Sunday, August 25, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: A Chameleon's Life

A Chameleon's Life
written by Ellen Lawrence
2013 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Stacking Books

Sylvie lives on Madagascar, which is lies off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. She is keeping a diary of observing one of her favorite animals. This is the only place in the world that you will find panther chameleons in the wild. The male chameleon grows to about 20 inches while the female will about half that size. The most well known feature of a chameleon, it's changing colors, are used to show feelings and attract mates. The male on page 7 is orange, green, black, and white. It's a pretty spectacular light show. One interesting note from the book is the changing of the color of the female after she has mated. This tells male chameleons that she is no longer interested in them and getting ready to lay eggs. This sounds a lot easier and more practical than when my wife and I went to Babies R' Us and shot a device at UPC codes to list what we thought we needed for our upcoming newborn, but I digress. After laying 10 to 50 eggs on the ground and covering them up with dirt and leaves, the female will leave the eggs and never see them again. Sometime between 6 and 13 months, the babies will hatch from the eggs. A picture on pages 14 and 15 is unique in my reading of animal books. These babies will quickly make their way up the trees and march on toward adulthood. The lifespan of a panther chameleon is two years. The coolest fact in the book is that the panther chameleon's tongue is about one and a half times the length of its body. You'll see a great picture of this tongue in action on page 19.

Chameleons are fascinating creatures. If you want to see great action photos and learn interesting facts about the panther chameleon, find a copy of A Chameleon's Life. The text in this book is fairly simple which makes it a good choice for second graders and older reluctant readers. One fun activity would be to ask students to think about what colors they would choose to show different emotions like a chameleon.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: Beginning of the Year Books

Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers

I started back to school this week, so part of my focus is books that can be shared during the first week of school. Serge Bloch's Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards is the story of a boy who is very nervous on his first day of school. He does not want to leave his dog Roger behind. His story is told through idiomatic expressions. For example, his mom tells him he will be in a real pickle if he misses the bus. When the boy arrives at school, his teacher asks "Has the cat got your tongue?". There are bumps in the road, but our main character is able to maneuver through his first day. The combination of drawings and real objects will entertain readers and make for a fun first day activity. 


The students in Miss Cluck's class are excited about the new student coming to their class. They think they are getting a student who will be just like their stuffed bears. What they get instead is a rather large grizzly bear named Boris. In this environment of small creatures, Boris has a hard time fitting in. He breaks chairs, his voice is too loud, and his classmates are generally scared of him. Not feeling a part of the class, Boris has a tough afternoon. It's not until an incident on the way home that he begins to find his place in the class. 
The New Bear at School, written by Carrie Weston and illustrated by Tim Warnes, is a great read aloud selection for the first few days of school. Students will be able to relate to Boris since they are all trying to figure out how to fit in as well. 


Ralph the Raccoon is a disappointment to his parents. He is far too polite, neat, and kind for a raccoon. His tidiness is so annoying that he is sent to Bandit School so he can be a proper raccoon like his Grandpa Cutlass and Uncle Whiskers. Ralph finds that he does not fit in with the misfits at school and receives low grades from his teacher, Mrs. Mischief, for his neat ways. At the end of the term, students are given a big sack and told to collect as much loot as possible. How will Ralph fill his sack when he is such a nice raccoon?

School for Bandits, written and illustrated by Hannah Shaw, would be a terrific read aloud to accompany the discussion of class expectations. 




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Happy Birthday to NC Teacher Stuff

Photo by Francesca Cesa Bianchi (Wikimedia Commons)

Four years ago, I started this blog in an attempt to help teachers find resources for the classroom. Thank you to everyone who has peeked in here and supported the cause. Let's go for five!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Children Who Loved Books

The Children Who Loved Books
written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas
2013 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A week from this Monday I will be meeting with my new second grade class. As a reader of Harry Wong's teacher education books, I know that the first day of school is very important and sets the table for the rest of the school year. You want to build community and set the tone for a great year. One of my tools for doing this will be reading The Children Who Loved Books.

In this wonderful new book, two children live in a home full of readers. Angus and Lucy's family is not one of the one percent, instead making do without a television or a car. This loving group of four lives in a modest camper, but what they do have is books upon books upon books. Not only good for reading, these books hold up toasters, cat beds, provide a way for Angus to climb out of the window and connect the family. One day, the mounds of bound text spill out the door and windows. This prompts Angus and Lucy's father to take all of the books away. With a clear home, nothing seems quite right. With more space in the home, there is more space between the family members as well which breeds loneliness. Fortunately, a book from school spills out of Lucy's book bag. The family gathers together to read the book and discovers how much they missed being on top of each other. The next morning, the family takes a trip to a place that holds a tremendous amount of books. Armed with plenty of reading material, this foursome realizes that they have everything they need.

This book is a superb metaphor for how books can bring us together. When you are trying to build a community of learners, this is an excellent lesson to impart at the beginning. It's important to build up the social aspect of reading, so find The Children Who Loved Books and share it with your class.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Great Word Study Blog Post

If you are looking for a good resource on creating a word study program (and do not want to shell out bucks on TPT), check out this 2010 blog post from fantastic teacher Beth Newingham. She is one of the bloggers on Scholastic's Top Teaching Site. This is excellent material. It is accompanied by an almost 10 minute video that summarizes the program that she helped to create. There are also handouts that can be printed for use.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Volcano Rising

Volcano Rising
written by Elizabeth Rusch; illustrated by Susan Swan
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Prose and Kahn

But volcanoes are not just destructive. Much more often, volcanoes are creative. They grow taller and wider. They form majestic mountains. And they build new islands where there were none before. 

Are you thinking what I was thinking when I saw this book? Another volcano book. Do I need another volcano book? Yes, you will want this volcano book. Why? Let me explain:


  • There are two levels of text working in this book. The larger font is read aloud material. With a generous helping of onomatopoeia, listeners will enjoy learning about the difference between creative and destructive explosions. Elizabeth Rusch succinctly explains that it is the difference between a blast and seeping out. The second level of text is for students that want to dig deeper and learn more. Typed in a smaller font, this text supplements the larger font text. For example, author Rusch can take the time to explain how gas is the determining factor in what kind of explosion is happening. When lava, ash, and gases all explode at once due to blockage of vents or thick magma, you have a destructive explosion. This is compared to soda from a shaken can. Creative explosions are like slowly unscrewing a soda bottle as opposed to a violent rush of sound and liquid. Later on in the book, Rusch explains that most explosions are a combination of both creative and destructive. Readers will also learn about some of the surprising places that you can find volcanic explosions. I really like the two tiered approach to the text. It could be used to teach the skill of summarizing. A lesson on main idea and supporting details would work as well. 



  • The illustrations for Volcano Rising are fabulous! Readers will enjoy the 3D effect created by the collages without needing glasses or having to pay extra. 

  • The treatment of key vocabulary is thoughtful. There are pronunciation keys for important terms and names of places. When you are reading about places in Hawaii and Iceland, that is very helpful. I learned new terms like caldera and tephra and Hawaiian terms 'a'a and pahoehoe. There are several opportunities for teaching how to maneuver through difficult vocabulary in nonfiction. 
Volcano Rising is a rare informational text that can be shared with several grade levels. Primary teachers can read the large print and use the illustrations to teach about volcanoes. Older readers can do research using the smaller text. Find this book and add it to your science collection!

Other reviews:






Thursday, August 8, 2013

STEM Friday: Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert

Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert
written by Cindy Neuschwander; illustrated by Wayne Geehan
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science reviews

It's time for the annual Harvest Faire in the kingdom. One tradition is the selection of a Harvest Sweet. With the castle cook felled by illness, someone else is going to have to create this treat. Lady Di of Ameter and Sir Cumference seek out two local bakers. Pia, from the French city of Chartres, makes wonderful pies. Bart Graf, a baker of German descent, is a creator of cookies. Both bakers are so good that Lady Di and Sir Cumference are unable to decide whose dessert should be the Harvest Sweet. Pia and Bart are instructed to whip up a batch of their best concoctions to present to the people of the town. The townsfolk will vote for their favorite. To keep track of the voting, Pia uses tally marks in flour on her baking table while Bart lines up dough pinches in groups of five. Unfortunately, their respective pets foil their attempt at data collection and another day of baking ensues. This time, Pia generates a pie graph using color candies and Bart stacks cookie molds like a bar graph. The results of the voting are such a surprise to both bakers that they work together to create a Harvest Sweet.

Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert would be an excellent kick-off to a unit on graphing. The humor of the wordplay and the subject matter of desserts will be very attractive to students and teachers. There are a variety of graphs presented in the story. Think about the possibilities of creating your own dessert graphs. A big cookie used as a pie chart would be fun. A candy bar graph using M&Ms or Skittles is another activity that is popular with students. Combining sweets and math is a can't miss idea.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: No Monkeys, No Chocolate

No Monkeys, No Chocolate
written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young; illustrated by Nicole Wong
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed

How can a children's nonfiction picture book be connected to a famous Seinfeld episode and a Christopher Nolan film? Like the "backwards" TV episode and Memento,  this book about the process of how cocoa beans become chocolate is told in reverse, which is a neat trick for an informational text book. It starts with a party full of chocolate treats like cookies, cupcakes, and ice cream. If you want chocolate, you're going to need cocoa beans. Stewart and Young (whose names would make a fine accounting team) explain how cocoa beans are spread with rakes and dried in the sun. After being roasted, the beans are smashed and squeezed to get the liquid that is used to make cocoa powder. If you want coca beans, you're going to need cocoa pods. Do you see where we're going with this? Cocoa pods lead to cocoa flowers which lead to cocoa leaves and cocoa stems. Along the way, readers also become acquainted with animals that are important to the plant growing process. Female midges crawl inside cocoa blossoms and collect pollen which is disbursed among other cocoa blossoms. The biggest surprise of this book to me, other than the monkeys, is the need for maggots in order to have that sumptuous bar of chocolate. Before you swear off the sweet stuff, let me explain what I learned from this book. Leaf cutter ants enjoy eating cocoa leaves. As a check to their leaf eating prowess, the aptly named coffin fly lays eggs inside the ants' heads. You know what happens from there. The inference that can be made is that cocoa leaves are spared because of the efforts of the coffin fly. Hurrah, maggots! Other animals, such as the anole lizard are helpful in fighting pests. Still wondering about the monkeys? You have to read to the end of the book to find out how they contribute. Think distribution.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is an interesting and thorough account of how cocoa trees produce the beans that bring us the wonderful food. The sequence of the book is a clever way to present the information. Another fun touch is the presence of two comedic worms that provide a running commentary on the right corner of each two page spread. This feature will appeal to young readers. I would add this book to a unit on plants and it could also be used to teach the skill of sequencing. Roberta at Wrapped in Foil, in her earlier review of this book, would also direct you to the interactive timeline that Melissa Stewart created to show the long process of making this book. Good stuff!

Other reviews:
Wrapped In Foil




Friday, August 2, 2013

STEM Friday: Hello, Mama Wallaroo

Hello, Mama Wallaroo
written by Darrin Lunde; illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

Hello, hopping animal.
What is your name?
My name is Mama Wallaroo.
A wallaroo is a kind of kangaroo.

Look at the text above. If you are working with young children, what do you want to do? I immediately thought about students thinking about themselves and how they would be introduced. That is one of the beauties of this superb new book. The question and answer format provides plenty of information about wallaroos, but you also have many opportunities for student self-reflection. The next question in the book asks the mama wallaroo what she looks like. She answers that she has a long face and a long tail with big ears and big feet. Now I would ask students to think about how they would describe themselves. Further questions ask about height, habitat, feeding, moving, fears, and other important aspects of wallaroo life. This is a great format for dissecting information about wallaroos and I think comparing ourselves to wallaroos will further the learning. Darrin Lunde's text is very accessible with short sentences that explain how wallaroos live. This is not an easy trick for an author and that makes it an excellent choice for a mentor text for nonfiction writing. The question and answer format is one more choice for young writers to try to write nonfiction. Another beauty of this book is Patricia J. Wynne's illustrations. See the illustration below:
I love the lines in Hello, Mama Wallaroo. Such care has been taken in each of these drawings. Rich discussions can take place about how illustrations further learning in a nonfiction book. Questions like "Why do wallaroos have whiskers? What do they do for them?" create more thinking and that is not possible without wonderful artwork. I can't wait to share Hello, Mama Wallaroo with my kindergarten friends. It would also be a great choice for moms and dads to share at bedtime as well. 



Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pin of the Week: Subitizing










This week's pin comes from My Explorations in EC Mathematics. Thanks to Tricia Stohr-Hunt for the pin.

What is subitizing? Getting a turkey and cheese sub when a roast beef is not available? No, although turkey and cheese is not a bad substitute sub. Subitizing is being able to look at a number of items at a glance and knowing how many are there. Why is subitizing important? Being able to subitize means you can see parts of a whole. For example, you can see three and two in a set of five objects. This is a great skill to have when you are working with number families.