Monday, December 8, 2014

Taking a Break

Life is a little crazy at the moment. I expect to be back in the new year with an improved blog. I hope you have a great holiday season. See you in 2015!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where's the Party?

Where's the Party?
copyright 2014 Jeff Barger

We forgot to set the alarm!
We're more than fashionably late.
We struggled through the ground,
And we're in a lonely state.

The ground was so warm.
We didn't want to leave.
Now the air is cold,
For summer we will grieve.

How long will we be here,
To hang by the last root?
We're hoping to catch a glimpse,
Of the fat guy in the red suit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi
2014 (KO Kids Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Two and One were best friends. Together they danced and sang. Their favorite saying was "One, Two, I'll count on you- t'il the end we'll be best friends."  All was well until Three enticed One to join the odd numbers and play a different way. Two asked to play, but Three refused, stating "We're playing Odds Only right now." Two was heartbroken. The Even numbers offered solace but also vowed to get even with the Odds. Five, Seven, and Nine took offense and fired retorts back at the Evens. Zero stayed on the sideline and wondered why it was necessary to have a number battle. She consoled Two and challenged her to think in a different way. Two took this advice and bravely addressed her peers. A happy ending with dancing ensued.

Kathryn Otoshi's trilogy of number books (Zero, One, Two) are extremely clever stories about celebrating differences, standing up to bullies, and treasuring friendship. These are issues that are at the heart of the elementary school experience. Students need to learn that working together is much better than being alone. Doesn't it take two to tango? I will end up buying this set of books and putting them on the shelf that is beside my desk. Those are the books that I use several times a year.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog

Tuesday Tucks Me In
written by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter
photographs by Dan Dion
2014 (Roaring Brook Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Look at that cover. How in the world was I going to pass this book up? Tuesday is a service dog for Luis Montalvan, a veteran of the Iraq War. The book is told from Tuesday's point of view. He helps Luis navigate through the day. Luis has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Luis suffers from nightmares both day and night. Tuesday walks beside Luis to help him walk along the streets of Brooklyn. He helps calm Luis's nerves when there are a lot of people around. Walking down stairs is challenging for Luis as he has difficulty with his balance. Grabbing Tuesday's handle keeps him upright. It's a wonderful relationship between man and beast.

This is a compelling story, but the star of the book is the photographs. Children will love seeing Tuesday with a toothbrush in his mouth or attempting to slurp an ice cream cone. I like the attention this book will bring to service dogs. Before Tuesday Tucks Me In, my experience with service dogs in children's literature was through dry informational texts. This book will also allow young readers to begin to understand that war affects more than the body. Tuesday Tucks Me In celebrates the bond between a service dog and a veteran.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dear Panda

Dear Panda
written and illustrated by Miriam Latimer
2014 (Owlkids Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Florence was a newbie to her neighborhood. The best part of the move was that the house was located next to a zoo. When she waved out her window, a friendly panda waved back. The mood changed when a letter came from Florence's new teacher. Miss Brook seemed plenty friendly, but having to stand up and talk in front of her new class was not exciting to Florence. She wondered if she would make any friends. How to quell her fears? Write a letter to the friendly panda out her window. Of course! After exchanging letters, Flo and Panda met outside her door. Both friends liked climbing, swimming, and hide and seek. Hula hooping was not Panda's strong suit. With Panda in tow as her friend, Florence confided that she was very nervous about starting in her new school. Panda felt like he could help her make human friends and sure enough, panda power saves the day.

My student friends in kindergarten loved this book! It is adorable with a universal message about connecting with others. The illustrations are a big draw (pun intended) with this book. It would also make a great bedtime story. If you teach a unit on friendship, find Dear Panda and add it to your unit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pig and Small

Pig and Small
written and illustrated by Alex Latimer
2013 (Peachtree)
Source: Orange County Public Library

One morning Pig noticed a squeaking sound coming from his nose. It continued to squeak throughout the day. Being a bright pig, he got a medical book and looked up Squeaky Nose Syndrome. With no mention of SNS, he squinted and looked down his snout. On the tip of his nose was a tiny squeaking bug. It was a friendly bug, so Pig tried to be accommodating. Riding a tandem bike was not much fun because Pig did all of the pedaling. Bug showed his appreciation for Pig's pedaling by baking a wee cake that Pig swallowed easily and without noticing the fine decorations by Bug. Pig and Bug wanted desperately to be friends, but their differences kept getting in the way. It wasn't until a fortuitous wind blew a newspaper into Pig's snout that these creatures great and small found a way to ignite their friendship despite the chasm of size.

Being a good friend is high on the issue list of elementary school students. Like adults, students tend to cloister together in like-minded groups. Books like Pig and Small can help students understand that they can be friends with anyone. Ideas like Mix It Up at Lunch Day can help in this endeavor as well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sydney and Simon: Full Steam Ahead!

Sydney and Simon: Full Steam Ahead!
written by Paul A. Reynolds; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Sydney and Simon are an intrepid pair of twin mice who are preparing for a flower show. They have a high hopes for first place but a big problem blooms when a heat wave dries up the soil in their window box. Why can't they just pour water in the box? Their apartment window is stuck and not budging. Time for the wonder twins to get STEAMed (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Arts, and Math) up. Sydney starts by drawing pictures of the wilting flowers and concentrating on creating a hypothesis for the stuck window. Simon has his tablet focused on finding solutions. With the help of their mom, the twins start thinking about water vapor and an investigation is launched. In the process of trying to create a watering device for a small space, Sydney and Simon discover a leaky faucet that leads to an investigation of water use. The mice use many resources including their science teacher and Uncle Rusty, who works for the water department, to learn more about wasted water.

One of the great things about this book is how readers get to see two characters constantly thinking and being determined to solve problems. There's no giving up with these two mice. Sydney and Simon's actions will ring true with young readers because they are excited about every discovery and this is how kids react as well. Watching kids at recess or with a science experiment will teach you this. I love how all of STEAM is woven into the story without it becoming stilted and boring. The artwork is full of bright colors which makes this a fun read. I hope the Reynolds brothers will bring us more Sydney and Simon adventures because we need kids to get STEAMed up!

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

There are 22 terrific K-2 life science lessons in this book. These lessons pair up great picture books that you can use to teach life science. The activities will bring more depth to your science teaching and allow you to use more picture books in your teaching.

Twin mice Sydney and Simon love to learn. They are growing flowers for the upcoming flower show, but a stuck window is keeping them from watering the flowers in their apartment window box. What to do? Use the powers of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) to solve problems. Young readers will enjoy this early reader chapter book from Paul and Peter Reynolds.

Gaston is a bulldog in a family of toy poodles. Despite the differences, Gaston works hard to fit in with his family. He tries to drink water daintily and walk with the proper steps. One day, his family meets a family of bulldogs that also have a family member that is a little different. If you are looking for a book that celebrates diversity, this is a good one that has humor and heart.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2

Perfect Pairs
written by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
2014 (Stenhouse)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are two kinds of professional books. One kind stays on the shelf and is in pristine condition because it is rarely opened. The other kind of professional book looks battered. It has a cover that is worn from being placed daily in your book bag. There are several pages that are dog-eared and sticky notes abound. Perfect Pairs definitely belongs in the latter category. In the text, two picture books are the anchor for each life science lesson. For example, Plantzilla and A Seed is Sleepy are the featured books for a second grade lesson titled How Plants Change as They Grow. I love how this book is designed. The authors lay out each lesson with easy to follow steps. First off,  two picture books are briefly summarized. A wonder statement, accompanied by a learning goal, follows the two summaries. Being curious and knowing where you're going are important in a lesson. The next steps in the lesson are Engaging Students and Exploring with Students. In the changing plants lesson, students play concentration with seed and plant cards made from A Seed is Sleepy. One of the purposes of playing the game is to look for connections between the cards. From there, students explore by reading both books and comparing real plants with the fictional Plantzilla. The teaching steps are laid out for you, but it doesn't strike me as too didactic. There are places for students to turn and talk and to use a chart for comparing. These are important skills for a second grader to practice and the steps keep the lesson engaging as opposed to a talky 15-20 minute mini-lesson. The following step ties everything together by Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions. In this lesson students write a letter to a character in Plantzilla comparing fictional and real plant changes. They also draw pictures of plant changes and address a set of True/False statements. Each Perfect Pairs lesson will take about a week to complete if you have 30-45 minutes for science each day. There are 7 lessons in kindergarten, 8 lessons in first grade, and 7 lessons in second grade, but you can take lessons from any of these grade levels and tweak them to fit your grade level. These lessons are thoughtful and engaging. There's no fluff here but instead meaty science teaching and learning.

I use and like Teachers Pay Teachers, but some of their lessons are rather thin because it takes a lot of time to construct lessons with deep learning. When you get a copy of Perfect Pairs, you save time because you have 22 lessons from two highly skilled educators in Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley that will challenge your students to really dig into life science. Encourage your media center specialist or principal to purchase this book. Check out the website for more reproducibles related to the book.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Old Manhattan Has Some Farms

Old Manhattan Has Some Farms
written by Susan Lendroth; illustrated by Kate Endle
2014 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I'm not a very good singer. I'm not awful, but I'm not great either. But I don't care. I enjoy singing a song and my students will sing right with me. This year we've sung songs about continents and insects and had a good time. Now I have another song to add to our repertoire. Old Manhattan Has Some Farms is a cheery and clever take on Old MacDonald that features gardens grown in urban areas. Look at these lyrics for Chicago:

Old Chicago has some roofs,
And on those roofs are beds of herbs,
With some basil here and some mint sprigs there-
Pick some chives, add some dill, string them by our windowsill. 
Old Chicago has some roofs,

How much fun will it be to sing this song and check out the vocabulary! There's some sneaky teaching going on here. Several North American cities (Atlanta, New York City, Seattle, Toronto) are highlighted with the focus on different ways you can garden in an urban setting. For example, in Seattle a salad is created with the use of a heat lamp and hydroponics. Beehives, within site of the CN Tower in Toronto, yield delicious honey for spreading on bread. The penultimate setting is the White House where three compost bins deliver rich soil for their gardens. The last section encourages readers to create their own garden. 

The illustrations in this book will charm your socks and shoes off. Bright colors and cityscapes make for fun viewing. The back matter gives more information about each of the farming techniques in the book and how to adapt the song to your city's name. That's a great lesson waiting to happen. Warm up your singing voice and your gardening gloves and get ready to plant!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Two new Dawn Cusick titles

Animals That Make Me Say Wow!
written by Dawn Cusick
2014 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Animals That Make Me Say Ouch!
written by Dawn Cusick
2014 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Think about a mall food court. You walk by the Japanese restaurant and there is someone in the front who is handing out samples. I eat one of these samples and invariable order from that restaurant. The taste of the honey mustard chicken seals the deal for me. So how does this connect to informational text? I think informational text can be like these pieces of chicken. You get one bite and you want more. It leads to obsessions over dinosaurs or reptiles. You know the kid. The one who knows every species of a particular animal and even has his or her birthday party with this animal as the theme. Where does the obsession start? With books like Animals That Make Me Say Wow! and Animals That Make Me Say Ouch!. These books share a similar format. There are three chapters that highlight amazing animal facts in three different areas. In Wow!, we get facts about how animals use adaptations in foraging for food, defending themselves, and how they use their bodies to complete different tasks. Hummingbirds have space in their skulls to store part of their long tongues. That's efficient! Snails have sharp tongues that can scrape food. Walruses use their whiskers to sense movement in the water by possible predators or prey. With excellent photographs from the archives of the National Wildlife Federation, these are books that kids flip through and make loud noises as they share the book with the growing group around them. I know this because I teach second grade and see it every day. In Ouch!, readers learn how animals use their anatomies to bring the pain to prey, defend themselves from predators, and adapt to the rough environment around them. There is a fabulous picture on page 43 that shows a battle between male narwhals. They fight with their tusks which are actually a canine tooth that grows from six to nine feet. Pangolins roll into a ball making it difficult for lions to bite through their keratin scales.

The animal world is amazing and there is so much that we still don't know. How are we going to learn? By inspiring the next generation of biologists and other animal watchers through books like this series. Between books and museums, that is how it all gets started.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season

Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season
written by Jessie Haas; illustrated by Alison Friend
2014 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Preview copy provided by the publisher

It's fall and Bramble the horse feels great. The air smells like apples and is filled with bright colors. Bramble is enjoying prancing around and pretending to be scared at every loud noise. Her owner, Maggie, comes home from school and saddles her up for a ride around the neighborhood. Unfortunately all of Bramble's prancing makes Maggie nervous and the ride gets cut short. As they walk back home, they pass Mr. Dingle's front yard and this time Bramble is actually scared. A scarecrow stands in the yard. Maggie gently explains that there is nothing to fear. She leads Bramble into the yard and shows her the scarecrow. The thing is not moving which puzzles Bramble. What she finds out is that a scarecrow is not scary at all and it tastes good too.

With Spooky Season, Maggie and Bramble have now appeared in three terrific chapter books for beginning readers. Each book features three or four connected short stories that are accessible and interesting for early readers and especially those who are horse lovers. Maggie is a winning character who is patient with her charge Bramble. She is responsible and follows through on solving her problems instead of complaining and giving up. One great example is in chapter two of Spooky Season.  Bramble hears a big sound behind her and throws Maggie. As she sits on the ground, Maggie has to decide whether or not to get back up on Bramble. She does get back up, but it takes a little time. This is a nice touch because it shows young readers that you can be a little afraid as you face your fears. Readers will be able to easily connect to Maggie as they have to be patient with the many new things in their lives as well. They will also relate to Bramble, who likes to be contrary until she feels comfortable with a situation. This fits beginning readers to a T. They can be a bit squirrelly on occasion too.

Finding good early chapter books is not easy, but it is a necessary task for classroom teachers. Readers eager to try out chapter books will find the Maggie and Bramble series a great place to start.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Get the Scoop on Animal Puke!

Get the Scoop on Animal Puke!
written by Dawn Cusick
2014 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One of the most visceral memories from my childhood is the smell of the pellets that were poured on any vomit that was released by a fellow student. You forget many things, but it's not hard to recall incidents related to vomit. I was prone to carsickness as a kid and I once ruined my sister's Tiger Beat magazine. Shaun Cassidy's feathered hair took a beating. We know that our gut reaction to vomit is painful, but what you may not realize is how useful it can be. Need to defend yourself? If you are a northern fulmar bird, your projectile vomit keeps your species alive. Only laying one egg a year, these birds need this defense to protect their future. Page 19 has a fabulous photograph of this hurling bird in action. You and I can put a lock on our refrigerator. The turkey vulture does not have this luxury. Instead it will vomit on animals that try to take its food away. It's bad to get thrown up on by any animal, but a vulture? That's got to be particularly heinous. Insects vomit to deter predators. Did you know that insects vomit? Hyenas roll in their vomit to disguise their scent in order to surprise prey. They are working hard for their food! And we complain if the drive-thru line at Bojangles is too long. Get the Scoop on Animal Puke! makes you think of vomit in a whole different light. There is plenty of terrific science here. Pages 36-37 contain an informative discussion of why animals chew their cud. You may be thinking that the subject matter will be too distasteful for readers. I will argue that they will be fascinated. My wife and youngest daughter thought the facts that I hurled at them were very interesting. One of my favorite sections is located on pages 34 and 35. Plants release chemicals when insects and spiders chew and spit on them. These chemicals send a signal to insect and spider predators to come on by for a free meal. Plants fighting back. You can't make this stuff up! Students will love this book. The photographs are fantastic and will stop readers in their tracks. I can't wait to leave this book in our nonfiction basket tomorrow.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Annika Riz, Math Whiz

Annika Riz, Math Whiz
written by Claudia Mills; pictures by Rob Shepperson
2014 (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Third grader Annika Riz loves math like other kids love video games. She even counts down the minutes until math class begins. With a father who teaches math and a mother who is a tax accountant, it's not surprising. Magnetic equations adorn the refrigerator. In the kitchen are salt and pepper shakers shaped like numerals. This is a serious number crunching family. On this particular day, Annika's teacher presents her with an appealing challenge. A citywide sudoku challenge for elementary school students is being hosted by the public library. The student with the correct answer in the fastest time will be the winner. Annika has a week to compete. Normally, a math challenge like this would keep all of Annika's attention, but this week is different. The annual Franklin School carnival is being held on Saturday. This leads to some errant cookie baking by Annika and her friends during the week leading up to the carnival. As Annika practices during the week, interesting questions develop. She wonders why her classmates don't like math as much as she does. When she finds out the result of the contest while attending the carnival, it's a bittersweet conclusion to her efforts. This is one big reason why I like this series of books. There are loose ends here as well as in the previous book, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. Like real life, there are questions that linger and are not neatly answered. I also like the focus on math. Every year when we dismiss students for the year, what do we encourage them to do? Read over the summer! What about math? Shouldn't students be working on this as well? How often do we encourage new parents to do math with their young children? It's not that reading isn't important, but let's not push math to the side. With role models like Annika Riz, hopefully it will be full STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Design, Math) ahead!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds

Eat Your Science Homework
written by Ann McCallum; illustrated by Leeza Hernandez
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Jeff, have you eaten your homework yet?" I don't believe my mother ever said those words. That's a shame, because I would have enjoyed following the recipes in this book more than some of the book reports and dioramas (Old school pain) I labored over. Starting off each chapter is a brief overview of the science behind the recipe that follows. The section titled "Atomic Popcorn Balls" begins with a lesson on molecules- units of two or more atoms. Inside each atom is a nucleus with protons and neutrons. Elements are composed of only one type of atom. Think about water. You have two hydrogen atoms along with one oxygen atom. Now think about using food coloring along with marshmallow coated popcorn to illustrate this scientific fact. I think popcorn is an excellent conduit for teaching about atoms. Take some toothpicks and connect different color pieces of popcorn and you have a fun model of a molecule.

Want to illustrate miscible and immiscible (liquids that can and cannot be combined) and density? Create a density dressing! How about teaching chemical processes like oxidation? You need to make Invisible Ink Snack Pockets. Take pizza dough and put toppings on top. Fold over the dough and spread a paste, made of baking soda, sugar, and water, over the dough. Then you can write a message on the dough. When you bake the pockets, your message will appear!

Eat Your Science Homework is a fun way to teach scientific processes. If you are looking for ways to keep your child's mind sharp during a long weekend or the summer, this would be a great resource.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker
written by Laurie Ann Thompson
2014 (Simon and Schuster)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's easy to criticize the generation that comes after you. I have found myself veering into "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!" territory and I haven't even hit a half century on this earth yet. You might think that teenagers are just a bunch of texting and video game playing zombies occasionally revved up by an energy drink. You would be wrong. I know plenty of teens, including one in my house, who work their tails off and are great people. They try to spread kindness and want this planet to be a better place. Most of them are also getting prepared for college and one of the things they should do is show an interest in volunteering in their community and the world beyond. One of the ways you could help such a student is to find a copy of Be a Changemaker. Laurie Ann Thompson has created a great guide for young people (and old geezers like me!) who want to take up a cause and make a difference. Each chapter guides the reader as to how they can get started. I recommend viewing the table of contents on this link so you can see how Thompson covers all of the bases and then some. There are chapters on doing research, running meetings, budgeting, using social media, and planning events. One of the best parts of this book is the profile of a successful venture in each chapter. For example, the chapter on meetings features a group of young women in Massachusetts who want to improve their neighborhood. Young people will appreciate these examples of peers who have been successful in their social ventures.

Be a Changemaker is a unique and important book. It provides the tools needed for young people who are seeking to be a positive influence. If you are a middle or high school teacher that sponsors a club, you will want your students to have access to this book. A group that puts together a food drive or a car wash to raise money for a charity will find these chapters invaluable. My wife teaches high school social studies and I'm giving her my copy of the book. Find a group and help them become changemakers.

Visit the other blogs that are part of this tour:
*Thanks to Sue Heavenrich for the cut and paste!

Tues, Sept 9 ~ at Girl Scout Leader 101 
Wed, Sept 10 ~ at Unleashing Readers 
Thurs, Sept 11 ~ at Teen Librarian Toolbox
Fri, Sept 12 ~ at The Nonfiction Detectives
   and Kirby's Lane   
Sat, Sept 13 ~ at The Styling Librarian  
Mon, Sept 15 ~ at NC Teacher Stuff   
Tues, Sept 16 ~ at The Hiding Spot 
Wed, Sept 17 ~ at Kid Lit Frenzy   
Thurs, Sept 18 ~ at GreenBeanTeenQueen   
Sat. Sept 20  ~ at Elizabeth O. Dulemba  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Boy on the Page

The Boy on the Page
written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

How much time do you spend on your phone? How much time do you spend in lines? If you are like me, probably way too much time and not enough time on important things like family and friends. Do we stop often enough and ask ourselves, "Why are we here?" The Boy on the Page asks himself this question and I'm glad he did. One day the boy finds that he has landed on the page of a book. Initially alone, he sees a world beginning to appear around him. As it grows, he does too, but he is troubled as to why he is there. He has experiences like riding a horse and catching a fish. The boy paints, plays an instrument, and saves an animal. Eventually he falls in love and sees the world through the eyes of his child. Having aged and experienced much more, the boy is now an older man but is still wondering why he landed on the page. In his search for an answer, he leaps off the page. What happens next surprises him and provides the answer he is looking for.

Peter Carnavas, an Australian author/illustrator, is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Like his previous book, The Children Who Loved Books, Carnavas gives readers a sweet story with plenty of depth packed in two page spreads. My wife, a high school teacher, read this book last night and remarked on how lovely it was. With the question that is at the heart of the story, I think you could read this book to people of all ages and have them think about who they have influenced. I think young readers will connect and think about all of the people in their lives. Older readers may need to reach for a Kleenex if they're not careful. One of my favorite books of the year.

Here is a video of a song Peter Carnavas wrote that is based on the book. Your students will enjoy listening to this.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bob is a Unicorn

Bob is a Unicorn
written and illustrated by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Bob's friends think he is having an identity crisis. Bob thinks he is a unicorn. Bob's friends think differently. Marvin, a moose, can't tell that he is a unicorn. Ted, a polar bear, doesn't realize what is on Bob's head. Margo the rabbit thinks Bob is just being silly. Other animals in the neighborhood are either too busy, too old, or too important to play with Bob or realize that he really is a unicorn. It's not until Bob meets a like-minded fairy princess that he finds someone who thinks he is a unicorn.

Bob is a Unicorn is a story that runs strictly on a dialogue between Bob and his friends. Bob's parts are in a white font and his friends' in a black font. This is very different than the standard format of a picture book. This was a bit of a challenge for the kindergarten class that I share these books with, but their teacher was pleased about having something different and wants to read it again. I like books that show us something we haven't seen before or very often. Bob is a Unicorn is a great book to share with preschool or kindergarten students when you want to talk about using your imagination or being yourself. It's easy to follow the standard paths, but much more difficult to do what Bob does which is to stick to your dreams even though others want to "tut-tut" you along the way. Take a break from convention and imagine yourself as a unicorn or whatever floats your boat. Bob the Unicorn would approve.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Hank Has a Dream

Hank Has a Dream
written and illustrated by Rebecca Dudley
2014 (Peter Pauper Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On the back flap of this book, it states that Rebecca Dudley is a builder, creator, photographer, architect and artist. I wouldn't be surprised if she climbs mountains and makes a mean lasagna or can do anything else in this world. When you look at the artwork for Hank Has a Dream, you're just amazed at all of Dudley's handiwork. She made everything in the illustrations. Check out the dirigible in the picture below.

Look at the hummingbird in the nest above. The visuals are terrific, but don't overlook a sweet story where Hank recalls his dream for his hummingbird friend. In the dream, Hank is flying over different settings. He finds a path and follows it to the sea. Later, in his dirigible, Hank flies through the clouds and gently floats back down to earth. The final page of the story is a lesson in friendship and how to include others.

Hank Has a Dream would be a great text to promote imagination and spur young writers and illustrators to share their dreams. Teachers can use this book to teach sequence and talk about being a friend. It would be fun to have students read this book and then write about their dreams. Hank Has a Dream is amazing visually, but with a story that teaches a sweet lesson on friendship.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nonfiction Minute Next Week

The good folks at iNK(Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) are rolling out the Nonfiction Minute next week. Different authors will be presenting a short selection for students to read each day. Here is the line-up for the first week:

9/8  How to Interview an Historic Building by Andrea Warren --
You will be amazed at how willing a building is to communicate with Andrea Warren.
9/9 What Is a Light Year? by David M. Schwartz 
Math maven David Schwartz is going to throw some pretty big numbers at you.
9/10 Something's Rotten in Rome by Sarah Albee --
Pee-ew!  There's something really smelly going on in Ancient Rome and Sarah Albee is going to tell you how to make an equally big stink .
9/11 September 11, 2001, a poem for young readers by Vicki Cobb--
Scientist Vicki Cobb turns to poetry to share her grief over the 9/11 attacks.
9/12 Hard Crackers in Hard Times by Jim Whiting--
Jim Whiting will explain why tens of thousands of men have appreciated the chance to eat maggot-filled crackers.

This is going to be a terrific resource for students, teachers, and parents. Check it out and also think about supporting this worthwhile effort financially by going to their Indiegogo site

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Busy Trucks on the Go

Busy Trucks on the Go
written by Eric Ode; illustrated by Kent Culotta
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday on Facebook for more book reviews.

Concrete mixer roars and rumbles. See his drum? It turns and tumbles. Soon he opens up his spout. All the concrete rushes out.

Young kids like books about vehicles that are larger than cars. They also like fun rhyming books. Put the two together and you will have an enjoyable read aloud book for preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Busy Trucks on the Go follows a dad and his son as they observe the large vehicles in and around their city. Each two page spread shows one or more vehicles performing a task. Eric Ode, with his text, and Kent Culotta, with a friendly mixture of primary and pastel colors, take great care to show readers the job each vehicle is designed to do. You could draw a mini-circle map for each mode of transportation and write down what they are doing. This is much more appealing to beginning readers than the traditional informational text that would show photographs accompanied by a brief piece of text. Another neat trick that Culotta employs is using the background to give clues about the seasonal setting. You could show these spreads to students and ask them which season is the setting. Busy Trucks on the Go would also be good for shared reading as students anticipate the rhymes.

If I was working with a preschool or kindergarten class, I would make a list of some of the vehicles in the book and create an anticipation chart for use before reading. I would ask what they knew beforehand, and maybe build a little background knowledge before reading. After reading, students could draw and write about their favorite mode of transportation. Many preK and kindergarten classes employ a transportation unit, so finding a copy of Busy Trucks on the Go would fit nicely into those lesson plans.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
written by Phyllis Root; illustrated by Betsy Bowen
2014 (University of Minnesota Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Once native prairies covered almost forty percent of the United States. Less than one percent of that native prairie remains, making prairie one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. 

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
is a beautifully illustrated book with a distinct purpose, which is to encourage readers to bring back pieces of the prairie by planting native plants. The prairie ecosystem is in trouble as a map in the back matter clearly shows. By taking away pieces of the ecosystem, we are destroying the entire thing. If you don't have land for the goldenrod plant, then you don't have a place for goldenrod soldier beetles. If you don't have goldenrod soldier beetles, you won't have the Great Plains toad. So what can we do? Plant coneflowers and Joe Pye weed so prairie butterflies can bounce around and eat. Plant bottle gentian, milkweed and hairy mountain mint so birds can build nests on the hidden ground and prairie skinks have cover for safety. One of the big ideas of Plant a Pocket of Prairie is how all living things are dependent upon each other. By providing more space for these plants to grow, we are benefiting all kinds of animals.

In the Classroom
You can certainly use this book for teaching about ecosystems and the interdependence of all living things. Students would be encouraged to garden after reading so you can find or create a flower bed and observe this relationship up close. I think Plant a Pocket of Prairie would be a great nonfiction text for teaching the skill of cause and effect. Learning how one thing can lead to another will be made easier by the numerous examples in the text. Think of it as a nonfiction fiction equivalent of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. One more possibility is using this book to jump start your students' desire to learn about their own native plants and animals.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie is an excellent book to showcase the need to take care of our ecosystems and to excite students about planting native plants to create little pieces of what once was a vast area of wildlife.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lucha Lizards: Chameleon Cage Match!

Lucha Lizards: Chameleon Cage Match!
written by Donald Lemke; illustrated by Chris Eliopoulous
2013 (Stone Arch)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more reviews.

There are books that don't receive sterling reviews but are worn out by young readers. Sometimes reviewers just don't get the joke. Lucha Lizards is one such book. In this graphic novel, a town of lizards love to wrestle. Lucha libre is a form of wrestling where wrestlers wear colorful masks. Most of the lizards in Luchaville grapple. The only exception is Little Leon, a chameleon who likes to hide at the mere mention of wrestling. All is well until a giant komodo dragon comes to town. He challenges all of the lizards and easily defeats each opponent. What's cool about this book is through the dialogue you learn facts about reptiles. On page 7, there is a hilarious "tale of the tape" between a lizard and an amphibian. When everything seems lost in Luchaville, Little Leon hides his way to defeating King Komodo and capturing the belt.

I asked my fourth grade daughter about this book and she said it was funny. I grew up watching professional wrestling so I thought it was funny too. It would be a good assignment to hand this book to a reader and ask them to pick out several facts about reptiles. There is also great banter between the lizards and King Komodo that could be used for a lesson on synonyms. We need more mash-ups like Lucha Lizards to engage readers and spice up the serious world of nonfiction.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

From Sea to Salt

From Sea to Salt
written by Robin Nelson
2004 (Lerner Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book titles.

If you work in a K-2 classroom, your students will probably write a procedural text at some time during the year.You will also teach sequence in reader's workshop. Books like From Sea to Salt can help with both tasks. What is cool about this book is that the subject is a very common item that students (and many adults) have no idea how it is produced. Seriously, can you tell me how the salt that you have in that shaker came to rest in the container with the girl and the umbrella? Me neither. It starts with seawater. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind the salt. Spraying water on the salt will create brine which is pumped out by a pipe. The brine is transported to a machine that dries up some of the water. What is left is salt crystals and water that is called slurry. The slurry is then taken to a dryer that doesn't hold wandering socks, but instead takes out the water from the slurry. Next the salt crystals are screened into large and small crystals. The small ones are the kind that you use on your food. These small crystals are put into the cylinder container and shipped to your local grocer.

From Sea to Salt isn't flashy, but it is highly effective. Young readers can read it and learn about how to write a procedural text and practice recognizing sequence. These are skills that they will need to use often. There are other books in the Start to Finish series that would be worth investigating.

Monday, August 11, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Check out the books at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

Last Week

Matilda's Cat is a sweet story that illustrates the relationship between a little girl and her cat. Since it's Emily Gravett, it has a clever twist. There need to be more Emily Gravett units in K-1. Just my two cents.

I'm about halfway through this book. What has been most interesting to me so far is the comparison of Japanese and American teaching methods. The Japanese teachers adopted methods that were created in America, but so far not widely adopted here. The key to improving our public schools is improving our corps of teachers. Building a Better Teacher can help in that effort.

If you are interested in trying to write a children's book, or if you teach writing, then you will find this book to be a good resource. The character bible section is particularly helpful.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Matilda's Cat

Matilda's Cat
written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
2012 (Simon and Schuster Books)
Source: Orange County Library

You can count on Emily Gravett to have a clever take and a twist or two in her picture books. Matilda's Cat fits the bill. Matilda tries to read her cat's mind and find out what she may be interested in doing. Maybe she wants to play with wool. The cat does not. How about a two story box house? Not interested. Matilda goes through a series of activities in order to engage her feline friend. What she ends up doing is alternately boring or frightening the cat. In the end, we find out that all the cat wants to be with Matilda herself. This is a sweet book that celebrates the relationship between pets and their humans. The illustrations, in the usual Gravett style, are adorable. Young readers will love this book and want to talk about what they do with their pets. That opens the floor to a fun writing activity about pets. I am reaching here, but I also think this story would also be a good metaphor for parenting. All the cat wants to do is to be with Matilda. Instead of involving our kids in a gazillion activities, perhaps all they want is to spend some time with us. Just a thought.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Free iPad app: Zap Zap Fractions

Zap Zap Fractions
by Wei Chong
2014 (Visual Math Studio)
iPad app
Price: FREE!!!!!

If you know a child that is just beginning to learn about fractions, you will want to check out Zap Zap Fractions. First of all, it's free. No harm to downloading it and giving it a try. You will want to go through the tutorial first. Important topics like numerators and denominators will be explained. One aspect of Zap Zap that I really appreciate is the use of number lines. They abound in this app. It's important that students are able to work with a number line. Once you finish with the tutorial, it's time to play the game. You are an alien in a spaceship that is facing oncoming asteroids. In order to shoot the asteroids, you have to answer questions about fractions correctly. You have to survive one minute of answering questions. Miss a question and you will need to start over again. It's fun to play and a little addictive. Try it out!

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? July 28th edition

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

What I'm Reading

The Scraps Book is a behind-the-scenes look at how Lois Ehlert creates her wonderful books. There are some excellent spreads in this book that will inspire budding writers of all ages.

Lily the Unicorn is a delightful character who loves life. Her challenge comes from Roger the Penguin who is not fond of many things. This would be a terrific book to use at the beginning of the year for students who are having a hard time transitioning back to school.

Articles that everyone should read

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? - Common Core standards are not the problem!

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash A Generation of Genuises - Article from Wired magazine about a dedicated teacher in Mexico who has found a better way of teaching.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
2014 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

If you make a list of favorite authors in K-1, Lois Ehlert will be on that list. She has provided the illustrations for classics like Color Zoo, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and Leaf Man. Lois Ehlert is primary school cool and The Scraps Book is her coolest book yet. Ehlert invites readers to learn about the life of an artist. What inspires her? How does she approach her work? These and many other questions are answered. The first section of the book focuses on her beginnings as an artist. Her parents (There's a lovely photo of them in the book.) made things and this inspired her. Lois's mom sewed and shared scissors and fabric with her daughter. Lois's dad shared his workshop and taught her how to paint, saw, and pound nails. What a terrific model for our parents today. Share with your kids the things that you are passionate about. In the following section, Ehlert drops a fantastic quote that I may post in my classroom. In talking about her early adult life as an artist, she explains that she created a lot of art but it wasn't for books. Here is the money quote: "An egg in the nest doesn't become a bird overnight." The rest of the book is used to show the writing and illustrating process. There is a two page spread where Ehlert shows how she sketched out her book Feathers For Lunch. Absolutely fabulous! You get to see how she planned out all 32 pages. Other pages feature the every-day items she uses in her illustrations. This will inspire young illustrators to create their own books.

The Scraps Book, for me, is a celebration of the work of a treasured author/illustrator. Lois Ehlert is very giving in that she shares so much information that will create light bulbs over our heads. Ideas abound, with detailed notes, in this book, yet it is a just right text for young readers. I would share this book near the beginning of the year as you roll out Writer's Workshop. It will jump start the tools that budding author/illustrators use in creating their masterpieces.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Great Teaching in Mexico

Here is another article, about great teaching, that Roberta from Growing Science recommended. Again, someone is daring to be different and trying to rise above the tide of mediocrity that we are currently swimming against. This comes from Wired Magazine and features teacher Sergio Juarez Correa and the terrific work he is doing.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Do Americans Stink at Math?: Great NYT article

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? is a terrific piece penned by Elizabeth Green. Here's a great summary of the article from a Facebook friend of mine:

Phenomenal article. Japanese math skills moving ahead of our own, due in large part to teaching methods developed in America, but which we have failed to implement. Allowing teachers to observe one another, open discussion of teaching techniques. Bringing parents up to speed along with students. Teaching the "why" instead of just how to get the answer. A great read!

Elizabeth Green has a book, Building a Better Teacher, that will be published on August 4th. The article is an excerpt from the book. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lily the Unicorn

Lily the Unicorn
written and illustrated by Dallas Clayton
2014 (Harper)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It's time for classroom teachers to start thinking about the start of the upcoming year. Part of that process is picking out books to share in the first week of class where everyone is getting to know each other and being brave in a new classroom. To allay the fears of possible wailers in the hallway (not the Wailers who played with Bob Marley, but the weepers and gnashers of teeth who aren't quite ready to come back to school yet. Teachers included.), I bring you Lily the Unicorn. Lily is the being that we all need in our lives. She is super positive and loves living a life that explores and finds joy in everything. She likes to make things with the help of her expanded imagination. Dallas Clayton does a fantastic job of showcasing this by filling two pages with several labeled items that Lily has made. The colors are a match for Lily's exuberance. She also likes making music and making a mess. But her favorite thing is making friends. She meets Roger, who is a tough nut to crack. He is a penguin who doesn't like very much. The Antarctic (Can't say polar since he's a penguin.) opposite of Lily. She plans adventures to help Roger loosen up, but he wants no part of it. Lily suggests games they could play, but Roger is not interested. So why is Roger so reticent? He is afraid. The world scares him. Roger sees problems at every turn and he is afraid of failing, especially at making friends. With a few words, Lily convinces him that everything will be okay.

Starting the school year is tough for some kids. Reassuring them that it will be okay is part of my job. Books like Lily the Unicorn help tell students that the world is a wonderful place to experience and that plenty of support will be available. Friends are all around and the great thing about starting school is the opportunity to add to your support group. If you are looking for a book to build the confidence of your new students in K-2, introduce them to a most optimistic unicorn. You might also try this sign as well.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Whoosh!: A watery world of wonderful creatures
written by Marilyn Baillie; illustrated by Susan Mitchell
2014 (Owl Kids)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more nonfiction reviews.

Whoosh! is a book that engages children to read and be active. Each two page spread compares an animal using water and something that a child enjoys doing involving water. For example, an alligator will lay on rocks next to a river to take a good snooze while a child enjoys laying on a raft in a swimming pool. On the cover, you can see an orca blowing water through its blowhole and two children enjoying a cool spray of water. In all, eleven animals are included in this book. With each spread, readers are encouraged to be active as they act out their imaginations. I appreciate a nonfiction book that combines information and imagination. In the back of the book, there is a spread that focuses on how children use water. This would be a good opportunity to post a circle map and ask students how they use water and then add to the chart after reading this section. Following this, there is more information about each individual animal in the back matter.

If you teach preschool or kindergarten, your students will enjoy Whoosh!. It would be a good addition to a unit on animals or a unit on water. You could have a shared writing experience where you post a printed picture of several of these animals (I can't draw worth a hoot.) and ask students to provide a sentence that would go with the animal. You could also ask students to stand in a circle and have them act out the animal that you show from the book. Young readers will enjoy the array of animals and the connections they make to their own actions.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's Raining!: New Gail Gibbons book

It's Raining!
written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons
2014 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out more reviews at Nonfiction Monday.

One of the things you should appreciate about a Gail Gibbons book is that she is able to explain processes in simple, sparse text. When you write for elementary age students, that is important. In this book, she tackles weather and the water cycle. With detailed illustrations, Gibbons explains how water goes through evaporation and condensation stages. Next, five different types of rain clouds are described with illustrations that give a great visual of each one. A great two page spread of rainfall maps around the world follows. Readers get to see how much rain falls in all seven continents. Do you think rain is just rain? Gibbons will show you that it can take five different forms and fall from five different cloud types. There is also information about flash flooding, threats to clean water, and safety tips on what to do during a storm. By reading It's Raining!, you will be awash in information about rain.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Moon

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Check out Poetry Friday at Write Time

The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbor quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon. 

But of all the things that belong to the day,
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall rise.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Trip Into Space

A Trip Into Space
written by Lori Haskins Houran; illustrated by Francisca Marquez
2014 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out more book reviews at STEM Friday

Many preschool and kindergarten classes have units about careers. Ever thought of featuring astronauts as a career? A Trip Into Space will teach you all about the life of an astronaut working at the International Space Station. It starts with taking a trip from Earth into space. According to the facts in the back matter, these ships travel as fast as 17,500 miles per hour. It takes less time to travel to the space station than to fly on an airplane from New York to California. When you arrive at the space station, boxes have to be unloaded with new supplies for the crew. Fresh fruits and veggies are especially prized as most food on the space station is freeze dried. Accounting for the lack of gravity is a big deal in this floating lab. Astronauts drink out of pouches and have Velcro to hold down their forks while they are eating. My favorite piece of information and accompanying illustration in this book is that astronauts zip themselves in sleeping bags so they won't float away during sleep. It's also important to be clipped while you are working outside making repairs on the station. Working two hundred miles high is definitely a trip!

With engaging pictures and an easy narrative to follow, young readers will enjoy their trip into space. I've said this plenty of times before, but I'll say it again: We underestimate how hard it is to write good nonfiction for very young readers that can be read over and over again. A Trip Into Space is the rare nonfiction work that would make a great bedtime story. What better way to send yourself off into dreams?

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

What I'm reading

Fractions In Disguise is a math mystery where George Cornelius Factor needs to find a stolen 5/9 fraction. This would be a terrific book to use for introducing how to reduce fractions.

Handle With Care features a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. Readers find out that farms don't necessarily have to produce food. When I teach our unit on life cycles, I'll be using this book. Great back matter too!

Cool non-education articles that I read

If you like to make ice cream (and I do), check out this article in the NY Times by Melissa Clark. One secret: Use egg yolks.