Thursday, December 22, 2016


written by Chris Barton; illustrated by Don Tate
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Orange County Public Library

But Lonnie had dealt with challenges all his life. He knew a lot about solving problems. 

I looked up the definition of the word impressive. It says "creating admiration, awe, respect, etc." I have all of that and more for Lonnie Johnson after reading Whoosh!. As a child, he was impressive. He constantly invented using materials from his dad's shed and stuff he had hauled from the junkyard. Lonnie built his own rockets from scratch! I couldn't even get my store-bought rocket to work when I was a kid. Overcoming obstacles became a theme of his life. Despite the results of an unfavorable exam, Lonnie did not stop pursuing his dream of becoming an engineer. Instead, he created a robot named Linex. This robot was made out of scrap metal and used compressed-air cylinders and valves to allow movement. With Linex, his high school science team won a 1968 science fair at the University of Alabama. Think about that. Alabama. 1968. George Wallace. If you know your history, you realize what an amazing feat this was for a team of African American students. And shame on you if you don't know your history. As an adult, Lonnie was impressive. After graduating from Tuskegee Institute, Lonnie went on to work for NASA where he solved the problem of how to create a backup power package for the Galileo spacecraft. One day, Lonnie was working on building a more environmentally friendly cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners. It was this process that led to his invention of the Super Soaker. But success didn't come immediately as challenge after challenge had to be defeated before Lonnie found a company that would help him create his product. Today, Lonnie keeps inventing and inspiring children to overcome obstacles as he has in his life. Check out this August 2016 interview with the BBC for more impressive details about Lonnie.

Speaking of impressive, I also have admiration and awe for the work of Chris Barton and Don Tate. Whoosh! is what picture book biographies should aspire to be. Bringing to our attention, both children and adults, the lives of inspiring people like Lonnie Johnson is important work. How many students will read this book and start on their own impressive journeys? How great to shatter myths about what scientists should look like? I can't wait to share this book with students who will be working on their biography units. They will love this story.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Literacy Homework Helpers

Want something you can make today and use tomorrow? Check out these folders created by Monique Gareau, who is an ESL teacher in our district. You can make these and send them home or use them as a station in your classroom. What if you want more than one? Buy or find some 11 x 17 paper and you can copy your original to make several more. Thank you to my colleague Dawn Bagwell who showed me how to do this. Parents often ask what they can do at home to help. Send one of these folders home. You can demonstrate at a Back to School night and send them home.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Goodnight Everyone

Goodnight Everyone
written and illustrated by Chris Haughton
2016 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

"Well, I'm not sleepy," says Little Bear.

Everybody in the forest is tired. The sun is going down and it's time to catch some shut-eye. The mice are yawning. The hares are sighing and closing their eyes. Taking a last long breath, the deer are settling down for the night. Even Great Big Bear takes a great big stretch. Who isn't sleepy? Little Bear. His eyes are wide open in that "I just drank two energy drinks" way. So he marches off to ask the other animals if they want to play. There are no takers. The deer ask Little Bear if he isn't just a little bit tired. He isn't, but just a little bit later, he sighs. Then comes the long breath. With a hug and a kiss from Great Big Bear, finally everyone in the forest is asleep. Goodnight everyone.

I think Chris Haughton used all sixty-four colors in the box, and I am soooo grateful. He has won big time awards for his design work, and it shows in this book. You open to the title page and there are different shades of blue, green and purple with orange mixed in. That's where I audibly "oohed" and "ahhed". I love the shades of blue with Great Big Bear and Little Bear. So the artwork is wonderful, but there is also what I would like to believe is some subtle text work by Mr. Haughton that aids a parent reading this at bedtime. You know how if someone near you yawns, you tend to yawn? That is called contagious yawning. Well, in this book every creature in the forest is yawning. Don't you think that's going to help your cause as you read this book to your child? The only drawback is that you may be too tired after reading the book and putting your little tyke to bed. Nevertheless, Goodnight Everyone should be one of your go-to books for bedtime.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Plants Can't Sit Still

Plants Can't Sit Still
written by Rebecca E. Hirsch; illustrated by Mia Posada
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Some plants sleep at night, leaves nodding, flowers folding.

With apologies to R.E.M.

That's great, plants start with a wiggle, squirm and reaching for the light.
I think this book is out of sight.
Creeping and slithering underground
Crawling through grass all around.
Up a fence, up a wall
Opening up as night falls.
Rolling around as a tumbleweed
Erupting in the air with its seeds.
Ride a bear, ride a fox,
Sticking on your dad's socks.
Whirl like a copter,
Float as a seed,
Here are the origins of a tree.

It shows plants can't sit still and now I know it.
It shows plants can't sit still and now I know it.
It shows plants can't sit still and now I know it.
And I feel fine!

Option #1 - I ask students to predict and talk/write in pairs about why this is the title of the book before reading.
Option #2 - Pull out a big ol' piece of chart paper and ask K-1 students how plants can move. Then I revisit the chart paper after reading the book.
Option #3 - A P.E. or classroom teacher can do a brain break by having students move like a plant in the different ways shown in the book. "Float like seed!" "Now, tumble, tumble, tumble like a weed."
Option #4 - Use four or six pages and identify the vivid verbs.

This is a terrific book that marries science and vivid verbs better than a Vegas chapel full of Elvis impersonators. And the back matter rocks with in-depth information about each of the plants in the book. Plant this book in your read-aloud collection.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Look Up!

Look Up!
written and illustrated by Jung Jin-Ho
2016 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

RL 2.7 - Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot. 

So I'm looking at the first two page spread and I see the tops of two people's heads, what looks like four trees on the left side, and the word "Slam!" in the top right corner. Okay, I think the setting is in a city. I use my background knowledge of cities to infer that a door to a balcony has just closed. See how much thinking just went on with one spread? On the next spread, I see two more people below, one of them walking a dog. I think I see two feet on pedals where the balcony is located. Is this a wheelchair? Then, on the next page a head appears leaning over the balcony. I'm flipping back and forth between two spreads to figure out more about the person on the balcony. I see, this is from the perspective of a person in a wheelchair on the balcony. Now, more people are on the walkway and a single line of text appears. The girl in the wheelchair is asking the people on the street to "Look up!". Nobody does. On a different page, you see the street filled with the tops of umbrellas. Still no one looks up. Without showing any faces, and no text to support, we still sense the loneliness of the person on the balcony. It seems like days have gone by without anyone looking up. Suddenly, a boy from the street raises his head. He comments that you can't see well from up there and the girl agrees. So he makes a clever and thoughtful gesture. He lies down on the walkway so the girl can get a better look. Then, another person comes by and asks the boy why he is lying on the sidewalk. When he replies, she decides to join him. Others come by and join as well. Soon, a lot of people are lying on the sidewalk. This creates a big smile on the girl's face. The last spread reveals a surprise.

I know a lot of teachers who work on having their students become "bucket fillers." This means working hard to help others. This is a book that they will embrace. Shouldn't all of us work each day to bring a smile to someone's face? I see lessons on point of view and kindness emanating from this text. I see art lessons where students draw a setting from the perspective of the little girl. Mostly, I see smiles on the faces of readers who know a good book when they see one.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Barnacle is Bored

Barnacle is Bored
written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske
2016 (Scholastic Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Waves roll UNDER me. Waves roll OVER me. 

Barnacle is stuck. Figuratively and literally. Stuck in a life where the same things happen again and again. The tide comes in. The tide goes out. Sun goes up. Sun goes down. He is bound like superglue under a pier and going nowhere fast. To make matters worse, a polka-dotted free spirited fish is tormenting him by enjoying unbound freedom under the sea. Barnacle's comments even get more exciting as he is talking about the fish. He uses alliteration (dives with dolphins, soars with sailfish) as he continues his rant about Mr. Happy of the high seas. Until an eel comes along. Then, in a quick gulp, the seaweed doesn't seem quite as green on the other side. Boredom problem solved.

The simple text in Barnacle is Bored actually has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Or limb. The author, Jonathan Fenske, capitalizes words (see above) so readers can see the contrasts. As mentioned before, he also uses alliteration. It would be fun to have a class generate more alliterative phrases from the ocean. And how about prediction? Will your readers see what is coming? This quick ocean read is by no means shallow with a surprise ending and plenty of droll humor.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Quit Hating on Participation Trophies

'Only a Few Win' Mentality More Dangerous to Kids Than Participation Trophies
written by Bob Cook; photo by Kevin Rutherford
2016 (Forbes Magazine)
*Click on the link and read Bob's opinion piece. My thoughts come after reading it.

Life does not have a 'winner's podium'. Not if life means being a good, conscientious person who measures success not merely by money made or career title held. - Bob Cook

Congratulations, my fellow Gen X'ers (born 1965-1984)! You have fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book. For that, you should receive a trophy. What did you fall for? Complaining about the generation that came after you. Your trophy should come complete with a patch of grass that you can tell people to get off of. These complaints most frequently come in the form of whining about participation trophies. Yes, that combination of cheap gold plastic, metal, and wood apparently has been the ruination of a generation. The argument is that millennials have become spoiled because everything has been handed to them. Like a participation trophy.

It's funny that this complaining comes from the 'snap judgement' generation that has grown up with cable news and believes nuance is a French perfume. I work with children every day and have two daughters. These kids know about winning and losing. My oldest daughter and her classmates have worked fifty times harder than me or my classmates ever did to get into college. And they'll have to pay fifty times as much because of me and my fellow Gen X'ers. Those kids who receive bags of food at school to take home to their families? They know about winning and losing.

You know what participation trophies do? They shift the focus to working on building skills and collaborating with your teammates. Aren't those useful and life long skills that we want our young people to have? There will be plenty of time for learning about winning and losing. Life is funny like that.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up

Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up
written by Jennifer Swanson
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Nanotechnology is the science of things at the nanoscale. It deals with microscopic particles called nanoparticles. Nano- means "one-billionth," so a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

Bigger is not always better. With nanotechnology, the little guy is the winner. Two key quotes from page four of the fascinating book Super Gear explain why. Smaller particles fit more tightly together than large particles, increasing the strength of the material and Atoms within a smaller particle also attract one another with greater force, resulting in stronger atom-to-atom bonds. The tighter bonds make for a much more durable substance. The manipulation of these nanoparticles has created gear in the sports world that puts Pierre de Coubertin's quote, Swifter, higher, stronger, on its head. But you can't talk about the super suits in swimming before you understand the why. Author Jennifer Swanson gets this so she explains in the first chapter how all of it works. Scientists are able to move nanoparticles with the use of a laser beam from an optical nanotweezer. What are the results of this work? Swimsuits that produced such fast times in the pool that the technology had to be curbed. The nanotech suits cut down on the drag from the water. This also works in track and field, cutting down times by as much as two hundredths of a second. That's enough to separate winners and losers. Other sports equipment that has been enhanced by nanotechnology includes baseball bats, golf clubs, and tennis racquets. Think about the changes in what we wear to play our games. It's no longer enough to slap on a sport gray t-shirt. Your 5K time will be slower than the runner who has the cool sweat-resistant shirt. Before you talk about sports "back in my day" and chase kids off your lawn, it's not just the reduction of time or increase in distance that nanotechnology has affected. It's also making sports safer with better helmets and running tracks that cut down on injury.

Speaking of little spaces, it's almost impossible to include all of the cool details from Super Gear in this blog rectangle. It will change the way you look at your favorite sport. I'm watching Chiefs-Raiders right now and thinking about helmets and uniforms instead of my beloved fantasy team. Wonder why we have so many highlights of great catches by receivers? Is it the gloves, money? In children's literature, we have a lot of biographies of sports figures, but not very much in the way of sports science. This interesting mix of science and sports will hopefully lead to more texts like Super Gear in the near future.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What America Can Learn About Smart Schools

What America Can Learn About Smart Schools in Other Countries
written by Amanda Ripley
2016 (New York Times)

The results from the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) were released today. Fifteen year old students from seventy-two countries were tested in math, reading, science, and problem solving. Amanda Ripley, from the New York Times, wrote a compelling article about the results. For me, here was the money part of her report:

Here's what the models show: Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective: directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms. Of all the lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core Standards, for reading and math.

Other interesting findings from the report:

  • One in four boys and girls reported that they expect to work in a science-related occupation but opt for very different ones: girls mostly seek positions in the health sector and boys  in becoming ICT professionals, scientists or engineers.
  • Nearly 20% of students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading. This proportion has remained stable since 2009.

  • How much time students spend learning and how science is taught are even more strongly associated with science performance and the expectations of pursuing a science-related career than how well-equipped and staffed the science department is and science teachers’ qualifications.
You can find the full report here

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tell Me a Story

Tell Me a Story
written by Emily Bannister; illustrated by Barbara Chotiner
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

So write of adventures and journeys you take,
And please share with me, whatever you make.

"So what's your story?" Ever been asked that question? We want to connect to others, to know about their experiences. Believe it or not, the purpose of writing is not so the teacher has something to put in the grade book. Writing allows us to share a little (or some novelists who share a large chunk) piece of ourselves with the world. Throughout this rhyming text, the narrator exhorts the writer to make a connection. "Send me a story down a river or sea. Send me a story to bring you closer to me." We love to hear stories from others so we can better understand them. I can give you facts about my life, but if I share a story, you can really get a sense of who I am. Another reason we love stories is that they take us away to other places. How often do we get lost in a book or watching a movie because a writer has captured our imagination and allowed us to leave our present location? The narrator urges the writer in all of us to send them a story about traveling so far. This also opens the door for a mini-lesson on identifying the setting in a story or how the setting can move the plot. Think about your favorite books and how the setting was vital to the story. For example, where would Hatchet be without the woods?  The Grinch without Whoville? Setting is so meaningful in a story so I'm pleased to see it emphasized in this book. Another emphasis you can make with Tell Me a Story is to encourage young writers to orally tell their tale before putting the pencil to the paper. This is an important part of the writing process. It helps flesh out your story and also works on communication skills as you talk with a partner.

I started writing because someone asked me to do it. It was that simple. As a parent, I was pretty good at pulling out a book every evening and reading to my girls. But how often did I ask them to tell me a story? Not read a book, but just tell a story. That is a critical skill for young learners. With the help of this enticing new book, we can encourage more storytelling with our youngest writers.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Paint Me a Picture

Paint Me a Picture
written by Emily Bannister; illustrated by Holly Hatam
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Paint me the blue sea to sail on far and wide.
Paint me a pink dress to twirl in with pride. 

Think about how color influences your feelings. When you wake up, you look out your window to see a soft yellow-orange color or gray. Open your closet. What are you going to wear today? Something bright or a more muted professional look? Or if you're me, khaki pants. Monday through Friday. My point is color is an underrated mood agent. Paint Me a Picture gets this. On each two page spread, you have a feature color, an action influenced by the color, and adjectives in script that correlate with the color. It starts with the three primary colors and then goes to secondary colors. For example, red is represented by a young girl being pulled through the air by giant red balloons. Adjectives on the spread include passionate, bold, courageous, and dangerous. The illustration captures your eyes since there are no colors, other than black as an outline, to compete with the highlighted color. The combination of the illustration with the adjectives is an nice one-two punch.

This is a great way to teach color words. Instead of just being an empty label on a card, the word is infused with a personality. Students can make connections to the word with the adjectives. "Yes, yellow does make me happy." They can add on other words inspired by the color. Green or blue could be accompanied by cool. A delightful palette of playfulness!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ultimate Oceanpedia

Ultimate Oceanpedia
written by Christina Wilsdon
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Close your eyes and imagine that you are deep in the sea. It is dark and cold, and you hear the sound of whales coming from miles away. 

Chapters: Oceans, Ocean Life, Ocean in Motion, Wild Weather, Underwater Exploration, Along the Coast, When People and Oceans Meet

Dear Ultimate Oceanpedia,

You complete me. You took me on a trip to all of the oceans, introducing me to wild places like the Seychelles Islands which are made of granite. I met your wild friends, such as the Bathykorus Bouilloni or as you lovingly called it, the Darth Vader jellyfish since it has the helmet look of the bad man from space. You had me at the detailed diagram on page 41 that shows the layers of the ocean. In the Midnight Zone, you told me that only the female anglerfish has the lighted lure on its head and beard to go with it. Why use a razor to shave when you have razor sharp teeth? I felt a wave of emotion in Chapter 3 as you explained how waves work and the powerful energy that they contain. I learned about Mont-Saint-Michel, which is an island off the coast of France. Or is it? Depends on the tides as they go back and forth, covering and exposing a land bridge that connects the island to the coast.

Show me the ocean!! And you did, with beautiful photographs and diagrams that explain what goes on underneath. Continents shifting and tsunamis blitzing. A mountain range that is almost nine times longer than the above ground Andes Mountains of South America. Around twenty thousand underwater volcanoes exist, but we are just learning about many of them so that number will increase. Our journey finishes with brave explorers combing the depths of the ocean and other scientists who are fighting to keep our seas in good shape. You leave with good advice about how I can care for our saltwater superstars.

Thank you for taking me around the seven seas and back again.

Yours Truly,

The Reader

Sunday, November 20, 2016

How Things Work

How Things Work
written by T.J. Resler
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cool gadgets and scientific discoveries don't just come from laboratories. Many are dreamed up in the minds of storytellers.

I've had many parents come to me with a story that involves their child taking apart a family appliance/gadget because they were curious how it worked. This is the book for them. Five chapters feature the inner workings and history of fascinating devices. Chapter 1 focuses on inventions that came from science fiction. A four page spread discusses invisibility cloaks and how cloaking works. The idea is to make something disappear from your view. The trick is to bend light so it doesn't bounce off an object and therefore you are unable to see it. There are three terrific diagrams that show how vision works and how it can be deceived. Other devices included in this chapter are inventions that hover, with a nice nod to Marty McFly, bionic arms and legs, and tractor beams. Can't go wrong with Back to the Future and Star Wars. Chapter 2 is about household devices. Can you explain how a microwave works? I know about waves, but this explanation goes way deeper with more illustrations and photographs that would be excellent teaching resources on a document camera. Chapter 3 highlights items in a school. Topics include photocopiers, erasers, and thermoses. Hmmm. Maybe we could train students to fix photocopiers. If I had to guess which chapter in the book would be the most popular, I might go with Chapter 4 which is titled Extreme Fun. Who doesn't want to know how surfing and roller coasters work? And bounce houses? Don't get me started. How Things Work finishes with a chapter on transportation vehicles like rockets and escalators. Again, most of us have ridden an escalator but probably can't explain how it works. Now you can know and impress your friends.

Inside each chapter is a biography of an inventor. Chapter 1 features David Moinina Sengeh. He designs prostheses and mentors other young innovators in Africa. I love that we have STEM role models in these pages. Another great section of each chapter is Try This! where readers get detailed instructions so they can create their own device. Chapter 5 gives details on how to make a submarine with a 2 liter bottle. I also appreciate how in tune the author is with what students want to know. These are the subjects that will get readers to the page every time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Book of Heroes: Tales of History's Most Daring Dudes

The Book of Heroes
written by Crispin Boyer
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. - Jim Valvano

Look! Up on the shelf! It's a hall of fame. It's a catalog of bravery. It's both and more! Welcome my friends to a show of courage that never ends. We have heroes of action and heroes of peace. We have young and old, famous and unknown, human and nonhuman heroes. In fact, it is the mix of figures that is one of the most appealing features of this book. For example, we have famous heroes from the world of sports like Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and Michael Jordan. But do you remember or know of Terry Fox? Unless you're Canadian, you probably are unaware of this superhero who ran 3,339 miles despite having lost one leg to bone cancer. He was not able to complete his run across Canada due to the return of the cancer and was just 22 years old when he died. But cancer could not touch how he inspired a nation. His Marathon of Hope continues to motivate to the tune of $650 million donated to fight cancer. The Book of Heroes draws from beyond the sports world. Scientists like the doctors who fought the Ebola virus and Lawrence Patrick, who gathered data on car crashes by experiencing them first hand, are also here. Taking on these injuries helped him create designs that prevented harm for others. There's even a section on fearless animals who saved lives. Each of the eight chapters ends with a Moment of Bravery which dedicates a two page spread to a heroic deed. At the end of Chapter 4, Heroes for Hire, we learn about Takeshi Miura and Miki Endo who worked in the Disaster Control Center in their Japanese fishing village. They both kept to their posts, alerting citizens of the coming tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in 2011. Thousands were spared as these two heroes gave their lives for others.

There are so many great stories in this book. I love the wide range of people that are highlighted in these vignettes. We talk about wanting role models for our children, and here they are in bold photographs and paintings. If your class has a biography unit, this would be the perfect book to share as a nonfiction read-aloud or to supplement a wax museum project. You can introduce a new generation to previously known and unknown heroes and perhaps inspire readers to become one themselves.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Science Encyclopedia

Science Encyclopedia
2016 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Science is the way humans figure out how everything in the world works. 

Work with me on this one. Imagine Julie Andrews wearing a lab coat and breaking out in song:

Elements and sound waves and robots who rescue. Gravity and reptiles and landforms with fescue. Muscles and flowers and simple machines. These are a few of my favorite thiiiiiiiiings!

This book has it all. It starts off with a great introductory essay that talks about what is science, what scientists do, and a review of the scientific method. These two pages could be your first few days of science instruction each year. Divided into physical and life science, it's like a recipe for science nirvana. Physical science has four parts: Matter, Energy, Electronics, and Forces and Machines. Life Science has four parts as well: The Universe, Life on Earth, Planet Earth, and the Human Body. They've covered everything here. Within each section, you have two page spread covering a topic in the area. For example, in Energy we see heat, electricity, magnetism, sound waves, and other energetic subjects. Each spread has several colorful text boxes and awesome National Geographic photos. We're talking about over a thousand photos in this book! It's the textbook I never had as a kid. Other excellent features pop up throughout the book. Milestones highlights important dates within a specific area. One such milestone is Frankenstein Science which tells readers about the history of man and electricity. Yes, Benjamin Franklin and his infamous kite make an appearance as he shows that lightning is a form of electrical spark. Up Close devotes a two page spread to a featured subject such as Albert Einstein, the computer revolution, and predators and prey. There are also jokes and experiments sprinkled like dust from a comet throughout the book. After two hundred and ninety-one pages, that might be enough. But not here. In the back matter you get an impressive glossary and a list of over twenty-five websites and other helpful media.

This is the book that you want to gift your young scientist with. It's simply fantastic because that's what you expect from National Geographic and they deliver. It's a book that will be your go-to reference on scientific matters.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Wee Gallery: Farm and Jungle Slide and Play Books

Slide and Play Books
2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I am a BIG cat.
I have STRIPY fur.
I like to HIDE.
Who am I?

First of all, I like the one bright color against the black and white. That's a striking image to me. When you open this board book, on the left is a page with three short sentences and a question. Now obviously, with the animal on the other side, this isn't exactly your first choice for predicting. But what you can do is make this pattern into a game with a very young reader. After finishing reading, you can create more clues and see if the child can guess. Kind of like I Spy. On the right side of the spread is a picture with three slides that can be manipulated to make the image of an animal. Toddlers can also play with the slides to make funny off-center pictures. There are four pictures in this board book, a tiger, a parrot, a monkey, and a snake.

One of the surprising uses of these slide and play books would be to focus on parts of speech. The author capitalizes words in each sentence. With second graders, you could ask about the part of speech for each capitalized word and then ask them to recreate the page with synonyms for the capitalized words. Kindergarten students could read this book and then write their own riddles in a journal. Then they could share them with a friend to see if they could guess the animal. You could even use the pictures to ask what geometric terms are visible. No reason to be bored with this new series of board books.

Monday, November 7, 2016


written by Lynn Parrish Sutton; illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg (read an interview with Melanie here!)
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I love you continuously like Seattle's rain. 
I love you abundantly like the fruited plain.

If you, like me and the rest of America, are sick of the 2016 election, I have an antidote for this illness! Forget making America great again. It is great already and I have the proof in this wonderful rhyming travelogue featuring iconic landmarks, monuments, and natural areas. Each page has two famous American places, each accompanied by a rhyming verse that starts with the words "I love you..." and followed by a vivid adverb. On one page, you will go from Boston to Chicago:

I love you duckily like the Public Garden's flowers.
I love you impressively like Chicago's gleaming towers. 

So now the door is open to researching these two famous places using key words from the verses. What a nice gateway to a needed skill! The illustrations are also top notch with warm, bright water colors bringing each location to life. After visiting Hawaii, the book goes to its strong conclusion like a reliever striking out the side to end a baseball game. Symbols of America become the focus of the verses:

I love you grandly like the wave of Old Glory. 
I love you complexly like our national story. 

How smart is that last line? My interpretation is that yes, we love this country, but also recognize that our story is a complex one that requires great reflection and thought instead of hastily composed tweets. The book ends with a full map of the United States and the following words:

I love you shiningly, freely, Americanly.
I love you so.
From sea to sea. 

I can see sharing this with a class of 4th or 5th graders, and then asking them to create a page with two places in your state and a verse for each place. You could create a book with all of those pages. It would also be great as part of a lesson on adverbs. To sum up my feelings in a couplet:

I love you Americanly, I must be confessin'.
This is one sensational geography lesson.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Scribble and Author

Scribble and Author
written and illustrated by Miri Leshem-Pelly
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Wow, Author, you've created a beautiful beginning! Where do I go next?

Scribble, a spot of color with a necklace and boots, and her creator start their relationship off nicely. Author paints a serene tropical scene as the beginning of the story and Scribble approves of this choice. Author explains that Scribble will go on a journey and asks what she would like to do. Looking to make a friend, Scribble walks to a hole in the illustration that leads to the middle of the story. Seeing a monster, she scurries back to the beginning. Author explains that journeys have challenges. Bravely, Scribble walks to the middle and defeats the monster with an eraser. Her next challenge is the River of Questions which of course, prompts her to ask several questions. Borrowing a piece of paper from Author, she sails across the river only to arrive at The Mountain of Challenge. Once again, Scribble problem solves using one of her creator's tools. With two pencil shavings as wings, she flies to the top of the mountain. When you've reached the top of the mountain, there's only one direction to go. And go Scribble does, racing down the Slope of Fears being chased by a roll of tape like Indiana Jones and a boulder. Will she find a friend after all of these challenges?

So, so, clever is this story! This is a terrific way to introduce young readers to how narratives work. I can easily see using this as a template for writing a story. You could even create a River of Questions on a wall and place possible questions on it and also have a Mountain of Challenges. I would follow a couple of readings of this text with a shared writing. Maybe a Scribble story with different challenges. So many teaching possibilities with this wonderful book!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sharks!: Amazing Animal Facts

written by Lori Stein
2016 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are nearly 500 different species of sharks swimming in oceans around the world. 

The minute I caught sight of this book, I knew it could be a game changer. How so? Informational text usually comes in picture book size or in the coffee table book size. What's new to me with Sharks! is that it's in the format of a paperback novel with 107 pages of information. Why is that so great? Two big reasons right off the bat. One, the low price ($5.95 list) of the paperback means that upper grade elementary teachers can buy a class set and really dig deep with nonfiction reading and writing. With more books coming in this series of chapter books, teachers can purchase different titles and have students compare books and the knowledge they gather. The second reason why this format is a big deal is that it allows authors to explore a subject with greater depth than if it was a 32 or 48 page book. Chapter two, Sensational Senses, has full paragraphs about each of the shark senses as opposed to one or two sentences. This format allows us to learn more about electroreception where a shark senses the electrical signals sent out by other animals. Sharks can also sense vibrations in the water and changes in the pressure. With their taste buds, they even spit out food they don't like. Sometimes being overly sensitive is a good thing! Other chapters reveal facts that make nonfiction so appealing. Chapter five, Tricky Sharks, gives information about the salmon shark which swims 55 mph. Did you know about the subcategory of catsharks? There's over 150 different kinds of these small sharks which have eyes like cats. One of these, the swell shark, swallows water to double its size and scare off predators. It can also swallow air and expel it to bark like a dog.

Having informational text in a paperback format will pull in readers who need a simpler text, but don't want to be seen with a 32 or 48 page book. You also get the photographs and text boxes that you expect with nonfiction. With a companion piece, Dinosaurs!, also available, readers will want to take a bite out of this new series of chapter books.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Patch and Ruby

Patch and Ruby
written by Anouska Jones; illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
2016 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But sometimes he felt like he didn't quite fit in.

Poor ol' Patch the horse. He has a lot of friends, yet is still lonely. How so? He spends time with the hens in the morning, but doesn't fit into their conversations. At lunch, it's a meeting with Lily and her family of ladybugs. The spotted insects are nice, but horses and ladybugs don't have a lot in common, and they have differing viewpoints when it comes to gardening. Dinnertime is spent with Ernie and Edith which is lovely, but taking care of their little mice leaves little time to converse with a horse. Even her most special friend, a little girl named Sam, is busy with school and human friends. Fortunately, Sam sees that there is a problem, and she has the perfect solution. The possible problem solver is transported by a horse trailer and is named Ruby. Will this field provide a friendship for two horses?

What does it take to be a good friend? That's an important topic in K-1 classes. One element of a great friendship is time. You have to put in the time to be a good friend. Patch needed somebody who could spend time with him. With Patch and Ruby, you get a text that will spark good discussions and writing about friendship. It's also helpful to use for working on prediction skills and for teaching story structure. Young readers learn that most fictional stories have a problem and a solution. With a gently sweet story and engaging illustrations, you and your readers will want to make friends with Patch and Ruby.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist

Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist
written by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

People loved Juan's colorful music. It took them to other worlds, other planets. It sounded like a crazy rocket ride zigzagging through outer space!

Juan Esquivel embraced music at an early age. At the age of six, he took the paper roll out of a player piano so he could practice. If his family couldn't find him, all they had to do is look for a piano and he would be there. A move to Mexico City helped land Juan a job playing piano for 15 minutes each day at a radio station. The pay was enough to buy a sandwich and a ride home. His lack of traditional training (lessons, teachers, etc.) proved to be an asset as he looked at how sounds could be arranged without the dictation of others. Only seventeen, he was handed the job of directing an orchestra for a comedy show. Like an artist working with a myriad of paints on a canvas, Juan dabbled in sound and painted audio masterpieces. Having achieved success in his native Mexico, Juan moved to New York City and began working in stereo which was perfect for a genius like him. Being able to separate sounds brought about a whole new world of possibilities. He even had singers who would sing in sounds instead of words. This led to Juan having his own orchestra, selling many records, and becoming a popular act in Las Vegas for fourteen years. He was known as the father of space-age lounge music.

Juan Esquivel was passionate about the music he created and he had fun! He enjoyed his art and life. We should all have such joy about our work. His spirit seems to run through the author and illustrator as they exhibit the same joy in this book. This biography would be a great addition to a unit on sound as students, like Esquivel, can experiment with sound. It also would work well in a biography study. I would encourage readers to go on YouTube to check out Juan's music. One reviewer of his music was prompted to place two exclamation marks behind his name. After reading about this pioneering musician, I might add a third for good measure.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dance With Me

Dance with Me
written by Penny Harrison; illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
2016 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But the years passed and the little girl grew, as little girls do, 
and soon she did not have time to dance with the ballerina.

Stationed in a wooden box, a joyful ballerina dances as she looks out over a field and on to the sea which are actually a blanket and a blue rug. This first page shows one of the strengths of Dance with Me, which is getting readers to think about a character's point of view. The ballerina lives a happy life as the owner of the box, a little girl, dances alongside her. Unfortunately for the ballerina, the little girl grows up and loses interest in the ballerina and her music. Given the disconnect, the ballerina takes a chance and escapes from her box. She goes through the field and to the sea, but she can't find anyone to dance with her. Sailing across the sea in a red boat that looks suspiciously like a shoe, the ballerina comes upon a leopard that would rather eat her than dance. Frightened, she races back to the safety of her box. As the girl approaches, the ballerina dances and hopes to catch the attention of her beloved owner. Instead, the girl closes the box both figuratively and literally. After years of being packed away, the box opens. What fate awaits the tiny dancer?

Being a fan of the Toy Story movies, I know that giving human traits to nonhuman objects can produce powerful emotions. Tell me you didn't cry when Jessie the cowgirl sang "When She Loved Me" in Toy Story 2. Dance with Me pulls on those same heartstrings. I will be very curious to hear how children react to the different plot points in this story. With young children, you can give them sticky notes and ask them to draw how they feel and make a sort of plot timeline with the notes. You can also have them talk about their toys and which ones are most beloved.  As mentioned before, you can also use this text to teach a lesson on point of view. What we see as a rug is a body of water to the ballerina. Dance with Me is a good book to have jete into your read aloud bin.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pogo Books Fall Series

Pogo Books
Fall 2016 (Jump!)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Written at a second grade reading level, each title is packed with infographics, sidebars, activities, and bright, colorful spreads that appeal to young readers.

So I'm looking at Measure It! which is one book in the series Math It! from Pogo Books. What catches my eye first are the bold colors. As you flip through the pages, those colors continue to make this an attractive selection. Next, like its sister Bullfrog Books, you have an ideas page for parents and teachers that encourages making this reading an interactive experience, with opportunities to front load and measure things. If you're going to hawk a STEM book, there need to be plenty of chances to do something active. Measure It! fulfills that requirement with measuring activities on nearly every spread. The choice of content is impressive as readers will relate to pictures of gardens, kittens, and toys as they measure away in their classroom and at home. Another STEM series sure to please is Space Explorers. In Rovers, readers learn how and why rovers are used to explore Mars. The photographs of the surface of Mars are fantastic and readers will enjoy learning how these machines travel and how they work. 

One of the big pluses with Pogo Books is the opportunity they give to struggling readers, in upper elementary classes, to dig deep into STEM material without having to worry about decoding. I also like having a culminating activity in the back matter. In Solar Power, part of the Green Planet series, young scientists use a pizza box, a leftover slice of pizza, and other materials to make a solar cooker. Do your students know why roads are treated with salt during an ice storm? After performing the task at the end of Ice Storms,  they will know. 

If we are going to make strides with encouraging students to be more STEM oriented, we need engaging content like Pogo Books to be part of our resources. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What's Up, Chuck?

What's Up, Chuck?
written and illustrated by Leo Landry
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Why did I ever think that I was any good?" he shouted.

Last Saturday,  I was watching my alma mater snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Anyone can be a good sport when nothing is at stake. It's when we really care about winning that we find out if we are good sports. Let's just say I needed about two minutes to become a good sport after my team's defeat. Chuck, a very artistic woodchuck, is, on the surface, a great sport. He has won the Best of the Forest art contest three years in a row and is the favorite to win again. Feeling pretty confident, Chuck welcomes a newcomer who also happens to be an artist. Scooter Possum hails from Swampy Swamp and needs a place to stay so he can participate in the contest. Chuck opens his home to Scooter. The two creatures practice their craft. Chuck sees that Scooter has got mad skills. I love that you can see the look of awe on Chuck's face and can combine it with an italicized really, as in really good, to get an idea about what might come next. With students who are just beginning to venture into chapter books, these are valuable clues. Being a hospitable woodchuck, Chuck throws a welcome lunch for his new friend and includes his famous sweet potato pie. Except all the animals gravitate towards Scooter's snickerdoodles. You can see Chuck seething in the illustration and more italicized words add to the tension. On the day of the contest, Scooter's painting wins first prize while Chuck is relegated to an unfamiliar second place. Amidst the applause for Scooter, Chuck disappears. Next, we see a furious Chuck crushing one of his sculptures at home. The aptly named chapter is Meltdown. Is there any hope that Chuck will get it together and become a good sport? Well, the next chapter is named Back On Track.

Learning how to win and lose are big deals in K-2 land. I have had to counsel many a child on the merits of being a good sport. Having What's Up, Chuck? at my disposal would have been a great help. Young readers will easily connect to this terrific story of how losing something leads to a greater gain.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Groundhog's Runaway Shadow

Groundhog's Runaway Shadow
written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Grown-up groundhogs are expected to act a certain way. But Phil's shadow had other plans.

When Phil Groundhog sings "Pretty hippos out walkin' with gorillas down my street!", I'm all in for this book. You see, Phil gets his mojo from his shadow. When he feels small, his shadow makes him feel so much bigger. Everything is just better with his shadow. But as Phil grows up and moves from a backpack to a briefcase, he and his shadow seem to be outgrowing each other. Phil wants to go to the local beach for his vacation. His shadow dreams of Italy and other faraway places. Phil wants to be punctual. His shadow, not so much. The shadow's sometimes sophomoric behavior causes this relationship to reach a tipping point and Phil grumbles to his shadow "I wish you would just go away." And he does. Shadow finds his way to Paris and Egypt while leaving Phil behind in Punxsutawney. Phil posts missing notes in the newspaper and on telephone poles, but to no avail. News trickles in that a mysterious shadow is capturing the fancy of the media. Shadow finds his way to the White House and a meeting with the Queen. Phil realizes he misses his fun friend. Meanwhile, Shadow realizes that having fun is not so much fun if you don't have anyone to share it with. Can this formerly friendly duo find each other again?

Don't wait until February 2nd to share this with your class. Yes, the main character is a groundhog, but this book is more about friendship. How do we maintain our friendships? How can we be ourselves and still be friends? These and other important questions can be discussed. Students will love the antics of Shadow. He's quite a showman. Teachers will love the opportunity to compare two characters in the same story. You don't need to see your shadow to know that this book is a winner.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Anchor Charts for Character Traits/Traits vs. Emotions

Right now, our students are deep into character study, so I thought I would put together a few anchor charts that can help guide instruction. The first thing you want to tackle is the traits vs. emotions issue. I like how Scholastic blogger/teacher Genia Connell approaches this: 

I begin by differentiating between character traits and emotions. I tell my students that a character trait is the way a person or a character in a book acts: it’s a part of their personality and it comes from inside. Emotions are usually fleeting feelings that may be due to an outside force, such as good news.

In her article, Teaching Character Traits in Reader's Workshop, Connell also makes this important point:

Lessons on character traits are truly lessons on the comprehension skill of inferencing. Rarely does an author come out and say a character is jovial or bossy; instead, the reader must discover it by analyzing a character’s actions and dialogue. It takes several days before my 3rd graders are able to effectively use text evidence to make their own inferences about a character.

What this says to me as a K-2 teacher is that learning about character is a time to roll up your sleeves because having these young readers working on inferring is hard work. Worthwhile work, but hard. 

I like this anchor chart from Teacher Trap since it explicitly talks about emotions vs. traits. I especially like the ask boxes. 

Here's another chart that does a great job of talking about the difference between feelings and traits. How great would this be for Writing Workshop too? The chart comes from Julie Ballew

I like this chart for its exhortation to look for evidence. I couldn't find the origin of the chart as I was unsuccessful in the rabbit hole known as Pinterest. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Newspaper Hats

Newspaper Hats
written by Phil Cummings; illustrated by Owen Swan
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Grandpa," said Georgie, "do you remember me?"

Georgie and her father are visiting her grandfather who lives in a home. As they approach his sky blue door, she wants to know if he will remember her. Grandpa sits in an easy chair with stacks of newspapers surrounding him. Georgie asks if he remembers her. He takes a framed photograph off a shelf and talks about remembering his brother and tadpoles in a can. On the opposite page is a sweet illustration of the sepia-toned memory. Georgie asks her question again. This time, Grandpa holds a picture and remembers his mother in the kitchen baking bread and honey melting on his fingers. Undaunted, Georgie asks a third time. Grandpa recalls being scared while listening to the chopper blades while he was in the jungle. Georgie embraces and comforts him. Taking a different tack, she grabs a photo of herself, Dad, and Grandpa. In the picture, she is wearing a newspaper hat that he made. Grandpa remembers that he loves newspaper hats but doesn't remember her. He quickly makes several hats which they share with fellow members of the home who have congregated in the garden. Georgie can still connect with her grandfather even though it's in a different way.

As I have gotten older, I have switched to drinking half sweetened and half unsweetened tea. It's much less sweet, but still very satisfying. I feel the same way about Newspaper Hats. It might have been tempting for Phil Cummings, the author, to have Grandpa briefly remember Georgie, but it doesn't happen. This story stays true to Grandpa's condition and gives us a less sweet, but more satisfying ending. It's still sweet enough to share with children to help them understand what it's like for people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and for the families who love them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What Color is a Kiss?

What Color is a Kiss?
written and illustrated by Rocio Bonilla
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But above all, what I like the most is PAINTING!!!

Monica is quite confident in the beginning. She rides a bike faster than the wind. Some of her likes are swallows, strawberry cake, and her mother's stories. Monica also enjoys being kind to her plants, watering them and boosting their confidence with kind words. Her favorite thing? Painting. Lady bugs, bananas, flamingos, and penguins are just some of the million things that she has illustrated. But every artist meets their Gordian Knot, and Monica is no different. What she can't solve is the color of a kiss.  It could be red. Spaghetti sauce is yummy, but red is also the color of anger so that won't work. Green? Well, crocodiles are cool, but most vegetables are definitely not, with the ever so slight possible exception of artichokes. How about yellow? Sunflowers are chipper flowers, idea light bulbs are yellow, and honey are sweet like kisses. Unfortunately, honey comes with bees so yellow can't be the color of a kiss. Monica struggles with the good and the bad of other colors. So much so that she has to call in relief in the form of her mom. How will she solve this color conundrum?

I see two immediate ways you can use What Color is a Kiss? in the classroom. In kindergarten, this would fit nicely with the teaching of color words at the beginning of the year. Students could even try to answer the title question in a writing assignment. Another good use would be to teach comparing and contrasting. You could introduce a t-chart in first or second grade as a graphic organizer. I think the end spread of What Color is a Kiss? would also yield a terrific discussion as students try to interpret the author's meaning. This is a sweet story that will make for a colorful read aloud in a primary classroom.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tales From the Arabian Nights

Tales From the Arabian Nights
written by Donna Jo Napoli; illustrated by Christina Balit
2016 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There is nothing complacent or provincial in these stories. Rather, there is a hunger for the unknown and a desire to be part of something larger. 

Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter, has a tall order in front of her. She has a tremendous heart and it is breaking while watching the daily brides of Shah Rayar lose their lives. The Shah suffers from the pain inflicted by his first wife not being faithful, so he has placed his anger onto all women. It is her father's job to find a new bride each day, so Scheherazade knows first hand the danger she is walking into. But she does so bravely and comes with a plan. Each night, she will tell a tale that will keep Shah Rayar intrigued enough to keep her around for another night. She starts with The Tale of The Merchant & The Jinni. A merchant is relaxing next to a spring and casually throws away the pits of the dates that he has been eating.  Suddenly, he finds himself face to face with a sword-wielding jinni (genie) who accuses him of killing his son with one of the airborne date pits. Seeing how he won't be able to persuade the jinni of his innocence, the merchant asks for permission to put his affairs in order and return for his fatal judgment by the jinni. When the merchant returns to meet the jinni, three sheikhs wander by and each vowed to stand by their new friend as certain doom is on its way. This tale leads to three more nights of tales featuring each sheikh, which showcase Scheherazade's skill as a storyteller and how she plans ahead in order to keep herself alive.

Donna Jo Napoli skillfully presents a selection of the original stories. Some of the stories will seem familiar to adults, like Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor but others will be completely new to most readers. These are classic tales that young readers will probably not be aware of, so I really like that Napoli has put these together for a new audience. I also appreciate the nonfiction text boxes that appear frequently throughout the stories. These boxes give insight into the culture where these tales came from. The illustrations are beautiful with mosaic designs throughout. Tales From the Arabian Nights will dazzle readers both young and old.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pug Meets Pig

Pug Meets Pig
written by Sue Lowell Gallion; illustrated by Joyce Wan
2016 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

*If you leave a comment below or like my post on Facebook, you will be included in our contest to win the book and two doggy surprises.

Pug is happy here at home, with his bowl, his yard, and his bed.
But one day when the door opens...

It's nice to have your own space. My daughters hole up in their rooms. I have a table in the study with books piled up in stacks. Most of us have a little corner of the world that belongs exclusively to us. And we like it that way. So does Pug. He has his own bowl. Pug reports to work each day in his yard where he digs holes that are his. At night, Pug sleeps with his pillow in his dog house that has a shingled roof  and a flower box. All is right with the world. Until it isn't. One day, Pig, wearing a blue shirt and a yellow collar, rolls out the door and invades Pug's space. Pig eats Pug's food. Pig makes friends with the cat that is Pug's mortal enemy. All of this makes Pug tired so he decides to take a nap. Until he doesn't. Pig is sleeping in his house and on his pillow! How dare Pig do this! What's a dog to do? Pack up his belongings and move to a new space. But lo and behold, a new addition changes everything. A doggy door has been installed. Now Pug can eat and sleep inside. All is well. Until it isn't. Poor Pig wants to come inside too, but can only get a head through the doggy door. Will Pug be delighted at Pig's dilemma or will he lend a paw?

Look at the cover. The cute-o-meter goes to eleven. The rest of the book is just as adorable, but don't let all the charm fool you. Inside, there is an opportunity to talk to our youngest readers about sharing and meeting the needs of others. It's okay to have your own stuff, but it's great to share too which is the message that Pug seems to learn here. There are also opportunities with this book to work on problem/solution, using expression in oral reading, and cause and effect. I have some rules in life that have served me well. One of those rules is always read a book that features a pug wearing a red polka dotted bow tie. Always.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Bullfrog Books: New Fall Series

Bullfrog Books
2016 (Jump!)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Oh no! Here comes a lion. She wants food. She bats at the tortoise. She grabs with her teeth. 

I appreciate when book publishers are thoughtful with their design. Bullfrog Books cater to the PreK-2nd grade crowd so they have created nonfiction texts that are sturdy on the outside. Like an Otter Box. These books will last through the passing and jamming into book boxes that goes on in primary classrooms. Their fall titles show they were just as intentional with the content as with the design. Two new series, Weather Watch and Weather in Winter,  tackle topics that affect our every day lives. One book, Clouds, smartly ties information about clouds with how people react to different conditions. For example, with puffy cumulus clouds above, Lia can tie her sneakers because she won't need rain boots. On the opposite side, Ben grabs an umbrella since large dark clouds full of moisture are ahead. Besides connecting children to the weather, the author does another smart thing. Big vocabulary words, like the names of clouds, are saved until the back matter. This allows a young reader to read the narrative without having to struggle with new terms. That allows better work with fluency. Yet another bright spot is the back of the title page. You will find tips for reading the book with your child.
Displaying IMG_2747.JPG As I mentioned before, the creators of Bullfrog Books have a thoughtful purpose with every item that they place in these books. Here are some of the other series for this fall:

  • Reptile World - Animals are THE number one topic in primary classes.
  • Meals Around the World and Holidays - For your around the world units in December.
  • I Love Sports - 14 titles featuring traditional (baseball, football, etc,) and new favorites (lacrosse, tae kwon do)
  • Hello, America - Kids know about the White House, but do they know about Ellis Island? The Alamo?
  • Machines At Work - 18 titles about almost every type of transportation you can dream up. 

I'll fall for smartly written and visually appealing nonfiction for PreK-2nd grade readers every time.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Papertoy Glowbots Day!! October 1st

Papertoy Glowbots
created by Brian Castleforte and a cast of cool papertoy artists
2016 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Glowbots come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities - from cute, friendly robots, to strong, serious robots, to giant, scary robots. 

I can make change. I can make an argument. What I can't make are things. I'm talking about stuff that needs scissors and glue and other crafty items. My former students probably thought I was allergic to the fun crafts that come with the holidays. Well, no more! Thanks to the authors of Papertoy Glowbots, I am a new person. I created CH1PP3R 1324. There are 46 robots that you can make in this book. I chose CH1PP3R because the handy yellow tab said the difficulty level was easy. Each robot is featured in a two page spread. On the left side, there is a large photograph of your robot with a text box below it. In the box, you get a description, the function of the robot, and its abilities. On the right side of the spread, there are the assembly instructions which are easy to follow. It's definitely not like some of the birthday presents that I have had to assemble in the past. One of the things that sets Papertoy Glowbots apart from other craft books is that it also provides a narrative for each robot. The creators of the book explicitly promote using your imagination as you play with these robots. They scaffold this with the narrative. CH1PP3R 1324 can calculate requests in nanoseconds because it has circuit chips running throughout its body. Here's my version of CH1PP3R:

I would recommend that you have glue nearby. I had to use tape, but I was still able to put it together. There's a spring inside that lifts the robot body up. It took a craftily challenged person like myself about an hour to create it. I'm so proud.

Papertoy Glowbots would be a great gift for a kid. This will take their eyes off a screen and have them working with their hands. It definitely will lead to students writing imaginative narratives with a freshly made robot on their desk. With a cool set of glow-in-the-dark stickers to decorate your robots, this is one time where it's not a bad thing for robots to take over your world. At least for a few hours.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Paint By Sticker Kids: Zoo Animals

Paint By Sticker Kids: Zoo Animals
2016 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All you have to do is find 31. It's over ...there. You place the sticker onto the space. It's as if you filled the space with a perfectly even coat of paint.

One of the concerns that I have had lately about students in K-2 is their lack of gross motor skills. It seems like they are not able to cut with scissors or perform other craft skills as deftly as I remember in previous decades. So I'm all for activities that will boost these skills. Paint By Sticker fits the bill and I'm not surprised that Workman Publishing has published this book because they are so good at creating fun crafts for kids. The first half of the book is ten templates for placing the stickers. The second half contains the colorful stickers. Some of these templates have over 50 stickers so it's not a simple walk in the park to create these mosaics. That makes it even better as you get a greater sense of accomplishment when you finish. As a parent who has survived many many car trips, this would be a great book to give to a child before you go over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. Among the animals featured are a gecko, a peacock, and a puffin. In the classroom, this book would be a good resource for talking about both regular and irregular polygons. Coloring is back in vogue, but if you want a change of pace, consider this cool sticker book.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


written by Julie Winterbottom; illustrated by Stefano Tambellini
2016 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One sting can kill a human. If you survive a sting, you have Irukandji syndrome to look forward to: It causes body pain, nausea, and a feeling of impending doom. 

If you dare to read this book, I suggest you do it in full daylight. Say 9:00 in the morning. This is not a book to keep on your nightstand. It's an A-Z horn of plenty of horror. Don't believe me? Read about the Island of the Dolls. This is a small island near Mexico City that was populated by a single man. He found a doll floating in water one day and decided to hang it from a tree in memory of a deceased girl. Then he found more dolls in trash piles and began putting them all around the island. Visitors also contributed to this dystopian doll vision which added to the alarming ambience of the island. Thousands of dolls, many with missing limbs, looking down at you. EEEYAHHHH! That's only one of the many "eww-inspiring" entries that you will find in the Frightlopedia. You know about Venus flytraps, but are you aware of the Nepenthes plant? Similar to a pitcher plant, it captures mice, rats, lizards, and even birds. One such plant in France produced a smell so foul that visitors to the botanic garden raised complaints. Seems a partially digested mouse was a victim of the Nepenthes. In addition to the nonfiction nightmares, spine-tingling stories are interwoven throughout the book. One such tale is of the mujina which is a Japanese phantom. This ghost story will not help you face your fears.

Frightlopedia is the textual version of a roller coaster ride. At first, you wonder why in the world you are reading it. Then, you want to put it away, but you can't. The harness is locked and you have made a commitment to this ride. You're scared as you go through the loops and dives of these entries, but the thrill is so big that you don't dare stop. When you're finished, you're breathless, but exhilarated and ready to go again. Students who are reluctant to pick up other books may find a different reaction to this book. It's got the weird factor that makes you want to share with others, which is a big deal with reading. If you care to share, you'll keep reading. With Halloween approaching, Frightlopedia would be a fun read-aloud with older students. I would challenge them to determine if the entry is fiction or nonfiction. Scare up a thrilling reading experience by finding a copy of the Frightlopedia.