Sunday, February 24, 2013

Henry and the Cannons

Henry and the Cannons
written and illustrated by Don Brown
2013 (Roaring Brook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf Employed

You thought you had a tough job. Henry Knox's job was tougher. General George Washington wanted cannons so he could drive the British from Boston. A bookseller by trade, Knox was confident that he could bring cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. This was a 300 mile journey lugging 120,000 pounds of cannon. First, Knox had to take the 59 cannons to Lake George and put them on boats. After leaving the lake, the cannons were pulled by oxen through snow and mud. Henry Knox and his crew suffered several setbacks, but after a trip of 50 days they reached General Washington outside of Boston. The arrival of these cannons would make a major contribution to the fleeing of the British soldiers from Boston. A parade was held to celebrate and Henry Knox joined General Washington on a ride through Boston as citizens celebrated.

Henry and the Cannons, besides being a great addition to a unit on the American Revolution, would be an excellent text for teaching the trait of determination. With several near disasters that could have ended this journey, Henry and his crew fight on and finish the job. Author Don Brown makes this story so accessible with text that is easy to read. That's not an easy feat for a history book. With a little pre-loading of terms like Fort Ticonderoga and Berkshire, you could give this book to a second or third grader and they would be able to read it. Looking for a hero? Discover Henry Knox in a wonderful new book.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Baseball Story

A Baseball Story
written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
2013 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The first sport that I remember loving to play was baseball. It appealed to all of my senses. The smell of a baseball glove was intoxicating. Putting on a baseball uniform made you feel special. You knew you were the fastest human being on the planet because you had a pair of cleats on your feet. My first baseball team was the Pirates. I played catcher and was not exactly a power hitter. It didn't matter because I had a blast playing. I was crushed when a game was rained out. There's a great scene in The Rookie where Dennis Quaid stands at the outfield fence watching a youth baseball game. In this moment, he remembers why baseball is special and how much fun it is to play. This is the feeling I had when I read A Baseball Story.

A young boy is preparing to play a baseball game. He puts on his uniform and his "bumpy" shoes. A check in the mirror reveals a baseball player. The smell of his glove is so good that he holds it up to his face as he is walking to the car. Coach Mike has the players warm up by playing catch. The mood is light as the players practice before the game. As the narrator takes the field, he mentions that his mom and dad are waving to him but that he can't wave back since he has to be ready to play. One of the strengths of this book is how the game of baseball is explained as the story unfolds. Students who aren't familiar with baseball will be able to understand the basics of the game such as hitting and playing in the field. Another aspect of this book that I appreciate is how sportsmanship is featured. Players from opposing teams congratulate each other after the game. Richard Torrey's knowledge of youth baseball is sharp as he closes the book with the best part of the game for a young player which is the after game snack. Forty years ago, our reward was a free soda after each game. The players in the book receive ice cream. It is the final of many nice touches in A Baseball Story. The joy of playing the game shines  throughout. Readers will remember why baseball is still a great game.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Master George's People

Master George's People
written by Marfe Ferguson Delano; photography by Lori Epstein
2013 (National Geographic Society)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped In Foil

George Washington is seen as a soldier, a gentleman farmer, and a president. One view of the man that has not been written about as much is his position as a slave owner. Master George's People, through the use of Washington's correspondence and other documents, allows us to see how he viewed slavery in general and "his people" as he called them. The young George Washington, as did his peers, treated slaves as property. He was an ambitious plantation owner who wanted to "make a name for himself in Virginia's powerful upper class." Washington didn't question slavery as being wrong and was not above breaking up slave families to serve his purposes. He expected slaves to work from dawn to dusk, six days a week. Slaves were given daily rations, homes, and clothing, but Washington only provided what he thought they needed. Disobeying slaves were punished and runaway slaves were returned to Mount Vernon. It is when George Washington leaves his estate to lead the fight for independence that his views of slavery and African Americans begin to change. He sees black soldiers fighting valiantly alongside white soldiers. His experiences with poet Phillis Wheatley and the slavery opposing Marquis de Lafayette further influence him. He is conflicted, but not enough to free the slaves that work for him. As he neared the end of his life, owning slaves further tormented Washington enough that he freed the slaves that he owned in his last will and testament. The author writes at the end of the book, "By the standards of our own time, it can seem he did too little too late. But considering his time and place, Washington's decision to free his enslaved people was actually quite daring." George Washington was the only slave owning Founding Father to publicly change his mind about slavery and repute it.

Master George's People is a fascinating portrait of the evolving thinking of our first President on the subject of slavery. It sheds light on a little known aspect of his life and on the life of slaves and their owners in the 18th century. Students will want to discuss and debate what they find in the book.




Thursday, February 14, 2013

STEM Friday: 1,2,3 ... By the Sea

1,2,3 ... By the Sea
written by Dianne Moritz; illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
2013 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

Striped umbrellas in the sun ...
flapping, snapping
We rent ONE.

If your child is in preschool, or you know someone with a child in preschool, go find this book right now. You can come back later and read what I am writing. Why am I so enthusiastic about 1,2,3 ... By the Sea? I have two daughters and I spent a gazillion hours reading bedtime stories to them. I don't know a whole lot, but I usually know an exceptional bedtime book and this is one. It also works at other times of the day as well. A young boy, his mother, and their dog Max go to the beach for a day of fun. Each two page spread features an element of beach life. The trio encounter seagulls, surfers, jellyfish, and other inhabitants of the area. I love the language in this book. Seagulls do more than fly in the sky. They squawk and flock. Surfers lunge and plunge. This is great vocabulary to share with a preschooler. And did you see the cover of this book? Illustrations with  pleasing bright colors take you away from your 42 degree dreary winter days (not that I'm bitter) and plop you into a perfect blue sky with big cumulus clouds and crashing waves. Pass the sunscreen please. This is a book that I could read over and over again with a child and not get tired of it.

I could see preschool or kindergarten students making a class booklet based on 1,2,3 ... By the Sea. You could make one for each season. This book is also a great read aloud book for math. I would pair it with other favorite counting books (Hippos Go Beserk by Sandra Boynton is a fave of mine.) and have students use teddy bear counters to count as you read the book.

If you are tired of gray winter weather, count to three and head to the beach with 1,2,3 ... By the Sea!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pinch and Dash and the Terrible Couch

Pinch and Dash and the Terrible Couch
written by Michael J. Daley; illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerski
2013 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Poor Pinch. His Aunt Hasty has temporarily moved into a tiny apartment and has sent him her bright red couch. He can't refuse it since the movers, the aptly named Push and Shove, pummel his other furniture in order to place the couch near the fireplace. What's worse, the color of the couch, electric red, doesn't match his decor. Pinch's biggest worry is that Aunt Hasty will take an extended vacation and decide that she doesn't need her red beast back. Pinch's neighbor, the ever effervescent Dash, pokes his head in the door and tries to see the bright side. Both friends decide that rearranging is in order so more moving takes place. The two neighbors do their best, but it may be too much.    While the suddenly exhausted Dash takes a snooze on the new couch, Pinch opens his window to get some fresh air. It is here that he finds the solution to his problem.

Pinch and Dash are humorous characters. They are slightly flawed which makes them more likable. It would be fun for students to decide which character they most resemble. Contrasting Pinch and Dash would be a good use of a Venn diagram. Readers on the cusp of chapter books will enjoy reading a longer book that fits their text needs. If you like buddy stories like Frog and Toad, you will like Pinch and Dash.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dessert Designer: Creations You Can Make and Eat!

Dessert Designer: Creations You Can Make and Eat!
written by Dana Meachen Rau
2013 (Capstone Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Abby the Librarian

It's the week for sweet treats (okay, is there a week that isn't?) so I want to share Dessert Designer with you. I have a student in my second grade class that likes to watch shows about making cakes and/or cupcakes. Food Network has shows like this and she wrote about it for Writer's Workshop. Kids like to create and they like a challenge. This is the kind of book for them. Some crafts are harder than others, but there is something for everyone. For the craft-challenged like myself, there is the Lollipop Disco Ball. This involves 250-300 small round lollipops (I would use Dum-Dums since they are inexpensive. A bag of 200 will cost around $8.00) and a 7 inch Styrofoam ball. You will need four inch squares of tin foil for each lollipop. A plastic beaded necklace pushed through the ball will allow you to hang it up. An extra effect would be to attach white lights to give a true disco ball effect. This isn't a difficult set of instructions to follow for 4th graders and up, but it will take some math skills and a steady, patient hand. The introduction to the book explains how to make frosting and royal icing. These are important for several recipes in the book. Following these recipes is a decorator's toolbox that is a vocabulary lesson for dessert designers. Like a fisherman has a tackle box, a budding dessert designer will need these tools. The rest of the book is divided up into sections featuring recipes for cupcakes, cookies, candies, and cakes.

So how does this work for the classroom? Teaching a student how to tackle procedural text is a valuable lesson. These kind of passages are forever showing up on standardized tests and how many times are we required to read a set of instructions and follow them? This is an important life skill to have. Dessert Designer also requires readers to have some math skills. There's plenty of measuring and computing to go around, so readers will have to apply those skills to create. Want to have fun on a rainy day? Find a copy of Dessert Designer and start creating! I'll be looking for an old KC and the Sunshine Band single to go with my disco ball. Leisure suit not included.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Spring Blossoms

Spring Blossoms
written by Carole Gerber; illustrated by Leslie Evans
2013 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Poetry Friday at A Teaching Life
Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links




White dogwood wears a frosty crown.
Its limbs spread wider than its height.
Crab apple, too, is short and wide, 
its fragrant flowers small and white.

Spring Blossoms starts with two girls and their dog (A black Labrador sporting a yellow bandanna. I'm in favor of dogs wearing bandannas.) taking a walk in the warm spring air. As they are walking, the children notice that buds and blossoms abound. The dogwood stands out with its pink border. There are few trees with prettier flowers than a dogwood and illustrator Leslie Evans gives it a glorious look. I like the comparison between the dogwood and the crab apple tree in the text. This book has a sparse amount of text, but I think that's just right for K-2 readers. With its rhyming description of the blossoms of ten different trees, children could take Spring Blossoms outside and use it as a field guide. When spring arrives (think April, poetry lovers), you could also write sets of lines on chart paper and have K-1 students read with you.

In the back matter you will find illustrations of the ten different trees represented in the book. An author's note in the back matter is a nice resource for a lesson on sequence. After reviewing the text on this page, students could create a flow chart with illustrations and captions. Comparisons between this flower life cycle and that of the butterfly could be made. If you really wanted to go old school, find blossoms from some of the trees mentioned in this book and press them in wax paper. Fond memories of my leaf book project in 5th grade go passing by.

Spring Blossoms will appeal to those kids, like my youngest daughter, who like to pick up everything from outside and bring it in to show you.






Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Goodnight Baseball

Goodnight Baseball
written by Michael Dahl; illustrated by Christina Forshay
2013 (Capstone Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

If the old lady in the chair whispering "Hush" in Goodnight Moon was a baseball manager, she would fit right in with Goodnight Baseball. In this rhyming tale, a young baseball fan goes with his father to see his favorite team, the Rockets, play ball. After munching hot dogs and slurping drinks (Must be a minor league park since the dad has only a few bills in his hand as he pays for the food.), the game begins. The young fan is lucky to catch a home run hit by the home team. The stadium lights come on as the latter innings approach with a stretch in the middle of the seventh inning. Fortunately, the Rockets prevail and the pint sized begins to make his way out of the park. This is where the tribute to the classic of all goodnight books starts. He wishes a "good night" to the players on the field. Different items on the field also receive this greeting. The book ends with the boy saying goodnight to the moon with his newly won baseball safely tucked in his mitt on the dresser.

Being able to compare two or more books is an important skill in the literature standards of the Common Core. Young students could read Goodnight Moon and Goodnight Baseball to make comparisons. It would also be fun for students to write a good night poem of their own. They could write it for a sport or for an area like the ocean or the desert. Goodnight Baseball is a sweet tribute to a classic sport and a classic game.

Other reviews:
Shelf-employed

Monday, February 4, 2013

Valentine Be Mine

Valentine Be Mine
written by Jacqueline Farmer; illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy
2013 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Apples With Many Seeds

With February's arrival, we have a sweet book about Valentine's Day. Valentine Be Mine is a literary confection that combines history, craft and custom. The first bite is historical as we learn that the name Valentine was a popular name in the late first century and comes from a word that means "admirable". Legend says three different religious figures from this time period named Valentine were martyred on February 14. This prompts the church to declare this day Saint Valentine's Day. For many centuries, it remains a religious holiday. It is English poet Geoffrey Chaucer who turns thoughts to romance with his poem titled The Parlement of Foules. Chaucer connects the mating season of birds with Saint Valentine's Day. Later, a French nobleman imprisoned in the Tower of London is given credit with the first valentine cards. It is in the 16th century that valentines become popular. Another section features Esther Howland who is thought to be the "Mother of the American Valentine".

There are two terrific Valentine's Day crafts mentioned in this book. With easy to understand directions and excellent illustrations of each step, readers will be able to create a mouse valentine with candy and a tissue paper flower.

Other topics mentioned include information about symbols associated with love, customs in ancient cultures, and customs in different countries today. One section has a bullet list (with hearts) that lists different flowers and their meanings. Somehow stink weed didn't make the list. Don't tell my students, but children in England sing Valentine's Day songs and are rewarded with fruit or money. Bring on the bananas!

Valentine Be Mine is a great book to share for this beloved holiday. I appreciate the combination of history, craft, and custom. Students will enjoy learning about the origins of the day and making the crafts. If you are giving gifts to a lover of literature,  I would recommend including this book as a unique and interesting gift.