Friday, November 27, 2015

National Geographic Puzzle Explorer app

National Geographic Puzzle Explorer
created by Fingerprint Digital Inc.
Part of the app is free; $2.99 for the rest of the app

According to the website MineMum, a sandbox game is one where players create a game themselves by manipulating the world within it.

National Geographic's Puzzle Explorer is a new app where players can create mazes in different geographic settings. You can download it here. My daughter and I created mazes and played on already built mazes in the Yucatan Peninsula and Antarctica. I will warn you that this is addictive. In Antarctica, the goal is to collect three cameras located in different places in the maze. You travel across ice blocks (see below). The tricky part is not all of the maze is connected. Players have to manipulate blocks of ice and giant snowballs to create new pieces of the maze that can be crossed. Each camera contains informational text with a photograph background. When you have collected the cameras, you win the game.

Using this app was a lot of fun! You have to really think to develop a strategy to meet your goal. I like the combination of informational text and game-playing. Mazes can be shared between players which brings a social aspect to the game. Try out the free version and if you like it, you can complete your app for $2.99 with settings for the Himalayas, the Nile River Valley, and the Australian Outback. If your child/student is going to have screen time, give them something that will make them think and create. As they are creating, players will be learning facts about each of these places in the world. This makes the app a way to introduce these geographic locations. Speaking of geography, you could also use this app to talk about land forms. I think this app would be good for ages 6-12.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Blue Whale Blues

Blue Whale Blues
written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas
2015 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I've got the Blue Whale Blues, 
I've got the Blue Whale, 

Whale is having a tough day. First, he can't figure out why his bike doesn't work. (Yes, I know what the adult is thinking. Whales and bikes? It works out later. Let it go Mr./Ms. Literal.) Thankfully, his good friend Penguin points out that it's just turned the wrong way. Whale is singing a new tune, but not for very long. He soon discovers that his bike is wet. Back to the blues. Being a true pal, Penguin offers a towel to dry it off. Whale faces another challenge with a helmet and Penguin again provides a solution. Then, the biggest challenge of all confronts Whale. With the help of his friends (cue Ringo Starr and/or Joe Cocker), he learns to be happy and content.

Being happy is not always the easiest thing. I struggle with this at times and I suspect some of you do too. What Blue Whale Blues does is reassure us that, with the help of friends and a different point of view, everything usually works out. This is a crazy important lesson for primary age students who can tend to fall apart at the drop of a hat, or a spoon, or a pencil. Peter Carnavas helps us to remember the joys of life with this delightful picture book. As usual, his illustrations are terrific. Click on this link to learn more about his approach to the book.

Blue Whale Blues would be a good text to use for problem/solution lessons and for school counselors looking for a picture book to accompany a lesson on happiness.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Scientist's Curiosity Cabinet

Dr. T. Ross Kelly of Boston College has a pretty cool collection of devices that he and his team of two undergraduates would like to share with you. Each device comes with a video that explains how it works. There are also links to sites that will teach you how to build these items. Science teachers from grade 3 and up will find something they can share with their classes. If you teach force and motion, check out section 5 titled Seemingly Impossible.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Groundhog's Dilemma

Groundhog's Dilemma
written by Kristen Remenar; illustrated by Matt Faulkner
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
*On sale Dec. 2nd

"I just call it like I see it," he mumbled, heading back into his den for a good, long nap. 

Trying to make everyone happy will wear you out. Ask Groundhog. Regardless of his prediction on February 2nd, he's going to make someone unhappy. Groundhog tries to tell his friends that he has no effect on the weather, but his message falls flat. When Groundhog sees his shadow, Squirrel is mad because he has to spend six more weeks of winter cooped up inside with his juveniles. Baseball manager Sparrow complains that it would have been nice to start the season early. Meanwhile, Bear and Hare are delighted with six more weeks of winter. With the arrival of spring, Groundhog's friends decide to shower him with niceties in hopes of getting an outcome in their favor come next February 2nd. The lovely Hare brings extra berries and makes a pie so she can wear her winter coat for six more weeks. Sparrow promises a position on the baseball team to get an early spring. Groundhog enjoys these gifts and makes promises he knows he can't keep. It's hard to disappoint your friends. With February 2nd fast approaching, Groundhog truly has a dilemma on his paws. It will take some thinking to work his way out of this one.

When you see the cover, you may be thinking, "It looks like a cute book for Groundhog Day." But dig a little deeper. I'll argue that it's a book for all seasons. What we have is a clever rumination on friendship. Groundhog has to decide how he's going to deal with not making everyone happy. This is an excellent topic for children. I have students who give things away in order to have someone be their friend. Reading this book would help them think about true friendship. I will call it like I see it: This is a terrific book!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki

The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki
written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It is my intention to prove that the journey is feasible.

Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl spent a year on a Polynesian island. While there, he saw stone carvings that he connected to similar statues in South America. Could the two cultures be related? Not many other than Heyerdahl believed this, so he decided recreate the voyage that would show how these cultures could have met. In late April of 1947, Heyerdahl and a crew of five set out from Peru on a balsa log raft. Despite the misgivings of experts, the raft held together as it traveled towards the islands of the South Pacific. Far away from the human world, the crew was kept company by pilot fish and dolphins. A little more than two months into the journey, they encountered a massive storm that did enough damage to set them adrift and at the mercy of the wind. The crew held on to hope as they used a shortwave radio to send a distress call. One hundred and one days after starting this voyage, the Kon-Tiki crew landed on an uninhabited island in Polynesia. The journey was indeed possible.

I remember being intrigued by the Kon-Tiki expedition when I read Thor Heyerdahl's book in high school English class. I'm excited that I can share that interest with students now. When you open the book, you see on the inside cover a terrific map that shows the path of the voyage and the direction of the currents in the Pacific Ocean. The illustrations are eye-catching and the text will keep readers engaged. Ray builds suspense when needed as readers wonder if this band of explorers will be able to complete the journey. I appreciate the back matter that includes a biography of Thor Heyerdahl and information about how his journey was received. The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki would be an excellent addition to a biography unit and/or a unit on exploration.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Feeding the Flying Fanellis

Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems From a Circus Chef
written by Kate Hosford; illustrated by Cosei Kawa
2015 (Carolrhoda Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

My days are long and sweaty, and the chaos never ends. 
But still, I find I'm most content when cooking for my friends.

You have to appreciate someone who loves their job. This circus chef certainly enjoys his work. These poems document the meals he provides for the performers. For the busy ringmaster, the chef provides food that can fit into his hat. A mini-baguette with salami and mustard, hazelnut chocolates, and lemonade do quite nicely for the leader who can't sit still. Our chef is happy and also empathetic. You don't want a sad strongman in your circus, so the chef makes a vushka for the Ukrainian who misses his babushka. The chef takes equal care with all of the performers. He makes a tarte flambee to help the contortionist twins unwind. Boris, who rides the eleven inch bike, has to watch his calories. If you are the tightrope walker, you need a balanced diet. Flounder, new potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes make her day. Then there are the Flying Fannellis. They require a sugar high, so lemon cakes keep them airborne. A chef's work is never done, but it is a labor of love.

Kate Hosford is more creative than an average bear. She serves up an entree of original point of view with an appetizer of humor and a dollop of sweetness for dessert. Cosei Kawa's illustrations are also a feast for the eyes. Hosford glides between different rhyme patterns so I would definitely share this book to show students the menu of possibilities when writing poetry. I also think this would be a great book to share when teaching a unit on careers. It would help students consider all of those who provide support for performers. I would give a Michelin star to Feeding the Flying Fanellis.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Free Printable Math Games for 2nd and 3rd Grade

I know very little about Raumati South School in New Zealand. I went to their website and they are located in a beautiful setting, but that's not why they came to my attention. I was searching for printable subtraction games and came across a link to a PDF created by this school. How many different synonyms can you conjure up for fabulous? You will find games for all levels of students in 2nd and 3rd grade. There are 26 different games in this packet. Thanks to Teresa Evans who created this in 2005.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Poppy's Best Paper

Poppy's Best Paper
written by Susan Eaddy; illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

At home Poppy told Mr. Fuzz Dog, "I am going to write the BEST paper ever!"

The idea of being a writer is great. You dream of people fawning over your words. Being famous for your writing seems only a step away. Then you actually have to put pencil to paper. Poppy is in love with the idea of being a writer. When Mrs. Rose announces  she will choose someone's paper to read aloud in class, Poppy is sure she will be the one. Nobody can match her enthusiasm. Arriving home that afternoon, Poppy finds her notebook, sharpens her pencils, and gets ready to write. She writes three sentences and then calls her classmate Lavender to announce that she has written the best paper. Lavender thinks she should write more. Poppy goes back and writes one more sentence. She is certain that she is on the way to fame and fortune. Not impressed with four sentences, Mrs. Rose picks Lavender's paper. Poppy seethes with jealousy. With the next topic announced, Poppy goes back home and writes two sentences with lots of breaks in between. On the bus the next morning, Poppy scribbles an ending and is sure she will be chosen. Stunningly, Mrs. Rose does not pick her. Poppy complains and kicks a desk. Even though some famous authors have been enfants terrible, it doesn't work for Poppy. She ends up in the Chill Out Chair (I have one of these in my classroom!). More tantrums follow at home. Exiled to her room and fresh out of tears, Poppy has an idea for her How To paper topic. This time, she focuses and doesn't take a break. Very different results follow the next day at school.

This book is terrific! It's a great way to share good writing habits with your students. I also appreciate how Poppy is a realistic character. How many of us have wanted to throw a tantrum when writing something? Not me of course, but you might have experienced this. Writing is hard work, but if you buckle down, something good might happen. In addition, the illustrations in Poppy are adorable. You can't go wrong with rabbits wearing polka dots. K-2 classes will connect and sympathize with Poppy.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Informational Text Writing Is Like Chopped

Have you ever watched Chopped on the Food Network? 4 chefs are given a basket of ingredients and expected to transform them into either an appetizer, an entree, or a dessert within a time limit. Now think about informational text writing. Basically, it's taking a group of facts and transforming them into a book that people will want to read. You have text features that you use to make your book appealing. Kind of like adding spices to your dish. Or not, if you don't like this analogy.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Q&A with Suzette Valle (author of 101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up)

Today we have a Q&A session with Suzette Valle. She's the author of 101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up

1. Which movie on the list is your favorite and why? I simply don’t have just one favorite movie. This is like asking me if I have a favorite child -- it's impossible to choose! However, I have several films I have watched several times for different reasons: "The Lion King," "Star Wars," "Aladdin," "Pride and Prejudice," "Harry Potter," and "Iron Man" have top-shelf billing in my home.

2. With this kind of list, it's impossible to please everybody. Is there a movie that isn't on the list that several readers have asked about? I wondered about Cars. 
You're right! It is impossible to please everyone, especially with films since there's a broad selection to choose from, and one for every taste and personal preference. Narrowing the number of Pixar films in the book was a very difficult and time consuming task. Out of the 14 Pixar films released at the time the book went to print ("Inside Out" had not been released yet), only nine are in the book for various reasons. Though “Cars” is a fantastic film, it wasn’t considered Pixar’s best work at the time. This is the opinion of adults, of course, but I am sure kids (and some adults) think differently!

3. What resources did you use for research? How much fun was it going back and watching some of these movies? 
I researched lists of children's films that already exist: the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, the British Film Institute, and the National Film Registry. Cross-referencing the movies on these lists helped me reduce it from thousands to hundreds of movies. I also consulted websites and books by film critics I respect like the late Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin and Nell Minow (Movie Mom).

One film I re-watched as part of my research was "Shrek." That movie is a riot and a half, and was a lot of fun to catch things I had missed before like the jabs at Disney. But I also had to add movies to my collection of watched films. One of the best Sunday afternoons I spent watching movies as 'research' for this book was with my grown son Alex, 23, watching “The Hobbit” franchise. I had avoided getting caught up in the Peter Jackson-created worlds for a long time, but I had to see why these films had such a following. My son explained many of the details, and together with the research I had done already,  I was compelled to keep watching. We then dove into “The Lord of the Rings,” another franchise I had resisted watching. Realizing that these films were based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien published in 1937, I immediately regretted not having joined the buzz when these films were at the height of their popularity. I hope to inspire families to spend time with their own kids watching these fantastic fantasy films -- they are an incredible journey (pun!) to take from the comfort of your own home.

4. Are there any movies that you felt more positively or negatively towards as an adult than when you were a child?

Yes, and it was a tough call on some of these films. "Grease" is a great example of these mixed emotions about a movie. I watched this movie as an 18 year-old and loved it. In time, this movie has become a pop-culture classic watched by many pre-teens because it seems like just plain fun.  However, when I watched it again with my own kids when they were younger, I was surprised to realize there was quite a bit of racy stuff in this film that had gone over my head when I first watched it.

5. Kudos for including Bend It Like Beckham! More people should see this movie. Were there other "smaller' films on the list that you wanted to champion?

The foreign film section has some smaller films I really wanted to highlight because they open our eyes to other cultures' way of life. My daughter, a film student at NYU's Tisch School of The Arts, introduced me to "Children of Heaven." This film from Iran, in Farsi with subtitles, was an unexpected surprise for me when I saw it -- I immediately knew this one was worth watching. It is not the regular, sunny faire of American films. The story is at times bleak and may not appeal to the sense of escapism we expect from a film. But the story of two siblings sharing a single pair of shoes is touching and heartwarming.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up: A Giveaway!

101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up
written by Suzette Valle; illustrated by Natasha Hellegourach
2015 (Walter Foster Jr.)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

*Tell me your favorite movie as a kid in the comments section and you will have a chance to win a copy of this book. I will contact you if you win the book and it will be sent to you. 

Do you remember the first movie you saw in a theater? A Boy Named Charlie Brown was the first that I recall. I remember walking from our apartment to the movie theater and plunking down a quarter (Telling my age a little bit here.) for a ticket. Going to see a movie is a great experience as a child. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking my daughters to the movies. Movies are a constant source of discussion which makes 101 Movies a book you will want. A paragraph synopsis is given for each movie. On the side, you will see information about the director, release date, rating and reasons for the rating, and the length of the film. At the bottom of each movie section is a box that allows readers to take notes about the movie. They can record the date they saw the movie, who they saw it with, give a star rating, and write other thoughts that they have about the movie. My favorite part of these movie sections are the sidebars that give information you may not know. For example, it took John Leguizamo 40 tries to come up with the voice of Sid the sloth for Ice Age. After watching a documentary about sloths and how they store food in their cheeks, Leguizamo put a sandwich in his mouth and tried to talk.

One of the great uses of this book will be to introduce your kids and yourself to movies that you may not be aware of. The documentary Spellbound, about contestants in the National Spelling Bee, and Bend It Like Beckham, about two teenage British female soccer players from different cultures, are two such movies. It's also an opportunity to introduce your children to favorite movies of your childhood. Now if I could only find a copy of Yellow Submarine to show my daughters.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I Want to Eat Your Books

I Want to Eat Your Books
written by Karin Lefranc; illustrated by Tyler Parker
2015 (Sky Pony Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Oh no!" cries Eric. "Take a look. He's chomping on your science book!"

A young boy peers nervously down a hallway lined with lockers. Limping towards him is a zombie! The boy runs to his classroom only to see the zombie boy sitting next to him (I would request a new seating chart.). Classmates shriek as Zombie Boy eats a science book and a paperback. He piercingly cries "I Want to Eat Your Books!" Think of it as The Reading Dead. He's not a discriminating eater. Nonfiction and textbooks bite the dust. The young boy's favorite, Frankenstein, is spared as the class heads to the library. Of course, this is a buffet bar for Zombie Boy. When all hope seems lost, the young boy pulls out a book about the brain. He and the zombie struggle over the book. When a diagram of brain parts appears, Zombie Boy cries "Please read!" As one monster is soothed, another appears to ransack the library. A sweet twist ties up this tale of monster literacy.

Three second grade classes at my school highly recommend this book. It's a great text to share at Halloween or as a kickoff to a reading event. Elementary students have zombies on the brain. Yes, I meant to do that. When you can combine this hot topic with cultivating a love for reading, you have a win-win situation. The bright illustrations are a terrific accompaniment to this fun story. If you want to teach a skill with I Want to Eat Your Books, I would suggest problem and solution. Of course, your class may just want to devour it for fun.