Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Polar Bear Horizon (iPad book app)

Polar Bear Horizon
written by Janet Halfmann; illustrated by Adrian Chesterman
2012 (Oceanhouse Media)
Source: Book app provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Children's War

Polar Bear is in a den with her two cubs. Born in late December, the cubs are now three months old and getting too big for the den. After leaving the den and giving the cubs a chance to adjust to their new surroundings, the mother leads her cubs to the sea so she can find food. Polar Bear sniffs the air for seals. She finds a seal den and tells her cubs to be quiet. After crashing through the den, she finds that the seals have escaped. Further hunting will have to wait as she has to feed milk to her hungry cubs. Once the family starts moving toward the sea again, Polar Bear finds a breathing hole for a ringed seal. Soon, she will have her first meal in months and the cubs will have their first taste of meat. (I applaud the author and illustrator for being realistic without being graphic. The text mentions the killing of the seal, but there is not an scene of this happening. What we see is the mother waiting by the ice hole.) As summer approaches, this furry family must move north to avoid the breaking ice. The first big snows of October are approaching and it won't be easy, but Polar Bear has kept her family fed and they will be ready for the dark winter.

Young readers will enjoy Polar Bear Horizon. The beautiful illustrations (blue never looked better) pop in the iPad format and the engaging text is supported by a "read to me" function and pronunciation of individual words if you are reading it yourself. I was also digging the solo guitar on the background music. The back matter is a great source of information to complement the simpler narrative. If you are teaching about the predator/prey relationship or doing a unit on mammals, Polar Bear Horizon is a good resource to add to your teaching. You can also work on teaching prediction with this book app. Check the background knowledge of your primary class and see if they can predict what is going to happen when Polar Bear searches for food.

Polar Bear Horizon is available right now at a terrific introductory price of $0.99 through iTunes.




Thursday, February 23, 2012

STEM Friday: A Kangaroo's Life

A Kangaroo's Life
written by Ellen Lawrence
2012 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at Rourke Publishing

It is September and David has started keeping a diary. He lives on a farm in Australia and has seen two red kangaroos fighting. His Aunt Annie, a veterinarian, explains that they are fighting to see who gets to mate with the females. In October, Aunt Annie takes in a mother kangaroo who has been hit by a car. The baby joey is only a few days old, but is safe inside his mother's pouch. Both mother and joey will be okay and now David has a chance to see the life cycle of a kangaroo. At four weeks, the joey is almost four inches long. He won't open his eyes until sixteen weeks and will pop his head out of the pouch at twenty weeks. At eight months, the joey is too big to live in his mother's pouch but will still drink mother's milk for about four more months. By the following October, mom and joey are ready to leave the rescue center and return to the wild. He is eating grass and small plants just like his mother. Eventually, he will grow to be six feet tall and weigh nearly 200 pounds.

The photographs in A Kangaroo's Life give readers a good sense of how small a kangaroo is in its early stages of life. Young animal lovers will be enthralled by the up-close photos. I would also use this book to teach students how to read captions. There are a combination of kangaroo facts and classroom activities to supplement the journal entries in each two page spread. I especially like the measurement activity where students see how many jumps it takes them to match one hop of an adult kangaroo (26 feet). Click on the book link above to get a sneak peek inside this engaging title.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When You Are Camping

When You Are Camping
written and illustrated by Anne Lee
2012 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: March 1, 2012

Hazel and Tilly like camping, but in different ways. Hazel is very demonstrative in her desire to embrace the outdoors while Tilly is much more subtle. Hazel spins and splashes through the current on her tube while Tilly floats gently as she watches for fish swimming by. Tilly patiently waits for a caterpillar to climb up a tall blade of grass. Hazel chases moths and tries to sneak up on a gray rabbit, but with little success. Neither approach is wrong or better, just different. Both girls like to walk in the woods right after dinner. They see a deer standing still and later the girls chase fireflies. Popcorn and a story by the campfire complete the perfect day. Hazel and Tilly love camping.


I haven't been camping in decades. After reading When You Are Camping, I might need to go back. The Kirkus Review of this book used the word evocative in describing it, and I think that is the best word to describe how this text and the artwork affect you. You can smell the toasted marshmallows and feel the cool of the night woods.  I remembered my nine year old self as I read about Hazel and Tilly going tubing and playing in the rain. When You Are Camping brought those memories back and I couldn't be more delighted. If you are looking for a book that can be used to teach mood, this is a great choice. Children who are campers will want to chime in with their connections and you can teach comparison with Hazel and Tilly. I just sighed a big sigh after reading this book because it made me nostalgic and happy. You can't beat that.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Dolphins in the Navy

Dolphins in the Navy
written by Meish Goldish
2012 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Lori Calabrese

The Navy Marine Mammal Program has been around since 1960. It started with bottle nose dolphins and now includes sea lions. These mammals are trained to carry out many important tasks. For example, K-Dog the dolphin swam in the waters of the Persian Gulf in order to find sea mines that would disable ships trying to reach an Iraqi port. He used echolocation to find the mines. When he found a mine, he would swim back to the boat where his handler was waiting. After signaling his handler that he had found something, K-Dog was given a floating marker to identify the object so human divers could go investigate. A group of dolphins was able to help clear the area of more than one hundred mines in a week's time. Dolphins are also trained to find terrorists in the water. They bump into enemy swimmers and tag them with a locating device. The marine mammals are used to protect U.S. ports that may be attacked. The second half of Dolphins in the Navy investigates how these dolphins are treated by their handlers. Around the clock veterinary care is provided to make sure these sea soldiers are healthy. It may be that in the future the dolphins and sea lions may not be needed. The Navy has developed an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) which is a small submarine that can find sea mines. This device is still being tested to see if it will be able to replace the animals.


Dolphins in the Navy is one of four books in the America's Animal Soldiers series from Bearport. Dolphins are a popular topic with students, so there will be plenty of interest in this title. I think you could use this book to teach the skill of identifying facts and opinions and how to write an opinion piece. You could ask students to write an opinion piece about the ethics of using animals in the military. This leads to the teaching of main idea and supporting details. There are also several text features that can be highlighted as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

STEM Friday: Energy Island

Energy Island
written and illustrated by Allan Drummond
2011 (Frances Foster Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Nomad Press

Samso is an island in the middle of Denmark. It was an ordinary place with the exception of the constant wind. It was this wind that was at the center of this island's emergence as a renewable energy oasis. Like most places, Samso depended on nonrenewable sources of energy. Fossil fuels provided electricity, gasoline, and heat. As a result of a competition sponsored by the Danish government, Samso was chosen to be a place where all energy would be provided by renewable sources. Soren Hermansen, a local teacher, was chosen to be the leader of this project. Hermansen talked to his students and they suggested harnessing solar energy and oil from crops. One student suggested a logical starting point which was wind energy. The students were on board, but the adults were much more hesitant about converting to renewable sources. Change is difficult and expensive and not worth the effort according to the grownups. Several years go by and nonrenewable energy still dominated the island.  It takes a farmer and an electrician to get the ball rolling. When electricity is cut off due to a strong winter storm, neighbors noticed that the electrician's new turbine was generating electricity in abundance. Now the adults on Samso were interested and the turbines of change were turning. Now a combination of wind energy, biomass, and solar power generate all of the electricity used on Samso. Enough is created that some energy is sent back under the sea for other citizens of Denmark to use. This island has reduced their carbon emissions by 140 percent in 10 years.

Energy Island is an inspiring true tale of what individuals and communities can accomplish when they are determined to reach a goal. This book is a great vehicle for introducing the terms renewable and nonrenewable energy. Alan Drummond includes sidebars that provide the science on these topics which, combined with the human interest story of Samso, makes for an entertaining and informative book. Energy Island would be an excellent discussion starter for thinking about the needs in this country and what can be done to vary our sources of energy. Lessons on cause and effect and problem/solution could be taught using this book as well as a lesson on character qualities featuring Soren Hermansen. He could be the focus of a lesson on how determination can be a positive quality.

Other reviews:
Nonfiction Detectives
Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lola Reads to Leo

Lola Reads to Leo
written by Anna McQuinn; illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Lola's mom reads a bedtime story about a little girl and her new baby brother. As her parents prepare for their new child, Lola sorts her books so baby brother will have books of his own. She also decides which books will be read to him. After Leo arrives, Lola has a soft book as a present for him. She is not deterred or jealous when Leo cries. When he bathes, Lola has a duck book to read. A bear book is the selection when Leo is feeding. No matter the crisis, Lola is ready to help. At the end of the day, the family gathers together with a story for Leo and Lola.

As with the previous Lola books, reading is an integral part of the story. Lola is a wonderful role model for how young children should be immersed in stories. Another terrific quality of Lola Reads to Leo is that Lola shows no jealousy towards Leo. She is ready to help her family and doesn't worry about the attention that Leo needs. This would be a great book to share with a young child that has a sibling on the way. It is also a good reminder for parents to make sure that older siblings are included when a newborn arrives. If you haven't read the two previous Lola books, seek them out. This is a delightful character to share with younger readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The Great Molasses Flood

The Great Molasses Flood: Boston 1919
written by Deborah Kops
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped in Foil

On January 15, 1919, a molasses truck at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. 
- Commemorative plaque on Commercial Street in Boston

It was an unusually warm day in January 1919. Workers were eating lunch while housewives were hanging laundry and children were playing. Standing out among the buildings on Commercial Street was a tank that held over 2.3 million gallons of molasses. Owned by the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), this tank held the equivalent weight of 13,000 Fords. The molasses was going to be converted into rum. This needed to be done quickly as the 18th amendment was about to be ratified and Prohibition would rule the land. Laws banning alcoholic drinks would go into effect a year after ratification. In Chapter 1, you are introduced to many people who are going to be affected by the explosion of the tank. There is nothing abnormal about this day, but that is about to change. Between 12:30 and 12:40 p.m., the tank gave way and a wave of molasses came crashing down upon the buildings and other structures on the north end of Commercial Street. Deborah Kops presents the personal stories that make history come alive for children. You feel the heartache of nine year old Antonio DiStasio who, along with his older sister Maria and two friends, was trying to get a taste of the excess molasses that came from the tank. Antonio ended up losing his sister and one of his friends in this tragedy. Along with the personal stories, there is a mystery element to this narrative. How did the tank explode and how will acting judge Hugh Ogden rule in the civil case brought by the victims against USIA? You keep reading as the case unwinds because you want answers to these questions and that is what a good nonfiction read will accomplish. Two other features in The Great Molasses Flood enhance the reader's knowledge. Sepia toned photographs give you a sense of the setting and how the flood unfolded. Kops also added sections in several chapters to provide background knowledge for the reader. We learn about the anarchist movement of the early 20th century which could be connected to the issues of terrorism that are prevalent today. Other topics include women's suffrage and historical figures of the day.

The Great Molasses Flood would make for an interesting contrast to the Titanic tragedy of 1912. How were these two tragedies similar? Do we have similar tragedies today that are caused by human error? This is a fascinating account that will enliven your instruction of early 20th century history.

You should see this terrific fermentation activity at Growing With Science that is linked to the review at Wrapped in Foil.




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pig Pig Meets the Lion

Pig Pig Meets the Lion
written and illustrated by David McPhail
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

In a beginning series of wordless pages, a lion makes a late night escape over the zoo wall. He journeys out of town and climbs up a tree and into Pig Pig's bedroom. When Pig Pig wakes up, he has a rather large cat replacing a smaller cat on his bed. Instead of being the lion's breakfast, Pig Pig has found a running buddy. Down the steps, through the kitchen, and over the big chair go Pig Pig and the lion. Pig Pig's mother tells him about a lion escaping from the zoo, but is unaware that this lion is in her house. Pig Pig asks about keeping the lion that he has found, but his mother doesn't understand that this question is not hypothetical. When the family is eating breakfast, the lion snuggles under the table and munches on the house cat's food. A knock on the door brings a change of direction for the lion.

I love books that can be read in a short amount of time, but can be used in a variety of lessons. The obvious lesson with Pig Pig Meets the Lion is one featuring prepositions. David McPhail highlights the prepositions in bold print. Where was this book when I was in middle school? You could easily use this at several age levels to teach prepositions. I also plan on taking Pig Pig to school tomorrow to help me teach students how to use dialogue in their personal narratives. Lessons on friendship and sequence could also be taught. The open ending to this book begs for young students to write about what happens next to the lion. Pig Pig Meets the Lion is a delightful read, but as teachers, we also purchase books with an eye on how they can help us teach children and this book is a bargain.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night (iPad app)

Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night (iPad book app)
written by Mary Kay Carson
2012 (Bookerella and Story Worldwide)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Capstone Connect

When I was young and hanging out in a department store, I saw a television that was displaying a game called Pong. I was instantly mesmerized. The dot went back and forth on the screen and you could control the paddles with a joystick. We could play games on television and life would never be the same. Several decades later, I'm writing about nonfiction books and that same sense of youthful awe has hit me again. Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night is a 3-D book app that is unlike anything I have seen before for a nonfiction book. The first page takes you into the dark forest and you hear the rapid flapping of bat wings. Consecutive close-ups bring a bat front and center so you can see the outline of its fingers. Click on a bright light and you get a diagram of the bat's body and this is just the first chapter. There are six other chapters which cover topics like echolocation, varieties of bats, bat colonies, and other bat facts. There are so many effects that will engage readers. The depth created by the 3-D effect is terrific. When the camera moves, you see the world from the point of view of the bat. It is this movement and the close-ups that separate Bats! from what we have seen before in nonfiction book apps. You read the text on the left and then you get pictures that really bring home the information. This is most evident when you read chapter 4 which shows how bats use sound to find their way in the night. An outline of a bat, like an x-ray, flies over a grid and bounces sound off of different objects. The reader gets a good sense of how the process of echolocation works. Perhaps the best effect is when you finish the book. Readers can manipulate the iPad and steer the bat over the forest as a reward for finishing reading.

The text in Bats! is at about a late second or third grade level. This makes it perfect for struggling readers in higher grade levels. They could read this book and think it's really cool. When you have this level of visual effects, students will want to read it over and over again which promotes fluency. I think Bats! would also be a great tool for practicing summarizing. The chapters are the right size for learning how to use this strategy. If you use an iPad in your classroom or with your own child, it is definitely worth the price of admission to enter this world of Bats!.





Thursday, February 2, 2012

STEM Friday: Step Inside!

Step Inside!
written by Catherine Ham
2012 (Early Light)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at Simply Science





Which home would you use
If you had to choose?


A hole in a tree
Or one deep in the ground?
A reef in the sea?
Or a tall termite mound?

Step Inside! is a poetic look at animal habitats. Over twenty different homes are featured. Inside each poem is a plethora of information. For example, students will learn that trapdoor spiders live inside a burrow and spin webs not to catch animals, but instead use the silk to build a hinge that opens the door. The door is hidden by bits of plant and soil. The spider pops out of the door like a jack-in-the-box and captures its surprised prey. This poem contains vocabulary (burrow, crafty, hinge) that can be connected to other areas. You can ask questions like "What other animals might live in a burrow?" or "Where have you seen a hinge before?". I like the variety of species featured in Step Inside! as well. You get animals from fresh and salt water. There are animals that live in trees and those that dig their homes in the ground. Animals as large as an elephant and as small as a wasp are presented. This provides the opportunity for students to categorize the information, which is a vital skill for young scientists. This is also a strength of Ham's sister book, Open Wide!.

As we approach the Common Core standards era, with its emphasis on nonfiction text, teachers need books that can be used for cross curricular purposes. Books like Step Inside! that combine poetry and science will be important resources.