Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Knit Your Bit

Knit Your Bit:A World War I Story
written by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia
2013 (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Stacking Books

Mikey wants to do something big to help the soldiers, including his father, that are serving in Europe during World War I. His mother is going to teach Mikey's sister Ellie how to knit. Soldiers needs sweaters, hats, and socks to help them combat the cold European winter. Mikey is asked to join, but he refuses this "girls' work." Later on, his teacher posts a notice about a knitting bee in Central Park. After being challenged by a girl in his class, Mikey decides to create the Boys' Knitting Brigade and compete in the knitting bee. The boys take lessons from Mikey's mom, but find out that knitting is no joke. They perform valiantly in the bee and take away a valuable lesson about giving your best to help others.

My colleagues and I have been talking about teaching character traits and how our students want to say everyone is determined and shows tenacity. I was delighted to read Knit Your Bit because it would be good for teaching students about sacrifice as a character trait. It's one thing that I'm afraid my generation lacks at this time. Families during WWI and WWII gave up many things to contribute to the greater good. Knit Your Bit illustrates how citizens rolled up their sleeves to help their country. This would be a great trait to teach our students.

Other reviews:
The Children's War
Ms.Yingling Reads

Thursday, April 25, 2013

STEM Friday: First Big Book of Space

First Big Book of Space
written by Catherine D. Hughes; illustrated by David A. Aguilar
2012 (National Geographic Little Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more links.

If you are connected to a second or third grader who is interested in space, this is the book for you. What you get is a combination of spectacular photographs from National Geographic, easy to read text that covers a wide variety of solar system topics, and text features like diagrams (look for the phases of the moon in Chapter One), inserts, and labels that will the information craving brain of a seven or eight year old. Chapter One explores what is described by the author as the familiar: the sun, Earth, moon, and meteors. In Chapter Two, our seven planetary neighbors in the solar system are featured. Chapter Three brings in other parts of the neighborhood: asteroids, dwarf planets (hello Pluto!), and comets. Traveling further away from our home planet, bigger topics are covered in Chapter 4 like the whole universe, stars, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, and black holes. The final chapter is about exploration. Spaceships, telescopes, and space stations are introduced. Throughout the book, you have terrific features like fact boxes which give a summary of a body's size and location. In addition to the main text are pop-up facts which provide more data which is always a big hit with an informational text.

First Big Book of Space will be a popular addition to your classroom or school library. There are probably plenty of informational text fans in your population and this book delivers with crazy good photographs and text that is accessible for young readers.

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

Last Week

Another shameless plug for my debut book that is coming out in the fall. I had the cover release party last Monday. If you teach math in grades 3-8, you will like this book. It's still really weird to see that name at the bottom of the cover.

Wow, wow, wow. You won't be forgetting Ruby Pepperdine any time soon. She is deeply troubled by her not listening at a crucial time with her beloved grandmother. Now she is worried that she has permanently messed up her life, and no one is noticing. I am amazed in the same way that I was when I read When You Reach Me.  How do these authors pull all of this together and shift so effortlessly between settings? I also don't mind admitting that there was a part where my eyes might have watered a little. Probably the pollen.

The Tell-Tale Start was a fun read. It's a clever story and the boys are likable characters. I especially enjoyed the interaction in the after-world between their namesake and Shakespeare.  I think 5th graders and higher will enjoy the adventures of these identical twins. The literary references will send readers scrambling for Google or the search engine of their choice.

Castle is a cool nonfiction early reader. It will appeal to dragon lovers and those interested in learning about soldiers. I think it would also be a good book for older struggling readers who need to add nonfiction to their reading diet.

The Three Bears ABC is an inventive use of the alphabet book. I haven't read an alphabet book based on a story, but this makes a lot of sense. You can use this to teach prediction and alliteration.

Next Week

It's the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address. If you teach US History or are a history lover like myself, you owe it to yourself to find this book. The artwork is amazing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
Designs by James Daugherty
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at A Mom's Spare Time

First of all, before you read my thoughts about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, you should click on this link to read the back story for the publishing of this book. It's a great article from Publisher's Weekly. As described in the PW article, James Daugherty's artwork is epic. If you have studied art history, you will recognize the WPA style. These murals are so striking when you view them. Daugherty ties the Civil War to World War II which is fresh in his mind since this book was originally published in 1947. I was struck by this sentence that he wrote in the foreword:

Again we have stood at the close of a great war, the most terrible in history, with the unfinished task before us.

I never put these two events together, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it. The foreword by itself is fantastic. Each section of the address is accompanied by a monumental mural. "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent..." brings forth pilgrims on the left side of the mural with Franklin, Jefferson, Paine and Washington on the right side. Interpretations from the artist for each mural are included in the back matter which is such a helpful addition. There are a total of 15 paintings in the book. Another pleasing part of this book is an afterword from present day. It was written by Gabor Boritt who is Professor Emeritus at Gettysburg College. Boritt's essay provides necessary background information about the Gettysburg Address.

The first use of this book that popped into my mind was to have students take a section of the address and create their own artistic rendering. This would be a very interesting project. Another thought is to take the last part of the speech, "...and that government, of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" and have students discuss and write about whether they think this phrase applies to our government today. Albert Whitman also provides a teacher's guide at this link. With this year being the 150th anniversary of the battle and address, it is a perfect time to find this re-release and use it in your classroom.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Three Bears ABC: An Alphabet Book

The Three Bears ABC: An Alphabet Book
written by Grace Maccarone; illustrated by Hollie Hibbert
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The concept of The Three Bears ABC is a unique one to my eyes. The classic story is told in the guise of an alphabet book. I am so pleased when I read something this clever. Here is an example:

C is for cool. The bears waited for the hot porridge to cool. So Papa put on his cap, Mama her cape, and Baby his coat

This would be a great book to use for teaching about alliteration. And you-know-who is going to show up at letter G and she has a fantastic mane of wild yellow hair. She's also a modern girl with a bow hairband, leggings, and flats. This could be my eight year old daughter. Goldilocks and the Three Bears is such a familiar story that you could also work on prediction while you read. I would put sticky notes on pages to cover the text and see if students can guess what the letter is representing. For instance, the letter J. What do you think? Goldilocks is shown eating a bowl of porridge and it is ____ right. The illustrations in this book are boldly colorful and fun. My favorite was for the letter X which marks the spot where Goldilocks face plants into the bushes after leaping out the window. Not exactly a graceful exit.

Young readers will enjoy The Three Bears ABC. It's an out of the ordinary alphabet book that can be used for several purposes in a preschool or kindergarten classroom.

Other reviews:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

STEM Friday: Castle: How It Works

Castle: How It Works
written by David Macaulay with Sheila Keenan
2012 (MacMillan)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more links.

Dragons are a big deal in my classroom. Kids like to draw them and then pretend they are riding them or fighting them during recess. So if you have students who are interested in this area of fantasy literature, they will connect to Castle: How It Works. The book starts off from the point of view of someone going into the castle. There are many levels of protection including an outer wall and an inner wall. In the classroom, you could compare the security employed in this era with what we do today to protect our homes. Once inside, the reader sees many people performing tasks necessary to the life of the castle. A blacksmith is making a horseshoe while a cook starts a fire in the kitchen. Cutaways show the lord of the castle in one tower with his family. I like the details, like the throwing of herbs on the floor to improve the smell, that provide information about daily life. Students will find the description of "medieval potty life" amusing and fascinating. Another critical part of this book for teachers is the vocabulary that will be picked up by young readers. One word that they will latch onto is siege. This comes into play as an invading army attempts to take over the castle in the latter part of the book. Readers will be engrossed with the attack and the repelling of it.

As Travis Jonker points out in his review of this book, there is not a ton of nonfiction for early readers. I think advanced second grade readers who are interested in soldiers or medieval life will definitely take to Castle.

Other reviews:
100 Scope Notes

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Animal Geometry

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday. Thank you for coming! You can leave your link below with Mr. Linky. Today I am having a cover release party for my debut book Animal Geometry. It will be published by EarlyLight Books in the fall. A big thank you to Dawn Cusick for taking a chance on me and for being so patient. If you haven't read any books from EarlyLight, you should click on the link. They are fun and informative books. 

So what are we trying to accomplish with this book? It is a survey of geometry based in the animal world. I was teaching 5th grade last year and wrestling with topics in geometry and that is how this book was born. I want to make geometry more accessible and have students make connections not only to the animal world but to their world as well. While it is structured like a textbook, it doesn't read like one. I think you can approach informational text with a skewed eye and a sense of humor. It will be up to the readers to decide whether I succeeded or not. Although I wasn't thinking of the Common Core when I starting writing this book, I believe it is a great fit for this era. You can teach math, science, and language arts lessons with this text. Read the selection below and decide for yourself (hit control plus to get a better look!):

Thank you to the children's literature blogging community. This book would not have happened if not for your example, guidance, kindness, and support. I have learned so much. Another big thank you to Mary Lee (A Year of Reading) and Tricia (The Miss Rumphius Effect) for the generous book cover blurbs! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

STEM Friday: Flowers By Number

Flowers By Number
written by David Shapiro; illustrated by Hayley Vair
2013 (Craigmore Creations)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out more links at STEM Friday

For a book about flowers and numbers, it's ironic that my favorite page contains no flowers and the number zero. The text on the beginning page just cracks me up every time I read it. Opposite an illustration of a snow covered wooded area surrounding a pond, we find these words:

It is the middle of winter and a blanket of snow covers the land. There are ZERO flowers out for now.

What follows are ten two-page spreads featuring descriptions of flowers, their scientific name, and attractive illustrations. I like the variety of flowers in this book. The first flower is skunk cabbage. Other flowers include prickly pear cactus, salmonberry, and Pacific starflower. There are some familiar flowers like lupine and yarrow, but also many species that most readers may not recognize. Another aspect of the text is the use of figurative language like similes. Yarrow stands tall "like soldiers of summer." The lupine "howl in purple." In the back of the book, the flowers are reviewed in a pictograph manner which would be great to show during a math lesson on data. One minor suggestion would be to add a section to the back matter that gives more information about each of the flowers. I can see where the author might have decided to eschew this since it is a counting book for the youngest readers.

I think Flowers By Number would be a terrific text to use if you wanted to create a similar counting book. In my area of the world, we could draw pictures of daffodils, forsythia bushes, azalea bushes, and dogwood trees. I think a few walks outside in May would yield enough information to accomplish this task. If your school is not surrounded by plants, you could ask students to take pictures and have families email those to you to create a PowerPoint. Below is a sample spread from the book.

Monday, April 8, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

Last Week

Tito Puente, Mambo King is a terrific bilingual picture book biography. The artwork really shines along with the use of onomatopoeia that brings alive the sound of this percussion legend. 

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea is the second of a well received early reader series featuring seven year old animal lover Lulu and her best friend Mellie. This book has the friends and family visiting the beach and encountering a vagabond dog. Lulu can't resist animals in need so she is determined to befriend one who has been described as a menace. The two Lulu books are great for second grade readers.

How many different views can you take of a tree? After reading Picture a Tree, you will have a much broader view of trees. Barbara Reid's Plastacine artwork brings a 3D effect that is very attractive. This would be a great text to use to teach young writers about verbs. It would also be an excellent companion to A Leaf Can Be... by Laura Purdie Salas.

Next Week

I will also be doing a cover reveal for my debut book, Animal Geometry, in this space next week. I hope you like it!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: The World is Waiting for You

The World is Waiting for You
written by Barbara Kerley
2013 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at A Wrung Sponge

Perhaps the best way I could describe The World is Waiting for You is to call it the nonfiction version of Oh, The Places You'll Go!. The book starts with these words:

Right outside your window there's a world to explore. Ready?

Readers are encouraged to "dive in" as they see oceanographer Sylvia Earle diving with dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean. "Dig deeper" with paleontologist Paul Serreno as he uncovers fossils in the Sahara Desert in Niger. "Take a leap" with astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. as he works in space on a section of the International Space Station. Interspersed with the wonderful two page photographs of these famous explorers are photographs of children taking time to explore the world outside their windows. They look into logs, snow tunnels, race boats on rivers, and face the wind at the beach. It is these photographs that truly carry the message of the book which is to encourage children to explore their world. I'm guilty of allowing my children to spend too much time inside and not enough beyond the walls of our house. It's just easier to do that, but I know I should do better and so should a lot of other parents. There is a great big world outside that needs to be explored and The World is Waiting for You is just the jump start that we need.

If you are teaching a lesson on verbs, this would be a good book to share with your class. After reading the book and listing the verbs in the book, it would be a lot of fun to create verb booklets. Words like poke, soar, and peek would yield interesting illustrations from young writers. The World is Waiting for You would also be a great start to a unit on the age of exploration. Why do we go to caves or space? Why did people risk their lives and sail across oceans? These are some of the questions that can be explored (pun intended) as you begin the unit. In the words of Ms. Frizzle, it's time to "take chances, make mistakes, and get messy" as you put down your electronic device and explore the real world.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Poetry Friday: Tree Haikus

Check out Poetry Friday at Read, Write, Howl

Anastasia Suen has put forth a call for STEM haikus in honor of Poetry Month. Inspired by the book Picture a Tree, I am offering two haikus with very different moods. 

Photograph by Dan Murtha
Source: Wikimedia Commons

An Orb of Oppression
Pointed and prickly
Nemesis of this writer
Thy name is sweetgum

Photograph by Hans Braxmeier
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Vision in Pink and White
April brings a sprite
Cheery cherry blooms again
Look quick or miss her

Poems written by Jeff Barger. Copyright 2013. 

STEM Friday: Picture a Tree

Picture a Tree
written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more links.

What do you see when you see a tree? After reading Picture a Tree, the possibilities may be endless. This book brings up so many variables to be considered when thinking about trees. One prominent variable is the season. Spring brings out the vivid colors while summer provides valuable shade. Fall can mean a spectacular bon voyage while winter reveals a skeleton that has a unique beauty of its own. Another variable involves the living thing using the tree. A small animal sees a tree as a place of habitation or a source of food. Small children find trees to be excellent hiding places or somewhere to think your deepest thoughts while older humans seek to bird watch or find a shady place to walk. Where you are viewing the trees is yet another variable. Driving on a street lined with trees creates a tunnel effect. A view from a tall building might yield a vision of an ocean of trees. After reading Picture a Tree, you may see trees from a whole different perspective.

As with her previous book, Perfect Snow, Barbara Reid has created Plasticine illustrations that are phenomenal. The textures of the different objects are so vivid that I fully expected to feel tree bark when I turned a page. I enjoyed looking at spreads again and again to see different touches. Ice cream and people's hair are much more interesting in Plasticine. Go to Barbara Reid's website to see more of her work and several examples of student work created with this material.

Before reading this book, I would challenge students to think of all the different ways a tree could be used. I would go back to this list after reading and see what other answers are generated. This would be a good book to use when working on categorization. You could list the seasons and ask students to write and/or draw what they see in trees during these seasons. Folding a paper in half and creating the categories of practical and imaginative for uses of a tree would be a fun exercise as well. Picture yourself finding this book and using it in your classroom or library.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
written by Hilary McKay
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Seven year old Lulu and her best friend Mellie go on a beach vacation with Lulu's parents and discover a new friend. When the entourage arrives at the cottage by the sea, the prickly cottage owner warns them about a dog in the area that Lulu had noticed on the drive to the beach. The owner calls the dog "a thief" and "a menace." To animal lover Lulu, this is a direct challenge. It becomes her mission on the trip to befriend the dog. Each character in the book has a goal in mind for this seaside vacation, but it is Lulu's that is the focus of this book. While the family is trying to help Mellie with her kite, Lulu is also working on befriending the dog. She uses encouraging words that he is not used to hearing. Lulu also entices the dog with treats. Eventually, he comes around and becomes part of the vacationing family. Suspense is provided when the cottage owner comes back and summons the dog catchers to finish the job that they had started when they captured the "Dog from the Sea's" mother and his two siblings. Will Lulu and Mellie be able to save their newly found friend from being captured?

I really like Hillary McKay's writing in the first two Lulu books. She takes the time to describe things so that the reader is better connected to the story. It is not just a path down the sand dune, but a "leg-aching sort of path." The Dog from the Sea has two flapping ears "like brown paper bags." This is the kind of narrative writing that can serve as a mentor text for young writers. McKay's knowledge of how seven year olds behave is quite valuable as well. The actions and reactions of Lulu and Mellie ring true to this second grade teacher. There is also a wonderful lesson to be learned from Lulu and the Dog from the Sea. She encourages this dog and remains positive even when he is not on his best behavior. That positive reinforcement is a good model for children (and their teacher!). In my first year of teaching second grade, I have found that a series of books featuring a strong lead character or characters are among the best resources that I have. My students have been enthralled by the adventures of Freddie Ramos and Lulu and Mellie are in the same category. I look forward to more books featuring Lulu and her animal adventures.