Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Informational Text Writing Is Like Chopped

Have you ever watched Chopped on the Food Network? 4 chefs are given a basket of ingredients and expected to transform them into either an appetizer, an entree, or a dessert within a time limit. Now think about informational text writing. Basically, it's taking a group of facts and transforming them into a book that people will want to read. You have text features that you use to make your book appealing. Kind of like adding spices to your dish. Or not, if you don't like this analogy.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Q&A with Suzette Valle (author of 101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up)

Today we have a Q&A session with Suzette Valle. She's the author of 101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up

1. Which movie on the list is your favorite and why? I simply don’t have just one favorite movie. This is like asking me if I have a favorite child -- it's impossible to choose! However, I have several films I have watched several times for different reasons: "The Lion King," "Star Wars," "Aladdin," "Pride and Prejudice," "Harry Potter," and "Iron Man" have top-shelf billing in my home.

2. With this kind of list, it's impossible to please everybody. Is there a movie that isn't on the list that several readers have asked about? I wondered about Cars. 
You're right! It is impossible to please everyone, especially with films since there's a broad selection to choose from, and one for every taste and personal preference. Narrowing the number of Pixar films in the book was a very difficult and time consuming task. Out of the 14 Pixar films released at the time the book went to print ("Inside Out" had not been released yet), only nine are in the book for various reasons. Though “Cars” is a fantastic film, it wasn’t considered Pixar’s best work at the time. This is the opinion of adults, of course, but I am sure kids (and some adults) think differently!

3. What resources did you use for research? How much fun was it going back and watching some of these movies? 
I researched lists of children's films that already exist: the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, the British Film Institute, and the National Film Registry. Cross-referencing the movies on these lists helped me reduce it from thousands to hundreds of movies. I also consulted websites and books by film critics I respect like the late Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin and Nell Minow (Movie Mom).

One film I re-watched as part of my research was "Shrek." That movie is a riot and a half, and was a lot of fun to catch things I had missed before like the jabs at Disney. But I also had to add movies to my collection of watched films. One of the best Sunday afternoons I spent watching movies as 'research' for this book was with my grown son Alex, 23, watching “The Hobbit” franchise. I had avoided getting caught up in the Peter Jackson-created worlds for a long time, but I had to see why these films had such a following. My son explained many of the details, and together with the research I had done already,  I was compelled to keep watching. We then dove into “The Lord of the Rings,” another franchise I had resisted watching. Realizing that these films were based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien published in 1937, I immediately regretted not having joined the buzz when these films were at the height of their popularity. I hope to inspire families to spend time with their own kids watching these fantastic fantasy films -- they are an incredible journey (pun!) to take from the comfort of your own home.

4. Are there any movies that you felt more positively or negatively towards as an adult than when you were a child?

Yes, and it was a tough call on some of these films. "Grease" is a great example of these mixed emotions about a movie. I watched this movie as an 18 year-old and loved it. In time, this movie has become a pop-culture classic watched by many pre-teens because it seems like just plain fun.  However, when I watched it again with my own kids when they were younger, I was surprised to realize there was quite a bit of racy stuff in this film that had gone over my head when I first watched it.

5. Kudos for including Bend It Like Beckham! More people should see this movie. Were there other "smaller' films on the list that you wanted to champion?

The foreign film section has some smaller films I really wanted to highlight because they open our eyes to other cultures' way of life. My daughter, a film student at NYU's Tisch School of The Arts, introduced me to "Children of Heaven." This film from Iran, in Farsi with subtitles, was an unexpected surprise for me when I saw it -- I immediately knew this one was worth watching. It is not the regular, sunny faire of American films. The story is at times bleak and may not appeal to the sense of escapism we expect from a film. But the story of two siblings sharing a single pair of shoes is touching and heartwarming.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up: A Giveaway!

101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up
written by Suzette Valle; illustrated by Natasha Hellegourach
2015 (Walter Foster Jr.)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

*Tell me your favorite movie as a kid in the comments section and you will have a chance to win a copy of this book. I will contact you if you win the book and it will be sent to you. 

Do you remember the first movie you saw in a theater? A Boy Named Charlie Brown was the first that I recall. I remember walking from our apartment to the movie theater and plunking down a quarter (Telling my age a little bit here.) for a ticket. Going to see a movie is a great experience as a child. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking my daughters to the movies. Movies are a constant source of discussion which makes 101 Movies a book you will want. A paragraph synopsis is given for each movie. On the side, you will see information about the director, release date, rating and reasons for the rating, and the length of the film. At the bottom of each movie section is a box that allows readers to take notes about the movie. They can record the date they saw the movie, who they saw it with, give a star rating, and write other thoughts that they have about the movie. My favorite part of these movie sections are the sidebars that give information you may not know. For example, it took John Leguizamo 40 tries to come up with the voice of Sid the sloth for Ice Age. After watching a documentary about sloths and how they store food in their cheeks, Leguizamo put a sandwich in his mouth and tried to talk.

One of the great uses of this book will be to introduce your kids and yourself to movies that you may not be aware of. The documentary Spellbound, about contestants in the National Spelling Bee, and Bend It Like Beckham, about two teenage British female soccer players from different cultures, are two such movies. It's also an opportunity to introduce your children to favorite movies of your childhood. Now if I could only find a copy of Yellow Submarine to show my daughters.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I Want to Eat Your Books

I Want to Eat Your Books
written by Karin Lefranc; illustrated by Tyler Parker
2015 (Sky Pony Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Oh no!" cries Eric. "Take a look. He's chomping on your science book!"

A young boy peers nervously down a hallway lined with lockers. Limping towards him is a zombie! The boy runs to his classroom only to see the zombie boy sitting next to him (I would request a new seating chart.). Classmates shriek as Zombie Boy eats a science book and a paperback. He piercingly cries "I Want to Eat Your Books!" Think of it as The Reading Dead. He's not a discriminating eater. Nonfiction and textbooks bite the dust. The young boy's favorite, Frankenstein, is spared as the class heads to the library. Of course, this is a buffet bar for Zombie Boy. When all hope seems lost, the young boy pulls out a book about the brain. He and the zombie struggle over the book. When a diagram of brain parts appears, Zombie Boy cries "Please read!" As one monster is soothed, another appears to ransack the library. A sweet twist ties up this tale of monster literacy.

Three second grade classes at my school highly recommend this book. It's a great text to share at Halloween or as a kickoff to a reading event. Elementary students have zombies on the brain. Yes, I meant to do that. When you can combine this hot topic with cultivating a love for reading, you have a win-win situation. The bright illustrations are a terrific accompaniment to this fun story. If you want to teach a skill with I Want to Eat Your Books, I would suggest problem and solution. Of course, your class may just want to devour it for fun.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Does the Sun Sleep?: Noticing Sun, Moon, and Star Patterns

Does the Sun Sleep?
written by Martha E.H. Rustad; illustrated by Holli Conger
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"I get it!" says Deon. "When it's day on one side of Earth, it's night on the other side."

If you want the sun, the moon, and the stars, you should go to Mr. Cruz's classroom. His class is working on making observations and noticing patterns in nature. The first pattern they notice is day and night. Mr. Cruz leads a discussion of the movement of the Earth which makes it look like the Sun is moving. Using a flashlight and a globe, he explains how the sun shines on only part of the planet at a time. Blue boxes on each spread add facts to the narrative. On this spread, readers learn that it takes the Earth 24 hours to spin around once, which is another pattern. Moving on to the moon, the class views a monthly chart of the phases of the moon. Stocked up on AA batteries, Mr. Cruz uses his flashlight, the globe, and a small model of the moon to explain how light from the Sun shines on the moon. Finally, the class discusses stars, why we can't see them in the daylight (Except for the Sun.), and how they have patterns as well.

Does the Sun Sleep? does a great job of explaining information about space in simple language, but also doesn't shy away from using vocabulary like horizon, waxing, and waning.  This is a good text to share with first graders who study patterns and cycles in space. The illustrations are terrific visuals that help explain the facts given in the text. First graders will especially like the phases of the moon chart. Grab your flashlight and follow Mr. Cruz's lead!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Is It Made Of?: Noticing Types of Materials

What Is It Made Of?
written by Martha E.H. Rustad; illustrated by Christine M. Schneider
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Ms. Sampson asks, "Would it work to make a window out of wood? Or a shirt out of glass?"

Most of us take for granted what materials make up the things that we use. I grab my laptop and turn it on. I never consider what makes up the computer. I'm probably more interested in how many likes my pet photo got on Facebook. Thankfully, the kids in Ms. Sampson's class are different than me. They're excited after playing a guessing game about materials. A quick observation of the classroom yields seven different materials that are present. Next, students use their sense of touch to categorize materials on a table. After that, a treasure hunt around the school helps the class fill out a chart that further categorizes materials by color, texture, and weight. Shockingly, old snack in a desk is not one of the materials found. What the students observe is that there is definitely a purpose behind the choice of materials for the things they use. The culminating activity for Ms. Sampson's class is to build a sculpture in art class using different materials.

Matter is a fun subject to study. K-1 classes will be set up nicely for this unit by reading What Is It Made Of? I'm all for encouraging observation and categorization. This helps across the curriculum. The books in the Nature's Patterns series are also cheerfully illustrated and realistic in how young students react to fun science. I like their enthusiasm!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Do Chicks Ask for Snacks?: Noticing Animal Behaviors

Do Chicks Ask for Snacks?
written by Martha E.H. Rustad; illustrated by Mike Moran
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Does anyone notice a pattern?" Max says, "I do! Babies make noises, and parents feed them."

The students in Ms. McLean's class are observing animal behavior in anticipation of their trip to the zoo. They've made a chart of behaviors to look for as they are guided by Mr. Sato at the zoo. First, the class observes a baby tiger meowing. The mother tiger responds by feeding it. This same call and response happens at the zebra exhibit. Ms. McLean's students notice the pattern of babies making noises in order to be fed. I've noticed this with teenagers as well. Other patterns are noticed. Otters and raccoons learn from their parents how to find food and be safe. Lion cubs practice hunting and chimpanzees learn how to use tools. Not power drills, but sticks to find ants. Group patterns observed include a herd of elephants traveling together. Mr. Sato tells the students about how elephants protect their young in this manner. Ms. McLean's class learns to look for patterns and observe examples of cause and effect. The final effect of the zoo trip is for students to go recess after returning excitedly. I can understand that cause!

Do Chicks Ask for Snacks? would be a good mentor text for a unit on animal behavior. I like imparting this information through a narrative format. It's also a book that would be helpful for teaching the skill of seeing examples of cause and effect in a text. I would use this with K-1 students and second graders who are below grade level readers.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

When Will It Rain?: Noticing Weather Patterns

When Will It Rain?
written by Martha E.H. Rustad; illustrated by Holli Conger
2015 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"I see another pattern!" Katie says. "The days when it rained were cloudy."

Mr. Davis and his class are starting a weather project. They're going to observe the weather and record what they see. Mr. Davis explains that they are looking for patterns. The students observe variables such as cloudiness, precipitation, temperature and wind speed. One of the patterns noticed by the class is the increase in the amount of precipitation for the spring and fall. I'm guessing there aren't many snow days in Mr. Davis's school district. A guest, television meteorologist Penny Perez, visits the class to talk about her job. She also shares weather instruments like a barometer and an anemometer.

I really like the approach of this book. Students will make connections with the actions of Mr. Davis's class. Primary students know about patterns and predictions. They love to fill out charts and will want you to do so after reading this book. You can use the instructions in the back to create a paper cup anemometer too. Finally, I appreciate the vocabulary in When Will It Rain? Terms like precipitation and forecast are big words for the K-2 crowd, but with proper scaffolding these words will become part of the class vocabulary.