Sunday, April 13, 2014

Haiku Starter Lesson Plan

We're starting our poetry writing unit this week and I found this haiku lesson on the Read Write Think website:

You can also contribute STEM haiku at this site:

Happy Poetry Month!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Is This Panama?: A Migration Story

Is This Panama?
written by Jan Thornhill; illustrated by Soyeon Kim
2013 (Owlkids Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more reviews.

Sammy is a Wilson's Warbler that lives near the Arctic Circle. He notices frost on the leaves early one August morning. Sammy thinks to himself that it's time to migrate. He doesn't know exactly when to do this since he's never migrated before. Looking for other warblers, Sammy notices that they are all gone. (Reviewer's note: Apparently Sammy missed the morning memo about finding a migration buddy for the trip to Panama.) Having to do the Lindy and go solo, Sammy asks a caribou if he is heading the right way. The caribou concurs, but also mentions that he has no clue where Panama is located. He's simply going south to his winter forest home where he can more easily scoop off lichens with his hooves. As the book progresses, Sammy meets a succession of animals that help him find his way. Sandhill cranes give him a lift on their way to Texas. After narrowly avoiding becoming an early bird special for a garter snake (I write this blog to crack myself up. Sometimes I'm the only one who reads it. Cue Eleanor Rigby and her face in a jar.), Sammy keeps company with dragonflies. Later he meets up with a flock of warbler cousins who follow the stars and migrate at night. Other migrating animals to meet his acquaintance include monarch butterflies, a Hudsonian godwit, humpback whales, and other migrating birds. Eventually, Sammy finds himself in Panama as a happy but exhausted bird.

Is This Panama? would be a good companion piece to a nonfiction text about migration. With a K-1 audience, I would read it over two days since there is a lot of story to be told. It will be important to explicitly tell students that this is a piece of fiction so they don't confuse fictional elements with informational text. The story and illustrations are engaging so you may have better luck teaching about migration by adding this book than by solely relying on an informational text. I really liked the back matter with extra information about the migrating animals, a great piece on how animals migrate, and the map showing the migration pattern of the Wilson's Warbler. I would think about reading the "How Animals Migrate" piece before reading the fictional narrative. I write this blog to amuse myself and share info about good books. Is This Panama? certainly fits the bill (lame bird pun) of an entertaining and informative book.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Family Guide Washington D.C. - Eyewitness Travel Guide

Family Guide Washington D.C. 
Eyewitness Travel
2014 (DK Publishing)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book reviews.

We used this travel guide on a trip we took last week to Washington D.C. and it was very helpful. My wife made the following points about this book:

1. It shows maps and layouts of museums and monuments.
2. There is a section for each locale called "Take Cover" which gives suggestions of nearby places to go in case weather forces you to go inside.
3. A map of downtown DC on the front inside cover and a subway map on the back inside cover were very helpful in locating areas we wanted to visit.
4. If you have younger children, there is a section, within each featured landmark visit, called "Letting Off Steam." This gives information about places where your kids can run or walk with a little more abandon and still be safe.
5. The Lowdown gives several pieces of information in one section. This includes travel distance, metro instructions, places to eat and drink, restroom locations, fees for visiting, and activities for the kids.

Washington D.C. is one of those places that you must visit. It is an amazing city and there are plenty of places that you can visit without having to pay an entrance fee.

In the classroom, you could use this guide to ask students to plan a trip to Washington. The maps and landmark distances could also be used for reading comprehension and  math practice. Since standardized tests often contain passages that are similar to a guide book, it wouldn't hurt to share a section with your class and talk about possible questions that could be generated.

Below are two photos from my recent trip.

Picture 1: From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Picture 2: In front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Photos courtesy of Jeff "Ansel" Barger.

Friday, April 4, 2014


written and illustrated by David Macauley with Sheila Keenan
2013 (Macmillan)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more links to STEM books.

This blog has gone to the toilet and that's a good thing. David Macauley's Toilet explores the workings of a toilet and what happens to waste. Appropriately, the first order of business is to learn about why we need toilets in the first place. What is waste and how does it leave our bodies? Macauley answers that question in about as tasteful a manner as you can explain it. Body parts, sans the body, are drawn to illustrate an eclair's path through the body. You see the liver, the stomach, intestines and bladder without seeing any "private" parts. Simply read the text  and follow the drawing to learn how waste leaves your body. The next stop is the toilet. If you lift the lid of the tank of your toilet, you will see what readers see in this book along with a simple explanation of the mechanics of how the chain, floats, and stoppers work. Further explanations show how waste and water exit the toilet through the siphon. Where does all of this go from there? Depends on where you live. Having experienced both, I prefer a sewer system over a septic tank. Macauley goes into detail to explain how both of those work. A great companion to this book would be The Magic School Bus Goes to the Waterworks since it also covers some of the same territory of showing what happens to water when it goes to the treatment plant. Toilet covers more of what happens to the solids (sludge) of waste water than Waterworks.

It would be easy (And I've done this!) to dismiss a child who asks what happens to waste once we flush.
Instead, sit down with a copy of Toilet and explain how all of this works. The text and illustrations are terrific so you will be able to engage a young learner and help them understand. Just know that this is an easier reader but not necessarily an easy reader. I think a third grader could probably read and comprehend the text independently, but not much further below that level. The books in this series receive stars from reviewers because they are top notch explanations of processes that are important in our lives.

Now to explain the picture below. I was visiting a science museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. You climbed down a ladder inside the toilet to visit the basement where murals explained the history of city sewer systems and why they were needed. Quite the experience and photo op!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Visual Definition of Irony

Irony: An outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

I took this picture in Washington D.C. yesterday as I was walking toward the Jefferson Memorial. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is currently in session in our nation's capital. Meanwhile, at my house this was happening:

As Alanis once sang, "Isn't it ironic, don't you think?"

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Interview with Melissa Stewart, Author of Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Feathers: Not Just for Flying
written by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Author Melissa Stewart was kind enough to answer some questions regarding her terrific new book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying. This book demonstrates several different ways that birds use feathers and compares these to everyday objects. After Melissa's interview are some links to other blog reviews and a You Tube video featuring Melissa talking about the similes in her book. You should also check out Melissa's website and her Pinterest page for more resources.

  1. What do you take with you when you observe animals, like birds, and what tips do you have for young observers?

I usually don’t set out with a goal of observing particular animals. It’s more that I want to check out an interesting location—a particular woodland, a trail I’ve heard about, or maybe a pond. So I don’t take any special gear. I just go to the place I have in mind and see what I see. I tend to have the best experiences when I don’t set out with a particular goals or expectations in mind.

  1. When I read Feathers, I can easily see the purpose of the book, the connections you want readers to make, and several other teaching points. How does being an educator, and working with educators, influence your work as a writer?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question. As I was writing, I didn’t consciously have a specific purpose in mind or connections that I wanted to readers to make. For me, every book I write is pretty much about the same thing—my strong desire to share the beauty and wonder of nature with my readers. The structure I choose is my attempt at finding the best possible way to engage my audience in the topic. In the case of Feathers, I struggled with structure for three years, but things fell into place when a friend mentioned that what she took away from an early draft was the tool-like functions that feathers can serve. I decided to focus on that—how feathers are like tools or objects that we use. That’s where the similes came from. I thought readers would connect more strongly to the information if I included comparisons to everyday objects.

  1. My students are excited when they discover bird eggs and feathers on the ground. What should they do if they find these items?

I know it’s tempting to pick up these items, but it’s always better to leave natural things in nature. Kids can observe natural objects them closely, maybe take a picture, and then walk away. When a person touches a bird egg, he or she leaves a human scent on the egg that may scare the mother bird and cause her to abandon the nest. There are laws against collecting many kinds of feathers because people used to kill birds, collect their feathers, and sell them to people who made hats. The hats are a thing of the past, but the laws are still on the books. As feathers degrade naturally, they can serve other purposes, such as nesting materials for other birds. That’s why the best decision is to leave natural objects in place.

  1. Was there a bird (or birds) that you wanted to feature but didn't have enough space in the book?

The original manuscript featured two birds for most of the comparisons, so there was a lot of material cut during the editing process. In addition, I thought the backmatter about feather types would end up on page 32, so two comparisons were completely eliminated. One bird that I was really sorry to see go was the honey buzzard, which eats bees and wasps. It has tightly overlapping feathers protect its face from painful stings.

  1. The Author's Note in Feathers is a great summary of the process that you go through as a nonfiction writer. Readers should also check out your website for the revision timeline that you created regarding the writing and publishing of your book No Monkeys, No Chocolate ( Any other tips for budding nonfiction writers?

So often, we hear the advice: “Write what you know.” I think that’s lousy advice. I tell kids to write what they care about. Their excitement and enthusiasm for the topic will shine through in their writing and make it more interesting to read. That should be the goal of all nonfiction writing—to grab readers’ attention, to fascinate them. The best nonfiction delights as well as informs.

Other reviews

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Great Warriors: Samurai

written by Kate Riggs
2011 (The Creative Company)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Samurai were warriors who fought other people to protect their master and his land.

The samurais started fighting almost 900 years ago. Their job was to defend their masters, or daimyo. Before the samurai, there was a class of fighters called the yamato. Starting around age seven, boys studied martial arts and learned how to use weapons like bows and arrows and swords. At age 7, I think I was learning how to tie my shoes. Jeff Barger, Samurai Shoe Tie Guy! Samurai swords were called katanas. Other weapons included spears, metal folding fans (my personal favorite) and a suit of armor. All of this was necessary as samurais often fought to the death. As opposed to asking for a time out to get a band-aid. That would be my move. Samurai were disciplined in their fighting and in their personal behavior. They were loyal and respectful. With the advent of a large Japanese army, the samurai class of warriors were no longer needed by the end of the 19th century. Their legacy lives on in the current use of martial arts.

I really like this book because the text and subject matter are perfect for reluctant readers. There's great information but not a ton of text which is what you need for students who are not skilled in researching topics. Samurai is also a terrific mentor text for creating a nonfiction book. I like the format of text on the left and photographs on the right with a caption and/or fun fact. That works well for my second grade writers. There is a series of eight books about different warriors available from The Creative Company.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bunny Bookmarks

If you like these bunny bookmarks, click on this link and learn how to make them. I think I'm trying this in class tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Music Everywhere!

Music Everywhere!
written by Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, Cynthia Pon
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more reviews of nonfiction books.

Music Everywhere! is a photographic collection that illustrates the axiom that music is a universal language. Children across the globe are featured using instruments, singing, or simply clapping to make joyful noises. A boy wears traditional clothing in Mexico and sings about his heritage. Next to his picture is another young man chanting in a Coptic choir in Egypt. Across the page is another smiling group of children in Japan who are singing a song they wrote. A different two page spread reveals young people playing instruments of all kinds. Whether it be the dungchen long horns of Bhutan, moon lutes in China, or a tiny bagpiper in Scotland, children enjoy playing music as well as singing it. What if you don't know how to play an instrument? You can still shake maracas in Belgium, tap on chairs in Togo, or bang on pots and pans in America. I think one of the big ideas in this book is that you don't have to be a musical genius to enjoy and play music. All it takes is a desire to feel the rhythm and you will find something to help you make some noise.

If you don't have an instrument, the authors will help you make one. In the back of the book, you will find directions for making a bean tambourine, a rattle, and a glass harp. Also in the back matter is a colorful world map that shows each country featured in the book and a thorough glossary that defines many instruments and styles of music. 

This would be a great book to use with a circle map. I would ask students to list different musical instruments that they know and then list ones that are contained in the book. Students can recall the variety of instruments located in their music room as well. You could probably find digital samples of some of the music featured in this book. For example, I looked on You Tube and found a performance by a Coptic choir. Older students could create a text called Games Everywhere. They would research games played in different countries and write and illustrate a book with this information. Looking at the photographs above, you could also use this book to teach main idea and supporting details. 

Read Music Everywhere! and celebrate making music. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

If You Were Alliteration

If You Were Alliteration
written by Trisha Speed Shaskan; illustrated by Sara Gray
2008 (Picture Window Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Alliteration: The same sound repeated at the beginning of two or more words in a phrase or a sentence.

Ulysses the Unicorn spots a UFO as he makes a U-turn on his unicycle.

If you were a teacher and if you were teaching a lesson about alliteration, this is the book that you would want in your hand. Looking at the subject and the fabulous illustrations on the cover, I expected a book filled with alliterative phrases and delightful illustrations. I was not disappointed as my very predictable prediction was fulfilled. The surprise and my greatest satisfaction came when I read and discovered all the different ways that alliteration was presented as a teaching tool. Author Trisha Speed Shaskan presented several lenses in which to view this poetic device. You can use alliteration to teach the relationship between letters and sounds that is phonics. One example in the book shows how "ph" and "f" both say /f/. Another points out that two letters together can make sound called a digraph. That it is taught through the use of chubby chickens gossiping makes this a very fun section to read. Other quick mini-lessons include blends, tongue twisters, poems, and story telling. The last two pages are a lesson in how to write your own acrostic poem.

With National Poetry Month coming up in a week's time, you'll want to find a copy of this alliterative alchemy of alike letters to share with your students.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Great Day for Pup: iPad app

A Great Day for Pup
written by Bonnie Worth
2014 (Oceanhouse Media)
iPad app

Check out more STEM items at STEM Friday.

Dick, Sally, and the Cat in the Hat travel the globe in the Super-de-Duper Wild Animal Greeter to learn about animal babies in this new iPad app. The first stop is Australia where a mother kangaroo is taking care of her joey. Only the size of a kidney bean at birth, the joey soon grows into a jumping bundle of energy. Next we learn that ostrich parents take shifts in watching over the nest. Dad watches at night while Mom has the day shift. Dad also shoos away predators like the warthog. If you don't know the word predator, no need to worry as this app highlights important words and provides the definition at your touch. In a different location, mother croc is also looking out for predators and forgoing eating to keep watch. Traveling next to Asia, our intrepid trio finds a panda mother in a cave cuddling her blind and almost hairless baby. Starting on milk, in seven months this panda cub will be eating a lot of bamboo. Tiger cubs live in a brood and rely on their mother's hunting abilities to bring them food. Swatting their mom's tail is one way to begin learning how to hunt. The next continent on this itinerary is Africa where a troop of gorillas is found. Moms check fur for bugs and build nests for the young ones to rest when they tire out. Perhaps the coolest fact I learned from this app was that a group of very young giraffes is called a kindergarten. I wonder how snack time works there?  Other climates briefly visited include Antarctica and the Arctic.

Young readers will enjoy many aspects of this app including authentic animal noises and the rhyming of the text.The big science takeaway  is in learning the names of these animal babies and a fact or two about their life growing up. If you have a primary student working on writing a nonfiction text, there are plenty of details for them to glean from A Great Day for Pup. The best part of learning about these babies? No diapers were changed in the reading of this app.