Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis
written by Matt De La Pena; illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(Dial Books for Young Readers) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

There are some events and some broadcasts, some sporting activities, that reach out to millions of people and touch them in a very deep way. - Lewis Erenberg (The Fight of the Century: Louis vs. Schmeling: NPR 2006)

Joe Louis was a rising star in the heavyweight boxing division when he fought Max Schmeling for the first time in 1936. In a huge upset, the older Schmeling knocked out Louis in the 12th round. This was a crushing blow for Louis supporters. Many cried in the streets immediately after Joe's defeat. Being a German, Schmeling's victory was trumpeted by the Nazi propaganda machine. Louis was down, but certainly not out. He returned to the ring with renewed purpose and soon thereafter claimed the world heavyweight crown from James J. Braddock.  But Joe knew his work was not finished. In June of 1938, Louis met Schmeling for a second match in Yankee Stadium. This time, Joe Louis unleashed one of the most devastating displays of power in boxing history and knocked out Schmeling in the first round.

The 1938 rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling is one of the most important sporting, and perhaps historical, events of the 20th century. Author Matt De La Pena captures this event through a dramatic use of free verse and the rhythm of his text perfectly captures the feel of a boxing match. De La Pena also provides background that helps the reader understand why this bout was so important. On the first page, he writes "White men wait standing beside black men, but standing apart Jim Crow America." Joe Louis represented the hopes of millions who wanted to see racial equality become a reality in America. The artwork of illustrator Kadir Nelson is simply incredible. His contrast of shadows and light are amazing. A Nation's Hope should be considered a contender for the 2012 Caldecott Medal.

There are several resources available on You Tube and other outlets regarding this piece of history. The relationship between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling after this fight is a fascinating one to read about. Students could contrast this event with Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Other reviews of A Nation's Hope:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Garden with Dr. Carver

In the Garden with Dr. Carver
written by Susan Grigsby; illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
(Albert Whitman) 2010
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

When Sally walks out of church one Sunday, she sees a wagon pulled by a mule. Dr. George Washington Carver from Tuskegee has brought his movable school to her town! He dispenses advice to the local citizens on how to improve soil conditions. Dr. Carver also teaches about the different products he creates from plants in his laboratory. For Sally, the best part of this famous scientist's visit is the time he spends working with the children. He helps them start a garden and teaches them to think like scientists.

When I saw the title of this historical fiction book, I was thinking about how it might be a great way to introduce children to the life of Dr. Carver and it certainly accomplishes that goal. What I didn't count on before reading the book was how rich this story would be in dispensing information about the scientific process and how to think like a scientist. In the narrative, Dr. Carver encourages Sally and the other students to frequently observe nature and be aware of the relationships connecting every living thing. He tells the children to listen to the plants, and they'll tell you what they need. These are exactly the skills we want to impart to our young scientists today. Warm watercolor illustrations of different plant and animal species help strengthen this message throughout the book. Reading In the Garden with Dr. Carver would be an excellent way to start a science unit on plants.

Other reviews of In the Garden with Dr. Carver:
Through the Looking Glass

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


based on The Brothers Grimm tale; illustrated by Sarah Gibb
(Albert Whitman) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A beautiful young wife lies gravely ill in her bed. Her husband is desperate to help his love who is expecting their first child. She says the only way to save her life is to eat of the salad greens from the enchanted garden next door. The husband acquires the greens, but at a price. A witch owns the garden and makes him promise to give her the couple's first child as payment for his wife's life. When the child is born, the couple's happiness is short-lived as the witch comes and whisks the child away to a secret castle. She gives the baby the name of Rapunzel and keeps her in a tower.

What first draws you to this book is the fabulous classic cover. A combination of pastels and silhouetted figures comprise the elegant illustrations inside. The text will appeal to students as there is plenty of action and suspense. Rapunzel will fit nicely in your fairy tale unit. I like to read several tales and find similarities and differences between the texts. This dovetails nicely with the use of graphic organizers. You can also teach themes (good vs. evil) when working with fairy tales. If you are looking for a book gift for a girl between the ages of 4-7, you should buy a copy of Rapunzel. It will fit nicely in the bedtime story rotation. All the girls in my household gave Rapunzel a big thumbs up.

Other reviews of Rapunzel:
SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Publisher's Weekly

Monday, March 28, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: The Prairie Dog's Town

The Prairie Dog's Town: A Perfect Hideaway
written by Miriam Aronin 
(Bearport Publishing) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Practically Paradise

The Prairie Dog's Town starts with an account of biologist Vernon Bailey finding a Texas prairie dog town that covered 16 million acres, which is bigger than the state of West Virginia. Right off the bat, we get a "wow" fact which is essential to a good nonfiction book. Another feature you will find are plentiful context clues. Words in bold print like coteries can be understood by reading the words nearby and they are also included in the back matter glossary. A great graphic is always helpful in a nonfiction text, and on page 9 there is an illustration of a prairie dog burrow complete with a restroom chamber. Who knew prairie dogs built their own outhouses? I was particularly interested in reading about prairie dog communication. There are several sounds and body language actions to signify predator warnings and when the coast is clear.

The reading level and short length of the section passages should allow students to focus on researching and not have to worry too much about decoding.  Excellent photographs and back matter features (bulleted lists and tables) will allow for use of graphic organizers as well. Students learning how to use Venn diagrams or double bubble maps could use the More Animal Towns section in the back to compare prairie dogs and muskrats or beavers.

Click on this link for a 2007 Dragonfly TV episode devoted to prairie dog barks. It lasts about 5 minutes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Amelia Earhart: The Turbulent Life of an American Icon

Amelia Earhart: The Turbulent Life of an American Icon
written by Kathleen C. Winters
(Palgrave Macmillan) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

I was trying to read a book for pleasure without blogging about it, so I found an Amelia Earhart biography on the new adult nonfiction shelf of my local library. Unfortunately, I liked Amelia Earhart so much, I couldn't resist sharing. This may truly be a sickness.

If you are interested in Earhart's life, you should read this book. Kathleen Winters was a pilot so she had a unique perspective as an Earhart biographer. What struck me about this biography were the shortcomings I didn't know about. Winters reveals, through careful research, that Earhart was not the outstanding pilot portrayed in earlier literature. There were many female pilots who were much more skilled. To be fair, Earhart faced a lot of external pressures although many of these were brought on by herself and eventual husband George Putnam. According to the book, Earhart failed to spend the hours needed to become a more skilled pilot. That doesn't mean she didn't have great accomplishments as an aviator, but she didn't command the respect from fellow pilots a novice learner like myself would have expected. Her family history is also another interesting aspect of this biography. Amelia dealt with many family struggles as a youth and as an adult which influenced many of the major decisions in her life. The author presents a fascinating and revealing look at a complex American icon.

How is this useful in teaching elementary school? I think it helps to have background knowledge about famous figures in history that your students will encounter in their reading. The difficulty that I face is what facets of their lives to reveal about these historical giants. Do you want to tell young students about the complexities of the life of an Abraham Lincoln or an Amelia Earhart, or do you stick with the safe and basic picture? How much do you share about the history of Thanksgiving? This is indeed a tricky question.

A sad sidelight to this book is the passing of the author, Kathleen Winters. She died after a brief illness a couple of months before Amelia Earhart was published. I look forward to reading her first book which is a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Other reviews of Amelia Earhart:
Winged Victory
Washington Times

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Leonardo's Monster

Leonardo's Monster
written by Jane Sutcliffe; illustrated by Herb Leonhard
(Pelican Publishing) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

 In Vinci, Italy lived a young man named Leonardo who seemed to be good at everything he tried. His greatest talent was drawing. He was so good that his art teacher quit painting. One day, a worker for Leonardo's father brought a shield that he had made from the stump of a fig tree. The man wanted to find a painter to paint his shield. Naturally, Leonardo's father selected his son to fulfill this request. After reshaping the crooked shield, young Leonardo decided to draw a monster on it. He started by researching creatures in the forest and bringing some of them back to his room so he could study further. This created a terrible smell, but Leonardo was so consumed with the task that he ignored it. Finally he completed his painting of the shield and the results were so astonishing that his father was frightened when he saw it for the first time. After regaining his wits, Leonardo's father made a decision that adds a final twist to the story.

Leonardo's Monster could be used as an introduction to the genre of historical fiction. Students could discuss which parts of the book are fact and which sections might have been created by the author. Author Jane Sutcliffe repeats the phrase "pretty unusual" in the book. Students could use this to think about the theme of the book and the author's purpose for writing it. The whereabouts of the shield are unknown, so a good writing prompt would be to ask students to write about what they would do if they found this shield. Leonardo's Monster is an entertaining insight into the early life of a famous figure in history.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Color Chaos!

Color Chaos!
written and illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
(Holiday House) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

A student at Hughes Elementary wants to try out his box of 64 crayons, but his class schedule doesn't provide an opportunity. While at lunch, he sneaks his crayons into the cafeteria and tries out new colors on the new substitute principal's bulletin board. This upsets Mr. Greyson so much that he bans all art supplies and cancels recess! Suddenly, Hughes Elementary is thrown into a world without color. A famous illustrator on a school visit is upset when all of the color is gone from his illustrations. It's up to the disposed crayons in the garbage can to save the day.

Color Chaos! is a fun text for teaching color theory. The story, combined with the excellent back matter, will help students learn about terms like secondary colors, tertiary colors, and analogous colors. After reading this book, you could investigate in your classroom and school to observe and think about how the colors go together. You could also have students design their own classroom and explain why they picked particular colors. The Art Lesson, by Tomie dePaola, would be a good companion text for exploring theme.

Click on this link for a color wheel activity tied to the book. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Dragons

written by Charlotte Guillain
(Raintree) 2011
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Children's War

With the popularity of the How to Train Your Dragon books and movie, a nonfiction look at the history of dragons would be a timely resource to have in your classroom. Author Charlotte Guillain examines the history behind dragon myths around the world and discusses modern day animals that are dragon-like. For example, in Babylon there were myths about a scaly dragon called the sirrush which had back legs like an eagle. The dragon god Chac appears in Central American literature. This dragon would exchange the water he controlled for gifts from the people.

Dragons is a rare early reader nonfiction text about this subject that will engage young dragon enthusiasts. There are several nonfiction text features (labels, maps, bulleted lists, glossary, index) if you wanted to use this book in that manner. If you are working with older reluctant readers, you can extend the discussion into other "monster myths" that exist around the world. You can also take out individual paragraphs and teach main idea and supporting details. My one question about this subject is the use of the word dragon in ancient texts. It would be interesting to research if the word was applied to existing animals of that time period with a different meaning than we currently have for the term dragon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mini Racer

Mini Racer
written by Kristy Dempsey; illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo
(Bloomsbury Kids) 2011
Source: Orange County Public Library

Animals, start your engines! Twelve racers race in rhyme in Mini Racer. Racers are instructed to start your engines, time to race, round the corners, take your place. Each competitor has a unique vehicle that they maneuver down the road course. Animals have to overcome obstacles and make adjustments through the streets to finish the race. The ending features an unexpected winner.

The vocabulary in Mini Racer really stands out. There are action words like veer, rev, careen, and zooming. Nouns like terrain, traction, and obstacles abound. This book is also a great primer for introducing students to the sport of racing. They will want to know what the different colors of the flags stand for and know the meaning of terms like pit stop, fender bender, and accelerate. Humorous and bright illustrations add to the fun. After reading this book, I might have students design their own vehicles and explain why they chose that design. You can also address this while viewing the illustrations of the vehicles in the book.

Other reviews of Mini Racer:
Thing 1 and Thing 2

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Rabbit Problem

The Rabbit Problem
written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
(Simon and Schuster) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

The Rabbit Problem is a math exercise created by Fibonacci in 1202. In a nutshell, you start off with two rabbits in a field in January and calculate how many rabbits will be in the same field by the end of the year (Click on this link for an informative ThinkQuest called the Fibonacci series). The brilliantly creative Emily Gravett has taken this problem and built a humorous story around it. In January, a lonely female rabbit in Fibonacci's Field sends out an invitation to find a friend. Gravett includes the invitation glued to a January calendar. She finds a friend in cold February so the female rabbit starts knitting a sweater. An advertisement, complete with knitting pattern, for Fibonacci's Wools is glued to the February calendar. March brings two baby rabbits so you will find a baby book attached to the calendar. Inside the baby book are a sonogram photo, a birth certificate, and other baby memorabilia.  Each subsequent calendar includes a funny illustration on the top half and information for solving the problem on the bottom half of the calendar entry. December's calendar brings the biggest surprise of all.

Every time I read an Emily Gravett book, it shows me something I haven't seen done in a picture book. It may be something entirely new, or a different twist on something seen before. As you read this book for the first time, there is anticipation for each new month because you're anxious to see what Emily has cooked up. If I used The Rabbit Problem with a class, I would mention what the problem for the month was before I turned to that calendar. I would ask students to generate solutions for the upcoming problem. You could also read it to older students after they have tried to solve Fibonacci's rabbit problem.

Other reviews of The Rabbit Problem:
Kiss The Book

Click below for a You Tube video featuring Emily Gravett creating the book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's Special About Me, Mama?

What's Special About Me, Mama?
written by Kristina Evans, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
(Hyperion Books for Children) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

A young boy wants his mother to tell him why he is special. She talks about his wonderful eyes that tell stories without words. When he is still questioning, she tells him about his beautiful skin and how it looks like "autumn earth." Mama goes on to name several other special qualities of her son and why they are important to her. Mama finishes up by revealing to her son the most special quality of all.

What's Special About Me, Mama? is a heartwarming story of a family's love for one another with amazing collage illustrations by award-winning artist Javaka Steptoe. It is also a great vehicle for teaching how to write supporting details. The mother, as she describes the different qualities of her son, goes into vivid detail with each quality. Author Kristina Evans is an excellent model for young writers who like to name things, but have trouble backing it up with details. If you wanted to use a bubble map, you could take each quality and write the different details around them. You could also use this book to teach about similes and metaphors. Find a copy of this superb book and share it with your class.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Zoo Borns!: Zoo Babies From Around the World

Zoo Borns!
written and photographed by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland
(Beach Lane Books) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

As you see by the picture on your left, the photographs in Zoo Borns! are any synonym of adorable that you can write. This book is worth the price of purchase for the pictures alone. I'm sure there is a calendar somewhere featuring this group of newborns. You can see more if you click on this browse inside link. But Zoo Borns! is not a one-trick-pony. It is loaded with a lot of information about these baby animals. First, there is a wide variety of species represented in this book so you could search the globe using Google Earth to see the natural habitats of these animals. Another great feature is the back matter. The authors include a paragraph of information about each animal featured in the book. For each animal entry, there is a rating on a conservation status key. It ranges from critically endangered to least concerned. The red kangaroo falls in the category of least concerned while the Sumatran Orangutan is listed as critically endangered. This would be a terrific opportunity to teach children how to create a rating for content matter. It is higher level thinking to be able to create a scale for a particular area of content. Zoo Borns! would also work nicely in teaching young students how to use and/or make a circle map. This will lead to teaching about supporting details.

Visit the ZooBorns blog with your class to see more cute photos and gather more information for possible conservation lessons. Click on the Read More button for a You Tube video currently featured on the blog. It shows a set of pygmy marmoset twins at the Perth Zoo.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Dog Heroes - Eco Dogs

Eco Dogs (Dog Heroes Series)
written by Judith Bauer Stamper
(Bearport Publishing) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Chapter Book of the Day

Eco dogs - short for ecology dogs- team up with scientists to help protect habitats and save endangered animals.

Pete the beagle is a dog who works with wildlife scientist Lori Oberhofer in searching for giant Burmese pythons in the Everglades National Park. Since these snakes can grow to 20 feet, I'm grateful that Lori and Pete are doing this work and not me. These pythons are an invasive species that is causing havoc in the Everglades ecosystem by eating prey needed for food by the native predators. Pete started his work as an eco dog when he was a pup. He learned what pythons smelled like through practice and treats. Don't worry though, when Pete sniffs out a python he is carefully pulled away to avoid becoming dinner. In Eco Dogs, you will find other dogs from around the world who work to help save other animal species and habitats.

Last year I worked in a fifth grade class for several weeks. One of our tasks was learning how to write essays. In a nutshell, you need to know how to write main ideas and supporting details that will engage readers. Eco Dogs is exactly the kind of text I would use to model this type of writing. The content is interesting and author Judith Bauer Stamper's short essays have plenty of supporting details to show students what needs to be included. There are also several nonfiction text features to assist in comprehension and vocabulary lessons.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In One Ear, Out the Other

In One Ear, Out the Other
written by Michael Dahl; illustrated by Migy
(Picture Window Books) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

Bud the monster is not hard of hearing. He just chooses not to listen. His family and his teacher try their best to get him to follow directions, but Bud wanders aimlessly doing his own thing. When Bud doesn't follow through, they say in an exasperated manner, "It's like words go in one ear and out the other." One day, Bud finds out that there are consequences to not being a good listener. He can't find socks to go on his four cold feet since he didn't listen to his mother and put the dirty ones in the laundry basket. He's hungry since he didn't listen and missed dinner. Even his goldfish has hit the tracks to find a better owner since Bud doesn't remember to feed him. Finally, his family has left the house to attend a party whose invitation went in one of Bud's ears and out the other.

Listening is an important skill to teach students and In One Ear, Out the Other would be a fun and sneaky way to teach it. Migy's cartoonish monster illustrations are just right to lighten the touch on this important life lesson. Sometimes you need humor and not heavy-handedness to teach a child. This book would also be a superb addition to a collection of read aloud books on the five senses or as part of a unit on figurative language. In the upper grades, students could generate their own stories based on an idiom. Perhaps writing about a time when it rained cats and dogs or how the cat got your tongue. The possibilities are endless.

Other reviews of In One Ear, Out the Other:
Read It Again, Mom!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Are What You Eat (And Other Mealtime Hazards)

You Are What You Eat (And Other Mealtime Hazards)
written and illustrated by Serge Bloch
(Sterling Publishing) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

The unnamed protagonist of You Are What You Eat is a picky eater. He would eat macaroni for every meal if given the choice. His parents would like to see him eat a greater variety of food, but they don't seem overly concerned. His mother still says he is the "apple of her eye." When his best friend Oliver invites him over for dinner, he is a bit worried. Oliver's mother is a bit of a health nut so he's not sure what he will eat or if he will eat. Despite the teasing of his sister and with the support of his parents, our gastronomic guy finds that if you're willing to broaden your eating horizons you will be surprised by what you might like.

Each page of You Are What You Eat contains an idiomatic expression that ties neatly into the story. This book is like a foodie version of Ira Sleeps Over where a main character learns something about himself after a visit to a friend's house. If you are looking for a read aloud to kick off a unit on figurative language, this would be a great choice. The playful illustrations are a combination of pencil drawings and photographs of inanimate objects. I can see a class creating individual booklets of idiomatic expressions based on this book.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Glow-in-the-Dark Animals

Glow-in-the-Dark Animals
written by Natalie Lunis
(Bearport Publishing) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Since being introduced to the anglerfish through watching Finding Nemo, I have wanted to know more about this terrifying deep sea creature. Fortunately, I came across a copy of Glow-in-the-Dark Animals. This book features eight creatures that create their own light. The process is called bioluminescence which means living light. The glowing in the anglerfish's lure is caused by bacteria that make that live "inside the tip of the anglerfish's fishing rod." Other animals featured in this book include familiar animals like fireflies and less well-known animals like the New Zealand Glowworm and the cucujo. Nonfiction books like Glow-in-the-Dark Animals work because the subject matter is mostly unfamiliar, the photographs are cool, and it has a "creepy factor" that really appeals to kids. Author Natalie Lunis does a great job of explaining how bioluminescence works in each animal and she gives comparisons to common objects (e.g. comparing the cucujo's lights to a car's headlights) so students have a way to connect this new information. The back matter contains several features (glossary, index, bibliography) that could be used for a lesson on nonfiction text features. 

Click on this link for more information about glow-in-the-dark animals. These include links to five websites and crossword puzzles.

Math Brain Teasers for K-5: Roz's Math-a-rama

Roz's Math-a-rama
(Houghton Mifflin)

 If you are looking for brain teaser math problems to use as morning work or in a math center, click on the link above and visit Roz's Math-a-rama. There are several intriguing problems for each grade level in K-5. Some of these problems are logic puzzles, where students have to deduce in order to find the answer.Click on this link for a first grade example involving football jerseys.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lizzie Newton and the San Francisco Earthquake

Lizzie Newton and the San Francisco Earthquake
written by Stephen Krensky; illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
(Millbrook Press) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

On the morning of April 18, 1906, ten-year-old Lizzie Newton feels like she is on a train. She thinks she is shaking from a bad dream, but it is actually her room that is shaking. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake is in full force. Lizzie is in her grandmother's apartment tending to her sick grandmother. A piece of the ceiling has fallen on her grandmother's head and she needs care. Lizzie and her grandmother rush through the chaos of aftershocks and fires in the streets. An ambulance wagon has room for one more patient. Lizzie leaves her grandmother in the care of the driver and goes to find her parents. Lizzie wanders through the streets looking for her parents. Her apartment building has partly fallen. Fortunately, Lizzie remembers a piece of advice from her father that will keep her safe.

I was never particularly interested in the Civil War until I read a piece of historical fiction titled The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. I've been to Gettysburg three times since reading Shaara's classic book and read several other books about this battle. Historical fiction is a great way for students to become interested in a real event. You could read about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, or earthquakes in general, in a form of nonfiction like a textbook or a trade book. However, for some students it takes a text where they can make personal connections in order to embrace the topic. Lizzie Newton is a character who will connect with young readers and while they continue reading to find out what happens to her, author Stephen Krensky sneaks in bits of facts that add to the reader's background knowledge. Lizzie Newton is a short piece of text, so reluctant readers will have a better chance of being engaged as well. Krensky also includes a reader's theater script of the story, and back matter to aid the reader in their continued research of earthquakes.

Click on this link for a look inside the book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Why Do Elephants Need the Sun?

Why Do Elephants Need the Sun?
written and illustrated by Robert E. Wells
(Albert Whitman and Company) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Picture Book of the Day

Imagine a 400 pound salad. I would need a lot of blue cheese dressing and giant croutons. Fortunately elephants don't need this. What they do need in order to receive their daily diet of plants is the sun. Sunlight absorbed by chlorophyll changes water and carbon dioxide into glucose which feeds plants. You know what goes with a 400 pound salad? A 50 gallon glass of water. Once again, sunlight helps provide this by warming the air and setting in motion a process that creates water for plants and animals. So how does the sun generate energy to do all of this? Gravity. As author Robert E. Wells explains, "Gravity pushes on the sun's surface and compresses the hydrogen gas inside, causing the hydrogen atoms to heat up." This creates nuclear fusion which produces large amounts of heat and light.

Why Do Elephants Need the Sun? tackles three big time science topics (photosynthesis, the water cycle, and gravity) and explains how each work in the simplest of terms. In addition, there is extra information about solar eclipses, the corona, solar and wind energy, and 10 cool sun facts in the back matter. The humorous and informative illustrations will further engage young scientists. This would be a great book for introducing graphic organizers like a flow chart which show the steps of a process. Needless to say, it would also be good for teaching about nature's cycles as well.

Click on this link for a teacher's guide to Robert E. Wells's science books.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Number Time with Bernie and Bill

According to the new Common Core math standards, kindergarten students will need to be able to count to 100 and write numbers from 0-20. If you work with a kindergarten student or someone who is preparing for kindergarten, you should check out the Number Time games located on the BBC website. Bernie and Bill lead students through fun games to help them work on counting. Ann and Addem's Dartboard asks players to throw darts to match a generated number. This is great for teaching doubling as students will have to think of a double (7 + 7, 8 + 8, etc.) for numbers greater than 9.
Snakes and Ladders is a Shockwave version of the classic children's game Chutes and Ladders where players roll a die and move up the board numbered 1-100. If you land on a ladder, you get to move up. If you land on a snake's head, you slide down. There are other games on this website as well that will engage your young mathematician.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Two Box Titles: My Book Box and Meeow and the Big Box

My Book Box
written and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
(Harcourt Books) 2006
Source: Orange County Public Library

                                                                        Meeow and the Big Box
                                                          written and illustrated by Sebastien Braun
                                                                        (Boxer Books) 2009
                                                                        Source: Orange County Library

My local library recently placed copies of these two books on the new picture book shelf and since I frequent that section often (think Snoopy as a vulture), I happened to pick them both up this past week. Each book features an animal character who uses his imagination and a plain brown box to create hours of enjoyment. Both of these books would be excellent vehicles for students to practice making predictions. I would ask students before reading to think about what they would do if they had a big cardboard box. As you read aloud either or both of these books, students can make predictions as to what they think will happen with the box. The elephant in The Book Box finds several uses for his box while Meeow has one particular purpose for his big box. After reading these books, students could create their own box and write a list of uses for the box. You could team both books with 2009's Magic Box and teach a lesson in comparing and contrasting. I also think you could create a unit with a theme based on books where characters use their imagination. Harold and the Purple Crayon and Millie's Marvellous Hat would be other books that I would combine with the previously mentioned titles as part of this theme.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is a project created by Utah State University with the help of the National Science Foundation. Here is a description from the website:
The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM) is an NSF supported project that began in 1999 to develop a library of uniquely interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials, mostly in the form of Java applets, for mathematics instruction (K-12 emphasis). The project includes dissemination and extensive internal and external evaluation.

This is a terrific resource for teaching mathematics. The money image on the left represents one manipulative where students drag bills and coins into a rectangle to make a listed amount. These virtual manipulatives are divided by grade level (preK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12) and by strand (number and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis and probability). Find this website and bookmark it. Students will quickly learn to work on these independently and be provided with an engaging way to build math skills.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Boy in the Garden

The Boy in the Garden
written and illustrated by Allen Say
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Jiro and his father are visiting Mr. Ozu to wish him a happy new year. While his father converses with Mr. Ozu, young Jiro peers into the garden and sees a crane. Jiro is mesmerized since his mother has read the story of The Grateful Crane. In the story, a crane is set free by a young woodcutter. As a reward, the crane transforms into a beautiful young woman and marries the woodcutter. Jiro carefully approaches the crane only to be interrupted by howls of laughter from his father and Mr. Ozu. The crane is not real and the men are greatly amused by Jiro's actions. The laughter embarrasses Jiro so much that he runs and runs until he can no longer see Mr. Ozu's house. Tired from running, Jiro sees a small cottage that he recognizes as the woodcutter's house. In the house, Jiro finds that perhaps Mama's story is real after all.

If you are teaching about the differences between fantasy and reality, find a copy of The Boy in the Garden. Allen Say blurs the line between the two which will make for great discussions in your classroom. The ending opens the door to the question of whether the events actually happened or were all in Jiro's imagination. Students will also connect to Jiro and his feelings of humiliation when made fun of by adults. I'm always pleased to read a new book by Allen Say and this one doesn't disappoint.

Other reviews of The Boy in the Garden:
The HappyNappyBookseller
Book Dragon