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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Animal Planet: Baby Animals

Baby Animals
written by Dorothea DePrisco
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A bunny's nose has more than 50 million receptor cells. (Human noses have 6 million.) 

Must not do it. Can't say it. Have to hold back. NO, NO, NO, here it comes: "AWWWWW". I tried, but the cuteness bowled me over. A photo of a St. Bernard puppy will do it every time. But cuteness will only take you so far. You need to drop knowledge in an interesting way that will satisfy young readers, parents, and teachers. Baby Animals brings it. Each spread starts with a summarizing paragraph in larger font that's a good fit for late first grade to second grade eyes. Then you get a mix of more in-depth fact boxes and text features accompanied by engaging photos. Sections are tabbed by what is featured. A dark green tab is attached to a spread that shows ways in which baby animals grow and learn. For example, Making Changes focuses on how animal features change as they age. The blue eyes of a bobcat kitten will turn green or brown when they are adults. A light blue tab spotlights habitat facts. Other tabs show ways people interact with animals and how animals adapt to their environments. A yellow tab means a single animal is the star of that spread. A large photograph with labels bring out facts about the body of the animal. Red panda cubs have flattened teeth that help them chew bamboo. They even have a thumb-like growth that allows for better gripping of bamboo and other food. A fact box called Info Bites gives their animal group and location. For fun, there is a check-off box. One box asks if the red panda is a candidate to invite over for a sleepover. They do sleep for over half the day, but where they sleep is high in a tree so you will have to stick to seeing them in your dreams or on the page.

Baby Animals is a bite-sized buffet of animal facts and photos that PreK-2nd grade readers will throw their arms around.  My favorite section of the book is a flow chart about the pet adoption process.This would be a good mentor text for creating nonfiction posters or learning about text features. Exposure to these kinds of books helps to produce a respect and love of animals. Now more than ever, we need conservation minded citizens.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! DOOM!

Ella and Owen: The Cave of Aaaaah! Doom!
written by Jaden Kent; illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk
2017 (Little Bee Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

And when fire-breathing dragons sneeze, you had better run for cover....

Pickled-fish popsicles. Ogre toenails. Evil wizards made of vegetables. Ingredients for a bubbly brew? No, more like components of a highly enjoyable early reader. Owen the dragon has a bad cold. All he wants to do is stay in bed and read, but it's a little dangerous in his room since he breathes fire when he sneezes. So how do you cure a cold? Chicken soup and rest? Ella, Owen's sister, has a better idea. A trip to a secret cave where she says a dragon wizard has the answer to what ails Owen. With the opportunity to collect ogre toenails, Owen is persuaded to leave the safety of his room. Ella tends to fly by the seat of her scales, so she doesn't reveal that their destination is named Aaaah! Doom! Along the way, they meet a sprite and a dragon eating ogre who nearly makes a meal of them. Fortunately, the ogre share a common fear with a famous monster which allows the dragon duo to escape. Once in the cave, they encounter two truly weird villains. The first one has fangs and smells of breakfast. A thousand guesses probably would not have revealed that it is a Wicked Wizard Waffle. Not foiled by a vat of maple syrup, instead it takes an off key version of a holiday classic to thwart this creepy cake. I've seen strange sightings in late night breakfast restaurants, but nothing tops this. Except for a large pat of butter. The second bizarre bad guy the fire spewing siblings confront has a broccoli body with celery arms and carrot legs. It is the dreaded vegetable wizard Orlock Morlock. Will the young dragons escape his cauliflower clutches?

Reading Ella and Owen will be a hilarious ride for early chapter book readers. The imaginations of Jaden Kent (Tom Mason+ Dan Danko) run wild to the benefit of all of us. Why have a cardboard scoundrel when you can have a menacing breakfast entree? Continental hotel breakfasts may never be the same. This new series promises more danger and delightful oddball humor in future books.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Animal Ark

Animal Ark
words by Kwame Alexander; photographs by Joel Sartore
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Chorus of creatures
Singing our names
See what we can save - together

National Geographic and photographer Joel Sartore have undertaken an epic project called Photo Ark. He is visiting zoos from around the world to take photographs of all 12,000 captive animal species. Hopefully, after visiting the Photo Ark, people will be motivated to take action to help endangered animals. What if you wanted to add text to further energize this effort? You team up with Kwame Alexander and create a book called Animal Ark. The book opens with a gatefold that features over two dozen animals including a koala, a pangolin, and a seahorse photographed against black and white backgrounds. Two more similar gatefolds later appear in the book. Full page photographs, accompanied by haiku woven throughout, follow the gatefolds. The artwork and text work together to connect the reader emotionally to these animals. Seeing them in close-up fashion and reading the poetry drives home the point of our species needing to do something to preserve those who are near extinction. When you see a photograph of a lemur, curled up in a ball, with the words embracing wonder above its head, you understand that we have a responsibility to help. Near the end of the book, a beautiful Malayan tiger is spotlighted in a two page spread with this powerful haiku accompanying it:

Grandfather of the hunt
Fierce and Fast
And favored, forever?

That last line is haunting and will hopefully spur readers. The back matter is similarly persuasive with essays from Kwame Alexander and Joel Sartore. Also included are thumbnails of all of the animals featured in Animal Ark with an IUCN listing that categorizes according to geography and conservation status.

Definitely include Animal Ark in your study of poetry. Its combination of persuasive text and gorgeous photographs makes it a terrific book to share with your class.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shh! My Brother's Napping

Shh! My Brother's Napping
written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

He's very noisy when he sleeps.
His mouth hangs open wide.
But Mommy has forbidden me
from putting things inside.

Life's not fair when your fussy younger sibling is finally asleep. The Rules triple during this time. Mom says you can't put anything in his mouth while he's asleep. How about the premiere performance of your pots n' pans orchestra? Are you kidding? Mom's not playing around when your brother is asleep. Painting and reading can be pretty passive pastimes to pass the time. Unless you're told not to paint your snoozing brother's face or you encounter a scary book that makes you run. What's a big brother to do? Play blocks. That's a quiet activity. Unless you build a big tower. And you have to stand on a pile of books that are on a chair that is on top of a box. What are the chances of that being a disaster? About 100 percent. On the bright side, your brother is now wide awake and you can play with him. Watch for the surprise ending that brings this enjoyable book full circle.

Being able to compare things is a big deal in life. It's an important skill for an elementary age learner. This book is a fun way to practice comparing. What big brother wants to do vs. what Mom wants him to do is a Venn diagram waiting to happen. The middle of the diagram could be how the two of them could compromise. Want to have a great discussion? Ask who's right here. Should the big brother have to be quiet or should Mom allow him to raise his normal ruckus? If you have iPads, your students could record their answers to this question. It would be a chance to teach how details support arguments as well. Don't fall asleep on the chance to procure this entertaining nap time adventure.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring
written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Pig dreamed she was flying with Goose. They flew over hills and fields. They flew over barns and rivers. They flew over a pond with a big oak tree. 

Carrying a picnic basket on a beautiful early spring day, Pig spots a small white dot in the sky. The dot turns out to be a goose who lands right beside her. Pig, being a kind soul, compliments Goose on his flying and wishes she could do the same. She asks Goose to teach her and he agrees. Sadly, no amount of speed or flapping of arms will lift Pig into the sky. On the bright side, the two have a good belly laugh at the thought of Pig flying. She suggests that they enjoy her picnic lunch by the pond. Later, Pig sees that Goose is not only an excellent flyer, but also a superb swimmer. This produces a bit of inadequacy in her heart. But Goose tells her that she has talents. He is quite correct, as later that evening, Pig proves to be a top notch hostess of a First-Day-of-Spring Party. She is charming, witty, and a spry dancer. As they clean and dry the dishes after the party, Goose tells Pig that she is wonderful. A little embarrassed, Pig asks if they can have another picnic the next day. These two have become fast friends.

You can't help but feel good after reading this book. Real friends notice the best in each other and Pig and Goose certainly model this. This is a good lesson on what friends do for each other. Pig and Goose works well as an early reader, with just right text for late first grade/early second grade readers. It's a nice bridge to the bigger chapter books to come. Pig and Goose are a welcome addition to the land of early readers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters

Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters!
2017 (Guinness World Records Limited)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The chapters are based on six of your favorite things to do: Watch (movies and TV), Browse (internet and social media), Read (books and magazines), Play (toys and games), Go (attractions and events) and Consume (shopping and brands)

When I was a child, I received two gifts every year at Christmas. One was the Associated Press Sports Almanac and the other was the Guinness Book of World Records. I've been batty about facts since childhood. I've found as a teacher that I'm not the only one and my fascination with facts has spanned generations. This is one book guaranteed to fly off the shelves. Within each chapter, there are several popular cultural topics. For example, in the Watch chapter, there are spreads dedicated to The Avengers, Pixar movies, Star Wars, and other movie and TV phenomena. In the spread, you will read short paragraphs peppered with facts that you expect from Guinness. A fact box titled Most Valuable Movie Franchise in the Star Wars section reveals that this franchise is worth $41.98 billion. Then, you get a breakdown of that giant number. Box office is about a fifth of the total, while toys and merchandise ($17 billion) make up almost half. Can you see the possibilities of fun math activities here? Teaching the concept of average numbers? You can discuss how Pixar has the highest average gross ($626.52 million) of any movie studio. Working on addition? Eric Jaskolka can help you. He has the largest collection of X-Men memorabilia. The paragraph featuring him breaks down the numbers by category of his 15,400 items. If you add Eric's 6,000 comic books and his 3,500 trading cards, how many items does he have? You've just made math more interesting by connecting to popular cultural topics.  If you're studying place value, you can download a scavenger hunt using the book right here. The activity has participants thumbing through the record book and answering place value questions. This would be a fun Friday activity or a center during math.

In addition to the chapters, there are four brand new Guinness challenges in the back of the book for students to try on their own. One of these challenges is to stack 20 Lego bricks in a right angle tower in the fastest time. Readers can also find out how to prepare for breaking a Guinness record. I think you could brainstorm a list of challenges for your school/class to undertake on a special day. That would be engaging for students. Fact is, older elementary and middle grade readers will enjoy this book.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Rock Maiden Blog Tour

The Rock Maiden
written by Natasha Yim; illustrated by Pirkko Vainio
2017 (Wisdom Tales)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Every morning, Ling Yee put her baby on her back. Then she hiked to the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. There she would scan the horizon for her husband. 

In a Chinese fishing village named Hong Kong, Ling Yee's heart was caught by a man who helped elderly fishermen to pull in their boats. She married Ching Yin and they had a son. Their happiness was short-lived as Ching Yin did not return with the other fishermen after a stormy afternoon at sea. One fisherman described the storm as like "fighting a giant sea serpent." Not believing her husband to be dead, Ling Yee, with her baby on her back, hiked to the top of a cliff each day to look for Ching Yin. While the other villagers whispered, Ling Yee's parents were so concerned that they made an entreaty with the patron goddess of fishermen. Tin Hau was so moved by this dilemma that she sent a lightning bolt that turned Ling Yee and her child into stone. Thus was born the Rock Maiden on the cliff who continued to look for her husband. When a rough looking stranger came to the village a year later, he inquired about Ling Yee. It was Ching Yin, who had struggled to find his way home after being stranded at sea. When told of the fate of his beloved maiden, he went to her and wept in anguish. Seeing this, how would the goddess of fishermen react?

Based on an old Chinese legend, The Rock Maiden will be a superb source of discussion for small groups or whole classes. Why do I think this? Great questions popped up while I was reading. Why did the goddess turn Ling Yee into stone? What did Ching Yin have to do to make his way back home? Providing rich discussion is a valuable trait of this picture book. Having a setting that will be unfamiliar to most students is also a plus. Like a good movie, The Rock Maiden takes readers to another time and place. I would ask readers "Does this story take place in today's time?" They will have to pull clues from the beautiful watercolor artwork and the text to answer. Finally, I would share the author's note and ask readers why they think the author changed the ending of this legend. Do they like the change? So many good questions! One thing I don't question? This is an excellent addition to your collection of fairy tales and legends

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man
written by Dimity Powell; illustrated by Nicky Johnston
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I make us tea like Dad did. The kitchen smells just like before...
But I can't get it right. The cracks are too wide. And tea seeps all over the floor. 

A young girl's dad can fix anything. Furniture, kites, and knots are no match for Dad. Accidents are no cause for crisis as Dad is able to find a solution with the help of a few tools. He makes peach and honey tea to help Mom through the days when she doesn't feel well. Music and laughter fill the house. Even a broken teapot is patched back together. Unfortunately, Dad can't fix what's most important. In a heartbreaking wordless spread, we see Dad and daughter looking out the window. Readers can infer that Mom has passed away. In the text that follows, the daughter speaks of the Fix-It Man now being broken. Her beloved stuffed animal Tiger is in need of repairs, but Dad isn't up to it. The daughter tries to fix Tiger, but falls apart herself and cries "I can't fix him, Dad." It's at this point that Dad rallies and says "Yes we can." From then on, the two of them help fix each other.

Achingly beautiful, The Fix-It Man is a gentle touch that can help children and adults deal with the loss of a loved one. Seemingly small moments, like a spilled cup of tea, represent deep emotions. With examples like the patching of a teddy bear starting the mending of two hearts, this book will lead to important discussions about how people move on in a time of loss.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm

Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm
written by Jonathan London; illustrated by Andrew Joyner
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Duck said, "Want to sail down the creek?
It'll be like riding down a roller coaster!"

It's lovely weather for ducks, so why shouldn't Duck be enthusiastic about a walk in the rain? On the other hoof, Hippo is not so sure. Assured of a shared umbrella, he decides to go ahead with Duck's plans. Problem is, Duck and Hippo aren't exactly the same size. After a few adjustments, they find a way to share the umbrella. Seeing a rushing creek, adventuresome Duck suggests this is an opportunity for a ride. Cautious Hippo is not sold, but moves forward. After a couple of awkward tries, they settle in the umbrella for a bumpy ride. Bypassing a crocodile, they make it to a pond, but Duck loses sight of her herbivore friend. Like this blogger when he can't find his car keys, Duck makes a discovery that is equal parts relief and embarrassment. Tromping out of the pond, they continue their walk with Duck sitting on Hippo's shoulder to keep both of them dry. Unfortunately, a raging gust of wind lifts Duck into the air. Will Hippo be able to catch her before she comes crashing down to earth?

Buddy adventures are a popular subject with K-2 readers. They're also great opportunities to work on comparing and contrasting. Duck and Hippo have their differences, so students can work on their text reading skills with this book. It also would be an excellent chance to compare with other buddy books like Frog and Toad. That's a big plus in second grade. Two other facets of Duck and Hippo should be highlighted. The artwork is brilliant in color and expression. We work quite a bit in kindergarten and first grade on pulling meaning from the illustrations. Duck and Hippo are very expressive which helps with understanding the story. This is also going to be a terrific text for fluency work. Both characters are animated in their speech, which makes for several chances to practice oral reading. As the opener in a series, Duck and Hippo is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.