Monday, January 31, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Animal Eggs - An Amazing Clutch of Mysteries and Marvels!

Animal Eggs: An Amazing Clutch of Mysteries and Marvels!
written by Dawn Cusick and Joanne O'Sullivan
(EarlyLight Books) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Animal Eggs is a nonfiction treat divided into several sections, each containing cool facts about a particular aspect of animal eggs. Also included are jaw dropping photographs that keep your eyes glued to the page until someone walks by and you shove the book in their face to show them the amazing pictures. One of my favorite sections is titled Egg Colors, where you see a photograph of a female brown butterfly laying round yellow eggs on a leaf. If you remember Candy Buttons, you can imagine what these eggs look like. Stink bugs lay pink eggs that look like grapefruit Tic-Tacs. Egg Guarders is a section where you see a spider using six of her eight legs to wrap around her egg sac. The part of the book that might generate the most discussion is Gross or Cool? where you get an "inside look" at python eggs and see how a male jawfish keeps eggs in his mouth for more than a week.

If you teach life cycles, Animal Eggs would be a superb book to help students visualize this beginning stage of animal life. Engaging nonfiction like this also leads to a ton of questions (why are eggs different shapes?), so you can work on asking questions as well. Animal Eggs could also be used to teach nonfiction text features such as captions. For me, it's hard to beat a book of mind blowing facts and shriek inducing photographs. This book is the latest in a captivating line (Bug Butts, Animal Colors) of animal books published by EarlyLight Books.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tip-Tap Pop

Tip-Tap Pop
written by Sarah Lynn; illustrated by Valeria Docampo
(Marshall Cavendish Children) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Emma's Pop teaches her to tap before she can talk. "Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, buffalo-step-stomp." She learns that you can make music with your feet. Every year, Pop and Emma put on a tap dancing show for Emma's birthday and then enjoy Gram's strawberry shortcake. However, on Emma's sixth birthday something is different. Pop begins forgetting things like walking the dog, his reading glasses, and even Emma's birthday. Eventually, he just sits in his rocking chair. Without Pop, Emma's feet lose their joy. One day, after dance class, Emma plants a kiss on Pop's cheek and walks away in her tap shoes. What she hears as she walks is a sign that perhaps Pop hasn't forgotten everything.

Memory loss in a grandparent is a particularly tough subject to feature in a picture book, but Sarah Lynn tackles it with a dose of sweetness and surprising reality. Emma does make a connection with her grandfather, but Gram cautions that Pop's feet remembering was for "today", but that maybe they "can help them remember tomorrow." It's a deft touch that can balance the heartache of losing touch with a loved one with a child's earnestness and hope. I can't say why, but I also really like how Valeria Docampo illustrates people.

The expressions in their faces really helps how I would use this book which would be to teach a lesson on drawing conclusions. You can compare the faces in different parts of the book and have students think about what they can conclude without the author telling them.

Other reviews of Tip-Tap Pop:
Picture Books and Pirouettes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Porkelia: A Pig's Tale

written and illustrated by Lindy Tucker
(Charlesbridge Books) 2010
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Porkelia is a pig who is looking for more in life than mud rooting. A porcine fortune teller envisions Porkelia as a the first pig Rockette. The other pigs warn her that she will end up as an "apple-stuffed ham", but our plucky heroine is not to be denied. She finds a gold dancing suit on sale to go with some kickin' red tap shoes and a gold star hat. Porkelia practices until she is ready to meet her Rockette destiny in New York City. Fame does not come immediately as she finds a day job at Blender World and dances at night to make ends meet in the big city. Months drag into years as Porkelia wonders if she will ever make it out of Blender World and into fame. When all hope seems lost, an agent appears to take her out of the world of puree and into a life of paparazzi and pampering.

Porkelia is a humorous tale of chasing dreams and overcoming obstacles. Lindy Tucker's text is full of rich description ("...her spirit was full of angst and despair.") which provides several opportunities for vocabulary instruction.  It would also be a good mentor text for teaching personification and author's purpose. I would want to ask readers why the author chose a pig as the main character for this story and if there are any lessons (allegories) in the story of Porkelia. The hilarious illustrations and parodies of our current pop culture also make this book a winning picture book choice for older students.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
written by Margi Preus
(Amulet Books) 2010
Source: Graham Public Library

I rarely read novels these days since I am working with kindergarten students, but I needed a book for a plane ride and Heart of a Samurai had just won a Newbery Honor Medal so I was fortunate to get a copy through my local library. I could not put this book down. It is the true story of Japanese fisherman Manjiro Nakahama. As a 14 year old in 1841, he is marooned on a deserted island along with four other fisherman. Near death, they are rescued by an American whaling vessel where Manjiro is taken in by the ship's kindly captain and taught the ways of a whaler. It is this clash of cultures East and West that helps drive this story. Manjiro is torn between wanting to know more about the world and staying true to his Japanese roots. It reminds me of Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey in this sense. Manjiro and his fellow fishermen are taken to Hawaii where they are allowed to stay since Japan would not accept them back into the country once they have encountered Western people. Captain Whitfield asks Manjiro to live with him in America and Manjiro accepts this offer. Eventually the lure of a life at sea pulls Manjiro back to a whaling boat and a path towards a possible trip back to his homeland.

Margi Preus does a great job of storytelling. I appreciate how she explains in the author's notes about what is real in her story and what has been added to move the plot along. Manjiro's story is incredibly intriguing with the reader wondering throughout if he will be able to live a life that accepts both of the worlds that he loves. If you teach 19th century history or are just a history lover like me, this should be on your list of books to read.

Other reviews of Heart of a Samurai:
Fourth Musketeer
Brentwood Public Library

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kindergarten Day USA and China

Kindergarten Day USA and China
written by Trish Marx and Ellen B. Senisi
(Charlesbridge Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Great Kid Books.

Kindergarten Day USA and China is an excellent resource if you want to teach young readers the skill of contrasting two or more things. Two kindergarten classes in Beijing and Schenectady, New York share their day, hour-by-hour, to show the similarities and differences in how two cultures address this important first year. My favorite part of the book is the section on celebrating birthdays. Both classes sing Happy Birthday and eat a dessert, but the kindergarten class in Beijing adds an interesting twist. On their birthday, a child is asked by the lao shi (teacher), "Tell us what you will learn to do, now that you are one year older." All of the children in the class begin to think about what they want to do, including reading longer words, riding bicycles, or learning how to tie their shoes. I think this is a great tradition. One of the most important themes that arises from reading this book is how much these two cultures have in common. On the great scale, this is sometimes forgotten in the heat of geopolitical battle.

I would also use this book to teach young readers how to use graphic organizers. You can teach about sequence charts, Venn diagrams, etc. There are a lot of possibilities with this interesting book.

Other reviews of Kindergarten Day:
Abby the Librarian

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ultimate Guide to Football

Ultimate Guide to Football
written by James Buckley Jr.
(Shoreline Publishing Group) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library 

This is the kind of book that I loved when I was a kid. Ultimate Guide to Football is loaded with facts about the history of football as well as team by team guides of every franchise in the National Football League. Each team guide follows a similar template with an ultimate player in team history featured (e.g. San Francisco 49'ers - Joe Montana) and a current player listed as the Superstar. Funky Facts, Lowest Low, and Magic Moments are also included for each franchise. It's nice for young kids to learn that at one time in history, the Detroit Lions were actually a feared team. I really like how author James Buckley Jr. highlights some of the "old school" heroes of the NFL like Lou Groza and Chuck Bednarik and includes a lot of history from decades ago. You don't see that in too many sports books anymore.

I think this would be a great book to teach the difference between facts and opinions. Sports has always been a terrific platform for teaching this skill. You could use statistics from this book to create math problems as well. With the popularity of the NFL at an all time high, you can use this guide to pull in some of your reluctant readers or arm your kids with football facts that they can share at their parents' Super Bowl party.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yuck! That's Not a Monster!

Yuck! That's Not a Monster!
written by Angela McAllister; illustrated by Alison Edgson
(Good Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Mr. and Mrs. Monster are taking good care of their three eggs. They provide hot, stinky breath to keep the eggs warm and screech to keep them company. When the first two eggs hatch, the wretched couple welcome their two little miserable children, Frightful and Horrid. When the third egg hatches, a big surprise awaits. A soft pink monster with a sweet disposition is greeted by cries of "Let's squash him!". The rest of the monster family has no clue as to what to do with the aptly named Little Shock. Frightful and Horrid only play with him because their parents make them. While Frightful and Horrid are truly monstrous, Little Shock is kind and loving. It is only when faced with a scary dilemma that Frightful and Horrid learn to appreciate their very different little brother.

Yuck! That's Not a Monster! was a popular read aloud in my class. We've been working on becoming thinkers while we read, and this book offers plenty of opportunities to ask questions, make connections, and contrast characters. The "fish out of water" humor entertained my kindergartners and the colorful illustrations kept them engaged. Students will notice a resemblance to the movie Monsters, Inc. Yuck! was a delight to read and share with my students.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nonfiction Monday - Martin Luther King, Jr., Day: Count and Celebrate!

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day: Count and Celebrate!
written by Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr. and Lisa Beringer McKissack
(Enslow Elementary) 2009
Source: Cameron Park Elementary Library

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday! Thank you for stopping by today.

Since today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wanted to feature a book about Dr. King. I found this title which was published in 2009 and geared toward younger readers. It is a counting book which tells about the life of Dr. King and the purpose of the holiday honoring him. The numbers 1-10 are individually featured on a page and accompanied by a question. For example, the number seven is paired with this question, "How many kids help plant a garden?" On the opposite page is a photograph of seven kids who chose to spend their holiday volunteering by planting a garden. A paragraph long caption explains how the holiday honoring Dr. King is associated with helping others. Another page features a King family photograph and briefly explains why Coretta Scott King started the King Center in Atlanta. The back matter includes a short biography of Dr. King and how the holiday is celebrated today. Two glossaries, a bibliography, an index, and internet resources are other text features you will find in this book. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is a great resource for introducing the life and legacy of Dr. King to preschool and kindergarten students. You can also use this book to teach nonfiction text features.

Click on the Read More link below to view Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Leave your Nonfiction Monday links in the comments section and I will post them during the day.

Shelf-Employed has posted an invitation to join a special blog event to celebrate Women's History Month in March.

Stacey Loscalzo recommends Jason Chin's Redwood for a friend's high achieving kindergarten child.

At Bookends, you will find a review of Before They Were Famous:How Seven Artists Got Their Start by Bob Raczka.

Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian are thinking about colors with Orange Everywhere by Kristin Sterling.

Simply Science is going big with Mammoths and Mastodons today.

Camouflage is the word of the day at Wrapped in Foil where Hiding in Deserts is highlighted.

What is more important than water? Decide for yourself at Jean Little Library where Water by Trevor Day is the subject of today's review.

Rasco from RIF is presenting a French word book, Seasons.  I saw this at my local library and it is a unique book. Check out Carol's review and see for yourself.

Looking for a cure for the winter blues? Head over to The Cath In The Hat and read about I Love to Collage!

The Fourth Musketeer reviews the first book in a new history series from Scholastic. This title is The Civil War: Profiles (One Event, Six People) by Aaron Rosenberg.

Ms. Mac at Check It Out muses about two of her favorite Cybils nonfiction picture book selections.

Jennie at Biblio File is featuring After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance.

At Wild About Nature, the writers have an interview with nonfiction picture book illustrator, Laurie Klein.
Did you know that polar bear fur is clear? Read this interview to learn more.

AABookTalks has a timely review for today, My Uncle Martin's Big Heart. A link for free resources is included.

At Great Kid Books, today's featured book is Seeds of Change which is the story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Janet Squires has posted a review of Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down which is a Cybils finalist in the nonfiction picture book category.

Doret at TheHappyNappyBookseller highlights three nonfiction picture books that nearly made the cut as 2010 Cybils finalists.

You will find a review of Adventure Beneath the Sea, by Kenneth Mallory, at proseandkahn.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

iPod Touch apps: Tanzen

(Little White Bear Studios)
Price: $ 0.99

Tangrams are seven flat pieces called tans that can be manipulated to create different shapes. When I was a third grade teacher, I enjoyed using tangrams with my students to work on developing spatial sense. The one part of it I didn't enjoy was having to find loose pieces that had fallen under chairs and desks. Eventually I would have bags with five or six pieces which made it impossible to complete a pattern. I was delighted to find Tanzen which is an app that allows students to use tans to fill in shadowed areas. There are 468 shadowed areas to choose from. You simply touch a tan and a circle surrounds the tan. Touching the circle allows you to manipulate the tan to whatever angle you need. If you successfully place the seven tans within the shadowed area, you will see the area in light green which means you have completed that task. I'm anxious to try this with kindergarten students to see if they are up to the task. I know students in second grade and beyond would really enjoy this and the price is very reasonable. There is a Tanzen Lite if you want to try that first.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chicken Big

Chicken Big
written and illustrated by Keith Graves
(Chronicle Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

On a teeny little farm, in an itty-bitty coop, a very small hen laid a big humongous egg.

Thus begins the tale of Chicken Big, who despite his size, just wants to fit in with the rest of the chickens in the coop. The other chickens, who make him stay outside because of his size, think he is an elephant. When an acorn lands on the head of the smallest (and least bright) of the chicken group, the chickens run for their lives because they believe the sky is falling. The much bigger (and smarter) Chicken Big explains that it is just an acorn and nothing to be afraid of.  This dispersion of knowledge leads the unMensa - like (indeed, unMensa is not a word, but I kind of like it) smallest chicken to declare Chicken Big to be a squirrel. This confusion of animal identity continues until a sneaky red fox carries eggs away from the coop and provides Chicken Big an opportunity to prove that he is certainly a chicken.

Chicken Big is a very funny book as verified by two classes of kindergarten children. It is also a book that would be a great mentor text for teaching children about punctuation and how different authors use fonts to help tell the story. Professor Emeritus (of the Chicken School in Austin, Texas) Keith Graves may have set a record for most exclamation points in a single picture book and this fits the story perfectly. There is a ton of dialogue so you can teach how to use quotation marks as well. Several comic book elements (speech bubbles, multiple panels on a single page) are present in this book which opens up the possibilities for young writers seeking to stretch their own writing wings. Chicken Big provides laughter and opportunities to model good writing. I have got to create a unit on chickens next year!

Other reviews of Chicken Big:
100 Scope Notes
Picture Book of the Day
Kids Lit

Click below to preview Chicken Big.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

iPod Touch app: Andrew Answers

Andrew Answers
written by Alan Katz; told by Marc Summers
(Ruckus Media Group) 2010
Source: App provided by the publisher
Price: $2.99

Andrew is having trouble communicating with the adults in his life. His teacher, Mrs. Wilson, asks him to tell the class a word that starts with the letter N. Andrew says, "No." His teacher, not happy with this response, asks him to say another word and he replies, "Never." An exasperated Mrs. Wilson threatens a trip to the principal's office if he is unable to say a word that begins with N. Andrew innocently answers, "Nonsense." Thus begins Andrew's hilarious journey through a chain of increasingly important adults who try to get him to give the answer they want. This trip ends with a visit to the most powerful person on the planet, who is the one adult who seems to understand.

Andrew Answers is a fun app with a clever story and colorful animation. The two kids who helped me preview this app really enjoyed the story. They said it was funny and interesting. Author Alan Katz knows how to write humor for kids. An added bonus are two games in the middle of the story where players are asked to guide characters to a destination. Traditionalists may not agree, but I like the idea of a game in the middle of the story. I think it helps hook children who may be reluctant readers. (Postscript: The game hooks good readers as well. My daughter has revisited this app several times.) The one flaw that I see with Andrew Answers is the lack of a read aloud option. As a teacher, I want students to revisit the story app and be able to read it themselves at their own pace.

Andrew Answers could be used to teach vocabulary or a lesson on drawing inferences. The author never specifically explains why the adults are unhappy with Andrew, so readers have to infer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bats at the Ballgame

Bats at the Ballgame
written and illustrated by Brian Lies
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

As dusk approaches, the bats are getting excited about the night's ballgame. The hometown team is facing an opponent is facing an opponent that has proven unbeatable. Before the game, Mothdogs and Cricket Jack are munched upon while the field is lined and the mound raked. After the national anthem is sung and the words "Play ball" announced, bat fans hang upside down in anticipation for the first pitch. It's a scoreless pitcher's duel until the seventh inning when the opposition manages to bring a run home. The bottom of the ninth arrives and the score is still the same. Will the hometown bats suffer a Mudville fate?

Bats at the Ballgame is a wonderful paean to baseball. Brian Lies, through action packed text and adorable illustrations, nails the sounds and emotions of the great game with bats as the vehicle. During the seventh inning stretch, the crowd sings "Ohh... hang me up in the rafters! Hang me up by the toes! Buy me some beenuts and Cricket Jack-" As a lifelong fan of baseball, my favorite part of the book was when the grandbats reflected upon heroes of the past. For this section, Lies created illustrations of bats resembling Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and other past baseball greats. Brian even included a Pesky Pole! Bats at the Ballgame makes me glad that it will only be a few short weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Other reviews of Bats at the Ballgame:

Click below to view the book trailer for Bats at the Ballgame.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seed, Soil, Sun

Seed, Soil, Sun
written by Cris Peterson; photographs by David R. Lundquist
(Boyds Mills Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Tales From the Rushmore Kid

Each handful of soil contains more living things than all the human beings on Earth. Microscopic one-celled bacteria that munch away on dead leaves and insects are so minute that it would take a thousand of them lined up in a row to reach across the head of a pin. 

Don't you just love mind blowing facts? Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Seed, Soil, Sun is a great combination of easy to understand science and terrific photographs. Author Cris Peterson explains how each part of the plant process (seed, soil, sun) works, why it is important,  and how all of this connects to support life on Earth. She has taken a lot of care to help young readers digest a complex process such as photosynthesis. David Lundquist's photographs are beautiful, but they also serve an important purpose in helping the reader see how seeds grow into plants. Add this book to your collection of science books.

Other reviews of Seed, Soil, Sun:
Picture Book of the Day

Friday, January 7, 2011

Madlenka: Soccer Star

Madlenka: Soccer Star
written and illustrated by Peter Sis
(Frances Foster Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Madlenka is mad about soccer. As she dribbles her soccer ball on the way to the courtyard, she meets several imaginary opponents. Street meters, garbage cans, and small dogs are no match for this soccer superstar. A team of cats stands in front of her, but Madlenka is able to use her skills to dribble by them and score. The cheers of the mythical crowd are still ringing in her ears as she meets her friend Cleopatra to play in the courtyard.

I'm a little biased since Sis's The Wall is one of my all time faves, but his two page spreads are terrific. The one with Madlenka facing the team of cats is a combination of humor, imagination, and soccer info. Young readers familiar with soccer will enjoy reading the simple text and connecting with the illustrations. I also think this book would be a hit with English Language Learners. Many of these students that I have worked with have had a great deal of background knowledge when it comes to soccer. In the back of the book, Peter Sis has included a cool history of soccer and an illustration of a globe surrounded by the word for soccer in several different languages. If you want to see why I like this book, click on the link below for a book trailer.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Will It Be a Baby Brother?

Will It Be a Baby Brother?
written by Eve Bunting; illustrated by Beth Spiegel
(Boyds Mill Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Edward can't wait to meet his baby brother. At least he thinks it's going to be a brother. He doesn't understand why all of his mother's baby shower gifts come in white, green, or yellow. Edward's mother assures him that he will love the baby whether it is a girl or a boy, but he's not so sure. If the baby is Sara and not James, he plans to give it to his Aunt Elizabeth. To increase the odds of receiving a baby brother, Edward places a yellow dump truck, a wooden train, and other assorted "boy" stuff in the new crib. Will he still love the baby, as his mother says, if it is a Sara?

Will It Be a Baby Brother? would be an excellent read aloud for teaching prediction. I plan on reading this with my kindergarten class and asking them to use text clues to see if they can predict whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. I feel certain they will make several connections and we can ask a before reading question about whether students would like to have a baby brother or a sister. I like that Edward is not overly sweet and accepting when it comes to the question of having a baby sister. In other words, he acts like I would expect a boy to act. If you teach a unit on families, Will It Be a Baby Brother? would be a welcome addition.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Make-a-Flake Web Site

Do you have a computer in your classroom that just sits and collects dust? Dust it off and point your internet browser to Barkley's Make-a-Flake. If you have Macromedia Flash on your computer, students can use virtual scissors and make snowflakes. This would be a fun activity if you have access to a computer lab. This could be connected to a unit built around books like Snowflake Bentley or The Snowy Day.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Beco's Big Year: A Baby Elephant Turns One

Beco's Big Year: A Baby Elephant Turns One
written by Linda Stanek
(Columbus Zoo Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Charlotte's Library

If Beco the Elephant is a "rock star" at the Columbus Zoo, then Beco's Big Year must be his official biography. From the womb to his first birthday party (complete with an ice birthday cake), author Linda Stanek chronicles Beco's  first year of life and provides an informative backstage look at what goes into taking care of a baby elephant. There is a nice mix of facts (most elephants are born during the night), narrative, and photographs that will keep young readers interested. One particularly fascinating section of the book deals with Beco's mom, Phoebe, teaching him how to swim. I also learned that elephants like snow days almost as much as students and teachers.

Beco's Big Year would work well as part of a unit on elephants, but you might also consider including it as part of a unit on careers. There is plenty of information about the job of a handler in a zoo. You could also use this book to teach sequence. It would be fun to create a time line of Beco's first year. Click below to see a video of Beco playing with one of his favorite toys, a big blue ball:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Banished Words for 2011

Lake Superior State University released its latest list of banished words for the new year. Click on the link below to read some of the nominations that are truly epic:

Cybils Finalists are Here!

The list of finalists for the 2010 Cybils has been released. Thank you to Team Cybils '10 and to all of the panelists for the different categories. I also need to thank the publishers who sent books for review. I had a blast as a judge for Round 1 of the Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book category and would encourage fellow bloggers to seek this opportunity next year. Thanks to my fellow panelists who couldn't have been nicer and to our team leader Anastasia Suen.

Easy Readers & Early Chapter Books
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade)
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult)
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels (Middle Grade)
Graphic Novels (Young Adult)
Middle Grade Novels
Nonfiction Books (Middle Grade & Young Adult)
Nonfiction Picture Books
Young Adult Novels