Sunday, March 30, 2014

Interview with Melissa Stewart, Author of Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Feathers: Not Just for Flying
written by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Author Melissa Stewart was kind enough to answer some questions regarding her terrific new book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying. This book demonstrates several different ways that birds use feathers and compares these to everyday objects. After Melissa's interview are some links to other blog reviews and a You Tube video featuring Melissa talking about the similes in her book. You should also check out Melissa's website and her Pinterest page for more resources.

  1. What do you take with you when you observe animals, like birds, and what tips do you have for young observers?

I usually don’t set out with a goal of observing particular animals. It’s more that I want to check out an interesting location—a particular woodland, a trail I’ve heard about, or maybe a pond. So I don’t take any special gear. I just go to the place I have in mind and see what I see. I tend to have the best experiences when I don’t set out with a particular goals or expectations in mind.

  1. When I read Feathers, I can easily see the purpose of the book, the connections you want readers to make, and several other teaching points. How does being an educator, and working with educators, influence your work as a writer?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question. As I was writing, I didn’t consciously have a specific purpose in mind or connections that I wanted to readers to make. For me, every book I write is pretty much about the same thing—my strong desire to share the beauty and wonder of nature with my readers. The structure I choose is my attempt at finding the best possible way to engage my audience in the topic. In the case of Feathers, I struggled with structure for three years, but things fell into place when a friend mentioned that what she took away from an early draft was the tool-like functions that feathers can serve. I decided to focus on that—how feathers are like tools or objects that we use. That’s where the similes came from. I thought readers would connect more strongly to the information if I included comparisons to everyday objects.

  1. My students are excited when they discover bird eggs and feathers on the ground. What should they do if they find these items?

I know it’s tempting to pick up these items, but it’s always better to leave natural things in nature. Kids can observe natural objects them closely, maybe take a picture, and then walk away. When a person touches a bird egg, he or she leaves a human scent on the egg that may scare the mother bird and cause her to abandon the nest. There are laws against collecting many kinds of feathers because people used to kill birds, collect their feathers, and sell them to people who made hats. The hats are a thing of the past, but the laws are still on the books. As feathers degrade naturally, they can serve other purposes, such as nesting materials for other birds. That’s why the best decision is to leave natural objects in place.

  1. Was there a bird (or birds) that you wanted to feature but didn't have enough space in the book?

The original manuscript featured two birds for most of the comparisons, so there was a lot of material cut during the editing process. In addition, I thought the backmatter about feather types would end up on page 32, so two comparisons were completely eliminated. One bird that I was really sorry to see go was the honey buzzard, which eats bees and wasps. It has tightly overlapping feathers protect its face from painful stings.

  1. The Author's Note in Feathers is a great summary of the process that you go through as a nonfiction writer. Readers should also check out your website for the revision timeline that you created regarding the writing and publishing of your book No Monkeys, No Chocolate ( Any other tips for budding nonfiction writers?

So often, we hear the advice: “Write what you know.” I think that’s lousy advice. I tell kids to write what they care about. Their excitement and enthusiasm for the topic will shine through in their writing and make it more interesting to read. That should be the goal of all nonfiction writing—to grab readers’ attention, to fascinate them. The best nonfiction delights as well as informs.

Other reviews

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Great Warriors: Samurai

written by Kate Riggs
2011 (The Creative Company)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Samurai were warriors who fought other people to protect their master and his land.

The samurais started fighting almost 900 years ago. Their job was to defend their masters, or daimyo. Before the samurai, there was a class of fighters called the yamato. Starting around age seven, boys studied martial arts and learned how to use weapons like bows and arrows and swords. At age 7, I think I was learning how to tie my shoes. Jeff Barger, Samurai Shoe Tie Guy! Samurai swords were called katanas. Other weapons included spears, metal folding fans (my personal favorite) and a suit of armor. All of this was necessary as samurais often fought to the death. As opposed to asking for a time out to get a band-aid. That would be my move. Samurai were disciplined in their fighting and in their personal behavior. They were loyal and respectful. With the advent of a large Japanese army, the samurai class of warriors were no longer needed by the end of the 19th century. Their legacy lives on in the current use of martial arts.

I really like this book because the text and subject matter are perfect for reluctant readers. There's great information but not a ton of text which is what you need for students who are not skilled in researching topics. Samurai is also a terrific mentor text for creating a nonfiction book. I like the format of text on the left and photographs on the right with a caption and/or fun fact. That works well for my second grade writers. There is a series of eight books about different warriors available from The Creative Company.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bunny Bookmarks

If you like these bunny bookmarks, click on this link and learn how to make them. I think I'm trying this in class tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Music Everywhere!

Music Everywhere!
written by Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, Cynthia Pon
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more reviews of nonfiction books.

Music Everywhere! is a photographic collection that illustrates the axiom that music is a universal language. Children across the globe are featured using instruments, singing, or simply clapping to make joyful noises. A boy wears traditional clothing in Mexico and sings about his heritage. Next to his picture is another young man chanting in a Coptic choir in Egypt. Across the page is another smiling group of children in Japan who are singing a song they wrote. A different two page spread reveals young people playing instruments of all kinds. Whether it be the dungchen long horns of Bhutan, moon lutes in China, or a tiny bagpiper in Scotland, children enjoy playing music as well as singing it. What if you don't know how to play an instrument? You can still shake maracas in Belgium, tap on chairs in Togo, or bang on pots and pans in America. I think one of the big ideas in this book is that you don't have to be a musical genius to enjoy and play music. All it takes is a desire to feel the rhythm and you will find something to help you make some noise.

If you don't have an instrument, the authors will help you make one. In the back of the book, you will find directions for making a bean tambourine, a rattle, and a glass harp. Also in the back matter is a colorful world map that shows each country featured in the book and a thorough glossary that defines many instruments and styles of music. 

This would be a great book to use with a circle map. I would ask students to list different musical instruments that they know and then list ones that are contained in the book. Students can recall the variety of instruments located in their music room as well. You could probably find digital samples of some of the music featured in this book. For example, I looked on You Tube and found a performance by a Coptic choir. Older students could create a text called Games Everywhere. They would research games played in different countries and write and illustrate a book with this information. Looking at the photographs above, you could also use this book to teach main idea and supporting details. 

Read Music Everywhere! and celebrate making music. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

If You Were Alliteration

If You Were Alliteration
written by Trisha Speed Shaskan; illustrated by Sara Gray
2008 (Picture Window Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Alliteration: The same sound repeated at the beginning of two or more words in a phrase or a sentence.

Ulysses the Unicorn spots a UFO as he makes a U-turn on his unicycle.

If you were a teacher and if you were teaching a lesson about alliteration, this is the book that you would want in your hand. Looking at the subject and the fabulous illustrations on the cover, I expected a book filled with alliterative phrases and delightful illustrations. I was not disappointed as my very predictable prediction was fulfilled. The surprise and my greatest satisfaction came when I read and discovered all the different ways that alliteration was presented as a teaching tool. Author Trisha Speed Shaskan presented several lenses in which to view this poetic device. You can use alliteration to teach the relationship between letters and sounds that is phonics. One example in the book shows how "ph" and "f" both say /f/. Another points out that two letters together can make sound called a digraph. That it is taught through the use of chubby chickens gossiping makes this a very fun section to read. Other quick mini-lessons include blends, tongue twisters, poems, and story telling. The last two pages are a lesson in how to write your own acrostic poem.

With National Poetry Month coming up in a week's time, you'll want to find a copy of this alliterative alchemy of alike letters to share with your students.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Great Day for Pup: iPad app

A Great Day for Pup
written by Bonnie Worth
2014 (Oceanhouse Media)
iPad app

Check out more STEM items at STEM Friday.

Dick, Sally, and the Cat in the Hat travel the globe in the Super-de-Duper Wild Animal Greeter to learn about animal babies in this new iPad app. The first stop is Australia where a mother kangaroo is taking care of her joey. Only the size of a kidney bean at birth, the joey soon grows into a jumping bundle of energy. Next we learn that ostrich parents take shifts in watching over the nest. Dad watches at night while Mom has the day shift. Dad also shoos away predators like the warthog. If you don't know the word predator, no need to worry as this app highlights important words and provides the definition at your touch. In a different location, mother croc is also looking out for predators and forgoing eating to keep watch. Traveling next to Asia, our intrepid trio finds a panda mother in a cave cuddling her blind and almost hairless baby. Starting on milk, in seven months this panda cub will be eating a lot of bamboo. Tiger cubs live in a brood and rely on their mother's hunting abilities to bring them food. Swatting their mom's tail is one way to begin learning how to hunt. The next continent on this itinerary is Africa where a troop of gorillas is found. Moms check fur for bugs and build nests for the young ones to rest when they tire out. Perhaps the coolest fact I learned from this app was that a group of very young giraffes is called a kindergarten. I wonder how snack time works there?  Other climates briefly visited include Antarctica and the Arctic.

Young readers will enjoy many aspects of this app including authentic animal noises and the rhyming of the text.The big science takeaway  is in learning the names of these animal babies and a fact or two about their life growing up. If you have a primary student working on writing a nonfiction text, there are plenty of details for them to glean from A Great Day for Pup. The best part of learning about these babies? No diapers were changed in the reading of this app.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Anchor Charts for Context Clues and a Freebie

We're working on using context clues in my class so I have pinned these anchor charts for use in the classroom. 

Mandy Neal

Teaching and Tapas is offering a free six page set of context clue exercises. These will work well in guided reading groups. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Activities

At Smart Chick's TPT store, you can find a fun (and free!) STEM activity for St. Patrick's Day. Students are challenged to create a trap for a leprechaun. Go check it out!

You can find the template for this leprechaun craft at Sassy Dealz. There are other craft ideas on this website as well. I'm going to do this with my class and add a procedural writing assignment. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle

Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle
written by Cheryl Bardoe; illustrated by Alan Marks
2014 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more nonfiction book reviews.

Found on all of the continents except for Antarctica, the mighty dung beetle is an under appreciated model of efficiency. When an animal, such as an elephant, drops its waste, the dung beetle springs into action. Using its antennae to pick up the aroma of fresh feces, dung beetles can arrive as fast as fifteen seconds after the poop plops down. (Seriously, how did someone learn this information? Are they sitting in the tall grass with one eye on a stopwatch and another on an elephant? And don't you know that if dung beetles had smartphones, there would be an app for finding fresh dung. I would call it Poop Scoop. Available now on iTunes.) All kidding aside, dung is a serious matter for these beetles. It is the source of their food and drink. Using their jaws, dung beetles squeeze the juice out of the dung and this is their source of nutrition. This makes me feel bad for complaining about eating brussel sprouts as a kid. Attacking these dung piles are three types of dung beetles. Dwellers eat as much as they can before moving on. Rollers roll a dung lump into a sphere by eating as they roll. Tunnelers dig burrows underneath the pile of feces and store their treasure down below. Among all three groups, there are battles for territory and for mates. Eventually, the dung perpetuates the life cycle of the beetle as eggs are laid in the dung and grubs use it for food. When you consider the perseverance and ingenuity of the dung beetle, it is indeed a beautiful creature.

It would be easy to be repulsed by the work of the dung beetle, but you would be missing out on an important lesson. Everything in nature seems to have a purpose, a reason for being. Dung beetles provide a valuable service even though they are not exactly the glamorous members of the animal kingdom. Cheryl Bardoe and Alan Marks do a terrific job spotlighting the work of this fascinating insect.

Monday, March 3, 2014


written and illustrated by Tania Sohn
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

In this cute new import from South Korea, a preschool girl and her cat explore all of the socks in her collection and how they stir her imagination. Socks with stripes bring out a witch's hat and a broom. Ankle high green socks bring about a hop through the dandelions. Knee length yellow socks are worn by her soccer team. My daughter's team liked to wear socks of different colors with polka dots. The girl places a baby sock on her big toe and tries on her daddy's way-to-big socks. This reminds me of watching my daughters as they grow and the cool shoes they have worn over the years. Do you remember Jellies? Christmas socks hung underneath the window bring about anticipation of a visit from you-know-who. And who hasn't wanted to tie a blanket around their neck and pretend they were a super hero while wearing socks with a capital S inside a pentagon?

Socks! celebrates an everyday item and how it can unleash our imagination. As an adult, I don't think much about socks other than making sure I have a matching pair that go with my clothes. But for kids, socks are pretty important. They use them to try to build an identity for themselves and work out their individuality. My oldest daughter is named for a student who wore mismatched socks because she had tremendous confidence in herself. I also appreciate books that encourage children to use their imagination. If you are looking for a classroom use for Socks!, think about collecting data about the socks in your classroom and turning that data into a graph.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two New Nonfiction Board Books

My First Book of Baby Animals
National Wildlife Foundation
2014 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

In this new board book, you get close-up photographs of twenty-one baby animals. Each page also has the name of the animal and the name of the young. Almost all of the young animal names will be familiar to you, but did you know that a baby gorilla is called an infant? We know that this book will be a hit with the toddler crowd. It's nice that you can read nonfiction as a bedtime book, and there's always the gnawability (if not a real word, I claim it!) of a board book. But does this have any use in a classroom?

I say yes! My second grade class will be soon delving into creating graphs. You could hand a student this board book and ask them to create a bar graph representing the animal groups in the book. How many mammals, how many birds? Out of the twenty-one photographs, how many of them feature a parent? That could be graphed. You could also use this book as a model text for a preschool or kindergarten writing assignment. There are several possibilities for uses in the classroom.

My First Book of Wild Animals
National Wildlife Foundation
2014 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

As stated above, My First Book of Wild Animals could be used in the same way in the classroom. Another idea would be for students to create their own books featuring wild animals that they see in their daily lives.

Both of these books will be great fun to read with a toddler and a surprising source of curriculum for a classroom.