Thursday, September 29, 2011

STEM and Poetry Friday: Multiply on the Fly

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Miss Fox's Class Shapes Up

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

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

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Why Did English Settlers Come to Virginia?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

STEM Friday: Animalogy: Animal Analogies

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

Check out STEM Friday at Rasco from RIF

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

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sparky the Fire Dog

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Exploring Countries - England

Exploring Countries: England
written by Walter Simmons
2011 (Bellwether Media)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Tales From the Rushmore Kid

Bellwether Media has published 40 books in the Exploring Countries series. These books are ideal for children who are beginning to learn how to read text for the purpose of researching a topic. Each book focuses on one country and gives students information about the culture, economics, geography, and politics of that country. The book in my local library features England. Geography is the focus of the beginning sections with information about where England is located and the landforms and ecosystems that you will find there. Facts about the culture follow with a page of slang words, a snapshot of daily life, economic data (jobs), and a page about education in England. These chapters provide an opportunity for students to make connections with their own lives here in America. Sports, holidays, food, and landmarks make up the remainder of the book. There is a glossary of terms in the back matter and a URL address for finding kid-friendly links about England. I found 4 websites when I used the URL address.

There are two things that I really like about this series. One, it is a great synopsis of the 5 themes of social studies. You could take this book at the beginning of the year and give examples of each theme. Second, the Exploring Countries series is ideal for older students who need to acquire research skills but have difficulty with grade level text. For example, students in 5th grade who read at a 3rd or 4th grade level would be able to handle this text without too much difficulty and be able to focus their attention on summarizing information for instance, instead of having to worry about decoding. That is a pretty handy resource to have in your possession.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

STEM Friday: How Does My Garden Grow?

How Does My Garden Grow?
2011 (DK Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Archimedes Notebook

How Does My Garden Grow? starts with a fabulous six page spread that puts a science textbook to shame. You get explanations of the parts of plants, how plants grow, what a plant needs, and why we need plants. A combination of  short bursts of advice and facts with helpful graphics and photographs make this section a winner for teaching science. The next section, Making Stuff With Things You've Grown, shows children how to use plants for craft activities. One of the more intriguing activities for me was the article on making corn paper. There are step by step instructions on a single page which make for great instructional material in teaching reading. Other activities include making a container garden and a sweet smelling lavender buddy. The last section, Growing Things and Cooking, is composed of two part pieces that start with how to grow a particular plant and then a recipe for a dish using the plant. For example, there are two pages devoted to growing rhubarb. I learned that you don't eat the poisonous leaves. Again, you get step by step instructions on how to plant the rhubarb. One of the great strengths of this book is that all of these plants can be grown in several different settings. What follows is a recipe for rhubarb cobbler that has photographed instructions that make me want to find some rhubarb and create this immediately.

How Does My Garden Grow? is an excellent resource for children and adults who may be creating a garden at home or in a courtyard at school. In the classroom, you could take a two page spread and work with students on how to read nonfiction. You have plenty of main idea sentences with details that follow. The introductory section would be great for teaching about plants in science. This garden grows with informative text. Now on to that rhubarb dessert.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art

Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art
written by J.H. Shapiro; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
2011 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Published in October, 2011

Can art change the world? Or is it merely for our appreciation and enjoyment? This is a good question to ask students. In the case of Tyree Guyton, art transformed his life and the life of Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan. Young Tyree collects junk and makes it into toys. One day his house painter grandfather puts a paint brush in his hand and tells him to "paint the world." He leaves Heidelberg Street at age sixteen to find his way. After turns as a soldier, a worker on an assembly line, and a firefighter, Tyree enrolls in art school to fulfill his childhood dream to be an artist. Unfortunately, when he returns home he finds that his street has changed. Trash and troublemakers have taken over. Tyree decides to take back his neighborhood one stroke at a time. With the help of Grandpa Sam, he begins painting and creating art out of the junk that is there. A small group of neighbors and the city are skeptical and bulldozers lay waste to Tyree's work. After the passing of his grandfather, Tyree once again works to renew his community. This time, his neighbors work with him and a court allows the art work to stand. This year, the Heidelberg Project celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Magic Trash is an uplifting story of a person who makes a difference in his neighborhood. J.H. Shapiro's story could be used for several purposes in a classroom. If you are teaching students how to use quotations in their writing, Magic Trash has several examples that can serve as a model. I really like how she weaves lines of poetry into the narrative. These three line sections act as a Greek chorus summarizing the action in the story. It would be an intriguing exercise to follow her example and ask student writers to write three line summaries in sections of books that they are reading. I don't always comment on the illustrations in a book, but I would be negligent if I didn't mention Vanessa Brantley-Newton's dynamic mixed media collages. I won't be surprised if Magic Trash garners some awards for illustration at the end of the year. When you are teaching biographies, this book would be an inspired choice to show children how one person can change their surroundings.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Witches - The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer
2011 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Publication Date: September 13, 2011

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped in Foil

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I remember this adage from my childhood. It came back to my mind after reading Witches. In January 1692, two young girls begin mysteriously twitching, contorting, and speaking nonsense. Living under the roof of Reverend Samuel Parris, these two girls did not improve in the coming days and no sensible prognosis is able to be made. Instead, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams are declared bewitched by a local doctor. What follows is a series of such wild lies, accusations, and sheer madness in the village of Salem that 20 people ended up losing their lives. Rosalyn Schanzer unravels this tragic tale with riveting storytelling and unforgettable illustrations.

Unlike the childhood adage, words can be quite powerful and devastating. Salem is certainly proof of this. Author Schanzer shows us how people can be whipped up into a frenzy without giving a care to evidence and reasonable thought. If you teach American history, Witches would be an excellent resource for information on the witch trials in Salem. An interesting comparison would be to contrast this event with the McCarthy era "Red Scare" of the mid 20th century. My preference would be to use this book with middle school or older students, but others may disagree.

Rosalyn Schanzer has written and illustrated what is sure to be one of the most talked about nonfiction titles of 2011. What happened in Salem was truly tragic as families were destroyed and innocent lives lost. It can be terribly frustrating reading for students who are used to happy endings and justice prevailing. A final aspect about Witches that was especially revealing for me was the role of money in this disaster. There were several conflicts between families in the village that were connected to land and/or money. This is a prevalent theme in history and one I urge students to consider.  Probably not the main source of the accusations in Salem, but Schanzer's book makes me think of the saying from  All The President's Men: "Follow the money."

Other reviews:
Fuse #8

Friday, September 9, 2011

STEM Friday: Paramedics to the Rescue

Paramedics to the Rescue
written by Nancy White
2011 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Ana's Nonfiction Blog

I picked up Paramedics to the Rescue because this is a subject that I had not seen featured in a book before. Nancy White creates an interesting mix of information and stories involving paramedics. I never thought about this, but paramedics have only been around since the mid-1960s. There have been ambulance drivers for several decades, but they didn't give medical treatment to patients. This book tells how the profession got started in the United States. One of the hooks for reluctant readers are the stories contained in this text. I would read one as a way to sell it to students. You could choose the story of Lawrence Van Sertima who was bitten by a venomous snake on 9/11. Paramedic Al Cruz had to convince the government to allow a plane to fly to Miami from San Diego in order to deliver the medication needed to save Van Sertima's life. Paramedic Lisa Desena, who set up a first-aid station near the collapsed Twin Towers on 9/11, is also featured. Another facet of Paramedics that I like is the emphasis on training and working together. That lesson can easily transfer to the classroom so students can understand that teamwork and studying are extremely important.

If your class is studying careers in medicine or if you're looking for a nonfiction book to catch the eye of reluctant readers, you should find a copy of Paramedics to the Rescue. You could read sections of the book and invite a paramedic to speak to your class. They may even bring in equipment to show students what they use to save lives. This book is also a good source for science related vocabulary (unconscious, intravenous, proficient).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Word Study in 5th grade

I have carved out 15-20 minutes each day for word study in my 5th grade classroom. I assessed the class using the Elementary Spelling Inventory from Words Their Way and we have now settled on a schedule with the help of Words Their Way and another wonderful book about spelling instruction called Word Crafting. The assessment helps determine where the developmental level is for a particular student.

Our schedule is listed below:
Monday: Open Sort - I give the students a sheet of about 20 words for them to cut out and decide how to sort. After a few minutes, we discuss the categories that the students generated. Students place their cut words in an envelope for future sorting. The words come from the list of sorts in the back of Words Their Way, which is probably the leading resource for word study instruction.

Tuesday: Closed Sort - I give students the categories and they sort their words accordingly. Then they record them in their word study notebook.

Wednesday: Blind Sort - Students partner together and are given the headings for their sorts. Then they need to sort the words without seeing them.

Thursday: Word Games - One of the games we play is Spelling Spree which comes from Word Crafting. Students start with a simple word like "cat". Then, they try to make another word by making only one move which could be adding a letter or deleting a letter. For example, I could replace the "t" in cat with a "p" and make "cap". The players continue making words in this fashion in a seven minute time period. Other activities you could use for this day include word hunts where students search text for words that fit the categories for the week.

Friday: Blind Writing Sort - I give the students the categories and then call out words for them to write and place in the categories. This is a great formative assessment to check their knowledge of the featured patterns for the week.

We'll see how this works out, but we're off to a promising start.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The No. 1 Car Spotter

The No. 1 Car Spotter
written by Atinuke; illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
2011 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the continent of Africa, you will find my country. In my country there are many cities, all with skyscrapers, hotels, offices. There are also many smaller towns, all with tap water and electricity and television. Then there is my village, where we only talk about such things.

Thus we are introduced to the engaging character Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, who goes by the name "No. 1". His nickname comes from being the best car spotter in the village and perhaps the world. A car spotter is one who can hear an engine and know what kind of car is approaching. It is a hobby learned from his grandfather. A road runs right by the village, so there is plenty of opportunity for car spotting while working to clear brush, collecting palm nuts for their oil, or sitting under an iroko tree. All of the men enjoy this sport while the women think it is a waste of time. And time cannot be wasted as it is the day before going to market. The people of the village sell the products they have grown and collected in order to buy needed things (salt, kerosene, pencils for school) that cannot be grown or hunted. Disaster strikes the village when the cart for all the goods breaks in half. The only vehicle in the village is a broken down Toyota Corolla that was abandoned long ago. All of the villagers are in despair over the cart, but a spark of an idea comes to No. 1. He runs most of the day to the neighboring town where his older cousin Wale lives. Using ingenuity and laboring all night, Wale and his friends bring to life No. 1's idea. A Toyota "Cowrolla" that runs on cow power.

As with her earlier Anna Hibiscus series, author Atinuke takes us to Africa and connects the reader's heart to wonderful families who love one another, argue, and work together.  All four stories in this book are filled with humor and warmth, but also grounded in reality. Life is tough for these villagers, but they manage to survive and thrive despite not having many material possessions. No. 1 and the Wheelbarrow, the last story in the book, is particularly affirming. I love the language in the conversations and the stories behind the names of the characters. I look forward to reading more stories about No. 1 and his family and friends.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: The Civil War Today (iPad app)

The Civil War Today
The History Channel
2011 (iPad app)
Source: iTunes

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Playing by the book

On April 12th, The History Channel launched an iPad app to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the beginning of The Civil War. Each day, events in real time will be revealed as they happened in the war. It will conclude on April 26, 2015. Several features give subscribers information about the progress of the war and the people who fought it. When I read this app, my eyes are usually drawn first to the Quote of the Day feature. Today's (Sept. 4, 1861) quote is from General Ulysses Grant:

"Well, somehow or other, I never learned to swear."

To the left of the quote is the main feature which focuses on events for that date. On Sept. 4th, 1861, thousands of Confederate soldiers moved into Columbus, Kentucky. Other paragraphs talk about a skirmish near Washington, D.C., a bridge burning in Missouri, and arrests of Confederate soldiers in northern cities. In the Headlines highlights a newspaper front page from the era. I was able to read a page from the Shreveport Daily News which printed war news and advertisements. Casualties To Date tallies the deaths for each side of the war. Day in the Life focuses on diary entries or other writing from 15 people connected to the war. John Beauchamp Jones, a clerk in the Confederate war department, writes less than glowingly about a man appointed brigadier general by Jefferson Davis:

"He too, was a West Pointer; but does not look like a military genius."

There is also a Photo Gallery, Battle Maps, and game features.

I see The Civil War Today as a valuable resource for social studies classes. Getting to read primary source documents is a great thing for students. One of the drawbacks is that some of the documents can be difficult to decipher due to smallness of print. I would combine this app with the American Memory collection from the Library of Congress to provide students with a richer experience in researching this monumental era in our history.

** You can access previous dates through a button on the bottom of the screen. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

STEM Friday: Snakes, Salamanders and Lizards (Take-Along Guide)

Snakes, Salamanders and Lizards
written by Diane L. Burns; illustrated by Linda Garrow
1995 (NorthWord Books for Young Readers)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out STEM Friday at A Life in Books

When I started teaching in the Mesozoic Era, we used guide books, for identifying animals, that were dense and full of high level vocabulary that made them difficult to access for third grade students. I wish I would have had a class set of Take-Along Guides. These guides use kid-friendly language with bright illustrations that are eye catching. Each animal page in Snakes, Salamanders, and Lizards follows the same structure. There are four categories: Tips to Find This ____ (Snake, Salamander, or Lizard), What It Looks Like, What It Eats, and Where It Lives. The information is brief but full of useful facts. Since coloring is extremely important when looking for snakes, the language in the What It Looks Like section is very clear so young explorers know exactly what they are looking for and what to avoid. Special Warning tags are attached to each page of an animal that could be threatening. In addition to the animal pages, there is a craft activity page for each section (Snakes, Salamanders, Lizards) of the book. For example, for snakes there is a dried bean craft activity. This is a good source of procedural text as well as a fun project.

I looked on Amazon and these guides are still available even though they were published many years ago. It would worth your time to check them out. If you live near a creek, lake, or river, this book would come in handy if you decided to go exploring with a group of children.