Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Wild Day with Dad

A Wild Day with Dad
written by Sean Callahan; illustrated by Daniel Howarth
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for math and science links.

If you are looking for a short read with our youngest readers that will encourage discussion and movement related to animals, you would do well to read A Wild Day with Dad. An abridged board book edition of A Wild  Father's Day, the dad in this story encourages his daughter and son to have a wild day and let out their inner animal. It starts with bouncing on the bed like a kangaroo. After that warm-up, the children are asked to stretch like cats. Next, a trip to the playground allows the kids and Dad to swing like monkeys. Later, Dad and the children wrestle like bears. Finally, the whole crew ends up going to sleep as they are tired puppies.

There are a couple of angles that you could explore after you read this to preschoolers. It would be a fun kinesthetic activity to act out the movement of several animals. You could swing (gently) your neck like a giraffe, or walk like a crab. Crawl on all fours like a monkey or swim like a dolphin. This could lead to a further discussion of why animals move like they do. A second activity would be to collect pictures of animals playing and talk about how they are similar to humans in their play and how they are different. A Wild Day with Dad would also make for a fine bedtime story for a 2 or 3 year old.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Orani (My Father's Village)

Orani: My Father's Village
written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
2011 (Frances Foster Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

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Claire A. Nivola's father was born in the village of Orani on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean. Later in life, he moved to America but his heart never left Orani. Constantino Nivola would often take his family to visit this village nestled in a valley. Upon arrival, the family was surrounded by relatives. As the author mentions in her note in the back of the book, Orani was a place where a child could experience everything that life could bring, both tragedies and joys, in a small place and among family and neighbors. Claire learned about life and death, seeing those who have just been born and those who have passed from this life. She enjoyed the best of nature with the cool of the mountain water and the luscious fruits that hung within reach. This group of cousins daily went throughout the village, visiting new mothers, eating ice cream at the cafe, and watching the miller and tailor hard at work. I remember living in a similarly small place where I could wander and visit. One sense I experienced while reading this book was the importance of food in the community. Families gathered around the table for conversation and good locally grown meals. This reminded me of Wednesday night suppers at my grandmother's house where she would have a big pot of soup and cornbread. A former colleague of mine from eastern North Carolina had a mother who would cook big Sunday dinners after church that gained notice from The New York Times. Orani celebrates how families can gather together and enjoy each other's company. I love the last page of the book. When Claire went back home to New York City, no one seemed to know about her Orani, but she is thoughtful enough to think that they too have an Orani of their own. I was reminded of my own Orani in western North Carolina.

This is a beautiful book that is an excellent model of a personal narrative. It reminds me of 2010's I Know Here which is another wonderful memoir of a special place in a child's memory. I also thought of Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came. Orani is one of those special books that takes us back to a different time and  place which only exists in our memories and hearts.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

STEM Friday: Seven Wonders of Architecture

Seven Wonders of Architecture
written by Ann Kerns
2010 (First Century Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more science and math links.

What makes a great building? This would be a good essential question for students to ponder. Is it the look? The story behind the building? Maybe the utility of the structure. Ann Kerns makes us think about these things with her book Seven Wonders of Architecture. In the text the following buildings are featured:

St. Peter's Basilica - Vatican City
The Taj Mahal - India
The Eiffel Tower - France
The Sears Tower - United States
The Sydney Opera House - Australia
Burj Al Arab - United Arab Emirates
Taipei 101 - Taiwan

Each chapter features background information about the area where the building stands. This is important since some of these buildings stand in somewhat unfamiliar territory for most students. I appreciate learning about the origins of places like Dubai and Taiwan. In addition, you get the stories of the architects of these buildings. There is the heartbroken Shah Jahan who had the Taj Mahal built as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Gustave Eiffel went against convention in building a tower that was not solid but instead built a wrought iron tower with open walls. Each building presented great challenges that were eventually overcome to create monuments to engineering.

Seven Wonders of Architecture is an opportunity for students to try a different route when choosing a subject for a biography project. It is also interesting to compare how a building is received when it is first built and what the reaction is to it years later. This book could spur discussions on what is the favorite building of your students in their town. They could interview the tenants and learn the history of the building. My favorite building? Perhaps it is Fallingwater, which is a house in western Pennsylvania designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Below is a picture I took from the top floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The Krakatau Eruption

The Krakatau Eruption
written by Peter Benoit
2011 (Children's Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

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It's hard to decide what is the most amazing fact presented in The Krakatau Eruption. One of the four explosions from the volcano on August 27, 1883 was heard and felt 3,000 miles away. Ash and smoke covered 300,000 square miles. A 1,400 foot mountain was leveled. Perhaps most astonishing was that average temperatures around the globe dropped by 2.2 degrees in the year following the explosion. Unfortunately, with these facts students will be able to infer that great tragedy also ensued. Over 36,000 people lost their lives due to the eruption of this Indonesian volcano. Most of those deaths were due to tsunamis caused by the explosion.

Peter Benoit mixes science and history to explain this harrowing event. Benoit informs readers that Krakatau, like many other volcanoes, was not a sudden explosion. Three months of earthquakes led up to the events of August 27th. This information presents an opportunity for students to create a timeline of the events leading to the eruption. You can also teach a lesson on sequence. Other lessons on cause and effect could be taught as well. Benoit explains how much damage was inflicted on two of the biggest Indonesian islands, Java and Sumatra. He also talks about geographic changes such as the formation of sandbars and effects on the Earth's atmosphere including spectacular sunrises and sunsets in Europe and North America that were created by volcanic dust. The last chapter focuses on what scientists think they have learned from this monumental volcanic eruption and how it still affects people more than 100 years later.

Students who like reading about natural phenomena (hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc.) will enjoy The Krakatau Eruption. Teachers will appreciate the use of nonfiction text features and the resources in the back matter.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

STEM Friday: Wind Scorpions

Wind Scorpions
written by Sandra Markle
2012 (Lerner Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more science and math links.

Wind scorpions are fascinating creatures. They're not spiders or scorpions. No spin or sting. They are simply arachnids with the biggest jaws of them all. The dramatic photographs in this book show the wind scorpion devouring lizards and grasshoppers which is way cool for nonfiction fans like myself. Sandra Markle describes these jaws as nutcrackers which is a great analogy. Markle goes beyond the jaws to give the reader in depth details about  all parts inside and outside. A terrific two page inset diagram gives the inside picture of the anatomy of a wind scorpion. This is great for modeling the use of labels in nonfiction writing. More sections follow with information about the birth process and early life of the wind scorpion. I liked reading about the racquet organs which act as sensors for the scorpion. Another unique body feature of the wind scorpion is the pedipalp. This sticky organ allows the scorpion to grip smooth surfaces and also catch prey in the air. The pedipalps act as hands for the wind scorpion. Latter sections of the book focus on the Galeodes found in Israel's Negev Desert. The life cycle is the theme with courtship rituals and egg laying details taking center stage in the beginning. This section is written chronologically so we follow the young scorpions, or immatures, as they molt after a week or so of life and go off to find their way in the world. Those that survive become adults in about a year. Not long after delivering the eggs, the female Galeodes will live only a few weeks afterwards.

Wind Scorpions is a good introduction to an exotic animal that will intrigue young readers. Full of "wow" facts and great text features, your animal lovers will enjoy this book. Check out the back matter for further avenues of research and a fun activity that mimics how wind scorpions eat. Click on this link for more information about wind scorpions.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
written by Alicia Potter; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
2012 (Alfred A. Knopf)
Source: Orange County Public Library

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In 1934, William Harkness went to China to find a panda bear to bring back to the United States. Unfortunately, he died of throat cancer while there and was unable to complete his mission. Powered by her love of her late husband, Ruth Harkness took on his cause. Her friends thought she had lost her mind. She did not fit the physical profile of an explorer, but her heart convinced her that she had to try. When she arrived in Shanghai, more skepticism from her husband's friends awaited. Undaunted, Ruth found an energetic young man named Yang Di Lan who also went by the English name of Quentin Young. He knew the area where she needed to go and helped her get outfitted for the journey. It was a rough journey up rugged mountains, but Ruth and Quentin stayed the course. Nearly a month and a half after setting out on their quest, the duo had little luck in finding a panda. Being wet and cold was no picnic and Ruth was dismayed. Mired in frustration but still searching, Quentin found what they were looking for in an old dead tree. Taking the baby panda back to camp, Ruth found the bottle she had packed and fed Su Lin. Soon after, the panda and Ruth arrived in America to great fanfare from the press and public. Su Lin was placed at a zoo outside of Chicago and Ruth went back to her new home of China.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda is a beautifully illustrated picture book biography of an interesting and unexpected explorer. The mixture of watercolors and collage items by Melissa Sweet is wonderful. To author Alicia Sweet's credit, she doesn't avoid what readers will inevitably question which is why we should celebrate a person who took a panda bear away from China. Sweet explains in the author's note that the world was a different place in the 1930s and people had different attitudes and knowledge of animal conservation. This is an important history lesson for students who need to learn to think like those who lived in a particular time period instead of imposing 2012 sensibilities. Sweet goes on to further explain that Harkness changed many attitudes towards pandas and brought much needed publicity to an animal that was being hunted for sport. The attention of the public and scientists may have helped the panda from becoming extinct. Tony Stead's Should There Be Zoos? would be a great companion piece to this interesting and thought provoking biography.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

STEM Friday: The Guardian Team

The Guardian Team
written by Cat Urbigkit
2012 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for other math and science links

I grew up in an era where buddy movies were popular. Two people who seemed to be ill matched but somehow worked together by the end of the movie. The Guardian Team is the K-2 nonfiction book equivalent of those movies. Would you put a burro and a dog together as a security firm? Rena was the runt of a litter of 7 puppies. She was brought to a Wyoming ranch because she constantly fought with her brothers and sisters. Roo was an orphan burro found in the desert of Nevada. Together, they learn how to become protectors of sheep. Both animals connected quickly with the sheep, but it took a little longer for the two to form a bond. Both wanted to take the lead in guarding the sheep so there was conflict. Eventually they became friends and joined forces to keep a pesky ram away from the flock. Once the lambs were big enough to join the big herd, Roo stayed with them as guardian while Rena led another flock of fresh newborns.

The Guardian Team would be a good text to share if you were teaching a lesson on friendship or team building. I would compare how the relationship of the two animals develops to how it takes a little time for a new class of students to build trust and become friends with one another. Young readers will enjoy this warm tale of two very different animals learning how to work toward the same goal.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Tornado!

written by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
2011 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Orange County Public Library

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I have a weather radio in my house. I wish when we built our house we would have included a basement. Why? The storm you see to your left. Tornado! starts with a riveting narrative describing the devastating storm that demolished Greensburg, Kansas on May 4, 2007. Ninety-five percent of the buildings in the town were destroyed, but many lives were saved due to repeated warnings from the National Weather Service. Before and after photographs show the heartbreaking damage suffered. Alongside the narrative are interesting and informative inserts. In this particular chapter, survivors talk about the drop in air pressure causing in the ears and in another insert, you read about the smell of the town after the tornado struck. I never thought of a smell being a lingering effect from a powerful storm, but for one survivor this was the case. The second chapter of this book deals with tornado science. I was fascinated by the section detailing Benjamin Franklin's encounters with a tornado in 1755. The maps and diagrams in Tornado! are excellent with detailed descriptions of why these storms take place. Pages 23-25 are must reads for teaching about tornadoes. Chapter three, Killer Tornadoes, contains amazing photographs and facts. There is a record book for tornadoes (highest wind speed, most time on the ground, etc.) and a list of the five deadliest storms. The last chapter talks about today's tornado hunters and the science involved with tracking. You will want to see the sequence of 25 photos taken by a weather probe that was directly in the path of a tornado.

Tornado! is an excellent resource for learning about the history of tornado strikes in the United States and the science of how these storms occur and what we are learning about them. If you are teaching text features, this is also a good book to model how readers deal with these. It would be an interesting writing assignment to take one piece of this informational text and turn it into a persuasive text about tornado safety. The photographs and features in this book are terrific. This is a good find for your junior storm chasers.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Great Presidential Information Resource

Miller Center: University of Virginia

If you have students working on presidential reports, you would do well to check out the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. As their website indicates, it is a nonpartisan institute dedicated to the study of the presidency. There are many resources available on this site. I listened to tape recorded conversations within the Kennedy White House and read an article about the planned troop withdrawal of that administration. This is fascinating stuff!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Wooden Sword

The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan
written by Ann Redisch Stampler; illustrated by Carol Liddiment
2012 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A good shah, suffering from sleeplessness, looks out his window and wonders if the people he rules are happy or sad. He slips into servant's clothes and walks to the poorest section of the poorest street. The shah sees a happy young Jewish shoemaker and his wife. He wonders why they are full of joy so he knocks on the door to find out. The shoemaker offers some of his meager portions to the disguised shah and explains his happiness. He gives credit to God and says "everything turns out just as it should." The shah is impressed but he has doubts about the faith of the shoemaker. To test the young man, the shah creates a decree that no longer can you repair shoes in the street. The shoemaker's wife is discouraged, but the young man smiles and replies "everything turns out just as it should." He sees water being sold on the street and inquires of the water carrier if he could earn money doing such a chore. Sure enough, the ex-shoemaker starts his new occupation and earns enough puli to buy dinner. The shah, in disguise, is pleased, but still doubting so he puts another obstacle in the way. Despite the roadblocks set in his way, this man refuses to lose his faith and optimism. His strength and cleverness eventually lead to great reward.

When you want to teach vocabulary related to character, picture books like The Wooden Sword are a great resource. I would teach the word resilient in relation to this shoemaker. His great attitude could be a model for children dealing with everyday problems. A lesson on the sequence of story events could also be taught with this text. Folklore often features characters who are clever and can roll with the punches. The Wooden Sword, with its Afghan setting, offers a rich opportunity to read about such a character in a culture not featured often in picture books.