Monday, August 29, 2016

Time For Kids Almanac 2017

Time For Kids Almanac 2017
2016 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A chocolate sundae is nice. Vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. But what if you added a slice of banana. And sprinkles. Ooh, some peanuts would be good too. What about another flavor or two of ice cream? Imagine having seventeen flavors of ice cream! That's how an almanac is an indulgence for an informational text fan. It takes some facts and adds more and more. The nice thing about this informational sundae is that you gain zero calories from reading it. There are seventeen sections to the Time for Kids Almanac 2017.
Within each of those sections, there are plenty of facts, but the beauty of this almanac is that text is presented in several different ways. For example, the geography section has a two page map with seven circles of data representing the continents and a table with information about the five oceans. The next page features informational text about the Earth in a narrative format. On the opposite side is a first person report about Antarctica by TFK writer David Bjerklie. Three different styles of nonfiction on three consecutive pages. That's how an almanac rolls. It's more than just lists of data. And it's quite handy too. If you need facts about a president, it's there. What about the flag of a particular country? Got it. Loads and loads of info that will be useful beyond this calendar year.

When I was a kid, I could count on two gifts each year: The new paperback edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and The Associated Press Almanac. I had a happy childhood! Using this in the classroom, you could sit it right next to a dictionary for reference purposes. Want to add some tech? You could also use an app like Goose Chase and add a scavenger hunt using facts from the book. There are many uses for this unique tool!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How This Book Was Made

How This Book Was Made
written by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Adam Rex
2016 (Hyperion Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The first draft of this book was not so good. Neither was the second draft. Or the third. Or the twelfth. 

Even though I haven't met them, I've decided that I hate Mac Barnett and Adam Rex. Having seen my first three books published this year, I was all set to talk about MY books during my upcoming first author visit. Scratch that. Instead, this book will be the feature presentation. It's clever, funny, and a brilliant way to demonstrate how the writing and publishing processes work. Barnett starts off by explaining that books begin with an idea and these ideas come at the strangest times. Such as when you are arm wrestling a tiger in the jungle. That's the M.O. of this book. Truths about the writing life are placed within hilarious situations such as when Barnett is sitting on a bare mountain trying to write drafts with no success. Fortunately, the mounds of drafts can be used to scare away the tiger bent on revenge. Encounters with his editor and with illustrator Adam Rex follow a similar vein. The editor is shown wearing a tiara and eating a fancy lunch. Dotted lines across several enlarged maps bring to life the back and forth between a writer and an editor. Having won his battle with the editor, Barnett's words are sent to Rex, the illustrator. Let's just say that the illustrator is a little lethargic. Next, the words and pictures are sent to be printed. In a humorous way, author and illustrator show that the shortest path is not always the one taken. Now here's the kicker. After all the humor of this book, the last page reveals a beautiful and unexpected truth about books. That's why these guys are celebrated and deservedly so. They are not only funny, but also smart and able to hit exactly the right note at the right time.

With Writer's Workshops starting all over the country this week, this is a great way to start it. It would be fun to have triads play the parts of Barnett, Rex, and the editor with their writing. If you have an author visit scheduled, this is also the perfect piece to share. How was this book made? With equal parts brains, humor, and heart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Busy Builders, Busy Week!

Busy Builders, Busy Week!
written by Jean Reidy; illustrated by Leo Timmers
2016 (Bloomsbury)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Monday! 'Doze it day!
Dig it, dump, dispose it day.

In PreK and kindergarten classes across the country, children are starting back to school and one of their tasks will be to learn the days of the week. They'll probably learn a cute song, but as a follow-up, might I suggest this colorfully busy construction crew? They're a little wild, but that's part of the fun. On Sunday, the team gathers at a site in the city. This is a chance to plan and brainstorm what they want to accomplish. What an opportunity to talk about the writing process! As the construction crew plans their project, students can plan their piece of writing. Monday comes and it's time for demolition. This part seems like the most fun to me. Tuesday calls for mixing and fixing. The rhymes in Busy Builders will make for a great shared reading experience. With Wednesday, it's time to load and haul. Clues as to what the crew is building come fast and furious which is the perfect opportunity to practice predicting. I think you could also make a circle map and list the types of transportation vehicles that you see in the book. After two more days of work, it's time for the big reveal. Every creature is wearing their finest as they invite the neighborhood to enjoy the fruits of their labor. How many of your students will be able to guess what was built?

Fun, fun, fun! That's what you will have when you share this book with your class. It's always a good time when you can share a rhyming text accompanied by sunny artwork that can't help but bring a smile to your face. The characters in the book have a bounce in their step and you will too after reading Busy Builders, Busy Week!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Seed to Sunflower

Seed to Sunflower
written by Camilla de la Bedoyere
2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

When spring comes, the seeds that are in good soil begin to germinate. They will grow into new plants, and the whole life cycle will begin again. 

There may not be a flower that is more fun to grow than the sunflower. They are a no fuss bloomer that can grow to twice your height. It's also one of the easiest seeds to use with young children who love to fill a plastic bag with dirt and wait for the magic to happen. My previous class planted seeds on Earth Day and now the plants are ten feet tall! Now if you're going to do this, you should have a literacy tie-in. Seed to Sunflower tells the story of the humble sunflower as it sheds its seed coat and climbs to greatness. Three things stand out about this informational text. First, it's loaded with text features that are just right for the K-1 crowd. Lots of labels here with diagrams that illustrate the process of the life cycle. Second, the photographs are dazzling and huge which makes it perfect for the primary crowd. Third, it's loaded with science vocabulary. Young readers, with the proper scaffolding, will enjoy using these words to impress their parents and friends.

Seed to Sunflower, besides being a good science book, would be a great source for teaching sequence. You can take one of several two page spreads and use it for a mini-lesson. Students can also use this book to compare the plant life cycle to other life cycles such as animals and humans.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince

Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince
written by John Claude Bemis
2016 (Hyperion)
Source: I bought it!

Over the tree-topped hill behind them, a figure rose in the air, long wings stretching from his back, red armor glittering in the sunlight. The happiness drained from Pinocchio.

This ain't your Momma or Daddy's Pinocchio. There's nothing cute about a sword wielding automa who will break your arm if you get to close to him. Pinocchio starts off locked in a trunk in the village of San Baldovino. Wine-soaked Don Antonio and imperial airman Captain Toro open the trunk and ask the puppet about his master. Pinocchio replies that his master is Geppetto. Not the kindly shoemaker that you remember from animation. This Geppetto is considered a traitor by the Venetian Empire. He is the former high alchemist to the ruler of Venice. What follows is a spellbinding journey for the wooden boy as he seeks out his maker, his place in the world, and runs with a cast of characters including a princess and a cricket who is anything but a conscience.

I don't read many novels, but I'm glad I sought this one out. It's a perfect read to do what the best books do which is take you away to another world. We talk about wanting students to be in a reading zone. This book will get them there. This adventure is lean and mean. It doesn't suffer from parts that lag with too much information or dialogue. It's action packed from the start. What Bemis does is take your expectations and laugh at them. He transforms a familiar cutesy character into an action hero, but retains the heart of the story that we all remember. Once I started reading, it was difficult to put this fascinating fantasy down. That's when you know you have a winner.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I'm the Happiest

I'm the Happiest
written and illustrated by Anna Shuttlewood
2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Raccoon started jumping and clapping his hands and dancing his happiest dance. 

Raccoon must have Pharrell as his ringtone. While the other animals are trying to outshine each other out of jealousy, Raccoon declares how joyful he is for each animal that promotes themselves. The game of Top This starts with Giraffe. With his head way above the others, he announces that he is the tallest and therefore the most valuable. Like he had anything to do with being tall. Unfortunately, most of the other animals take the bait and stretch as high as they can. This only leaves them defeated and a little bitter, but Raccoon blazes a different trail. He tells Giraffe how happy he is that his friend is so tall. In his joy, Raccoon bounds around like he won a gold medal. Porcupine pipes up next and announces himself the champion of being spiky. The other animals attempt to be spiky but to no avail. Again, they are left to wallow in a lake of envy. Not Raccoon. He is incredibly happy for his neighbor and continues to express enormous delight in movement. What follows is a cavalcade of self-congratulation among the animals with Raccoon being happy for all of them. What the reader sees is Raccoon being the most civil among them. The animals soon get the message that Raccoon is sending through his behavior, and they abandon their promotion of themselves and get on the happy train for each other.

Humility is not a bad character trait to practice. There is nothing wrong with showing pride, but I think there needs to be an equal dose of cheering for others. It can't always be about you, which can be a difficult lesson for a youngster (or an adult). With adorable illustrations and a good lesson, I'm the Happiest would be a great addition to your batch of beginning of the year books which serve to set the tone for the rest of the year.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Nearsighted Giraffe

The Nearsighted Giraffe
written by A.H. Benjamin; illustrated by Gill McLean
2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"I'm not wearing them," said Giraffe. "A giraffe in glasses would look silly!"

Giraffe has a problem and it's not her sight. Oh sure, she can't see things unless they are right in front of her. But that's not the real issue. Her predicament is that she is very worried about what the other animals think. After throwing Snake for a loop, her friends make a pair of glasses to help her see. Giraffe refuses to wear them. Instead, she finds something preposterous to wear to avoid her need for the spectacles. To avoid bumping her head on branches, she wears a bicycle helmet. Sitting on a thorny bush causes her to tie a pillow on her bottom. This is the giraffe that said glasses would make her look silly. Right here is where you could teach a lesson about irony. What will it take for Giraffe to see the light? Let's just say she gets an opportunity to reflect on her choices.

The obvious reason for reading this book to your class would be to lift the stigma of wearing glasses. That's a noble thought, but I think there's more that you can do with this book. The Nearsighted Giraffe is one of the best mentor texts for teaching cause and effect that I've seen lately. It's full of examples. This book would also be great for working on the skill of retelling. You have several events in sequence that a reader could remember. Lessons on using quotation marks and how to storyboard for writing would also receive a boost from this giraffe. Don't be nearsighted and think Giraffe has only one trick up her sleeve.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Anchor Charts for Starting School

As Steve Miller sang 40 years ago, "time keeps on slippin, slippin." Vacation has pretty much run its course, and classroom teachers are already going back to set up their rooms. I thought I would put together some anchor charts/articles that might be of use when beginning the school year.

Scholastic blogger Alycia Zimmerman wrote an article in Dec. 2014 about starting a new calendar year, but her advice fits beginning the school year as well. The chart on the left comes from the article. She has several good charts that can be incorporated into your classroom.

This chart comes from ELA in the Middle. You could make this an activity during the first week of school by giving students chart paper and asking them to contribute ideas about what you see and hear from a great classmate.

Teaching With Terhune

The Corner On Character

Crafting Connections

Kindergarten Kindergarten

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Who Wins?

Who Wins?
created by Clay Swartz; illustrated by Tom Booth
2016 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

In this book, history is transformed into an imagination stirring game, as you pit some of the most colorful characters in history against each other in a series of hilarious hypothetical situations.

Let's get ready to ruuuuuumble!! 100 history heavyweights battle in 50 head-to-head showdowns. Who wins a slam dunk contest, George Washington or Leonardo Da Vinci? Washington is more athletic but Da Vinci gets the nod in artistry. Better at living on a space station, Queen Victoria or Confucius? Both are intelligent leaders but can Queen Victoria's wealth overcome the Chinese philosopher's edge in wisdom and fitness? Readers decide the winner of each of this clashes. This amusing flip book is divided into three parts. The two outside parts each contain 50 historical figures illustrated on the front with a biography on the back. The middle flip contains the challenge and the categories (wealth, fitness, wisdom, bravery, artistry, leadership, intelligence) in which each figure is ranked. Here is an example:

Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the American Revolutionary War, is facing Agustina De Aragon, who fought in the Spanish War of Independence. It's a pretty even match in this challenge of becoming a member of the Avengers. One of the great joys of this book is having students research one of these famous people and debating whether the author got it right with the rankings. Sports fans do this all the time when arguing about athletes. The current debate du jour is whether LeBron James can equal Michael Jordan. These debates fuel sports fans so why not do this with figures in history and drive research and knowledge? It's a brilliant idea. You can mix and match so there are a ton of permutations to be had.

This would be a smashing way to start off a study of biographies. You could share two familiar figures in a challenge with the whole class and have a debate. Then, you could assign students two lesser known people and have them do research and create rankings. They could see if their rankings matched the author's thoughts. It's also a good mentor text for writing a short biography. As the British would say, this is a cracking good history book!

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
2016 (Arthur A. Levine)
Source: I bought it!

I didn't choose, you know that? I didn't choose to be his son.

This is going to be a little different from my other posts since I need to tread lightly around plot points as to not be a spoiler. This script, from the West End production of the play, revolves around the relationship between Harry Potter and his youngest son Albus. First, I like that I'm reading a script as opposed to a novel . It made my brain work a little differently and I adjusted quickly. The story starts at King's Cross where Deathly Hallows left off. Harry is comforting a nervous Albus who is beginning his first year at Hogwarts. After finishing Book 7, I assume the Potters live happily ever after, but both Albus and Harry struggle in their careers and with each other. As a parent of a teenager and a tween, this struggle rings true. Albus, trying to find himself with such a famous father and the expectations that come with it. Harry, the Boy Who Lived, has to figure out how to be the Father Who Loved. Not easy tasks for either Potter. Other familiar characters are woven into the script, with a few surprise ones making appearances.

I started the book around 7:00 yesterday evening and finished it at 1:00 in the morning, so I had the same exhilarating experience as reading previous Potter novels. It was a fun read with the usual roller coaster of emotions. I applaud J.K. Rowling for daring to go back to the Potter well. It's a brave thing where, other than money, she probably hasn't a lot to gain by doing this. Cursed Child won't end up being your favorite piece of Potter literature, but it's a worthy addition that fits well with the novels. Now on to the Magical Beasts movie in November.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends

Small Data
written by Martin Lindstrom
2016 (St. Martin's Press)
Source: I bought it!

This amalgamation of gestures, habits, likes, dislikes, hesitations, speech patterns, decors, passwords, tweets, status updates and more is what I call small data.

I will never look at people in the same way after reading this book. When teaching science or writing to young children, we coach them to be observers, but do we really practice that in our own lives? Martin Lindstrom does to the tune of about 300 nights a year spent in other people's homes. What is he looking for? Lindstrom is a global branding consultant who is hired by entities to find out what people desire and how to make their product an object they want. He conducts interviews, searches through refrigerators, and generally sorts through volunteer's lives to piece together puzzles of what it is we really want in this life. Small Data is a series of vignettes that highlight his work. If you like Malcolm Gladwell's books, you'll like Lindstrom. In chapter 3, he is hired by a global cereal manufacturer to find ways to boost the sales of a sagging product. After decades of great sales in India, market share went down especially among younger female buyers. At the heart of this matter seems to be the relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. In his research, the mummyji, or mothers-in-law, prefer vibrant colors in their products. These colors link to "concepts of luxury, rich, and aspirational." Lindstrom visits homes and discovers that younger Indian women are drawn more to greens that represent to them the idea of freshness. How to please both constituencies with cereal packaging is the challenge for him.

I am intrigued by the stories spun in this book. It has prompted me to think about how to observe the "small data" in classrooms. How does a teacher line up their desks and what does that say about them? Are charts/posters displayed and how are they used? How is the classroom library organized? You can probably learn quite a bit by unearthing small data as opposed to relying solely on big data such as standardized test scores.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Two New Sports Books

*With the Olympics starting this week, it's game on for readers!

Everything Sports
written by Eric Zweig and Shalise Manza Young
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The exercise we get by playing sports is good for our bodies and our minds, and the lessons we learn about dedication, teamwork, and sportsmanship are good for building character. 

Everything means every thing. Any sport that I could name is featured in this photogenic offering from National Geographic Kids. The beginning is smart as it addresses the question of what is a sport. Something can be physically taxing and/or challenging  and still not be considered a sport. What follows is a cornucopia of facts and photographs that will entice sports lovers to keep turning the pages. The sneaky part of this book is how text features teach students about geography, math, and science. For example, Who Plays What? is a two page spread that features favorite sports of countries in five continents placed on a world map. On the next two pages is A Photographic Diagram, which shows what is inside when you slice a sports ball in half. Another teaching point with this book is vocabulary. There are so many words and phrases that come from the world of sports. Page 23 is a diagram of several basketball terms (buzzer beater, slam dunk) that can be used in other contexts. Page 25 has baseball terms that serve the same purpose. If traditional sports are not your thing, there is a section on newer activities like parkour and wakeboarding. While you're watching the Opening Ceremonies this week, you can wow your friends with information from Everything Sports.

Weird but True Sports
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Tennis balls used to be black or white. They were changed to yellow when it was discovered that TV viewers could see them better. 

When they say weird, they're not kidding and that's a big part of the fun of this book. Instead of telling me how many Super Bowls have been played (Yawn.), how about mentioning that 66 people once rode a single surfboard for 13 seconds. Which fact do you think will appeal more to young readers? Somebody has created a lawn mower that can go 116 miles per hour which means I could cut my grass in a matter of minutes. We are fascinated by the bizarre which means readers will be flipping through this book trying to find facts that not only excite them, but will elicit a "No Way!" from their family and friends.

This is the kind of book that can serve as an inspiration to do research. Kids love to find facts that make jaws drop. Weird but true is like traveling through a buffet of knowledge where you can pick out the tastiest morsels and tell everyone about them.