Friday, February 26, 2016

The Knowing Book

The Knowing Book
written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; illustrated by Matthew Cordell
2016 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Review provided by the publisher

Sit down.
On a step or a hill or at the edge of a sea.
Take time to imagine something, or let something imagine you.
The unknown is waiting.

You can't judge a book by its cover. Balderdash! I saw a rabbit wearing a scarf on top of a house that is simply Bagginsesque and I was hooked immediately. My suspicions were proven correct. This is a great book. It's not so much a story as a glorious exhortation to get out into the world and do your thing. Seen through the eyes of a young rabbit, the narrator reassures you that whatever path you follow will be a good one. Take time to be joyful and to have a cry. You're going to need them both. Readers are urged to sit a spell and let their imagination take over. Don't let structure keep you from veering off the path when needed. Dream big but don't forget the small things that can bring you happiness too. At last, remember that all your steps will lead you back to where you started.

The Knowing Book is a gentle and beautifully illustrated nudge in the right direction for anyone who is about to embark on a big adventure. Graduates and soon-to-be parents are two audiences that immediately come to mind, but readers of all ages need to hear the wisdom on these pages. The text pushes us to be curious and search out new experiences. It's easy to settle and become a sheeple. Don't do it! Life can be a wonderful enterprise if we trust our instincts and remember what is truly important.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Smile Cry

Smile Cry
written by Tania McCartney; illustrated by Jess Racklyeft
2016 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Or maybe, just maybe, it's ... a wrapped in a cuddle smile. Or maybe, just maybe, it's ... a wrapped in a cuddle cry. 

How many different ways can you smile? If you thought just one, you're off by at least 12. In the adorable flip-over picture book Smile Cry, a variety of thirteen smiles are presented by the champs of charming, a trio consisting of a kitten, a bunny, and a piglet. My favorite smile is the ate all the pies smile. The threesome is shown passed out on a red and white checkerboard blanket. Other smiles include a walking in the forest smile, with the piglet enjoying the company of shade, flowers, and fowl. The kitten and the bunny display a spinning round-and-round smile while riding on a merry-go-round. Ending the frivolity is a group hug. Alas, as Badly Drawn Boy sings, the joy is not the same without the pain. On the flip side of this book come the tears. It could be the ice-cream plopping down cry with a sad bunny watching a scoop lie on the ground. Jealousy rears its head with the tutu in the wash cry. A crestfallen piglet stares at the clothesline while two friends jete away. Perhaps most devastating is the goodbye cry with the bunny waving from the backseat of a moving packed car while sidekicks give a final salute.

We should spend more time talking about emotions in school and less about standards and data. Helping kids deal with their feelings is an around the clock job and incredibly important. Smile Cry is a nice resource for those who work with young children on how to manage the flood (sometimes literally) of emotions that are present in their lives. This book also leads to a fabulous writing assignment. Pretend that your class has been asked by the publisher to create a sequel to Smile Cry. What other laughter or tears are out there waiting to be listed? The I never get picked to pass out papers cry or the laugh so hard milk comes out my nose smile are two possibilities. I imagine kindergartners and first graders will be very engaged. With sweet illustrations and insightful observations, Smile Cry will spark a slew of connections with young readers.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Kooky Crumbs: Poems in Praise Of Dizzy Days

Kooky Crumbs
written by J. Patrick Lewis; illustrated by Mary Uhles
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I was calling my Aunt Nina
When I heard from Argentina
That she'd met a crocodile...
So I took her off speed dial
In celebration of National Telephone Day

I often get emails about "holidays" that are being celebrated in the near future. They usually annoy "get off my front lawn" me. Every day of the year is probably now claimed by some group wanting to hawk their product or cause. Fortunately, we have someone who can turn my pathetic grumpiness into a gigantic positive. J. Patrick Lewis has written 29 poems celebrating different holidays on the calendar. He starts with a poem honoring National Hat Day. The Names of Queen Nefertiti praises the queen and her magnificent chapeau. When Should We Meat? is a deliciously funny quatrain written in recognition of World Vegetarian Day. The illustration of sheep eating animal crackers alone is worth the price of the book. Want to glorify World Toilet Day? Lewis has a Joyce Kilmer parody that will leave your students in stitches and have them wanting to memorize poetry. Outhouses is a perfect example of why you need this book. Poetry can be portrayed as stuffy and high minded. Lewis brings it to the elementary masses and dares them to have fun both reading and writing poetry.

A variety of forms are presented so students will see that poetry can come in a lot of different colors and shapes. The humor is spot on. Your class will ask you to keep reading. How fun would it be to use these poems for fluency work and have a reader's theater? Another idea comes from the introduction. Young writers can be encouraged to create their own holiday and find a place on the calendar for it. Finally, I enjoyed seeing the different points of view in the illustrations. Sometimes it's a ground-level view while others take place from above. There's a great art lesson waiting to happen.

School used to be fun before this era of bubble, bubble in, toil, and test. Bring back some of that joy by introducing your class to Kooky Crumbs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Cockatoo, Too

Cockatoo, Too
written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murgia
2016 (Little Bee Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cockatoo tutus!

If you're not intrigued by seeing a cockatoo in a tutu, check your pulse and have your next of kin notified. This book will charm your feathers off and make you laugh. It starts with a two cockatoos meeting. Clever wordplay with two and too fuels the sparse text. Then, from the sky descend two cockatoos sporting orange tutus and yellow plumes on their heads. Make sure you're not drinking something when you turn the page. Diet soda through the nose hurts. Not that I would know. The first two cockatoos seem to question the wearing of tutus by the second pair until a gift is delivered to them in a long box. You guessed it. Now there are a quartet of cockatoos wearing tutus. Other variations on the sounds in to come later. Would you believe toucans in tutus? What if they were doing the can-can? This leads to a fowl finale featuring cockatoos, toucans, owls, and assorted others.

Ever have a conversation that turns so silly that you end up laughing uncontrollably with tears gushing down your face? That's Cockatoo, Too. The wordplay is tremendous and the illustrations are adorable. Your students will be making puns the rest of the day. This promotes word consciousness which is the active playing with words. Cockatoo, Too is a sweet and silly romp that has rightfully earned a starred review. You don't have to be a bird brain to enjoy this.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Science Stunts: Fun Feats of Physics

Science Stunts: Fun Feats of Physics
written by Jordan D. Brown; illustrated by Anthony Owsley
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I want you to get hooked on physics and have a great time as you create your own marshmallow catapult, set off a chain reaction with wooden sticks, and make your own electromagnet.

In the court of public opinion, physics is considered dull and to be endured rather than enjoyed. Contrary to popular belief, physics is pretty cool. I submit Science Stunts as my evidence. Physicist Dr. Dazz hosts this fun physics feast. With the help of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein (that would be a pretty good law firm), the good doctor presents 25 experiments that will stir the imagination of future scientists. Each experiment features a task to be completed by the reader, an explanation of the science by one of the three physicists mentioned above, and additional information from the world of science. Marshmallow Flinger is an experiment using craft sticks, rubber bands, a plastic spoon, and mini marshmallows. Who wouldn't want to participate in a task that involves throwing marshmallows?
Craft sticks are attached in a crisscross manner by rubber bands and the spoon is attached. Now it's time to launch the marshmallows. Sir Isaac Newton uses this experiment to explain the three laws of motion. Other chapters explore gravity, heat and cold, magnets, sound, light, and electricity.

The obvious first thought is to use this in a science class, but think about language arts and math too. Procedural text is a genre that often shows up on standardized tests so using Science Stunts to teach reading these texts would be beneficial. Point of view lessons can also be launched with this book. There are a ton of possibilities for teaching measurement skills as well. Science Stunts is a humorous book that will enliven classes across the curriculum.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space

To the Stars!
written by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan
illustrated by Nicole Wong
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On another bright blue day, Kathy listened to mission control count down the minutes. "T minus three minutes and counting."

Kathy Sullivan loves adventure. She wants to explore at a time when girls are encouraged to do other things. Kathy dreams of being in the sky and often wonders where planes in the sky are going. To the Stars! tells the story of this unique pioneer who was one of the first women astronauts and the first American woman to walk in space. A giant kudos to the authors because I love how this picture book is set up. The lives of young Kathy and adult Kathy alternate between two page spreads. As a child, she does a cannonball in the cool water and notices how her arms and legs moved in slow motion. A grown up Kathy wears a space suit underwater as she simulates the working conditions above our atmosphere. Teenager Kathy is nervous as she learns to fly a plane with all of its bells and whistles. The space shuttle presents a similar challenge to an adult Kathy. My favorite part of the book shows Kathy being a passenger in an experimental Breezy aircraft.
 Courtesy of Wikipedia

The authors describe Kathy as sitting on a magical kitchen chair. The connection between text and illustration is terrific. The book ends with a two page spread showing Kathy above the earth, working in space. 

This is an inspirational book that would be great for sharing during a unit on space and/or a biography project. Students of both genders will be fascinated by the story and the illustrations. Readers will also appreciate the generous back matter. Included is a note from Kathy to students and brief biographies about other women in space. Beyond inspiring my students, I will use To the Stars! to work on the skill of comparing and using a graphic organizer. This is one flight you will not want to miss. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Diana Trujillo: Mars Science Lab Engineer

Diana Trujillo: Mars Science Lab Engineer
written by Kari Cornell
2016 (Lerner)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I spent so much time as a child trying to connect the dots. My job now allows me to do just that.

Right after graduating from high school, Diana Trujillo moved from Cali, Columbia to Miami, Florida. She had a dream of working at NASA. Since childhood, Diana loved doing math but she concentrated on learning English at Miami Dade College. Needing a break from learning a new language, she borrowed a textbook from the math department so she could relax by working math problems. Diana ended up graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in aerospace engineering. Finding a job at her dream destination, she worked on the Mars Curiosity rover project. Diana’s team needed to find a way to collect rock samples on Mars. The problem was the red dust that covers the planet. This team created a Dust Removal Tool which allowed scientists to see the rock underneath and make a decision about drilling. Trujillo became the lead engineer on the team. She continues to work on the Curiosity rover project, mentors new scientists at NASA, and speaks to students in schools.

Diana Trujillo is a role model for all students who are interested in STEM subjects. She set a goal and realized it through dedication and a love of learning. Her story also emphasizes the role of teamwork in STEM occupations. Trujillo is a shining star who will inspire students to dream big. 

*Use of Legos in childhood figures prominently in both Diana's biography and Markus Persson, who created Minecraft. If you have a young child, invest in those blocks!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Little Artists Books

Little Artists Books
written and illustrated by Niki Daly
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Mondi loves music. His fingers go snappety snap!

Each  of the four ten page board books in the Little Artists series celebrates the arts by featuring a different character. Mondi is fond of music. He plays several instruments including the xylophone, trumpet, and drums. There are many examples of onomatopoeia in this book. The last spread is a cute collection of stuffed animals following the lead of Mondi. Ruby is a fashion designer with flair. She mixes a polka dot dress with striped shorts and a pair of doggie slippers. It's all topped off by a hat that doubles as a mixing bowl. I'm reminded of my own daughters' desires to dress themselves when they were younger. Nina is a dancer. With her pink polka dots, tutu, and purple leggings, she floats through the air like a cloud or pounces like a cat. Her last move is the best with a leap into her Papa's arms. Carlos loves to paint. He draws several colorful geometric shapes which will remind adult readers of Picasso. This would be a good book to introduce shapes to a toddler.

This series of palm-sized board books with a cast of diverse characters is a sweet read for toddlers. The colors pop and the text is a just-right size. I could hear myself saying, "Why don't we dance like Nina today?" or "Let's paint like Carlos" to a toddler. Little Artists Books is a terrific way to introduce a child to the arts.

Monday, February 1, 2016

STEM Trailblazer Bios: Markus "Notch" Persson

Markus "Notch" Persson 
written by Kari Cornell
2016 (Lerner)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

After a while, I figured out that if you didn't type out exactly what they told you then something different would happen when you finally ran the game. That sense of power was intoxicating. 

Markus Persson is the creator of Minecraft, an extremely popular computer game. His father, a computer tinkerer, bought a Commodore 128 when Markus was 7. This gave the young Swede his start in programming. He typed code and made things happen on the screen. Along with coding, Markus enjoyed role playing and video games. School did not hold much interest for him so he dropped out of high school to work as a programmer. He struggled for years until landing a job at a video game company. His experience at and further work at jAlbum helped Markus make connections that would prove valuable later. During one weekend in May 2009, Markus wrote code for what would become Minecraft. This was a world where players could create as they tried to build a shelter that would help them survive during the night. Persson released the game days later and it was an instant hit. He later adopted the name Notch for use in online communities. In 2014, he and two co-founders sold their company for 2.5 billion dollars to Microsoft.

I appreciate that we have a biography of a figure that made their mark near the present time. Minecraft aficionados (and there are so many) in your classroom will enjoy reading about the creator. If your school participates in the Hour of Code, or uses programming games like Scratch, this will also be a popular read for young coders. Text features include a timeline of Persson’s life and back matter that lists websites for those interested in coding.