Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Twelve Days of Kindergarten

The Twelve Days of Kindergarten
written by Deborah Lee Rose; illustrated by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
2003 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the sixth day of kindergarten, my teacher gave to me
SIX fish for feeding.

I visited a group of kindergarten students this afternoon who were singing at the top of their lungs. It made my day. If you haven't spent a few days in kindergarten, you won't know that it is the most unpredictable grade in the K-12 world. It's part of what makes it so memorable. These students are new to the school environment so they are liable to try almost anything. The Twelve Days of Kindergarten does a good job of capturing this spirit. Told using the holiday song as a template, the text serves as the straight man to the artwork's funny man in this farce. For example, on the third day, the teacher gives three pencils. Pretty straightforward. But in the artwork, things are dropping which is appropriate since a lot of things drop in kindergarten including your jaw. Paper is pulled off the shelf. A jar of green paint drops out of a student's hands as he trips over another student's feet while she is creating her pencil version of American Gothic. Various facial expressions of shock abound. Each day brings a new gift for the teacher, but also a different surprise. By the end of the book, you are appropriately feeling pretty sympathetic for the kindergarten teacher. This really is a book that you want to study because you'll miss humorous details if you don't. A game within the book is to spot the Yeti-like stuffed doll that appears in each scene. The final page is a sweet tribute to kindergarten teachers everywhere.

Want to introduce character traits to your k-2 students? Use these illustrations to get insight into this class of characters without having to use text. There's a great shared reading opportunity here with singing to boot. It's almost always fun to sing with kindergarten students. Also included smartly by the author are cardinal and ordinal numbers. The Twelve Days of Kindergarten is a fun way to start the year, but I think it would be great to end the year as well. Students could write their own book as to review the year.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Grandma's Tiny House

Grandma's Tiny House
written by JaNay Brown-Wood; illustrated by Priscilla Burris
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Grandma's house stays small as the family grows. 
Will everyone fit inside this time? Who knows?!

As one grandma continues to live in her very small house, her family grows larger and larger. Staring at a wall of pictures, Grandma wonders if everyone will fit in her house. Let the counting begin! The smells of two turkeys deliciously waft in the air. At her front door stand three neighbors with four pots of greens and ham hocks. Coming up the walk are five family friends with six dozen biscuits. The counting continues as uncles come with jugs of lemonade. Aunties arrive with cheesecakes while nephews bring pumpkin pies. After fifteen grandchildren rush to Grandma, a dilemma presents itself. Where will everyone eat? With no room in the house, an adorable grandchild wearing a yellow hairband has the answer.

I'm not sure I've ever been more delighted to count to 15. Let me start near the beginning where Grandma is viewing the pictures on her wall. This wonderful text and sweet artwork brought back memories of my grandmother living in a tiny house with family pictures everywhere. Seeing everyone gathering in the house, smiling and laughing, reminded me of family meals with wonderful food and conversations. Students will make this connection as well. In the classroom or at home, you can read Grandma's Tiny House to have students write their own family version based on the book. What do family gatherings look like in the homes of your students? If you teach kindergarten, you could shorten the counting to ten for the writing. Could you use this book with older students? Yes, first and second graders would benefit from mini-lessons about parts of speech. There are many adjectives and vivid verbs to use to model good writing. Even better than making me hungry, Grandma's Tiny House brings an extra large helping of love. What could be better than that?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Take Ted Instead

Take Ted Instead
written by Cassandra Webb; illustrated by Amanda Francey
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's time for bed, sleepyhead. 
No, no, take Fred instead

For one little guy, it's time to go to bed. Trying to delay the inevitable as much as possible, he offers up his dog Red instead, as he hides under a blanket on the couch. His patient mother, resplendent in bunny slippers, patiently reminds him that "It's time for bed, sleepyhead." Hiding behind a curtain, the boy suggests taking Fred the cat. See the pattern? If your name ends in -ed, you're going to be a candidate for taking his place in having to go to bed. Older brother Jedd is too busy reading. Action figure Zed needs to spend his evening in the toy chest. Neighbor Ned is sipping his evening coffee and a little too old for Mom to tell to go to bed. And Ed the fish better not leave his bowl. Which leaves us with one final candidate. Giant stuffed bear Ted is the perfect replacement. But Mom, as moms are want to do, gives an excellent answer as to why Ted can not head to bed by himself. So the boy succumbs to Mom's superior wisdom. The last picture is a sweet surprise and the perfect ending to the book.

If you're going to create a bedtime picture book, it helps for it to have certain qualities. First, you want the artwork to be adorable. Look at the cover and the spread below. Check that off the list. Second, if you have a rhyming pattern, that's going to promote interactivity with the book and better engagement. Another check on the list. Third, it helps to have a dose of humor. This isn't a gut busting book, but you really don't want that in a bedtime story. The humor is sweet which is just the right dose. Finally, having to go to bed is a universal concern so Take Ted Instead will easily connect to your young reader. Can I be the bearer of some good news? This book is a super slumber time choice.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Treat Yourself!

Treat Yourself!
written by Jessica Siskin
2017 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Even if you're not the stereotypically crafty type, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to make a really cool-looking and delicious tasting dessert.

So here's the dilemma: You want your child to work on reading and math over the summer, but you also want them to relax a little and take a break from school-like activities. Here's one solution: Engage them in an ultra fun activity that requires reading and math skills and they get to post it on social media. The kicker is getting to eat the fruits of their labor at the end. In Treat Yourself, ninety-three different ways to have a lively, ooey-gooey crispy rice good time are presented. There's no baking involved, but plenty of krispy goodness. Starting off, I wouldn't skip the introduction from author Jessica Siskin aka @mister_krisp. It's a big batch of encouragement for young people to pursue their dreams and take off with their imaginations. There are way more people in our lives who encourage us to stay in the box, so it's nice to have a voice that says go for it with your creativity.  Following the introduction is a short explanation page for how to use the book and another four pages with the basic recipe that will be the base for your creations. A sequence of pictorial steps for making it is also included. There are a lot of opportunities for sneaky learning here. You have to read a procedural text and comprehend. Math skills will be needed for making sure you concoct the proper amount. One hint: You'll want plenty of cooking spray on hand. Other pages in the beginning section include tricks, troubleshooting tips, and special decorating ingredients. After that, the bulk of the book is the ninety-three recipes in alphabetical order. From apples to zebras. Want something for a holiday? It's covered here from flags to trees to turkeys. Watching a big game? Many sports are represented in the recipes. How cool would it be for your child to make a wedding cake treat for a relative's bridal shower? So many ideas here. Each recipe has a sequence of pictures to guide you and the materials and equipment needed to make the treat. The back matter of the book contains resources, FAQs where the author is candid about gluten free and vegan possibilities, and some cool conversion charts.

I think Treat Yourself! is a book for all seasons, but it screams summer to me. If you have time at home with your kids, this is definitely a fun activity. That doesn't mean you couldn't try this in a classroom. I've worked with many brave moms and dads who would be willing to work with students at a holiday party/science center. Think about a unit on rocks and how elements (heat, water) shape them. Studying friction? This would be an interesting way to tackle several science topics. Treat Yourself! is packed with plenty of hands-on learning enjoyment.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Piece By Piece

Piece By Piece
written by Stephanie Shaw; illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

At night she wove the day's bounty into cloth. It was rich. Exquisite. Unique.

A kind weaver places unusual memories from a trip to the seaside into her basket. The springiness of moss and the leap and splash of a fish. With her children fast asleep, she magically weaves these and other memories into lovely cloth. When her children ask where the cloth came from, she responds with more unexpected items like the sweetness of a puppy and the breath of a hot air balloon. Using her unique bolts of cloth, she weaves a beautiful dress that includes dragon scales and a pirate's sash. The weaver hopes to sell the dress so her family can afford basic necessities. When she shows the dress to a shopkeeper, he pooh-poohs it. He tells her to remove the shimmer of the starlight and candle glow if she wants to sell the dress in his shop. The weaver acquiesces and changes the top. When she returns, the crotchety shopkeeper demands more be removed. Gorgeous items like the coo of a dove and the scent of chocolate and cinnamon fall to the floor as she cuts again and again. Soon nothing is left but a small piece of fabric that catches the tears of the weaver. Of course, now the shopkeeper wants nothing to do with the weaver's work. Fortunately, fairy tales have a happy ending. The children, unbeknownst to their mother, kept all of the pieces that were removed from the dress and created a fantastic quilt. Anxious to buy the quilt, the shopkeeper is told by the weaver, in a nice way, to talk to the hand. As she tucks her children under the amazing quilt that night, the weaver tells a story as her hand moves across this special patchwork. The ending spread reveals a dream fulfilled without a prince in sight.

Piece By Piece is a lovely twist on a fairy tale. There's no royalty around, but you will find magic and good vs. evil (or maybe just mean). When the weaver describes her cloth, the adjectives flow, but it's not all about pretty objects. It's a nice touch that she includes sounds like the squishing of mud between the toes and the kiss of the sea on the shore. One of the lessons I pick up here is there is more to life than shiny things. You also see a family that follows their dreams.

Similes abound in this book. There are several language mini-lessons you will be able to create. As you see below, the artwork is outstanding and quite fairy talish (Is that a word? It is now.) I would also find a copy of The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy and compare the two books with a Venn diagram. Both include a strong emphasis on family. Add Piece By Piece to your collection of fairy tales. It's a piece of magic.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices

A New School Year
written by Sally Derby; illustrated by Mika Song
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Now I have to learn everything
all over again.
What if I make a mistake?

Six children, one for each grade level of K-5, share their concerns, hopes, and observations in the form of alternating short monologues as they prepare to start the school year at J.W. Riley Elementary. It's the night before the first day. Clothes laid out on his bed, kindergartner Ethan puts his stuffed bear's blue jacket in his pants pocket for a feeling of security. First grader Zach is worried about starting over in a new class and with a new teacher. Katie, a second grader, didn't get the teacher she wanted. And he is a Mr. and not a Miss or a Mrs. Kneeling at her bedside, third grader Jackie says a prayer of thanks that she didn't have to move. She also asks God for her teacher not to be bothered that she has to be in class an hour early so Mama can go to work. Carlos wonders if he'll make any friends in fourth grade. His father gently tells him not to worry about the "what ifs" that are constantly in Carlos's mind. Unable to sleep, fifth grader Mia is deciding whether or not to wear a ponytail that will show the hearing aids that are in her ears. Three more sets of narrative poems, for the morning, at school, and after school, share how the day progressed for each student.

I think this is my favorite back to school book of all time. As a teacher, this is what I need to read a few times as I prepare for the new year. It raises the empathy meter way up. These stories pull at your heart and are so true to the voices of children. I know because I've heard many children comment at the beginning of school that they got the "man teacher", meaning me, in second grade. I have taught all of these children at one time or another.

A New School Year would be a great choice for a Reader's Theater performance, but I want you to also consider it for a writing activity in 2nd-5th for the first week of school. After reading the book, ask students to write about how they felt the first day of school. You need to write and share as well because that will make a huge impression on your students. I would even ask parents if they would like to volunteer to share their thoughts.

I was really touched reading A New School Year. This book is simply wonderful.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pink Lion

Pink Lion
written and illustrated by Jane Porter
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One day, a growling gang bounced by. 
"It's a PINK lion!" they said. 
"Living with a lot of BIRDS!"

Arnold the lion is living the dream. Loved by his family, he eats great food and plays games with them at the water hole. Okay, so he's a lion living with a flamboyance (Yes, I googled it.) of flamingos. But he's happy. Until a pride of lions, who are quite proud, show up at the water hole. They question why Arnold is not part of their family. Confused, he looks into the water and notices that he does look like the other lions. The pride invites him to join them for lots of roaring and hunting. Arnold agrees, but soon finds out that he is not much for running fast and cleaning himself with his tongue. And roaring? All Arnold can muster is a meager "Squork." He decides he isn't cut out for the lion life. When he returns to his flamingo family, Arnold discovers that a mean crocodile has taken over the water hole. Suddenly, his inner lion makes an appearance. The mighty roar startles the crocodile and it also calls forth his fellow lions. With the horrid croc chased from the premises, Arnold's cousins discover that there are advantages to a flamingo life.

First of all, one of the most adorable book covers you will ever see. Bar none. It's just as engaging on the inside as well. This is also a story that would be a great read aloud for a lesson on being yourself. That is SO important in the K-2 world. There is a large amount of dialogue in Pink Lion, so it's perfect to convert into a Reader's Theater script for working on fluency. Another use would be to compare Arnold and his lion cousins using a Venn diagram. No lion, this book will charm your socks off.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Autumn: A Pop-Up Book

Autumn
created by David A. Carter
2017 (Abrams Appleseed)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Who nibbles the water plants?
Who builds their homes with logs?



Third in a seasonal series of pop-up books, Autumn is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. A giant pumpkin leaps forward and a vine springs upward. Jumping to the right is a smaller, mostly green pumpkin. Laying on the left is a butternut squash. Lift it up and you'll see a star-nosed mole. The pop-ups are definitely the stars of the show, but I was also delighted with the variety of flora and fauna in the surrounding drawings. For example, around the pumpkin in the distance are bison, sandhill cranes, and a pear tree. A black widow hides behind the pop-up leaves of the pumpkin. There is so much here that you can talk about! Open the next spread and an oak tree, covered with acorns and two blue jays, lifts into the air. Falling yellow and orange leaves are attached by string. Behind the tree are wild turkeys and river otters. I love the levels in the landscape with mountains in the farthest distance. In the bottom left of each spread, descriptive sentences are interchanged with questions that prompt the reader to interact with the book. Perhaps my favorite pop-up is a grove of aspens with bright yellow leaves fronted by a moose. Opening the pages was definitely an "ooh-aaah" moment. It was like watching pop-up fireworks.

Toddlers will love the beautiful colors and touching the edges of the detailed plants that pop up. Adults will love the variety of plants and animals and the chance to build vocabulary with their young reader. A gorgeous visual representation of the season.

Monday, July 10, 2017

K is for Kindergarten

K is for Kindergarten
written by Erin Dealey; illustrated by Joseph Cowman
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

C is for crayons and coloring
How creative can you be? 
Glitter, scissors, paste and yarn-
Make some art for all to see!


Future kindergarten students are probably in two camps in the last weeks leading up to their start of K-12. They're either super excited or a little anxious about this big event. Either way, K is for Kindergarten will be a splendid way to help them prepare. Since there are many books about beginning kindergarten, what sets this book apart from the crowd? First, writing the book with the alphabet as a template will catch the eye of students and their parents. Learning your letters is a big deal for the first year of school. Still, other books may have rhyming quatrains and incorporate the alphabet. What I think is a bigger deal are the tips and activities that accompany every two page spread. This is a very clever and helpful idea to integrate with the rhyming lines. For example, with the letter D, a game called Hidden Treasure will help children work on following directions. With step by step instructions, they get to direct a family member or friend to find a hidden object in a room. How much better is that idea than simply telling a child to follow directions in school? You are illustrating the importance of following directions through the use of a fun game. J stands for jitters so the activity is to have a family member draw a picture of what kindergarten was like for them. They compare their picture to what the incoming student has drawn. The two can compare and share how they feel about kindergarten. This book is full of ideas that will help prepare children for this important step. Another big plus is the artwork. It's fun, colorful, and full of diverse characters. These illustrations bring back fond memories of the times that I have worked with kindergarten students.

As a teacher, I think July is the perfect time to find this book. I like the idea of easing students into the path towards starting school. Spend a little time each day and maybe share one letter at bedtime or during the day. The activities will certainly be a benefit. K is for Kindergarten is a great way to kick off a landmark year in a child's life.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Little Pig Saves the Ship

Little Pig Saves the Ship
written and illustrated by David Hyde Costello
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the first day without his brothers and sisters, Little Pig had a lot of spare time. 

Little Pig's brothers and sisters are going to sailing camp for a week, but he is too small to join them. His downcast face and shrugged shoulders have to stay home. Little Pig's oldest brother gives him a piece of rope and a book of sailor's knots with which to practice while his siblings are away. On the bright side, Grandpa and Poppy have come over to show him the little ship that Poppy has started making for him. What ensues is a week of ship building and sailing fun for Little Pig and Poppy. One line of text at the top of each page moves the story while cartoon bubbles provide the conversation between Little Pig and Poppy. They finish the boat on Sunday and sail it in a stream the next five days. The big adventure finishes with a flourish on Saturday when a gust of wind blows the ship downstream. With the water being too deep, Little Pig watches from the bank as Poppy valiantly tries to catch up to the boat. As the little ship approaches a bridge, Little Pig remembers his brother's admonition and puts his rope into use to become the hero. Now he has a story to share with his brothers and sisters.

This is a sweet story where the smallest character is the hero. It's a classic underdog plot that is extremely appealing to young readers and writers. Speaking of writing, the Saturday sequence would be a fine text to mentor writers who are learning to write small moment stories. The cartoon bubbles provide another teaching opportunity. What's great about the sparse conversation is that it contains boating vocabulary (Four points off the bow; Batten down the hatches!). Some sponge-like brain in your class will ask about the terms so now you can talk about new vocabulary. I would even mention that pirates could have used these terms. Yet another fun classroom idea would be to use this book to work on learning the days of the week. Little Pig will sail into a harbor of kid appreciation as a classroom read aloud and/or bedtime story.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Murphy's Ticket: The Goofy Start and Glorious End of the Chicago Cubs Billy Goat Curse

Murphy's Ticket 
written by Brad Herzog; illustrated by David Leonard
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The story began with a bump in the road,
and that goat in the back of a truck.
Who would believe that this was the start
of Chicago Cubs baseball bad luck?

Do you believe in curses? Many Chicago Cubs fans certainly did. And it all started with a goat. Wandering through the streets of Chicago, the infamous goat was adopted by tavern owner Billy Sianis (On a side note, the tavern was immortalized in the Saturday Night Live skit with the phrase "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger".) Sianis came to love the goat and named him Murphy. He even wore a goatee and took on the nickname Billy Goat. On October 6, 1945, Billy had two tickets for the World Series game between the Cubs and the Tigers. One ticket for him and one for Murphy. They marched around the outfield and Murphy found the grass to be very tasty. After being cheered by the fans, they went to their seats. An attendant said Billy was welcome but Murphy would have to leave Wrigley Field. Being highly offended, Billy left with Murphy and announced "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more!" Just another angry fan. No big deal, right? Well, the Cubs, who had been up 2-1 in that World Series, went on to lose it. The next year, they fell to sixth place. As the years went by, the Cubs became known as lovable losers. In 1969, they were in first place for most of the season, but went on to lose 17 of their last 25 games to plummet out of contention. Did the black cat that ran onto the field carry on The Curse? 1984 brought on more heartbreak as a first baseman's error helped deny the Cubbies a spot in the World Series. Perhaps the most infamous moment was in 2003 when an overanxious fan interfered with a Cubs outfielder in the National League championship series and it all went downhill after that. It seemed the Cubs would never visit the World Series again, yet alone win it. Fortunately for them, everything was reversed last November when they won Game 7 and became World Series champions. The legacy of losing was lifted.

Murphy's Ticket is an entertaining retelling of a classic American sports story. The rhyming of the second and fourth lines of each quatrain add several degrees of engagement for young readers. In a small group, I would use small sticky notes to cover up some of the fourth line words to work on phonemic awareness and prediction. This is also a terrific book to use for distinguishing between fact and opinion. Was the curse a fact or simply the opinion of long suffering Cubs fans? I also need to mention David Leonard's artwork, especially his drawings of Billy. The vivid facial expressions are delightful. This piece of baseball history makes for an enjoyable picture book for sports fans young and old.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2018

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2018
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's a blob. It's a ball. It's a pleurobranch! A mysterious purple orb discovered in the Pacific Ocean has stumped scientists. 

This is like a candy store for informational text. Instead of the barrels being filled with chocolate and peppermints, they contain facts from around the globe and about a wide variety of subjects. You start with a preview of 2018. Did you know the Winter Olympics are coming up? In February, the quadrennial frozen sports extravaganza will be hosted by South Korea. Photos of ski cross and luge will get you ready. In the following section, Awesome Exploration, you meet adventurers who explore high and low and you can participate in the Newsmaker Challenge including choosing a shark for inclusion in next year's almanac. The teacher in me appreciates the More for You feature at the end of each chapter. This feature focuses on activities that will help students with skills like writing an essay, a letter, and presenting an oral report. I also like the variety of chapters in this almanac. The authors are people who know what students want. A chapter about animals includes information about wild cats and dinosaurs. You can't go wrong with a photo of a cat wearing a tiara. Kids also care about the world around them so when you have chapters about taking care of the environment, the wonders of the natural world, and space, that's going to be a winner. Today's students are also fascinated by technology, so why not have a chapter with robots, cars that sail, and an underwater plane. Hot topics like drones and 3-D printers are also spotlighted. It's great that there's also a nod, in the form of a timeline flow chart, to the life and work of George Washington Carver. My favorite part of the almanac may be the last chapter, Geography Rocks. The world map and the maps of the continents are superb. You also get brief fact overviews, complete with flags, of all 195 countries and the 50 states.

A big reason why I would want a copy of this almanac? Think about reluctant readers. The student who can't seem to find anything to interest them. What better chances would you have to find something for them than with a book that has such a wide variety of subjects like this? Plus, it could serve as a gateway to further reading if a student finds an interest. You could also use this book to work on differentiating between fact and opinion. If you like informational text, having the Almanac 2018 is like being a kid in candy store.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Can An Aardvark Bark?

Can An Aardvark Bark?
written by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins
2017 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Can a porcupine whine? Why, yes, it can! Lots of other animals whine too.

My first thought is Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins together? On their own, both have contributed mightily to children's nonfiction literature so when they combine their talents, the book becomes a must read. An intriguing question for the title? Hmm, never thought about the noise that an aardvark makes. Now my curiosity is at a high level and I really want to dig in. Plus, how can you resist a book with an adorable aardvark on the cover? So I open the book and get a full length view of the aardvark with the details that make Jenkins a big favorite among readers of all ages. Up top, the title question is on the left side of the spread and a response on the right side in a larger font while in the bottom left corner is additional information in a smaller font. With the rhyming of the large font question continuing throughout the book (Can a wild boar roar? Can a giraffe laugh?), we have a pattern that says "Big time fun shared reading ahead." K-1 students will love reading along and viewing the artwork. You could also cover the right side and have students predict whether the animal can make that sound. The smaller text will feed the appetite of animal enthusiasts who want more information. After you learn about the feature animal, the next spread highlights four other animals who make the same noise. There are eight feature animals in all. Add four animals that support each lead animal and you have forty animals in all.
Now you have an opportunity to work on building categories and making graphic organizers. Divide your class into eight groups and create bubble maps for each sound. Another bonus? Each of the paragraphs that accompany an animal is a great opening to work on cause and effect. Why does the animal make that sound? There's always a reason. On the final spread of the book, all of the spotlighted sounds are combined so readers can practice their animal communications. Beside being loads of entertainment, this will help them connect to the information previously presented. 

Whether you have to bark, grunt, growl, or bellow, do what you have to do to add this book to your classroom collection. With so many possible uses, it will be a valuable addition. 

You should also check out Melissa Stewart's Clubhouse for more science resources. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Seashore Book - 25th Anniversary

The Seashore Book
written by Charlotte Zolotow; illustrated by Wendell Minor
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

We sit at the edge of the water and build a castle of wet sand until the waves wash up and suck it back to the sea. The cold water makes your skin feel like peppermint, and you are tired.

It would take me about three hours to drive to the Atlantic Ocean. My family and I have taken many trips over the years. The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean is something that I take for granted. Talk to a classroom of children in my area and I bet you will find several who have never seen the ocean. For any child that has not experienced the wonders of a day at the beach, The Seashore Book should be shared with them. In the book, a young boy, a mountain dweller, has never seen the sea. His mother takes it upon herself to describe the experience. Early in the morning, the mist changes colors several times before the sun comes shining through. When you dip your hands into the water, you will find shells and maybe a small animal like a clam.
Building sand castles and watching gulls overhead are part of the adventure. As you lay down on a towel early afternoon, the sound of the waves puts you to sleep and sandpipers race by you. Later in the afternoon, you parry with small crabs and see a small airplane fly low overhead. The wind starts feeling cooler and the sun begins to set. 

The writing in The Seashore Book is like a master class in how to describe a place:

The wind is getting cooler. Long purple streaks of clouds are forming in the sky. The fishing pier we pass is white as a snowfall with hundreds of crying seagulls waiting for the fishing boats to come in when the sun sets.

I recommend using it to talk about setting and how good writing can create visuals for a reader. A mini-lesson on similes (claw prints like pencil lines in the sand) can also be taught from this book. I also really like the illustrations with detailed animal drawings and beautiful landscapes. Transported by gorgeous writing and artwork, The Seashore Book is a delightful day at the beach. 



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

First Celebrations Board Books











Birthday Counting
Parade Colors
written by Barbara Barbieri McGrath; illustrated by Peggy Tagel
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The First Celebrations series of board books serve as an introduction to widely celebrated days in American culture. Celebrations featured include birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, July 4th, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day. These books have readers practicing counting and naming colors and shapes. In Birthday Counting, readers count down from 5 to 1 as they read about different items (a pinata, candles, presents, balloons, and treat bags) at a birthday party. In Parade Colors, a big parade is an occasion for learning colors. A big red fire engine starts the parade. A drummer is holding orange and yellow drumsticks. Uncle Sam juggles three green balls. Kids hold blue stars and a police officer rides a brown horse. Bright colors abound in this festive board book.

Both of these board books are bursting with colors. Toddlers will delight in the friendly illustrations and the interactivity provided in the text. They will be pointing left and right at different items. These are terrific introductions to important days on the calendar. 


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Busy Builders Series














Busy Builders
written by Katherine Sully, Chris Oxlade, Timothy Knapman; illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
2016 (Silver Dolphin)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Welcome to the construction site! These workers are going to build a school. Everyone has an important job to do, and the right skills to do it.

Busy Builders is an interactive series of books that I think PreK-1st grade students will really like. All of the materials come in two boxes that also serve as the site for what you are building. The outside box unfolds to provide the grounds of the site while the inside box stands on the spine of the unfolded outside box, providing more scenery. This is a good lesson in recycling as the packing materials are continually used. There are 48 model pieces that will be put together to complete the site. With the Construction Site kit, you are building a school so some of the pieces add to the road. Other pieces will make a school clock, traffic cones and signs, construction equipment like a bulldozer, a digger, and a dumptruck. More pieces will allow you to make stand-alone construction workers and a site dog. All of these materials surround the centerpiece of the kit which is a 32 page book full of informational text about a construction site.

The information is presented in sequential order and includes subjects such as Preparing the Ground, Mixing Machines, Bricks and Mortar, and Power and Water. The last part of the book includes directions for putting the pieces together. I love, love, love that a fun model kit and an informational text came together like syrup and pancakes. This is a great combination! Check out the labels and detailed illustrations in the picture above. There is a ton of new vocabulary (rebar, cables) that is supported by the engaging art work. If you are looking for gift ideas for a PreK-1st grade student, these Busy Builder kits should be something you consider.  They would also make a nice center/inside recess station for a K-1 classroom. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper
written by Anastasia Suen; illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Down, down, down!
Bars of steel.
A building's bones 
Make it real.

From the ground up, this is a terrific book. It explains, in sequence, how skyscrapers are built. On each spread, there are two sets of explanations of each step. The big bold print in the upper half is a quatrain with the second and fourth lines rhyming. This will be great for shared reading for a whole K-1 class or a small group. On the bottom half, there is a smaller print that is more like an informational text for older readers.
I like how the different texts target a wide range of readers. Plus, there are labels and inserts that add details and show how pieces fit. These touches show that author Anastasia Suen is well aware of the needs of her audience. Ryan O'Rourke's art work is eye catching with bright colors and sharp lines that add to the reader's understanding. I love the end piece which is a foldout of the skyscraper. In addition, if you click this link, you can print pages to make a flip book of the building of the skyscraper.

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper takes a subject that is intriguing to students yet difficult to explain and makes the explanation engaging and simple to understand. That is not easy. Did you know how skyscrapers are built? I had a general idea, but this book helped me fill in a lot of missing pieces. Kids will love sharing the details they learn with their friends and parents. For very young readers who like buildings and transportation (and there are many!), I can see the quatrains being repeated often as a bedtime read aloud. This book is also good for a social studies unit on cities and comparing them to rural areas. For the students that I work with, this is a valuable resource as most of them have never seen a skyscraper. Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper is floors and floors of fun informational text.

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.