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.