Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mine, All Mine!

A large snowflake lands on Little Squirrel's nose one morning. Instead of sharing it with his brothers and sisters, Little Squirrel hoards the snowflake and builds a nest so he can hide it from his family.  As he stares at the snowflake, he says "Mine, all mine." As the next day rolls along, Little Squirrel realizes that what he truly treasures is not something that he can keep to himself.

Mine, All Mine, written by Claire Hawcock and illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto, is similar to books like The Rainbow Fish with its message of learning to share, but I'm not sure you can have enough of these books in preschool and kindergarten.  The message is clearly evident, but you're not bludgeoned with it.  The illustrations of the squirrels are a bright mix of reds and browns and the acrylic paint snowflakes are a nice touch.

Preschoolers and kindergartners will easily relate to this story and enjoy the illustrations. This is a good text to use for teaching connections and character development. You can point out that one of the features of fictional stories is characters who change as the book progresses.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jon Scieszka's Trucktown: The Spooky Tire

Jon Scieszka describes Trucktown as "a crazy fun action series for the youngest readers." To paraphrase Ellen Goodman's quote about The Cat in the Hat, I think Trucktown is a piece of absurdity that works as a karate chop against the sometimes weary world of early reader books. As a father of two, I have spent many evenings reading tiresome early reader books. The Spooky Tire, like other great children's media, is attractive to kids with humor that will appeal to their parents as well.  The book starts out " It was dark. It was stormy. It was night." How could you resist this? In the story, Cement Mixer Melvin has a flat tire and finds a golden spare.  Unfortunately for Melvin, this leads to unexpected spooky results. Along with the fun text, the efforts of the all-star Design Garage (David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon) capture the reader's attention with brightly colored illustrations and alternating font designs.

Besides being a great beginning reader, The Spooky Tire would also serve as an introduction to cause and effect or for a discussion about connections.  Young readers will easily make connections to Melvin in this story.

New Quizlet Sets

I've created a 12 item set of geometry terms on my Quizlet site. When you click on a set, you will see a table of choices.  My favorite is to play scatter.  We use this game on student computers and SmartBoards.  Our state standardized math and science tests are vocabulary heavy, so this is a fun way for students to work on learning these terms.  I plan to add more math and science terms in the near future, so keep checking back.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Testing the Ice

If you have read anything about Jackie Robinson, you know of his courage and determination in breaking the color barrier in major league baseball.  Jackie's daughter, Sharon Robinson, has written a picture book that gives an example of how Jackie's courage transferred into other parts of his life. The setting is the Robinson home in Connecticut, where Jackie retired to in 1956 after playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of the joys of living in this home was a lake that was a quarter of a mile long.  The neighborhood children enjoyed swimming there, but as Sharon writes "... no matter how much we begged, my dad would never come into the water." During winter, the lake froze and Jackie's three children wanted to ice skate with some friends.  Jackie, in a terrific metaphor for his groundbreaking baseball career, overcame his fear of the water to test the ice before the children could skate.

Sharon Robinson's loving memories of her father combined with the illustrations of the great Kadir Nelson make Testing the Ice a fabulous picture book. Children need to know about Jackie Robinson.  This book would be a wonderful introduction to his life. Sharon Robinson gives us insight into his character outside of baseball, while Nelson's illustrations are works of art.  The portrait of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson together speaks to their determination to change baseball.

Testing the Ice should be added to your biography collection and would be an excellent text to teach questioning (Why did Jackie decide to go on the ice?) or cause and effect.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Houndsley and Catina: Plink and Plunk

Houndsley the dog and Catina the cat are best friends in this chapter book for early readers. Houndsley wants to go canoeing, but doesn't want to go with Catina because she talks constantly when they are canoeing. Houndsley likes to listen instead of talk. What Houndsley doesn't know is why Catina is talking so much during their canoe trips and this is what lies at the heart of these stories.

James Howe's stories teach students that part of friendship is having somebody to help us face our fears. He does this with a touch of sweetness and sly humor as opposed to pounding us over the head with a "message" and lots of syrup. K-2 students will be able to make a ton of connections with these stories.  There are several opportunities to teach cause and effect and comparison with the characters of Houndsley and Catina. Marie-Louise Gay's colorful watercolor illustrations are just the right touch of summer, and she dresses these characters in some pretty happening clothes as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Secret of the Puking Penguins ...and More!

Ana Maria Rodriguez had me at puking penguins. How could you not like this title? Rodriguez delivers five fascinating nonfiction tales of scientists revealing secrets of the animal world. The first article is about discovering the secret of the gripping power of a chameleon's tongue.  I really like the procedural text that is included with this article.  My favorite selection is the second one which deals with the black spots on an alligator's face.  Scientist Daphne Soares learns how these spots act as sensors.  The title selection, Secret of the Puking Penguins Revealed, explains how male king penguins can keep food in their stomachs for weeks at a time. Chapter 4 reveals the cuckoo bird as a master of disguise, but not visually as expected. The last selection is about the iridescence of a peacock's feathers and how those colors come into being.

Each article is a terrific read that illustrates how the scientific method works. Secret of the Puking Penguins could be used to teach how to use text features such as context clues, footnotes, inferential subheadings, glossaries, and diagrams. Nonfiction fans will devour this title.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Carousel Tale

Ernst, a blue crocodile with a big imagination, loves riding the carousel in the park. His favorite carousel figure is the honey-colored dog. Ernst especially likes how the dog's loose tail wags.  Unfortunately for Ernst, the carousel keeper must put away the figures for safekeeping during the winter months.  As he is walking home, he notices the dog's tail laying on the ground.  The carousel keeper asks Ernst to keep it until spring since the figures have already been put away. While at home, Ernst remakes the tail into a bird and uses his imagination to have great adventures with the bird.

I love the digital age, but one of my concerns is how I observe children not being able to play without the aid of something electronic. Elisa Kleven's (check out her website!) A Carousel Tale gives us a character who easily uses his imagination to play independently, and with others, without being plugged in.  Kleven's illustrations are full of brilliant colors and patterns that bring Ernst's thoughts alive.  Preschoolers and kindergartners will enjoy A Carousel Tale and could use this book to work on sequence and problem/solution.

My favorite carousel is the Pullen Park Carousel in Raleigh, North Carolina. This carousel dates back to 1900.  Add a lime green snow cone and you have a great afternoon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin was 15 years old on March 2, 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on the bus and was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama.  Several months before the arrest of Rosa Parks for taking a similar stand, Colvin's arrest was less celebrated but no less compelling. Phillip Hoose, with the help of Claudette Colvin's first-hand account, has written a stirring narrative detailing the difficulties faced by this young lady who stood up for what was right. After 14 months of personal turmoil, Colvin had the courage to be a plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation on the buses of Montgomery.

I have a group of students who are reading a fine biography of Rosa Parks right now, but it was very helpful for me to have read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice before they started. Phillip Hoose's book provided me with more information about the time period and the historical figures who were a part of this early event in the Civil Rights Movement.

This would be a good book to share with middle or high school readers. If you share it with elementary students, you will need to be aware of some of the mature topics that are dealt with in the book. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is a great read for those students and teachers who are interested in history.  Hoose and Colvin show you that there is a price to be paid for those who take a stand, but also that individuals, regardless of age, can make a difference.  How and why Claudette Colvin took a stand is a message educators should share with their students.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Caldecott and Newbery Awards

Congratulations to Jerry Pinkney and Rebecca Stead for winning the Caldecott and Newbery Awards this morning! The Lion and the Mouse and When You Reach Me are wonderful books and well deserving.  I was happy to see Almost Astronauts pick up the Siebert as well.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Young Minli lives a life of drudgery with her parents in a poor village that sits in the shadow of barren Fruitless Mountain.  The only beacons of hope in Minli's life are the stories told by her beloved father Ba.  It is these stories and a mysterious goldfish that lead her on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and bring good fortune to her family and village. Along the way, Minli meets a dragon and many other characters that help her on a quest to find Never Ending Mountain.

To state the obvious, Grace Lin has written a wonderful book with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  This will be a terrific read aloud where the class will groan when you have to stop reading for the day. Students will embrace Minli and her quest for good fortune.  It's the classic hook, and Lin had me with the line and sinker as well. I've read reviews that compare it to The Wizard of Oz, and I can see this. The book I kept referencing as I was reading was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. It's probably crazy, but I think Minli and Miranda have a lot of similarities in their quests.  I also see why both of these books are leading Newbery contenders.  One thing that sets these books apart from others is how both authors end their books with questions answered in brilliant fashion.  I really admire the cleverness of Lin and Stead.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon would be an excellent choice for teaching the structure of fictional text (rising action, climax, etc.).  You can also use some of the stories told in the book as examples of pourquoi tales.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Almost Astronauts

If fair play is important to you, reading Almost Astronauts will be a frustrating experience.  Tanya Lee Stone's meticulously researched book tells the story of 13 female pilots who successfully completed a battery of tests more excruciating than the celebrated Mercury 7 astronauts, only to be denied the chance to go into space because of sexism and politics. This gripping narrative gives you a clear picture of what it was like for women in the 1960s and the obstacles they faced in trying to receive a fair shake in the work world. I was impressed with the entire Mercury 13 group of women, but Jerrie Cobb's story was especially inspiring and heartbreaking.  The book finishes on an up note with a photographic and textual accounting of the accomplishments of those women who followed the path paved by the Mercury 13. Almost Astronauts will give you insight into what may be an unknown piece of history and may alter your view of some famous historical figures as well. I've read and seen many glowing accounts of the space program, so this book was a needed reality check for my background knowledge. I won't be surprised to see it receive an ALA honor on Monday.

You can take chapters of Almost Astronauts and teach sequence or author's purpose. It would be a great addition to the biography section of your classroom library as well.  Another possible activity would be to contrast Almost Astronauts with another space related book.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Episode 9 of The Exquisite Corpse

Episode 9 has been released.  Nikki Grimes is the author of this episode.  How do you feel about swimming and wordplay?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bad News for Outlaws

Mad mamas can make for good stories, and Old West hero Bass Reeves made one particular mama so angry that she followed him for three miles as he led her criminal sons away in handcuffs. She was fooled by one of the many clever disguises used by Reeves, a deputy U.S. marshal in the Indian Territory.  One of the first African American deputies west of the Mississippi River, Reeves was extremely courageous and clever. He made over 3,000 arrests and was feared by criminals in the territory.  Bad News for Outlaws (click on this link for more resources), written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R.Gregory Christie, retells many fascinating stories from the life of this extraordinary lawman. 

My daughter and I enjoyed learning about Bass Reeves's life.  As a teacher, I liked the glossary of western words, timeline, internet resources, and bibliography contained in the back of the book. Bad News for Outlaws would serve as a great example of how to structure a biography report.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


In a nice bit of serendipity, I mentioned an extreme sport called parkour in my review of Luke On The Loose two days ago and just yesterday I was browsing the new books section of my local library and found this book called Parkour. Dan Edwardes, who has helped create parkour training academies and videos, wrote the book to introduce the sport to young audiences.

Edwardes writes, "The aim of parkour is to move around an area, such as a city or park, without stopping. People who take part in parkour run, climb, and jump over buildings and obstacles." His book is full of exciting photographs that illustrate this dynamic sport. This book comes with two warning labels which should prove quite popular.  There is a chapter on the history of parkour and several other chapters on different techniques, philosophies, and tips.

It is a short thirty-two page read with several nonfiction text features like a glossary, an index, and a table of contents.  This would be an excellent book to use for teaching a lesson on context clues as there are several opportunities for new vocabulary. Reluctant readers will snap up Parkour fairly quickly.

Now I have a nominee if the Cybils ever start a category for extreme sport books.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Do Not Build A Frankenstein

Any book with "do not" and a monster in the title screams to be read. In Do Not Build a Frankenstein, a new kid in the neighborhood gathers the kids around to warn them about building the monster. He gives a litany of reasons why they should avoid this task.  For instance, a Frankenstein will chase away your friends and pets and break all of your toys.  The only thing you can do to avoid this is to move to a new town.  Neil Numberman provides a surprise twist at the end which makes me think of this book as perhaps a metaphor for sibling rivalry. I could be reaching on that one.

Numberman's illustrations remind me of Calvin and Hobbes and Diary of a Wimpy Kid with characters that have big heads and dinner rolls for feet. Do Not Build a Frankenstein could be used for a mini-lesson on comparing, character analysis (How does the kid change by the end of the story?), or cause and effect (what is the effect of building a monster?).  A possible extension would be to write a story about not making friends with The Wolfman or The Invisible Man.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Luke On The Loose

Parkour is a discipline of French origin where runners run (or climb, jump, etc.) from point to point overcoming obstacles like walls and buildings, unlike regular road runners who simply run around these things. You have to be insanely in shape to be able to do this, but apparently it is gaining in popularity. A single participant is called a traceur which brings us to Luke of Luke On The Loose, a comic book created by Harry Bliss.

Luke and his father are in the park one day and while his father is having a boring conversation with another dad, Luke chases a flock of pigeons with the speed of Usain Bolt. Like a traceur, Luke bolts (lame pun alert!) over tables and through fire escapes to chase the pigeons while his father helplessly follows. Like my favorite comic books from childhood, you scan quickly from frame to frame to keep up with the action and laugh at the subtle touches of humor.

Luke On The Loose will be a popular read with your students with its constant action and colorful illustrations. You can easily build mini-lessons on cause/effect, sequence, or prediction with this book. Asking students to use their background knowledge and text clues to figure out what will happen next would be a fun activity. A possible extension activity would be to create your own 4 block comic strip and show where you would like to be "on the loose." Make Beliefs Comix is one place where students could do this.

Friday, January 8, 2010

An Apple Pie for Dinner

When I was a third grade teacher, I looked forward to our economic unit. We would create factories in our classrooms and students would be paid and eventually could buy items (potholders, candy, etc.) that were created in the factories. One day of the unit was devoted to the study of bartering.  Everyone brought an item from home and a giant market full of third graders was created.

Reading An Apple Pie for Dinner, based on an English folktale, reminded me of this day of bartering. In the story, Granny Smith (what? no Granny McIntosh or Granny Gala?) has all the ingredients for an apple pie except for apples. She does have nice plums so she sets off on a journey to trade them for apples. Along the way, she meets different characters and trades items on her search for apples. Eventually Granny ends up with apples and makes a pie to share with all of the people with whom she has bartered.

Susan VanHecke's retelling of the folktale would make a good lesson on text structure.  Problem/solution, cause and effect, and sequence are all clearly evident in this story. It's also a good character lesson in that Granny's kindness is eventually rewarded. Carol Baicker-McKee's mixed media bas-reliefs remind me of the old Rankin-Bass holiday television specials and will be a curiosity for students used to more traditional illustrations.

Check out this website for activities related to the book.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Runaway Mummy

A different approach to teaching the skill of comparing texts is finding examples of parody. One such example is Michael Rex's The Runaway Mummy. Rex's young mummy is a humorous contrast to Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny. The mummy, like the bunny, seeks ways to tease his mummy (yes, incredibly lame on my part) by imagining himself as different creatures and hiding from her. Rex's coup de grace comes in the latter end of the story when the young mummy imagines himself as a creature that is incredibly hideous to Mother Mummy. It's so hideous that I can't mention it here.

 Reading The Runaway Bunny followed by The Runaway Mummy would be an excellent lesson in comparing texts and characters. You could include graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams or double bubble maps in your lesson.

Now if we can get Michael Rex to write a parody of Love You Forever.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lines That Wiggle

What do you get when you combine geometry and monsters? How about Lines That Wiggle, a celebration of all the places where you can find lines. For instance,  "lines that tickle, lines that sprout, bugs have lines that stick right out." The rhyming text, combined with humorous illustrations of monsters and other critters, shows some of  the possibilities of where you can find lines. Candace Whitman's words will make for great shared reading experiences.  Lines That Wiggle could also be used as part of an introduction to geometry.  Steve Wilson's illustrations are bright and colorful with plenty of humor that can serve as an introduction to personification. The cherry on top of the sundae for this book is a glittery blue line that runs throughout Lines That Wiggle.  You'll find yourself running your finger along the line as you read. Preschool and primary readers will enjoy this book!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

When We're Together

What do you think about when you hear the word together? If I'm hungry, I'm thinking about peanut butter and jelly together. If I'm watching football, I'm thinking about a quarterback and a wide receiver who work together to connect for a touchdown. If I'm with my family, I'm thinking about the good times we have together.

When We're Together, written by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Jane Chapman, is a series of rhymes that celebrate being together with loved ones. A rabbit family enjoys their time together in several different settings (sledding in the snow, playing on the beach).  The time of year is not the important thing, but instead it is the fact that they are together having fun.

Preschoolers and primary students will enjoy reading this book with you.  When We're Together could be used for shared reading or for a mini-lesson on making connections.  A great writing extension would be to ask students to write about a time that they enjoyed being together with a group of people.