Monday, November 29, 2010

The Firehouse Light

The Firehouse Light
written by Janet Nolan; illustrated by Marie Lafrance
(Tricycle Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Playing by the book

The volunteer firefighters of Livermore, California had a problem. If there was a call for help at night, they would have to wait on a lantern before they could retrieve their equipment in the darkened wooden shack where it was stored. Help came in 1901 in the form of a four watt light bulb donated by Dennis Bernal who owned the Livermore Power and Light Company. Now the firefighters would not have to lose time waiting for a lantern to be lit. As time passed, the light bulb continued to shine. After ten years, the firefighting equipment came to be stored in a firehouse with walls and windows, and the light bulb continued to shine. In 1976, after 75 years of shining, the light bulb needed to be moved to a new firehouse. A parade was held just for the light bulb as its socket, cord, and porcelain outlet were removed and driven to the new home. There was great suspense as the light bulb was reconnected in the new firehouse. Would it continue to shine in a new location after 75 years of nonstop light?

Change over time is a major theme in social studies and The Firehouse Light is an excellent resource for helping students understand how the world has changed in the last 100 years. Author Janet Nolan tells the story of this amazing light bulb in ten year increments. With each increment, she gives examples of how life inside and outside of the firehouse has changed. For example, Nolan tells that after twenty years, "No longer was news of a fire spread by cries and shouts. When a fire broke out, townspeople could call the telephone switchboard operator." If you want to teach students how to use and create time lines, The Firehouse Light is a slam dunk text for teaching this skill.

After 109 years, this light bulb still burns in the firehouse of Livermore, California. It has its own website ( complete with a webcam showing the light bulb. The funny thing is that the first camera showing the bulb lasted only three years!

Other reviews of The Firehouse Light:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kids Calc 7-in-1 Math Fun: iPod Touch app

Kids Calc 7-in-1 Math Fun: iPod Touch application
developed by Steve Glinberg

In the overview for this app, it is mentioned that it is "jam packed with features." This is not advertising hype. I was really impressed with all the different things you can do with this app. If you want students to work on skip counting, that can be done with colorful icons that are updated according to season. In a different game, you can solve four calculations, each in its own quadrant. When you solve the problem, a part of a picture is revealed. Students can also work on reading numbers which is extremely helpful if you are preparing for a state standardized test. If you work with kindergarten or preschool students, they can work on tracing numbers as well. This is an extremely helpful exercise. Kids Calc is a bargain app that you can use with a wide variety of elementary students.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything
written by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by Robert Byrd
(Viking) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Just looking at the cover of Kubla Khan:The Emperor of Everything revealed three things that made me immediately pick up this book. First, I have very little background knowledge when it comes to leaders of the Mongol Empire so I thought this would be an interesting subject for reading. Second, I looked at the cover illustration and marveled at the detail of Robert Byrd's resplendent work. Third, when I saw Kathleen Krull's name as the author, I knew I was going to have information presented in a clear and entertaining fashion. On all three counts, Kubla Khan delivers. Krull starts off by introducing us to the nomadic culture of the 13th century Mongols. It was a brutal life which made these people rugged and not to be trifled with. We learn about the two most important women in Kubla Khan's life, his ambitious mother and his equally ambitious second wife Chabi. They advised him on military matters and made sure he was seen by the right people. One of the aspects that I really like about this book is the care Kathleen Krull takes to show us that Kubla Khan was a more multi-faceted and civil man than history may give him credit for being. He was tolerant of other religions as long as they didn't interfere with his position as the Great Khan. The civility of China with its fine clothing, art, and intellectual pursuits greatly appealed to Kubla Khan and influenced his thinking later on in life. Khan was not without his excesses and Krull details these much to our amazement. Can you imagine five thousand elephants carrying gifts for you or a party for forty thousand people? Kubla Khan had a tremendous influence on both Eastern and Western culture (see Marco Polo) and The Emperor of Everything would be an excellent introduction to this historic leader. This book would also be a refreshing addition to your biography collection.

Other reviews of Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything:
Chicago Tribune
Book Dragon

Monday, November 22, 2010

Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault

Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault
written by Lori Mortensen; illustrated by Raul Allen
(Tricycle Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Practically Paradise

Leon Foucault was "a shy and awkward boy" who frustrated his teachers because he did everything slowly. Leon's methodical nature proves beneficial when he discovers that he has a talent for working with his hands. He designs contraptions such that his mother thinks he must go to medical school to become a surgeon. The sight of blood and suffering drives Leon from medical school, but one of his professors notices his talent with instruments and asks him to work in his microscope class. Leon turns his thoughts to science. One day while working in his laboratory, Leon accidentally brushes a steel rod set in a lathe which sets into motion his discovery of how to prove that the earth spins on its axis.  He creates a pendulum and invites Paris to "come see the earth turn."

When I was a kid living in Maryland, we went to the Smithsonian Museum every year on school field trips. One of my favorite exhibits was the Foucault Pendulum that was located in the Natural Museum of American History. Come See The Earth Turn reminded me of this pendulum that was removed in 1998. Until reading this book, I don't think I was really aware of why this pendulum was displayed. I enjoy reading well written biographies about historical figures that are new to me and Come See The Earth Turn fits the bill. The text is not long which makes it perfect for 3rd-5th graders or 6th-8th graders who are not grade level readers and would be interested in reading a biography. It would also be an excellent read aloud for science when you study space and the earth's rotation. The back matter for this book is fabulous including links that I have included below. These links show the pendulum and instructions for making a pendulum.

PBS Kids
Arts Et Metiers Museum
Center of Science and Industry Museum in Columbus

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ben's Birthdays

Ben's Birthdays
written by Elizabeth Hawkins; illustrated by Paul Cemmick
(Tamarind Books) 2010
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Six year old Ben is pretty bummed that his birthday only comes once a year. With his sister Jessica's birthday right around the corner, Ben would like the focus to be on him. He thinks it's unfair that everyone else in his family has had more birthdays. One day while walking to school, Ben nearly trips over a talking snail. The snail asks kind-hearted Ben  to shelter him. Ben takes care of the snail and at the end of the day finds a nice spot in his family's garden wall for the snail to live. As a reward, the snail tells Ben that he will grant him one wish. With birthdays on his mind, Ben decides to ask that every day become his birthday. Sure enough, the next morning Ben's family brings birthday presents to the breakfast table in honor of Ben's birthday. The first few days are exciting for Ben, but afterwards he discovers that a daily birthday can be a troubling thing.

I read Ben's Birthdays to my kindergarten class and they liked the book. It's King Midas with a six year old twist. There is not a lot of humor in the book, but that didn't seem to deter my students. There were several opportunities for making predictions and for discussion of why Ben's wish may not have been a wise one. It has an English setting so you might have to explain a few customs like tea time as you read the book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cat's Pajamas

The Cat's Pajamas
written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
(Kids Can Press) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

 If you teach idioms to your students, find a copy of Wallace Edwards's The Cat's Pajamas. Each page contains a richly illustrated portrait (see cat on the left) with a humorous caption below it. My favorite portrait is of an anteater named Anita talking to a painter goat named Sir William. The caption reads "The sight of Sir William's new painting made Anita hold her tongue." Of course, Anita the anteater is literally holding her tongue while looking at a painting of an ant in top hat strumming a guitar. The illustrations are of such high interest that you will be looking at them several times finding new information in each viewing. In the last portrait, the author challenges the reader to find the hidden cat on each page so there is also a little I Spy quality to this book as well.

I could see a two prong assignment using The Cat's Pajamas. If you have access to a document camera, you can show the portraits without the captions and ask students to guess which idiom is being illustrated. Then, you could ask students to pick an idiom and create an illustration and write a caption. For example, I would write a caption that said "Phyllis decided to stay in for the evening since it was raining cats and dogs." The illustration would feature a mouse looking out the window at falling dogs and cats.

Click below for online idiom games and other reviews of The Cat's Pajamas.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Great Books for Text-to-Text Connections

Little Pea, Little Hoot, Little Oink
written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illustrated by Jen Corace
(Chronicle Books)

If you are teaching kindergarten or 1st grade students how to make text-to-text connections, you should find copies of Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink. This can be a tricky skill for kindergarten students, but as we were reading Little Hoot this morning, one of my students mentioned that they had made a text-to-text connection without being prompted. Why is this important? Being able to connect texts helps you better understand what is happening or may happen in a story. In this case, my students know that there is going to be an interesting twist on a theme such as eating vegetables, going to bed early, or being neat. These books are clever and very popular with our young readers. I also enjoy the wordplay that takes place in the text. Go find these books and share them with your students!

Click below to view a book trailer for Little Oink.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get To Know Wedges

Get To Know Wedges
written by Jennifer Christiansen
(Crabtree Publishing) 2009
Source: Orange County Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at In Need of Chocolate

Get To Know Wedges is one of those nonfiction titles that probably received very little publicity and isn't an especially glamorous title, but boy does it come in handy when you are trying to teach simple machines. The explanations of what makes something a wedge and how it is useful are laid out clearly for students to understand. Informative photographs and several easy to complete experiments make this an appealing nonfiction text. The cool thing about this information is students can easily connect to it since it is part of their everyday lives. The experiments could easily be conducted at home and make a fun homework assignment. For example, one experiment involves knocking blocks down. What kid wouldn't like that for homework? If you do research reports on simple machines, find a copy of this book. It is part of a larger series on simple machines published by Crabtree Publishing Company. Here is a link to a terrific PDF with more simple machine experiments. One of the websites included in the book, a link to the Canada Science and Technology Museum, provides background information on simple machines. Inspired by this book, I have listed several ways that wedges have improved my life:
  • Doorstops keep my cats from shutting themselves in the bathroom all day until I get home. 
  • A spatula allows me to clumsily flip pancakes for my family.
  • Scissors helped my mother cut away the gum that was stuck in my hair when I fell asleep as a kid. 
  • A snow shovel helps me dig out of the one inch of snow that stops me in my tracks. I live in the South for this very reason.
Thank you, mighty wedge!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog

Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog
written by Adrienne Sylver; illustrated by Elwood H. Smith
(Dutton Children's Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Hot Diggity Dog combines two of my favorite things, history and food, to make a flavorful concoction that is sure to please. Author Adrienne Sylver begins by tracing the beginnings of sausage in the Roman Empire. How hot dogs got their start is up for debate with Germans and Austrians laying claim to the first hot dog. One of the treats of this book are the interesting sidebars included on every other page. While discussing the origin of the hot dog bun, Sylver mentions in a sidebar that the Pilgrims brought the doughnut to America from Holland. Note to self: buy a dozen to celebrate on Thanksgiving morning. Other topics mentioned in the book include ballpark food and why hot dogs are such a popular food. If you are teaching a lesson on sequence, Hot Diggity Dog would be a good source text. You could also read this book and ask students which of the hot dogs cited in the book would be their favorite. Then you could take that information and create a graph. I'm torn between my native Southern slaw dog and the Chicago dog that I purchased from a vendor outside the Field Museum.

Other reviews of Hot Diggity Dog:
Cynsations: Interview with Adrienne Sylver
Carol's Corner
Rasco from RIF

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Punctuation Station

The Punctuation Station
written by Brian P. Cleary; illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
(Millbrook Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

 A giraffe family purchases seven tickets for Punctuation Station. During their journey, use of correct punctuation is very important. Commas help in ordering ice cream before boarding the train. Apostrophes are useful in figuring out who owns what in the luggage. Question marks work well in asking what is available in the train concession stand. Exclamation points signal the joy of arriving at your destination. Using proper punctuation really helps you get from here to there.

The Punctuation Station's lighthearted rhymes are an inventive approach to teaching the proper use of punctuation. Each piece of punctuation is introduced with a clear definition and examples from the giraffe's journey are used to illustrate how the punctuation is used. For example, here is the rhyme that tells about quotation marks:
These are called quotation marks.
You've seen them when you've read.
They go before and just behind
the words that someone's said.

These rhymes would work great as separate entities to use throughout the year to remind students about using proper punctuation. You could write them down on chart paper and post in the classroom. This book would also be a good way to launch creating your own punctuation booklet. Students could create illustrations and write sentences featuring different punctuation marks.

Other reviews of The Punctuation Station:
Bri Meets Books

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Veterans Day, also known as Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, was first observed in 1919 as Armistice Day as a way of remembering those who died in World War I. Later it was expanded to all veterans. Thank you to our veterans for their service to our country. Below is an excerpt from What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?. Linus is reciting the poem, In Flanders Fields.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog

Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog
written and illustrated by Jon Agee
(Michael Di Capua Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Mr. Putney keeps unusual company. In this latest Jon Agee punny word play book, readers are given a question about Mr. Putney's life on one page followed by an answer that is an animal name created by clever wordplay.

Q: Who wakes Mr. Putney up in the morning?
A: An alarmadillo

As usual, Agee's illustrations are humorous and intelligent. These riddles and illustrations could be read one at a time as a warm-up for other activities in a 3-5 class. Students could also attempt to create other friends for Mr. Putney. Here is a weak attempt on my part:

Q: Which friend of Mr. Putney's likes to play soccer?
A: A flamingoal

One of the ways you can increase the vocabulary of your students is to engage in word play. If you want to incorporate word play into your word study activities, Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog would be a fun read for your class. Jon Agee has several other word play books that you can find at your local library.

Other reviews of Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog:
Kids Lit

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Errol and His Extraordinary Nose

Errol and His Extraordinary Nose
written by David Conway; illustrated by Roberta Angaramo
(Holiday House) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Errol the Elephant is feeling a little stressed. There is going to be a talent show at his school to raise money and Errol has decided that he does not have any talent. His classmates at Acacia Tree School are not exactly helpful by thinking him clumsy and awkward. Errol tries juggling, playing a musical instrument, and even dancing. None of these attempts are even close to successful, so at the end of the day Errol is in tears. Fortunately, Errol has a loving dad who encourages him and gives him a book about elephants that shows him that he indeed has many special talents. When the day of the contest arrives, Errol is ready to show that he is special in his own way.

I really like the lesson contained in Errol and His Extraordinary Nose. As teachers, we want all of our students to feel good about themselves. One of our jobs is to help each student discover their own talents and realize that they are indeed special. I like that Errol gives a great effort even though he doesn't experience much success in the beginning. My students enjoyed reading this book and afterward we placed events from the story into beginning, middle, and end categories on the SmartBoard  and worked on being able to retell a story. This book would also be a good text for demonstrating how characters can change over the course of a book.

Other reviews of Errol and His Extraordinary Nose:
Hooray for Books!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time Zones

Time Zones
written by David A. Adler; illustrated by Edward Miller
(Holiday House) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed

If you are teaching a unit on space and the earth's rotation, Time Zones would be a good resource for explaining why different places on the planet have different times. Author David A. Adler tells the history behind the creation of time zones and why it became necessary to invent them. For example, in the late 1700's it wasn't really important for time zones to exist since people couldn't travel very far in a day's time. Travelers simply reset their clocks or watches when they arrived in a new place. They would set them by the town clock or set their timepiece at noon if the sun was directly overhead. Train travel prompted railroad companies to set time zones in 1883 for North America and an international conference the next year set them for the rest of the planet. With the help of Edward Miller's humorous and informative illustrations, Adler is able to deliver interesting information like why time zone boundaries have such strange shapes. My favorite piece of information that I learned was that China and India, despite their geographic size, each have only one time zone.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys
written by Bob Raczka; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Getting young guys to write poetry can be challenging, so Guyku is a welcome resource. Bob Raczka's haikus are inspired by his boyhood and other boys he has observed. Each season is represented and all of the haikus involve nature. My favorite haiku was this one:

                                                                                                            How many million
                                                     flakes will it take to make a
                                                      snow day tomorrow?

Guyku is more than a book. It's a multimedia effort by Raczka and Reynolds to inspire boys to write poetry. The Guyku website contains a how-to PDF for writing a haiku and a gallery for boys to display their work. There is also a teacher section that contains several resources for helping boys write and display their work. If Peter H. Reynolds is involved with a project, you know there's going to be some really cool bonus material in addition to his excellent illustrations. Guyku should be a part of your poetry unit as haiku is a gateway genre of poetry in that it opens the door for boys and girls to express their creativity without too much stress.

Other reviews of Guyku:
A Fuse #8 Production
Books For Kids Blog
Literate Lives

Click below to watch interviews with author Bob Raczka and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. These would be interesting short bits to share with students. Raczka has a message for the girls as well!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hibernation Station

Hibernation Station
written by Michelle Meadows; illustrated by Kurt Cyrus
(Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Forest animals are gathering at the station to prepare for winter hibernation. They have their pajamas on and the bear conductor hands out pillows. The hollowed out logs will provide a snoozing spot for their winter slumber, but it isn't without some difficulties. The black bear's rodent roommate apparently snores too much. Hedgehog babies are getting wet and the young chipmunks have spilled their drink. Fortunately these animals are in good hands as the bear conductors review their blueprints and make decisions to solve the problems. Soon all on board are sleeping peacefully for the season.

If the ALA decides to hand out an award for the cutest book of 2010, Hibernation Station will be in the running. You can't go wrong with animals (even the snakes!) in pajamas. This book is a clever take on hibernation and serves as a great introductory piece for young students who are not familiar with this process. Most of my students did not know the term hibernation. The rhyming and Kurt Cyrus's excellent illustrations kept my kids engaged. As an extension activity, my students used a circle map on the SmartBoard. I uploaded this lesson and it should be available in two weeks on the SmartBoard Exchange (see links on the right.) Make sure you read the author's note in the back matter for more information on hibernation.

Click below for a look at the book trailer:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Know Here

I Know Here (2010 Horn Book Award Winner)
written by Laurel Croza; illustrated by Matt James
(Groundwood Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

A young girl lives in Saskatchewan while her father is helping to build a dam. This place is home to her and she loves every square inch. The woods where she can play hide-and-seek behind the pines and listen to howling wolves at night. Behind the trailers is a great tobogganing hill and a creek where her little sister can catch frogs. She has seen many things like an old moose staring her down. This little girl knows the road that goes from the dam to her beloved trailer school with its nine students and the wonderful teacher Miss Hendrickson. She is going to miss this place when her family moves to Toronto, but her teacher knows how she can keep it with her forever.

One of the reasons why we teach children to write is so they can share a piece of themselves with others. I Know Here would be a superb read aloud to demonstrate this. It really reminds me of What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan where both female protagonists are reminiscing about a beloved place and what makes it special. These are not complicated books, but no less profound in their detailed descriptions of a love of place and how it can shape our lives. As the little girl in I Know Here says "This is where I live. I don't know Toronto. I know here."

Other reviews of I Know Here:
A Year of Reading
NY Times

Monday, November 1, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland
written by Jill Esbaum
(National Geographic Society) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Capstone Connect

Winter narrates this resplendent photo essay which highlights the joys of the season. Whether it is catching snowflakes on your tongue or flying down a snowy hill on a saucer, Winter encourages us to embrace the cold and relish the fun only this time of year can bring. He asks the reader "Ever skimmed outdoor ice on silver blades? Click-clack-click. Can't do that in the summertime!" Jack Frost also reminds us that some of our favorite holidays are in his domain. At the end of the essay, Winter asks "Will I be gentle or stormy, playful or sneaky?" In North Carolina, we use woolly worms to predict this.

The photos in Winter Wonderland are a gorgeous showcase for the coldest season. Jill Esbaum's approach to the text is a clever one filled with descriptive adjectives that would serve as a nice mentor text for how to liven up your writing. This book could also be used to teach students how to draw an inference. Take this piece of text, "I am Winter, keeper of your favorite holidays." and ask students to infer exactly what the author means. Winter Wonderland would be a welcome addition to your collection of books on the seasons.