Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Falcon

written and illustrated by Tim Jessell
2012 (Random House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed

A young boy rests on the grass and dreams of being a falcon. Suddenly, he is riding the north wind and keeping other birds at a distance as they respect his ferocity. This falcon follows the coastline and soars above the cliffs. Finding shelter for the night among the cliffs, he takes off at dawn for he is heading for man-made cliffs. Waiting for the perfect moment, the falcon tucks his wings and dives straight for the crowd of city dwellers below. They duck for cover and the falcon is pleased as he heads upward and back to his perch. This pleases him so much, he thinks he might do it again.

Falcon is a piece of fiction (yes, I know it's Nonfiction Monday), but this book would be a great piece to introduce children to the very real bird. Click on this link to find more information about the peregrine falcon from National Geographic. Tim Jessell gives us the (wait for it...) birds-eye view of what it would be like to soar and strike fear in other birds and humans. Being an experienced falconer as well as a terrific illustrator, Jessell gives the reader an experience akin to being in an IMAX theater and watching a nature documentary. Falcon could be a text to read before you ask students to write a story from the point of view of an animal. You could have students writing about being a lioness on the hunt or a penguin traveling across Antarctica. Enjoy the artwork and take your students to the sky with Falcon.

Miss Fox's Class Gets It Wrong

Miss Fox's Class Gets It Wrong
written by Eileen Spinelli; illustrated by Anne Kennedy
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts

This week I am reading the latest Miss Fox book. I love the lessons and warmth of these books. They are perfect for a preschool or K-2 class. In this book, Miss Fox's students are very worried. It seems they have been seeing Miss Fox in the presence of Officer Blue Fox quite often. From afar, the class sees her talking to the officer while she is on her bike. Maybe she has broken a safety rule. Frog sees her go into the police station with Officer Blue Fox one Saturday. Has she been arrested? She's also seen with him at the park and in the grocery store. There are too many coincidences for the class to swallow. On Monday morning, a travel brochure with the words "Your Hawaiian Getaway" appears on her desk. Soon, Miss Fox approaches the class with Officer Blue Fox right behind her. This can only mean one thing, Miss Fox is going to jail! Before they can crank up the Bobby Fuller Four classic song, Miss Fox explains everything and a valuable lesson is learned.

One of the issues that you deal with as a classroom teacher is children jumping to conclusions without enough evidence. Actually, that can be something you deal with on an adult level as well. This book would be an excellent discussion starter for avoiding such situations. If you are teaching the skill of drawing conclusions, Miss Fox's Class Gets It Wrong would also be a terrific text to introduce this lesson.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry

Edited by J. Patrick Lewis
2012 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Poetry Friday at Paper Tigers
Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

The little caterpillar creeps
Awhile before in silk it sleeps
It sleeps awhile before it flies
And flies a while before it dies,
And that's the end of three good tries. 
- David McCord

I don't live in Ohio, but I have visited there and one of my favorite parts of the trip was purchasing and eating buckeye candy. It is a piece of peanut butter candy covered in chocolate. I can't decide what I like best, the peanut butter or the chocolate and really, it is a moot point because both of them are great. So what does that have to do with this book? Like the candy, you have a combination of two great things, a poetry anthology edited by J. Patrick Lewis and the photographic wizardry of National Geographic. The poetry collection features poems about animals written by a wide array of revered poets. Carl Sandburg, Ogden Nash, Joyce Sidman, Emily Dickinson, Jack Prelutsky, and Douglas Florian are just some of the poets featured in Animal Poetry. There are 200 poems in this book! The possibilities for uses in the classroom are endless. You can share these poems in science as part of a unit on animals or the life cycle. A poem can be written on chart paper and read to build fluency or as research on a particular animal. If you are teaching poetry in writer's workshop, there are many genres of poetry featured as well. One of my favorite poems was a haunting refrain from Carl Sandburg titled Buffalo Dusk which describes a long gone time when these animals roamed the prairie in large numbers and those who watched them were in great numbers as well. 

The second part of this literature equation are the wonderful photographs that illustrate these poems. They are the detailed artwork that we have come to expect from National Geographic. My personal favorite is a baby porcupine that accompanies Joyce Sidman's I am a Baby Porcupette. Students will be enthralled by these pictures. My second grade daughter had to be told she had to finish her homework before devouring this book. Having a copy of Animal Poetry in your school library would be beneficial for both teachers and students. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Worst of Friends

Worst of Friends
written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain; illustrated by Larry Day
2011 (Dutton Juvenile)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at A Teaching Life
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts

Election season brings out the worst in negative campaigning. How many loads of laundry could we do with the amount of spin produced by opposing camps? Voters inevitably complain about the venom contained in these contests and some members of the media will declare the season the "worst yet" for campaign nastiness and wonder why politicians can't be more positive in their running for office. Fortunately, we have books like Worst of Friends that show our candidates have inherited this lack of civility honestly from their forefathers in politics. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson worked together as friends during the colonial fight for independence, but around 1790, during George Washington's first term as president, these two friends started to become mortal enemies. Adams, a Federalist, wanted the office of the president to have great power while Jefferson, a Republican, thought this was a bad idea. The back and forth   name calling between the two men and their political parties continued for decades. Adams served as the second president of the United States, but was stymied continually by Federalists railing against his efforts. Sometimes he became so upset that he stomped on his powdered wig. After losing a bid for a second term to Jefferson in 1800, Adams didn't even bother to stick around for the inauguration and instead left Washington on a stagecoach in the middle of the night. It wasn't until nearly 12 years later that Adams sent a New Year's greeting to his old friend and rekindled the positive relationship that had existed over two decades earlier. The great irony is that both of these historical figures died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Worst of Friends is a lively picture book that helps young readers understand the cantankerous and affectionate relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This book would serve as a good starting point for a discussion on how friendships that have been fractured can be healed. "Why do we argue?" and "How can we disagree without being disagreeable?" are two questions that can be addressed. It is also an excellent primer for students who may not understand that negative campaigning has been with us since the beginning of our political system.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: I'm Done

Check out Poetry Friday at No Water River
Normally, I would have a book review, but tonight all I can muster is this weak attempt at poetry. Is there a standard for the poetry that appears on Poetry Friday? If there is, I'm sure I have gone below it. Nonetheless, my original poem lies beneath.

A Tired Teacher Types No More This Evening
I’m out of gas.
My tank is empty.
Meetings and paperwork
Have left a shell of me.
How to refuel?
How to replenish?
Walk away from the computer
And this day will finish.

Copyright 2012. Written by Jeff Barger. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Heart on Fire

Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President
written by Ann Malaspina; illustrated by Steve James
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped In Foil

With the media's strong focus on the voting preferences of women in the upcoming 2012 general election, it is the perfect timing for a book about a woman who helped lead the fight for women's suffrage. Heart on Fire, a free verse recounting of Susan B. Anthony's vote in the 1872 election, starts with a juxtaposition of the 14th and 19th amendments on the first page. It was Anthony's contention that anyone who paid taxes, owned property, held a job, or raised children was covered by the 14th amendment. This seemed like a logical argument to the inspectors at the voter registration office, so they allowed her to register to vote a mere four days before the election. Anthony, along with fifteen other women, proceeded to vote four days later. Two weeks later, a federal marshal tapped on her door. He had come to arrest her for voting. It is at this point in the book where you can teach a lesson on voting irregularities and how people can still be arrested today for not voting in the proper manner. Anthony was not pleased that her lawyer posted one thousand dollars bail as she would rather have gone to jail and not give the court any money. Before the trial began, Susan B. Anthony visited many cities and towns to argue her case against denying women the right to vote. The United States v.  Susan B. Anthony opened on June 23, 1873. Anthony was not allowed to speak during the trial, but instead had to rely on her lawyer to present her side of the story. After being found guilty of illegally voting, the judge asked if she had anything to say. This was the opportunity for Susan B. Anthony to speak and speak she did. She explained that her rights had been ignored. Despite the banging of the irritated judge's gavel, Anthony kept on speaking. During sentencing, she was ordered to pay one hundred dollars plus court costs, but she never paid one cent of it. Susan B. Anthony was defiant and won some measure of satisfaction although she would not live to see the day women could legally vote in an election.

Heart on Fire is a terrific account of a historical (yes, I had to look up "a or an before h") event. Ann Malaspina is able to convey Susan B. Anthony's determined drive for women's suffrage in an accessible text for upper elementary students. This book could open discussions about the role of women in American society and how it has changed. I would pair it with Grace for President which is a picture book featuring a young lady running for school president because she has no role models on the national stage. You could also use this book to discuss why it is important to vote and what this right has meant to different groups of people in our history.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

STEM Friday: How Things Work In the House

How Things Work In the House
written and illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst
2012 (Blue Apple)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

How does a banana work? Well, you peel it and eat it. Not that complicated if you are someone like me who may not take the time to look deeply into a subject and appreciate it. This is why people like Lisa Campbell Ernst offset knuckleheads like me. Like other writers of engaging nonfiction, she takes a simple subject and pulls out information previously unknown to most readers. The word banana comes from the Arabic word for finger. A bunch of bananas are called a hand. Each banana in the hand is a finger. Rubbing the inside of a banana skin is believed to relieve the itch of a mosquito bite although my lovely wife points out that leaves banana goop on your skin. I'll take banana goop over itching any day. These are just some of the cool facts you will find in How Things Work In the House. Other items featured in the book include nonliving things like toilets and faucets and living things such as dogs and cats. What kid isn't interested in how a toilet works? Each page has collage illustrations surrounded by labels and facts with procedural text mixed in. How does a teddy bear's arm work? You think you know, but how good would you be at explaining this? Don't worry, this book takes care of the heavy lifting for you.

Next week I'll be teaching my second graders to use fix-up strategies when they lack comprehension. This book will be in my hand because my students will be really intrigued by the subject matter. If I taught kindergarten or first grade and was introducing nonfiction text features, I would use books from the How Things Work series. The text is very accessible and makes a great mentor text for students creating "all about" books in learning how to write informational text.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: Lulu and the Duck in the Park

Lulu and the Duck in the Park
written by Hilary McKay; illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out It's Monday! What are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts

When we finish our current chapter book for read aloud, I know exactly what we are reading next. It is no coincidence that Lulu and the Duck in the Park has received 4 starred reviews. It is a can't miss chapter book for younger readers. The tone is set with the first sentence: Lulu was famous for animals. Lulu loves animals and helps all kinds and sizes of creatures. She also likes eating apples to the core and jumping off swings at the highest point. Lulu brings critters home, but her mother doesn't mind as long as she cleans up after them. This gives Lulu the opportunity to learn more about the animals whether it is researching with a library book or using Google on the Internet. Her teacher, Mrs. Holiday, would rather not deal with any kind of creature. This is why it is a problem when Lulu's dog Sam follows her to school. Sam creates a ruckus by disturbing the class guinea pig and this upsets Mrs. Holiday so much that she calls an emergency class meeting. She declares that if another animal finds it way into the classroom, it will mean a trading of the Class 3 guinea pig for the Class 2 walking stick insects. Nobody in the class, especially Lulu's cousin Mellie, wants to see this happen. This is why it is such a dilemma when Lulu finds an abandoned unbroken duck egg in the park as the class is returning to school from a swimming lesson. There's no question what Lulu is going to do with the egg, but will she be able to keep it out of Mrs. Holiday's sight?

Lulu has arrived from across the pond in England and she is a delightful character. Transitional readers will enjoy the adventures of Lulu and her cousin Mellie as they get into mischievous situations without trying. I could see these characters in a second or third grade classroom with their love of animals, ability to lose sweaters, and sudden attacks of the giggles. Like other beloved characters, we root for Lulu and Mellie to find a solution and save the day for the duck. I also appreciate how the characters in the book are not one dimensional. They have their triumphs and frustrations. Even Mrs. Holiday takes a surprise turn near the end of the book. As readers, we can easily relate to these characters and connect with their decisions. Now I can't wait to Lulu comes back in the spring with a new adventure involving a seaside vacation.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Poetry and STEM Friday: The Year Comes Round

The Year Comes Round
written by Sid Farrar; illustrated by Ilse Plume
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Poetry Friday at Katya's Write. Sketch. Repeat.
Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

  Surprised by her new
webbed feet, tadpole considers
    a career on shore

If Sid Farrar were a baseball player, he would be in the running for rookie of the year for his debut book, The Year Comes Round. Combining seasons and poetry is a winning idea (See Red Sings From Treetops) and Farrar fulfills this promise with a set of 12 haikus that run from January to December. One of the surprising elements of these haikus is the sly humor. Snowmen root against the sun. A robin extends an invitation to an earthworm to visit her family. A tadpole considers a job change. Lawns and mowers reach a cease-fire. This is clever stuff. Haiku seems like such a simple art form to the rest of us mere mortals, but it's not. Farrar masterfully uses the form and creates thirteen (like a prize in a cereal box, there is an extra haiku behind the back matter) pieces of fun poetry. In addition, there are three informational text selections in the back matter. The first one gives an explanation of haiku. The other two selections talk about the rotation of the earth and provide a description of the four seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. For your first book, it's also not a bad idea to have Ilse Plume providing the artwork. Her scenes of the natural world are beautiful.

The second grade teacher in me wants to type out these haikus and have students sequence them to see what kind of order they create. This is the perfect book to introduce the form of haiku to young writers. For second or third graders, I would put together a four page booklet with one haiku for each season. Kindergarten students could use these poems for shared reading experiences while other grade levels could find the examples of personification. The Year Comes Round is an admirable debut book.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Sarah Gives Thanks

Sarah Gives Thanks
written by Mike Allegra; illustrated by David Gardner
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The Swimmer Writer

When I saw the cover and title of Sarah Gives Thanks, I expected the focus of  to be about Sarah Josepha Hale's campaign to establish a national day of thanksgiving. In the second half of the book, we do see how Sarah annually made her case for this holiday to sitting presidents until Abraham Lincoln did as she asked. What I really like about Mike Allegra's biography is that we get a compelling account of her entire body of work as an author and editress (as she preferred to be called). Hale was an amazing woman who loved to learn. She badgered her older brother, who was home on summer break from Dartmouth College, until he relented and answered her questions about the textbooks that he brought home. Receiving encouragement from her husband, Sarah submitted poetry to magazines and was published. Sadly, her beloved husband died only nine years into their marriage and Sarah turned to writing as a means to feed her family. After the publication of her first novel Northwood in 1827, she was offered the opportunity to be an editor of a new women's magazine. Sarah promoted the study of history and science in the magazine instead of focusing on fashion. Her magazine became the most widely read publication in the nation. She also used this platform to put forth her idea of a national day of thanksgiving. During her career, Sarah Josepha Hale also penned an anti-slavery novel well before Uncle Tom's Cabin, helped turn Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks, and even wrote a poem you might have heard of called "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Though perhaps most famous for her tireless promotion of a holiday, Sarah Josepha Hale was a major literary figure in her time.

If you want to teach a lesson on the character trait of thankfulness, this is the book that you should seek. Author Mike Allegra shows throughout the book how Ms. Hale is grateful for her lot in life and how hard she worked on behalf of her family and her causes. Reading this terrific picture book biography makes me want to eschew the Pilgrims during Thanksgiving week and teach about Sarah Josepha Hale instead.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading?: The No.1 Car Spotter and the Firebird

The No.1 Car Spotter and the Firebird
written by Atinuke; illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
2012 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out It's Monday! What are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts

Grandfather sighs. "Nobody is good at everything, No. 1," he says. "You are the No. 1 car spotter. That is enough." But it is not enough to stop the others laughing at me.

I am so happy that Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, also known as the No. 1 Car Spotter, is back in his second book. No. 1 lives in an African village that lacks electricity and everything that comes with it. What it does have is plenty of heart and humor. Four new stories feature the clever car spotter and his fellow villagers. The first story, No. 1 and the Slingshot, has a leopard stealing goats from the village. No. 1's ineptitude with a slingshot is costing his family valuable goats and severely wounding No. 1's pride. One of the charming aspects of these stories is how No. 1 doesn't give up and usually devises a unique solution to his problems. His idea to bypass the need for a slingshot leaves the leopard hightailing it out of the village without his appetite for goat. Three other stories showcase the troubles and triumphs of this winning family. No. 1's greatest pursuit, to meet the professor who drives the elusive Firebird that speeds by the village each day, comes to fruition in an unusual way. It is No. 1's problem solving and Mama Coca-Cola's akara that finally brings the dream car to his village.

Atinuke has created an extended family that is both funny and inspiring. The villagers can be cranky, which makes for great humor, but they never fail to help each other out in times of great need. These characters have flaws which makes them even more appealing as we see some of ourselves in them. I love the setting for these books as we get so few books featuring characters from Africa. As satisfying as the first book, No. 1 Car Spotter and his friends are characters that you will want to introduce to your upper elementary readers.