Monday, December 26, 2011

The House Baba Built

The House Baba Built
Told to Libby Koponen; illustrated by Ed Young
2011 (Little, Brown, and Co.)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Ed Young's father is concerned about his family's safety in 1935 Shanghai. He decides that they should move to the outskirts of the city to avoid the effects of the war with Japan. The land is too expensive for Baba to own, so he makes a unique deal with the landowner. He offers to build a spacious brick house with courtyards, gardens, and a swimming pool. After twenty years, Baba will turn over the house to the landowner. The deal is agreed upon and the resourceful Baba, who is an engineer, starts to design. What follows is a description of a family that thrives despite the threat of war and the hardships that have to be endured. Baba does everything with his family in mind and strives to help many others affected by the war. Later, after the children have grown up and the house turned over, Baba sends a letter with the following message which encapsulates his actions throughout the book:

You may put down as rule No. 1 that life is not rich not real unless you partake life with your fellow man. A successful life and a happy life is one as measured by how much you have accomplished for others and not one as measured by how much you've done for yourself.

The House Baba Built is an extraordinary book that combines a poignant autobiographical story with multimedia artwork by one of the best children's book illustrators of all time. Ed Young combines family photographs with illustrations and collage cutouts to tell the story of his childhood and deliver a message given to him by his beloved Baba. In addition to the storytelling and incredible artwork, there is a timeline, a four page blueprint of the house that folds out, and several city maps. This book begs to be a part of a unit on autobiographical picture books. You could include Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey, Peter Sis's The Wall, and James Stevenson's When I Was Nine. I would also consider using this book to compare children today to those of Young's childhood. You could create a Venn diagram to compare the two eras.

Other reviews:
Waking Brain Cells
Chicken Spaghetti
Rasco from RIF

Thursday, December 22, 2011

STEM Friday: Storm Chasers

Extreme Jobs: Storm Chasers
written by Sarah Tieck
2011 (Abdo Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Booktalking

Storm chasing is a risky (some would say insane) business, but the data collected is extremely valuable in trying to understand how hurricanes and tornadoes are formed and how they function. Storm Chasers gives readers an up close look at the life of these meteorologists who chase tornadoes and fly into hurricanes. One of the interesting aspects of this book is the time that is spent researching and planning. Chasing tornadoes or hurricanes involves a lot of time reviewing data and trying to predict what is going to happen with a particular storm. This is an excellent lesson for young science students. I work with 5th graders on being able to read weather data and develop a forecast based on that day's numbers. Storm Chasers shows students that you have to be able to make observations using the latest technology and your background knowledge. After the two sections on tornadoes and hurricanes,  a feature on two historical figures, Benjamin Franklin and John Muir, and their experience with weather observation closes out the book.

Chasing storms certainly has its thrills, but before you can track down a tornado or penetrate the eye of a hurricane in a plane, you have to use reading and math skills to prepare you for the chase. If you have a unit on careers or weather, you can use pieces of this book as a read aloud. A comparison of different time eras and their technology for predicting weather could be an activity you could use in conjunction with Storm Chasers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Favorite Nonfiction Children's Books for 2011

Here is a list of the nonfiction books that I have reviewed in the past calendar year that were my favorites.

A Nation's Hope - This book is my overall favorite for 2011. I have loved sports since the crib, and this is a spectacular book about an important sporting event. I would be delighted if it won the Caldecott Medal.

Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas - I knew back in February that this would be one of my favorites and I haven't changed my mind. The quilted artwork is terrific and the text could be used for a variety of lessons in the classroom.

What's For Dinner?: Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World - Delightfully creepy. This was a good year for the marriage of science and poetry.

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont/My Hands Sing the Blues - I love history lessons that change your thinking. I was totally in the dark about Alberto Santos-Dumont and Romare Bearden before I read these books.

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem -  Not a feel-good story, but well worth the time invested to learn about this somber period in American history. This is excellent storytelling.

From Pie Town to Yum Yum / Cool Animal Names - Two fun books about quirky names. The first is about names of towns in the United States while the second is full of unique animal names. I need to find a pig frog in Bat Cave. 

Bloody Times - This connection of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train and the multi-state flight of Jefferson Davis was difficult to put down.

Animal Naps - Another fun combination of science and poetry, this book contains my favorite photographs of 2011.

After the Kill - Not for the squeamish, this book gives you an up close look at life on the Serengeti Plain.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Did Castles Have Bathrooms?

Did Castles Have Bathrooms?
written by Ann Kerns
2011 (Lerner Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Practically Paradise

To answer the title question, castles did have bathrooms but not the kind we have today. A small room called a garderobe served as the place where you went to the bathroom. It was built against an outside wall and the "plumbing" was inside the wall and led to a pit or the moat. Fragrant herbs like lavender were placed in the garderobe to keep down the odor. Did Castles Have Bathrooms? thinks of just about every question a young reader would have about the Middle Ages and answers it directly with just enough content as to not drown you in facts. Each question is answered with a two page spread. A large illustration with a question is on the left with two columns of information on the right. Other subjects addressed include whether or not Robin Hood and King Arthur truly existed (They did not.). Another topic that will be of interest is jousting. I always assumed jousting tournaments were held strictly for  entertainment. It seems tournaments were a source of income for knights who had to pay for armor, weapons, horses, and a support crew. I didn't realize being a knight was such an expensive proposition. Speaking of armor, there is a section on how knights were able to go into battle and still wear that heavy suit. Perhaps the most interesting and terrifying part of this book is the feature on the Black Death. From 1348 to 1352, the bubonic plague killed twenty-five million people which was one-third of Europe's population. That's unbelievable! Contrary to previously held beliefs, it wasn't the rats of Europe that were to blame necessarily, but the fleas that lived on the rats. In the midst of all this history, you get a little science to help you understand how flea bites were so deadly. Did Castles Have Bathrooms? is a fascinating study of a  time period that may be overlooked by today's students.

Books like this are a valuable resource since you can use it to bolster dry accounts contained in textbooks. One activity would be to have a student reading this book create a poster divided into sections that contained different pieces of information about the Middle Ages. Did Castles Have Bathrooms? would be an excellent accompaniment to Newbery winner Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Poetry Friday: Dear Hot Dog

Dear Hot Dog
written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
2011 (Abrams Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Poetry Friday at Book Aunt

You gurgle happily
as I pour in milk
and introduce my spoon.

Dear Hot Dog is a series of poems that express the joy children find in everyday things. Rain brings a child time to be lost in books. The sun is like a brother that chases you around a pool and can play too rough with sunburn. Pillows think that they are clouds while we are away and then take us to dreams when we are together.  A stuffed bear can be a best friend. The narrator in each poem talks to the subject as if it is alive which makes these poems perfect for lessons on personification. Mordicai Gerstein shows us that in a child's eyes, every day is special and anything is possible. The poems do not rhyme which I think is great since many young children have the misconception that poems have to rhyme. As a young writer, it makes writing poetry much easier if you are not struggling to find a rhyming word. I also like the connections I make to my childhood when reading these poems. I remember sunburns and dripping ice cream cones.

In writer's workshop, we've been working on making observations of the world around us and writing what those observations make us think. Dear Hot Dog would be a terrific accompaniment to these lessons. Individual poems could be copied onto chart paper and used for shared reading time. Older students could create a class booklet with each student writing a poem based on an everyday object.

Other reviews:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: About Hummingbirds

About Hummingbirds
written by Cathryn Sill; illustrated by John Sill
2011 (Peachtree Publishers)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Geo Librarian

As you probably know, hummingbirds fly around at incredible speeds. Having been buzzed by these tiny territorial beasts, I know this first-hand. The problem with hummingbirds is you can't get a good look at them. This is one of the reasons why I really like About Hummingbirds. John Sill's artwork is amazing. You get to see the action that is normally too quick for human eyes and the colors are incredible. The man can flat out draw feathers! I especially liked the feet on the Booted Racquet-tail. They look like the shovels that kids use on the beach to dig sand. Cathryn Sill's text is sparse and informative which makes a perfect partner for the illustrations. An advanced first grader or a second grader can read the text, then focus on the picture to pull out several more details. The cherry on the sundae is the afterword. In the afterword, each of the 18 plates (pictures) in the main text is accompanied by a rich paragraph of information. I could see taking one of these plates and creating a circle map to review the facts about that particular hummingbird. You could also create a chart for older students and have them gather facts under headings such as anatomy, predators, and habitat. Full of interesting information and gorgeous artwork, About Hummingbirds would be a terrific addition to a unit on birds.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

STEM Friday: Ugly Animals

Ugly Animals
written by Gilda and Melvin Berger
2011 (Scholastic)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Wrapped In Foil

Gilda and Melvin Berger are not engaging in name calling. Instead, they are bringing attention to some unusual animals whose decidedly unattractive features are actually quite useful. In past times, the mop-like fur of the sheep herding komondor dog kept it safe from attacking wolves and bears. The lack of fur on a naked mole rat allows it to move more easily through tunnels. Male proboscis monkeys have exceedingly large noses, but apparently these are a big hit with the female of the species and the deepness of the "honk" produced by this super snout warns other monkeys of impending danger. Several other unique animals are featured in this easy reader. The red-lipped batfish is almost too strange to be believed and the ruby red lips may not be the weirdest thing. This is a fish that walks, with its fins, on the bottom of the sea since it is not a very good swimmer. A fish that can barely swim? These are the kind of unusual facts that make Ugly Animals a fun read.

Since many of the animal features are useful in fending off predators, this text would be a good resource in teaching cause and effect lessons. Kindergarten and 1st grade students would also enjoy creating a circle map involving one of these critters. Another possible lesson would be to talk about how these animals are quite effective regardless of how we might view their looks. That's a good life lesson for kids beginning to worry about how they look. Older struggling readers can read this book and not worry about carrying around a book that "looks younger". With the wide-eyed aye aye on the cover, nobody is going to think about the reading level when they see Ugly Animals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


written by Mary Lyn Ray; illustrated by Marla Frazee
2011 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

What if you could have a star? They shine like little silver eggs you could gather in a basket.

My youngest daughter and her best friend take great joy in discovering small wonders in the area between the woods and the playground at school. We planted a pine tree sprig (named Fred) in our yard that had been packed in sand from the school sandbox. It's easy to be cynical in this world, but when you spend time with kids like these, your level of optimism tends to rise. This youthful exuberance is overflowing in Stars. As expressed by author Mary Lyn Ray, the symbolism of a star for a young child comes in many forms. It is a comforting light in the dark night. A star is the possibility of a wish coming true. Stars are also manifested in many forms in the natural world. There are the white stars that become strawberries and the yellow stars on the vine that become pumpkins. Stars are magical whether in the sky or placed on our chest for achieving a goal.

The text and illustrations of Stars capture the many moods of childhood. There is the happiness of spending time with friends and the sadness of being alone on the swings. Marla Frazee's artwork is pitch perfect in reflecting the beauty of the stars and what they can mean to a child. A great writing activity to accompany this book would be to create a star booklet that contained student reflections on stars. There are also several examples of similes that could be used to teach figurative language. If you are looking for a special book to give to a primary teacher this season, Stars would be a nice choice.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Bug Shots

Bug Shots: The Good, the Bad, and the Bugly
written by Alexandra Siy and photomicrographs by Dennis Kunkel
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Gathering Books

Are bugs criminals? Bug Shots seeks to answer this question by  sorting out the good bugs and the bad bugs. Readers are encouraged to join the FBI and become a Fellow Bug Investigator. Mug shots of these "criminals" are photomicrographs which give you a close-up look of these potential villains. This is such a smart approach to attracting students to the study of entomology. After the introductory chapter, readers meet the worst offenders. These are the bugs like bedbugs and mosquitoes that cause a great deal of physical harm to humans. In the next chapter, you meet the "common criminals". These are beetles that chew through crops, forests, and other valuable items. Other insects featured later on include identity changers like butterflies and moths, and those that carry concealed weapons like bees and wasps. The final chapter decides which "bad guys" are really good and those who deserve a hefty punishment.

Alexandra Siy's combination of cool facts, clever writing, and humor make this book a winner. The photomicrographs are amazing. You see so many details. One activity in the classroom that instantly jumped to mind when reading Bug Shots was to create wanted posters. Students could be divided up according to the categories in the book. This would be a fun writing activity. You could also create a ten most wanted list. Bug Shots is a unique look at an amazing part of the animal kingdom.

Friday, December 2, 2011

STEM Friday: How Does Medicine Know Where You Hurt?

Wonderopolis: How Does Medicine Know Where You Hurt?
November 30, 2011

Check out STEM Friday at Archimedes Notebook

Thanks to Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading, I found out about Wonderopolis, which is a daily nonfiction article accompanied by a video and links for further research. Each article begins with a bulleted summary of the article. The text is written on about a 4th or 5th grade level, but you could easily use it as a read aloud in lower grades as well.

Wednesday's article was about pain relievers and  how your body knows where to send the medicine that you take to heal it. Prostaglandin is a chemical sent out by cells to tell the brain where pain is happening in the body. The pain reliever that has gone through your stomach and into the blood stream goes throughout your body with the purpose of stopping cells from transmitting this chemical. Fascinating stuff!

There are several ways you can use Wonderopolis articles in your classroom. I have two computers in my classroom and each daily article is available during Reader's Workshop when my students are independently reading. It is especially helpful for those students who do not read a lot of nonfiction. I will also use an article during read aloud when I am teaching a strategy or skill or just for enjoyment. Wonderopolis is a terrific resource for classroom teachers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teaching Transversal Lines

Image by School Genius

Transversal is not the name of a one hit wonder 80's band, but instead the name of the line that crosses two or more lines in the same plane. In teaching this concept to 5th graders, I have been given several helpful resources that are listed below. Other subjects that come into play include interior, exterior, vertical, and corresponding angles.

SmartBoard lesson: This is a really good lesson. Students are able to manipulate sections and get a good visual feel for interior, exterior, and vertical angles.

Khan Academy videos: Angles formed between transversals and parallel lines
                                       Angles of parallel lines 2
These videos by Salman Khan are great resources to reinforce your lessons. A couple of numbers in the second video are out of place, but this can easily be rectified. Khan has a great sense of humor and does well to simplify difficult subjects.

Math Worksheets 4 Kids has two good sets of problems that can be used for practice or homework:
Parallel Lines and Transversals #1
Parallel Lines and Transversals #2

If you have any other helpful resources, please list them in the comments section.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Woods

The Woods
written and illustrated by Paul Hoppe
2011 (Chronicle Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

A young boy is ready to turn in for the night. He goes through his normal routine when he discovers that his bunny is missing. This calls for a trip to the woods. These woods are directly connected to his bedroom which is very convenient. Not too far into the journey he meets a scary brown bear. Except this bear is not scary but instead scared. He is afraid of the dark so our narrator offers his nightlight for relief. This party of two continues until they meet two scary giants. Seems the giants are not scary either. They are just bored and in need of a bedtime story, which is quickly provided. The next creature met along the way is a three headed fire-breathing dragon who is not interested in providing a fright but rather needs help with a stomachache. Our kind narrator provides a hug which is just the tonic needed. Afterwards, a trip to a big dark cave yields the bunny and a surprise ending.

The Woods is a terrific option for a bedtime story. The lead character helps others face their fears with solutions for various nighttime needs. This is a clever text which provides opportunities for rich discussions about being afraid and how we deal with these feelings. It would be interesting to see if children put two and two together to see that the boy is giving each creature something he uses at night to help himself go to sleep. Paul Hoppe's watercolor illustrations have a classic look that remind me of early 20th century Sunday comics. The Woods would be an excellent choice for a read aloud in a preschool or kindergarten class.

Other reviews:
Picture Book of the Day
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Hey Diddle Diddle

Hey Diddle Diddle: A Food Chain Tale
written by Pam Kapchinske; illustrated by Sherry Rogers
2011 (Sylvan Dell)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at A Curious Thing

A slithering snake came slinkin' past
when he spotted that bug - a snack at last!
He swallowed it whole and shimmied along,
a hissin' and a grinnin' and a singin' a song.

No one is safe in Hey Diddle Diddle. As soon as you start celebrating your latest meal, you end up on someone else's dinner plate. Welcome to the food chain. Each sequence is presented in a four line rhyme that will be a popular shared reading experience. It is an AABB pattern so you can withhold the last word in the second A and B lines and see if students can predict the word. Speaking of predicting, you can also ask students to use their background knowledge and predict what animal will be on the next page. Hey Diddle Diddle is a good science lesson (Lessons on herbivore/carnivore, predator/prey, and habitat are possibilities), but I think the hidden strength of this book is in the writing lessons that can be taught using this text. Author Pam Kapchinske loads these verses with vivid verbs which can be used as a mentor text for beefing up stale writing. It would also be a fun activity as a class to create your own pair of four verse rhymes featuring a predator and their prey. Perhaps a kid attacking a grilled cheese sandwich. As with other Sylvan Dell titles, check out the back matter for activities that can be used in the classroom or at home.

Other reviews:
Just Our Thoughts

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont
written by Victoria Griffith; illustrated by Eva Montanari
2011 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Books Together

Alberto Santos-Dumont was a celebrity in 1903 Paris. He flew his dirigible around the French capital and easily outpaced the cars below. But Alberto was restless. As he explained to his friend, the jeweler Louis Cartier, he wanted flying machines to go faster and be more useful. For three years Alberto worked on a flying machine and was ready to unveil it in November 1906. Nearly a thousand people gathered at a field to see his new invention. An unexpected interloper by the name of Louis Bleriot was also there with his new flying machine. Being a gentleman and supremely confident, Santos-Dumont offered Bleriot the chance to go first. This was a huge risk for Alberto as he stood to lose the opportunity to be the first man to fly an airplane powered only by itself. Bleriot made three attempts and on the third one his airplane fell apart. Alberto started the engine on his plane and soon soared above the heads of the spectators. He managed to fly for twenty-one seconds before a hard landing. Alberto knew the time since he was wearing a new  wristwatch created by Louis. Cheering spectators carried the new champion of flight on their shoulders. Alberto Santos-Dumont was the first man to take off in a plane using its own power.

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont brings to light an historical figure previously unknown to me and I suspect many others. This book is a perfect example for students of how our understanding of history is subject to change. It is an interesting debate as to who actually invented the airplane. The Wright Brothers flew with the assistance of wind and a rail system while Santos-Dumont's airplane was self-powered and there are others who could possibly lay claim to being the first. This could be the subject for an research/opinion paper or a compare/contrast assignment in a classroom. Victoria Griffith's captivating text could also be used for a lesson on sequence. Students would describe Alberto's big day in a series of boxes filled with illustrations. It would be interesting to create a picture book unit on early flight featuring aviators such as the Wrights, Santos-Dumont, Elinor Smith, and Amelia Earhart.

Other reviews:
Picture Book of the Day (check out the video!)
Fuse #8

Thursday, November 17, 2011

STEM Friday: Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra

Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra
written by David A. Adler; illustrated by Edward Miller
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Dig This Well

David A. Adler and Edward Miller have done it again! Last year they created the terrific Time Zones which translated a complex subject into a fun read. As if that wasn't difficult enough, this dynamic duo is now tackling algebra in Mystery Math. A haunted house is the perfect setting for a subject that strikes fear in the hearts of millions. Adler starts the book by comparing equations to seesaws. Both need to be balanced in order to work. Simple equations (e.g. 6 + 2 = 8) combined with spooky owls on tree branches illustrate this idea of balance. Next, the mystery number is introduced. Adler explains that variables get their name because they vary from one equation to the next. A simple rule is given to help deal with variables: Whatever is done to one side of the equal sign must be done to the other side. Finally, readers are guided on how to solve for variables in each of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). In each section, guides Mandy and Billy and caretaker Igor present the operation in the form of an algebraic word problem. The problem is broken down so the reader can see how to find the value of the variable. A nice finishing touch is a piece of procedural text in the back matter that shows you how to build a balance scale that can be used to find unknown numbers in equations.

Mystery Math would be a great introduction for elementary students who are beginning to learn about algebra. Students could write their own word problems to match the setting of the book and share these for homework.

Other reviews:
Nonfiction Detectives

Monday, November 14, 2011

Little Pig Joins the Band

Little Pig Joins the Band
written and illustrated by David Hyde Costello
2011 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Little Pig is frustrated. He is never called by his real name, Jacob, and when his family gets out Grandpa's marching band instruments, Little Pig finds that he is too small to play them. With no piccolo, harmonica, or kazoo in sight, Little Pig is resigned to being a spectator. When his brothers and sisters start playing, it is a maelstrom of missed notes and steps. What this band needs is a leader, and there is no height requirement for that position. Little Pig steps in as drum major and harmony ensues.

A common theme in picture books is a young character who doesn't seem to fit in and has to find a way to belong.  This theme is popular among young readers because they have experienced similar feelings in their lives. Little Pig Joins the Band would be a good mentor text for making text to self connections and also for teaching a lesson on problem and solution. In conjunction with this book, I would ask students how they can be leaders in their classroom and home.

Other reviews
Waking Brain Cells

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Time to Eat

Time to Eat
written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
2011 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Playing by the book

Have you watched competitive eaters scarfing down hot dogs in the July 4th contest on Coney Island? The winner will eat about 50-60 hot dogs. Sounds impressive (or disgusting or both), but the true competitive eating champs reside in the wild animal kingdom. For example, a tick can drink about one hundred times its own weight in blood. This amounts to a human drinking 6,000 milkshakes as an equivalent meal. A crucifix toad stores insects on its sticky skin and then peels off the skin for a tasty treat. Baby blue whales drink enough milk to gain 200 pounds in 24 hours. Shrews have to eat every two or three hours to stay alive and end up eating three times their own body weight each day.  With Time to Eat, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have collected a cornucopia of "wow" facts about animal eating habits and combined with their usual cool collage artwork will easily capture the imagination of young readers. Seventeen different animals are featured in this book and in the back matter there are extra facts included for each animal. Time For a Bath and Time to Sleep are two more books in this series for young readers.

For teaching purposes, there are several sets of pages where there is a connection between the two animals featured. A butcherbird impales its prey on a thorn while a black widow wraps up its prey in a tight cocoon. You could read the two pages and ask students why the two animals are paired together. This could be an introduction to author's purpose. There are also opportunities to teach main idea and supporting details with several of these passages.

Other reviews:
100 Scope Notes

Saturday, November 12, 2011

SmartBoard and United Streaming lessons for weather

Image by Simon

I'm working on a weather unit for 5th grade so I've listed several SmartBoard links below for lessons that would work well with this unit.

The Water Cycle: Good overview. Really like the run-off section.
Weather: Excellent information on fronts and air masses. Great graphics.
Weather Clouds: Great graphic of the Earth with explanation of humidity.
Virginia Weather Lesson: Developed for Virginia students, this lesson has a terrific Venn diagram activity for the four cloud types (cumulus, cumulonimbus, cirrus, stratus).

 If you have access to United Streaming, there are Weather Smart videos and check out the first 12 minutes of the Magic School Bus video, Wet All Over, which gives an entertaining overview of the water cycle.

Friday, November 11, 2011

STEM Friday: SmartBoard Lessons for Geometry

Image created by Gustavb

We are starting our math unit on identifying, estimating, and measuring angles and my colleague sent me several SmartBoard lesson links that will be extremely helpful in teaching these lessons.

Classifying angles: Overview of angles and their classifications.
Angles: Learning to identify and measure angles.
Angle Measurement: Introduces angles and the tools to measure them. Fun lesson!
Measuring Angles: Includes complementary (90 degrees) and supplementary angles (180 degrees).
Measuring and Classifying Angles: Quick quiz on types of angles and their measures.

Check out the SmartBoard Exchange link in the links section to the right to find more lessons for your interactive whiteboard.

STEM and Poetry Friday: Double Play!

Double Play!: Monkeying Around With Addition
written by Betsy Franco; illustrated by Doug Cushman
2011 (Random House)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Ana's Nonfiction Blog
Check out Poetry Friday at Teaching Authors

Chimps Jill and Jake make the most of their recess time. They hang out on the bars, jump rope, play foursquare, blow bubbles, and engage in other fun activities. As they play, the reader will notice that recess presents a great opportunity to think about math. The subject today is doubles in addition and when Jill and Jake hang upside down on the bars, they see two sets of knees; 2 + 2 = 4. When there are two games of foursquare being played, you have 8 squares; 4 + 4 = 8. Learning about doubles is an integral part of the process of being able to add numbers and Double Play! makes this fun.

Betsy Franco has mixed poetry and math before with Zero Is the Number of Leaves On a Tree and with Double Play! she again strikes a perfect chord in blending words and numbers. After reading aloud this book with a preschool or kindergarten class, you will hear addition sentences being trumpeted by students all over the playground for days. Students will also delight in viewing Doug Cushman's playful and bright artwork. I would definitely use Double Play! to create a writing activity combining recess, addition sentences, and illustrations. Your class could create their own version of the book. Another thought would be to think about the addition sentences in other areas of the school including the lunchroom. Double Play! is a great lesson for young children on applying the skills you learn in school to all parts of your life.

Other reviews:
Kiss the Book
Journey of a Bookseller

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Abandoned Lighthouse

The Abandoned Lighthouse
written by Albert Lamb; illustrated by David McPhail
2011 (Roaring Brook Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

A well fed bear finds an empty rowboat on the beach and decides to take a nap. The tide rolls in and takes the boat to the rocks surrounding an abandoned lighthouse. As the bear fishes near the rocks, the boat floats away. A boy is playing on a different shore later that day, kicking a ball with his little dog. The ball bounces into the back of an empty rowboat. When the boy enters the boat to recover his ball, the boat floats out into the sea. His dog paddles furiously and catches the boy in the boat. Exhausted, both boy and dog fall asleep and later find themselves on the rocks beneath an abandoned lighthouse. The bear rescues them and also catches fish for dinner. That night, a storm blows in and brings a large ship perilously close to the lighthouse. Will the three friends be able to revive the lighthouse and save the ship from the rocky shore?

The Abandoned Lighthouse reminds me of Maurice Sendak's Little Bear books which are very appealing to beginning readers. It has a similarly peaceful feel to it with plenty of opportunities for readers to practice their skills of prediction and sequence. As experienced readers, we know that when the bear falls asleep, he is going to float out to sea. Beginning readers don't necessarily know this, so this book is a good opportunity to think through why this happens and how it drives the story. Reading The Abandoned Lighthouse would also be a good opportunity for younger readers to practice retell with the use of sequence. I also like the open ending which would lend itself to a shared writing experience where you could write a new adventure for the rowboat.

Other reviews:
A Book and A Hug

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Earthquake in Haiti

Earthquake in Haiti
written by Miriam Aronin
2011 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Charlotte's Library

The 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 was devastating in many ways. Earthquake in Haiti documents this destruction with heartbreaking stories and photographs. Personal accounts are presented through the eyes of 24 year old Wismond Exatus Jean-Pierre who spent 11 days trapped in the rubble of the hotel where he worked. Christa Brelsford was an American volunteer who was helping Haitians learn to read. She was trapped by falling concrete and lost her right leg to amputation, but was so grateful to her rescuers that she started a charity, Christa's Angels, to raise money to rebuild schools in Haiti. Several sections of the book are also devoted to the relief and rescue efforts that quickly came to Haiti in the aftermath of the disaster. Schoolchildren raised money through sales of hot chocolate, parades, and handmade cards. There is still quite a bit that needs to be done today in Haiti. You can click on this link to find out how to help.

Earthquake in Haiti is less a book about the science of earthquakes and more about the human effects of such a tragedy. Students could use this to study the skill of cause and effect by listing the bad effects (homelessness, death, lost jobs, etc.) and good effects (people around the world helping) of this natural disaster. There are also several words (desperate, compassion, volunteering) that could be used for vocabulary study and for making connections.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween and See You In A Week

I have Halloween, report cards, parent conferences, and my oldest daughter's play this week so I'm not going to do any book reviews. I will be back next week for Nonfiction Monday. I may throw a link or two up in the meantime. Have a great week everybody!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

STEM Friday: Journey Into The Deep (iPad book)

Journey Into The Deep
written by Rebecca L. Jefferson
2011 (Lerner Publishing)
$2.99 on iTunes

STEM Friday is here! Leave your link down below and thanks for joining the fun.

In her foreword to Journey Into the Deep, oceanographer Sylvia Earle says "only 5 percent of the ocean has been seen so far, let alone explored."  It is this mystery that should excite readers as they marvel at the incredible photographs (in brilliant color on the iPad) and read about the Census of Marine Life that is the subject of this book. Author Rebecca L. Jefferson explains in her video prologue that reading an article and taking a trip in a submersible spurred her to create this in-depth look at the work of researchers participating in this study. The book is divided into chapters according to the part of the ocean that is being explored. In Open Water, scientists in the western Pacific Ocean are looking for zooplankton during the day. They are seeking to capture samples to place in lab aquariums for further study. After dinner, the crew launches a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) that travels over 1,000 feet down to search for creatures that give off their own light. The photographs are simply amazing. One of my favorites is a see-through sea cucumber on the ocean floor. Students will marvel at the pictures and the information they learn through reading this book.

Journey Into the Deep is perhaps a glimpse into the future of nonfiction books. The back matter comes alive with links in the bibliography and website sections. For nonfiction there is so much you can do with direct access to the Internet and the possibilities of adding video. I can see authors teaching a video lesson based on the content in their book and games that could be created as bonus features. It's an exciting world that awaits us.

Other reviews:
Great Kid Books
School Library Journal

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Decimals and John Smith

In my 5th grade class, we're working with decimals in math and studying exploration in social studies. I wanted to share two cool links that help with both subjects:

Decimal Spy Guys is a SmartBoard math lesson from Learn Alberta that introduces decimals. When you include spies and baseball in your lesson, you have a winner.

On the Trail of Captain John Smith is an animated interactive lesson from National Geographic that provides an overview of the explorations led by this English captain famous for helping start the Jamestown settlement. I like the thought questions interspersed with the narrative. These questions make for a good lesson on cause and effect.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Greece! Rome! Monsters!

Greece! Rome! Monsters!
written by John Harris; illustrated by Calef Brown
2002 (J. Paul Getty Museum)
Source: Orange County Public Library

If you want an easy to read primer on mythology, check out Greece! Rome! Monsters!. Twenty Greek and Roman monsters are featured in this entertaining book. The text is humorous and informative. Author John Harris knows what interests young readers. You get the scary details regarding each monster combined with their place in mythology. The cover monster Chimaera breathed fire with the head of a lion and also had a goat's head growing in the middle with a snake as a tail! It takes the hero Bellerophon and his horse Pegasus to take out this frightful creature. Other monsters spotlighted include the Basilisk, Cyclops, Harpies, and the Phoenix. Calef Brown's artwork is distinctive and funny.

This would be a great book for fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Those readers will enjoy learning the background of these legendary creatures. Greece! Rome! Monsters! would also be an excellent resource for teaching figurative language. Several words and phrases (panic, siren's song) come from these mythological beings. It would be an informative to discuss why these creatures were created in ancient cultures.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Eliza's Cherry Trees

Eliza's Cherry Trees: Japan's Gift to America
written by Andrea Zimmerman; illustrated by Ju Hong Chen
2011 (Pelican Publishing Company)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Apples With Many Seeds

Eliza Scidmore lived an unusual life for a young woman in the late 19th century. She was able to travel to Europe as a teenager and this fueled her desire to travel to more places. Eliza found that writing would pay her way to travel around the world. One of her stops was Alaska, which fascinated her so much that she wrote the first guidebook about the territory. Another destination captured her heart. Eliza's brother worked in Japan which led to her visiting there. She fell in love with the culture and most of all the gardens. Her favorite plant was the Japanese cherry tree. Japan so enthralled her that she wrote a book and hoped that the two countries could become greater friends. Later, as she was walking on the muddy banks of the Potomac in her hometown, Eliza remembered the cherry trees and began a more than twenty year quest to bring Japanese cherry trees to the nation's capital. Eliza's patience won out as she picked up an important ally in the wife of President Taft. Finally in 1912, the first cherry trees were planted.

Eliza's Cherry Trees shows what can be done with determination and patience. Eliza Scidmore led an incredibly interesting life and met her goal. Students can learn from her persistence. It would interesting for students to hypothesize on why it took so long for Eliza's dream to come true. It's not speculated on by the author, but perhaps her gender played a part. This would also be a good book to share around Earth Day as your class thinks about ways to help the environment. In the back matter is a good example of a time line which could be used as a model for students to use.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

STEM Friday: My Friend the Box Turtle

My Friend the Box Turtle
written by Joanne Randolph
2011 (Windmill Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Growing With Science

When I was a child, I received a box turtle as a present and it didn't end well. Given my past experience, I am hopeful that reviewing My Friend the Box Turtle will help other children avoid a similar experience. In the first section of this book, there is general information about box turtles including different species and habitats. I was surprised to learn that there are box turtles in the desert. I would have thought they needed more moisture, but apparently they can dig deep enough to meet their needs. The meat of this book begins with the next section titled Home Sweet Home. Readers find information about how to build a home for a box turtle. Since reptiles can't make their own heat, you will need to purchase heating pads and heating lamps. Caring for a turtle may be more of a task then first thought. Turtles need several different areas in their home to thrive. A dry area, a hiding/sleeping spot, and a pool are all necessary amenities for a turtle. This sounds like an episode of House Hunters, but building this habitat the right way is extremely important. The final section, Caring For Your Turtle, includes tips for daily care including a once a day misting, vitamins, and a diet that includes slugs, mushrooms, and fruits.

I like shorter nonfiction titles like My Friend the Box Turtle because primary students like my youngest daughter eat them up. They don't receive a lot of attention, but these books are a valuable part of any elementary school media collection. They help build background knowledge and are a great resource for science instruction in K-1 classrooms. These books are also a gateway to learning about how to research a topic. Our kindergarten classes create nonfiction books and titles like this one provide a resource that is a perfect fit for them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air
written by Stewart Ross; illustrated by Stephen Biesty
2011 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

The story of exploration is not just about technological advances; it's also about people. - Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty

Into the Unknown presents fourteen journeys that transformed our knowledge of this planet. These accounts include Pytheas the Greek, who sailed far north from his home almost 2,500 years ago, Leif Eriksson, Marco Polo, Admiral Zheng, Columbus, Magellan, Captain Cook, and several others who blazed new paths. It ends with a journey out of this world, the flight of Apollo 11.  Told in chronological order, each section provides a fascinating narrative that recounts the journey of each explorer or explorers. Accompanying these narratives is some of the best artwork I have seen for a nonfiction book. The stand alone illustrations are terrific by themselves with detailed labels providing important information, but the real stars of this book are the unfolding cutaways and cross sections. On the fold of one piece of paper in the section on the ascent up Mt. Everest, you see a cut out of a mountaineer and the equipment he would use for climbing above 20,000 feet. On the top half of that same piece, you get a detailed map of the path from Kathmandu to the base camp for the journey up Mt. Everest. On the back side, there is a fold out of the path from the base camp to the summit of Everest. There are 14 of these incredibly detailed cut outs in this book! I would have journeyed into unknown lands as a kid to get my hands on a book like this. You can spend hours examining and reexamining the pages and not get bored. For twenty dollars, this book is a bargain.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Voices of World War II: Stories From the Front Lines

Voices of World War II : Stories From the Front Lines
written by Lois Miner Huey
2011 (Capstone Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Simply Science

Voices of World War II features five people who fought in battle:

William Ash: A British prisoner of war
Ruth Straub: An American nurse
David Webster: An American paratrooper
Hanna Reitsch: A Nazi pilot
Hayashi Ichizo: A Japanese kamikaze pilot

The experience of each soldier is presented in a four page spread with photographs and a highlighted vocabulary word. A mix of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources are used to tell their stories. Each narrative is brief which will be a benefit to struggling readers. They can use this book to build background knowledge on World War II without being overwhelmed with text. The stories give you insight into the difficult choices that are a part of waging war and the sacrifices made to defend countries. Especially poignant was Ichizo's statement that "To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine." The book ends with a chapter titled The Cost of War. Information on the destruction during the war, including the Holocaust, is briefly reported. An interesting question that might be posed to students who read this book would be "Can a soldier be considered brave if they fought on the wrong side of the war?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

STEM Friday: Even an Octopus Needs a Home

Even an Octopus Needs a Home
written and illustrated by Irene Kelly
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Shelf-Employed

But all animals, including humans, need homes for the same reason: to have a safe and snug place to live and raise a family.

Even an Octopus Needs a Home explores the theme of every living thing needing a safe place to live by categorizing the types of habitats created by animals. It starts with Tree Houses. Familiar (chimpanzees, honey bees) and exotic animals (monk parakeet, Montezuma Oropendolas) are featured. Each section tells what materials are used and how the animal builds the home. Several "wow" facts are included which makes for fun nonfiction. For example, some monk parakeet nests "can be as big as a car." One colony of Montezuma Oropendolas built 172 nests in one tree! Other categories of habitats include Towers (ants, coral reefs), Caves (bears, octopi who hang eggs from the ceiling), and Burrows (shrimp, tortoises). Each animal feature is accompanied by bright watercolor illustrations and fascinating information that will energize young nonfiction fans. This is the perfect book if you teach a unit on animal homes. I could see kindergarten and first grade students creating booklets of animal homes based on this book. Whole classes or small groups could create Venn diagrams that contrast different homes within a category or across categories. I might have an "Animal Home of the Day" and feature a different animal perhaps accompanied by other photographs and/or United Streaming video if that is available to you. There are several possible uses to Even an Octopus Needs a Home, so find a copy for your animal units in science.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Perfect Snow

Perfect Snow
written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
2011 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Scott and Jim are brothers who love snow days. Jim doesn't even crack a frown when his sister tells him that school will still be open. He can't wait for recess. Scott decides to build a team of snowmen while Jim is trying to create a "Snow Fortress of Doom." Scott can only make so many snowmen by himself, while Jim is caught up in a blizzard due to everyone taking snow from his fort efforts. The recess bell gives the boys time to reflect and they decide to combine their ideas to make a massive fort of snowmen at lunch time. The end of the day brings the satisfaction of a job well done in the perfect snow.  

I saw the word distinctive in a blurb from the Booklist review of Perfect Snow and I can't think of a better word to describe the illustrations. I have limited knowledge, but I can't recall seeing anything like this with the combination of pressed plasticine, that gives it a 3-D look, and panels of ink drawings. Absolutely cool! This book captures the joy of watching falling snow and then playing in it. You could use this book to teach lessons on cause and effect or problem and solution. I like how the brothers work together to problem solve. An excellent companion book for Perfect Snow would be one of my favorite pieces of nonfiction text, Recess at Twenty Below, which chronicles a day at school for a class of Alaskan students.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: My Hands Sing the Blues

My Hands Sing the Blues
written by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
2011 (Marshall Cavendish)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Practically Paradise

Today my memory whirls back to my North Carolina past.

Famed 20th century artist Romare Bearden was born in North Carolina in 1911. At the age of 3, his family moves by train to New York City to escape the oppressive Jim Crow laws of the South. This makes a huge impression on the young Romare as he has to leave his beloved great-grandma and great-grandpa behind. As an adult artist in Harlem, Bearden uses trains in several of his paintings including the inspiration for this book, "Watching the Good Trains Go By." Bearden is later quoted as saying "I never left Charlotte except physically." Romare Bearden received the National Medal of Arts in 1987 and left behind a legacy of helping younger artists and being the "nation's foremost collagist."

One of the great joys of writing this blog is learning about people you never knew before and what inspired them to greatness. My Hands Sing the Blues is an excellent biography that combines rhythmic language and wonderful collage illustrations that illuminate the heart and soul of Romare Bearden's childhood journey. I appreciate Jeanne Harvey's choice of how to structure the sentences in this book. The text is one long blues song that helps you understand Bearden's attachment to his past and his eagerness to capture this journey in his collages.

Like a flower, I have roots in my Carolina past, 
roots sunk deep in my childhood long past.
The people and the places are in my art to last.

Likewise, Elizabeth Zunon's exquisite collages give us insight into Bearden's work and his heart.  

My Hands Sing the Blues could serve as a resource in your classroom in several ways. Students could create a collage to reflect an important moment in their lives or to accompany a poem that they have written for a poetry unit. For older students, I would add this book to my biography collection. I would also accompany this book with works by Donald Crews. My Hands Sing the Blues reminded me of his work and in doing some searching I found that Mr. Crews's daughter Nina Crews lists Romare Bearden as an influence.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

STEM Friday: Why Do Puppies Do That? (iPad book)

Why Do Puppies Do That?
written by Seymour Simon
2011 (Seymour Science LLC)
Source: iTunes

Check out STEM Friday at Celebrate Science

The king of science books, Seymour Simon, tackles perhaps his cutest challenge yet with Why Do Puppies Do That?. In two page sections with photographs of adorable puppies, Simon answers questions that young children might have about their furry friends. For example, one piece is titled Why don't puppies sit when they are told?. It is explained that puppies have to be trained with a command and a gentle push on the hindquarters. This e-book is a good match for a preschooler or a primary school student who wants to read or needs to use the audio option to have it read to them. Simon doesn't go "cutesy" with the text, but in a simple manner explains the behavior of these animals. He covers about every question that a child might ask, including explanations of scratching and wetting on the floor.

Accessing this on an iPad would be very easy for a preschooler to accomplish. Paw prints serve as the page turns and there is a menu at the bottom so you can go to any page. The photographs will engage beginning readers and prompt them to continue turning the pages. Why Do Puppies Do That? would be a good primer for a child that is about to receive a puppy. After reading this, you could ask children to list the positive and challenging parts of owning a puppy or talk about the character traits of a good dog owner. Why Do Puppies Do That? would also be an excellent resource for showing children how you don't need to start at the beginning of an informational text. You can show all the pages on the screen and just pick one section. This is an e-book that will be read several times by a young dog lover.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Isabel's Car Wash

Isabel's Car Wash
written by Sheila Bair; illustrated by Judy Stead
2008 (Albert Whitman) Paperback just released.
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Isabel Dinero needs ten dollars to buy a new doll. Since she has washed several cars with her older brother, Isabel decides to start her own car wash. The first thing she will need are supplies, but shammies and soap cost five dollars and she only has fifty cents. Fortunately, five of her friends are willing to be investors and give her a dollar each to help start the business. Isabel promises to pay them back with interest. The next morning, she starts her car washing business and ends up with twenty customers. With a profit of twenty dollars, Isabel is able to double her investors' money and still have ten dollars left over to buy her doll.

Children can start learning at an early age about financial literacy. Saving and investing are important topics that can be taught through the use of stories like Isabel's Car Wash. I think this book would also be a good source for teaching students about character. Isabel is a plucky youngster who problem solves and shows a lot of grit. These are traits that we certainly want to emphasize in our classrooms. Lessons on sequence and problem/solution could be taught using Isabel's Car Wash. Questions like "What are the steps to starting a business?" or "How/Where do you get the money to start a business?" could be discussed as part of these lessons.

A good companion book for Isabel's Car Wash would be Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Wagons Ho!

Wagons Ho!
written by George Hallowell and Joan Holub
illustrated by Lynne Avril
2011 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at 100 Scope Notes

Two young girls are getting ready to move with their families from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City. Jenny Johnson and her family are moving by wagon in 1846. Katie Miller and her family are traveling by car in the 21st century. Both families are seeking a new life in Oregon. As the story progresses, we see both families making preparations for the move. Panels allow the reader to compare the similarities and differences between the two centuries. In 2011, you might travel in an hour what it would take the wagons of 1846 to cross in five days. For the move, both families have to leave behind treasured things including friends and pets. For each day of Katie Miller's car trip, we read about a month in the travels of the Johnson family. Along the way, we learn new information about life on the Oregon Trail and remember highway trips of our own. 

Wagons Ho! is an inventive tale of the Old and New West that beats the pants off a stuffy book I read months ago on the same subject. Yes, it is historical fiction, but it is easy to separate the fictional elements from the nonfiction and learn quite a bit about families that migrated to Oregon in the 19th century. The bonus with this book are the connections students will make through the character of Katie Miller. We've all been on long car trips and can contrast that with the five month wagon trip of the Johnson family. Wagons Ho! would be a great resource for using graphic organizers in teaching history. Lynne Avril's delightful watercolor illustrations help make this a trip that you will want to take with young readers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cybils 2011

The nominations for the 2011 Cybils have opened up so click on this link and nominate your favorite books and book apps. This is an especially great opportunity for those books that might not have gotten a lot of notice when they were published. Authors really appreciate the love shown so if you have a book that you really liked, stop reading this and get over there and nominate it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

STEM and Poetry Friday: Multiply on the Fly

Multiply on the Fly
written by Suzanne Slade; illustrated by Erin E. Hunter
2011 (Sylvan Dell Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library
Check out STEM Friday at Chapter Book of the Day
Check out Poetry Friday at Read Write Believe

Nine brilliant butterflies
twinkle in the dark-
glowing lights flash on and off
How many in the park?

There have been several good titles this year that combine science and poetry. Multiply on the Fly takes it a step further and adds math to the mix. Each two page spread features a multiplication equation with animals as the centerpiece. A four line poem, with the second and fourth lines in rhyme, accompanies each beautiful illustration. Some of the animals featured include walking sticks, luna moths, and ladybugs. Students who are beginning to work on fluency in multiplication will enjoy this unique way to visualize these equations. As with other Sylvan Dell books, you get an abundance of back matter that you can copy for educational use. Sections on life cycles and insect body parts are especially helpful resource and you can click on the link above to find more activities. 

This would be a great read aloud for second and third grade students who are starting to learn about multiplication. You could read one poem each day to start math and discuss how the groupings fit the equation. Then you could brainstorm other ways you could illustrate the equation. For example, for the above poem it could be a school of fish or a flock of geese. Multiply on the Fly is a fine mix of rhyme and arithmetic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Miss Fox's Class Shapes Up

Miss Fox's Class Shapes Up
written by Eileen Spinelli; illustrated by Anne Kennedy
2011 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The students in Miss Fox's class are having a tough time. Frog is falling asleep in class. Bunny doesn't have time for breakfast and Squirrel is winded after a short run on the playground. It's time to shape up this class and the determined Miss Fox starts with a visit to the school nurse who recommends healthy foods to eat. Next, ideas are solicited for exercises during recess time. Even the principal and the custodian join in the fun. Soon all of the students are eating better, sleeping more, and exercising each day. Even Frog is staying awake all day. Will the class be ready for Field Day?

Miss Fox's Class Shapes Up is a delightful story with a serious message. It's important to exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. Physician, heal thyself! I love the focus on physical fitness, but there is something else going on here that could be easily overlooked. This is a fantastic book for teaching young students the skills of finding cause and effect and finding the problem and solution in a story. Eileen Spinelli practically serves it on a platter for teachers. With its focus on problems common to all of us and terrific illustrations, Miss Fox's Class Shapes Up will engage primary students and help them understand how one thing can make another thing happen. "What happens when we don't get enough sleep?" or "Why do we need to eat a good breakfast?" are instant discussion starters to which everyone can make a connection. Now I need to put down my diet soda and put on my running shoes!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Why Did English Settlers Come to Virginia?

Why Did English Settlers Come to Virginia?
written by Candice Ransom
2011 (Lerner Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at True Tales and a Cherry On Top
*Jeanne's new book, My Hands Sing the Blues is featured.

On December 20, 1606, three ships commissioned by the Virginia Company of London set sail from London. They made it to the coast of Dover before setting anchor again to wait for a good wind to push them across the Atlantic. Ever waited on an airplane after it had landed? Very minor compared to the wait of these three crews. It took almost two months for them to set sail again! It would take another two and a half months for these 105 men and boys to land in Virginia. Once there, they set about trying to find silver and gold to match the Spanish who had already been in this part of the world for over a hundred years. Another goal was to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean to make it easier to trade in Asia. Neither of these goals was reached, but the settlement of Jamestown did take hold despite battles with the Algonquians, disease, near starvation, and vicious infighting among themselves.

Why Did English Settlers Come to Virginia? focuses on John Smith who is a fascinating historical figure. It's amazing how many times Smith falls in and out of favor with his fellow settlers and the Native Americans. You need to read this to any young person whose only knowledge of Pocahontas is from animation. Author Candice Ransom makes this story five hundred times more interesting than a textbook. It reminds me of Joy Hakim's A History of Us in its skillful storytelling. I like her inserts of extra background information and the side vocabulary notes as well. If you teach this era in American history or just like studying history, you will enjoy this book. The back matter is generous with website links and synopses of other books that have been written on this subject.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

STEM Friday: Animalogy: Animal Analogies

Animalogy: Animal Analogies
written by Marianne Berkes; illustrated by Cathy Morrison
2011 (Sylvan Dell Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Rasco from RIF

Analogy: A form of reasoning in which one thing is inferred to be similar to another thing in a certain respect. (

In their seminal work, Classroom Instruction That Works, authors Robert Marzano, Debra J. Pickering, and Jane Pollock listed identifying similarities and differences as one of nine strategies that have a positive impact on student learning. I never thought about introducing analogies to young children until I read Animalogy. This book is full of analogies that will stir critical thinking in your classroom. Beaver is to build, as spider is to spin. I read this analogy and thought about other things that animals build. That helped me create this analogy: Nest is to bird, as den is to fox. Each analogy can take you in several directions. Some of these analogies would be very helpful in trying to teach general vs. specific to older students. Other analogies will prompt you to think about classifying and using graphic organizers. Each two page spread is accompanied by gorgeous illustrations that will keep young students engaged. The back matter contains many activities that further stretch young minds and you can photocopy these lessons for classroom use. But wait, there's more! Publisher Sylvan Dell also had a PDF with activities that can be replicated for use in the classroom. Animalogy is a valuable resource for any primary teacher interested in enhancing student thinking in their classroom.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sparky the Fire Dog

Sparky the Fire Dog
written by Don Hoffman; illustrated by Todd Dakins
2011 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Available on October 1st

One of the highlight weeks of a preschool or kindergarten year is National Fire Prevention Week, which is October 9-15 this year. We either visit a fire station or ask firefighting personnel to visit our classrooms. It's an important week as we teach children to think about how they can promote fire safety in their homes. An old ally in helping to publicize the need for fire safety is 60 years old this year and he is the subject of a new book.

Sparky the Fire Dog is a member of Fire Station Number 5 as a result of his heroics in alerting firefighters to a young girl's burning home. During the day, Sparky sits next to the captain in the fire truck. At night he dreams of being a superhero who alerts others to potential dangers in and around their homes. In his dream, he leads a group of Junior Inspectors in visiting homes in the neighborhood. They change batteries in Mrs. Sheep's fire alarms. Mrs. Flamingo is alerted to an unattended candle burning in her house. Ellie the Elephant and her mother share the escape plan they have created. Sparky and his friends go from house to house doing good deeds related to fire safety. A fire alarm awakes Sparky and he races to the fire truck remembering how much he loves being a fire dog.

Sparky the Fire Dog is an engaging vehicle for discussing fire safety with young children. The narrative of the story weaves in tips which can be used for teaching fire safety in the classroom. This book would be an excellent resource for preparing children who are about to visit a fire station or receive a visit from firefighting personnel. The class could create a list of safety tips contained in the book. You could use these tips to create an illustrated booklet where each child illustrates one page that has a safety tip written on it. Another activity would be to draw a T chart and ask students which safety tips are known and which ones are new knowledge.

Other activities such as drawing a home escape plan can be found at A good home activity for children and adults would be to review the inspection checklist.