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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Whoosh!: A watery world of wonderful creatures
written by Marilyn Baillie; illustrated by Susan Mitchell
2014 (Owl Kids)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more nonfiction reviews.

Whoosh! is a book that engages children to read and be active. Each two page spread compares an animal using water and something that a child enjoys doing involving water. For example, an alligator will lay on rocks next to a river to take a good snooze while a child enjoys laying on a raft in a swimming pool. On the cover, you can see an orca blowing water through its blowhole and two children enjoying a cool spray of water. In all, eleven animals are included in this book. With each spread, readers are encouraged to be active as they act out their imaginations. I appreciate a nonfiction book that combines information and imagination. In the back of the book, there is a spread that focuses on how children use water. This would be a good opportunity to post a circle map and ask students how they use water and then add to the chart after reading this section. Following this, there is more information about each individual animal in the back matter.

If you teach preschool or kindergarten, your students will enjoy Whoosh!. It would be a good addition to a unit on animals or a unit on water. You could have a shared writing experience where you post a printed picture of several of these animals (I can't draw worth a hoot.) and ask students to provide a sentence that would go with the animal. You could also ask students to stand in a circle and have them act out the animal that you show from the book. Young readers will enjoy the array of animals and the connections they make to their own actions.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's Raining!: New Gail Gibbons book

It's Raining!
written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons
2014 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out more reviews at Nonfiction Monday.

One of the things you should appreciate about a Gail Gibbons book is that she is able to explain processes in simple, sparse text. When you write for elementary age students, that is important. In this book, she tackles weather and the water cycle. With detailed illustrations, Gibbons explains how water goes through evaporation and condensation stages. Next, five different types of rain clouds are described with illustrations that give a great visual of each one. A great two page spread of rainfall maps around the world follows. Readers get to see how much rain falls in all seven continents. Do you think rain is just rain? Gibbons will show you that it can take five different forms and fall from five different cloud types. There is also information about flash flooding, threats to clean water, and safety tips on what to do during a storm. By reading It's Raining!, you will be awash in information about rain.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Moon

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Check out Poetry Friday at Write Time

The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbor quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon. 

But of all the things that belong to the day,
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall rise.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Trip Into Space

A Trip Into Space
written by Lori Haskins Houran; illustrated by Francisca Marquez
2014 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out more book reviews at STEM Friday

Many preschool and kindergarten classes have units about careers. Ever thought of featuring astronauts as a career? A Trip Into Space will teach you all about the life of an astronaut working at the International Space Station. It starts with taking a trip from Earth into space. According to the facts in the back matter, these ships travel as fast as 17,500 miles per hour. It takes less time to travel to the space station than to fly on an airplane from New York to California. When you arrive at the space station, boxes have to be unloaded with new supplies for the crew. Fresh fruits and veggies are especially prized as most food on the space station is freeze dried. Accounting for the lack of gravity is a big deal in this floating lab. Astronauts drink out of pouches and have Velcro to hold down their forks while they are eating. My favorite piece of information and accompanying illustration in this book is that astronauts zip themselves in sleeping bags so they won't float away during sleep. It's also important to be clipped while you are working outside making repairs on the station. Working two hundred miles high is definitely a trip!

With engaging pictures and an easy narrative to follow, young readers will enjoy their trip into space. I've said this plenty of times before, but I'll say it again: We underestimate how hard it is to write good nonfiction for very young readers that can be read over and over again. A Trip Into Space is the rare nonfiction work that would make a great bedtime story. What better way to send yourself off into dreams?

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

What I'm reading

Fractions In Disguise is a math mystery where George Cornelius Factor needs to find a stolen 5/9 fraction. This would be a terrific book to use for introducing how to reduce fractions.

Handle With Care features a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. Readers find out that farms don't necessarily have to produce food. When I teach our unit on life cycles, I'll be using this book. Great back matter too!

Cool non-education articles that I read

If you like to make ice cream (and I do), check out this article in the NY Times by Melissa Clark. One secret: Use egg yolks.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey
written by Loree Griffin Burns; photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
2014 (Milbrook Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book reviews.

Handle With Care starts with a photograph of three rows of butterfly pupae. It's an eye-catching picture that makes you think about the differences between the pupae. It also made me think, "What is coming out of that?". These pupae arrive in a silver box that when opened, reveals a cross between Christmas for an entomologist and Forrest Gump. Yes, a box of bugs with each in its own little slot. Just avoid the one with nougat. The box has arrived at the Museum of Science in Boston. Where did it come from? El Bosque Nuevo, which is a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. This will blow your students' minds because they think of farms only as places that produce food. Loree Griffin Burns is extra smart and I know this because she takes this angle on page 10. That's called knowing your audience. What follows is an account of how this farm helps produce pupae that are shipped around the world. I love the details that are provided in the narrative. We learn how farmers have to provide plates of crushed bananas and cups of sugar water for the adult butterflies in the greenhouse. The photograph on page 14 looks like a Golden Corral for butterflies. On Tuesdays, larvae eat free! You also learn that it is important for farmers to keep out other animals. Some need to be kept out because they eat caterpillars and butterflies. Others are kept out because they will eat the plants in the greenhouse. Then there's the puparium which is a place containing cabinets of caterpillars that aren't far from transitioning into pupae. When the caterpillars turn into pupae, they are pinned to a board so they can have a place to hang. Some pupae are shipped to places like museums, others stay at the greenhouse to create the next generation of butterflies, and the rest are released into the nearby forest.

I like that the text in Handle With Care is not wonky which makes it much easier to share with a K-2 audience. The photographs are fantastic. It would be an interesting discussion to talk about how these pictures are important to the book. The back matter is also great as you have a page about the different types of metamorphosis and another page that talks about words used to describe the life cycles of insects.

If you teach a unit on life cycles, find this book because your students will be fascinated by the work of these farmers in Costa Rica. They have a genuine appreciation and care for the butterflies that they farm. This is the kind of attitude toward living things that we want to impart to our students. Plus, it's just a really cool book!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Spider

Photo by Orest

Check out Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe. This is a great place to find excellent poetry.

I've been thinking about patience a lot lately and this poem preaches that virtue. It would also be a great poem to use when teaching point of view in poetry. 

The Spider by Jane Taylor

"OH, look at that great ugly spider!" said Ann; 
And screaming, she brush'd it away with her fan; 

"'Tis a frightful black creature as ever can be, 

I wish that it would not come crawling on me. "

"Indeed," said her mother, "I'll venture to say,
The poor thing will try to keep out of your way; 

For after the fright, and the fall, and the pain, 
It has much more occasion than you to complain.

"But why should you dread the poor insect, my dear?
If it hurt you, there'd be some excuse for your fear; 

But its little black legs, as it hurried away,
Did but tickle your arm, as they went, I dare say.

"For them to fear us we must grant to be just,
Who in less than a moment can tread them to dust; 

But certainly we have no cause for alarm; 
For, were they to try, they could do us no harm.

"Now look! it has got to its home; do you see
What a delicate web it has spun in the tree? 

Why here, my dear Ann, is a lesson for you: 
Come learn from this spider what patience can do!

"And when at your business you're tempted to play,
Recollect what you see in this insect to-day, 

Or else, to your shame, it may seem to be true, 
That a poor little spider is wiser than you. "

Fractions In Disguise

Fractions In Disguise
written by Edward Einhorn; illustrated by David Clark
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday to find more book reviews.

George Cornelius Factor lives for fractions. He collects them and places them on shelves in his home. So it's no surprise that when a 5/9 is available through an auction, George is there to bid. Others want this prize fraction as well, so the bidding is fast and furious. George makes the initial bid and is topped by Madame Geometrique and Baron von Mathematik. As the bidding reaches a peak, the room is thrown into darkness. When the lights come back on, the valued 5/9 is gone and so is the mysterious Dr. Brok, who has a shady past. George suspects the bad doctor and immediately starts thinking of a plan. Using parts of a ray gun, a calculator, paper clips, a whisk, and spare computer parts, he develops a Reducer. When pointed at a fraction, it reduces it to its lowest terms. George tries it out on a 10/15. He is able to reduce it to a 2/3. Now it is time to implement the second part of the plan. He goes to the mansion of Dr. Brok. Will he find the precious 5/9? I've given you 1/2 the plot so you can find out what happens in the other 4/8.

Fractions In Disguise is 6/6 a clever tale. Students will have fun trying to reduce fractions as they read the book. It's a great way to introduce reducing fractions, which starts in the fourth grade math curriculum. Adding this math mystery to your math read aloud collection will be one whole good idea!

Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This Past Week

A Rock For Ambrose was written by my high school English teacher, Loyd Hoke, Jr. It is a historical novella based on the life of his great-great grandfather Ambrose Hoke who was a Confederate soldier. Loyd used historical documents, including family letters, and combed state archives to reconstruct what happened to his ancestor. It's a heartbreaking tale that provides great insight into the life of a low level Civil War soldier. I'm so proud of Mr. Hoke!

Light Is All Around Us explains how we get light and how we can see it. There are several pieces of information in this book that were new to me. Did you know that the light from the sun measures 35 octillion lumens? That's 35 followed by 27 zeroes. The narrative is great for a K-2 nonfiction read-aloud. There are also three easy experiments in the back matter.

Kelsey Green is a third grader who is obsessed with being the top reader in her class during the school-wide reading contest. I like Kelsey because she is flawed. She is given to an occasional tantrum and doesn't always make the best choices. In other words, she's human. The book also raises some good questions about competitive reading events.

This Week

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Light Is All Around Us

Light Is All Around Us
written by Wendy Pfeffer; illustrated by Paul Meisel
2014 (Harper)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book reviews.

Light is found in many different forms and many different places. It travels from the sun and the stars. It lights up the sky, the sea, and                                                        our backyards.

Light Is All Around Us begins with our biggest source of light, the sun. Ninety-three million miles away, the light from the sun travels in waves of electromagnetic radiation. Light travels over 11 million miles a minute! There's a great graphic on pages 14 and 15 that shows how it compares to other things (cars, planes, sound) that travel. Light is not only fast, but it can be tremendously bright as well. Measured in lumens, light from a lightbulb measures about 1,750 lumens. Light from the sun measures 35 octillion lumens. That's 27 zeroes after the 35. That's more light than all the lightbulbs on Earth turned on simultaneously. This illustrates what I like best about this book. It has some very cool facts. I didn't even know that octillion was a number. Throw that word in a conversation and watch someone's jaw drop.

Light comes from many other sources besides the sun. Several familiar examples are presented, but one I did not know was my favorite. People in the West Indies would poke holes in gourds and put fireflies in them. This was their version of the flashlight. Very ingenious.

The last part of the book teaches readers how they are able to see light. On pages 32 and 33, there are two terrific diagrams that show the human eye and how the eye sends messages to the brain. In the back matter, you will find three simple experiments that will encourage students to think more about light.

Before reading Light Is All Around Us, I would do a circle map and ask students what could produce light. I would revisit the map as I was reading the book. I think you could also use this book to segue into a discussion of why we have day and night. If you teach a unit on light, find this book and add it to your resources.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen
written by Claudia Mills; pictures by Rob Shepperson
2013 (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Kelsey Green is a third grader who loves reading. She has a book in her lap during math, which probably isn't the best way to learn how to solve fractions and doesn't endear her to Mrs. Molina, her teacher. Fortunately for Kelsey, Mr. Boone, her jovial and bearded principal, interrupts class to announce the first annual school-wide reading contest. Among the announced rewards: the person who reads the most books in each class will have their name inscribed on a plaque. For the next month, Kelsey obsesses over this goal. In the process of trying to be the top reader, she drives her family and friends crazy. By the end of the contest, Kelsey has learned some valuable lessons and makes a surprising new friend.

One of the first things that I look for when reading a book that is based in a school is whether or not it rings true to the setting. Kelsey Green passes this test. She is not a flat character, but instead has flaws that make her more interesting. She occasionally throws tantrums and isn't always the nicest person. Overall, she's a great kid, but also not so great as to not be authentic. In this era of reading as competition (see Accelerated Reader, Battle of the Books, and reading-based fundraisers), some important questions are raised by reading this book. I would ask students if it was healthy for Kelsey to be part of this contest. What are some of the pros and cons of having a reading contest? I think you can also ask a question about identity. Is it healthy to tie your identity to one thing or better to be more well rounded? I like the class or small group discussions that will emanate from reading Kelsey Green. Second and third grade readers will easily connect to Kelsey and her friends which makes this a good pick for a class read aloud.