Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Inkblot

Inkblot: Drip, Splat, and Squish Your Way to Creativity
written and illustrated by Margaret Peot
2011 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Lori Calabrese Writes!

The purpose of procedural text is to instruct a reader in how to do something, typically written by someone who knows how to do the procedure for someone who must rely on the text to properly do the procedure. (Drawn from Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Martineau, 2007)

Think about what you read every day. What percentage of it involves directions and/or instructions? Probably more than you might have thought. Now think about how often students are asked to read text that teaches them how to do something. Probably not enough. Students should spend more time immersed in procedural text since it is going to be a big chunk of what they will be reading as adults. I bring up procedural text because I came across a unique piece of text called Inkblot. In this book, Margaret Peot teaches readers how to make different varieties of inkblots and how to enhance them. Several inkblot procedures are described in the book so readers have plenty of opportunities to practice reading and using procedural text. Another interesting recurring insert is Inkblot Heroes which gives us biographical information on famous people like Hermann Rorschach and Victor Hugo and their connection to inkblots. Peot also instructs readers on how to look at inkblots (very helpful for people like yours truly, Captain Literal!) and how to create a sketchbook which would be a nice change of pace in writing instruction.

Inkblot is an excellent resource for teachers wanting to focus on how to read procedural text or looking for a unique writing assignment.

Other reviews:
Cindy's Love of Books (interview w/ Margaret Peot)

Friday, July 29, 2011

STEM Friday: Inside Hurricanes

Inside Hurricanes
written by Mary Kay Carson
2010 (Sterling Publishing)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Chapter Book of the Day and Wrapped In Foil

I'm a little late to the Inside Hurricanes party, but my wife checked out this book and told me I had to read it. She's brilliant so I took her advice. I've read several hurricane books in the last few years, but I think this is the most complete book on hurricanes that I have read. I admire Mary Kay Carson's approach to this book. She gives the reader information from several different angles. First, there is the geography angle where she shows you where and when hurricanes happen. Several dynamic maps in this section. Did you know that western South America rarely sees tropical storms? Next, we get the meteorologist angle where the stages of hurricane development are laid out in superb diagrams and an equally cool four stage fold-out page where you view satellite photos displaying the sequence of a hurricane's life. The fold-out Saffir-Simpson scale is impressive as well.  History buffs will like the Hurricanes to Remember section that features famous hurricanes. Included in the information for each historical hurricane is an I Was There! insert which is a first hand report from a survivor of that particular storm.

Inside Hurricanes is a must-see resource for teachers who teach weather or just weather geeks like me. I love the combination of science, geography, and history. The photographs are striking, especially the section on Hurricane Katrina. You can pull this book and teach text features or use a photograph for a writing prompt. Now I need to check out Carson's Inside Tornadoes.

Other reviews:
Wrapped in Foil
Growing with Science (check out the activities)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rena and Rio Build a Rhyme

Rena and Rio Build a Rhyme
written by Pamela Hall; illustrated by Cary Pillo
2011 (Norwood House Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Rena and Rio are two young friends who are riding their bikes to Manny's Candy Shop. As they ride on a path, Rena gives Rio information about the rhymes and patterns that he's creating on the spot. Rena also shares her latest ABAB patterned poem:
             Cats are squeaky
             And cats are sly
             But I love Squeaky
             I don't know why
When they arrive at the candy store, owner Manny has more surprises for them. He talks about end rhymes, near rhymes, and inner rhymes while they peruse the swath of sweets available. Rena also mentions to Rio that a rhyming dictionary is a big help when trying to write rhymes.

Rena and Rio Build a Rhyme certainly puts a spotlight on building rhymes, but there is also a lot of good modeling for young writers. Rena keeps a journal with her and we read examples of her poetry which deals with topics familiar to young readers. Discussion of revising is also included in the narrative. Another positive is the discussion of patterns which fits nicely with kindergarten and first grade math. This early reader will be of interest to motivated young writers in your classroom.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


manufactured by Kelly DiPucchio and Matthew Myers
2011 (Balzer and Bray)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Clink is a toy robot that can't seem to buy a break. He's rusty, squeaky, and something always is falling off. Clink can't compete with the other robots in the store. Zippy can pick up dirty laundry and play baseball at the same time. Blade gives customers memorable hair cuts. Clink's haircuts are infamous. Penny makes wonderful chocolate chip cookies while Clink can only produce burnt dry toast. When Clink's robot friends go home with happy families, he switches his speakers off and gives up. All seems lost until a thoughtful young boy named Milton makes a connection to Clink through music.

Students love a good underdog (or in this case, an underrobot) story and Clink is a plucky one who will capture their hearts. All of us at one time or another have felt left behind or unable to compete so we  connect to Clink. I think young children who have seen Toy Story 2 would be able to compare Clink and Jessie the Cowgirl as both are toys that feel left behind. This story also lends itself to a lesson on problem and solution where students can predict what is going to happen to Clink.

Other reviews:
Waking Brain Cells

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ben Franklin, His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z

Ben Franklin, His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z
written by Alan Schroeder; illustrated by John O'Brien
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Mebane Public Library

"To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions."

If I checked correctly, our public library in Mebane has 85 titles relating to Benjamin Franklin. So why talk about yet another Franklin book? I'll answer that question with another question: Is there an American historical figure more fascinating than Ben Franklin? I think not. Every time I read a Franklin book, I learn something new. I didn't know that Benjamin Franklin was a general in the army during the French and Indian War. Another new story for me was of Franklin defending a group of Conestoga Indians in February 1764.  Ben Franklin, His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z is full of interesting tidbits about this beloved figure.

I like the format for this book. Alan Schroeder includes several pieces of information for each letter of the alphabet. Franklin's wise sayings are also liberally sprinkled throughout the book. John O'Brien's illustrations are very humorous and could be used for a lesson on inference. I would also use this book to encourage children to create similar A-Z books about a famous figure.

Other reviews:
The Fourth Musketeer

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: African Animal Alphabet

African Animal Alphabet
written and photographed by Beverly and Dereck Joubert
2011 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Check It Out

Looking at the cover of this book, you might expect me to focus my discussion on the photographs shot by expert photographers Beverly and Dereck Joubert. The close-up photos are fabulous, but there are other aspects of this book that have me just as excited. First, on page 4 is a great physical map of Africa. I don't often see such features in a book geared toward preschool and primary students so I am duly impressed. This map really gives you a sense of the vastness of the Sahara Desert. What follows are one and two page spreads matching an African animal and a letter of the alphabet. Each section contains an alliterative paragraph full of facts about the emphasized animal. Here is an example of one of my favorites:

      Two dung beetles roll dirty dung into a decorative ball as they diligently build their home using their delicate little legs.

These paragraphs are a great resource for teaching language lessons to enliven student writing. You also get a "Did you know?" box in each spread which provides a fascinating fact about the animal. Plenty of familiar animals are presented with a few unfamiliar (kudu, quelea) ones as well. The back matter includes a fact box for each animal with information about habitat, size, food, sounds, and birth. The size information is particularly smart as it compares the animal's size to something familiar to children instead of just giving a number. For example, the size of a tsessbe is listed as about as tall as a pony. Small children have difficulty understanding number measurements, but they may have seen a pony and can make a connection. This section would work well for teaching students how to create a table. 

If you teach preschool or kindergarten children, you have to watch the video below. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Link: Engaging Science Games Online

Engaging Science is a professional development program for British Columbia teachers. As part of this program, they have developed online science games for students to play. These are pretty cool games to play and good practice for learning how scientists have to test and retest their ideas in order to learn. I have included a permanent link on the right side. Listed below is the website write-up of the games available to play:

Earth and Space Science: Uncover what causes the phases
of the Moon in It's Just a Phase and learn about geological processes in This is your Life.

Physical Science: Make a Note
by experimenting with sound and explore the conductivity of everyday objects in Current Affairs.

Life Science: Explore Wild Wetlands and uncover the importance of conserving
wetlands and explore how body shape relates to how fish feed in What a Mouthful.

Friday, July 22, 2011

STEM Friday: How Do Waves Form?

How Do Waves Form?
written by Wil Mara
2011 (Marshall Cavendish)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Friday at Chapter Book of the Day
and Wrapped In Foil.

One of the things that I ask students to notice when reading informational text is how the author chooses to present their material. In How Do Waves Form?, author Wil Mara skillfully takes us to the very beginning of a wave where energy from the wind goes into the water to start the process. From there he goes step by step showing the reader how a wave builds its strength with the variables of wind speed, wind size, and length of wind gusts. Particularly effective are his use of common items like birthday candles and balloons to illustrate different facets of the life of a wave. The last chapter of the book is about types of waves with an informative diagram illustrating the formation of a tsunami.

If you have a unit on beaches and/or oceans, How Do Waves Form? would be a welcome addition to your collection. You could easily teach a lesson on sequence showing the steps of how a wave forms. This book could also be helpful in a unit on force and motion.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker
2010 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Two young boys wake up in their respective homes and prepare for a day of shopping with their fathers. One boy lives in Sydney, Australia and the second boy lives in Morocco. In this uniquely constructed wordless book, we see the Australian family in a bound section on the left side of the book and the Moroccan family in a separate bound section on the right side. You read the collage illustrations in each book at the same time, reading the Australian book left to right while reading the Moroccan book right to left. The foreword and author's notes are written in English in the left book and Arabic in the right book. Author Jeannie Baker's purpose in writing this book is to show us that we are more like each other in this world than we might think:
     Like each other, we live to be loved by family and friends and to be part of a larger family, a      
     community. Inwardly we are so alike, it could be each other we see when we look in a mirror. 

To state the obvious (and I can be Captain Obvious!), Mirror is an excellent opportunity to teach a lesson in comparing and contrasting.  Students also should be prompted to find specific connections between the two stories. Because of the unique construction of this book, you will need a helper if you use Mirror as a read aloud. This book could also be a great resource for teaching students how to use graphic organizers like Venn diagrams or double bubble maps.

Other reviews:
Gathering Books

Check out this video from PagesandPagesBooks which gives you an up close look at Mirror.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ruby Lu, Star of the Show

Ruby Lu, Star of the Show
written by Lenore Look; illustrated by Stef Choi
2011 (Atheneum)
Source: Mebane Public Library

In her third book, Ruby Lu and her cousin Flying Duck are entering third grade. Dad has made waffles for the first day and Ruby is looking forward to taking her new dog Elvis to obedience school later in the afternoon. During the summer, Elvis appeared on Ruby's doorstep and right away showed that he was not a regular dog. While refusing to heel or sit like a well trained dog, Elvis can ride a bike and balance plates. Most importantly, Elvis is there for Ruby when she needs him and she is going to really need him this afternoon. When Ruby comes home from school, her father breaks the news that he has lost his job and will not be able to afford dog obedience classes for Elvis. Ruby's mother must now go to work while her father stays home looking for a job. Ruby's adventures in the book feed off her dad's job loss and the changes he goes through.

Like the classic Ramona and Her Father in its time, this book is very relevant with the arc of Ruby's father losing his job, going into the doldrums, and reinventing himself and how Ruby deals with these significant changes in her life. The last two chapters of Star of the Show are especially poignant. I'm pretty impressed that an early reader can tackle such an issue. Ruby Lu continues to be a wonderful character that I hope we will see more of in the future.

Ruby Lu, Star of the Show is an excellent choice for studying characters and how the plot revolves around their reactions to problems. This book would also work as a text to demonstrate beginning, middle, and end.

Other reviews:
Christy's Book Basket

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Hatch!

written and illustrated by Roxie Munro
(Marshall Cavendish Children) 2011
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Chapter Book of the Day

On the first page of Hatch! is a rapid fire list of facts about birds titled Did You Know? Birds that can fit on a child's palm (bee hummingbird) and birds that fly while sleeping (albatross). Birds that fly one hundred miles an hour (peregrine falcons) and birds that migrate twenty-five thousand miles in a year (arctic tern). After whetting our appetite with these cool facts, author/illustrator Roxie Munro moves into four page spreads, each dedicated to a particular species. The first of four pages asks the question "Can you guess whose eggs these are?" Page 2 gives you textual clues about the bird. Pages 3 and 4 feature a brilliantly colored landscape featuring the bird and its habitat along with more facts about the bird. Other animals who live in the immediate environment are also listed. Nine different birds from around the world are featured. One facet I like is the wide variety of habitats shown in this book.

Hatch! lends itself to comparing different birds and environments. This would be a good book for teaching students about creating tables for listing information in order to compare.  The science vocabulary is also very rich (dominant, fledgling, migration) with a handy glossary listed in the back matter. I think it would be interesting to follow Roxie Munro's template and have students study different birds and create similar four page spreads for a class book. If you teach a unit on birds (and why aren't you?), Hatch! is a beneficial resource for your classroom.

Other reviews:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aggie Gets Lost

Aggie Gets Lost
written by Lori Ries; illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
(Charlesbridge) 2011
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

 Ben and his dog Aggie go to the park to play fetch with a red rubber ball. Aggie is a good dog who brings the ball back every time. She is so good that Ben decides to rear back and throw the ball real hard. He throws it so hard that he cannot see the ball. Aggie runs after the ball but does not come back. Ben calls and calls and looks for Aggie but does not see her. He walks forlornly back home without Aggie. Ben and his family make phone calls and posters. They go back to the park, but do not find Aggie. Ben spends a lonely night full of doubt but is still determined to find his lost friend. The next morning, Ben gets advice from a surprising source and finds a happy, but quite smelly Aggie in the woods.

Two of the reasons why I think Aggie Gets Lost is such an early reader treasure is its authenticity and ability to show the depth of emotions that kids of all ages experience. The second of three chapters, "The Awful Night", gives us a character that goes through a range of emotions (doubt, heartache, anger, determination) that is incredibly rich for a beginning reader chapter book. Ben is like any of us who have lost something dear and wonder why it had to happen or if we did enough. Children and adults will easily connect to the feelings of this wonderful lead character.

Aggie Gets Lost would be a terrific book for teaching young children about how the plot in a book is often driven by a character's reaction to a problem. It would also be an excellent addition to a unit on friendship or pets.

You can sneak a peek at Aggie Gets Lost at A Story Before Bed

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stack the Countries - iPad/iTouch game

Stack the Countries
developed by Dan Russell-Pinson
2011 (iPod/iPad app)

I downloaded Stack the Countries and our family has had a blast playing it. When you answer a geography question, you get the opportunity to drop the shape of a country on a platform. The object of the game is to answer questions so you can stack countries high enough to cross a checkered line. There's a little bit of geometry involved as you have think about how you stack the countries. If you stack poorly, your countries will roll off the platform. I know this from experience. Once you have stacked enough countries to cross the line, you will earn a country. Earn enough countries and you will unlock two more games (Map It! and Pile Up!) to play. This app is a lively way to improve your geographic knowledge.

Other reviews of Stack the Countries:
Teachers with Apps (Good review and they have tested it with a class of students.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food

How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food
written by Chris Butterworth; illustrated by Lucia Gaggioti
2011 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

I'm in the middle of reading Jeff Wilhelm's Engaging Readers and Writers With Inquiry. In this book, Wilhelm stresses that we need to ask essential questions to promote a deeper learning among students. A great example of an essential question is the title of today's book, How Did That Get In My Lunchbox? This question encourages children to think and investigate how food comes to us. For each item in the lunchbox (cheese sandwich, tomatoes, carrots, box of apple juice, clementines, and a chocolate chip cookie), author Chris Butterworth leads the reader through a sequence of steps on how the item came into being. For example, the bread in the sandwich started out in a field on the tip of a stalk. It was cut by a harvester and sent to a flour mill where the grain was ground into flour and mixed with water, sugar, and yeast to make a dough and then baked into a loaf. This book is a marvelous opportunity to teach primary children about sequence. Since the items in the lunchbox are commonplace, there will also be a lot of connections made. Before reading, I would ask children how each of these items came into being and as an after reading activity ask if their answers changed while reading the book. In addition, Lucia Gaggiotti's delightful illustrations fondly remind me of visuals from the 1950's and 60's. How Did That Get In My Lunchbox? is a tasty treat of a book.

Other reviews:
Books4YourKids (Great pics in this review.)
Sal's Fiction Addiction

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nonfiction Monday - After the Kill

After the Kill
written by Darrin Lunde; illustrated by Catherine Stock
2011 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at proseandkahn

It's early morning on the Serengeti Plain and a lioness is crouching as she spots a weak member of a herd of zebras. The lioness springs and quickly tackles the zebra. With a bite to the zebra's throat, the lioness has started a sequence that will end up bringing food to a variety of species. Up to this point, After the Kill is similar to other predator/prey books that you find in the animal section of the library. Then author Darrin Lunde hooked me with this detail, "..the lioness rips the carcass open and feasts on the soft internal organs first." Whoa! This is one of those details that makes you sort of squeamish (if you're an adult) yet extremely fascinated at the same time. From pillar to post, After the Kill is a straight forward telling of what happens to a carcass on the plain. It's not unnecessarily graphic, but it doesn't pull punches either. You see the order in which animals (hyenas, jackals, vultures) approach the dead animal and what parts of the animal they take away. Older elementary students will appreciate the forthright approach chosen by Lunde and illustrator Catherine Stock. It is what sets this book apart from the other texts that you will find on this subject. Kids are watching these nature scenes on cable television (Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc.), but while getting a great visual, these students don't walk away with much more. Books like After the Kill provide the information they need in conjunction with the visuals.

Older reluctant readers would be a good audience for After the Kill as the content is mature, but the text is not too terribly difficult to decode. Lunde's captions for the illustrations add background information that students will be eager to share with others. After the Kill may make adults a little queasy, but you will find many students who will be mesmerized by this candid look at animal life in the wild.

Friday, July 8, 2011

iPod/iPad app: Presidents vs. Aliens

Presidents vs. Aliens
Developed by Dan Russell-Pinson
2011 (iPod/iPad app)

First of all, perhaps my favorite app title of all time. If you answer a question about the presidents correctly, you get to fling that president's head (a la Angry Birds) to knock out a formation of aliens. Winning fifteen rounds of this game will unlock another game called Heads of States where you have to tap the head of the president whose name appears on the screen. If you miss three times, you lose. I won the game, but guessing among 19th century presidents like James K. Polk and William Henry Harrison can be difficult. A third game called Executive Order is also available, but I haven't reached that level yet. This is a game that combines history and gaming for a lot of fun.

Developer Dan Russell-Pinson also created NC Teacher Stuff favorite Stack the States and sequel called Stack the Countries which I need to check out.

(Since first posting, I have unlocked Executive Order which asks you to connect presidents in chronological order. All you have to go by is the face of each president. Very challenging.)

Thanks to Moms with Apps for the link to this game.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Walk in London

A Walk in London
written and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
2011 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A young girl and her mother have just gotten off the double-decker bus and have arrived in central London for a day of sightseeing. They are our tour guides in A Walk in London. There isn't really much of a story here, just the two of them walking through London and showing the reader different sights in town and telling us about what they encounter. I think this is great because the main focus of the book is the city itself and Salvatore Rubbino does a wonderful job in showcasing the city and its history. As you turn each page of this picture book travelogue, you get engaging illustrations of London's cityscape and informative labels everywhere in addition to the narrative. Rubbino has also written A Walk in New York  which would make for an interesting contrast if you had both books. This is a terrific book with many potential uses in a classroom.

Since it has a ton of information, I wouldn't use A Walk in London as a traditional read aloud where you would read it cover to cover, but instead combine pieces of it with something like Google Earth where students could see photographs and videos of the actual sites in London. Our kindergarteners and first graders would love this and it could be part of a Travel theme for a week where students could bring in pictures of places that they have visited. Another use for this book would be to share it with students as a starting point for creating a similar travelogue about their own town. Students (or whole class) could create a simple narrative and then fill in with illustrations and labels highlighting different landmarks in their town.

Common Core Connections:
Writing - Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
Reading - Informational Text (several standards)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How the States Got Their Shapes - TV Show and Game

A little over a year ago, I posted a review of the book How the States Got Their Shapes. This informative and entertaining book is now an equally entertaining TV show on the History Channel every Tuesday night at 10 pm. The history behind our state lines is fascinating and host Brian Unger is a humorous everyman. Below is a clip from a recent show that highlighted a borderline issue between Tennessee and Georgia. You can also play the Place the State game on the History Channel website. It took me 3 minutes to place all 50 states on my first try. You can do better. This would be a fun game for students to play as they learn about U.S. geography (If geography is still taught. Don't get me started.). Author Mark Stein's sequel, How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines is now available as well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe

Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe
written by Crystal Hubbard; illustrated by Kevin Belford
2011 (Lee and Low Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

My first memory of Arthur Ashe was his victory over Jimmy Connors to win the 1975 Wimbledon men's singles title. Connors was seeking his second consecutive title and was heavily favored to win. Ashe played a cerebral match to overcome and outwit the younger champion. I remember him as a different kind of athlete who cared about more than just tennis.

When I saw Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe, I immediately picked it from the shelf because Arthur Ashe is one of the most important American athletes of the 20th century. I've probably said this before, but I think you can't overestimate how much you can learn about our history (especially in the last century) by reading about sports. Ashe grew up on the segregated tennis courts of Richmond, Virginia, but it did not keep him from becoming a champion. Two thoughts came to me as I read Crystal Hubbard's terrific biography of his life. As with most champions, several people played an important part in Arthur Ashe's life and set him on a path to win 3 Grand Slam singles titles. Without one of those people, he may not have reached the heights that he did. Author Hubbard takes great care in highlighting the people who guided Arthur. My second thought was of Arthur Ashe's love of representing his country in Davis Cup matches. It's illustrated by illustrator Kevin Belford's cover portrait of Ashe proudly wearing his country's uniform while hoisting the Wimbledon trophy. 

This biography would be a good addition to your collection of sports books. I would use a picture book biography of Jackie Robinson and compare the two athletes (Common Core ELA standard RI. 5.3). Game, Set, Match is also an excellent example of how an author tells a story chronologically (Common Core ELA standard RI. 5.5).

Click on this link to see 3 minutes of Arthur Ashe's artistry on the tennis court.

Other reviews:
Rhapsody in Books

Friday, July 1, 2011

Building Vocabulary - The Aglet Song

Do you know what an aglet is? I didn't either until I happened upon a Phineas and Ferb episode where the two brothers decide to build awareness for the tip of the shoe lace. Of course you can't create awareness without a fashion tie-in, so they give away shoelaces to tie on everyone's fingers. And if you want to go global with your cause, you have to put on a giant stadium concert which the boys do masterfully in the video below. Phineas and Ferb are a great resource for teaching parody, but this particular song also highlights how you can build vocabulary with several exposures to a word. We get visuals (nonlinguistic representations - Marzano) which are also important in helping students remember a term. After watching this video, you will not forget the definition of aglet.