Thursday, August 30, 2012

Poetry Friday: A Poem as Big as New York City

Edited by Teachers Writers Collaborative; illustrated by Masha D'Yans
2012 (Universe Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Poetry Friday at Poetry for Children

A poem as big as the millions of people tuning in to watch the ball drop
when all time stops at Times Square on New Year's Eve.
A poem as big as the Manhattan skyline viewed from the farthest ends of Brooklyn.

Schoolchildren, who participated in a series of 75 workshops sponsored by Teachers and Writers Collaborative, wrote about their poetic view of life in New York City. These efforts have resulted in A Poem as Big as New York City. The poem travels throughout the boroughs of the Big Apple, capturing the sights and sounds of this great city. In the Bronx, it is the Yankees that capture the imagination with the roar of 60,000 screaming fans. The subway is a cavalcade of sounds like those of elephants and rhinos and looks like a metallic snake that chews people up and "spits them out at another station." The poem celebrates the diversity of the people that live here:

the Soul of a Poem as Big as the City,
a soul as loud as millions of voices coming into One, 
a poem written to make people laugh and have Fun,
a poem that whispers in English, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian,
Chinese, Japanese, and Punjabi,
a poem that sounds like You and Me.
a poem as big as the City.

These young writers's voices are so vibrant. This sprawling love song to their city has the potential to inspire other young poets in other cities and towns. You could take sections of this poem and have your students write poems about parts of their city or town. In my small town, I could imagine students writing about the main street that runs through the center, the cemetery next to our school, and the courthouse that is a hub of activity. 

Illustrator Mashe D'Yans's artwork is amazing. Watercolor pictures of different cityscapes provide the backdrop for the poem character who is shown by small repeating words inside the shape of the letters P-O-E-M. These are some of my favorite pieces of artwork that I have seen in 2012 children's books. 

A Poem as Big as New York City provides a vivid picture of one of our greatest cities. It's exciting that children are embracing poetry and creating work like this. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

It's the first day of school for Mr. Barger's Bears's second grade class. We are reading the two books on the left to think about what it is like to be new to a school or a class. I love being in second grade after a year in fifth grade. I am already connecting more to picture books although we will spend plenty of time with chapter books as well. Both of these books are humorous and teach lessons about appreciating the differences in others and believing in yourself.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: When Did Columbus Arrive in the Americas?

When Did Columbus Arrive in the Americas?
written by Kathy Allen
2012 (Lerner Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Simply Science 

Who was Christopher Columbus?
Why did Columbus move to Spain?
What did Columbus expect to find in China and the Far East?
How did Columbus navigate his route?
Where had Columbus landed?
When did Columbus become famous?
How do we know about the voyages of Columbus?

These are the questions addressed in When Did Columbus Arrive in the Americas?. I like the structure of these history books from Lerner. It makes it easy for students to find the information they are seeking. In the first section, I learned that Columbus nearly died in his early twenties when the fleet he was sailing with was attacked. He had to swim six miles back to land in order to survive. During his time in Portugal, Columbus surmised that if Portuguese sailors could sail far south to Africa, you could equally sail west and find the Far East. Explorers felt the world was small enough that this could be done. Rejection by the Portuguese king for funds to sail and the death of his wife drove Columbus to Spain. After being turned down twice by Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, they change their minds and agree to provide money for Columbus to sail west. A new piece of information to me was that the experts gathered by Ferdinand and Isabella were much more accurate in their estimation of the distance from Spain to China by sea than Columbus. Despite these differences, Columbus was provided the funding. Another interesting section discusses how Columbus did not find fame and fortune in his lifetime. His fame would come much later when American colonists were looking for a hero who was not British. Ferdinand, one of Columbus's sons, had written a biography of his father and this book provided the new nation with a hero. Section six of the book, A Changed World, also addresses the impact of Columbus's voyages. For many reasons, he has a mixed legacy in history.

The positive and negative aspects of Columbus's actions can be vigorously debated, but there is no doubt that he had a huge impact on world history. When Did Columbus Arrive in the Americas? is a good overview of his life and provides readers with easily accessed information about this famous explorer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

STEM Friday: The Beetle Book

The Beetle Book
written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
2012 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

A question that is sometimes thrown out on sports radio talk shows goes something like this: "Who would you put on a insert sport Mount Rushmore?". The idea is to generate discussion about the greatest athletes in a particular sport. So I want to throw out this same question for authors who write about science topics for children. Who would you put on this particular Mount Rushmore? I would nominate Seymour Simon and Gail Gibbons. I would think a third nominee would be Steve Jenkins. He has consistently authored and illustrated entertaining science nonfiction for many years. His latest effort, The Beetle Book, joins a long line of books that contain fascinating facts and detailed collage artwork. The first fact is a doozy:

Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth...
... and one of every four will be a beetle.

Throughout the rest of the book, Jenkins addresses different beetle topics that are both traditional and unique. As a teacher, I really appreciate Beetle Bits where a beetle is separated like jigsaw puzzle pieces and labeled with information about each piece. Beetle Senses examines different insects with extraordinary senses like the forest fire beetle having special heat-sensing spots on its body. This super bug can detect a fire from more than 20 miles away. A sugarcane beetle can hear sounds that are too high-pitched for human ears. This comes in handy when a bat comes flying by and the beetle wants to get away.

The Beetle Book is a book that your "nonfiction loving, can't wait to quote the facts, want to learn more, fascinated by anything that moves" students will enjoy. First, second, and third grade students have these qualities and will devour The Beetle Book. Now who is going to be the fourth face on this Mount Rushmore?

Sunday, August 19, 2012


written and illustrated by Douglas Florian
2012 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Jean Little Library
It's my first post for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Welcome, welcome to our hive!                          
Honeycomb home where we thrive!                     
Into light and sweetness dive!                               
Guards greet you when you arrive!

I could write a very nice review of UnBEElievables. But that is not what I want to do right now. As an aspiring author, I want to seethe with jealousy. Have it come out the top of my head and out my ears. I look at Douglas Florian and see incredible talent and it makes me sick. First, he writes fun poetry that students will love to read aloud. Look at this:

Lovely legs,
Lovely hue,
Lovely long
Antennae too.

That's just great phrasing. Try saying it and not enjoy your tongue rolling and hearing these words. I knew you couldn't. Second, Florian's a great visual artist. His artwork is flat out cool. On the first page, you see bees spelling out the title of the first poem, Welcome against a backdrop of hexagons. In another illustration, the queen bee is wearing a crown and holding a scepter with a hive on the end. How hip is that? I can draw stick figures for my second grade students. I'm oozing with artistic talent. The piece de resistance (I did pay a little attention in high school French class) is that Douglas Florian thought to add paragraphs of informational text in addition to the poetry and artwork. With Queen Bee, he teaches readers about royal jelly, and how queen bees lay 2,000 eggs. This is a complete package of nonfiction writing.

Seriously, Florian is a terrific children's book author and illustrator. I've reviewed three of his books and I like each one of them immensely. I wish I could have had books like these when I was a kid. There I go again. I really need to work on this jealousy issue of mine.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cybils 2012 Volunteers

If you are a children's book blogger, the Cybils are looking for volunteers to serve on their judging panels. I have been fortunate to serve the last two years and have applied to do so again this coming year. It is one of the best things that I have done. You get to read terrific literature and make connections with fellow bloggers. Why are you still reading this? Click on the link and sign up!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Whale of a Tale: iPad book app

A Whale of a Tale:All About Porpoises, Dolphins, and Whales
written by Bonnie Worth
2012 (Oceanhouse Media)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

During visits to the Georgia coast, my family has thought about taking a dolphin cruise. I would require massive amounts of Dramamine and as a result have a hard time staying awake, but it might be worth it to see the dolphins in the wild. Thanks to Captain McElligot's Cetacean Station, I don't have to make this decision in the near future. The good captain takes The Cat in the Hat and others on a cruise to see animals in the cetacean group like dolphins, porpoises, and whales. The first part of the trip points out that this group of animals are mammals and compares them to land mammals and fish. Labels abound to help readers make these comparisons. For example, Thing One and Thing Two compare the motion of a fish tail and a whale tail. Fish flap their tails side to side while whales flip their tales up and down. There is also an excellent demonstration of how different cetaceans capture their food. Some cetaceans use teeth while others have baleen that strains krill. Another section deals with the difference between dolphins and porpoises. This helps if you are at a restaurant and have to explain why the waiter, when they bring your mahi-mahi, mentions that you are not eating the dolphin most kids associate with.  As you read, you get great sounds to enhance your reading. I love the sounds in this app. You hear the sounds of the ocean, whether it be the water or the sound of the animals. It is one of the shining qualities of this app and a great teaching tool when you want to let students hear the sounds made by these animals.

This app is very accessible for young readers. You can read it yourself and or have it read to you. More sea mammal facts abound in A Whale of a Tale so join Captain McElligot's Cetacean Station and avoid the motion sickness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Boxcar Children Beginning

The Boxcar Children Beginning
written by Patricia MacLachlan
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The Alden children, along with Homer Price, were probably my first heroes of children's literature. I couldn't believe this group of kids could set out on their own and survive. They were clever and really looked out for each other. In conjunction with the seventieth anniversary of the original Boxcar Children book, a prequel has been written by Patricia MacLachlan. Now before you go off muttering about tampering with the original and thinking bad thoughts involving George Lucas, take a deep breath. Look at whose name is on the bottom of the book. It's someone we trust and whose books we have loved. Stories like Sarah, Plain and Tall and Seven Kisses in a Row are classic tales of families. This same sensitive touch is applied to the Alden family. They live on a farm during the Depression and even though times are tough, the Aldens love one another and work together to thrive through their difficulties. During a snowstorm, a family passing through pulls up in the driveway. The Clark family is on their way to New Hampshire to live with a relative, but they are having car trouble. Kate and Ben Alden, along with their children Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, take the family into their home. This being the 1930s and not having an auto parts store on every corner, the Clarks have to live with the Aldens until the car part they need arrives in the mail. The two families bond and share the chores on the farm. The arrival of the car part is bittersweet as the families have grown close. The Clarks and Aldens choose not to say goodbye, but instead say they are only three inches apart on the map. Not long afterwards, readers of the original Boxcar Children series meet up with the event we knew had to come. MacLachlan handles it with a delicate touch and this sets the wheels in motion for the children to set out on their own.

I wasn't sure about this prequel, but I read it from start to finish without putting it down. It's not a long book which is in keeping with the original series. I like the interaction between the two families. There is genuine affection and kindness displayed, but it isn't sappy. I appreciate how the tragedy in the Alden family is handled. You might need to help readers with background knowledge about orphans in the Depression era and why these children might have decided to strike out on their own. In this era of instant communication, it may be hard for students to comprehend the world of the Depression era. On the other hand, many students, who have experienced this economic downturn personally, will be able to relate to people looking for work and having to move to find it. Readers of the original Boxcar Children series and newcomers will be more than satisfied with The Boxcar Children Beginning.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Brothers at Bat

Brothers at Bat
written by Audrey Vernick; illustrated by Steven Salerno
2012 (Clarion Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Nonfiction Detectives

I'm guessing nobody messed with the Acerra brothers when they were kids. There were 12 baseball loving brothers in the family. Once they came home from school, the door would slam as the boys would race outside to play baseball. The high school in Long Branch, New Jersey had a member of the Acerra family on the baseball team for twenty-two years in a row. The nine oldest brothers, from ages 13 to 32, formed a semi-pro team in 1938 and were coached by their father. Despite the pressure of playing together, the Acerra brothers were not high maintenance. The older brothers gave playing time to younger Acerras so they could improve. As Freddie said, "We stuck together." A test of this brotherhood came when Alfred attempted to bunt in a game. The ball came off his bat and plunked him in the eye. He was taken to the doctor and lost an eye. For a lot of people, that would have been the end of their playing days as a catcher, but the Acerra brothers worked with Alfred and he came back to playing the game they loved. The book takes an even more touching turn when talking about the service of six of the brothers in World War II. After the war, the Acerras continued to play until 1952. The family was honored in 1997 by the Baseball Hall of Fame for their unique devotion to the game.

Brothers at Bat is a book that would be great to read to your class at the beginning of the year. It promotes teamwork and family. I like the history involved in the book as well. If you study World War II, you can use this book to talk about the sacrifices endured by families of the greatest generation. Of course when spring rolls around, baseball books are always in style. You will easily round the bases with the winning Brothers at Bat.

Check out the discussion guide and classroom activity PDF on Audrey Vernick's website. Good stuff!

Other reviews:
The Nonfiction Detectives
Waking Brain Cells

Thursday, August 9, 2012


written by Dr. Franklyn M. Branley; illustrated by Megan Lloyd
2008 (Collins)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

There are plenty of volcano books out there. So why do I highlight this one(other than I needed a nonfiction book for Friday)? Two items in this book stood out to me. First, did you know about the year without a summer? Not nearly as fun as The Year Without a Santa Claus, it took place in the summer of 1816. The previous year, Mount Tambora exploded in Indonesia and threw tons of ash into the air. Winds in the atmosphere blew this ash around the earth and contributed to bizarre weather occurrences in North America and Europe. Snowstorms contributed six inches of snow in June for New England, and there were frosts in July and August. Not exactly a day at the beach.

The second reason to recommend this book is that it contains one of the best explanations, of plate tectonics, for children that I have ever read. Here is a brief section:

Under the plates there is very hot rock. The plates move on the hot rock, which is like soft dough. They don't move much, only about as fast as your fingernails grow. But they keep moving year after year after year.

The simple to understand text, along with diagrams, makes my life a lot easier when trying to explain why earthquakes and volcanoes occur. We're only two weeks away from the anniversary of the 2011 Virginia earthquake that damaged the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral, so this would be a good book to have handy for that occasion. Famous volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens (1980) and the "Hill of Fire" at Paricutin, Mexico (1943) are also featured.

The back matter contains extra volcano facts and a recipe for a baking soda volcano. With the baking soda volcano, you are sure to win the blue ribbon at the science fair.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don't Squish the Sasquatch

Don't Squish the Sasquatch!
written by Kent Redeker; illustrated by Bob Staake
2012 (Disney Hyperion)
Source: Orange County Public Library

I wasn't going to pass up a book with this cover. Mr. Sasquatch asks bus driver Mr. Blobule, who is an orange-red blob as opposed to Michael Buble, if he can ride the bus. Sasquatch goes to the back of the bus so he can stretch out his legs and not be squished. Next, Miss Elephant Shark asks to ride the bus. Mr. Blobule agrees as long as she follows this admonition, "Don't Squish the Sasquatch!". Of course it goes unheeded and our protagonist is squished. Mr. Octo-Rhino is the next stop and he boards the bus with the same plea from the bus driver. Further squishing ensues and the rhino with eight legs finds his seat. Two more  creatures follow and create such claustrophobic conditions that chaos ensues. With the bus in tatters due to overcrowding, Mr. Blobule has the solution to the Sasquatch's hurt body and feelings.

 Don't Squish the Sasquatch! would be a great text to use when teaching about feelings. I think explicitly teaching young children about helping their friends when they suffer is an excellent idea and this book is a humorous way to teach this. You can also use it to teach alliteration. Bob Staake's illustrations are terrific as usual and made me think about creating a craft/writing activity where students created their own monster combo and wrote about it. I'm going with Mr. Shark-Eagle.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Little Rock Girl 1957
written by Shelley Tougas
2012 (Compass Point Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed

Journalism professor Will Counts cited the photographs he took in Little Rock, Arkansas as "evidence of the power of the image to communicate the news." Counts was a young photographer who had graduated from Little Rock Central High which had become the stage for a historic battle over the integration of schools in 1957. Nine students, the Little Rock Nine, were seeking to attend school at Little Rock Central High School. Standing in their way was a virulent crowd of white segregationists who were supported by the National Guard who had been called out by Arkansas governor Orval Faubus. The governor was determined to keep the school segregated. Photographer Counts captured the moment as fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford attempted to enter the school. White student Hazel Bryan, described as a normally cheerful girl, screamed at Eckford from behind with racial epithets and told her to "go back to Africa." Eckford was unable to enter the school that day and had to be shielded by reporters to avoid possible violence. Photographs of the day made their way around the country and the world and helped lead President Eisenhower to send federal troops to protect the students and integrate the school.

Little Rock Girl 1957 provides a fascinating back story to the photograph that you see on the cover. Author Shelley Tougas provides several viewpoints on the effort to integrate the Little Rock schools. If you are teaching a unit on the Civil Rights movement, this book will be a valuable resource. You could also use it to teach the character trait of courage. I would think about contrasting this event with the experiences of other civil rights pioneers such as Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks.

Other reviews:
Nonfiction Detectives

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alligator at Saw Grass Road (iPad book)

Alligator at Saw Grass Road
written by Janet Halfmann; illustrated by Lori Anzalone
2012 (Smithsonian Institute/Oceanhouse Media)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

Alligator is building her nest on a marshy patch in the Florida Everglades. She uses saw grass, cattails, and alligator flag to build a three foot tall mound. This will be tall enough to survive the floods from summer rains. After finishing the nest, she digs out a space to lay thirty eggs. Alligator goes back into the gator hole she built to keep an eye on the nest. Other animals are attracted to this spot and thus providing food for Alligator. Sitting still camouflages this sneaky creature as she awaits a chance at a meal. Other animals, like raccoons, will attempt to steal her eggs so she needs to stay close by to watch the nest. Being distracted by a snake, the alligator doesn't see a red-bellied turtle dropping her eggs into the nest. Now the turtle eggs will benefit from Alligator's protection and warmth as she lays on the eggs to keep them moist. After two months, noises arise from the nest. Tiny alligators and turtles emerge from their eggs. About nine inches long, the baby alligators will need to stay close to mama in order to survive. She carries them from the nest to the gator hole so they can begin swimming and find a safe spot she has created in the bank. They will stay with her for about 2 years until they are ready to go out on their own.

Alligator at Saw Grass Road is an attractive app that will entertain and teach young readers. The illustrations are engaging and the story is appropriate for young viewers. The technical aspects (finger swipes for page turns, taps for word pronunciations, etc.) work well and are easily manipulated. There are additional  alligator facts in the back matter. This book will be valuable in primary classrooms as non-readers and struggling readers will have access to nonfiction via the "Read to Me or Auto Play" versions. One thing I would like to see added to future Smithsonian book apps would be a video of the animal in action. You can find this app for a reasonable $1.99 at iTunes.