Friday, May 31, 2013

STEM Friday: California Sea Lions

California Sea Lions
written by Megan Cooley Peterson
2013 (Pebble Plus)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more links

The subject matter and cover of California Sea Lions
will lead to many checkouts at the media center desk. Facts on each page are accompanied by attractive photographs. I especially like the picture on page 14 of two sea lions shedding their hair. There is one particular feature of this book that makes me want to recommend it to librarians and teachers. The text of this book is so readable! Finding an interesting nonfiction book for a beginning second grade reader is not an easy task. As I was reading, I kept saying "This book would be great for ______." This allows early readers to practice their research skills independently. A world map on page 6, a comparison drawing on page 8, and a glossary in the back will also assist these readers.

If you are writing nonfiction books in the primary grades, California Sea Lions, and other titles in this series (Bottlenose Dolphins, Elephant Seals, and Orcas) would be good pickups for young researchers.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Poetry Friday: Coreopsis

Check out Poetry Friday at Teaching Young Writers

I went out to my garden this evening for a little inspiration. Emphasis on the word little. Trying to write poetry is fun as it stirs my creativity. I'm not very good at writing poems. Not fishing for compliments or striving for humility, just stating what I think is the truth. But I don't really care that I'm in the lower percentile of poets. Writing this poem made me walk outside for a few minutes and took my mind off of the mundane for a little while. I'll settle for that. 

Harbinger of the summer to come
Spreading your glory in an upward strum
Survivor in drought-like places
Standing tall in dining room vases
Landing pad for a ladybug
Crowding other flora with a thin hug
Unlike me, you’re resistant to hot
You are the current star of my plot

©Jeff Barger 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Poetry Friday: The Song of the Ungirt Runners

Check out Poetry Friday at Jama's Alphabet Soup

This poem appeared on Poetry Friday in 2010 from Bashfully Designed. Since I am running a race for the first time in almost two years on Saturday, I wanted to share The Song of the Ungirt Runners. The author, Charles Hamilton Sorley, was a soldier in World War I who died at the age of 20. What strikes me about this poem is the line "We do not run for prize." I don't run for a prize. I run because it makes me feel better. It helps me deal with the stress of teaching in this age. Running teaches me how to grind out mile after mile and to push forward when I would rather stop. This is helpful when it is February and I don't want to get out of bed to face the day. 

The Song of the Ungirt Runners
We swing ungirded hips
And lighten’d are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
’Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Fifty Cents and a Dream

Fifty Cents and a Dream
written by Jabari Asim; illustrated by Bryan Collier
2012 (Little, Brown and Company)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Perogies and Gyoza

Having to walk his master's daughter to school was extra cruelty for a young Booker T. Washington. He carried her books and longed to learn how to read them. Unfortunately, it was against the law for a slave to receive any instruction in reading. He could only watch through the classroom window and dream about learning to read. Booker's family moved to West Virginia after the Civil War and he worked in a coal mine. His mother surprised him with a spelling book that was his gateway to learning about letters and beginning to read. Booker worked and went to class to learn more. When he was a teenager, he heard about a school called Hampton Institute which was hundreds of miles away. Distance didn't matter to him when it came to fulfilling his dream and the dream of others who would never have the same opportunity. With little money in his pocket, Booker headed west through the mountains of Virginia to reach the boarding school. His money was gone by the time he reached Richmond, and he was still 82 miles away from Hampton. Instead of giving up, Booker found work and saved until he had enough to travel to school. He finally arrived at Hampton with only fifty cents in his pocket, but his dream was on its way to being fulfilled.

Fifty Cents and a Dream reveals the struggles of young Booker T. Washington and his dream of receiving an education. It's a great example of perseverance and the power of education. The story is gripping and the illustrations are amazing watercolor collages. I appreciate the author's note which touches on some of the complexities that surround Washington's legacy. Readers of all ages will be able to understand his struggles and his inability to give up on his dream. This book would be an excellent addition to your biography collection.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Math Resource: Greg Tang Math

Math man Greg Tang has launched a new website where he has released all of his teaching materials. I checked out the site ( and there is a lot of stuff that will be helpful for math instruction. With summer coming up, this would be a good site to recommend to parents who are looking for ways to combat summer atrophy. Greg's books and games are just part of what is available. Go take a look!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

STEM Friday: From Milk to Ice Cream

From Milk to Ice Cream
written by Stacy Taus-Bolstad
2013 (Lerner Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

Lerner Books has published a terrific series of books called Start to Finish. In each book, primary age readers are guided through a process that leads to the production of an item that is familiar to them. Some of the titles include From Wheat to Bread, From Cocoa Bean to Chocolate, and From Maple Tree to Syrup. When I read such books, I usually focus on teaching lessons on sequence and procedural text. Those are great topics, but I have left out another area that these short nonfiction texts could be used to address. My second grade class is currently studying economics and this series of books would be ideal for starting discussions about economic terms like goods, consumers, and producers. The start of this book begins with the milking of the cows. So I would ask my class, what does it cost to pay for the milk that goes into ice cream? Cows have to be fed, machinery has to be purchased, and so forth. My big idea would be for students to understand that there are a lot of costs that go into the items that we purchase. Another area for study is pasteurization. Why does the milk have to be heated? What happens if it is not heated? A third possible use of From Milk to Ice Cream would be to investigate permutations which is combinations of things. In the book, photographs are shown of flavors being added to the ice cream mix. What if you served strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and cookie dough ice cream in two scoop cones? How many different combinations could you serve?

I like the text of this book because a child who is reading on a Level H or I (can you tell I'm in the middle of doing end of year reading assessments?) can handle the decoding and get a good dose of nonfiction. Trying to find solid nonfiction for these readers is not always easy, so the Start to Finish  series would be a good purchase for your classroom or school library.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

There Will Be Blood

Photo by My Disney Adventures

In my second grade class, we are studying fairy tales this week. We have discussed the usual characteristics that come up during the reading of fairy tales. There is royalty, use of the number 3, magic, themes like good vs. evil, and so forth. My students came up with a different quality today: blood. We discovered there is quite a bit of blood in the stories that we are reading. In Rapunzel, the prince falls from the tower and gouges his eyes on thorns. I have a Cinderella version where one of the stepsisters cuts off her big toe to make the slipper fit. Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger and blood flows. This isn't a new discovery on our part. There have been/are network television shows about the dark side of fairy tales, but I thought it was interesting that my students would pick up on this from our reading. And they are intrigued and not grossed out by this. So with each successive fairy tale that we read this week, we will not only looking for examples of true love, but also the amount of blood.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records

Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records
written by Seymour Simon
2012 (Chronicle Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Instantly Interruptible

Vostok Research Station - Antarctica (coldest place on Earth)

During this time you suffer from pounding headaches, painful earaches, and constant nosebleeds. Your eyes twitch and you vomit-a lot. You find yourself short of breath and feel as if you're suffocating due to the lack of oxygen. You can't sleep because of all your discomforts. 

This is the opening to Seymour Simon's description of life at the coldest place on Earth. It is indeed extreme living and Simon breaks it down so we can understand why scientists are there in the first place. Therein lies why you need to find this book. First, humans are interested in extremes. For the most part, we live a life of normal and deal with the mostly mundane. Jeff Barger Is Making His Lunch for the 160th Time This Year is not a book any of us want to read. We like to read about lives that are different and places that are different. Second, the king of children's science books (the flap says dean, but I think he is royalty) tells you why these places are important and cool. He makes it understandable, but also doesn't talk down to readers. His writing is conversational and you are on equal terms with him in the conversation. One of the messages I get when I read this book is that no matter the extreme, it isn't enough for humans not to be curious about it and want to explore. Why do people live on Tristan da Cunha, an island so remote that you may have to wait a year to receive the package that you ordered? What kind of life can thrive in a place that gets less than 10 inches of rain a year? These are curiosities that drive our thinking. Another great focus of this book is the connection between some of these extreme places and worlds beyond our planet. For example, studying the Atacama Desert in Chile may yield answers to some of our questions about life on Mars. Also included are sections on the most extreme earthquake, tsunami, and volcanic eruptions in history.

Extreme Earth Records could be used as an example of informational text writing. You could take one piece and read through it to compare to a fictional narrative. If your science class is studying biomes, this would be an excellent resource to share. I also think it would be interesting to ask a student or small group to take one section and ask them to make a chart listing what could live in this area and what could not. They would have to explain why each living thing was on the chart. Learners are interested in extremes, and this book will take them to places they might not have imagined existed.

Other reviews:
The Nonfiction Detectives

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Poetry Friday: Ode to My Mom

Check out Poetry Friday at Anastasia Suen's Poetry Blog

Today is Muffins for Mom in my classroom. My students have written poems for their mothers to read. I have included one of my student's poems in honor of Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day to my wife Traci, my mom Marge, and my mother-in-law Marilyn. I love you all. 

Ode to My Mom

You teach me
You never forget me
You check my homework
You're nice to me
Playing games is nice too
Taking us to places is fun
Dinner is always great when you make it
Washing my cuts is a big help. 
When I ask something you answer
You're the BEST!!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Mary Walker Wears the Pants

Mary Walker Wears the Pants
written by Cheryl Harness; illustrated by Carlo Molinari
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Booktalking

The custom for dress in the 1800s was for women to wear skirts and men wore pants. A woman that wore pants was considered scandalous and improper. Dr. Mary Walker did not care one bit. She wore pants because it allowed her to do her work more efficiently. Being one of the very first female physicians, she was used to causing a stir and was not about to back down. Dr. Walker wanted to help in the Northern war effort from the beginning but was refused a position as a surgeon so she worked as an unpaid volunteer in field hospitals. She was finally accepted in late 1863. Mary created her own officer's coat and trousers and carried pistols for protection. She went behind enemy lines several times to care for wounded soldiers and ended up in a prisoner of war camp for four months in 1864. Following her release from the camp, Mary continued serving by caring for female prisoners and war orphans until the end of the war. She received a Medal of Honor in 1866 for her war service and spent the rest of her life working for dress reform and women's rights.

Mary Walker Wears the Pants is a picture book biography that sheds light on 19th century culture in the United States and on the women's movement. Dr. Walker is an interesting historical figure who could be part of a unit on women's rights. This book would make for a good pairing with 2012 biography Heart on Fire which was about Susan B. Anthony.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Poetry Friday: A Rhyming Poem

Check out the Poetry Friday Roundup at Growing Wild

Wayne Leonard is a teacher at my school. He is also a talented actor, director, musician, and all-around great guy. One of our classes presented a poetry challenge to him and he responded with this video:

STEM Friday: On Beyond Bugs! (iPad app)

On Beyond Bugs!
2013 (Oceanhouse Media)
Source: App provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more links

The Cat in the Hat is here to lay some rhyming bug knowledge on preschoolers and K-2 students. He finds Dick and Sally having a picnic which is the perfect opportunity for a lesson on insects. The Cat starts off with general information about insect bodies. Readers can touch on each one and learn their names. We get to see text features like labels and diagrams in learning about the three body parts of insects. Other topics protection devices like camouflage and coloring are explored. One of the coolest pieces of information deals with the spittlebug which spits bubbles to cover itself from hungry predators. This is a different definition of "spitting image". Dick and Sally learn about other fascinating creatures such as the honeybee and the ant. A groovy waggle dance from a honeybee is a highlight of this app. The story concludes with more information about insects like fireflies and butterflies.

On Beyond Bugs! is an engaging app for youngsters who do not read or are just beginning to learn. Older readers probably already have the knowledge that is presented in the app and would not be as intrigued. This app is a great introduction to the world of insects. There are not a ton of bells and whistles which I think is actually a good thing. That allows readers to focus on the information and not so much on playing. Any opportunity that you have to provide a preschooler with nonfiction is great. On Beyond Bugs! is a chance to build background knowledge that will be needed later.