This is going to be a terrific resource for students, teachers, and parents. Check it out and also think about supporting this worthwhile effort financially by going to their Indiegogo site

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Busy Trucks on the Go

Busy Trucks on the Go
written by Eric Ode; illustrated by Kent Culotta
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday on Facebook for more book reviews.

Concrete mixer roars and rumbles. See his drum? It turns and tumbles. Soon he opens up his spout. All the concrete rushes out.

Young kids like books about vehicles that are larger than cars. They also like fun rhyming books. Put the two together and you will have an enjoyable read aloud book for preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Busy Trucks on the Go follows a dad and his son as they observe the large vehicles in and around their city. Each two page spread shows one or more vehicles performing a task. Eric Ode, with his text, and Kent Culotta, with a friendly mixture of primary and pastel colors, take great care to show readers the job each vehicle is designed to do. You could draw a mini-circle map for each mode of transportation and write down what they are doing. This is much more appealing to beginning readers than the traditional informational text that would show photographs accompanied by a brief piece of text. Another neat trick that Culotta employs is using the background to give clues about the seasonal setting. You could show these spreads to students and ask them which season is the setting. Busy Trucks on the Go would also be good for shared reading as students anticipate the rhymes.

If I was working with a preschool or kindergarten class, I would make a list of some of the vehicles in the book and create an anticipation chart for use before reading. I would ask what they knew beforehand, and maybe build a little background knowledge before reading. After reading, students could draw and write about their favorite mode of transportation. Many preK and kindergarten classes employ a transportation unit, so finding a copy of Busy Trucks on the Go would fit nicely into those lesson plans.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
written by Phyllis Root; illustrated by Betsy Bowen
2014 (University of Minnesota Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Once native prairies covered almost forty percent of the United States. Less than one percent of that native prairie remains, making prairie one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. 

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
is a beautifully illustrated book with a distinct purpose, which is to encourage readers to bring back pieces of the prairie by planting native plants. The prairie ecosystem is in trouble as a map in the back matter clearly shows. By taking away pieces of the ecosystem, we are destroying the entire thing. If you don't have land for the goldenrod plant, then you don't have a place for goldenrod soldier beetles. If you don't have goldenrod soldier beetles, you won't have the Great Plains toad. So what can we do? Plant coneflowers and Joe Pye weed so prairie butterflies can bounce around and eat. Plant bottle gentian, milkweed and hairy mountain mint so birds can build nests on the hidden ground and prairie skinks have cover for safety. One of the big ideas of Plant a Pocket of Prairie is how all living things are dependent upon each other. By providing more space for these plants to grow, we are benefiting all kinds of animals.

In the Classroom
You can certainly use this book for teaching about ecosystems and the interdependence of all living things. Students would be encouraged to garden after reading so you can find or create a flower bed and observe this relationship up close. I think Plant a Pocket of Prairie would be a great nonfiction text for teaching the skill of cause and effect. Learning how one thing can lead to another will be made easier by the numerous examples in the text. Think of it as a nonfiction fiction equivalent of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. One more possibility is using this book to jump start your students' desire to learn about their own native plants and animals.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie is an excellent book to showcase the need to take care of our ecosystems and to excite students about planting native plants to create little pieces of what once was a vast area of wildlife.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lucha Lizards: Chameleon Cage Match!

Lucha Lizards: Chameleon Cage Match!
written by Donald Lemke; illustrated by Chris Eliopoulous
2013 (Stone Arch)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more reviews.

There are books that don't receive sterling reviews but are worn out by young readers. Sometimes reviewers just don't get the joke. Lucha Lizards is one such book. In this graphic novel, a town of lizards love to wrestle. Lucha libre is a form of wrestling where wrestlers wear colorful masks. Most of the lizards in Luchaville grapple. The only exception is Little Leon, a chameleon who likes to hide at the mere mention of wrestling. All is well until a giant komodo dragon comes to town. He challenges all of the lizards and easily defeats each opponent. What's cool about this book is through the dialogue you learn facts about reptiles. On page 7, there is a hilarious "tale of the tape" between a lizard and an amphibian. When everything seems lost in Luchaville, Little Leon hides his way to defeating King Komodo and capturing the belt.

I asked my fourth grade daughter about this book and she said it was funny. I grew up watching professional wrestling so I thought it was funny too. It would be a good assignment to hand this book to a reader and ask them to pick out several facts about reptiles. There is also great banter between the lizards and King Komodo that could be used for a lesson on synonyms. We need more mash-ups like Lucha Lizards to engage readers and spice up the serious world of nonfiction.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

From Sea to Salt

From Sea to Salt
written by Robin Nelson
2004 (Lerner Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book titles.

If you work in a K-2 classroom, your students will probably write a procedural text at some time during the year.You will also teach sequence in reader's workshop. Books like From Sea to Salt can help with both tasks. What is cool about this book is that the subject is a very common item that students (and many adults) have no idea how it is produced. Seriously, can you tell me how the salt that you have in that shaker came to rest in the container with the girl and the umbrella? Me neither. It starts with seawater. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind the salt. Spraying water on the salt will create brine which is pumped out by a pipe. The brine is transported to a machine that dries up some of the water. What is left is salt crystals and water that is called slurry. The slurry is then taken to a dryer that doesn't hold wandering socks, but instead takes out the water from the slurry. Next the salt crystals are screened into large and small crystals. The small ones are the kind that you use on your food. These small crystals are put into the cylinder container and shipped to your local grocer.

From Sea to Salt isn't flashy, but it is highly effective. Young readers can read it and learn about how to write a procedural text and practice recognizing sequence. These are skills that they will need to use often. There are other books in the Start to Finish series that would be worth investigating.

Monday, August 11, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Check out the books at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

Last Week

Matilda's Cat is a sweet story that illustrates the relationship between a little girl and her cat. Since it's Emily Gravett, it has a clever twist. There need to be more Emily Gravett units in K-1. Just my two cents.

I'm about halfway through this book. What has been most interesting to me so far is the comparison of Japanese and American teaching methods. The Japanese teachers adopted methods that were created in America, but so far not widely adopted here. The key to improving our public schools is improving our corps of teachers. Building a Better Teacher can help in that effort.

If you are interested in trying to write a children's book, or if you teach writing, then you will find this book to be a good resource. The character bible section is particularly helpful.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Matilda's Cat

Matilda's Cat
written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
2012 (Simon and Schuster Books)
Source: Orange County Library

You can count on Emily Gravett to have a clever take and a twist or two in her picture books. Matilda's Cat fits the bill. Matilda tries to read her cat's mind and find out what she may be interested in doing. Maybe she wants to play with wool. The cat does not. How about a two story box house? Not interested. Matilda goes through a series of activities in order to engage her feline friend. What she ends up doing is alternately boring or frightening the cat. In the end, we find out that all the cat wants to be with Matilda herself. This is a sweet book that celebrates the relationship between pets and their humans. The illustrations, in the usual Gravett style, are adorable. Young readers will love this book and want to talk about what they do with their pets. That opens the floor to a fun writing activity about pets. I am reaching here, but I also think this story would also be a good metaphor for parenting. All the cat wants to do is to be with Matilda. Instead of involving our kids in a gazillion activities, perhaps all they want is to spend some time with us. Just a thought.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Free iPad app: Zap Zap Fractions

Zap Zap Fractions
by Wei Chong
2014 (Visual Math Studio)
iPad app
Price: FREE!!!!!

If you know a child that is just beginning to learn about fractions, you will want to check out Zap Zap Fractions. First of all, it's free. No harm to downloading it and giving it a try. You will want to go through the tutorial first. Important topics like numerators and denominators will be explained. One aspect of Zap Zap that I really appreciate is the use of number lines. They abound in this app. It's important that students are able to work with a number line. Once you finish with the tutorial, it's time to play the game. You are an alien in a spaceship that is facing oncoming asteroids. In order to shoot the asteroids, you have to answer questions about fractions correctly. You have to survive one minute of answering questions. Miss a question and you will need to start over again. It's fun to play and a little addictive. Try it out!