Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Did It All Start with a Snowball Fight?

Did It All Start with a Snowball Fight?
written by Mary Kay Carson; illustrated by Robert Hunt
2012 (Sterling Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at proseandkahn

The Good Question! series of books use a question and answer format to cover a particular piece of history. The title question starts the journey for this study of The American Revolution. The snowball fight is a reference to the Boston Massacre of 1770. Mary Kay Carson highlights all three sides (Loyalist, Patriot, neither) of opinion and explains why the colonists would choose to engage in a war with a much better funded enemy. It will be informative for students to learn that the choice to fight the British was not an immediate one for the colonists, but the result of long standing frustrations with the crown. When the battle begins, Carson explains the struggles of both armies. I particularly like pages 14 and 15 which contrast the British and Continental Army soldiers. This reminds me of the "Tale of the Tape" that you used to see before a big boxing match. Detailed descriptions of the weaponry and battle tactics are also very interesting. The contrast between the traditional marches of the British army and the guerrilla tactics of the colonists helps explain one way the Patriots had a leg up on their competition. To use another sports analogy, the Patriots also had the home field. They knew the terrain and used that knowledge to their advantage. The book finishes with an overview of how the Patriots overcame significant disadvantages to win and the influence of the Revolution on later events in America and in France.

If you are looking for a primer on The American Revolution, this book will serve you well. The questions in the book are excellent and would serve as a great springboard to further research. I would consider having students generate questions of their own and writing answers in a similar two or three paragraph format. This exercise could be used for the study of other wars as well. I would also ask students if they would start their study of The American Revolution with the Boston Massacre or pick a different event.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

STEM Friday: One Times Square

One Times Square
written and illustrated by Joe McKendry
2012 (David R. Godine)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for other math and science links

At the heart of New York City lies the junction of Seventh Avenue and Broadway, perhaps the most well known intersection in the world.

As a kid, I stayed awake on New Year's Eve and watched the ball drop in New York City's Times Square at midnight. I was fascinated by all the billboards and the crowds of people. One Times Square provides the intriguing history behind one of the world's most famous pieces of real estate. Broadway started out as a dirt path with the name of Bloomingdale Road. Near the end of the 19th century, theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein built two theaters in this area which led to several other theater owners to follow and create what is now known as Broadway. In 1904, the New York Times built its new headquarters on the intersection at an impressive height of 395 feet. This prompted Mayor George B. McClellan to crown the area as Times Square. Author Joe McKendry takes readers on an exciting journey through the following hundred years as the square serves as an information hub before television and the computer age take hold. I was particularly interested in the workings of the "Zipper" sign which broadcast breaking news on a five foot electronic panel. There are so many iconic images contained in the pages of this wonderful book.

One of the big themes of social studies is change over time. One Times Square would be a great resource to track U.S. history over the last century. McKendry documents the decaying of the square during the 60's and 70's and its resurgence in the '80s. Older students could read this part of the text and discuss the pros and cons of urban revitalization. Before you watch the ball drop Monday night, you should go and find a copy of One Times Square and amaze your friends and family with the interesting history of the area.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

STEM Friday: Plant a Little Seed

Plant a Little Seed
written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
2012 (Roaring Brook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links.

Two young friends plant seeds in a community garden. Adding water, patience, and dreams, they look for signs of growth. Finally sprouts start their upward journey. As the roots spread out, the friends weed and dream. Sunflowers grow up while radishes and carrots grow down. Fruits begin to appear on the vines as the two friends work hard to maintain the garden. Soon, they enjoy the product of their labor. Tiny tomatoes and peas from the pod scream summer as they hit the taste buds of these workers. As fall approaches, it's time to harvest the food from the garden. An array of processes,whether pickling, canning, or freezing, are used to preserve this wonderful bounty. The best thing about growing a garden is being able to share the fruits of your labor. Family and friends come to the table to enjoy the fruits and vegetables grown. It won't be too long before this cycle starts all over again with the planting of a little seed.

Our school has several garden beds in our courtyard. Excited students plant an assortment of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Plant a Little Seed perfectly captures this moment in picture book form. This is a great resource for plant units in science. You can also teach a lesson on sequence with this text. Save Plant a Little Seed for when you are in the throes of winter and dreaming of spring.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

Last Week:

Bomb was a riveting read for a history nerd like me. This is an account of how the United States built the first atomic bombs and how the Soviet Union was able to obtain classified information about those bombs. One of my favorite parts of the book was the story of Enrico Fermi's work in the city of Chicago. Here he was in the middle of one of the biggest cities in America conducting experiments on fission. Those around him were quite nervous but Fermi was as cool as a cucumber. Bomb also gave me a better understanding of why citizens decided to pass on secrets to the Soviet Union. If you are wondering about its chances for the ALA Awards (it's definitely a contender!), check out the Heavy Medal blog.

Our second grade class is working on writing gingerbread stories so we read several different accounts of the classic story. We worked on comparing settings and comparing the story events themselves. We discovered two different tricks that the fox used to lure his prey and also found that often the gingerbread boy kind of brought his fate upon himself. Most of the gingerbread characters are quite arrogant which leads to their demise.

This is one of my favorites in the gingerbread genre. I like the twist at the end. The Gingerbread Girl Goes Animal Crackers is a worthy sequel.

How can you not like a gingerbread man with spurs? Another entertaining version of the classic story.

I love the infusion of Spanish words in this story. It added a lot of flavor to the reading.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Poetry Friday: Waterloo Sunset

My favorite picture that I took from my trip to Copenhagen this past summer was of a sunset at nearly 10 o'clock. I was alone on a bike ride when I parked on a bridge to take this picture. It was a day that I'll never forget. A song that captures this moment for me was written by Ray Davies of The Kinks. Waterloo Sunset is narrated by a man staring out his window and enjoying the view of the Thames River and Waterloo Station. It is one of the most beloved songs of the rock and roll era. If I taught mood to middle or high school students, I would use these lyrics. 

Waterloo Sunset
Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo Sunset’s fine

Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander
I stay at home at night
But I don’t feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo Sunset’s fine

Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo Underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don’t need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo Sunset
They are in paradise

Waterloo Sunset’s fine

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

With my work as a Cybils first round judge for easy readers and early chapter books, I am sharing some of these books with my second grade class. 

Never Trust a Tiger, a story from Korea that has been retold by Lari Don, is the tale of a merchant who is traveling to market to sell his spices. He comes across a pit into which a beguiling tiger has fallen. The tiger sweet talks the merchant into helping him out of the pit. The question at the heart of this story is whether a good deed must be followed by another good deed. In other words, would it be bad form for the tiger to eat his rescuer?

Pete and Gabby are two curious bears who wander into town due to the lack of activity at the campground. The bears visit an ice cream shop, a mail room, and the fire station. Each visit is marked by humans running and bears trying new things with various levels of destruction. My class was highly amused by Pete and Gabby. I loved how the setting changed with each chapter which helped me present mini-lessons on setting and comparing different settings between texts and within the same text. 

Super fast Freddie Ramos makes his fourth appearance in Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash. Freddie is working on dual problems in this story. He is contesting a bully on a green bike who is creating trouble at Starwood Park Apartments, and he is mustering up enough bravery to put his face in the water during his swim lessons. My students love the Freddie Ramos series of books. He is a kid with a super power (purple sneakers) that all of them would like to have. They also appreciate Freddie's humanity. He makes mistakes and faces issues (being honest, bullying, etc.) that they encounter in their lives. 

Next Week

I waited four weeks for a copy of Bomb by Steve Sheinkin to become available at my local library. I will have to carve out some time to read this. It was a National Book Award finalist. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Poetry Friday: Cat by JRR Tolkien

The cat above is my 25 pound friend, Charlie. One of my wife's colleagues found him under a trailer at the middle school. He was a kitten and could fit in the palm of your hand. Slightly more rotund now, he has adopted the one person in our house that was not very enthusiastic about his arrival. I thought this poem by JRR Tolkien would be appropriate for my buddy. Plus, I took my Hobbit crazy daughter to Denny's last weekend for a Middle-Earth themed breakfast. 
Check out Poetry Friday at Read, Write, Howl

Cat by JRR Tolkien

The fat cat on the mat
 may seem to dream
of nice mice that suffice
 for him, or cream;
but he free, maybe,
 walks in thought
unbowed, proud, where loud
 roared and fought
his kin, lean and slim,
 or deep in den
in the East feasted on beasts
 and tender men.
The giant lion with iron
 claw in paw,
and huge ruthless tooth
 in gory jaw;
the pard dark-starred,
 fleet upon feet,
that oft soft from aloft
 leaps upon his meat
where woods loom in gloom —
 far now they be,
 fierce and free,
 and tamed is he;
but fat cat on the mat
 kept as a pet
 he does not forget.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Never Trust a Tiger

Never Trust a Tiger
retold by Lari Don; illustrated by Melanie Williamson
2012 (Barefoot Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A merchant is traveling to market, hoping to sell his spices. He comes upon a hole where a tiger is located. The tiger begs and begs the merchant to help him out of the hole. Being kind-hearted and admiring the tiger's beauty, the merchant drags a fallen tree to the hole to help the tiger. When the tiger escapes from the pit, he is very grateful to the merchant and shows his gratitude by leaping on the merchant and threatening to eat him. Tiger gratitude apparently doesn't stretch very far. This seems quite unfair to the merchant, who complains so much that the tiger cannot eat him in peace. Being a good negotiator, the merchant asks that another living being decide whether it is fair for the tiger to eat his rescuer. The merchant argues that a good deed should not be followed by a bad deed, while the tiger thinks the opposite. An ox wanders by and is drawn into the argument. The ox's point of view is favorable to the tiger. He argues that after a life of service to his master, the ox will be slaughtered in the end and therefore a good deed can be followed by a bad deed. Trying to avoid being dinner, the merchant asks for a second opinion. A nearby tree states that good deeds should be followed by good deeds. He uses his relationship with birds as an example. With both the merchant and the tiger having an advocate, it is up to a hare to break the tie. His argument is the most surprising of all.

Never Trust a Tiger would be a great addition to a folklore unit. You could also teach character traits with this book. I like the humor of this story. My second grade class enjoyed the read aloud as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Maple Tree to Syrup

From Maple Tree to Syrup
written by Melanie Mitchell
2012 (Lerner Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Booktalking

Our second grade class just finished writing "how-to" pieces in Writer's Workshop. Many different elementary grade levels write these pieces and it's good to have some mentor texts available for students to view. From Maple Tree to Syrup is one such book that would be good to use for this purpose. Each two page spread features a topic sentence in bold print followed by supporting details. A full page photograph is on the right side of each spread.  Readers learn in the beginning that a group of maple trees used for making syrup is called a sugar bush. In the spring, holes are drilled in the trees and metal spouts used to collect the sap. Barrels are used to collect the sap and take it to a sugarhouse to be processed. The sap is boiled and turned into maple syrup.

If you are teaching a lesson on sequence and using a flow chart to organize information, this book would be a good text to use. Like I've said before, books like From Maple Tree to Syrup aren't glamorous and will not  be considered for any awards, but they are extremely valuable to classroom teachers and librarians who want to put more nonfiction titles into student hands. Kids have a connection with syrup so they will be interested in this process and can also learn to use nonfiction text features like a table of contents and a glossary and index. The text is simple, so it is easy to focus on teaching comprehension topics like nonfiction text features or main idea and supporting details.