Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Read Me a Story, Stella

Read Me a Story, Stella
written by Marie-Louise Gay
2013 (House of Anansi)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Stella and her little brother Sam are quite busy one afternoon. Stella is picking apples and Sam is working on building a doghouse for their dog Fred. As Sam is putting boards and branches together, Stella reads from Stone Soup. Sam asks if she has a book on building doghouses. She doesn't, but instead offers to help build one that will withstand a wolf's breath. After all that labor, the duo head to Lily Pond for a picnic. As Sam looks for frogs in the pond, he asks Stella if there are any frogs in her book. She mentions a toad wearing a velvet jacket. Later on, Sam finds a caterpillar. Using her insect book, Stella tells Sam about how caterpillars turn into butterflies. During this day, there are several adventures for Stella and Sam that intertwine nicely with the books that she is reading. At dusk, Stella hangs upside down from a branch while reading a story about a bat. Sam asks if they read upside down. Stella responds that bats will read in many directions because they "just love to read." "Like you" Sam answers back.

Those two words kind of sum up this enchanting story. Stella is a devoted reader and her books inspire adventures, answer questions, provide hope, and do so many other things. I sent this book to a kindergarten class. I wasn't sure if they would get the literary references, but their teacher reported back that indeed they knew some of them. What surprised her was the depth of the responses from her students. They talked about how reading can take you places and about how Stella was a good role model for her brother. Read Me a Story, Stella celebrates the joy of getting lost in a book and how many things are better than that?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Whose Tools Are These?

Whose Tools Are These?
written by Amanda Doering Tourville
2012 (Capstone Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more reviews.

Community helpers are an important subject in preschool and kindergarten. We have guest speakers come to school and teach students about their occupation. In the Community Helper Mysteries series from Capstone Press, students receive several clues about a particular service job. In Whose Tools Are These?, readers are shown a large room with chairs and a worker behind a computer. I would be curious to see how many readers would know from this first photograph where it was taken. In succeeding spreads, special gloves are shown as an important part of this line of work. An otoscope, which is used to look into a patient's ear, is the subject of another photograph. By this point, most, if not all, of your students will know whose occupation is being featured. Other clues include a needle and thread for stitches, a needle for providing medicine, and a person looking at an x-ray. In the back of the book, a glossary reviews vocabulary from the text and a FactHound code is provided for further research.

This series of books will be a fun resource for community studies in preschool and kindergarten. You can use them to teach prediction lessons and for writing about community helpers. Before reading, I would create a circle map and fill out the outer circle of the map as we read the book. At the end of the book, we would fill in the inner circle. If you teach a unit on community helpers, find this series of books.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Bill Parcells

Photo courtesy of krisandapril

Bill Parcells is a Hall of Fame football coach. I was listening to a radio interview with Coach Parcells, and he was talking about the challenges faced by today's football referees. He said there were too many rules that they had to be responsible for officiating. He said there was an adage that his staff lived by when coaching and that it should be applied to the responsibilities of referees:


"Reduce the variables, increase performance." 

I thought about this and how it could apply to education. I wonder if we have too many standards that we're trying to master and end up with a "mile wide, inch deep" approach. If we focus on less and do those things really well, wouldn't we do a better job? Just my two cents.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
written by Natasha Yim; illustrated by Grace Zong
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Goldy Luck was born in the Year of the Golden Dragon, which is usually a sign of good luck. But she doesn't feel very lucky. Last year she lost her red envelope of money and her best friend moved away. On this Chinese New Year's Day, her mother has instructed her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighboring Chan family. When Goldy complains about this task, her mother explains that it is the perfect time to wash away old arguments and bad luck. Goldy goes to the panda family's apartment and knocks on the door. When no one answers, she pushes the door open and drops the turnip cakes. Not more bad luck! She goes to the kitchen in search of a broom and spots three breakfast bowls of congee on the table. With a hungry stomach, Goldy decides to take a small taste from one of the bowls. The first bowl is too watery and the second bowl is too thick and clumpy, but the third bowl is so delicious that she eats it all up. Having not slept very well the night before, Goldy decides to rest a bit in a chair. Being the wise reader that you are, you know that the third chair is the charm for our sleepy girl. Unfortunately, the chair breaks which distresses Goldy and really makes her tired. Surely a small nap will not hurt. After trying out the first two beds, Goldy finds Little Chan's futon to be just the ticket for a little rest. Meanwhile, the Chans come home to find turnip cakes on the floor. This leads to the Chans also finding a broken chair and a young girl in a futon. When Little Chan expresses his dismay, Goldy wakes up and runs out the door while apologizing. Up to this point, this book is a cute take on the Goldilocks story, but what I feel is the strength of this story is what follows after Goldy leaves her neighbor's apartment. She learns a lesson in responsibility and how luck is sometimes created by our actions.



Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas is a sweet story that teaches a lesson while being entertaining and not overbearing. It's great that you can read this book as a resource for teaching about Chinese New Year, but also talk about character traits and making good decisions. My class is working on writing opinion papers and I think this book would be a good mini-lesson for drawing out opinions about Goldy's actions. With a wonderful story and engaging illustrations, Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas would be an excellent addition to your picture book collection.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table
written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin; illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin
2013 (Readers to Eaters Books)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more links to reviews.

Speaking about his childhood, Will Allen said "We never had a car or a TV, but we always had good food. My mother often fixed enough food for thirty." Growing food was an important part of Will's young life, even though he didn't like the hard work of pulling weeds. As an adult, Will was a basketball player who spent time playing professionally in Belgium. A friend in Belgium asked him to help dig potatoes one day and he rediscovered how much he enjoyed growing food and sharing it. After finishing his basketball career, Will worked in Wisconsin in an office job and also found time to grow vegetables on his in-law's land. Wanting to find his own place, Will found a plot of land in Milwaukee that had six empty greenhouses. Could you grow food in a city where the soil was filled with chemicals and pollution? Through the use of composting, volunteers, and red wiggler worms, Will's city farm became a success after years of experimenting. Will went on to share his story and start farms around the globe.

There are so many great themes that can be discussed with this book. Volunteerism, determination, and making the most of what you have, are some of the big ideas that flow from Will Allen's work. This is a terrific book that you can share as part of an Earth Day unit or as part of a unit on character traits. I also need to mention the excellent illustrations. I really liked the background colors used by Eric-Shabazz Larkin. February is a time where many teachers like to plan biography units. Will Allen would be a great subject to share with your students.

Other Reviews:
Fuse 8

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Best Foot Forward

Best Foot Forward
written and photographed by Ingo Arndt
2013 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Freelance photographer Ingo Arndt has created a fun book featuring different animal feet and how their design is helpful to the animal. Throughout the book, there are two page spreads with a large photograph accompanied by the question "Whose foot is this?". This sets up a discussion with young readers who can make predictions about the foot. On the following page appears the answer and a block of text that is like a heading for the featured four feet on the opposite page. For example, on the page titled "Feet That Walk", you see four very different feet used for walking and climbing. Arndt's photographs are given a caption that explains how these feet work and the important features on each foot. The long-horned beetle climbs tree trunks with hairs on its foot that allow it to stick to the trunk. Elephants surprisingly (at least to me) have soft, springy feet that cushion each giant step. Other categories include feet that climb, swim, dig, jump, and a section on extraordinary feet.

I think Best Foot Forward would be a great text to use when studying the human body. By looking at animal feet, we can appreciate our own feet and their incredible design. Think about our balance and the speed that is possible when we're not still eating holiday chocolate on January 14th, but I digress. If you are teaching nonfiction in a K-2 classroom, you should also find a copy of this book.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Check out this meme at:

Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers








Last Week

Custer's Last Battle is a fascinating fictional treatment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Paul Goble writes from the perspective of a young Lakota warrior named Red Hawk. Many of the descriptions are based on factual accounts. This book was written in 1969 and has been updated this year.








The Tree Lady is a picture book biography about the life of Kate Sessions. She changed San Diego by planting trees from seeds from around the world and finding other trees that would fit the climates and sub-climates in the area. This would be a terrific companion to Miss Rumphius.





Will Allen was a basketball player who became a farmer and created a movement in growing food in urban areas. This is another excellent picture book biography about someone who used gardening to make a big difference in the world.








I don't read adult books very often, but I am working my way through this one. There are many interesting stories included here. Cassius Clay (soon to be Muhammad Ali), Wilma Rudolph, Rafer Johnson, and Abebe Bikila are featured.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Tree Lady

The Tree Lady
written by H. Joseph Hopkins; illustrated by Jill McElmurry
2013 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book reviews.

As a child, Kate Sessions liked to get her hands dirty. In the 1860s, that was frowned upon. She also liked science. For girls, that was not within society's norms. When Kate graduated in 1881 with a science degree, she was the first woman to do so from the University of California. Kate became a teacher and vice principal in San Diego afterwards. Kate could see City Park from her school and it wasn't an attractive site. Cattle grazed there and garbage was dumped. Citizens doubted trees could be grown there, but Kate thought otherwise. She sought out seeds from gardeners across the globe and went to Mexico to find trees that grew in hot, dry weather. Because of Kate's efforts and her influence on San Diegans, trees were growing in every part of the city. When San Diego was selected to host the Panama-California Exposition, leaders decided to place it in City Park, which was now called Balboa Park. Kate knew the city needed a lot more trees for this event, and she was going to need help in planting them. Through tree-planting parties and other efforts, the park became a luscious garden and Kate was anointed the Mother of Balboa Park.

As I was reading The Tree Lady, my mind kept going back to the beloved Miss Rumphius. Kate Sessions was a real life Miss Rumphius. She made a difference by making her world, San Diego, a better place. This is a terrific picture book biography that would be great to share anytime, but especially in the spring around Earth Day. I would also use it to teach character traits.

Other reviews:
The Nonfiction Detectives
True Tales and A Cherry on Top


Monday, January 6, 2014

Free 2nd grade two step math problems


I am trying out a little experiment here. I have written 4 math homework problems for my second grade class in this Google Doc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/19JwQEkx9MghSQVwtPHjsIm5r6p8oYFCdmNgGCy2Z-Y4/edit?usp=sharing

These problems fit in with Operations and Algebraic Thinking. Feel free to copy and use. Let me know in the comments section if it works for you. I'll do more of this in the future if this works. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Eat Like a Bear

Eat Like a Bear
written by April Pulley Sayre; illustrated by Steve Jenkins
2013 (Henry Holt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more links.

At first glance, eating like a bear might sound like a bit of fun. You assume that you eat a lot, including honey, and then take a nap. Not a bad life if you can have it. If this is your stance, reading Eat Like a Bear will change your point of view. First, you start moving around full time in April after hibernating and not being full for four months. When you look around, the bushes are lacking berries and there are no fish to be found in the stream. I get cranky if I can't find a Subway in 10 or 15 minutes. The bear, lacking a suburban life, settles for horsetail stems and frozen dead bison. I don't remember seeing leftover bison in the freezer case at Trader Joe's. May rolls around and dandelions and ants are on the menu. An appetizing elk calf is available in June, but it has developed strong enough legs to leave you panting and still hungry. Fortunately, trout become plentiful in the stream so life is not too bad. As the year progresses, the brown bear feasts on other items like ground squirrels, huckleberries, pine cones, and my favorite cutworm moths.

I like how the author sets up the text where students can use clues on the left side of the spread to make a prediction on what the bear will eat on the right side of the page. There are also plenty of vivid verbs which will make for an entertaining mini-lesson. Eat Like a Bear may not make you hungry in your stomach, but your brain will enjoy taking in the knowledge.



Saturday, January 4, 2014

Math problem solving freebie

I am looking for activities/strategies for solving two step word problems. I found this freebie from The Schroeder Page. It's a book mark that asks students to mark their problems by finding the question, circling key terms, etc. This is good skill that will serve students well beyond 2nd grade. Thanks, Monica!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Poetry Friday: Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter


Photograph by Dick Mudde

Today's poem is for all those who are being pummeled by winter. Even in my southern climate, we are feeling the cold in the coming days. I don't know how people live in International Falls, MN. I'm not tough enough to live there. 

Looking For a Sunset Bird in Winter by Robert Frost

The west was getting out of gold,
The breath of air had died of cold,
When shoeing home across the white,
I thought I saw a bird alight.


In summer when I passed the place
I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.


No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on a bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree.


From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn't show.


A brush had left a crooked stroke
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through.


Check out Poetry Friday at I Think in Poems.



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hello, My Name is Ruby

Hello, My Name is Ruby
written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead
2013 (Neal Porter)
Source: Orange County Public Library

There are a few themes where you can't have enough books to use for teaching. One of those themes is friendship. Hello, My Name is Ruby is the story of a little yellow bird that is seeking friends and seeking to be a friend. Ruby meets a series of birds where she has varying degrees of success in making friends. Her first encounter, with a large stork-like bird, ends up in flight. A flight with a friend is something young Ruby had never considered. She is so taken with flying with friends that she asks the next bird if it would like to go flying. This bird has never flown and prefers to walk instead. Ruby notices that there are many interesting things to see from the ground as well. During these meetings with other birds, Ruby learns that birds come in all sizes and have different points of view and interests. Unfortunately, through one unhappy encounter, Ruby also finds out that not everyone wants to be a friend. In the end, Ruby finds friends that sound and look just like her. The beauty of Ruby is that she introduces these friends to the ones she has met on her journey. She seems to have learned that friends can come in all shapes, sizes, and interests.

Hello, My Name is Ruby would be a good book to share in the beginning of the year. This is the time where new friendships can be forged with a little prodding. It's also a good reminder that it's okay to have friends that are quite different than we are.