Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween and See You In A Week

I have Halloween, report cards, parent conferences, and my oldest daughter's play this week so I'm not going to do any book reviews. I will be back next week for Nonfiction Monday. I may throw a link or two up in the meantime. Have a great week everybody!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

STEM Friday: Journey Into The Deep (iPad book)

Journey Into The Deep
written by Rebecca L. Jefferson
2011 (Lerner Publishing)
$2.99 on iTunes

STEM Friday is here! Leave your link down below and thanks for joining the fun.

In her foreword to Journey Into the Deep, oceanographer Sylvia Earle says "only 5 percent of the ocean has been seen so far, let alone explored."  It is this mystery that should excite readers as they marvel at the incredible photographs (in brilliant color on the iPad) and read about the Census of Marine Life that is the subject of this book. Author Rebecca L. Jefferson explains in her video prologue that reading an article and taking a trip in a submersible spurred her to create this in-depth look at the work of researchers participating in this study. The book is divided into chapters according to the part of the ocean that is being explored. In Open Water, scientists in the western Pacific Ocean are looking for zooplankton during the day. They are seeking to capture samples to place in lab aquariums for further study. After dinner, the crew launches a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) that travels over 1,000 feet down to search for creatures that give off their own light. The photographs are simply amazing. One of my favorites is a see-through sea cucumber on the ocean floor. Students will marvel at the pictures and the information they learn through reading this book.

Journey Into the Deep is perhaps a glimpse into the future of nonfiction books. The back matter comes alive with links in the bibliography and website sections. For nonfiction there is so much you can do with direct access to the Internet and the possibilities of adding video. I can see authors teaching a video lesson based on the content in their book and games that could be created as bonus features. It's an exciting world that awaits us.

Other reviews:
Great Kid Books
School Library Journal

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Decimals and John Smith

In my 5th grade class, we're working with decimals in math and studying exploration in social studies. I wanted to share two cool links that help with both subjects:

Decimal Spy Guys is a SmartBoard math lesson from Learn Alberta that introduces decimals. When you include spies and baseball in your lesson, you have a winner.

On the Trail of Captain John Smith is an animated interactive lesson from National Geographic that provides an overview of the explorations led by this English captain famous for helping start the Jamestown settlement. I like the thought questions interspersed with the narrative. These questions make for a good lesson on cause and effect.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Greece! Rome! Monsters!

Greece! Rome! Monsters!
written by John Harris; illustrated by Calef Brown
2002 (J. Paul Getty Museum)
Source: Orange County Public Library

If you want an easy to read primer on mythology, check out Greece! Rome! Monsters!. Twenty Greek and Roman monsters are featured in this entertaining book. The text is humorous and informative. Author John Harris knows what interests young readers. You get the scary details regarding each monster combined with their place in mythology. The cover monster Chimaera breathed fire with the head of a lion and also had a goat's head growing in the middle with a snake as a tail! It takes the hero Bellerophon and his horse Pegasus to take out this frightful creature. Other monsters spotlighted include the Basilisk, Cyclops, Harpies, and the Phoenix. Calef Brown's artwork is distinctive and funny.

This would be a great book for fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Those readers will enjoy learning the background of these legendary creatures. Greece! Rome! Monsters! would also be an excellent resource for teaching figurative language. Several words and phrases (panic, siren's song) come from these mythological beings. It would be an informative to discuss why these creatures were created in ancient cultures.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Eliza's Cherry Trees

Eliza's Cherry Trees: Japan's Gift to America
written by Andrea Zimmerman; illustrated by Ju Hong Chen
2011 (Pelican Publishing Company)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Apples With Many Seeds

Eliza Scidmore lived an unusual life for a young woman in the late 19th century. She was able to travel to Europe as a teenager and this fueled her desire to travel to more places. Eliza found that writing would pay her way to travel around the world. One of her stops was Alaska, which fascinated her so much that she wrote the first guidebook about the territory. Another destination captured her heart. Eliza's brother worked in Japan which led to her visiting there. She fell in love with the culture and most of all the gardens. Her favorite plant was the Japanese cherry tree. Japan so enthralled her that she wrote a book and hoped that the two countries could become greater friends. Later, as she was walking on the muddy banks of the Potomac in her hometown, Eliza remembered the cherry trees and began a more than twenty year quest to bring Japanese cherry trees to the nation's capital. Eliza's patience won out as she picked up an important ally in the wife of President Taft. Finally in 1912, the first cherry trees were planted.

Eliza's Cherry Trees shows what can be done with determination and patience. Eliza Scidmore led an incredibly interesting life and met her goal. Students can learn from her persistence. It would interesting for students to hypothesize on why it took so long for Eliza's dream to come true. It's not speculated on by the author, but perhaps her gender played a part. This would also be a good book to share around Earth Day as your class thinks about ways to help the environment. In the back matter is a good example of a time line which could be used as a model for students to use.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

STEM Friday: My Friend the Box Turtle

My Friend the Box Turtle
written by Joanne Randolph
2011 (Windmill Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Growing With Science

When I was a child, I received a box turtle as a present and it didn't end well. Given my past experience, I am hopeful that reviewing My Friend the Box Turtle will help other children avoid a similar experience. In the first section of this book, there is general information about box turtles including different species and habitats. I was surprised to learn that there are box turtles in the desert. I would have thought they needed more moisture, but apparently they can dig deep enough to meet their needs. The meat of this book begins with the next section titled Home Sweet Home. Readers find information about how to build a home for a box turtle. Since reptiles can't make their own heat, you will need to purchase heating pads and heating lamps. Caring for a turtle may be more of a task then first thought. Turtles need several different areas in their home to thrive. A dry area, a hiding/sleeping spot, and a pool are all necessary amenities for a turtle. This sounds like an episode of House Hunters, but building this habitat the right way is extremely important. The final section, Caring For Your Turtle, includes tips for daily care including a once a day misting, vitamins, and a diet that includes slugs, mushrooms, and fruits.

I like shorter nonfiction titles like My Friend the Box Turtle because primary students like my youngest daughter eat them up. They don't receive a lot of attention, but these books are a valuable part of any elementary school media collection. They help build background knowledge and are a great resource for science instruction in K-1 classrooms. These books are also a gateway to learning about how to research a topic. Our kindergarten classes create nonfiction books and titles like this one provide a resource that is a perfect fit for them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air
written by Stewart Ross; illustrated by Stephen Biesty
2011 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

The story of exploration is not just about technological advances; it's also about people. - Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty

Into the Unknown presents fourteen journeys that transformed our knowledge of this planet. These accounts include Pytheas the Greek, who sailed far north from his home almost 2,500 years ago, Leif Eriksson, Marco Polo, Admiral Zheng, Columbus, Magellan, Captain Cook, and several others who blazed new paths. It ends with a journey out of this world, the flight of Apollo 11.  Told in chronological order, each section provides a fascinating narrative that recounts the journey of each explorer or explorers. Accompanying these narratives is some of the best artwork I have seen for a nonfiction book. The stand alone illustrations are terrific by themselves with detailed labels providing important information, but the real stars of this book are the unfolding cutaways and cross sections. On the fold of one piece of paper in the section on the ascent up Mt. Everest, you see a cut out of a mountaineer and the equipment he would use for climbing above 20,000 feet. On the top half of that same piece, you get a detailed map of the path from Kathmandu to the base camp for the journey up Mt. Everest. On the back side, there is a fold out of the path from the base camp to the summit of Everest. There are 14 of these incredibly detailed cut outs in this book! I would have journeyed into unknown lands as a kid to get my hands on a book like this. You can spend hours examining and reexamining the pages and not get bored. For twenty dollars, this book is a bargain.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Voices of World War II: Stories From the Front Lines

Voices of World War II : Stories From the Front Lines
written by Lois Miner Huey
2011 (Capstone Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Simply Science

Voices of World War II features five people who fought in battle:

William Ash: A British prisoner of war
Ruth Straub: An American nurse
David Webster: An American paratrooper
Hanna Reitsch: A Nazi pilot
Hayashi Ichizo: A Japanese kamikaze pilot

The experience of each soldier is presented in a four page spread with photographs and a highlighted vocabulary word. A mix of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources are used to tell their stories. Each narrative is brief which will be a benefit to struggling readers. They can use this book to build background knowledge on World War II without being overwhelmed with text. The stories give you insight into the difficult choices that are a part of waging war and the sacrifices made to defend countries. Especially poignant was Ichizo's statement that "To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine." The book ends with a chapter titled The Cost of War. Information on the destruction during the war, including the Holocaust, is briefly reported. An interesting question that might be posed to students who read this book would be "Can a soldier be considered brave if they fought on the wrong side of the war?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

STEM Friday: Even an Octopus Needs a Home

Even an Octopus Needs a Home
written and illustrated by Irene Kelly
2011 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Shelf-Employed

But all animals, including humans, need homes for the same reason: to have a safe and snug place to live and raise a family.

Even an Octopus Needs a Home explores the theme of every living thing needing a safe place to live by categorizing the types of habitats created by animals. It starts with Tree Houses. Familiar (chimpanzees, honey bees) and exotic animals (monk parakeet, Montezuma Oropendolas) are featured. Each section tells what materials are used and how the animal builds the home. Several "wow" facts are included which makes for fun nonfiction. For example, some monk parakeet nests "can be as big as a car." One colony of Montezuma Oropendolas built 172 nests in one tree! Other categories of habitats include Towers (ants, coral reefs), Caves (bears, octopi who hang eggs from the ceiling), and Burrows (shrimp, tortoises). Each animal feature is accompanied by bright watercolor illustrations and fascinating information that will energize young nonfiction fans. This is the perfect book if you teach a unit on animal homes. I could see kindergarten and first grade students creating booklets of animal homes based on this book. Whole classes or small groups could create Venn diagrams that contrast different homes within a category or across categories. I might have an "Animal Home of the Day" and feature a different animal perhaps accompanied by other photographs and/or United Streaming video if that is available to you. There are several possible uses to Even an Octopus Needs a Home, so find a copy for your animal units in science.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Perfect Snow

Perfect Snow
written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
2011 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Scott and Jim are brothers who love snow days. Jim doesn't even crack a frown when his sister tells him that school will still be open. He can't wait for recess. Scott decides to build a team of snowmen while Jim is trying to create a "Snow Fortress of Doom." Scott can only make so many snowmen by himself, while Jim is caught up in a blizzard due to everyone taking snow from his fort efforts. The recess bell gives the boys time to reflect and they decide to combine their ideas to make a massive fort of snowmen at lunch time. The end of the day brings the satisfaction of a job well done in the perfect snow.  

I saw the word distinctive in a blurb from the Booklist review of Perfect Snow and I can't think of a better word to describe the illustrations. I have limited knowledge, but I can't recall seeing anything like this with the combination of pressed plasticine, that gives it a 3-D look, and panels of ink drawings. Absolutely cool! This book captures the joy of watching falling snow and then playing in it. You could use this book to teach lessons on cause and effect or problem and solution. I like how the brothers work together to problem solve. An excellent companion book for Perfect Snow would be one of my favorite pieces of nonfiction text, Recess at Twenty Below, which chronicles a day at school for a class of Alaskan students.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: My Hands Sing the Blues

My Hands Sing the Blues
written by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
2011 (Marshall Cavendish)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Practically Paradise

Today my memory whirls back to my North Carolina past.

Famed 20th century artist Romare Bearden was born in North Carolina in 1911. At the age of 3, his family moves by train to New York City to escape the oppressive Jim Crow laws of the South. This makes a huge impression on the young Romare as he has to leave his beloved great-grandma and great-grandpa behind. As an adult artist in Harlem, Bearden uses trains in several of his paintings including the inspiration for this book, "Watching the Good Trains Go By." Bearden is later quoted as saying "I never left Charlotte except physically." Romare Bearden received the National Medal of Arts in 1987 and left behind a legacy of helping younger artists and being the "nation's foremost collagist."

One of the great joys of writing this blog is learning about people you never knew before and what inspired them to greatness. My Hands Sing the Blues is an excellent biography that combines rhythmic language and wonderful collage illustrations that illuminate the heart and soul of Romare Bearden's childhood journey. I appreciate Jeanne Harvey's choice of how to structure the sentences in this book. The text is one long blues song that helps you understand Bearden's attachment to his past and his eagerness to capture this journey in his collages.

Like a flower, I have roots in my Carolina past, 
roots sunk deep in my childhood long past.
The people and the places are in my art to last.

Likewise, Elizabeth Zunon's exquisite collages give us insight into Bearden's work and his heart.  

My Hands Sing the Blues could serve as a resource in your classroom in several ways. Students could create a collage to reflect an important moment in their lives or to accompany a poem that they have written for a poetry unit. For older students, I would add this book to my biography collection. I would also accompany this book with works by Donald Crews. My Hands Sing the Blues reminded me of his work and in doing some searching I found that Mr. Crews's daughter Nina Crews lists Romare Bearden as an influence.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

STEM Friday: Why Do Puppies Do That? (iPad book)

Why Do Puppies Do That?
written by Seymour Simon
2011 (Seymour Science LLC)
Source: iTunes

Check out STEM Friday at Celebrate Science

The king of science books, Seymour Simon, tackles perhaps his cutest challenge yet with Why Do Puppies Do That?. In two page sections with photographs of adorable puppies, Simon answers questions that young children might have about their furry friends. For example, one piece is titled Why don't puppies sit when they are told?. It is explained that puppies have to be trained with a command and a gentle push on the hindquarters. This e-book is a good match for a preschooler or a primary school student who wants to read or needs to use the audio option to have it read to them. Simon doesn't go "cutesy" with the text, but in a simple manner explains the behavior of these animals. He covers about every question that a child might ask, including explanations of scratching and wetting on the floor.

Accessing this on an iPad would be very easy for a preschooler to accomplish. Paw prints serve as the page turns and there is a menu at the bottom so you can go to any page. The photographs will engage beginning readers and prompt them to continue turning the pages. Why Do Puppies Do That? would be a good primer for a child that is about to receive a puppy. After reading this, you could ask children to list the positive and challenging parts of owning a puppy or talk about the character traits of a good dog owner. Why Do Puppies Do That? would also be an excellent resource for showing children how you don't need to start at the beginning of an informational text. You can show all the pages on the screen and just pick one section. This is an e-book that will be read several times by a young dog lover.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Isabel's Car Wash

Isabel's Car Wash
written by Sheila Bair; illustrated by Judy Stead
2008 (Albert Whitman) Paperback just released.
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Isabel Dinero needs ten dollars to buy a new doll. Since she has washed several cars with her older brother, Isabel decides to start her own car wash. The first thing she will need are supplies, but shammies and soap cost five dollars and she only has fifty cents. Fortunately, five of her friends are willing to be investors and give her a dollar each to help start the business. Isabel promises to pay them back with interest. The next morning, she starts her car washing business and ends up with twenty customers. With a profit of twenty dollars, Isabel is able to double her investors' money and still have ten dollars left over to buy her doll.

Children can start learning at an early age about financial literacy. Saving and investing are important topics that can be taught through the use of stories like Isabel's Car Wash. I think this book would also be a good source for teaching students about character. Isabel is a plucky youngster who problem solves and shows a lot of grit. These are traits that we certainly want to emphasize in our classrooms. Lessons on sequence and problem/solution could be taught using Isabel's Car Wash. Questions like "What are the steps to starting a business?" or "How/Where do you get the money to start a business?" could be discussed as part of these lessons.

A good companion book for Isabel's Car Wash would be Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Wagons Ho!

Wagons Ho!
written by George Hallowell and Joan Holub
illustrated by Lynne Avril
2011 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at 100 Scope Notes

Two young girls are getting ready to move with their families from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City. Jenny Johnson and her family are moving by wagon in 1846. Katie Miller and her family are traveling by car in the 21st century. Both families are seeking a new life in Oregon. As the story progresses, we see both families making preparations for the move. Panels allow the reader to compare the similarities and differences between the two centuries. In 2011, you might travel in an hour what it would take the wagons of 1846 to cross in five days. For the move, both families have to leave behind treasured things including friends and pets. For each day of Katie Miller's car trip, we read about a month in the travels of the Johnson family. Along the way, we learn new information about life on the Oregon Trail and remember highway trips of our own. 

Wagons Ho! is an inventive tale of the Old and New West that beats the pants off a stuffy book I read months ago on the same subject. Yes, it is historical fiction, but it is easy to separate the fictional elements from the nonfiction and learn quite a bit about families that migrated to Oregon in the 19th century. The bonus with this book are the connections students will make through the character of Katie Miller. We've all been on long car trips and can contrast that with the five month wagon trip of the Johnson family. Wagons Ho! would be a great resource for using graphic organizers in teaching history. Lynne Avril's delightful watercolor illustrations help make this a trip that you will want to take with young readers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cybils 2011

The nominations for the 2011 Cybils have opened up so click on this link and nominate your favorite books and book apps. This is an especially great opportunity for those books that might not have gotten a lot of notice when they were published. Authors really appreciate the love shown so if you have a book that you really liked, stop reading this and get over there and nominate it.