Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Tito Puente, Mambo King

Tito Puente, Mambo King
written by Monica Brown; illustrated by Rafael Lopez; translated by Adriana Dominguez
2013 (Rayo)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wendie's Wanderings

Tito Puente made noise from an early age. Banging on pots and pans and other household items prompted his Spanish Harlem neighbors to urge his mother to send him to a music teacher. When she did, she started a musical career that led him to becoming the Mambo King. Tito learned to play several instruments including the saxophone which he picked up while serving on a ship during World War II. It was the timbales, a percussion instrument, that would bring him his greatest fame. After playing with several bands in New York City, he became the leader of his own big band, the Tito Puente Orchestra. He went on to create music with legends such as Celia Cruz, Carlos Santana, and La Lupe. Tito won five Grammys and became an international superstar in the music world. His music inspired many and set feet to tapping around the globe.

Man, do I love this book! As you see by the cover, the artwork simply pops. Rafael Lopez's illustrations are some of the most vibrant work you will see. He is able to show you the energy of Tito Puente's music. The text is special as well. Each page is written in English and Spanish. Monica Brown uses onomatopoeia to get your feet tapping even though you can't hear Tito Puente playing the timbales. Speaking of his music, check out this clip from Sesame Street that is located on Brown's teacher resource page:

Tito Puente, Mambo King is instantly one of my favorite books for 2013. Children will enjoy learning about and hearing Tito Puente. His life is a lesson of pursuing your dream and having passion for your work. I would read this book when teaching lessons about character traits such as determination. It is also a good mentor text when teaching lessons about onomatopoeia (sound words). This author/illustrator team has won a Pura Belpre honor before and this book will contend for the 2014 award. I think it deserves Caldecott consideration as well. Tito Puente, Mambo King will rock your feet and your eyes.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Poetry Friday: Just Before April Came

Photograph by Meneerke bloem
Check out Poetry Friday at A Year of Reading

With a pond behind my house, I can relate to the sound of frogs so this poem seemed to fit. Plus, I get to learn about the word squdge. It means to ooze. As in, desperation seemed to squdge from my basketball bracket this evening. 

Just Before April Came by Carl Sandburg

The snow piles in dark places are gone.
Pools by the railroad tracks shine clear.
The gravel of all shallow places shines.
A white pigeon reels and somersaults.
Frogs plutter and squdge—and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.

A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

STEM Friday: These Seas Count

These Seas Count!
written by Alison Formento; illustrated by Sarah Snow
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links.

Mr. Tate's class is visiting Sunnyside Beach on Beach Clean-Up Day. A local sailor, Captain Ned, tries to take care of the ocean, but he is going to need the help of the class. The beach is littered with a variety of trash. He explains that the sea is sad. His words met with skepticism by the class, Captain Ned encourages them to listen to the sea. What they hear is a counting of ten different animals who call this habitat home. For example, students hear from three marlins and four sea horses. After hearing from ten bottle nose dolphins, Captain Ned leads the class to think about why pollution is bad is bad for the ocean and for humans. The food chain is interrupted when pollution destroys phytoplankton. This means less food for fish that feed on this producer. Crabs and starfish are just some of the animals that have to fight against the tide of man-made trash that invades their home. Besides providing food for bigger living things, phytoplankton is also a producer of oxygen. Less phytoplankton, less clean air. Captain Ned's lesson prompts Mr. Tate's class to count the bags of garbage that they collect.

These Seas Count! is more than a counting book. It's a tale of why our seas are important and why they are worth saving. Preschool and kindergarten students who would be interested in a counting book also have a basic understanding of why pollution is bad for the environment. More than likely they can't pronounce phytoplankton, but they will understand why plants that provide food and oxygen need to be helped. With attractive collage illustrations, These Seas Count! would be a good addition to an environmental unit. Find this book for reading as part of your upcoming Earth Day celebration as well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

Last Week

I'm late to the party, but this is a wonderful story. It's very easy to see why it won the Newbery. If you are teaching point of view, how could you do better than this? I love Ivan's wry statements about humans. There is some heartbreak, but it's an animal story so you know that comes with the territory. I would be curious how low you could go grade level wise to use this as a read aloud. I teach second grade and feel it might not fit there. I see it as a fourth or fifth grade read aloud at the lowest, but I'm probably wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. Needless to say, I won't look at zoos in the same way.

Love, love, love this book. I read it aloud to my whole class and also used it in groups to work on retell. It is so original and funny. Like Ivan, it would be a great text for a lesson on point of view. The dark illustrations are perfect. Maybe even Hitchcockian I dare say.

It's Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, so you know it is going to be original, thoughtful, and very funny. Teaching children about using endmarks? Find this book and read it.

I have a large group of readers who are now just beginning to be able to read the Magic Tree House books independently. It is so exciting to see this happen. They are stuffing three and four books into their bookbags. Since we studied Vikings in social studies, I read this book to the class. How often do you get to talk to elementary students about the Dark Ages?

Next Week

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Life Cycles: Ocean

Life Cycles: Ocean
written by Sean Callery
2011 (Kingfisher)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Booktalking

When I teach life cycles, it's easy to turn to the obvious. My class made butterflies on Friday and will write about their life cycle this week. There is a ton of material on the Internet about butterflies which makes it easy. That's why books like Life Cycle:Ocean are important because they make you think beyond the comfortable and try something new in your teaching. Sean Callery has written a whole series about life cycles in different habitats. I was lucky to find this book since all of the others were checked out from my local library. In the introduction, Callery discusses the parts of a food chain(producers, primary consumer, secondary consumer, top of the chain with no predators). Throughout the book, readers will go "through three food chains from oceans" and learn about the life cycles of 11 different animals. I find the combination of life cycle and food chain information an intriguing mix and a great resource. For example, coral is the first part of a food chain in warm ocean waters. A two page spread explains the life cycle of coral. There are extra fun facts about the animal included in the spread. On the bottom right hand corner of the second page is a great tease where an ellipse calls for the reader to predict what is going to eat the feature animal. A small piece of a photograph adds a visual clue to the mix. What we find on the next spread is a starfish that eats the coral. Beautiful photographs accentuate each spread of information. In the back matter you find a terrific food web that connects all of the featured animals in the book.

Dare to go beyond butterflies! Be bold and teach about other life cycles that are not as familiar. You can start by checking out a couple of Sean Callery's books and compare life cycles in different ecosystems. What is similar and different about life cycles in the ocean and in polar regions? If you are teaching children to map information, these books are quite valuable in that regard as well.

Other reviews:
Roundtable Reviews

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hank Finds An Egg

Hank Finds An Egg
written and photographed by Rebecca Dudley
2013 (Peter Pauper Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

How do you not like an adorable wordless book featuring a bear? Debut author Rebecca Dudley has created a wonderful tale of a bear who finds a lost egg and seeks to give it back to its owner. Hank the bear spots the nest where the egg belongs, but he cannot reach it. The bulk of the story is about how Hank tries to get the egg back into the nest. Dudley created everything that you see in the book. Being a child of Rankin-Bass holiday specials, I have an affinity for this creation. You spend a lot of time looking at the pictures and thinking about how she made each item. Hank Finds An Egg is receiving some well deserved praise (see Fuse #8 review) so you are going to hear more about this book when it is released in May.

So how would you use Hank in the classroom? First, it screams for a lesson on prediction. How is Hank going to get the egg back in the nest? I would be tempted to stop reading the book in the middle and have students sketch how they think Hank will get the egg back in the nest. Second, this book would be the source for a great discussion about the difference between fiction and nonfiction and can you expect (or need) realistic elements (size of an egg, relationship between species) to be on target even if it is a work of fiction. Perhaps most importantly, as with other wordless books, you can have non-readers work on retell, inference, and other comprehension skills and not have to worry about decoding.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: What's in the Garden?

What's in the Garden?
written by Marianne Berkes; illustrated by Cris Arbo
2013 (Dawn Publications)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Perogies and Gyoza

Most people recognize that we have a problem in this country with children's eating habits. As a parent, I certainly could do better with the food that I provide for my kids. So how do we go about convincing children and their parents that eating healthier is worth the effort? Books like What's in the Garden? can be part of the solution. This book combines poetry and recipes to make growing, preparing, and eating food a fun experience for a family. Each two page spread starts with a four line rhyming stanza that is the clue for the fruit or vegetable that is the topic of the spread. For example, one particular plant has a "lovely bouquet" for a head and it is great with a dip. Underneath the stanza is an attractive illustration of part of the plant, but not enough to ruin attempts at prediction. When you turn the page, you see a happy child eating a piece of broccoli with dip on it. The recipe and instructions are located beneath the illustration. Although I didn't see this expressly stated in the text (It could be there. I might have missed it!), it seems that the author has made an attempt to make substitutions in order for the recipes to be healthier. The broccoli dip recipe calls for yogurt instead of mayonnaise. In all, there are 11 fruits and vegetables that are featured in the book. In the back matter, there is more information about each plant and general information about the difference between fruits and vegetables and what they need to grow. A glossary of cooking terms and a list of more sources for garden information are also included. Several more activities and bookmarks are available if you go to the downloadable activities page on the Dawn Publications website.

If your school has a garden, this book would be a great resource for your class. I think sharing some of these recipes and the activities page in a parent newsletter would be helpful as well. For older classes, recipes always show up on those pesky standardized reading tests, so you could write one of these recipes on a piece of chart paper and talk about how you read procedural text and what questions you could ask. This also leads to lessons on sequence. Spring is just around the corner so break out your seed catalog, pick up a copy of What's in the Garden? and start planning for a season of healthy eating.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rachel Carson: Extraordinary Environmentalist

Rachel Carson: Extraordinary Environmentalist
written by Jill C. Wheeler
2013 (Abdo Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links.
Check out Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month

This is the review I should have written for last week's STEM Friday post, but I'm 7 days late and always several dollars short!

As teachers, we talk to our students about trying to make a difference in this world. Not many people in the 20th century made a bigger difference than Rachel Carson. She was a biologist and a journalist whose curiosity led her to explore the effect of pesticides such as DDT. Carson's research showed that these  pesticides were more potent and deadly to animals and humans than originally thought. Published in the New Yorker and later as a book, Silent Spring changed how we viewed these chemicals and sparked many people to reconsider their views on how the environment is treated.

Rachel Carson: Extraordinary Environmentalist covers this part of the biologist's life, but there is much more to be learned about this famous scientist. I was especially struck by the influence of her family. Ms. Carson's mother taught her at an early age about the importance of nature and making sure that it is treated with respect. There are many instances in her life where her parents made sacrifices to support her schooling and she made sacrifices to support her family when they were in financial need. I think this teaches children about determination and tenacity. Rachel Carson went through many hardships in her life, but she continued to press on and feed her desire to learn more about the natural world.

I also think Rachel Carson taught us the value of asking questions. Children need to not only learn about how to frame questions, but also why we must continue to ask questions. It is through asking questions that we find truth and find better ways to serve one another. Aren't these valuable traits to pass on to younger generations? It would be interesting to ask children "What questions would Rachel Carson be asking today?".  For example, as a biologist, she would probably want to ask questions about the effects of global warming or fracking on the environment. With Rachel Carson: Extraordinary Environmentalist in tow, students can start asking questions of their own.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Ocean Counting

Ocean Counting
written by Janet Lawler; photographs by Brian Skerry
2013 (National Geographic Little Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Sally's Bookshelf

Janet Lawler and Brian Skerry have teamed up to create a terrific new counting book that features animals that are part of ocean life. Each two page spread has a number and an animal that is the focus of the spread. For the number 3, readers will see three star-eye parrotfish. There is a paragraph of information and an insert with an extra fact about the animal. In the parrotfish paragraph, the author draws two comparisons between this fish and the namesake bird. Among the other nine animals featured are sea otters (photograph of them sleeping!), hammerhead sharks, and adelie penguins. The photographs are spectacular and I love the small amount of text that makes this a candidate for a nonfiction read aloud. Perhaps my favorite section of this book is the back matter. It starts with two pictographs that encourage readers to count forwards and backwards to and from 10. Next, there are ten sections where readers are given more information about each animal. This is a reward for those students who want to learn more. Facts are provided about the home, size, food, predators, and babies of each animal. This is very helpful for those students seeking to write about book about one of these animals. Also included is a map of the world that shows where each photograph was taken. An eleven word glossary finishes out the back matter.

Students will love looking at these photographs and reviewing the facts that come with each animal. This book would be a good nighttime reader since the paragraphs in the main text are not very long. Having students create their own counting books with animal information would be a fun writing activity. Spread out some nonfiction books and have them collect two facts for each animal. For younger writers, you could type out the facts and pass them out. Then they could write the facts and draw a number of the animals. You could do this with plants as well. Instead of counting sheep, perhaps some young readers will be counting ocean animals instead.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

STEM Friday: Two new animal books

written by Rachel Lynette
2013 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more science and math links.

From the Jungle Babies of the Amazon Rain Forest series comes a cute nocturnal swinger. I had no idea what a kinkajou was before I read this book. This rain forest dweller has a tail with a length that is equal to the rest of its body. It lives in the canopy section of Western Hemisphere rain forests.  Kinkajous have the nickname of "honey bear" due to their love of the sweet sticky stuff. Finding a tree hole will help keep the kinkajou away from predators like jaguars.

The size of the book is perfect for the hands of primary age readers who will enjoy the photographs and  information about this unusual animal. The text will make it a nice resource for students learning how to write an informational book. It is also good for comparing adults and children of the same species.

Cane Toad
written by Leon Gray
2013 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the opposite side of cute is the cane toad. Weighing in at a hefty 5 pounds, the poisonous cane packs a punch. It gets its name from the attempt by farmers to use it to combat beetles in sugar cane fields. The beetles outwitted the toads by moving to the top of the plant where the toad could not reach it. Unable to reach its prey, the toad moved on. If you are looking for a resource to teach about invasive species, this would be a good text. The cane toad is quite the problem in Australia where it was introduced in the latter part of the 19th century as an aid to farmers. Seeing that it can grow to the size of a soccer ball and contains a milky white poison from behind its head, I would be eager to see less of this monster amphibian as well.

Cane Toad could be used to teach about life cycles. You get to see the frogs from tadpole to adult. More large toads are introduced in the back matter of the book. I like how there are comparison illustrations to show readers how the size of the animal compares to other animals. The photographs in the book are terrific. A particularly gruesome photo is located on pages 6 and 7.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

This is Not My Hat: Kindergarten Thoughts

One of the joys of my job is sharing books with different classes. There is a kindergarten class that I share with often. After they read This Is Not My Hat, the class drew pictures and wrote about what they think happened at the end of the story. I have posted two samples of their work below. The open ending of the book provides a great opportunity for a writing piece.

"The little fish swam away before the big fish caught and ate him and the little fish swam so fast that he left the hat behind."

Love the picture and the writing. The invented spelling tells you a lot about this child as a writer and a reader. This is terrific stuff.

"The big fish went into the plants and... The big fish found the little fish and... ate him all up! And got his hat back!"

How about those ellipses? Their teacher does a great job of not limiting them because of their age. She's fearless and they go right with her. Kindergarten students love to play with language if you let them.

Monday, March 4, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

Last Week

Our class worked on visualizing, so I read the following books to them:

As a reading response to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, I asked students to imagine where Morris is now and what is he doing. They were able to sketch a picture and write a paragraph to support their answer.

For Not a Stick, I asked students to show what their "not a stick" looked like and what they imagined would be its purpose.

My co-teaching colleague, Paula, read Dear Mr. Blueberry and asked students to visualize what they thought Mr. Blueberry looked like. I was not aware of this title and was delighted as I listened to Paula read it.

I rarely venture into novel land, but my wife and oldest daughter insisted that I read the first chapter of Three Times Lucky. With a character named after Dale Earnhardt, I was hooked. I immensely enjoyed reading this mystery set in Eastern North Carolina and appreciate that I could escape in a book for a few hours. I tend to forget how good that feels.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Meat-Eating Plants: Toothless Wonders

Meat-Eating Plants: Toothless Wonders
written by Ellen Lawrence
2013 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Supratentorial

In second grade the last few weeks, we have been working on writing nonfiction books with text features. Almost all of the class has gone the informational route with their book choice, so I can't wait to share Meat-Eating Plants with them. This book is full of the same text features (table of contents, glossary, index, inserts, labels, maps) that they are trying to replicate themselves so it is a great mentor text for this assignment. The small amount (around 5 sentences per spread) of text in each two page spread is perfect for primary age writers trying to create informational texts. This book is also very eye catching with colorful pages, close-up photographs, and plenty of inserts for fact lovers.

Meat-Eating Plants features plants that grow in nutrient-poor soil and rely on catching insects in order to supply their needs. The most famous is probably the Venus flytrap which lures unsuspecting insects with the promise of sweet nectar on its leaves. Are there "suspecting" insects that think "You know, I think I'll pass on that plant. Looks dangerous."? Just wondering. I love page 10 of this book because it gives a nice and tidy sequenced summary of how plants take care of their needs. This is a graphic organizer lesson waiting to happen. Other featured meat-eating plants include sundews, shiny butterworts, and pitcher plants. There is a photograph of a rodent trapped in a pitcher plant on page 21 that will stun young readers.

Meat-Eating Plants is a fascinating look at one of nature's curiosities. The features, photographs, and texts are the perfect size for young readers who are learning how to read and write informational texts. Be aware that young readers who may be a little squeamish might need to be gently introduced to this book. There's nothing gruesome about the photographs, but these readers are smart enough to infer that it doesn't end well for some of these creatures in the photographs.

Other reviews:
Jean Little Library

Friday, March 1, 2013

STEM Friday: Informational Books

I'm fighting a vicious cold this week, so I haven't had time to post a review. I would recommend that you visit the STEM Friday post from author and educator Melissa Stewart. She has created a buzz with her discussion of the lack of love for informational books. Check it out!