Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Baby's First Book of Birds and Colors

Baby's First Book of Birds and Colors
written and illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher







See the cover? Yes, a nice painting of birds relaxing at a bath. Then you open the book:
 BAM! You are hit with a wave of color richer than a double chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Look at those reds! Two birds in their native habitat are featured on a plant with matching colors. In this case we have the scarlet tanger and the northern cardinal. They are perched on a summer red maple tree. The birds are named along with their gender. In addition, the name of the featured flora is on the back cover of this board book. On the orange page, you have a Baltimore oriole sitting on a fire orange azalea. The paintings are simply stunning. Wee board book readers will love the colors and seeing the birds. There's a goldfinch on the yellow page. A dynamic green parakeet on the green page. Nine colors in all are featured. If you're going to work with your child or grandchild on learning colors (and you will), this is a beautiful book in which to do so. The book ends with a sweet painting of three children playing with bird blocks. 

I really like the details of the paintings. The lines in the feathers, the leaves, and the tree bark are entertaining for the eyes. My one wish would be for purple to be included, but that's can be in the sequel. Young, young readers will bounce with joy for these birds. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Best in Snow

Best in Snow
written by April Pulley Sayre
2016 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Water seeps. Crystals feather as ice creeps.

This exquisitely photographed picture book begins with a heron standing on one leg on the snowy ground. It's like he's standing watch and waiting for the snow to come again. With the ingredients of cold air, wind, and a cloud, the skies cut loose. But it's not simply snowing. It's sailing. The vivid verbs give great detail and create visuals. The snow lands on a squirrel's nose and on a duck's wings. It highlights the shapes of the branches of a tree. Sometimes clingy, the snow is shifted and drifted by the wind. There's a glorious photograph of a tree covered in ice and snow against a blue sunny sky with puffy clouds. Speaking of ice, there are photos of crystals with feather shapes and icicles. As the temperature warms, the icicles get longer and longer. The ground gets mushy and slushy. Then another freeze arrives and the cycle starts all over again.

Let's start with the title. Clever, clever! Then you get these photographs that you just ooh and aw over again and again. The text is sparse, but conveys so much. There's a ton of science going on and that's explained in the back matter notes. And the writing. The vivid verbs and the rhyming. It takes a lot of skill to pull both of those off in short sentences. When you study weather in primary grade levels, you'll want a copy of Best in Snow.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Very Berry Counting Book

The Very Berry Counting Book
written by Jerry Pallotta; illustrated by Joy Newton
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

6 juicy mulberries






As you can see on the cover, this is a gorgeous board book. Each page contains a different illustrated berry (blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, elderberries) in a spare yet beautiful design. Obviously, you will want to read this book to practice counting, but there are other uses beyond math. For science, you are helping toddlers to learn plant vocabulary such as leaves, stems, and flowers. Grapes are in the book, so that had me looking for the definition of a berry and would be a good topic of discussion for older students. There are also a couple of berries (salmonberry, elderberry) that will be unfamiliar so you can also research that with your class or child. For writing, you can use this book to do a mini-lesson on adjectives. Words like juicy, tasty, and tart adorn the various fruits. Many kindergarten classes have food units where students try new foods. The Very Berry Counting Book could be a starting point for your child or student to be more willing to try new fruits. This attractive new board book is a luscious literary treat!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bugs!: Animal Planet Chapter Book

Bugs! (Animal Planet Chapter Book)
written by James Buckley, Jr.
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are about 10 quintillion (19 zeroes) individual insects alive at any given time. There are about 7 billion human beings on Earth. That means insects outnumber us by 1 trillion to one!

You're at a cookout. You forgot your bug spray and you haven't eaten or worn enough garlic. If you say, "There must be a million mosquitoes out here.", you may not be exaggerating. I say know your enemy! That would be chapter 9 where you can also read about flies and fleas. Now, not all insects are enemies. Many are quite helpful. For example, in chapter 11 you will read about bees and wasps. How are wasps helpful? Would you rather have a tarantula or a female tarantula hawk wasp that will dispose of a tarantula for you? I'm going with the wasp. This chapter book is loaded with insect information. It's like you are buying seven or eight picture books work of information for the price of one chapter book. That's a bargain! The first of three Bug Bites (a quick snack of facts) and two chapters of the book cover basics like anatomy, why insects are insects, and life cycles. Don't forget to pick your favorite version of the head, thorax, abdomen song to sing. From there, you'll get nine more chapters about different aspects (moving, insect senses) and species (ants, beetles, butterflies, mantids) of insects. Inside each chapter is a two page Fact File that goes further in depth with more information. Did you know about the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar? It has a chemical like antifreeze in its body to keep from freezing.
In the back matter, there is a list of 13 of the 31 insect orders in the world. Within these lists of orders, there are estimates about the number of species in the order and examples of some of those species. This is fascinating stuff!

I appreciate how crisply James Buckley, Jr. writes this book. Many of the sentences are short and there isn't any waste here. That's important when you're trying to coax a reluctant reader to take on an informational text. You can ask them to read a chapter or even a Bug Bite and have them work on retell and/or summarizing. Pieces of chapters can also be used for working on identifying main idea and supporting details. This book is something buggy that readers will enjoy.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks
written by Heather Lang; illustrated by Jordi Solano
2016 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Genie knew the more she discovered about sharks, the less people would fear them.

Eugenie "Genie" Clark saw the world of sharks differently than most people. They looked with fear while she looked with wonder. As a young girl, she dreamed of swimming with them. Later, Genie got a master's degree in zoology and an opportunity to research in the Pacific Ocean. She was hired by the US Navy to study poisonous fish in the South Seas in 1949. It was here that she encountered a large shark. This close rendezvous increased her love of these mysterious creatures. Six years later, Genie opened a lab in Florida and added a shark pen where she was the first to study sharks in their natural habitat. She even went so far as to train a pair of lemon sharks. As her work continued, she earned the nickname of "Shark Lady". Her extensive research underwater led her to discover that shark numbers were decreasing. Genie made of mission of reaching out to the public and educating people about these glorious animals in order to save them. She continued her research until her death at age 92. In the Author's Note, readers learn that Genie "published over 175 articles about fish and made seventy-two submersible dives."

What a fascinating life and book! If I were introducing the scientific method (and we all should be), I would use Swimming with Sharks as one of my resources. Genie Clark is shown always observing and taking notes. I like how pieces of Genie's notebooks are included in the illustrations. In this world of hot takes and snap judgments, I love that we have a heroine who thoughtfully studied her subject. We need to encourage this more and more. And what a great figure for a class wax museum! A student could wear a mask and flippers as they talk about Eugenie Clark's research. Swimming with Sharks is an excellent picture book biography.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Through the Gate

Through the Gate
written and illustrated by Sally Fawcett
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On Friday I stopped at our gate. 
I gazed at the old house ahead. 
Something was different. 

A young girl stops outside the fence of her new home. She sees all the flaws of the house. A drooping roof and peeling paint. Not only does the house seem broken, but her outlook on her new life as well. Everything has changed for her. As the days go by, she "plods" to school and back home. One week after moving, she notices something different about her new home. Another week goes by with slow walking to school and back. At the end of the week, again the new house looks a little bit different and the scenery is not as dark. Now, the girl's pace picks up a little and she finds things in her life to be a bit brighter. Soon, she's making new friends in the neighborhood. A classmate to walk with. A puppy to give a belly rub. And a plum tree is blooming in her yard. In no time, everything is fresh and new. Including the smile on her face.

I really like how Sally Fawcett uses shading and colors to get readers to think about mood. Through viewing the illustrations, readers can talk about changes in the main character and how setting influences a story. Through the Gate is also a good book to share to prepare your class for accepting a new classmate. Moving to a new school is scary and books like this can make the transition easier for a new student.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Bear and His Boy

A Bear and His Boy
written by Sean Bryan; illustrated by Tom Murphy
2007 (Arcade Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

"Who are you?" asked Mack, to the kid on his back.

Mack is a very busy bear who wakes up one morning to find a boy on his back. He tells the boy, named Zach, that a busy day was ahead so there was "no time to slack." In fact, Mack's schedule is "totally packed." The day starts with a plate of flapjacks. From there, Mack accepts a "Bear of the Year" plaque. After doing jumping jacks in the gym, the twosome looks at books in the library stacks. See a pattern? Each page features a word with an ending /k/ sound. They are not all spelled the same, but the sound is there. And there is something else going on here. Mack is a bear on the move. In fact, he might be a wee bit over-scheduled. Who rides a kayak and plays quarterback in the same day? Finally, Zach grabs his attention and challenges Mack to "smell the lilacs." When he follows Zach's advice, Mack learns how to relax. This is a lesson many of us should heed.

It's not easy to write a book that rhymes. It's not easy to write a picture book filled with witty humor. It's not easy to write a book with a lesson that resonates. When you do all three in one book, that's pretty impressive. If you're teaching kindergarten and working on the /k/ ending sound, you will want to check out A Bear and His Boy. If you're teaching second grade and working on finding the lesson in a book, you will want to check out A Bear and His Boy. If you want to laugh and relax for a few minutes, you should find a copy of A Bear and His Boy.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Gareth Lucas Noisy Books



Dig, Dig, Digger!
Dinos on Deck!
written and illustrated by Gareth Lucas
2017 (Silver Dolphin Books)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Camel lifts the crane cautiously, making sure not to sway.

Aren't books supposed to be quiet? Not when dolphins are working backhoes and a T-Rex is the captain of a pirate ship! On each spread of these bouncy board books, readers will be able to push a button to hear a noise that fits the setting of the book. For example, when the walrus foreman of the construction crew blows his whistle, readers can push a button to hear the sound. Even though this is a board book, I think you could use this to teach setting. You could ask students, "Does this sound fit the setting?" and "What sounds would not fit this setting?". But the books are more than sound. Gareth Lucas adds a large dollop of humor with the illustrations. Dinos play tennis with a coconut on board their ship. A pig in a hard hat jumps rope through a patch of wet cement. They're like DVD Easter eggs where you don't notice on the first or second reading, but on the third, you say "Oh, that's funny!". There's also an opportunity to work on alliteration on several pages. One page features the phrase "a busy bear bulldozes...". You can also work on shared reading as there is plenty of rhyming going on as well. These board books are quite noisy, but also loads of fun.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Woodworks Nursery Rhyme Books: Old MacDonald Had a Farm/The Wheels on the Bus

Old MacDonald Had a Farm
illustrated by Elliot Kreloff
2017 (Silver Dolphin)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher










The Wheels on the Bus
illustrated by Elliot Kreloff
2017 (Silver Dolphin)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher



You could buy a board book and that would be fine. Nothing wrong with a good board book. But what if you added transportation? Say a tractor or a bus. Have you seen a toddler with a toy car or truck? Their eyes brighten and their happiness meters go way up. Also included is a cool map that you can drive on with your tractor or bus. Old MacDonald has a colorful map that matches the verses in the song. This will crank up the vocabulary acquisition a few notches. Driving around town or the farm, there are several conversations to be had. On the farm, you drive by the cows first, so as you're singing and working on building vocabulary and phonemic awareness in your toddler's brain, sequence also comes into play. The great thing about these songs is that they're so catchy, your child will be singing them over and over again as they drive their vehicle. If you get tired of the songs, just remember how you are building the foundation for reading skills one song at a time. Driving, singing, and reading in an adorable package. Speaking of which, you could recycle your package by using it as building next to the map. This series will be a winner with the toddler crowd.





Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Rise of the Rusty Robo-Cat!

The Rise of the Rusty Robo-Cat!
written and illustrated by Mike Lowery
2017 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Mr. Kitty Flakes took all of my aluminum foil! I can't wrap up my leftover sauerkraut egg rolls. 

Yeah, it's getting pretty weird in the city so get your pencil sharpened so you can help the Doodle Adventures Society solve this case of cats behaving badly. What? You say you're just a reader and can't help? Wrong-o! It's your drawing talent that's going to save us all. Citizens from all over the city have been reporting their cats doing strange things like stealing hangers and taking light bulbs out of houses. Why are they doing this? That's a mystery that you and Agent 86B37, also known as Carl the Duck, will have to solve. But first, you need to draw a snack for Carl's pet cat Herman who seems to be the only feline that is behaving. Carl tries to capture one of the misbehaving cats, but is unsuccessful. It also seems like they are hypnotized. Fortunately, you and your artistic skills draw something that creates mud so you can follow their tracks out of town. As you track them, you find out that the cats are going inside a big fake mountain with a kitty door. Has a fake mountain ever been a good thing? What's inside the metal mountain? A giant Robo-Cat! It's driven by an evil genius cat who's speaking in a broken syntax. Quick, draw a missing part for the cat-to-human translator! Having fixed the translator with your impressive sketching, you find out this evil genius wants to build an army of Robo-Cats using old tuna cans and other materials to take over the world. Can our planet be saved? It's up to you and your sharp #2 pencil.

This third book in the Doodle Adventures series is a whole mess of silly fun. Just what I needed on a Sunday night. We talk in education circles about creating engaging activities for students and here is Mike Lowery doing just that. The humor is spot on for elementary students (and adults who never grew up) and the story has a classic hero vs. villain plot. This book could be the antidote for a reader that is having a hard time getting started independently.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ollie's Treasure

Ollie's Treasure
written by Lynn Jenkins; illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Gran knows nothing about treasure hunts!"

When Ollie receives a treasure map from his grandma, grand visions come to his brain. After all, she did say "It leads you to a treasure that can bring you happiness always." Could it be a shiny new truck? Maybe a video game or walkie talkies! Step one of the hunt instructs Ollie to find the tree with the biggest leaves and look up. When he lifts his head, Ollie sees the beauty of the blue sky. The next step leads him to the rose bushes where he sniffs a lovely smell and connects it to his grandma. This progression towards treasure also includes feeling the grass underneath his feet, hearing the splashing of water, and tasting a delectable strawberry. Throughout this adventure, Ollie's five senses have been greatly elevated. The final step is to lie on the ground and look up. He sees an envelope tied to a branch. Disappointment reigns as Ollie realizes the cardboard note in the envelope has no real material value. After throwing a brief temper tantrum, he notices writing on the back of the note. In the message Grandma asks Ollie how he felt after using each of his five senses. Stopping to think and contemplating Gran's wise final piece of advice, he realizes the greatness of this treasure.

I think this book is pretty smart. It weaves a lesson about what is really important in life through a sequence of the five senses. People like to advise us to stop and smell the roses. Well, Ollie's Treasure invites readers to use all of their senses to realize what can truly bring happiness. If I'm a preK or kindergarten teacher, I can use this book as part of a lesson on the five senses. 1st-3rd grade teachers could use it to work on finding the central message of a text. Come to your senses and find a copy of Ollie's Treasure.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bobs and Tweets: Perfecto Pet Show

Bobs and Tweets: Perfecto Pet Show
written by Pepper Springfield; illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
2017 (Scholastic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Take home this flyer to share our Big News." 
"Oh no," sighs Dean Bob. "I wish could refuse.
My Bobs will be rowdy. Noisy. Not cool. 
I worry so much when my Bobs come to school."

Dean Bob likes things neat, but his Bob family flies by their seat. Lou Tweet doesn't mind things out of place, only her Tweets want to clean every space.   Two friends who are opposite and manage to make the most of it.

It's an exciting day in Ms. Pat's class. She has brought two green parakeets, a cat named Donald Crews (not the last of literary references), an eel, an iguana, and a piglet named Pippi (told you). Why bring the animal menagerie? To announce the school's first Kid-Pet Talent Show. At first, Bob and Lou are a little blue. Bob dreads his family being too noisy while Lou envisions her Tweets arriving way early and cleaning the front row of seats. Nonetheless, both friends move forward with show plans. The Tweets offer a smooth and clean jazz number, but Lou counters with rock and roll with Pretty Kitty. The Bobs boost themselves as a backup band to Dean, but he decides to play his banjo solo with Chopper his dog singing along. His only request is for his family to behave. As Lou predicted, the Tweets leave four hours early so they can clean house in the school auditorium. A funny thing happens on the way to Bonefish Street School. The Tweets run into an unexpected skateboard ramp, built by the Bobs, while riding their bikes on Bonefish Lane. A crash ensues and the Tweets are in a heap of trouble. Fortunately, the Bobs are summoned and escort the bruised Tweets to the show. On stage, Dean Bob is a nervous wreck. Chopper is howling the tune, but he is alone as Dean can't pluck a thing on the banjo. To the rescue comes Lou Tweet and Pretty Kitty and the timid twosome changes into a pulse-quickening quartet. The Pet Show is saved!

Young readers are drawn to contrasting characters. Having whole families being opposite is even more fun. Everyone can relate to the adversarial clean and messy. I don't know too many of us who don't fall into one or the other category. The illustrations are delightful in playing up the differences. This appealing rhyming early reader (no easy feat to rhyme this much text) also carries a gentle and fun message about being a friend. We don't have to be just alike to care about one another's feelings and lend a helping hand if needed. As for teachers, Perfecto Pet Show is an opportunity to practice observing character traits, comparing and contrasting, shared reading, and working on problem/solution. Getting to know the Bobs and Tweets will be a treat for early chapter book readers.




Monday, May 29, 2017

This Book Stinks!

This Book Stinks!
written by Sarah Wassner Flynn
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

People around the world daily throw away roughly enough trash to fill ten Empire State buildings. 

A book about garbage? Initially you might think that's a stinky idea. But here's the thing: What else could you write about that affects everyone as much as this does? All of us create waste and contribute to landfills. That levels the playing field when it comes to background knowledge too, so readers of all abilities can add to discussions.

The facts presented in this book are staggering. What if you told your students that the average person throws away in food the equivalent of 120 pizzas a year? Or that a family of four wastes about $1,500 worth of food a year? More than one quarter of all fresh tomatoes in the U.S. are tossed before they are sold. But a great thing about This Book Stinks! is that it's not all about amounts of garbage. There is a lot of information about how we can make things better in regards to dealing with waste and how people around the world are doing this right now. For example, Adidas is now developing a sneaker that is made of fishing nets and recycled ocean waste. The last chapter, Take Out the Trash, is devoted to what students can do.

As a teacher, my favorite part of this book are the different formats that are used to convey information. It's like a buffet of informational text. There are terrific infographics like the spread on pages 60-61 that illustrates how much food is wasted each year. Another presents info on garbage in space. Did you know that about 14 million pounds of space junk is floating up above? Other formats include question and answer, narratives, and flow charts. This is a great book to showcase how many different ways a young writer can reveal facts about a subject.

Students (or adults) may not like taking out the garbage, but This Book Stinks! will help them see it in a whole different way.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Animal Bites: Animals on the Move

Animals on the Move
written by Dorothea DePrisco
2017 (Animal Planet)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The globe skimmer makes an 11,000-mile journey from India to Africa-the longest migration in the insect world. 

The next time I THINK I'm too tired to get up and grab the TV remote, I need to read this book and remind myself that I'm being a slacker. Animals on the Move is a celebration of animal movement that will enthrall elementary animal lovers. Color tabs guide readers through the pages. Categories that are tabbed include how animals move, why they move, and animal similarities and differences. When reading this, I'm reminded of the reference books that I loved as a child of the early '70s. Beautiful bold photographs with intriguing text that keeps you engaged for hours. Except now I can take this book home and not have to leave it in the reference section before I exit the library.  For example, on page 17 is a fabulous photo of a gnu (wildebeest) with its hind legs high in the air. Surrounding it are labels that not only point out body parts but also tell their purpose. There's a box with size facts on the left that explains how the gnu g-not its name from the sound they call out when they are busting each other with their horns. Another fun spread is on pages 54-55 where the movement of animals, that do not have legs, are featured. Walruses use their fins to move them along the ice and their tusks to pull up out of the water. Earthworms squeeze their muscles to move along. I'd make a lousy earthworm if I had to do crunches just to move. Perhaps the coolest is the sea urchin that uses its teeth to move on the coral. Those same teeth can cut out a hole to make a place to hide. That's a pretty boss move. In the back matter, you'll find activities that teach you how to build a snake snack and an in-flight snack for birds.

One of the ways I would use this book in the classroom is to teach main idea and supporting details. There are so many different paragraphs that are perfect for a J-M level reader to pull out a main idea or a supporting detail. It's also pretty good for modeling text features such as labels. You'll want to move this title to the animal section of your classroom library.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Grant Wiggins: Learning About Learning From Soccer

written by Grant Wiggins
2011 (Granted, and...)

Purposeful and effective performance thus requires three things: knowing what the bottom-line long-term purpose is, knowing ways of achieving the purpose, and knowing how to self-assess and self-adjust to achieve a purpose. This is how autonomous excellence is achieved – in any arena. Otherwise you get aimless running around and questions like “Is this ok? Is this what you want?”

I like a good sports analogy and boy, did Grant Wiggins serve up a doozie with this blog post. He compared coaching soccer with coaching learners. He talked about giving players a purpose,  how you need to give them an opportunity to practice in a game-like situation and how this links to working with learners. Click on the link above for a good dose of knowledge from the late maestro of design. 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cat Tales

Cat Tales
written by Aline Alexander Newman
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cats have so much to offer-in return, they deserve a bit of effort on our parts to understand the behaviors that so often confuse us.

As I type this, a twenty-five pound black cat is looking over my shoulder. Charlie is one of my best friends, so I was very curious to read Cat Tales. It's a collection of short stories about phenomenal felines. The book is divided into five sections (Awesome, Caring, Adventurous, Hardworking, and Curious). In each section, there are 4-5 stories about individual cats that have done something extraordinary. Moosie began life inside a wall. Once discovered, his mother and most of his litter mates had not survived. He was adopted by a military family who loved how affectionate he was. Fast forward two years and Moosie's family has been transferred from El Paso, Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska. In the cacophony of movers and boxes, Moosie disappeared. His family looked and looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Saddened, the family made the move to Alaska without Moosie. Their boxes arrived two months later and when the movers brought in the futon, there was heard a faint meow. Moosie had clawed inside the futon mattress when everyone was busy at the old house. He managed to live for 64 days without food and water. Other stories focus on the devotion of cats to humans and fellow animals. You'll find cats that surf and skateboard and one named Bubba that was determined to attend high school!

For teachers, these sweet cat narratives are the perfect length for working with small groups. Talk about engaging reading material! You can teach compare and contrast through working with two or more passages. A lesson on traits could also be taught as these cats are full of character. Cat Tales is a purrific collection of stories.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale
written by Susan Wood; illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A real turf war. It seemed McCall just wasn't big enough for everybody. 
So, what to do?

McCall, Idaho was an idyllic place. Set in the mountains with a beautiful blue lake. With that kind of setting, many wanted to live there. Humans and beavers. Humans liked it because they could enjoy swimming and hiking when it was warm and go skiing during the winter. Beavers desired the plentiful trees for building dams and snacking. Something had to give. Roads were flooding due to dams and trees were falling in backyards thanks to the beavers. McCall needed a plan. In stepped Elmo Heter. With his experience working for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Heter knew the beavers had to find a new home. He had the place picked out, but how to get the beavers there? The Chamberlain Basin was miles away and there was no road access to it. Being 1948, Heter remembered that there were plenty of parachutes in supply due to World War II being over a few years earlier. He designed a box that would stay closed until it touched the ground. Now he needed a test beaver. An old male, who Heter named Geronimo, was the test pilot. The first test was a success and Geronimo seemed to enjoy the tests that followed as he kept wanting to get back in the box for another run. The last part of the plan was to transport 76 beavers into the Chamberlain Basin. All but one of the beavers landed safely and their descendants still flourish today. More information about the relocation and about beavers are in the back matter.

What an interesting story! I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't read the book. I think this would be a great mentor text in studying problems and solutions and also cause and effect. It's very engaging as it's definitely a unique problem that was solved in an equally unique way. I really appreciate Susan Wood's note that explains why this would have been solved differently in 2017. She also shows young writers how to build a picture in reader's minds with her descriptions of McCall and the Chamberlain Basin. Also very pleasing is the beautiful landscape artwork of the Idaho mountains. The Skydiving Beavers is an uncommon true story you will want to share with others.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

125 Pet Rescues

125 Pet Rescues
written by editors of National Geographic Kids
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Rescue animals need our help. Homeless horses, cats, dogs, and other animals lose their homes when their owners can't care for them anymore for whatever reason. They need voices to speak on their behalf. They need homes!

National Geographic Kids and Best Friends Animal Society have teamed up to share inspiring stories of animal rescues. The hope is readers will not only express kindness to animals but also consider adopting a pet from a shelter. Many of the dogs in this book became therapy dogs like Peaches. She was a pit bull who was rescued from an abusive home. Peaches became a therapy dog and traveled across the country to give comfort to victims of disasters. Another chapter focuses on pairs of animals who have been adopted. Mr. G, a goat who was neglected, was safe after being relocated, but was not happy. Why? He missed his old stablemate the donkey Jellybean. Once Jellybean was located and reunited with Mr. G, the old goat was a happy goat. Other heartwarming stories are featured throughout the book. An elderly woman in North Wales had a stray kitty show up on her doorstep. The kitty, Pwdditat (pronounced Pudditat) went straight to the woman's blind chocolate lab named Terfel. Hardly ever wanting to leave her bed, Terfel is lovingly guided out by Pwdditat to move out of the bed and into the yard. 125 Pet Rescues is chock full of sweet stories like this.

So how to use this in the classroom? Students could work on main idea and supporting details as many of the stories start off with a main idea sentence. There's also plenty of opportunities to work on cause and effect. Readers will see the tremendous effects of showing kindness to animals. These stories are also a perfect size for working on creating responses in writing. Pet lovers will love 125 Pet Rescues.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Princess and the Peas

Princess and the Peas
written and illustrated by Rachel Himes
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Ladies," said Ma Sally, "if you want a chance at John, you're going to need to cook."

John wants to get married. He thinks it's time he set out on his own. John doesn't lack for admirers as he is known as being most "thoughtful and kind." His mother, Ma Sally, has some concerns. The biggest is that there isn't a local young lady who can cook as well as she does. Even though she agrees that John should start his own family, she can't stand the idea that he would be subjected to "ill-cooked meals." So Ma Sally has a plan. Any lady that is interested in marrying John needs to come to her house on Sunday evening. Word spreads throughout town. Three ladies arrive on Ma Sally's veranda that Sunday evening. They were talking about how they would be the one to capture John's heart when Ma Sally invites them in and issues a challenge. If they want to be wooed by John, they must cook a dish of black-eyed peas. The cook with the best dish will marry John. All three enter this unusual cooking contest, but all fall short. Their peas are mushy, salty, and bland. As the three ladies sulk, a surprise fourth entrant knocks on the door. It's Princess, who is "fresh out of college" and new in town. Ma Sally invites her to cook a batch of peas. With an audience, Princess shows how it's done by displaying superior knife skills. When Ma Sally takes a bite, a clear winner emerges. So Princess and John get married, right? Not so fast, my friend. Princess has "her own plans." She asks John out on a date and then wonders what skills John has. In particular, she wants to know if he can scrub pots and pans. After he finishes cleaning, Princess gives her stamp of approval.

In her author's note, Rachel Himes states, "I wanted to represent an African-American community full of vibrant individuals, each of whom has something unique to bring to the table." This is a wonderful story of family and of an admirable heroine. Princess is kind, smart, and clever. Her confidence is cool. You could read this book during your interactive read-aloud time and point out these character traits. There's even a recipe for black-eyed peas in the back matter. With her first children's book, Rachel Himes has cooked up a delicious winner.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Motor Girls

Motor Girls
written by Sue Macy
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The impact of the automobile on the fight for suffrage could not be denied.

On June 9, 1909, Alice Ramsey set out in a 30-horsepower Maxwell DA touring car from New York City in an attempt to be the first female driver to cross the United States. To compare, today's Toyota Prius has about a 99 horsepower engine.  Ramsey had to deal with many roads that were unpaved, muddy, and full of large holes filled with water due to thunderstorms. She dealt with thirty foot deep irrigation ditches that crossed roads in Wyoming. A prairie dog hole in Utah caused a break in the front axle and Ramsey changed 11 tires during the 3,800 mile long trip. After 60 days of driving, with "18 days off for rest and repairs", the crew made it to San Francisco and into the history books. When faced with adversity, Ramsey replied "There was only one thing to do. And that was to go ahead as well as we might and try to get out of it." Ramsey's journey inspired more long trips in automobiles and sent the message that women were very capable of handling this fairly new mode of transportation and the hazards that came with it.

I'm really impressed with this book. There are many threads that author Sue Macy weaves through it. First, we get to meet many "motor girls" like Alice Ramsey who would be great new additions to biography units and classroom wax museums. Additionally, they're terrific examples of positive character traits like courage and determination. Macy also leads readers through the connection between the automobile and the women's suffrage movement. Groups supporting suffrage traveled across the country, in cars, gathering signatures on petitions that would help push legislators to ratify the 19th amendment in 1920 and grant females citizens the right to vote. As if that isn't enough, there's another thread of the history of the automobile. Motor Girls is a fascinating ride on the road of American history.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Brobot Bedtime

Brobot Bedtime
written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by Scott Campbell
2017 (Abrams Books for Younger Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I cannot sleep. I have the flick-ups. Help me!

Mama Bot announces that it is time to go to bed. The little bots need to recharge by entering sleep mode. Crash and Buzz are ready to go, but little Beep leaps from bed because he has the flick-ups. What to do? If he were a human, a cup of milk might do the trick. Being a robot, it will have to be a quart of oil instead. Unfortunately, trying to drink oil while having the flick-ups only leads to soggy pajamas. Buzz has a better idea. He puts on a mask and scares Beep. This works, but now you have to deal with the residual effect of Beep being scared. Brobots Crash and Buzz try leaving the lights on, but that's a no go. Building a blanket fort to block out the light? Too hot to sleep. Set up a fan to cool off? Too loud. It's a cause and effect nightmare for the Brobots. In addition, Mama has promised a hard reboot if they don't get to sleep mode. Instead of being frustrated, the Brobots make a plan and go through the steps. All is well until one final twist.

After reading Brobot Bedtime, my teacher mind was whirring. This would be a lot of fun to use for a point of view lesson. How would the Brobots deal with homework? Recess? There are some great writing prompts that could come from looking at their point of view. Comparing and contrasting was another thought that came to mind. How does the Brobot bedtime experience compare with a human's attempts to go to sleep? Break out into partners and practice with a Venn diagram. And this story is full of cause and effect examples. The secondary title could be If You Give a Robot a Quart of Oil. Will your students enjoy this book? Affirmative!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Thank You Dish

The Thank You Dish
written and illustrated by Trace Balla
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Well, I'm thanking the alpaca for the wool, so that Auntie Amber could knit the scarf... that kept Uncle Fred from freezing when he caught the fish," said Grace.

Mama gives a big thank you to "the rain, the soil, and the sunshine" as she and Grace get ready to enjoy a supper of fish and vegetables with a slice of lemon. Their tiny Australian house is in a large field with a fruit tree, a garden, and several kangaroos. Grace thanks the kangaroos for the supper. How are the kangaroos responsible for dinner? Well, they didn't eat all of the carrots. Leo also needs to be thanked. He provided the ladder which led to Grace picking lemons from Lily's tree. The fish? An alpaca is responsible for them. Yes, I know that alpacas don't fish, but they do provide wool that Auntie Amber can turn into a scarf which in turn keeps Uncle Fred from getting too cold when he catches the fish. Grace realizes that it takes a community to make a dinner happen. When you understand what had to happen to put food on a plate, that tends to increase the gratitude level. It can also cause one to think about what it takes to produce anything and how we need to cherish all of the links in these chains.

The Thank You Dish is a great lesson in gratitude. Take time to be thankful. It's also a nice mentor text for teaching the skill of  cause and effect. I would contrast it with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Both of these books actually show a bigger picture about how nothing in life happens on its own and we're constantly in a state of cause and effect. I also think there's a discussion to be had about sustainability. We have to take care of our resources or other things might be eliminated. When you grow your own food, you see the sequence of growing and what it takes to produce food. You might think that connecting an alpaca and a fish is a bit of a stretch, but it humorously drives home the point that life is full of amazing connections. You and your class will want to connect with the Thank You Dish. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Share, Big Bear, Share!

Share, Big Bear, Share!
written by Maureen Wright, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But Bear just sighed with a dreamy grin, hugged his pail, and dug right in. 

Bear is lying down on the grass feeling very pleased with himself. He has a large silver garbage can full of berries. Life is good. Some squirrels and birds look on in envy, but Bear is too busy with his face in the berries to notice. A wise old oak tree implores him to share, but Bear's not strong with paying attention, so he thinks the oak is telling him to comb his hair. Using a fish bone, he strokes through the fur on his head. Going back to eating his berries, Bear again hears the old oak tree urging him to share. This time, Bear thinks he hears the word lair. So Bear goes to his home, takes a peek inside, and then heads back to his pile of fruit. The back and forth between Bear and the old oak continues through more words until the tree has had enough. Instead of a short phrase, the tree gives Bear a four sentence lecture on sharing. This time, Bear finally gets the message. In a pivotal moment, Bear asks the other animals to forgive him and he turns the can on its side so they all can share. On the last page of the book, lying with his back against the old oak tree, Bear shares something else with his new friends in a piece of artwork that is simply sweet.

In news that is not new to anyone, sharing is hard for young students. They need role models to show them why it's important to give to others. Bear can be such a role model. Another use of Share, Big Bear, Share, would be to use the book for shared reading. Your class will have a lot of fun reading sentences like "He plopped his rump on the smooth tree stump and popped in a berry so juicy and plump." The vivid artwork will also allow classes to work on learning how to infer. Reading Share, Big Bear, Share will bear a lot of fruit in your classroom.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur

T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur
written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls; illustrated by Katherina Manolessou
2017 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Reginald ate broccoli, Reginald ate beans. Reginald ate bowls and bowls of garlic, grapes, and greens.

Reg is a typical t-rex is almost every way. He has a loud roar, gnashes his teeth, and pounds the ground with his clawed feet. One thing makes him stand out among the dinosaur drove. Reg is a vegetarian. He prefers fruit shakes, avocado pie, and pea and spinach stew to a steak. Offering these delicious foods to family and friends, he's made fun of and frowned upon by his parents. Never having associated with a vegetarian, they choose to mock instead of understand. What's a t-rex to do? Well, how about putting on your backpack and trying to find like-minded creatures? Problem is, when you're a herbivore from a carnivore background, you aren't exactly warmly welcomed. Herbies run away from Reg instead of embracing him. Meanwhile, his t-rex family and friends have started to miss him and see the error of their ways. Regrettably, they may not be able to tell Reg they're sorry, as a massive rock is starting to crash down a cliff and take out the whole lot of them. If only there was a super strong dino to save them.

T.Veg is a superb way of showing how eating your fruits and vegetables is a cool thing to do. It's also a good lesson in accepting our differences instead of making fun of them. That's pretty valuable in an elementary school setting. Teachers can't have enough books that promote this. Many kindergarten classrooms also have units on eating new foods. This would be an excellent opportunity to introduce Reg to your students. Vive le vegetables and vive Reginald!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On Duck Pond

On Duck Pond
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bob Marstall
2017 (Cornell Lab Publishing Group)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A frog leaped off his lily pad,
Quite surprised and very mad.

It's pretty quiet at the old Duck Pond as the day dawns. Nice and peaceful. Until the ducks show up. They make all sorts of noise which is nicely described by a variety of vivid verbs. Different animals make a break for it to avoid the crashing fowls. In a captivating close-up, a frog jumps sky high off a lily pad. Both flora and fauna are "trembling" as viewed through the water. Even the narrator notices that his reflection is a metaphor for the scene as it is in pieces due to the duck destruction. And then, the pond becomes quiet again as the ducks have left. Each animal returns to a comfortable spot. The heron to her nest, the trout to "quiet pools", and the frog back to his lily pad. More critters join the previous occupants who were temporarily displaced. As he walks away, the narrator feels closer to the wild as they have all shared both the disquiet and the coming back together.

Like its predecessor, On Bird Hill, this book is a jewel of a small moment. On Duck Pond is what you take off the shelf when you want to show people of any age how to write a narrative. The text is captivating with spirited action words as the ducks land in the pond, and then soothing after the blusterous birds have exited. Matching the text in beauty is the artwork. I particularly like the different points of view as some illustrations are close up and others give a much wider view. It would be an interesting discussion to have as to why the illustrator made these choices for each spread.

My guess would be that one of Cornell Labs' goals with these books is to encourage children to observe the world around them and describe what they see. With the first two books that have been published, they're off to a superb start.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Leaky Story

The Leaky Story
written by Devon Sillett; illustrated by Anil Tortop
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Soon, it could no longer be contained. At first, there was a small trickle. Just a drip...drip...drip.

Those books on the shelf that are collecting a thin sheet of dust. Ones that you haven't touched in awhile? You might want to take a look at them. Young J.J. noticed one titled The Leaky Story as he was playing pirates on a circular rug. The book shifted and fell on its side, unable to contain the weight of what was inside. Slowly, water and letters started dripping down the wall. The word once cascaded down followed by upon a time. Suddenly, there were puddles in the living room. His mother thought she heard something, but Dad said it was only her imagination as he stared mindlessly past his toes toward the television. Then, a pirate ship and various sea creatures came out of the book. The battle was on! Mom was jousting with a pirate, using a rolling pin while Dad grabbed the vacuum hose to fend off another while the living room changed into a sea scene. Right behind J.J., a Kraken roared loud enough to disturb the neighbors, but the courageous family fought on, throwing all manner of household items to beat back the unwanted visitors. Sensing their impending defeat, the sea creatures and water meekly made their way back up the wall and into the book that had previously released them. After a group hug to celebrate, the family raced off to their next adventure.

The Leaky Story joyfully illustrates the benefits of getting lost in a book. When you can bring a couple of family members with you, that's even better. In this age of everyone going to a separate room with an electronic device, we need reminders of how reading can bring us together. Thinking about the classroom, The Leaky Story is a terrific example of small moment writing. You could also teach a lesson on sequence with this book. Avast ye mateys, The Leaky Story is a fun experience to be had!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where's the Ballerina?

Where's the Ballerina?
written by Anna Claybourne; illustrated by Abigail Goh
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

You'll soon discover how the best ballets are full of funny mix-ups, thrilling drama, and most important, huge casts of wonderful characters in colorful costumes. 

I don't know squat about ballet. I don't know a passe from a forward pass. I don't know a plie from a pair of pliers. But I really like this book. Ten famous ballets are spotlighted. Each ballet is summarized in a two page spread. It starts with a paragraph that provides the setting and some background for the story. From a teacher's perspective, I appreciate this frontloading. Then, the story is told in a sequence of 7-8 paragraphs. Each paragraph is accompanied by an illustration featuring ballet dancers. Also included is an illustrated set of main characters. That's important because each two page summary is followed by another two page spread that is a dazzling search and find based on the setting of the story. It's the job of the reader to find the characters in the search and find. They can also look for a ballet dancer and a peacock who are in all ten search and find sets. These are elaborate pieces of artwork. It occurred to me that you could use this book to talk about different types of architecture across the ages. Another cool aspect of Where's the Ballerina? is that you are introducing classic stories to students. Look at this list: Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, The Nutcracker, La Bayadere, Coppelia, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Cinderella. You're going to be smarter for having read this book. When you hear that someone is tilting at windmills or being puckish, you will get the meaning since you learned about it in Don Quixote and A Midsummer Night's Dream. That's pretty impressive for a search and find! I learned about stories I've heard mentioned all of my life, but never bothered to check out. Want another way you could use this in a classroom? How about comparing characters? There are plenty of heroes and villains in these stories.

This is such a smart way to introduce ballet to students. They will start with the search and find, but will also be pulled in to the stories. You can introduce tragedies and comedies, universal themes, and other literary terms to older students. The artwork is fabulous and could be used to teach landscapes and architecture. You will do a peppy pirouette at the possibilities presented in Where's the Ballerina?

Monday, April 10, 2017

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea
written by Kate Hosford; illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
2017 (Carolrhoda Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"James," she yelled. "This tea is horrible!"

The Queen, looking like she came from Wonderland as imagined by Maurice Sendak, is not happy. And when the Queen is not happy, nobody is happy. The problem is her cup of tea has stopped being tasty. So she and her butler James head off in a hot air balloon to find a perfect cup. When they land, a girl named Noriko greets them and mentions that the Queen is "just in time." Her kitties could use a loving snuggle. James tells Noriko that the Queen isn't here for that. Doesn't matter. Noriko says she needs to do it. A little awkward at first, the Queen finds her groove and actually enjoys the snuggle. The six selfie-like shots of the Queen and the cat are a hoot. Feeling fine, the Queen asks Noriko for a cup of tea. Noriko grants her wish, but only if she helps. The Queen manages to turn on the faucet, but that's about the extent of her capabilities. She's not used to doing anything for herself, so this is quite the triumph. While enjoying Noriko's tea, it's not the perfect cup so the Queen and James are off to find another cup. They go on to meet two other children, Sunil and Rana, and the Queen dribbles a soccer ball, dances, and helps a little more to make tea on each successive trip. Still, she hasn't found the perfect cup of tea, but now she knows what she has to do next in her search. The perfect cup of tea is found, but in a surprising place.

Is there a more universal item shared than tea? Even at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, they serve tea during the brutal winters. How the Queen is a marvelously clever celebration of this ubiquitous drink, but also of learning how to be independent and how to be a friend. When the Queen learns how to make her own tea, it's like a student who learns how to tie their own shoe. Sure, it's nice when someone ties your shoe, but it's more satisfying when you can do it yourself. Even better for the Queen, she shares her tea with her new friends. If you want to encourage your students to be more independent and friendly (And who doesn't?), invite them for this splendid cup of tea.

Friday, April 7, 2017

I Am (Not) Scared

I Am (Not) Scared
written by Anna Kang; illustrated by Christopher Weyant
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

You look scared. Well, maybe a little. Don't worry, there are much scarier things than this. 

Click, click, click. As you hear that sound, you truly wonder if you have lost your mind. The roller coaster slowly climbs higher and higher and your fears soar with it. This is the predicament the two furry creatures in I Am (Not) Scared face. As a fan of roller coasters, I think the author and illustrator have really nailed this experience. Through the two creatures, you see the stages of riding. First, there's the part where you have to pump yourself up. You have to convince yourself that this isn't going to be that bad. The two friends do this by naming things that are much scarier. Like a tub of hairy spiders. Or an alien with pink eyes and furry teeth. Or snakes. Next is the point of no return. The car rolls up and you have to get on board. Unfortunately for the two buddies, it's a car with a snake although less scary since the snake is wearing glasses. So, the now threesome face the scariest part which is making the climb up. But you know, when you have a pal beside you, it's not as bad. What follows are three spreads of visual delight that remind me of classic Looney Tunes mayhem as the three hold on for dear life. As they depart from the car at the end, the two frazzled fuzzies declare the ride to be "the scariest." But if you've ever ridden a roller coaster, you know what is going to come next.

One of the things that we try to do as adults is put on a brave face and shield our kids from fear. Maybe we do too good of a job. It's okay to be scared. By sharing this with our students, we make a connection and strengthen our relationship with them. They need to know that having fears is natural, but the lesson here is not to let fear stop us from living our lives. Life is a roller coaster, but one that needs to be ridden and with all the friends we can find. With humor, sweetness, and delightful artwork, I Am (Not) Scared is a ride we all will want to take.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Henry and the Chalk Dragon

Henry and the Chalk Dragon
written by Jennifer Trafton; illustrated by Benjamin Schipper
2017 (Rabbit Room Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Henry leaped to his feet. "I'm sorry, Principal Bunk, but I have to go. I have to save the school."

"Don't let your imagination run wild." On this day, Henry Penwhistle's imagination goes beyond that old maxim. Actually, it probably leaves the galaxy. Unfortunately for him, no one seems to understand. He doesn't fit in at school. He's picked on and seen as weird. Nobody, except for his best friend Oscar, seems to get him. And even his friendship with Oscar carries an unspoken dread. Unmotivated to go to school and please the teacher by drawing bunnies for the art show, Henry instead uses the back of his bedroom door as a canvas and creates a jungle green dragon that is "fierce and fearsome and full of fire." Okay, so what's the problem? Well, if you wake up and the door is absent a dragon, that's a problem. If the dragon is heading toward your school, that's a bigger problem. Henry races to school to track down the runaway chalk dragon and during this battle deal with other issues (communicating with adults, lack of confidence) that are monsters in their own right.

You start reading some books and you know they are going to be a read aloud hit in the classroom. Henry and the Chalk Dragon has a terrific energy to it. It moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of action to keep the reader riveted. Running parallel to the action is a great heart. We sympathize with Henry who is a reluctant hero who just wants to do his own thing and not conform to the pressures of a tedious testing school world. Young readers really connect to those characters because there is a little bit of each of them in Henry.

As a teacher, I think Henry is an excellent choice for paying attention to how characters change during the course of a book. One idea would be to create a point to point graph and chart Henry's emotions as you go through the chapters. This is also a good companion for writing poetry as one of the characters breaks out in song with heroic verses lauding Henry's actions. Similes and metaphors could also be the subjects of mini-lessons connected to this book. Other fun ideas can be found in the curriculum guide on author Jennifer Trafton's website.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon is a kid-sized chapter book saga that will enthrall those brave enough to read it.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Wonderful You: An Adoption Story

Wonderful You
written by Lauren McLaughlin; illustrated by Meilo So
2017 (Random House)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The lady in blue looked us over some more.
She liked what she saw, but she had to be sure. 

The lady in blue is looking far and wide. Carrying an unborn child, she is looking for a home. A home that will take in her daughter. A home that will love her Wonderful You. From the skies, she surveys the coastline while sitting in the curve of the moon. She sees a home in the dunes. A couple waits anxiously. They have a crib, a teddy bear, and an abundance of love. After securing a promise to love Wonderful You morning and night, the lady in blue hands off the child and travels peacefully back to her home on the wings of a bird. The new family, along with the teddy named Boo, enjoy life together as Wonderful You grows up. They ride bikes and swing high in the sky. Birthdays are celebrated and snowmen are built. Watching from afar, with a smile on her face, is the lady in blue.

Wonderful You exudes the hope and love that you wish for families. Told in lyrical rhymes and illustrated in beautiful colors like a dream, you sense both textually and visually the adoration of all of the parents involved. I've read a couple of reviews that talked about this book being overly sweet, but that's looking through the eyes of an adult. PreK - 2nd grade students will see it differently and love it. Have you ever watched a six or seven year old when they are near a baby? Wonderful You is a precious way to open a discussion about adoption.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My First Book of Soccer: A Rookie Book

My First Book of Soccer
written by Beth Bugler and Mark Bechtel; illustrated by Bill Hinds
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review book provided by the publisher

Since the foul was serious, the referee shows the player a yellow card. That's a warning that he'd better not do it again. 

The first competitive sport for both of my daughters was soccer. You're outside in the fresh air and there's a lot of running. Equipment costs are fairly low at the beginning and it's fun when the adults behave. To help introduce the sport, you can read My First Book of Soccer. It combines informational text about the game with action photos and two animated characters who add humor and give a kid's point of view. For example, on the two page spread about halftime, the characters bring gallon size bags of orange slices onto the field while making a pun. If you've been a soccer parent, you know the importance of halftime snacks.

I really like the visuals in this book. A labeled soccer field helps readers see the lined sections. This will assist when readers later learn about penalty areas and corner kicks. The photos used to teach passing show proper foot form and players in the act of passing. I can see that the creators of the book were very intentional in their choice of photographs. All aspects of the game (skills needed and rules) are covered. Even yellow and red cards are included.

One interesting use of this book in the classroom would be for students to compare the rules in the text to the rules that they use in their soccer games. There will be some difference (number of players, amount of time, substitutions) between the two. I also think this would also be a good mentor text to use when you write How-To books in class.

*I have to admit I have a bias in that Bill Hinds illustrated the animated characters. He is half of the team that created the iconic Tank McNamara comic strip which was a favorite of my childhood. Unfortunately, I may have to explain what a newspaper is to my students.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!
written by Anita Sanchez; illustrated by Catherine Stock
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Karl decided to get things organized. He planned to bring order to the chaos and give everything a clear and simple name. 

Karl's parents wanted his nose in a book. He'd rather have it in a flower or near a striped insect. How to compromise? With plants being an important part of medicine, Karl begged to attend medical school, and pass on being a lawyer or a minister, so he could spend plenty of time outdoors. As he tried to cure ailments, Karl ran into the same problem again and again. There was no consistent agreement on the names of plants. People would have several different names for the same plant. He also noticed that this conundrum applied to animals as well, so Karl set out to develop a more organized system. Dividing the plant and animal kingdoms, he created classes for plants and gave each plant and animal a name with only two parts. An important aspect of Karl's research was observation. He traveled north to Lapland to find wildflowers. Whether climbing high to gather pine cones or checking the mouth of a bat, Karl thought, "Truth ought to be confirmed by observation." In addition to his work in classification, Karl also was a teacher. The outdoors was a classroom where discoveries would literally be trumpeted in celebration. This paid off as his students went out into the world. With the help of specimens sent to him from his students, he "created a new language of science."

If you told me, "Hey, I have a picture book about the history of taxonomy", I might be classified as bloggerus runtheotherwayis. But this is a really interesting picture book biography about the father of taxonomy. I like how it's framed as a story of someone who thought differently and went against the grain. Karl is a problem solver and eager to take up challenges. I also like the extra information attached to the lovely watercolor illustrations. It could be a quote from Karl or examples of his classification work. That's like finding an extra flavor in a delicious dish of food. Karl, Get Out of the Garden would be a terrific addition to a biography or science unit.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants
written by Sandra Markle; illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Grandma's thirst stirs a memory of a dry time long ago, when she was a baby like Little Calf. 

In hot and dry Tanzania, Grandma elephant leads the herd as they search for water. The smell of water directs their path. They find water at the river and the animals already there show deference to this mass of mammals. Continuing dry conditions lead to less water in the river so the herd has to move on. The elephants dig holes in the ground and chew juicy plants, but it is not enough. At one point, Little Calf succumbs to the heat and drops. Mother elephant uses her saliva to cool off her child. A desperate measure for desperate times. Grandma's memory is leading the herd to find a watering hole from her childhood. With a loud trumpet, she signals the herd that she has found what she was looking for. At last, there will be enough water for the elephants.

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants was inspired by the story of a real elephant named Big Mama who led her herd to a new watering hole during a 1994 drought. An author's note gives details about Big Mama and several elephant facts and extra resources are also contained in the back matter.

When I think of examples for young writers to follow, Sandra Markle is one of the authors that comes to mind. Her writing has so many great qualities. For example, I would use the following sentence to showcase building more vivid sentences: "Grandma leads the way through the rosy glow of the fading day." What a visual! There's also great variety in the length of the sentences. Longer sentences are mixed in with shorter ones that are punctuated with action words in capital letters. Markle writes like a conductor leading an orchestra. Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants would be an excellent addition to your narrative writing unit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Search and Find Animals

Search and Find Animals
written by Libby Walden; illustrated by Fermin Solis
2017 (Silver Dolphin Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Under the opposite flap we hide,
Just use these pictures as a guide!

So when you open the book, you see two flaps. Like below:
The object of the book is for the reader to find those animals in the large scene that is below the two flaps. Yes, the pictures are charming and humorous and you probably picture a parent with a toddler on their knee looking inside the book. That's all well and good, but there are some sneaky deeper things going on here. Guess who is being introduced to the concept of biomes with this book? All of those animals naturally belong in that scene. Show your young learner a picture of a penguin and ask them why it doesn't fit in this scene. They may reply that penguins don't live on farms or that it is too warm in the picture. Another dropping of knowledge that's going on here? You're introducing adjectives. "What kind of donkey do you see?" When they answer "gray", that's using an adjective. Learning about using descriptors might help produce a stronger writer down the line. Want to work on motor skills? Children will be using their pointer finger to find animals in the large scene. Know what that's good practice for later? Reading. A pointer finger will come in quite handy in the near future of your little genius. Oh by the way, when you are looking for all of these items, you are also introducing a ton of vocabulary. Talk it up when sharing this book! 

The artwork in Search and Find Animals is brilliant in color and very engaging. Adults will enjoy the humor and appreciate that their child is having a great time finding the animals. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

High Frequency Word QR Code Bingo Game

When I was looking for ways to combine high frequency word study in K-1 with technology, I ran across an article on the Technology in Early Childhood blog. Using information from the article, I created a QR code bingo game that can be played using an iPad and a QR code scanner. Instead of audio files, I created video files. I would also recommend teachers create a video with directions that is linked to a QR code. Students can scan this code when they are not sure what to do. It keeps the activity independent for the student. Here are the directions for creating the game:



  1. You will need to shoot videos for the high frequency words that you want to use in this game. You can do this with your laptop. A fun idea would be to video faculty members saying the words. The videos only need to be 3-5 seconds long. After creating your videos, upload them to a Google Drive folder. Then, create a shareable link for each video and click "On-Anyone with the link". Once you have a shareable link, you can paste it into a QR code generator (http://www.qr-code-generator.com) and create a QR code. You can download the QR code and print it for classroom use. I created 3x3 tables in Google Docs and placed the codes in the tables. For this game, I used 33 kindergarten high frequency words.
  2. Create several cards (I inserted 5x5 tables in a Google Doc) that have different combinations of words. 
  3. Print the QR codes, laminate them, and cut them out for student use. Place the codes in a basket. Students will pull a QR code and scan it to hear the high frequency word. They will mark on the board when they hear a high frequency word that matches one on their card. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie
written by Barry Wittenstein; illustrated by London Ladd
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One day I'll tell my kids how long we waited for Pumpsie Green. I'll tell them how he dug his heels into the batter's box. I'll tell them how I pretended it was me, Bernard, sliding into third. 

Narrator Bernard is waiting. Waiting for his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, to have an African-American player on their roster. It's been 12 years since Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. When Papa complains about the Yankees having only one African-American on their roster, Bernard notes "It's one more than we got." While watching a game at Fenway Park, Bernard and his sister cheer when the Yankee player, Elston Howard, hits a single. Two fans promptly tell them to "sit down and shut up." When Mama and Papa turn to defend their children against the rude fans, a policeman tells them they need to "learn how to behave." Bernard now understands why African-Americans don't feel welcome at Fenway Park. He also wonders when change is going to come. Finally, the Red Sox add a player to their spring training roster. Pumpsie Green is a promising infielder who could help the team. But the waiting continues as Pumpsie is assigned to the minors when the season begins. In July, Bernard's prayers are answered as Pumpsie is promoted to the big league Red Sox. Papa and the family gather around the radio and in the eighth inning, the last major league team to integrate their roster sends Pumpsie Green into the game. It's an emotional moment in Bernard's house with shouts of joy and a few tears from Papa. Later on, Bernard's family attends a game at Fenway where Pumpsie hits a triple and the crowd cheers. After the game, Bernard stops to look at the field and remember the moment.

You get a good sense of the frustration and joy for Bernard and his family. The text and artwork work well together to give an authentic representation of the time period. Waiting for Pumpsie is a great lesson in point of view as we see the world of 1959 through Bernard's eyes. He and his family deal with racism, but they never lose hope or their love of baseball. Also important, as Fuse 8 pointed out in an earlier note about the book, Waiting for Pumpsie fills a potential knowledge gap for students. They may think everything was great for African-American baseball players after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. This picture book, especially with the author's note, will help them understand that this notion is not true.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Brobarians Blog Tour

Brobarians
written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Two seekers of high adventure, their strength and courage became that of legend. 

This is a saga worthy of History Channel treatment. Or perhaps it should be Lin Manuel Miranda's next Broadway musical. Two young warriors torn by a clash over cookies. The youngest Brobarian, Iggy, is brave. He challenges the monster grill on the patio. Animals, real and stuffed, listen to his wise words. He uses his strength to take leadership of a standing (literally) army of 6 men. Watching from the high ground is the disgruntled older Brobarian Otto. How dare Iggy take his army! This calls for a mighty mission to restore his rightful place. While Iggy has retreated away from his cave for snacks, Otto has done a most daring deed. Iggy returns to find his milk bottle, his Bah-Bah missing. Anger fills the air. Iggy scales a stump mountain, wades through the quicksand inside the turtle, and sloshes under a raging sprinkler. He approaches the camp of his rival Otto. Iggy's nemesis leaves his tent and in a brazen public display, drinks the Bah-Bah! A wail for the ages begins a mud battle unmatched by trucks. With the land being destroyed, the mightiest warrior of all appears and banishes the brothers to the warm waters and bubbles of the "dungeon of seclusion."

This is an epically epic (You need over the top phrases for books like this.) tale. Yes, it is adorable and preK-2 readers will be highly amused. But think about other possibilities for using this book in your classroom. You can talk about sequence and chart out the major events. Along those lines, Brobarians is a fantastic example of taking a small moment and expanding it. Could you use this in middle or high school? Yes!! Think about parody. This is a classic send-up of shows like Vikings on the History Channel or the movie Conan the Barbarian. Like other great sagas, let's hope there's a Brobarians 2 around the corner.