Friday, May 26, 2017

Animal Bites: Animals on the Move

Animals on the Move
written by Dorothea DePrisco
2017 (Animal Planet)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The globe skimmer makes an 11,000-mile journey from India to Africa-the longest migration in the insect world. 

The next time I THINK I'm too tired to get up and grab the TV remote, I need to read this book and remind myself that I'm being a slacker. It's a celebration of animal movement that will enthrall elementary animal lovers. Color tabs guide readers through the pages. Categories that are tabbed include how animals move, why they move, and animal similarities and differences. When reading this, I'm reminded of the reference books that I loved as a child of the early '70s. Beautiful bold photographs with intriguing text that keeps you engaged for hours. Except now I can take this book home and not have to leave it in the reference section before I exit the library.  For example, on page 17 is a fabulous photo of a gnu (wildebeest) with its hind legs high in the air. Surrounding it are labels that not only point out body parts but also tell their purpose. There's a box with size facts on the left that explains how the gnu g-not its name from the sound they call out when they are busting each other with their horns. Another fun spread is on pages 54-55 where the movement of animals, that do not have legs, are featured. Walruses use their fins to move them along the ice and their tusks to pull up out of the water. Earthworms squeeze their muscles to move along. I'd make a lousy earthworm if I had to do crunches just to move. Perhaps the coolest is the sea urchin that uses its teeth to move on the coral. Those same teeth can cut out a hole to make a place to hide. That's a pretty boss move. In the back matter, you'll find activities that teach you how to build a snake snack and an in-flight snack for birds.

One of the ways I would use this book in the classroom is to teach main idea and supporting details. There are so many different paragraphs that are perfect for a J-M level reader to pull out a main idea or a supporting detail. It's also pretty good for modeling text features such as labels. You'll want to move this title to the animal section of your classroom library.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Grant Wiggins: Learning About Learning From Soccer

written by Grant Wiggins
2011 (Granted, and...)

Purposeful and effective performance thus requires three things: knowing what the bottom-line long-term purpose is, knowing ways of achieving the purpose, and knowing how to self-assess and self-adjust to achieve a purpose. This is how autonomous excellence is achieved – in any arena. Otherwise you get aimless running around and questions like “Is this ok? Is this what you want?”

I like a good sports analogy and boy, did Grant Wiggins serve up a doozie with this blog post. He compared coaching soccer with coaching learners. He talked about giving players a purpose,  how you need to give them an opportunity to practice in a game-like situation and how this links to working with learners. Click on the link above for a good dose of knowledge from the late maestro of design. 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cat Tales

Cat Tales
written by Aline Alexander Newman
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cats have so much to offer-in return, they deserve a bit of effort on our parts to understand the behaviors that so often confuse us.

As I type this, a twenty-five pound black cat is looking over my shoulder. Charlie is one of my best friends, so I was very curious to read Cat Tales. It's a collection of short stories about phenomenal felines. The book is divided into five sections (Awesome, Caring, Adventurous, Hardworking, and Curious). In each section, there are 4-5 stories about individual cats that have done something extraordinary. Moosie began life inside a wall. Once discovered, his mother and most of his litter mates had not survived. He was adopted by a military family who loved how affectionate he was. Fast forward two years and Moosie's family has been transferred from El Paso, Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska. In the cacophony of movers and boxes, Moosie disappeared. His family looked and looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Saddened, the family made the move to Alaska without Moosie. Their boxes arrived two months later and when the movers brought in the futon, there was heard a faint meow. Moosie had clawed inside the futon mattress when everyone was busy at the old house. He managed to live for 64 days without food and water. Other stories focus on the devotion of cats to humans and fellow animals. You'll find cats that surf and skateboard and one named Bubba that was determined to attend high school!

For teachers, these sweet cat narratives are the perfect length for working with small groups. Talk about engaging reading material! You can teach compare and contrast through working with two or more passages. A lesson on traits could also be taught as these cats are full of character. Cat Tales is a purrific collection of stories.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale
written by Susan Wood; illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A real turf war. It seemed McCall just wasn't big enough for everybody. 
So, what to do?

McCall, Idaho was an idyllic place. Set in the mountains with a beautiful blue lake. With that kind of setting, many wanted to live there. Humans and beavers. Humans liked it because they could enjoy swimming and hiking when it was warm and go skiing during the winter. Beavers desired the plentiful trees for building dams and snacking. Something had to give. Roads were flooding due to dams and trees were falling in backyards thanks to the beavers. McCall needed a plan. In stepped Elmo Heter. With his experience working for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Heter knew the beavers had to find a new home. He had the place picked out, but how to get the beavers there? The Chamberlain Basin was miles away and there was no road access to it. Being 1948, Heter remembered that there were plenty of parachutes in supply due to World War II being over a few years earlier. He designed a box that would stay closed until it touched the ground. Now he needed a test beaver. An old male, who Heter named Geronimo, was the test pilot. The first test was a success and Geronimo seemed to enjoy the tests that followed as he kept wanting to get back in the box for another run. The last part of the plan was to transport 76 beavers into the Chamberlain Basin. All but one of the beavers landed safely and their descendants still flourish today. More information about the relocation and about beavers are in the back matter.

What an interesting story! I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't read the book. I think this would be a great mentor text in studying problems and solutions and also cause and effect. It's very engaging as it's definitely a unique problem that was solved in an equally unique way. I really appreciate Susan Wood's note that explains why this would have been solved differently in 2017. She also shows young writers how to build a picture in reader's minds with her descriptions of McCall and the Chamberlain Basin. Also very pleasing is the beautiful landscape artwork of the Idaho mountains. The Skydiving Beavers is an uncommon true story you will want to share with others.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

125 Pet Rescues

125 Pet Rescues
written by editors of National Geographic Kids
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Rescue animals need our help. Homeless horses, cats, dogs, and other animals lose their homes when their owners can't care for them anymore for whatever reason. They need voices to speak on their behalf. They need homes!

National Geographic Kids and Best Friends Animal Society have teamed up to share inspiring stories of animal rescues. The hope is readers will not only express kindness to animals but also consider adopting a pet from a shelter. Many of the dogs in this book became therapy dogs like Peaches. She was a pit bull who was rescued from an abusive home. Peaches became a therapy dog and traveled across the country to give comfort to victims of disasters. Another chapter focuses on pairs of animals who have been adopted. Mr. G, a goat who was neglected, was safe after being relocated, but was not happy. Why? He missed his old stablemate the donkey Jellybean. Once Jellybean was located and reunited with Mr. G, the old goat was a happy goat. Other heartwarming stories are featured throughout the book. An elderly woman in North Wales had a stray kitty show up on her doorstep. The kitty, Pwdditat (pronounced Pudditat) went straight to the woman's blind chocolate lab named Terfel. Hardly ever wanting to leave her bed, Terfel is lovingly guided out by Pwdditat to move out of the bed and into the yard. 125 Pet Rescues is chock full of sweet stories like this.

So how to use this in the classroom? Students could work on main idea and supporting details as many of the stories start off with a main idea sentence. There's also plenty of opportunities to work on cause and effect. Readers will see the tremendous effects of showing kindness to animals. These stories are also a perfect size for working on creating responses in writing. Pet lovers will love 125 Pet Rescues.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Princess and the Peas

Princess and the Peas
written and illustrated by Rachel Himes
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Ladies," said Ma Sally, "if you want a chance at John, you're going to need to cook."

John wants to get married. He thinks it's time he set out on his own. John doesn't lack for admirers as he is known as being most "thoughtful and kind." His mother, Ma Sally, has some concerns. The biggest is that there isn't a local young lady who can cook as well as she does. Even though she agrees that John should start his own family, she can't stand the idea that he would be subjected to "ill-cooked meals." So Ma Sally has a plan. Any lady that is interested in marrying John needs to come to her house on Sunday evening. Word spreads throughout town. Three ladies arrive on Ma Sally's veranda that Sunday evening. They were talking about how they would be the one to capture John's heart when Ma Sally invites them in and issues a challenge. If they want to be wooed by John, they must cook a dish of black-eyed peas. The cook with the best dish will marry John. All three enter this unusual cooking contest, but all fall short. Their peas are mushy, salty, and bland. As the three ladies sulk, a surprise fourth entrant knocks on the door. It's Princess, who is "fresh out of college" and new in town. Ma Sally invites her to cook a batch of peas. With an audience, Princess shows how it's done by displaying superior knife skills. When Ma Sally takes a bite, a clear winner emerges. So Princess and John get married, right? Not so fast, my friend. Princess has "her own plans." She asks John out on a date and then wonders what skills John has. In particular, she wants to know if he can scrub pots and pans. After he finishes cleaning, Princess gives her stamp of approval.

In her author's note, Rachel Himes states, "I wanted to represent an African-American community full of vibrant individuals, each of whom has something unique to bring to the table." This is a wonderful story of family and of an admirable heroine. Princess is kind, smart, and clever. Her confidence is cool. You could read this book during your interactive read-aloud time and point out these character traits. There's even a recipe for black-eyed peas in the back matter. With her first children's book, Rachel Himes has cooked up a delicious winner.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Motor Girls

Motor Girls
written by Sue Macy
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The impact of the automobile on the fight for suffrage could not be denied.

On June 9, 1909, Alice Ramsey set out in a 30-horsepower Maxwell DA touring car from New York City in an attempt to be the first female driver to cross the United States. To compare, today's Toyota Prius has about a 99 horsepower engine.  Ramsey had to deal with many roads that were unpaved, muddy, and full of large holes filled with water due to thunderstorms. She dealt with thirty foot deep irrigation ditches that crossed roads in Wyoming. A prairie dog hole in Utah caused a break in the front axle and Ramsey changed 11 tires during the 3,800 mile long trip. After 60 days of driving, with "18 days off for rest and repairs", the crew made it to San Francisco and into the history books. When faced with adversity, Ramsey replied "There was only one thing to do. And that was to go ahead as well as we might and try to get out of it." Ramsey's journey inspired more long trips in automobiles and sent the message that women were very capable of handling this fairly new mode of transportation and the hazards that came with it.

I'm really impressed with this book. There are many threads that author Sue Macy weaves through it. First, we get to meet many "motor girls" like Alice Ramsey who would be great new additions to biography units and classroom wax museums. Additionally, they're terrific examples of positive character traits like courage and determination. Macy also leads readers through the connection between the automobile and the women's suffrage movement. Groups supporting suffrage traveled across the country, in cars, gathering signatures on petitions that would help push legislators to ratify the 19th amendment in 1920 and grant females citizens the right to vote. As if that isn't enough, there's another thread of the history of the automobile. Motor Girls is a fascinating ride on the road of American history.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Brobot Bedtime

Brobot Bedtime
written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by Scott Campbell
2017 (Abrams Books for Younger Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I cannot sleep. I have the flick-ups. Help me!

Mama Bot announces that it is time to go to bed. The little bots need to recharge by entering sleep mode. Crash and Buzz are ready to go, but little Beep leaps from bed because he has the flick-ups. What to do? If he were a human, a cup of milk might do the trick. Being a robot, it will have to be a quart of oil instead. Unfortunately, trying to drink oil while having the flick-ups only leads to soggy pajamas. Buzz has a better idea. He puts on a mask and scares Beep. This works, but now you have to deal with the residual effect of Beep being scared. Brobots Crash and Buzz try leaving the lights on, but that's a no go. Building a blanket fort to block out the light? Too hot to sleep. Set up a fan to cool off? Too loud. It's a cause and effect nightmare for the Brobots. In addition, Mama has promised a hard reboot if they don't get to sleep mode. Instead of being frustrated, the Brobots make a plan and go through the steps. All is well until one final twist.

After reading Brobot Bedtime, my teacher mind was whirring. This would be a lot of fun to use for a point of view lesson. How would the Brobots deal with homework? Recess? There are some great writing prompts that could come from looking at their point of view. Comparing and contrasting was another thought that came to mind. How does the Brobot bedtime experience compare with a human's attempts to go to sleep? Break out into partners and practice with a Venn diagram. And this story is full of cause and effect examples. The secondary title could be If You Give a Robot a Quart of Oil. Will your students enjoy this book? Affirmative!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Thank You Dish

The Thank You Dish
written and illustrated by Trace Balla
2017 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Well, I'm thanking the alpaca for the wool, so that Auntie Amber could knit the scarf... that kept Uncle Fred from freezing when he caught the fish," said Grace.

Mama gives a big thank you to "the rain, the soil, and the sunshine" as she and Grace get ready to enjoy a supper of fish and vegetables with a slice of lemon. Their tiny Australian house is in a large field with a fruit tree, a garden, and several kangaroos. Grace thanks the kangaroos for the supper. How are the kangaroos responsible for dinner? Well, they didn't eat all of the carrots. Leo also needs to be thanked. He provided the ladder which led to Grace picking lemons from Lily's tree. The fish? An alpaca is responsible for them. Yes, I know that alpacas don't fish, but they do provide wool that Auntie Amber can turn into a scarf which in turn keeps Uncle Fred from getting too cold when he catches the fish. Grace realizes that it takes a community to make a dinner happen. When you understand what had to happen to put food on a plate, that tends to increase the gratitude level. It can also cause one to think about what it takes to produce anything and how we need to cherish all of the links in these chains.

The Thank You Dish is a great lesson in gratitude. Take time to be thankful. It's also a nice mentor text for teaching the skill of  cause and effect. I would contrast it with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Both of these books actually show a bigger picture about how nothing in life happens on its own and we're constantly in a state of cause and effect. I also think there's a discussion to be had about sustainability. We have to take care of our resources or other things might be eliminated. When you grow your own food, you see the sequence of growing and what it takes to produce food. You might think that connecting an alpaca and a fish is a bit of a stretch, but it humorously drives home the point that life is full of amazing connections. You and your class will want to connect with the Thank You Dish. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Share, Big Bear, Share!

Share, Big Bear, Share!
written by Maureen Wright, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But Bear just sighed with a dreamy grin, hugged his pail, and dug right in. 

Bear is lying down on the grass feeling very pleased with himself. He has a large silver garbage can full of berries. Life is good. Some squirrels and birds look on in envy, but Bear is too busy with his face in the berries to notice. A wise old oak tree implores him to share, but Bear's not strong with paying attention, so he thinks the oak is telling him to comb his hair. Using a fish bone, he strokes through the fur on his head. Going back to eating his berries, Bear again hears the old oak tree urging him to share. This time, Bear thinks he hears the word lair. So Bear goes to his home, takes a peek inside, and then heads back to his pile of fruit. The back and forth between Bear and the old oak continues through more words until the tree has had enough. Instead of a short phrase, the tree gives Bear a four sentence lecture on sharing. This time, Bear finally gets the message. In a pivotal moment, Bear asks the other animals to forgive him and he turns the can on its side so they all can share. On the last page of the book, lying with his back against the old oak tree, Bear shares something else with his new friends in a piece of artwork that is simply sweet.

In news that is not new to anyone, sharing is hard for young students. They need role models to show them why it's important to give to others. Bear can be such a role model. Another use of Share, Big Bear, Share, would be to use the book for shared reading. Your class will have a lot of fun reading sentences like "He plopped his rump on the smooth tree stump and popped in a berry so juicy and plump." The vivid artwork will also allow classes to work on learning how to infer. Reading Share, Big Bear, Share will bear a lot of fruit in your classroom.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur

T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur
written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls; illustrated by Katherina Manolessou
2017 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Reginald ate broccoli, Reginald ate beans. Reginald ate bowls and bowls of garlic, grapes, and greens.

Reg is a typical t-rex is almost every way. He has a loud roar, gnashes his teeth, and pounds the ground with his clawed feet. One thing makes him stand out among the dinosaur drove. Reg is a vegetarian. He prefers fruit shakes, avocado pie, and pea and spinach stew to a steak. Offering these delicious foods to family and friends, he's made fun of and frowned upon by his parents. Never having associated with a vegetarian, they choose to mock instead of understand. What's a t-rex to do? Well, how about putting on your backpack and trying to find like-minded creatures? Problem is, when you're a herbivore from a carnivore background, you aren't exactly warmly welcomed. Herbies run away from Reg instead of embracing him. Meanwhile, his t-rex family and friends have started to miss him and see the error of their ways. Regrettably, they may not be able to tell Reg they're sorry, as a massive rock is starting to crash down a cliff and take out the whole lot of them. If only there was a super strong dino to save them.

T.Veg is a superb way of showing how eating your fruits and vegetables is a cool thing to do. It's also a good lesson in accepting our differences instead of making fun of them. That's pretty valuable in an elementary school setting. Teachers can't have enough books that promote this. Many kindergarten classrooms also have units on eating new foods. This would be an excellent opportunity to introduce Reg to your students. Vive le vegetables and vive Reginald!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On Duck Pond

On Duck Pond
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bob Marstall
2017 (Cornell Lab Publishing Group)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A frog leaped off his lily pad,
Quite surprised and very mad.

It's pretty quiet at the old Duck Pond as the day dawns. Nice and peaceful. Until the ducks show up. They make all sorts of noise which is nicely described by a variety of vivid verbs. Different animals make a break for it to avoid the crashing fowls. In a captivating close-up, a frog jumps sky high off a lily pad. Both flora and fauna are "trembling" as viewed through the water. Even the narrator notices that his reflection is a metaphor for the scene as it is in pieces due to the duck destruction. And then, the pond becomes quiet again as the ducks have left. Each animal returns to a comfortable spot. The heron to her nest, the trout to "quiet pools", and the frog back to his lily pad. More critters join the previous occupants who were temporarily displaced. As he walks away, the narrator feels closer to the wild as they have all shared both the disquiet and the coming back together.

Like its predecessor, On Bird Hill, this book is a jewel of a small moment. On Duck Pond is what you take off the shelf when you want to show people of any age how to write a narrative. The text is captivating with spirited action words as the ducks land in the pond, and then soothing after the blusterous birds have exited. Matching the text in beauty is the artwork. I particularly like the different points of view as some illustrations are close up and others give a much wider view. It would be an interesting discussion to have as to why the illustrator made these choices for each spread.

My guess would be that one of Cornell Labs' goals with these books is to encourage children to observe the world around them and describe what they see. With the first two books that have been published, they're off to a superb start.