Tuesday, March 30, 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful

If you want to teach the term diversity, you should read Ashley Bryan's All Things Bright and Beautiful. In illustrating Cecil Frances Alexander's hymn with richly colorful endpaper, Bryan gives us several visual examples of diversity.  We see a diverse selection of children from around the world.  There is a varied group of animals represented in the book.  Different landforms and weather patterns also populate All Things Bright and Beautiful. The most noticeable example of diversity is in Bryan's use of color.  It's like a Crayola box of 64 crayons exploded on each page. This amazing display of shape, size, and color illustrate Bryan's theme of our world being a wonderfully made planet with a richness of life in all four corners and all four seasons.

If you want to read a book to help explain how illustrations can carry a main idea, this would be a good choice. Each page resonates with a diverse landscape. You can see by the cover that it is a gorgeous book.  This would also be a great book for working with a preschool audience since there is so much information contained in the illustrations.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hip Hop Dog


Hip Hop Dog is a rollicking rhyme fest about a dog who raps about his troubles but also boasts about overcoming them.  The Hip Hop Dog is the only one of his litter that was not chosen (I was born into a litter, Of eight brothers and eight sisters. Friendly takers took the others; Now I got no puppy-sitters.). At first, the dog wonders if there is something wrong with him, but as he travels through the city he realizes that the influence of the streets has made him something special and that's alright.

Chris Raschka's rhymes have the feel of hip hop with the narrator referencing his troubles, boasting that he is the best, and listing pop culture icons like Louis Armstrong.  There is also a strong message of self-esteem in his rhymes. Vladimir Radunksy's illustrations add to the vibe with a vibrant cityscape and strutting dogs.

Hip Hop Dog is a blast as a read-aloud, but I would recommend reading it several times beforehand so you can get a feel for the rhythm and circular text.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Penguin Story

Edna the penguin is certain that there must colors other than blue, black, and white. Her friends encourage her to participate in other activities, but Edna is determined to continue her search for other colors.  With a large fish under her flipper, she sets off to find other colors.  After much searching, she stumbles upon an orange research station.  Edna and the other penguins make friends with the scientists who give her an orange glove as a thank you before they leave.  The next day, wearing her orange glove on her head, Edna wonders if there are other colors as well.

A Penguin Story has been out for over a year, but I just saw it recently at my library and penguin books are quite popular so hence the delay.  As are many others (see Fuse #8 review for a much stronger review than mine), I am a fan of Antoinette Portis's spare drawings and clever text. Edna the penguin is a great source for making connections, because so many of us wonder what lies beyond the horizon. I also think it would be a fun writing exercise to ask students to write about a world where they only had three colors.  What would those colors be? I'd like purple to be in mine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Imogene's Last Stand

Imogene Tripp is Liddleville, New Hampshire's most passionate(and possibly its shortest) historian.  For example, "as a kindergartner, she used her show-and-tell time to give a series of lectures on important women in history."  Now she has set her sights on the decrepit Liddleville Historical Society.  Imogene wants to fix it up so townspeople can learn about Liddleville's history.  Her father says it is a mess, but Imogene is convincing when she quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr by saying "We are made by history." Unfortunately for Imogene, after she fixes up the house and starts offering tours, the mayor declares that the house must be torn down to make way for a new shoelace factory.  Like John Paul Jones, Imogene has yet to begin to fight and she uses her historical knowledge to try and save the historical society from destruction.

Imogene's Last Stand, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter is a great book to read at any time, but especially near historical holidays in order to help us remember why our history is important. Imogene is also an example of how we want children to be problem solvers and to seek several solutions instead of getting discouraged if the first one does not work.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Whomp is a Shockwave game where you attempt to make as many words as you can in a prescribed time period.  It is very similar to Boggle.  Players adopt a monster avatar such as the Yeti or Chupacabra and compete against another monster. This game will help reinforce spelling patterns and increase orthographic knowledge.

Paulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace

Paulie Pastrami is eight years old. He can't whistle or consistently match his socks. Paulie "is constantly picked last for street hockey." Despite these perceived shortcomings, Paulie is full of pluck and decides to tackle a much bigger goal than what you can achieve through street hockey. Through small steps and the use of cupcakes, Paulie indeed achieves world peace in one day.

Paulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace is a great reminder that happiness and peace can be achieved through simple measures.  James Proimos's text is extremely clever with the wordplay involved with "world peace." His drawings, with Paulie's hilarious porcupine-like hair and ever present smile, illuminate the humor and overall sweetness of the book.

This would be a good book to demonstrate different ways illustrations work with the text of a story. James Proimos uses different fonts and doesn't follow the traditional "picture on top, text on the bottom" format of picture books. There are also good lessons on character and sequence that you could develop.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Plants Live Everywhere!

Plants Live Everywhere! is a nonfiction title that is quite versatile and therefore a great addition to your classroom or personal library.  If you want to introduce your primary students to the study of biomes, try this book.  There are seven different ecosystems featured in Plants Live Everywhere!, but the information is not overwhelming which lends it to teaching comparing as well. Students could read this book (5th graders who struggle with reading would find this book very accessible) and use it as a source for a research project on plants and/or biomes. Mary Dodson Wade has included several text features (table of contents, glossary, bold print, labels, procedural text) that will be helpful in learning how to read nonfiction.  As part of the I Like Plants! series, Plants Live Everywhere! also contains a piece of procedural text in the back that will encourage students to try an experiment at home.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Big Chickens Go to Town

Four big chickens find a big bag of chicken feed in the bed of the farmer's pickup truck.  While they are "picking, pecking, and poking" in the back, the farmer gets in the truck and heads away. Suddenly the big chickens are nervous and asking questions like "What if we never get home again?" and "What if we can't get this bag open?". As the chickens are kvetching (I love this word and it is a great example of how author Leslie Helakoski has fun with the text), they are tossed from the truck and land in the street of a big city. What ensues is a series of "chicken out of water" experiences for our rural hens.

Big Chickens Go to Town is a verbal and visual delight chock full of vivid adjectives and verbs and illustrations by Henry Cole that are colorful, funny, and shown from a chicken point of view. This would be a book to read for students who are in a new environment (i.e. kindergartners in their first week of school) since the chickens have some startling moments but turn out okay (see Susan Weitz review).It would also be helpful for teaching word choice in writing since Helakoski is so nimble in her descriptions.

Click on the websites for Leslie Helakoski and Henry Cole for some fun activities for students.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Delicious Bug

It's a quiet and peaceful day in the forest when Wally and Willy the chameleons both see a rather large bumblebug.  Both shoot their tongues toward the bug and catch it at the same time.  Neither chameleon can let go of the bug or their pride and so what ensues is an escalating battle of wills that eventually involves innocent bystander animals of the forest.  Willy and Wally fight until they reach the brink of extinction and it is this realization that causes them to change their colors and realize the value of friendship.

The Delicious Bug, written and illustrated by Janet Perlman, is a funny (but not preachy) story about sharing and how to be a good friend.  Primary students will be able to make connections and recognize the problem/solution of this story. This would be a great book for students to have discussions about the importance of friendship and sharing.

Science Vocabulary Terms

I have added four sets of science vocabulary terms to my Quizlet dashboard.  In North Carolina we have an end of grade science test for our 5th graders, so I am trying to provide a resource for learning or remembering the terms that will appear on the test.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ant's Nest: A Huge, Underground City

Bearport Publishing has released a series of books called Spectacular Animal Towns which focus on teaching readers how animals maintain their communities and all the intricacies of such a community.  The Ant's Nest is full of facts about building ant nests, taking care of the queen, warding off enemies, and several other fascinating topics. There are about two paragraphs for each topic which is a perfect size of text for students looking for information and not necessarily wanting to read an entire narrative. Miriam Aronin has selected interesting topics and information that is probably little-known to your students. For example, did you know about dairy ants? They "milk" aphids for honeydew which is a sweet liquid that is an important food source for the dairy ants.  These ants fight off ladybugs which are predators of aphids and bite the wings of the aphids to keep them from flying away.  This is the kind of information that keeps readers interested and willing to share what they have learned.  Throw in great photographs with tons of text features (index, glossary, tables, labels) and you have a book that will be checked out often.

The Ant's Nest would be a good book to use for learning how to write a research report or for a science read-aloud. Since it's nonfiction, you can pick and choose which sections to read.

Bearport has created a website devoted to resources related to the Spectacular Animal Towns series.  There is a ton of good information on this site.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Messing Around on the Monkey Bars

"Hey, how do you do, Glue?" "I'm all stuck up, and you?" These lines come from Back in the Room for the Afternoon, one of my favorite poems from Betsy Franco's poetry compilation titled Messing Around on the Monkey Bars and other School Poems for Two Voices. Other poem titles include Weird Stuff in the Lost and Found, Homework Blues, and Me and Joe Lining Up After Recess. Franco's biography mentions that she spends time every week in her local elementary school which is not surprising since her poems capture the flavor of elementary life. Combined with Jessie Hartland's colorfully humorous illustrations, there is a bouncy joy to these poems that will capture the interest of readers and their teachers.

 Messing Around on the Monkey Bars works in many ways.  Shared readings in K-2, fluency practice or reader's theater in 3-5, or as an introduction to onomatopoeia (sound words) and personification are just some of the ways that you could use this book. Students would really enjoy performing these poems in front of their classmates as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010


There are more than 10 quadrillion ants in the world.  The queen African driver ant alone lays fifty million eggs a year. I say we stop teaching these cute penguin units and start focusing on the ants.

Melissa Stewart is certainly doing her part by writing Ants.  She has penned a ripping good piece of nonfiction that happens to masquerade as a Level 1 Reader.  Ants is packed with amazing facts (Did you know that there were ants that could live underwater? Me neither.), several nonfiction text features, and terrific National Geographic photographs. What more could you ask for?

Ants would be a good book to put into the hands of an upper grade student who needs to learn how to do research, but is not a strong reader. You can also teach nonfiction text features (labels, definitions, diagrams, wow facts). I enjoyed the jokes and learning about the Ant Man.

Check out Melissa's website for more information on teaching science in your classroom.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta

Green beans! Lunch Lady and sidekick Betty are back and better than ever in The Author Visit Vendetta. Famous children's author Lewis Scribson (Flippy Bunny) is coming for Author Visit Day, but he has a sinister ulterior motive upon his arrival. During the visit, Coach Birkby disappears and it's up to Lunch Lady and Betty to solve this mystery.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady graphic novels are gut busting funny, but there are also several skills that you could teach while reading them. As with other Lunch Lady novels, Author Visit Vendetta has a plot within a plot as Terrence is trying to win a spot on the soccer team.  This is a short piece of text where you could teach the concept that novels can have several stories within the main story.  Think Harry Potter's romantic entanglements inside his quest to defeat Voldemort.  Lunch Lady is also a great vehicle to teach cause and effect and parody.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Touchdown: The Power and Precision of Football's Perfect Play

In my childhood, a significant portion of the books that I read were about sports.  I would read about any sport, especially if the text was about the history of the sport.  I know I was not alone or sports radio would not exist today.  I distinctly remember reading Green Bay offensive lineman Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay and being transported to an NFL locker room.  These memories were stirred by the release of Touchdown: The Power and Precision of Football's Perfect Play by Mark Stewart and Mike Kennedy

Stewart and Kennedy have created a blend of history, statistics, and iconic photographs that will please any young sports fan.  The accounts of Garo Yepremian's botched pass and John Riggins's breakaway Super Bowl run brought a smile to my face as the son of a devout Redskins fan.  I also enjoyed reading the first chapter about the beginnings of football and learning about the Rugby school in England where it all began. Sports are an integral part of the American cultural experience and can be used to motivate young readers.

There should be a basket devoted to sports books in any classroom library.  Reluctant readers (especially boys but not exclusively) are usually drawn to these books.  Touchdown is of a higher grade than the usual nonfiction sports fare and could be used to spur research writing.  You could also display the beginning paragraphs of each chapter and teach how to write an introductory paragraph.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

Thirteen year old Susy took offense when the "experts" only thought of her father, Mark Twain, simply as an author or humorist.  Susy felt they didn't really know her father, thinking he joked at everything.  She knew him much more deeply, saying "I never saw a man with so much variety of feeling as Papa has."  Susy decided to write a biography in order to "set the record straight."  She lovingly wrote of her father's qualities, both admirable and not so admirable. When he read her biography, Twain could not have been prouder.  He really liked how "she didn't cover up one's deficiencies but gave them an equal showing with one's handsomer qualities." Twain was so pleased that parts of Susy's biography were incorporated into his own autobiography which was written ten years after Susy's untimely death at age 24.

Barbara Kerley has crafted a wonderful story of the loving relationship between a famous figure and his daughter with The Extraordinary Mark Twain(According to Susy).  Edwin Fotheringham created humorous and poignant illustrations for this book. The cover says a lot about the affection Susy showed, in her writing, towards her father. As a father of two daughters, Kerley's story touched me and made me think about the blessings of the bond of fathers and daughters.

This book would be a terrific introduction to the life and works of Mark Twain.  Younger students will appreciate Twain's unique behavior and older students will gain valuable background knowledge before reading one of his novels or short stories. Click on this link to reach Barbara Kerley's guides for using her books in your classroom.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Improving Computation Skills

If you have a student who needs to improve their computation skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), click on this link for a site created by the Oswego City Schools in New York. A student could work independently for a few minutes and review math facts on the computer.  I would even have them chart their score so they can assess their own progress.  That can be a powerful part of student learning.

The Inside Tree

Mr. Potter is a kind soul.  When he sees his dog lying down next to his tree on a cold night, he invites the dog to come in and also decides that he should be an inside dog.  Unfortunately, Mr. Potter is now worried that the tree is lonely so he does the logical(?) thing and brings the tree inside so it will have company.  At first, it is a "cozy arrangement" between man, inside dog, and inside tree.  The funny thing about young trees is that, like young children, they can grow rather quickly. Mr. Potter decides that the tree needs more room so he makes a hole in his rooftop. A starry sky prompts Mr. Potter to think that this was a good decision until the outside world decides it wants to come in as well.

The Inside Tree, written by Linda Smith and illustrated by David Parkins, is a humorous book to use for teaching cause and effect.  Mr. Potter's actions have reactions which lead to a sort of muted mayhem.  Hand in hand with cause and effect comes prediction so there are opportunities to teach this skill as well.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jefferson Labs Games and Puzzles Site

If you are looking for a way to supplement your math and science instruction, you should investigate the Jefferson Labs games and puzzles site. There are a plethora of different activities to reinforce taught concepts and terms. Sections are devoted to math games, science games, and games about elements.  Frostbite Theater contains several videos featuring experiments involving freezing items, static electricity, and monarch butterflies. This is a great site for expanding your instruction!

Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli

I guess I always assumed that monsters were carnivores.  My childhood time spent watching science fiction movies probably led to this assumption, but after reading Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli, I know that monsters are truly omnivores instead.  Monsters enjoy eating rocket ships, parts of trailers, and tractors.  What they don't prefer is eating broccoli. Of course, if that broccoli were to be the shape of a tree, then that would suit a monster just fine. It seems as long as massive destruction is involved, monsters will eat anything.

Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli is a fun rhyming book that would make a great shared reading experience with its refrain of "Fum, foe, fie, fee, monsters don't eat broccoli." Barbara Jean Hicks's clever rhyming text and Sue Hendra's zany illustrations (Monsters wearing cowboy hats never gets old!) will delight preK-1st grade readers.

Click on this link for some fun activities on Barbara Jean's website. This book would be an interesting companion to other books like Little Pea that deal with the topic of eating vegetables.