Wednesday, August 31, 2011

13 Photos Children Should Know

13 Photos Children Should Know
written by Brad Finger
2011 (Prestel)
Source: Orange County Public Library

13 iconic photographs from the 20th and 21st centuries are featured in 13 Photos Children Should Know. Each photograph is accompanied by a narrative and other photos that provide facts about the picture. For example, one photo shows Tenzing Norgay on top of Mt. Everest in 1953. He is holding an ice axe with the flags of many nations attached. Author Brad Finger provides information about why it is so difficult to climb the mountain and how the two men, Norgay and Edmund Hillary, were able to scale it. A time line runs across the top of the page showing more facts connected to the photograph. Other photographs include Albert Einstein's tongue wagging, Buzz Aldrin on the moon, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. My favorite is a photograph of a row of men sitting on a beam high in the sky while working on the construction of the Rockefeller Center. It gives me goosebumps seeing them so casually eating lunch while hundreds of feet in the air with no attachment to the beam.

One of the reasons why I like books in the 13 series (Paintings, Art Mysteries, Buildings, American Artists) is you can create arguments for what should be included in a particular book. In this book, I would have included the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. These books make for interesting discussions. They can also be the beginning of a research project. Students can be handed photographs and asked to research the background of the event depicted in the picture. If you are teaching time lines, 13 Photos would also work well in this capacity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pirate vs. Pirate

Pirate vs. Pirate
written by Mary Quattlebaum; illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
2011 (Hyperion Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Bad Bart rules the high seas of the Atlantic while Mean Mo controls the waters of the Pacific. What happens when these two fierce pirates meet in the middle? A standoff that can only be settled by a contest that doesn't destroy ships. A swimming race, among the sharks, between the two ruffians only yields a tie. Subsequent battles involving cannonball throwing, mast climbing, arm wrestling, and hardtack eating fail to find a winner. The only thing left for the two pirates to do is to count their treasures and see which scurvy dog has the most. Avast, they both have the same amount! This leads to a surprise twist that may change maritime history.

Pirate vs. Pirate is a sweet and funny read that would make for interesting lessons on author's purpose and prediction. I appreciate Mary Quattlebaum's playful use of font and end marks. Thoughtful discussions could be built around the question of why some phrases are in bold. A page of this book could also be used to teach young writers how to use quotation marks. I would also ask students to predict which pirate was going to win this battle and why. A fun writing activity would be to list a couple of the similes from Pirate vs. Pirate and develop a list of pirate specific similes. I nominate "shiny as a swabbed deck."

Here is a link to Mary Quattlebaum's website which has more classroom activities. 

Other reviews:
There's a Book
Book Dads

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Cool Animal Names

Cool Animal Names
written by Dawn Cusick
2011 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Capstone Connect

My youngest daughter is in a "Did you know?" phase of reading right now. She is sharing facts left and right as she is reading nonfiction. This morning she was telling me about the saguaro cactus. I live in North Carolina. Not exactly cactus country, but it is still fascinating to her. Cool Animal Names is just the kind of book that kids like her will inhale in one big Hoover-like gulp.

Author Dawn Cusick explains in the beginning of this book that there are many strange animal names out there. For example, I just assumed that a skunk was a skunk. I was wrong. Did you know there are skunk bears, skunk beetles, and skunk clownfish? The bears (actually a type of weasel) and beetles earn the name honestly with the ability to emit horrific odors. Skunk clownfish have a white stripe that runs down their backs. Each section features animals that share a name with a familiar species. For example, Cusick delivers fabulous photos and facts about 24 different animals that have tiger in their name. My favorite is the Tiger Heron which gets its name from the sound of its call.

Cool Animal Names would be an excellent resource for students learning how to write nonfiction or working on how to organize information. You can pull a paragraph from this book and show it on the overhead projector or Smartboard and discuss why the author chose to include this information. I could also see students creating a chart featuring some of the animals with habitat, favorite foods, and appearance as categories. Being able to display information in a different format is an important skill for students to learn. After reading Cool Animal Names, I'm ready to find a pig frog!

Friday, August 26, 2011

STEM Friday: It's Snowing!

It's Snowing
written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Picture Book of the Day

If you teach kindergarten or first grade and teach a unit on snow, you should check out It's Snowing. Gail Gibbons gives a comprehensive look at snowfall that could be used in several different ways in a primary classroom. A beginning section that explains evaporation would fit nicely in a lesson on the water cycle. I would combine this with a later section called Snow Falls to the Ground in Many Different Ways to reinforce the teaching on the water cycle. Following this are several pages dealing with the formation and uniqueness of snowflakes. Google snowflake craft and you will find many ideas that could accompany this part of the text. A geography lesson could be taught using the section titled Snow Falls On All Seven Continents. If you have access to Google Earth, you could visit these sites and share photographs with your class. Gibbons also includes information on staying safe in snowstorms, how snow benefits plants and animals, and a fun experiment using black paper and snowflakes. It's Snowing is a handy book to have when you get into winter and want to teach seasonal lessons. Or you could read it while trying to cool off from the summer heat!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kiss Me! (I'm a Prince!)

Kiss Me! (I'm a Prince!)
written by Heather McLeod; illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
2011 (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Ella is playing basketball when she is approached by a talking frog. The frog asks that she kiss him so he can turn back into a prince. Ella picks up the frog and stuffs him in her pocket. The frog continues to plead his case, explaining to Ella that she would have a life of a princess if she would only kiss him. It would be a lavish life of studying and wearing fancy clothes. Ella would rather have a talking frog so she stuffs him back in her pocket. The frog soon learns that life with Ella is delightful. She likes to play hopscotch and Simon Says and go swimming in the pond. He has so much fun that he forgets about being a prince until the royal courtier takes him away. When the frog arrives at the castle, his mother and father command everyone to kiss him. None of the castle contingent can break the spell. His fairy godmother says it will take the kiss of a true friend and who could be truer than Ella? Will she kiss the frog and break the spell?

Kiss Me! is a sweet twist on the traditional fairy tale of the frog prince. The character of Ella is charming in her outlook on life. Right before the ending is a great opportunity to work with students on prediction. I would ask them to decide what Ella should do. You could say "What are the consequences of kissing the frog?" Author Heather McLeod wisely leaves out just enough information for readers to stop and think before continuing to the end. The ending stays true to the characters and proves satisfying.

Other reviews:
Canadian Teacher Magazine

Monday, August 22, 2011

Anna Hibiscus' Song

Anna Hibiscus' Song
written by Atinuke; illustrated by Lauren Tobia
2011 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

Anna Hibiscus is so happy that she isn't quite sure what to do with herself. Living in amazing Africa with her extended family brings so much joy. Grandfather suggests that she hold her hand out and count the reasons why she is so happy. There are simply not enough fingers to hold Anna's happiness. Other family members give suggestions (e.g. dancing, helping pound yams) and each one increases Anna's joy, but none of them feels exactly right. Finally, Anna's mother mentions that she likes to sit still and quiet when she is happy. Anna tries this and something wonderful happens. She hears the birds and they inspire her to create a song. This is the outlet for her happiness that Anna has been seeking.

I am delighted that the character of Anna Hibiscus is now appearing in a picture book. The chapter books are favorites of mine and this book will be equally appealing to younger readers who are not familiar with Anna. Students know all about being happy and will be able to easily make connections. This would be a great opportunity to channel those thoughts through a graphic organizer like a bubble map or to create a book of all the things that make us happy. For beginning writers, this would be an engaging activity. I also love that the setting of the book is a place that is unfamiliar to most students and therefore a fresh perspective. Anna Hibiscus' Song is a terrific introduction to a beloved character.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Animal Tails

Animal Tails
written by Beth Fielding
2011 (Early Light Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Ana's Nonfiction Blog

Take a minute and check your background knowledge on tails. First, you don't have one and neither do I. Second, you know that animals use their tails for several purposes. They communicate with other animals, hang on tree branches, swat flies, and use them for balance. But did you know that some male lemurs transfer smelly oil from their wrists to their tail and then throw their tail at other males? Fourth grade boys aren't the only male living creatures to do weird things when girls are involved. How about chameleons unrolling their tails and cracking them at other chameleons like a whip? Kind of like your older brother snapping his towel at you at the community pool. Using fun facts and vibrant photographs, Animal Tails will introduce readers to information old and new. Author Beth Fielding has also included experiments (I think the stuffed animal idea would be a big hit in class.) and advanced vocabulary (e.g. prehensile) to further engage young readers. Like cool extras on a DVD, Tail Talk gives even more facts in the back matter.

Books such as Animal Tails are extremely important in helping children understand that we live in a fascinating world. The more you know about it, the more you care about conserving it. If you have access to other Early Light books, students could create booklets featuring their favorite animals and their unique body parts. Animal Tails is also a good source for text to use in teaching how to spot and write nonfiction main ideas. You could write this lead sentence from the book on the board: Stingrays may win the prize for the scariest tails. Then, read the rest of the page to see how the author supports this opinion. In the new Common Core standards, this is an important skill for children to master.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

STEM Friday: Caterpillars

written by Marilyn Singer
2011 (Early Light Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at Simply Science

Caterpillars starts out with a unique feature that I have not seen before in a nonfiction book. Marilyn Singer has crafted a six stanza poem about caterpillars that serves as the table of contents. Each line of the poem serves as a title for a page in the book. The first line of the poem is Caterpillars smooth which corresponds to a page that has a column of text about caterpillar eggs. The next line is Caterpillars hairy which talks about a variety of larvae which have hair or are smooth. Lush photographs accompany each page of text. Several inserts are included which provide a close-up of these captivating critters. The back matter includes a matching game, pop quiz, an abundance of websites for further research, and sections featuring information on anatomy and taxonomy.

Presented in a chronological fashion and neatly tied together, you get a feast of facts in this book. With over 100,000 species of butterflies and moths, there is a lot to know. Caterpillars is a book that can be used for a wide range of grade levels. If you are teaching a unit on butterflies and moths in the primary grades, you can use Caterpillars for several days by sharing one or two pages each day with students. Older students can take information from a column of text and convert it into a graphic organizer like a table, a flow chart, or a Venn diagram. If you are studying scientific names, the taxonomy page is a good primer on this subject. I would also recommend Caterpillars for teaching the skill of contrasting two or more pieces of information.

Big Bouffant

Big Bouffant
written by Kate Hosford; illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
2011 (Carolrhoda Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Annabelle only sees pony tails and braids in her classroom and decides that she needs to go a different route. Inspiration comes from a picture of her bouffant coiffed grandmother. She begs her mother to help her. Mom instead tries to talk Annabelle into a different hairstyle. This won't do, so Annabelle decides to use some kitchen items to make her own bouffant. What follows is a catastrophe of hair, ketchup, a bird, and other various items. Mom feels pity for Annabelle and decides to help. Upon the first appearance of the new 'do at school, Annabelle's classmates are skeptical and a little rude. This doesn't bother her at all and the next day brings a change of heart from several classmates. Soon bouffants rule the day,  which actually makes Annabelle a little sad since she doesn't stand out from the crowd anymore. It's back to the drawing board for a new look and Annabelle does not disappoint.

As a teacher, I have striven to help students find their own voice. Annabelle finds hers through hair. My oldest daughter is named for a student who used red Kool-Aid to streak her hair one year. I liked the fact that she, like Annabelle, was not worried about what other students would say. This student also wore mismatched socks which were kind of cool. Big Bouffant is about being yourself and creating your own path.

I would pair this book with Laurie Halse Anderson's The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher or This is My Hair by Todd Parr for a nice 'do duo.

Other reviews:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Book for Black-Eyed Susan

A Book for Black-Eyed Susan
written by Judy Young; illustrated by Doris Ettlinger
2011 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Ten-year-old Cora's family is traveling on the Oregon Trail. Cora wakes one evening to see her Aunt Alma holding a baby and her father holding his head in his hands. Cora's mother has passed away during childbirth. The families have to move on, so Cora's mother is quickly buried and the new baby stays with Aunt Alma. When the wagons stop later on, Cora is given a chance to hold her baby sister who has black eyes and reminds her of a black-eyed Susan. These were her late mother's favorite flowers, so the name Susan sticks. Cora is inspired to begin a quilt book because she knows that Susan will not remember her mother. Using pieces of cloth from her mother's sewing box, Cora begins creating squares. Unfortunately for Cora, she and her sister will be soon parted. Cora and her father are continuing on the Oregon Trail, while Aunt Alma and Uncle Lee are going to take the California Trail. Cora's father feels she is too young to help raise a child so he sends Susan with Aunt Alma. With little time left, Cora quickly completes the book and sends it with Susan. In later years, Cora goes on to become a teacher who is in for a surprise at the end of the book.

Life on the Oregon Trail was difficult, and I applaud Judy Young for her approach to this book. In a picture book format, it would have been much easier to have a family that has some difficulty traversing the trail but making it to the end of the book intact. Young takes a risk by including the death of the mother and the separation of the sisters in the story, but I am more apt to use this book in my classroom since it gives students a better idea of the dangers involved in taking this trip and the frailty of life in this era. Make sure you read the author's note to students after finishing the book as it will provide useful background knowledge.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ducks Go Vroom

Ducks Go Vroom
written by Jane Kohuth; illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
2011 (Random House)
Source: Mebane Public Library

You know how you tell visitors to make themselves at home? Mi casa es su casa? The three ducks in Ducks Go Vroom take this phrase to the nth degree when they visit Auntie Goose's house. Soon after arriving, the ducks yak loudly on their cell phones, help themselves to some loud television and snacks, decide to make cookies, and conveniently forget to clean. Fortunately, Auntie Goose helps them receive a needed comeuppance at the end of the book.

Ducks Go Vroom is one of those fun books that you share with a child just learning to read. I would read it several times with the child before expecting them to read it independently. Sound words abound (onomatopoeia) which makes it difficult to decode initially. Don't forget to focus on comprehension as your child reads this book. There are predictions to make and this would make for a nice lesson on sequence as well. I would also ask if the ducks learned a lesson at the end of the book.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: From Pie Town to Yum Yum

From Pie Town to Yum Yum: Weird and Wacky Place Names Across the United States
written by Debbie Herman; illustrated by Linda Sarah Goldman
2011 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Amy O'Quinn

From Pie Town to Yum Yum is a book that illustrates why I love nonfiction. It is indeed stranger than fiction. With this book, you have an entree of fascinating facts with two sides of  weirdness and humor. Top it off with a dessert of comedic illustrations and this makes for a great read. Debbie Herman starts off with an explanation of toponymy, which is the study of place names. Knowing the history behind a town name can help you get a sense of the local culture. After the foreword, each of the fifty states (from Scratch Ankle, Alabama to Hole-In-The-Wall, Wyoming) is represented by a two page spread with a paragraph about the unique town featured on the left. The right side has a list of other intriguing town names in the featured state along with information about state geography, history, and destinations to visit on a road trip. My fair state is represented by the town of Bat Cave which is located in the mountains. The irony is that Bat Cave is not far from Transylvania County and when the fog gets thick, it can get quite spooky.

Students in your home state will enjoy finding out which towns they have visited and trying to decide which town name is their favorite. I would also ask them to create a name for a town and explain why they made this selection. Books like From Pie Town to Yum Yum can serve as a gateway to getting students interested in history. The sense of humor in the text and illustrations will keep them engaged and perhaps they will be prompted to do research on their own. If there is a volume two of this book, I'm nominating Lizard Lick for the North Carolina section.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Classroom Library: Getting Started

I am working on creating a classroom library for my 5th grade class. A kind colleague of mine told me about Beth Newingham's excellent website for creating a classroom library. Beth is a Scholastic Top Teacher so you know this is good stuff. I'll be printing the basket labels she has provided on her website, but there is so much more that Beth is sharing, so check it out!

Friday, August 12, 2011

STEM and Poetry Friday: Animal Fights

Animal Fights
written by Catherine Ham
2011 (Early Light Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at Wrapped in Foil
Check out Poetry Friday at Karen Edmisten

Let's get ready to rumble! If there is an audiobook for Animal Fights, boxing announcer Michael Buffer should narrate because the action level is high in this new science book. Author Catherine Ham uses plenty of action verbs to describe the rumbles in the jungle (tigers), the melees on the mountain (ibex), or the scuffles in the sea (cuttlefish). Bold photographs give you a ringside seat to view these battles for supremacy in the animal kingdom. Accompanying each of these pictures of pugnacity is a playful rhyme that provides science facts about animal behavior and models descriptive vocabulary (e.g. colossal, hideous, dreadfully) for young writers. One of my favorites was this stanza about foxes:

Foxes always hunt alone
And do not care to share
Whatever food they catch
They're awfully quick
To pick a scrap
With any sneaky, cheeky chap
Who tries to nick their patch

 In introducing this book to students, I would ask them this question "Why do animals fight?". This is one aspect of animal behavior that is not focused upon very often in classrooms, but it is a vital part of natural life. It would also be interesting to ask students how humans handle situations that cause animals in the wild to fight. What makes us different? Animal Fights could be the source of many rich discussions about behavior.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beginning of the Year Picture Books

If I were teaching a primary (K-2) class this year, I would be building a beginning of the year unit around Amy Krouse Rosenthal's One Smart Cookie. The book, without being preachy, will help students think about how they treat each other and how they act in general. The cookie theme is rich with opportunities for bulletin boards and fun activities.

One of the tasks for the beginning of the year is for everyone to get to know each other. A book I like that encourages self-expression is Walter Dean Myers' Looking Like Me. This book celebrates individuality and would be a great gateway for students to share who they are with other classmates.

A good book to kick off Reader's Workshop at the beginning of the year is Mordicai Gerstein's A Book. This story is about a young girl who is trying to find her own story. Gerstein takes the reader through several genres which would be a jumping off point for picking your own book for independent reading.

Click on the link below to read an article on beginning of the year books. It's written by Shari Frost and located on the superb Choice Literacy website. Check out this site to help your year get started.

Read Alouds for the First Day of School

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hide and Sheep

Hide and Sheep
written by Andrea Beaty; illustrated by Bill Mayer
2011 (Margaret K. McElderry)
Source: Mebane Public Library

While Farmer McFitt is snoozing away, his sheep escape so they can go play. One sheep even pole vaults his way out. Ten of his critters find their way to the zoo where they frolic with the locals. Nine other sheep join the circus and discover their acrobatic talents. Since this is a counting book, eight sheep are discovered interrupting a baseball game while trying their hooves at being groundskeepers. The counting continues as the oddball sheep find themselves in atypical settings. Finally, one last sheep follows Mary into school and is apprehended and sheared by the suddenly cognizant Farmer McFitt. With sheep in tow and in sheep's clothing, Farmer McFitt enjoys a well deserved reward.

Looking above, you see sheep dressed in a polka dot bikini top, a cowboy hat, and fake nose and glasses respectively. The very definition of humor. Small children like to count and they like to laugh. You get both with Hide and Sheep and visual jokes that will make adults sheepishly grin. Andrea Beaty's text and Bill Mayer's illustrations are a hoot. It would be fun to ask students to think of other settings in which the sheep appear. A nice craft idea would be for students to create an outfit for the sheep. Needless to say, your class will also enjoy reading Hide and Sheep out loud several times.

Here's a question to ponder: Which animals are the best sources of humor in picture books? I know there are many chicken books out there, but sheep may be giving them a run for their feathers.

Other reviews: (Check out this review and the terrific pictures!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Animal Naps

Animal Naps
written by Catherine Ham
2011 (Early Light Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

 A sloth's not much good on the ground
He spends his whole life in a tree
He keeps hanging around
Likes to sleep upside-down
                                                      Should we give that a try, you and me?

When you read nonfiction to young children, it is vital that you have great visuals to pull in their eyes. If you are reading to a pre-K - 1st grade crowd, the cuter the pictures the better. You would be hard pressed to find more adorable pictures than you will see in Animal Naps. A lizard holds on to a leaf like a toddler holding a blanket. You think the ducklings on the cover are charming? Try viewing a photograph of a snoozing hedgehog. I can almost hear the oohs and aahs from kindergarteners right now. But wait, there's more! Catherine Ham writes playful rhymes chock full of science information. Check out the sloth poem above. This poem would make a fun shared reading piece, but do you see the facts embedded inside? Sloths live solely in trees. They sleep upside down. Fun and full of facts, my friend. That's a great combination.

Animal Naps would be a superb resource for teaching a lesson on contrasts or categorization. You could create a table for animals that sleep on land, water, or off the ground. Then you could go through the book and decide where each animal would go on the table. I would encourage further research to find out when the animal sleeps (diurnal vs. nocturnal) and for how long. You could also go through this book and find the animals that hibernate. There are several routes you can pursue with Animal Naps. Click on the link above to find more Early Light books. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Bloody Times

Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis
written by James L. Swanson
2011 (Collins)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Apples With Many Seeds

Like the previous Chasing Lincoln's Killer, James L. Swanson has adapted one of his adult works, Bloody Crimes, and created a version for younger readers. Bloody Times juxtaposes the multi-city funeral procession of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln with the flight from Richmond of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Swanson crafts a riveting narrative once again that keeps you glued to the page even though you know how this is going to turn out. As a history nerd, I was aware of these two events, but Swanson has added a lot of depth to my knowledge. The level of mourning for Lincoln is heartbreaking as thousands stand in often rainy conditions to get a brief glimpse of the fallen president. Assistant Adjutant General Edward D. Townsend has the unenviable task of supervising the funeral procession from town to town, making sure the train arrived and left on time. Swanson's details give us a picture of what a monumental task it was to lead Lincoln's body to eventual burial in Springfield, Illinois. I appreciate the brief stories of people who met the procession and left tokens of their respect. Especially touching was a group of young girls that created a flower arrangement for the accompanying casket of Lincoln's previously deceased son Willie. At this same time, Jefferson Davis is fleeing further and further south as Union troops advance and move to end the war. These sections read like a cliffhanger as you wait for Davis to be captured. He has difficulty bringing himself to the realization that his cause is lost and that his life is in imminent danger. I found the section of the book that deals with how Jefferson Davis has fared in the annals of history to be particularly interesting and thoughtful.

If you teach specifically about the Civil War, you can read passages of Bloody Times to give students a sense of the mood of the country as the war ended. You could also ask students to put themselves in the position of President Andrew Johnson and ask them what they would have done with Jefferson Davis once he was captured. Bloody Times could be the starting point of many interesting history discussions.

Here is a link to the Smithsonian Institute's Civil War 150 commemeration. There seems to be a ton of material here.

Other reviews:
Lori Calabrese Writes!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Random Act of Kindness


My wife and I were shopping for teacher supplies this afternoon between church services. We were in separate parts of the store. A man approached each of us and asked if we were teachers. Answering yes, we were given ten dollar gift certificates. Several other teachers in the store were given certificates as well. I asked a store clerk about this, thinking it was a store promotion. It wasn't a store promotion. It was simply a man anonymously wanting to express his appreciation for teachers. For all of us getting ready to start a new year, it was a reminder that there are plenty of people out there who do appreciate teachers.