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.