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

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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!

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? July 28th edition

Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts.

What I'm Reading

The Scraps Book is a behind-the-scenes look at how Lois Ehlert creates her wonderful books. There are some excellent spreads in this book that will inspire budding writers of all ages.

Lily the Unicorn is a delightful character who loves life. Her challenge comes from Roger the Penguin who is not fond of many things. This would be a terrific book to use at the beginning of the year for students who are having a hard time transitioning back to school.

Articles that everyone should read

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? - Common Core standards are not the problem!

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash A Generation of Genuises - Article from Wired magazine about a dedicated teacher in Mexico who has found a better way of teaching.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
2014 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

If you make a list of favorite authors in K-1, Lois Ehlert will be on that list. She has provided the illustrations for classics like Color Zoo, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and Leaf Man. Lois Ehlert is primary school cool and The Scraps Book is her coolest book yet. Ehlert invites readers to learn about the life of an artist. What inspires her? How does she approach her work? These and many other questions are answered. The first section of the book focuses on her beginnings as an artist. Her parents (There's a lovely photo of them in the book.) made things and this inspired her. Lois's mom sewed and shared scissors and fabric with her daughter. Lois's dad shared his workshop and taught her how to paint, saw, and pound nails. What a terrific model for our parents today. Share with your kids the things that you are passionate about. In the following section, Ehlert drops a fantastic quote that I may post in my classroom. In talking about her early adult life as an artist, she explains that she created a lot of art but it wasn't for books. Here is the money quote: "An egg in the nest doesn't become a bird overnight." The rest of the book is used to show the writing and illustrating process. There is a two page spread where Ehlert shows how she sketched out her book Feathers For Lunch. Absolutely fabulous! You get to see how she planned out all 32 pages. Other pages feature the every-day items she uses in her illustrations. This will inspire young illustrators to create their own books.

The Scraps Book, for me, is a celebration of the work of a treasured author/illustrator. Lois Ehlert is very giving in that she shares so much information that will create light bulbs over our heads. Ideas abound, with detailed notes, in this book, yet it is a just right text for young readers. I would share this book near the beginning of the year as you roll out Writer's Workshop. It will jump start the tools that budding author/illustrators use in creating their masterpieces.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Great Teaching in Mexico

Here is another article, about great teaching, that Roberta from Growing Science recommended. Again, someone is daring to be different and trying to rise above the tide of mediocrity that we are currently swimming against. This comes from Wired Magazine and features teacher Sergio Juarez Correa and the terrific work he is doing.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Do Americans Stink at Math?: Great NYT article

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? is a terrific piece penned by Elizabeth Green. Here's a great summary of the article from a Facebook friend of mine:

Phenomenal article. Japanese math skills moving ahead of our own, due in large part to teaching methods developed in America, but which we have failed to implement. Allowing teachers to observe one another, open discussion of teaching techniques. Bringing parents up to speed along with students. Teaching the "why" instead of just how to get the answer. A great read!

Elizabeth Green has a book, Building a Better Teacher, that will be published on August 4th. The article is an excerpt from the book. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lily the Unicorn

Lily the Unicorn
written and illustrated by Dallas Clayton
2014 (Harper)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It's time for classroom teachers to start thinking about the start of the upcoming year. Part of that process is picking out books to share in the first week of class where everyone is getting to know each other and being brave in a new classroom. To allay the fears of possible wailers in the hallway (not the Wailers who played with Bob Marley, but the weepers and gnashers of teeth who aren't quite ready to come back to school yet. Teachers included.), I bring you Lily the Unicorn. Lily is the being that we all need in our lives. She is super positive and loves living a life that explores and finds joy in everything. She likes to make things with the help of her expanded imagination. Dallas Clayton does a fantastic job of showcasing this by filling two pages with several labeled items that Lily has made. The colors are a match for Lily's exuberance. She also likes making music and making a mess. But her favorite thing is making friends. She meets Roger, who is a tough nut to crack. He is a penguin who doesn't like very much. The Antarctic (Can't say polar since he's a penguin.) opposite of Lily. She plans adventures to help Roger loosen up, but he wants no part of it. Lily suggests games they could play, but Roger is not interested. So why is Roger so reticent? He is afraid. The world scares him. Roger sees problems at every turn and he is afraid of failing, especially at making friends. With a few words, Lily convinces him that everything will be okay.

Starting the school year is tough for some kids. Reassuring them that it will be okay is part of my job. Books like Lily the Unicorn help tell students that the world is a wonderful place to experience and that plenty of support will be available. Friends are all around and the great thing about starting school is the opportunity to add to your support group. If you are looking for a book to build the confidence of your new students in K-2, introduce them to a most optimistic unicorn. You might also try this sign as well.