Monday, December 8, 2014

Taking a Break

Life is a little crazy at the moment. I expect to be back in the new year with an improved blog. I hope you have a great holiday season. See you in 2015!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where's the Party?

Where's the Party?
copyright 2014 Jeff Barger

We forgot to set the alarm!
We're more than fashionably late.
We struggled through the ground,
And we're in a lonely state.

The ground was so warm.
We didn't want to leave.
Now the air is cold,
For summer we will grieve.

How long will we be here,
To hang by the last root?
We're hoping to catch a glimpse,
Of the fat guy in the red suit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi
2014 (KO Kids Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Two and One were best friends. Together they danced and sang. Their favorite saying was "One, Two, I'll count on you- t'il the end we'll be best friends."  All was well until Three enticed One to join the odd numbers and play a different way. Two asked to play, but Three refused, stating "We're playing Odds Only right now." Two was heartbroken. The Even numbers offered solace but also vowed to get even with the Odds. Five, Seven, and Nine took offense and fired retorts back at the Evens. Zero stayed on the sideline and wondered why it was necessary to have a number battle. She consoled Two and challenged her to think in a different way. Two took this advice and bravely addressed her peers. A happy ending with dancing ensued.

Kathryn Otoshi's trilogy of number books (Zero, One, Two) are extremely clever stories about celebrating differences, standing up to bullies, and treasuring friendship. These are issues that are at the heart of the elementary school experience. Students need to learn that working together is much better than being alone. Doesn't it take two to tango? I will end up buying this set of books and putting them on the shelf that is beside my desk. Those are the books that I use several times a year.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog

Tuesday Tucks Me In
written by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter
photographs by Dan Dion
2014 (Roaring Brook Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Look at that cover. How in the world was I going to pass this book up? Tuesday is a service dog for Luis Montalvan, a veteran of the Iraq War. The book is told from Tuesday's point of view. He helps Luis navigate through the day. Luis has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Luis suffers from nightmares both day and night. Tuesday walks beside Luis to help him walk along the streets of Brooklyn. He helps calm Luis's nerves when there are a lot of people around. Walking down stairs is challenging for Luis as he has difficulty with his balance. Grabbing Tuesday's handle keeps him upright. It's a wonderful relationship between man and beast.

This is a compelling story, but the star of the book is the photographs. Children will love seeing Tuesday with a toothbrush in his mouth or attempting to slurp an ice cream cone. I like the attention this book will bring to service dogs. Before Tuesday Tucks Me In, my experience with service dogs in children's literature was through dry informational texts. This book will also allow young readers to begin to understand that war affects more than the body. Tuesday Tucks Me In celebrates the bond between a service dog and a veteran.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dear Panda

Dear Panda
written and illustrated by Miriam Latimer
2014 (Owlkids Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Florence was a newbie to her neighborhood. The best part of the move was that the house was located next to a zoo. When she waved out her window, a friendly panda waved back. The mood changed when a letter came from Florence's new teacher. Miss Brook seemed plenty friendly, but having to stand up and talk in front of her new class was not exciting to Florence. She wondered if she would make any friends. How to quell her fears? Write a letter to the friendly panda out her window. Of course! After exchanging letters, Flo and Panda met outside her door. Both friends liked climbing, swimming, and hide and seek. Hula hooping was not Panda's strong suit. With Panda in tow as her friend, Florence confided that she was very nervous about starting in her new school. Panda felt like he could help her make human friends and sure enough, panda power saves the day.

My student friends in kindergarten loved this book! It is adorable with a universal message about connecting with others. The illustrations are a big draw (pun intended) with this book. It would also make a great bedtime story. If you teach a unit on friendship, find Dear Panda and add it to your unit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pig and Small

Pig and Small
written and illustrated by Alex Latimer
2013 (Peachtree)
Source: Orange County Public Library

One morning Pig noticed a squeaking sound coming from his nose. It continued to squeak throughout the day. Being a bright pig, he got a medical book and looked up Squeaky Nose Syndrome. With no mention of SNS, he squinted and looked down his snout. On the tip of his nose was a tiny squeaking bug. It was a friendly bug, so Pig tried to be accommodating. Riding a tandem bike was not much fun because Pig did all of the pedaling. Bug showed his appreciation for Pig's pedaling by baking a wee cake that Pig swallowed easily and without noticing the fine decorations by Bug. Pig and Bug wanted desperately to be friends, but their differences kept getting in the way. It wasn't until a fortuitous wind blew a newspaper into Pig's snout that these creatures great and small found a way to ignite their friendship despite the chasm of size.

Being a good friend is high on the issue list of elementary school students. Like adults, students tend to cloister together in like-minded groups. Books like Pig and Small can help students understand that they can be friends with anyone. Ideas like Mix It Up at Lunch Day can help in this endeavor as well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sydney and Simon: Full Steam Ahead!

Sydney and Simon: Full Steam Ahead!
written by Paul A. Reynolds; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Sydney and Simon are an intrepid pair of twin mice who are preparing for a flower show. They have a high hopes for first place but a big problem blooms when a heat wave dries up the soil in their window box. Why can't they just pour water in the box? Their apartment window is stuck and not budging. Time for the wonder twins to get STEAMed (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Arts, and Math) up. Sydney starts by drawing pictures of the wilting flowers and concentrating on creating a hypothesis for the stuck window. Simon has his tablet focused on finding solutions. With the help of their mom, the twins start thinking about water vapor and an investigation is launched. In the process of trying to create a watering device for a small space, Sydney and Simon discover a leaky faucet that leads to an investigation of water use. The mice use many resources including their science teacher and Uncle Rusty, who works for the water department, to learn more about wasted water.

One of the great things about this book is how readers get to see two characters constantly thinking and being determined to solve problems. There's no giving up with these two mice. Sydney and Simon's actions will ring true with young readers because they are excited about every discovery and this is how kids react as well. Watching kids at recess or with a science experiment will teach you this. I love how all of STEAM is woven into the story without it becoming stilted and boring. The artwork is full of bright colors which makes this a fun read. I hope the Reynolds brothers will bring us more Sydney and Simon adventures because we need kids to get STEAMed up!

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

There are 22 terrific K-2 life science lessons in this book. These lessons pair up great picture books that you can use to teach life science. The activities will bring more depth to your science teaching and allow you to use more picture books in your teaching.

Twin mice Sydney and Simon love to learn. They are growing flowers for the upcoming flower show, but a stuck window is keeping them from watering the flowers in their apartment window box. What to do? Use the powers of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) to solve problems. Young readers will enjoy this early reader chapter book from Paul and Peter Reynolds.

Gaston is a bulldog in a family of toy poodles. Despite the differences, Gaston works hard to fit in with his family. He tries to drink water daintily and walk with the proper steps. One day, his family meets a family of bulldogs that also have a family member that is a little different. If you are looking for a book that celebrates diversity, this is a good one that has humor and heart.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2

Perfect Pairs
written by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
2014 (Stenhouse)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are two kinds of professional books. One kind stays on the shelf and is in pristine condition because it is rarely opened. The other kind of professional book looks battered. It has a cover that is worn from being placed daily in your book bag. There are several pages that are dog-eared and sticky notes abound. Perfect Pairs definitely belongs in the latter category. In the text, two picture books are the anchor for each life science lesson. For example, Plantzilla and A Seed is Sleepy are the featured books for a second grade lesson titled How Plants Change as They Grow. I love how this book is designed. The authors lay out each lesson with easy to follow steps. First off,  two picture books are briefly summarized. A wonder statement, accompanied by a learning goal, follows the two summaries. Being curious and knowing where you're going are important in a lesson. The next steps in the lesson are Engaging Students and Exploring with Students. In the changing plants lesson, students play concentration with seed and plant cards made from A Seed is Sleepy. One of the purposes of playing the game is to look for connections between the cards. From there, students explore by reading both books and comparing real plants with the fictional Plantzilla. The teaching steps are laid out for you, but it doesn't strike me as too didactic. There are places for students to turn and talk and to use a chart for comparing. These are important skills for a second grader to practice and the steps keep the lesson engaging as opposed to a talky 15-20 minute mini-lesson. The following step ties everything together by Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions. In this lesson students write a letter to a character in Plantzilla comparing fictional and real plant changes. They also draw pictures of plant changes and address a set of True/False statements. Each Perfect Pairs lesson will take about a week to complete if you have 30-45 minutes for science each day. There are 7 lessons in kindergarten, 8 lessons in first grade, and 7 lessons in second grade, but you can take lessons from any of these grade levels and tweak them to fit your grade level. These lessons are thoughtful and engaging. There's no fluff here but instead meaty science teaching and learning.

I use and like Teachers Pay Teachers, but some of their lessons are rather thin because it takes a lot of time to construct lessons with deep learning. When you get a copy of Perfect Pairs, you save time because you have 22 lessons from two highly skilled educators in Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley that will challenge your students to really dig into life science. Encourage your media center specialist or principal to purchase this book. Check out the website for more reproducibles related to the book.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Old Manhattan Has Some Farms

Old Manhattan Has Some Farms
written by Susan Lendroth; illustrated by Kate Endle
2014 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I'm not a very good singer. I'm not awful, but I'm not great either. But I don't care. I enjoy singing a song and my students will sing right with me. This year we've sung songs about continents and insects and had a good time. Now I have another song to add to our repertoire. Old Manhattan Has Some Farms is a cheery and clever take on Old MacDonald that features gardens grown in urban areas. Look at these lyrics for Chicago:

Old Chicago has some roofs,
And on those roofs are beds of herbs,
With some basil here and some mint sprigs there-
Pick some chives, add some dill, string them by our windowsill. 
Old Chicago has some roofs,

How much fun will it be to sing this song and check out the vocabulary! There's some sneaky teaching going on here. Several North American cities (Atlanta, New York City, Seattle, Toronto) are highlighted with the focus on different ways you can garden in an urban setting. For example, in Seattle a salad is created with the use of a heat lamp and hydroponics. Beehives, within site of the CN Tower in Toronto, yield delicious honey for spreading on bread. The penultimate setting is the White House where three compost bins deliver rich soil for their gardens. The last section encourages readers to create their own garden. 

The illustrations in this book will charm your socks and shoes off. Bright colors and cityscapes make for fun viewing. The back matter gives more information about each of the farming techniques in the book and how to adapt the song to your city's name. That's a great lesson waiting to happen. Warm up your singing voice and your gardening gloves and get ready to plant!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Two new Dawn Cusick titles

Animals That Make Me Say Wow!
written by Dawn Cusick
2014 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Animals That Make Me Say Ouch!
written by Dawn Cusick
2014 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Think about a mall food court. You walk by the Japanese restaurant and there is someone in the front who is handing out samples. I eat one of these samples and invariable order from that restaurant. The taste of the honey mustard chicken seals the deal for me. So how does this connect to informational text? I think informational text can be like these pieces of chicken. You get one bite and you want more. It leads to obsessions over dinosaurs or reptiles. You know the kid. The one who knows every species of a particular animal and even has his or her birthday party with this animal as the theme. Where does the obsession start? With books like Animals That Make Me Say Wow! and Animals That Make Me Say Ouch!. These books share a similar format. There are three chapters that highlight amazing animal facts in three different areas. In Wow!, we get facts about how animals use adaptations in foraging for food, defending themselves, and how they use their bodies to complete different tasks. Hummingbirds have space in their skulls to store part of their long tongues. That's efficient! Snails have sharp tongues that can scrape food. Walruses use their whiskers to sense movement in the water by possible predators or prey. With excellent photographs from the archives of the National Wildlife Federation, these are books that kids flip through and make loud noises as they share the book with the growing group around them. I know this because I teach second grade and see it every day. In Ouch!, readers learn how animals use their anatomies to bring the pain to prey, defend themselves from predators, and adapt to the rough environment around them. There is a fabulous picture on page 43 that shows a battle between male narwhals. They fight with their tusks which are actually a canine tooth that grows from six to nine feet. Pangolins roll into a ball making it difficult for lions to bite through their keratin scales.

The animal world is amazing and there is so much that we still don't know. How are we going to learn? By inspiring the next generation of biologists and other animal watchers through books like this series. Between books and museums, that is how it all gets started.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season

Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season
written by Jessie Haas; illustrated by Alison Friend
2014 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Preview copy provided by the publisher

It's fall and Bramble the horse feels great. The air smells like apples and is filled with bright colors. Bramble is enjoying prancing around and pretending to be scared at every loud noise. Her owner, Maggie, comes home from school and saddles her up for a ride around the neighborhood. Unfortunately all of Bramble's prancing makes Maggie nervous and the ride gets cut short. As they walk back home, they pass Mr. Dingle's front yard and this time Bramble is actually scared. A scarecrow stands in the yard. Maggie gently explains that there is nothing to fear. She leads Bramble into the yard and shows her the scarecrow. The thing is not moving which puzzles Bramble. What she finds out is that a scarecrow is not scary at all and it tastes good too.

With Spooky Season, Maggie and Bramble have now appeared in three terrific chapter books for beginning readers. Each book features three or four connected short stories that are accessible and interesting for early readers and especially those who are horse lovers. Maggie is a winning character who is patient with her charge Bramble. She is responsible and follows through on solving her problems instead of complaining and giving up. One great example is in chapter two of Spooky Season.  Bramble hears a big sound behind her and throws Maggie. As she sits on the ground, Maggie has to decide whether or not to get back up on Bramble. She does get back up, but it takes a little time. This is a nice touch because it shows young readers that you can be a little afraid as you face your fears. Readers will be able to easily connect to Maggie as they have to be patient with the many new things in their lives as well. They will also relate to Bramble, who likes to be contrary until she feels comfortable with a situation. This fits beginning readers to a T. They can be a bit squirrelly on occasion too.

Finding good early chapter books is not easy, but it is a necessary task for classroom teachers. Readers eager to try out chapter books will find the Maggie and Bramble series a great place to start.