Monday, August 30, 2010

The Secret Life of a Snowflake

The Secret Life of a Snowflake
written and photographed by Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht
(Voyageur Press) 2009
Source: Mebane Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at the Book Nosher                

I apologize for the following pun, but this is one of the coolest books I've seen this year. Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics at Caltech, studies how ice crystals form and has created a series of books devoted to the art and science of the snowflake. The photographs are fabulous, but I am really impressed by how accessible this book is for younger readers. Dr. Libbrecht takes great care to make sure he explains what can be complicated in its simplest terms. For example, he is able to tell the reader why snow is white by comparing several objects that reflect light. The Secret Life of a Snowflake is loaded with interesting facts. Snowflakes are not alike because they all take different journeys before they hit the ground. Talk about a terrific metaphor for humans and the life experience! If you are a third or fourth grader teacher and use Snowflake Bentley as a read-aloud, find this nonfiction treasure and read it as a companion. You can compare the work of the two men and teach a lesson on contrast.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Moms with apps

* Thanks to VA Teacher for letting me know about this site.

Check out Moms with Apps at http://momswithapps.com/. They have free downloads on App Friday. This looks like a pretty happening place for those searching for tech bargains and thoughtful advice.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Library Gingerbread Man

The Library Gingerbread Man
written by Dotti Enderle; illustrated by Colleen M. Madden
(Upstart Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

That Gingerbread Man sure gets around! This time he is escaping from his book at 398.2 and leading a chase through the library. The librarian runs after him first, followed by a word wizard from a thesaurus at 423.1 and a giraffe at 599.638. Pretty soon, a pantheon of historical figures and other characters are joining the librarian to form a posse running after the elusive cookie. A wily arctic fox from 998 poses a problem for our intrepid spice man, but a surprise twist brings about a new ending to this classic tale.

Librarians will love this book as it is an original teaching tool for learning how to use the Dewey decimal system. It would also be a good starting point for a class beginning to use the library for research purposes. Try this book at the beginning of the year as students are re-acclimating themselves to the media center.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Paper Princess

The Paper Princess
written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton) 1994
Source: Orange County Public Library

A girl draws a princess with a dress like a forest, socks like starry skies, and shoes like watermelons. This paper princess is brave and friendly. The girl cuts her out before deciding what kind of hair to give her. The two friends play together until a gust of wind takes the princess away before she has any hair. On her travels, the paper princess experiences a carnival, another little girl who accidentally gives her a sprig of green magic marker hair, and a kind blue jay who rescues her and gives her the perfect hair. Through this excitement, the paper princess is homesick and misses her original creator. A twist of fate brings about a happy ending for the princess.

The Paper Princess would be a terrific story to read to help young students learn about making connections to other texts. I thought about The Gingerbread Boy since both of these creations get away from their creators although with different purposes. You could also teach contrast with both of these stories comparing the similarities and differences. I think students will also connect to the Toy Story movies as well with both stories containing created characters that are beloved by their owners. There is a sequel to The Paper Princess (The Paper Princess Finds Her Way) that I haven't read yet, but looking at the summary makes me think it would further connect this book series to the popular movie series. This book also lends itself to a fun craft idea for students to do which would connect it to Flat Stanley.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stand Straight, Ella Kate

Stand Straight, Ella Kate
written by Kate Klise; illlustrated by M. Sarah Klise
(Dial Books For Young Readers) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Ella Kate Ewing started out at a normal size. When she was seven, she began growing at an alarming rate. Ella suffered from a gland disorder called gigantism. She was so tall that her father created a special desk for her in school. Unfortunately, people teased her a great deal and this made her withdraw and become a shy young lady. By age 17, she was eight feet tall. A man from Chicago offered her a job as an exhibit in a museum and surprisingly she accepted. She made a lot of money and began to realize that she liked traveling and then coming home to Rainbow, Missouri to share tales of her travels. Ella Kate Ewing used her height to make her greatest dreams come true.

Stand Straight, Ella Kate is a terrific biography of a person who overcame her shyness and lived an extraordinary life. It is also a wonderful character lesson in that Ella Kate strives to give respect to others and finds that most of them gave her respect in return. A modern version of Ella Kate was Sandy Allen who grew to 7'7'' and by all accounts was a gracious and kind woman like Ella Kate.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog

Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog
written by Jeanne Willis; illustrated by Tony Ross
(Lerner Publishing Group) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog are not exactly workout warriors. They enjoy eating and they love to sleep. Coincidentally, they notice that their sofa and house seem to be shrinking. The more they eat and sleep, the smaller their sofa becomes. When they outgrow their house, Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog go on a journey to find distant relatives and a new place to live. Their relatives turn out to be more distant than first thought, so they have to spend a lot of time walking and searching for food. When they return to their original home, they make a surprising discovery.

Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog will easily promote discussion in your classroom. All of us can relate to times when we don't exercise enough and/or eat properly. Instead of focusing on what the characters do in the beginning, I would focus on what they do in the latter part of the book to make themselves feel better. It is incumbent that we promote healthy eating habits and daily exercise in our schools. Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog is a humorous book that will help in this effort.

Other reviews of Flabby Cat and Slobby Dog:
Just One More Book!!
Kiss The Book

Monday, August 16, 2010

City Dog, Country Frog

City Dog, Country Frog
written by Mo Willems; illustrated by Jon J. Muth
(Hyperion Books for Children) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

On his first day in the country, City Dog runs far into the woods and meets a new friend, Country Frog. Being new, City Dog doesn't know country games, so Country Frog teaches him games that involve frog activities like splashing, jumping, and croaking. The two new friends enjoy the beautiful spring day together. In the summer, City Dog teaches Country Frog different city games that involve dog activities like "sniffing and fetching and barking." When City Dog returns in the fall, Country Frog is too tired to play Dog and Frog games, but instead wants to play "remember-ing" games where the two friends recall their spring and summer activities. In the winter, City Dog again races to Country Frog's rock, but he is nowhere to be found.

My wife and oldest daughter were not happy after reading this book. They both have an aversion to serious books involving animals since they tend not to go well (if you know what I mean) at some point in the book. That feeling aside, City Dog, Country Dog is a versatile book that can be used to teach many different concepts. For example, I think it would be a great companion to Please Take Me for a Walk to compare rural and urban landscapes. You can also read it when teaching a life cycle unit in science. I thought it would be interesting to read it to a 4th or 5th grade class that has read Charlotte's Web or Tuck Everlasting to compare how authors deal with the cycle of life. City Dog, Country Dog would also be an excellent mentor text for teaching inference to younger students. This is one of those texts that you should buy since it could be read several times for different purposes.

Other reviews of City Dog, Country Frog:
Shelf Elf
NY Times
Washington Post
BooksForKidsBlog

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mother Monarch

Mother Monarch
written and illustrated by Mindy Lighthipe
(Schiffer Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Mother Monarch flies from flower to flower. She is searching for nectar to eat and a milkweed plant where she can lay her eggs. After she lays her eggs, it won't be long before the cycle of life will begin anew with a monarch caterpillar eating milkweed leaves and working toward becoming a butterfly. 

I normally don't comment on the illustrations because I have little knowledge of art and what goes into creating an illustration. My niche with book reviews is talking about the text and how teachers can use this text in the classrooms. But even my untrained eyes can tell you that this is a beautiful book that students will love to pore over again and again. The narrative is also strong which is great when you can tell an engaging story full of scientific information. Mother Monarch would be an excellent companion piece to Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian which is another beautifully illustrated nonfiction book.  Check out Mindy's blog for more butterfly artwork.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen
written by Renee Watson; illustrated by Shadra Strickland
(Random House Children's Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Four young friends love playing together all day in their neighborhood in New Orleans. Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy ride bikes, skip rope, draw pictures, and stay out until called home for supper. Each child talks about what they love to do in their neighborhood. One day, they hear about a storm coming. Tommy's family is going to Houston to ride it out, while Adrienne leaves with her Granny to go to Baton Rouge. Keesha and Michael's families decide to stay in New Orleans. What comes next is Hurricane Katrina which changes their lives forever.

This is one of the most moving books I have read in a long time. Renee Watson and Shadra Strickland give us an intimate portrait, from a child's point of view, of how families in New Orleans were affected by Hurricane Katrina. This book would be an excellent companion to nonfiction books about weather. We often study about the technical aspects of storms (how it forms, wind speed, etc.), but it is rarely combined with how it changes the lives of the people in the path of the storm. A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is also a celebration of the resiliency of children and their hope for the future. It is one of my favorite books of this year.

Other reviews of A Place Where Hurricanes Happen:
Zetta Elliott
TheHappyNappyBookseller

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse

Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse
written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully 
(Henry Holt Kids) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Bill Key was a man who "could soothe and cure just about any creature." He was a former slave who became a veterinarian after the Civil War. Doc Key believed in being kind to animals which was an unusual concept in this time period. He bought a beautiful Arabian mare from a circus that had signs of being mistreated. Doc loved this smart horse named Lauretta, but she died soon after giving birth to a "homely" foal with crooked legs. Doc was consumed with grief.  Days later, the foal named Jim Key nudged Doc with a stick in his mouth. The horse wanted to play fetch! Jim Key was so bright that Doc took time off from his liniment business and proceeded to teach the horse to recognize letters and numbers. Doc and Jim Key gave performances and spread the word that kindness was necessary when dealing with animals.

Wonder Horse is a terrific example of how a good piece of nonfiction can teach you something entirely new or add to your knowledge of a subject. I had never heard of Jim Key before reading this book, but I think students will be fascinated by the story. They will make connections and want to talk about how they have taught their pets tricks and have been kind to them. The back matter could contribute to a unit with older students on life in the South during Reconstruction.

Other reviews of Wonder Horse:
School Library Journal
BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What About Bear?

What About Bear?
written and illustrated by Suzanne Bloom
(Boyds Mills Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Bear and Goose are playing and having a good time. Fox comes along and asks to play too. Bear invites him in, but Fox proceeds to want to play new games that make Bear feel left out. Bear is too big for hopscotch and too grumpy for checkers. It's up to Goose to find a way for these three to be friends together.

What About Bear? would be an excellent lead-in for a discussion with very young students about friendship and making others feel included in play situations. The book is a short read which makes it ideal for young students and the illustrations are eye-catching so their interest will be piqued. By reading this book, you can make students aware of possible friendship problems without having to single out students and make it personal. Kids are smart and will be able to make connections between this story and their own dilemmas on the playground.

 Other reviews of What About Bear?:
School Library Journal

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Because I Am Your Daddy

Because I Am Your Daddy
written by Sherry North; illustrated by Marcellus Hall
(Abrams Books for Young Readers) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

My oldest daughter wanted to ride the swings at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. I had no intention of riding since the swings are not my thing. I prefer to hurtle 300 feet downward on a steel coaster where I am strapped in to the max. The swings seem a little too "freewheeling" for me. But my daughter wanted to ride and being her father, I wanted to make sure she had a good time so I went too. This is what dads do. Because I Am Your Daddy does a great job of capturing this essence of fatherhood where we will do things because our daughters request it. The dad in the poem says "If I were a carpenter, I would use my saw and drill, to build two wooden go-karts for racing down the hill." The whole poem flows like this where the father declares his love for his daughter by stating what he would do if he were a certain type of person. The poem ends with the summarizing line "Because I am your daddy, I will do anything for you" and this brings up a key point. The dad in the book does things for and with his daughter instead of just signing her up for activities or buying her things. It's about spending time with your kid and this is a lesson that can't be learned soon enough.

Because I Am Your Daddy would make a great Father's Day read aloud especially if dads are present in the classroom. It also could be a choice for shared reading where you could use it like a cloze activity where students have to provide the last word of the two rhyming lines. Author Sherry North has a Father's Day kit for teachers to use in the classroom.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Basil's Birds

Basil's Birds
written and illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
(Marshall Cavendish Children) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Birds are building nests all over Perch Elementary. On the flagpole, above the doorway, and in the eaves spout. Principal Kabalsky is apoplectic and she demands that the custodian, Basil Berkmeister, do something about it. Basil tries swatting at the birds with a broom, but is not only unsuccessful but also so tired that he falls asleep on the playground slide. This allows the birds to build a nest on Basil's bald head. He first notices when he goes to get a hair cut. He is appalled at first, but then feels sorry for the bird that has worked so hard to build a nest. Basil leaves the nest on his head and starts a friendship with the bird which leads to unexpected consequences.

A guy with a bird nest on his head is a funny premise. But Basil's Birds is also about friendship and parenting. Basil becomes a terrific father to the birds which should help students make connections with their lives and their parents. If they have pets, connections can be made with those relationships as well. I think this book could also be used for a lesson on problem and solution as well. How does Basil solve his problem with the birds and what is the solution to his sense of loss later on in the book? Students will enjoy the combination of humor and sweetness in Basil's Birds.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dump Trucks

Dump Trucks
written by Amanda Doering Tourville;
illustrated by Zachary Trover
(Abdo Publishing) 2009
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian

 Kids like dump trucks. They're fascinated with the size and volume that come with a dump truck. Ride around in a car with a 3-6 year old and see if they don't point out a dump truck immediately when they see one on the highway. I have two daughters and they would gawk and holler at this age when a dump truck appeared. Dump Trucks gives early readers the 411 on all kinds of dump trucks. My favorite was the bottom dump truck where the load just drops from the belly. I've never seen one of these and wonder where it would be used. That's one of the cool things about this book. With good nonfiction, you get lots of questions from students when they read and view the illustrations. If you are teaching nonfiction text features, there are several within Dump Trucks for students to see. This book is part of the Mighty Machines series of books from Abdo Publishing and would be a good purchase to encourage young students to read more nonfiction.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Seven Little Bunnies

Seven Little Bunnies
written by Julie Stiegemeyer; illustrated by Laura J. Bryant
(Marshall Cavendish) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

It is nighttime for seven little bunnies. Mama and Papa Bunny want them to get to sleep, but each little bunny has their own special way of getting ready. The first bunny likes to play the drum with a "rum, pum, pum" while the second bunny likes to twirl and dance. All the bunnies end their bedtime routine with a "cozy, dozy, drowsy... drop."  Mama and Papa Bunny tuck them in with a kiss on the head and a lullaby to boot.

Seven Little Bunnies would make for a great bedtime read for a preschooler or kindergartner, but you could also use it as a shared reading in a classroom to promote phonemic awareness. Students could read the "cozy, dozy, drowsy.. drop." line as you read about each bunny and you could also ask students to listen for any rhymes that appear in the book. It would also be interesting to have students draw/write about which bunny is closest to their personality.