Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Left, Right, Emma!

Left, Right, Emma!
written and illustrated by Stuart J. Murphy
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Knowing your left from your right is pretty big accomplishment for a young child. When I worked in kindergarten, I would tell students to look at the back of their hands and the hand that made an "L" shape was their left hand. This seemed an effective method, but I could have used Left, Right, Emma! as an added resource. In the story, Emma loves to march around her house. She's usually followed by her dog Pickle (Note to future authors: If you want reviewers to like your book, include a dog named Pickle. It works for me.). Her preschool class is going to form a marching band for Grandparents Day, so naturally Emma would volunteer to be the leader, but she doesn't raise her hand. Emma is unsure since she is not confident in her knowledge of left and right. Fortunately, her teacher, Miss Cathy, is a knowing soul and she asks Emma to join her in leading two lines. With Emma on her right, Miss Cathy has the class march around the playground. Emma is still not completely sure, so her teacher ties a red string around Emma's wrist and this visual makes all the difference. Emma leads the band and Grandparents Day is a great success.

I've never read a book about this particular cognitive skill, so right away I'm happy to have this resource for a preschool or kindergarten class. I can pull a small group and read this book to students who may be having problems distinguishing between their left and right. Stuart J. Murphy purposefully loads this book with visual cues which makes it great for young learners. I also like the kinesthetic possibilities presented by Left, Right, Emma!. I can easily imagine preschoolers marching around the playground after reading this book. It would be worth the time to check out Murphy's other books in his I See I Learn series.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: A Warmer World

A Warmer World
written by Caroline Arnold; illustrated by Jamie Hogan
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wendie's Wanderings

In A Warmer World, Caroline Arnold gives a straightforward presentation of the effects of climate change on the natural world. She starts with the case of the golden toad in Costa Rica. Arnold explains that drier weather brought on by climate change caused puddles to disappear quickly and leave the golden toad eggs without water. The golden toad was gone within two years and has not been seen since. The next section talks about how the Earth's climate has changed in the last century. I love how the author lays out the difference between climate and weather:

Climate is the average weather in a particular place measured over time. Weather is the state of the atmosphere around us at a particular place and time. In other words, climate is what you expect (for example, a wet spring) and weather is what you get (for example, a thunderstorm).

In later sections, Arnold addresses how climate change causes animals to migrate to places that were previously cooler. This can create more competition for resources. The melting of polar regions and rising sea levels are also presented as problems caused by global warming. More than once, the author explains that the earth has warmed before, but that it is the rate of warming at this time that concerns scientists.

I really like how the text is written in this book. Each one page piece is full of information, but not so that it is overwhelming for a strong second or third grade reader. There are not very many books on climate change for younger readers, but I also think this will be a welcome resource for a wide range of grade levels. Middle school students could use this book just as easily as a third grader. I also think there is a golden opportunity for discussion with A Warmer World. If you do a little research, you will find those who  differ with some of the conclusions drawn by the author in this book. With nonfiction, one of the skills we would like to teach our students is to read and weigh the evidence. If you can find an opposing opinion that is well reasoned, I think it would be good to present it and work with students to develop their own opinion about the effects of climate change.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

STEM Friday: Open Wide!

Open Wide!
written by Catherine Ham
2012 (Early Light Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at Wrapped in Foil

The obvious place to start when thinking about animal mouths is how the mouth is used to capture prey. Open Wide! provides plenty of examples of this feature. The ferocious jaws of an eel, the hook mouth of the penguin, and the pointy front teeth of the big cats are just some of the meal munching openings that you will see, but there is much more in this book. You have animals that use their mouths to cool off. Crocodiles can't sweat so their only way of cooling off in the heat is to open their mouths. This is where you understand the strength of Open Wide! You get interesting animal facts inside each poem. It's like my childhood where Mom would buy me a box of cereal and there was a cool toy inside. I would call these toys "Free Insides". The animal facts in Open Wide! are like free insides to me. One of the coolest "free insides" is learning about the poisonous slobber of the komodo dragon. The brightly colored tentacles of the file clam are another fascinating find in this book. In the back matter, you will see ten other animal mouths where you can make comparisons with the animals in the main part of the book.

Open Wide! would be a good book to use for teaching children how to categorize items. You can sort these animal mouths into beaks and non-beaks or sort according to the type of teeth or whether the animal is land-based or sea-based. Another thought is to pull this book out during Dental Health Week and talk about why teeth are so important and how we need to take care of them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Snow Leopard Dream

The Snow Leopard Dream
written in collaboration with Rokhshana Girls' School Students, Afghanistan; illustrated by Buth Sonrin and Roeun Sokhum
2011 (Dot-to-Dot Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The Snow Leopard Dream is a unique collaboration with the story generated by a writing competition led by the nonprofit Help the Afghan Children (HTAC). Twelve Afghan girls created this story about the endangered snow leopard. In the story, a girl in a small Afghan village asks her father about the snow leopard that lives at the top of a steep mountain. He tells her not to worry about the leopard and to get some rest. She drifts off to sleep and dreams that she and her father have traveled up the mountain. They are lacking food, so he leaves her at the tent as he goes off to find food. Later, the girl hears a loud snap and follows the sound up the mountain. The snow leopard has been caught in a trap and is freed by the girl. After being freed, the leopard leaves the girl and she begins to descend down the ledge. She is trapped by a pack of wolves and receives help from a surprising source.

This book is the result of a initiative by Dot-to-Dot to develop the creativity of children to help the cause of endangered animals (Endangered Species, Empowered Communities). In the back matter, you get information about snow leopards, Afghanistan, the girls' school, and HTAC. I think this story can send a message to children that books can change lives. The Snow Leopard Dream would be a good text to read before writing stories that you want to publish for display.  Children can see that other kids have published their stories. You also get a story in a setting that our students have heard about (Afghanistan), but have little knowledge. Graphic organizers could be used to compare the two cultures. A percentage of the profits from this book will go to Help the Afghan Children and for the conservation of snow leopards.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Prairie Storms

Prairie Storms
written by Darcy Pattison; illustrated by Kathleen Rietz
(2011) Sylvan Dell
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed

I just finished reading Skylark, the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall, with one of the reading groups in my class. The weather on the prairie is an important feature of the plot in this story and I wish I had taken time to read Prairie Storms as we were reading the novel. My students would have learned that it can be quite dry on the prairie and that information would have helped their understanding of the main issue in Skylark. Prairie Storms is a month-by-month account of the prairie climate, with weather and its effect on animal habitats described in a vivid paragraph narrative. Accompanying each monthly chronicle is a two page watercolor illustration that is realistic and engaging. I really like the language Darcy Pattison uses to illuminate the climate for a particular month. Look at this example for August:

Still no rain. Clouds gather, but in this heat wave, the air just crackles with dry lightning. Flash! Flash! Flash! In the dry sandy soil, the earless lizard shimmies and disappears beneath the surface. 

Pattison takes great care in choosing animated adjectives and verbs to make the narrative sparkle. This book would be a good choice for modeling how to make nonfiction writing shine. After reading Prairie Storms, students could create their own monthly booklets to describe the weather and habitats in their area. You could divide students into partners and assign each group a month. Other lesson ideas (52 page pdf!) and related websites are available on the Sylvan Dell website. The back matter for this book is also available on the Prairie Storms website.

Other reviews:
Simply Science
Archimedes Notebook (includes interview)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Decimal Flash Games

Decimal Squares
created by Albert Bradley Bennett, Jr.

I stumbled upon these flash games yesterday as I was preparing to work with a math review group. We played Decimal Darts and had a great time.
Players have to estimate the mixed number that will guide the dart to pop one of three balloons. It's a challenging game which keeps students interested. I used it as a reward between solving written problems with the review groups. I have a SmartBoard, but you can easily use this on a student computer in class as well. Cool stuff!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

STEM Friday: A Leaf Can Be...

A Leaf Can Be...
written by Laura Purdie Salas; illustrated by Violeta Dabija
2012 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at Laurie Thompson 
Check out Poetry Friday at Wild Rose Reader

A leaf can be a ...
Soft cradle; Water ladle
Sun taker; Food maker

Lovely: Having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye. (Dictionary.com)

A Leaf Can Be... is lovely. The appeal to the heart for me is the number of connections I made while reading this book of leafy verse. I remember raking leaves with my grandmother and the woods that I played in as a child. The leaf booklet I made with wax paper in 5th grade and the beauty of the western North Carolina mountains in fall. Appealing to my mind were all the uses of a leaf Laura Purdie Salas manages to put into this book. Versatile is not the first word I think of when I hear leaf, but they can serve so many purposes. A lesson on theme using this book could be taught with the idea that leaves are essential to life.  I would think about doing a before, during, and after reading circle map with young readers. I would write this question above the circle: "What can you do with a leaf?". You can have students suggest ideas for the map as a whole class and with turn-and-talk partners. There are also vocabulary lessons to be had with words like concealer and welter. Many of the two word phrases could also be introductions to science lessons on topics like photosynthesis or camouflage. The appeal to the eye is the sumptuous artwork by Violeta Dabija. I'm not terribly eloquent when describing illustrations, so all I can say is that I love these pictures. The combinations of blue and green are wonderful.

A Leaf Can Be... could also serve as a fun shared reading experience with younger readers. They will enjoy reading this book several times. It wouldn't be difficult to create a reader's theater script out of the text and have students draw leaves on bulletin board paper to serve as a backdrop for your performance. I would add A Leaf Can Be... to my science and poetry collections.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sea of Dreams

Sea of Dreams
illustrated by Dennis Nolan
2011 (Roaring Brook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

In this wordless fantasy, a young girl is creating a sand castle. She leaves the castle at the end of the day, but as dusk nears its end, a light comes on in a turret. A tiny community of people leave the castle just as the tide comes rolling through. Encountering an enormous wave, a small child falls off the boat. Fortunately, mermaids come to the rescue and the child is returned to his boat. As dawn breaks, the people in the boat see an island, dominated by a large rock, in the distance. The group disembarks and finds shelter in a cave. Meanwhile, the young girl arrives back on her beach to create another castle.

With an inventive wordless book, there are a lot of possibilities to tie in writing. Sea of Dreams would allow a class to create a sentence for each page or to create a sequel book. Good wordless books also create plenty of opportunities for prediction. When I flip through the pages, it is too easy to think of David Wiesner's Flotsam. If you read ten reviews of this book, I bet at least half reference Flotsam in the review. Still, it would be interesting to read these books back to back and see how students compare the two. I would also ask students to discuss the title and guess why Dennis Nolan chose this title. Sea of Dreams is a wordless feast for young readers.

Other reviews:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: If You Lived Here

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World
written and illustrated by Giles Laroche
2011 (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Swimmer Writer

If You Lived Here is a unique look at home architecture through the ages. Each two page spread begins with a paragraph highlighting an interesting feature of a particular home. The first home in the book is a dogtrot log house so you learn about the outdoor open hall that separates the two sections of the home. This means you would have to step outside to go from your bedroom to the kitchen. You might think twice about that midnight snack if you don't want to encounter a critter wandering through. Following the opening paragraph are five categories (House Type, Materials, Location, Date, and Fascinating Fact) that provide more information about each house. Fifteen different houses from five continents are featured. Venetian palaces from Italy, Fujian tulous from China, and the decorated houses of Ndebele in South Africa are some of the houses you will find in this book. The information is great, but the illustrations are what really get your attention. The detailed collage artwork is stunning. A world map with the locations of the fifteen houses is a fitting end to the book.

This would be an excellent book to use for teaching the skill of cause and effect. Giles Laroche gives  explanations for the style of construction of each house. The paintings of the houses of Ndebele were newspapers for all in the village. The homes on Astipalaia Island in Greece are all painted white to reflect the heat and the homes are built close together to protect from the wind. Each home in the book has a reason for the way it was constructed. If You Lived Here is also a fun geography lesson. The land greatly influences the construction of each house. After reading this book, students may also want to create their own homes through the use of collage art.

Other reviews:
Waking Brain Cells

Thursday, January 12, 2012

STEM Friday: Sea Turtles (National Geographic Readers)

Sea Turtles (National Geographic Readers)
written by Laura Marsh
2011 (National Geographic)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday at Capstone Connect

What I really like about National Geographic Readers is how they are great vehicles for teaching nonfiction text features to primary students. In Sea Turtles, you get a world map that shows where these reptiles travel. All of the continents and oceans are labeled. There is a fabulous two page spread of a green sea turtle where labels abound. You learn that the scales are called scutes and that sea turtles can't pull their heads in like land turtles. This information makes for an opportunity to teach contrasts. A cool bubble map could be created in highlighting the seven kinds of sea turtles. It also presents the opportunity to do a little extra research on each species. Valuable vocabulary words like endangered and instinct are also featured. There are two sections near the end that spotlight dangers to sea turtles. The first section talks about fishing nets catching turtles. Another problem are the lights of buildings near the beach which confuse sea turtles who think the light is natural and gravitate toward that light. The second section shows volunteers who rescued sea turtles caught in the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A diagram telling students how to help the turtles finishes the book.

When you are trying to teach nonfiction text features, you want a simple text that can highlight the feature and not be too complex. Sea Turtles has that quality which makes it a prime candidate for use in a K-2 classroom. Click on this link to see a video that is an excellent accompaniment to the book.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meow Said the Cow

Meow Said the Cow
written and illustrated by Emma Dodd
2011 (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

There are few things more dangerous than an irritated cat. I have two at home and know this first hand. In Meow Said the Cow, the farm cat has had enough of the noise. He is especially tired of the rooster crowing, so he casts a spell to take care of the sunrise serenader. Suddenly, the rooster is squeaking like a mouse. Not content with that, the cat also causes a ruckus among the rest of the farm animals who have switched voices and are terribly confused. Hens and pigs trade their trademark sounds while the sheepdog and the sheep are the victims of more feline misdeeds. Feeling feisty and full of himself, the cat lopes off to the barn for a little mouse snack. Little does he know that the rest of the animals have figured out who is behind the vocal trickery and have some sleight of voice plans up their hooves. When the cat chases the mice, he is in for quite a surprise. At the end of the book, there is a new greeter of the new day.

Meow Said the Cow is a book that you will look forward to sharing as a read aloud. You know that the students will enjoy the illustrations and the humor, and will be ready to read along with you. There are plenty of opportunities for children to share predictions of which animals might have their voices switched. It will also be interesting to see if they have enough experience with picture books to predict that the cat will get his comeuppance in the end. This book is also a good choice when you are trying to teach the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Bobo Explores Light (iPad book)

Bobo Explores Light
Juraj Hlavac; Craig Fusco; Dean MacAdam
2011 (Game Collage LLC)
iPad book app ($4.99)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cybils finalist in book app category
Check out Nonfiction Monday at Great Kid Books

Sometimes in life, you just do stupid things. When I first read Bobo Explores Light, for some reason I didn't think that much of it. I must have hit my head that day. When I went back and read it again, I realized that many of my hopes and dreams for nonfiction in the book app form had been realized. Bobo the robot trips the light fantastic and takes the reader on a journey to explore this most necessary phenomenon. Bobo starts his adventure with the Sun. Each section features three subsections where readers can learn different facts connected to the main topic on the screen. For example, Big and Small talks about the size of the Sun. Did You Know discusses gas, the heat of the Sun, and its relationship to the rest of the galaxy. There's a pretty nifty short video that goes along with this. The third subsection, Party Time!, tells readers about the history of solstice celebration. Back on the main screen, there is a lineup of the planets on the left side where readers can touch a planet and get a visual on the distance between it and the Sun. This is incredibly cool. Other topics explored include lightning, Thomas Edison, reflection, refraction, color, and many other subjects related to light.

If you have a child who loves nonfiction, you have to get this app. The information is supplemented by games and videos that are highly entertaining. If you have access to an iPad, you can ask a reader to create a graphic organizer on one of the topics in the app. They could turn around and write a short report. You could also use this with a document camera to provide a visual for a topic related to light. Bobo Explores Light sets a high bar for nonfiction book apps to follow.

Other reviews:
Digital Buzz Blog

Thursday, January 5, 2012

STEM Friday: Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek

Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek
written by Marianne Berkes; illustrated by Jill Dubin
2012 (Dawn Publications)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday at rovingfiddlehead kidlit
Check out Poetry Friday at Teaching Authors

In each two page spread of Over in the Forest, an animal parent and their children are featured. The first four line stanza introduces the parent, the children, and their habitat. Stanza two starts off with a verb related to actions of the animal. The children follow the lead of the mother. Look at the example of raccoons below:

"Dunk," said the mother.
"We dunk" said the eight.
So they dunked and dabbled
As they ate very late.

This is a counting book, so the number of animals increases from 1-10 as you read. Jill Dubin's collage illustrations are very engaging and will be great models if you want to try an art activity based on the book. I love that she has hidden other animals in each illustration and challenges readers to find them. Information about the hidden animals is located in the back matter.

Over in the Forest is such a smart book! Marianne Berkes covers a ton of bases with each set of two stanzas. You get information about the names of different animal babies, feeding habits, and a good lesson on using vivid verbs or writing dialogue in the space of eight verses. These poems would be great for shared reading lessons in kindergarten. I really like that each poem follows a predictable pattern which is helpful for beginning readers. I think the publisher should make this available in a big book format. In addition to all of this, the back matter contains a paragraph about each featured animal, tips from the author about looking for animals outside and a list of activities that can be done inside. Jill Dubin adds a terrific step-by-step account of how she created the illustrations. Over in the Forest would be an excellent addition to the nonfiction collection of a primary grade classroom.

The other books in the Over in the ... series have PDF activities on the Dawn Publications website, so I suspect that you will see a similar set of activities in the near future for Over in the Forest.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

CookieBot!: A Harry and Horsie Adventure

CookieBot!: A Harry and Horsie Adventure
written by Katie Van Camp; illustrated by Lincoln Agnew
2011 (Balzer and Bray)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Necessity is the mother of invention, so when Harry and his stuffed pal Horsie want cookies for a snack and the treats are out of reach, it's time to pull out the blueprints and build. The result is CookieBot. He is plenty big. Harry can maneuver him from outside his family's apartment building and reach the robot's arm inside to grab the cookie jar. Unfortunately, Harry may have done too good of a job building this sweet thief. CookieBot decides to empty the cookie jar in his mouth instead of giving the jar to Harry. Now CookieBot is running wild in the city and Harry realizes there is no off switch. It is up to Horsie to save the day with a trick right out of the King Kong playbook.

I enjoy and appreciate books that show children using their imaginations. Harry and Horsie are a dynamic duo who show us how much fun you can have in your everyday life. Lincoln Agnew's primary color illustrations have a great comic book style that doubles the fun. CookieBot! would be an excellent resource for teaching sequence (great transition cues) or for a lesson on writing narratives.

Other reviews:
Kids Book Review
Kiss The Book

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Lost and Found: The Titanic and Other Lost Ships

Lost and Found: The Titanic and Other Lost Ships
written by John Malam
2011 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Nonfiction Detectives

You can count on a handful of topics that will get the attention of older elementary readers. Gross animal facts is on that list. Another favorite is shipwrecks which means The Titanic and Other Lost Ships is bound to turn heads in your classroom. Six vessels that were lost at sea are featured in this book. Of course, the headliner is The Titanic. All you have to do is whisper its name and at least five students will immediately grab the book from your hand. Other familiar names to me include The Atocha, Civil War submarine The H.L. Hunley, and the Mary Rose. Two unfamiliar ships, The Geldermalsen, and HMS Edinburgh, add to my shipwreck knowledge repertoire. Each section starts with a two page spread that explains the sinking of each vessel. There is a combination of text, illustrations, photographs, and a cool fact paragraph insert. The next two pages of each section explain how each ship was found. One of my favorite facts concerns Keith Jessop and the other divers who recovered gold from the HMS Edinburgh. Not only did they bring up 431 gold bars, but they also recovered unexploded bombs. How does one do this without completely losing their nerve? I am also fascinated by how 170,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain were recovered from the Geldermalsen.  It seems the porcelain was preserved by tons of tea that was also on the ship at the time of its demise. These cups, dishes, and saucers were preserved for 233 years.

The Titanic and Other Lost Ships would be a good resource for a small research project. You could ask a student to create a chart that included categories like How It Was Lost, Methods of Restoration and Valuables On Board. You can also use this book to teach nonfiction text features and teach the skills of comparing and contrasting. For example, why do The Titanic and HMS Edinburgh sink? How are they the same and how are they different in the way that they end up on the bottom of the ocean? What could have been done to avoid these catastrophes? Lost and Found: The Titanic and Other Lost Ships will add to your knowledge of shipwrecks and raise new questions as well.

Cybils Results

Check out the finalists for the 2011 Cybils! Thank you to everyone who nominated their favorites and to all who put this together. Good luck to the finalists. Yeah to Aggie and Ben!