Sunday, January 27, 2013

Our Country's Presidents - 4th Edition

Our Country's Presidents - 4th edition
written by Ann Bausum
2013 (National Geographic Children's Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at laurasalas

When I was young, I found refuge from my brother and four sisters in the library. I would stay for hours and be entertained by the books. My favorite section was the reference section. It was there that you found the humongous books that were desirous since you could not check them out and take them home. If you could find a big comfy chair and one of these books, you were set for an hour or two. Our Country's Presidents is one of those books.

The book starts with a foreword by President Obama, who talks about reading biographies of Abraham Lincoln when he was a student. That's one reason why books like this are valuable. Many of our leaders were inspired by the story of someone who came before them. The rest of the book is divided into six sections. Each section features biographies of the presidents in chronological order and three or four special interest articles. The first section, The Presidency and How It Grew, tells about Presidents George Washington through Andrew Jackson. There are also articles about the building of the White House, the powers of the Executive Branch and White House traditions like the Easter Egg Roll and state dinners. Each presidential biography starts with a full page reproduction of the president's official portrait. On the opposite page is a fact box that gives several pieces of information about the president and his family. The essays are where you will find a mix of the known and unknown. For example, it is fairly well known by now that George Washington did not cut down a cherry tree as was claimed by an overenthusiastic early biographer. What I did not know is that Washington had agreed to take charge of the Army after finishing his second term as president. Tensions with France subsided and Washington was able to complete his service from Mount Vernon. That's pretty fascinating stuff. 15th president James Buchanan had one good eye for far vision and one for close vision. He would tilt his head depending on what he was trying to see. These are the interesting stories that make us love nonfiction.

It is the season for writing and reading biographies, so Our Country's Presidents will be embraced by students who are looking for information. Students could also read a single biography and list the positives and negatives of each president's term in office. If you are looking for a comprehensive overview of the presidency that is student friendly, Our Country's Presidents should win your vote.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Here Come the Humpbacks!

Here Come the Humpbacks!
written by April Pulley Sayre; illustrated by Jamie Hogan
2013 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

A female humpback whale swims in the Caribbean Sea in February. She is ready to give birth as she travels to the shallow waters. After feeding her calf for eleven and a half months, she releases him and does a roll to break the cord. The one ton baby boy will stay near his mother as he builds his body through drinking up to fifty gallons of milk a day. An escort male whale keeps company with the mother and her calf. He fends off other males who try to bother the trio. April approaches and most of the other whales have already migrated. The mother whale knows it is time to feed again, but she must go north to find the fish she needs. Mother and calf leave the Caribbean and head up the coast of the United States past Cape Cod. A dangerous encounter with orcas leave the calf with a few nicks but the mother beats back the pesky predators. After more than a month of swimming, the mother is ready to eat. They will stay until the cool of autumn sends them back toward the Caribbean for another winter.

Here Come the Humpbacks! is a resource that can have many purposes tied to contrasting information. You can compare the humpback whale to other migrating animals, like butterflies, and find similarities and differences in their journeys. There are also two types of text in this book which provide another opportunity to work on genres of nonfiction. The primary text is an easier narrative while the secondary text is more informational. This is perfect for when you are teaching about different types of nonfiction. You can explore what is similar and what is different about these texts. I would take a stack of books and ask students to place them in these two categories or a different category if needed. Here Come the Humpbacks! provides insight into a fascinating animal and a chance to dig deeper into nonfiction text types.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping Body Temperatures Just Right

Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping Body Temperatures Just Right
written by Caroline Arnold; illustrated by Annie Patterson
2013 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at The LibrariYAn

People and animals live in hot places and cold places all over the world. In every climate, people and animals find ways to keep their body temperatures just right.

To quote the great philosopher Goldilocks, this book is not too hot or too cold. It is just right. After the introduction to the book, the difference between warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals is explored. Science teachers will be happy that the terms endothermic (warm-blooded or animals that produce their own body heat) and ectothermic (cold-blooded or animals that need heat from outside their bodies) are introduced. The next section explains how our bodies keep us warm or cool. My students know that they shiver or have goosebumps when their skin is cold, but they would have a hard time explaining why this happens. Now they can know that muscles "shiver" to contract and generate heat in their body. They will also know that tiny muscles in the skin tighten and make the lumps that make "goosebumps". Students will also be intrigued to know that cats curl up in a ball when they are cold and stretch out to cool off their bodies. This explains why my cat stretches in front of the fire. The last section of the book discusses what people and animals do to be warm or cool. There is a great explanation of estivation, which is like hibernation except it occurs in the summer. For example, lungfish burrow into the mud to avoid the lack of water when the river dries up. I was also fascinated by the common poorwill. It is a bird that hibernates for weeks or months at a time.

Can I gush? This is a fantastic book. It is filled with so much information that will interest your students. Too Hot? Too Cold? will explain many body functions that students experience, so connections will abound. Caroline Arnold does a terrific job of providing examples for all of the concepts in the book. Kids love animal books and they will love this book. Find a copy of Too Hot? Too Cold? for your animal and human body units.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Animal Geometry update

         Photo by Jeff Barger

Yes, this is me behind bars. It's one of my very first experiences with geometry. I have a friend who saw this picture and was concerned that my head might have slipped between the bars. I assured her that I had (and still do!) a big head both figuratively and literally. It's possible this photo will be in the book.

 This morning I has to respond to comments by the proofreader of my upcoming book. It was a bit unsettling at first since I'm not used to someone being critical of my work. Hundreds of my former students were laughing this morning and didn't know why. It was good for me to experience what my students feel in Writer's Workshop conferences. The proofreader was spot on and made the book better which is the purpose of a conference. Lesson learned. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

STEM Friday: Snow School

Snow School
written by Sandra Markle; illustrated by Alan Marks
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

Two snow leopard cubs sleep in a den in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Pakistan. They are waiting for their mother to bring back food. The boy cub awakes and decides to explore outside the cave. His first lesson learned almost turns out to be his last lesson as a golden eagle approaches the cub. Fortunately for him, his mother arrives in time to swat at the eagle and chase it away. The beginning to Sandra Markle's narrative tale of two endangered cubs grabs you and leads you to further reading as you want to learn about the early life of these snow leopards. We follow the cubs as they learn to play and observe their mother hunting. She teaches them many lessons. Rubbing your cheek against a boulder leaves a scent to tell other leopards that this is your hunting ground. Students will make the connection to a house cat rubbing against their owner's leg. Another lesson taught is to be quiet while you are hunting. Noisy play is fun, but it can also lead to empty stomachs as potential prey is scared away. Challenging terrain and speedy potential meals like the ibex mean a snow leopard also has to be fast and able to stay on its feet as it pursues food in the rugged mountains. As the female and male cubs grow, they learn other lessons about guarding food, picking your battles, and keeping away from humans. Before too long, they are ready to leave and start their own families.

The beauty of Snow School lies in Sandra Markle's storytelling. Each lesson learned by the cubs is an engaging read. There are plenty of facts imparted, but you get good storytelling as well which makes it more interesting than a straight up informational text. Alan Marks's illustrations of these beautiful animals will hook readers as well. This book would be a great resource for an animal report. It would be a good challenge for students to have to glean facts from the narrative instead of having the information dropped in their laps. Snow School will teach many students about a fascinating animal in an unfamiliar setting.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

Last Week

In our class this past week, we worked on comparing settings from different stories. Nightsong was one of the books we used. It is about a young bat named Chiro who goes out on his own for the first time.  Chiro goes out in the dark to find food and find his way. This is definitely one of the best picture books that I read from this past year. The story and illustrations are wonderful.

The Commander Toad series is so much fun to read. I read Commander Toad and the Space Pirates this past week. The crew of the Star Warts is bored until they are invaded by space pirates. My students were so surprised by the clever ending. If you like puns, you need to read this series. It is one of the most popular series in my class.

One of the most clever writers we have is Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Her books are so smart and funny and there is always a lesson that can be learned. Chopsticks, a follow-up to the terrific Spoon, features two friends who are inseparable. When an accident sidelines one of them, they learn that you can be unique and part of a team.

Next Week

This book is a great addition to our biography collection. I love the glossary with photographs attached. This is my Nonfiction Monday selection for today.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with my class. It will be published in about three weeks. My second graders loved the first Pinch and Dash book.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
written by Kitson Jazynka
2012 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at 100 Scope Notes

The first thing that catches my eye with this early reader biography is the great photograph on the cover. It is the setting for Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech"  in 1963. I like that his name on the cover is outlined in red, white, and blue given his impact on our country. On the inside, there is a blue border with doves on the top margin of each page. This signifies Dr. King's work for peace. His parents' influence is highlighted early in the book as they both make sure their son understands that, despite racial injustice, he is as good as anyone else. A story about six year old Martin will resonate with readers. They will also be interested in the photographs of his boyhood home and his family. They can make connections with their home and families. I like the insertion of the "In His Time" section. This two page spread gives details about life in America during Dr. King's childhood. Another good insert is the "In His Own Words" section that appears in several places. These are quotes directly from Dr. King. One quote is from a speech that he wrote when he was 14 years old. "Helping Others" is the longest chapter in this text and it features the work that he and his wife Coretta Scott King did to fight injustice in the South. The importance of words is featured throughout this section as Dr. King's use of this tool, as opposed to violence, is highlighted. "Final Years" tells young readers of his death in Memphis but also emphasizes that his words continue to live. The last chapter in the book takes readers to Washington D.C. to visit the recently established memorial to Dr. King.

This biography is a good introduction, for early readers, to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition to learning about his life, readers will be introduced to several new words in the vocabulary pieces. These words are reviewed in the glossary which has a picture attached to each word. This is very helpful for all learners, but especially ELL (English Language Learners) students. There are several nonfiction text features that can be used for lessons and as is the norm with a National Geographic book, you get terrific photographs. With the national holiday honoring Dr. King just around the corner, share this biography with your young readers.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Seasons

First Facts: Seasons
written by Marie Greenwood
2012 (Dorling Kindersley)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Hope Is The Word

Seasons starts off with a tidy short summary of the four seasons featuring leaves. This would be handy to write on chart paper and use to work on nonfiction shared reading. Spring arrives next with new births and fresh flowers. Each two page spread features a short text in a paragraph form as well as circle inserts with text included. Readers get information about weather, plants, and animals. The theme of beginnings permeates through this section. Being a DK book, the photographs of plants and animals are terrific. Additional information about spring celebrations is included. Summer brings heat, butterflies, and fresh fruit. Beautiful summer flowers such as geraniums and hydrangeas are buzzed by busy bees. The fall brings changes in some leaves. Evergreens keep green while maples turn red and orange. Days turn cooler and rainier with damp mists prevailing on some days. It's harvest time so fruits such as blackberries and pumpkins are gathered. With winter comes the beauty of snowflakes and icicles. Students will be surprised to learn about winter vegetables such as cabbage and parsnips. A section on hibernation features frogs, bears, and bats. Seasons finishes with an explanation of why we have seasons. The tilted Earth illustration is especially helpful.

I wish I had read less princess books and more nonfiction books, like Seasons, to my daughters when they were younger. They're not permanently scarred or going to therapy for a lack of nonfiction in their preschool days, but it would have been nice to have a better balance. This is a nice book to share at bedtime and help your preschooler learn about the natural world. It also makes a good mentor text for teaching K-2 students how to write an informational text about the seasons.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Photo Shoot

 I needed a photo for the inside of the jacket of Animal Geometry so we had an impromptu photo shoot today. Animal Geometry is the name of the book that I wrote last year. It's actually going to be published this fall. You will be hearing a lot more about it as we get closer to the publication date.

Two thoughts about these photos. First, I can't believe that someone is publishing my work. This still astounds me. It still feels very weird to see my name on the cover. Second, I kind of like the weirdness of the second photo, but that is not what will appear on the jacket. It's too vertical.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Poetry Friday: Killing Me With Kindness

Photography by Albert Jankowski

Check out Poetry Friday at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme

After every holiday season, I am left with large amounts of desserts that have been given as gifts. It is my own fault since I am not shy about my love for sweets. I would be a hypocrite to complain since I gift others in the same manner, but there comes a time where I will simply sweep out what is left and start anew with vows of fruits and vegetables. This lasts until the first Girl Scout shows up at my door with an offer of Thin Mints. I dedicate this simple haiku to anyone else who suffers from this malady each year. 

Killing Me With Kindness

Piles of  boxed candy
Dessert gifts under the tree
I need a carrot

STEM Friday: Great Estimations

Great Estimations
written by Bruce Goldstone
2006 (Henry Holt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

This book will show you how to train your eyes and your mind to make really great estimations. 

The statement above appears on the inside jacket of Great Estimations. After reading this book, I can tell you that it makes good on its claim. Bruce Goldstone wins me over immediately when he starts with looking at groups of tens. Readers practice estimating by looking at a collage of items that are grouped into tens. Starting small and building up is the approach to improving estimation skills. Next, readers work on groups of one hundred. Gummy bears and pompoms are part of this collage. Throughout the book, you will find a hints box that provides pointers for estimating. The goal of the beginning is to train your eyes so you will come up with a reasonable estimate. After seeing groups of ten, one hundred, and one thousand, it is time to start making estimates. On the left side of the spread, you train by seeing two groups of an item such as 100 and 1,000 cereal O's. Then, on the right side of the spread you see an uncounted amount and you make an estimate. Later, you will have single page estimates to make, but don't fret because the hints box will guide you towards a reasonable estimate.

My favorite math books always contain elements of fun and this book is no different. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to come up with a good estimate. These exercises are great models for how to present this subject to students. It would be a fun exercise to read Great Estimations and then have students glue a number of small items on a 12 x 18 piece of construction paper. They could write a hints box to help their classmates make an estimate. Plus, how cool would it be to have this title in the hallway as you display the estimations of your students. Great Estimations is not Dickensian, but instead an epic math book.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Cybils Finalists Announced!

Head over to the Cybils website to check out this year's finalists! I'm especially happy to see Infinity and Me make the finals. Congratulations to all of the finalists.