Sunday, April 17, 2011

Taking a Break

I'm taking some time off to evaluate how I feel about blogging. It's starting to get stale and feel like a job. I appreciate all of the kind words that have been sent my way and all of the opportunities that have opened up for me because of NC Teacher Stuff, but when I start to dread having to post, that may be the time to walk away for awhile. Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way. I'll keep the links up and if I find something good, I'll add it. I may be back in the not too distant future.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Basketball Belles

Basketball Belles
written by Sue Macy; illustrated by Matt Collins
(Holiday House) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

Agnes Morley could be a "girly-girl" if needed, but she would rather work on her family's New Mexico ranch in breeches and spurs. Her mother sent her to Stanford University in the hopes that she would become a "lady", but Agnes had other ideas.  Her mother would probably not have approvd of the new sport of basketball, but Agnes loved it. On April 4, 1896, Agnes and her Stanford teammates participated in the first women's collegiate basketball game. They played a team from the nearby University of California in front of 500 female fans. It was a rough and tumble defensive struggle, but Stanford came out on top 2-1. These ladies showed they had the gumption to play this new game.

As a basketball fan, I enjoyed reading Basketball Belles for the details of how basketball was played in its early years. The net was closed with a pull chain to release the ball after a basket was made. It was several years before dribbling was allowed and baskets only counted for 1 point in the beginning. Author Sue Macy included an informative time line and author's note in the back matter. Matt Collins's illustrations would make for an interesting activity in comparing how women dressed for basketball in 1896 and how they dress today. This could be included in a unit on change over time. The story is told through the eyes of Agnes which makes this a text you could use for teaching point of view. Any reader who is a basketball fan should find a copy of Basketball Belles.

Other reviews of Basketball Belles:
 A Year of Reading
Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Little Owl Lost

Little Owl Lost
written and illustrated by Chris Haughton
(Candlewick Press) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Little Owl is blissfully snoozing away next to his mother when he falls out of his nest and onto the ground. Squirrel witnesses this action and assures Little Owl that he can help him find his mother. When asked by Squirrel what his mother looks like, Little Owl stretches out his wings and says "My mommy is VERY BIG." This is the only clue that Squirrel needs. He leads Little Owl right to ... a bear. Thus begins the interactions between Squirrel and Little Owl which start with a clue and lead to an animal unlike Little Owl. It takes a wise frog to help the puzzled twosome find the real mommy.

Little kids easily connect with a book about a character being lost. Each one of them at some time has felt the same way. Little Owl Lost is also a fun book for making predictions. When Little Owl describes a feature of his mother, it would be interesting to ask students to predict the animal that he will be led to by Squirrel. A nice companion piece to this book would be the classic P.D. Eastman story, Are You My Mother?.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

These Hands

These Hands
written by Margaret H. Mason; illustrated by Floyd Cooper
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Book Talk Tuesday at The Lemme Library

Joseph's grandfather says to him, "Look at these hands, Joseph." His grandfather goes on to explain that his hands used to be able to "tie a triple bowline knot in three seconds flat." Grandpa's hands could also do card tricks, throw vicious curve balls, and play wonderful melodies on the piano. One thing Grandpa's hands could not do was mix the bread dough at the Wonder Bread factory. His hands were considered good enough to sweep the floors and load the trucks, but the color of his skin was not considered good enough to touch the bread dough. Grandpa's hands worked with the hands and voices of others to create a change so his grandson's hands could think about doing "anything at all in this whole wide world."

This story is based on the experiences of baker Joe Barnett who was a friend of author Margaret Mason. It is a superb way to talk about our past with young students. The text is spare, yet powerful. Floyd Cooper's illustrations convey the pain brought by discrimination and also the determination to defeat it. You also see a wonderful relationship between a grandfather and his grandson in These Hands. I would use this book in a unit on change over time, self-esteem, or with older students when studying the history of the civil rights movement. It would make a great mentor text when teaching inference as well.

Other reviews of These Hands:
Publisher's Weekly

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: The Little Plant Doctor: A Story About George Washington Carver

The Little Plant Doctor: A Story About George Washington Carver
written by Jean Marzollo; illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
(Holiday House) 2011
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Apples With Many Seeds

The Little Plant Doctor is the story of George Washington Carver's childhood as told by a tree on the farm in Diamond, Missouri where he grew up. George was too sickly to work on the farm so he tended plants and worked in the house. George studied all parts of the plants and tried them in different places to see if they needed more sun or more shade. Neighbors would bring sick plants to George to see if he could make them better. George wanted to go to school, but African American children were not allowed to go to the nearby school, so his Aunt Sue taught him to read and write. When he was older, George did go to a school eight miles away. One day George came back to the farm to tell the tree that he was going to college. George went on to become a famous scientist.

The Little Plant Doctor is an interesting addition to the collection of children's books about George Washington Carver (See In the Garden with Dr. Carver). This is the first narrative I have seen about his childhood. I like the text level in that it will be accessible for first and second grade students who are just learning about biographies. There is also a great discussion section in the back matter which provides more facts about Dr. Carver's life. I would also think about including this book in a unit on plants. Kids can connect with George's childhood interest in plants and perhaps experiment with them as he did.

Click on this link for an activity sheet with several resources related to the book. You can also visit the website for the George Washington Carver National Monument by clicking on this link.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paper Airplanes: Flight School Level 1

Paper Airplanes: Flight School Level 1
written by Christopher L. Harbo
(Capstone Press) 2011
Source: Orange County Public Library

I stink at making things. It has been one of the flaws of my lifetime. The worst grade I received in middle school was in art. So yesterday, with much trepidation, I read Paper Airplanes and focused on making the Dynamic Dart. The instructions were simple and I learned about valley folds and mountain folds. Within 5 minutes, I had created a lean, mean, flying machine. You have no idea what an accomplishment this was for me. Needless to say, I was the hit of the kindergarten playground as we took turns flying the Dynamic Dart.

There are endless possibilities for using this book in the classroom. Eleven different airplanes are shown in the book, so you can have students make the airplanes and compare how they fly using different variables such as distance, speed, and time aloft. You could measure the angles used to make the planes or you could add materials like tape or paper clips to teach the scientific method. A student's hypothesis could be that the paper clip will make the plane fly farther, so they would have a control plane without a paper clip and another plane with a paper clip. Instant science project! There are usually procedural text passages on standardized tests, so you could also use one of these passages to teach how to read this particular type of nonfiction.

Another cool aspect of Paper Airplanes is that there are 4 different books and levels (Flight School, Copilot, Pilot, Captain) in the series. Students who like making paper airplanes could try making the planes and write about how the process unfolded.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Three Bully Goats

The Three Bully Goats
written by Leslie Kimmelman; illustrated by Will Terry
(Albert Whitman) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Gruff, Ruff, and Tuff are three goats that happen to be bullies. The other animals in the meadow are afraid of them and provide plenty of space to keep the peace. Everything is okay until the three bully goats decide that indeed the grass is greener on the other side. What stands in the way is a bridge guarded by a sweet little ogre. Each goat trip traps across the bridge and threatens the ogre with a possible head butt that will send him to Brazil. The ogre is discouraged by this bullying of himself and the other meadow animals. Fortunately, brains defeat brawn as the ogre devises a plan to teach these rotten goats a lesson.

The Three Bully Goats is an entertaining revision of the classic Three Billy Goats Gruff. I like the ogre's method of trying to outsmart the bullies instead of trying to out-tough them. I would pair this book with The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palantini and contrast the two stories through the use of graphic organizers. You could also practice paragraph writing (main idea sentence and supporting details) by asking students to take a familiar fable or fairy tale and turn it around 180 degrees in a summary paragraph as opposed to trying to rewrite the entire tale. The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig is another example of this tale twisting genre that you can share. If you are teaching a unit or lesson on bullying, this humorous book would be an effective resource as well.

Other reviews of The Three Bully Goats:
Fuse #8

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Doodleday

Doodleday
written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Albert Whitman) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Book Talk Tuesday at The Lemme Library

Harvey's mom is heading to the store and admonishes him not to bother his busy father. On the surface, Harvey's response seems quite benign. He is simply going to do some drawing. Upon hearing this, Mom goes into a diatribe about how it is Doodleday and he must never draw on Doodleday. Before Harvey can get an explanation, Mom heads out the door. Without any background information, Harvey decides one small drawing couldn't hurt a fly and he doodles a fly. Suddenly he hears a buzzing sound in the kitchen and finds a color pencil drawing of a fat hairy fly creating havoc in the refrigerator. Harvey's solution is to draw a spider to get rid of this fly. This just makes the situation worse and puts his dad literally in a bind. Fortunately, Harvey has a smart mom who knows how to handle these drawings and put them in their place.

Doodleday is a creative blast reminiscent of Jumanji and Chalk where inanimate objects inexplicably come to life and create tons of trouble. How Harvey gets out of this predicament is a surprise, which makes this an excellent book to create a discussion about problem/solution and prediction. The illustrations will delight young readers who could use Doodleday as a springboard for a fun writing and/or drawing activity. I would ask students what they would draw if it were Doodleday and what would be the effects of their drawings come to life.

May 12th has been declared USA National Doodle Day with proceeds from the auctioning of celebrity doodles benefiting the fight against neurofibromatosis.

Other reviews of Doodleday:
Fuse #8

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Hail! Ancient Greeks

Hail! Ancient Greeks
written by Jen Green
(Crabtree Publishing) 2011
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at L.L. Owens

As you can see by the cover, Hail! Ancient Greeks is designed to look like a tabloid magazine, but the information inside is much more reliable. Part of a larger series on ancient civilizations, this book focuses on the history of the ancient Greek culture. There is a little something for everyone in this text. Percy Jackson fans will find information about Greek gods and goddesses. If you like military history, learn more about the Spartans and their war with Athens and there is also a section on Alexander the Great. I love sports, so I was intrigued by the information on the origin of the Olympic Games. There are also features on the economy of ancient Greece, literature such as poetry, comedies, and tragedies, and Greek architecture.

Hail! Ancient Greeks is written like a tabloid magazine or USA Today. You get small pieces of information on many different topics. I like the possibility of students doing their own research on a culture and/or country and replicating this style. It might be more engaging for some students who are not fond of writing long reports. This could also be the source of a great lesson on summarizing since you have to research and take large chunks of information and whittle them down to smaller chunks. I'm not saying all writing should look like this, but it's nice to present students with a change of pace instead of writing the same research reports all the time. If you are studying ancient cultures, text in the style of Hail! Ancient Greeks may be just the ticket for an introduction.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue
written by Jacqueline Jules: illustrated by Miguel Benitez
(Albert Whitman) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Young super hero Freddie Ramos is back in his third book with more adventures involving his high powered zapatos (shoes). This time, a thunderstorm leaves trees weakened in Freddie's neighborhood and one of them falls on the school gym roof. As the class examines the tree through their window, a purple squirrel appears on the ledge. It's up to Freddie and his super speed to solve the mystery of the grape tree dweller. In the process, Freddie will also find out who sent him the cool silver goggles and perform his most heroic deed ever.

Freddie Ramos is an extremely likable character without being overly sweet. He tries to do good things with his super power, listens to his mother, and is curious about how stuff works. Freddie's  father died serving his country, but he lives on in Freddie's memory. Uncle Jorge asks Freddie to keep his hair short like a soldier which is an indication of the pull of this memory. Freddie has a positive network of family and neighbors who help him along the way, which serves as a nice model for young readers. I also like how Freddie sometimes struggles with decisions which humanizes him and will help students make connections. The text level will make this an ideal choice for early readers and reluctant readers who want a chapter book in their hands. Find copies of all the Zapato Power books so your students can continue reading about Freddie's adventures.

Here is a link to an activity guide for the Zapato Power series.