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,
E-I-E-I-Grow!
And on those roofs are beds of herbs,
E-I-E-I-Grow!
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,
E-I-E-I-Grow!

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.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Get the Scoop on Animal Puke!

Get the Scoop on Animal Puke!
written by Dawn Cusick
2014 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

One of the most visceral memories from my childhood is the smell of the pellets that were poured on any vomit that was released by a fellow student. You forget many things, but it's not hard to recall incidents related to vomit. I was prone to carsickness as a kid and I once ruined my sister's Tiger Beat magazine. Shaun Cassidy's feathered hair took a beating. We know that our gut reaction to vomit is painful, but what you may not realize is how useful it can be. Need to defend yourself? If you are a northern fulmar bird, your projectile vomit keeps your species alive. Only laying one egg a year, these birds need this defense to protect their future. Page 19 has a fabulous photograph of this hurling bird in action. You and I can put a lock on our refrigerator. The turkey vulture does not have this luxury. Instead it will vomit on animals that try to take its food away. It's bad to get thrown up on by any animal, but a vulture? That's got to be particularly heinous. Insects vomit to deter predators. Did you know that insects vomit? Hyenas roll in their vomit to disguise their scent in order to surprise prey. They are working hard for their food! And we complain if the drive-thru line at Bojangles is too long. Get the Scoop on Animal Puke! makes you think of vomit in a whole different light. There is plenty of terrific science here. Pages 36-37 contain an informative discussion of why animals chew their cud. You may be thinking that the subject matter will be too distasteful for readers. I will argue that they will be fascinated. My wife and youngest daughter thought the facts that I hurled at them were very interesting. One of my favorite sections is located on pages 34 and 35. Plants release chemicals when insects and spiders chew and spit on them. These chemicals send a signal to insect and spider predators to come on by for a free meal. Plants fighting back. You can't make this stuff up! Students will love this book. The photographs are fantastic and will stop readers in their tracks. I can't wait to leave this book in our nonfiction basket tomorrow.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Annika Riz, Math Whiz

Annika Riz, Math Whiz
written by Claudia Mills; pictures by Rob Shepperson
2014 (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Third grader Annika Riz loves math like other kids love video games. She even counts down the minutes until math class begins. With a father who teaches math and a mother who is a tax accountant, it's not surprising. Magnetic equations adorn the refrigerator. In the kitchen are salt and pepper shakers shaped like numerals. This is a serious number crunching family. On this particular day, Annika's teacher presents her with an appealing challenge. A citywide sudoku challenge for elementary school students is being hosted by the public library. The student with the correct answer in the fastest time will be the winner. Annika has a week to compete. Normally, a math challenge like this would keep all of Annika's attention, but this week is different. The annual Franklin School carnival is being held on Saturday. This leads to some errant cookie baking by Annika and her friends during the week leading up to the carnival. As Annika practices during the week, interesting questions develop. She wonders why her classmates don't like math as much as she does. When she finds out the result of the contest while attending the carnival, it's a bittersweet conclusion to her efforts. This is one big reason why I like this series of books. There are loose ends here as well as in the previous book, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. Like real life, there are questions that linger and are not neatly answered. I also like the focus on math. Every year when we dismiss students for the year, what do we encourage them to do? Read over the summer! What about math? Shouldn't students be working on this as well? How often do we encourage new parents to do math with their young children? It's not that reading isn't important, but let's not push math to the side. With role models like Annika Riz, hopefully it will be full STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Design, Math) ahead!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds

Eat Your Science Homework
written by Ann McCallum; illustrated by Leeza Hernandez
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Jeff, have you eaten your homework yet?" I don't believe my mother ever said those words. That's a shame, because I would have enjoyed following the recipes in this book more than some of the book reports and dioramas (Old school pain) I labored over. Starting off each chapter is a brief overview of the science behind the recipe that follows. The section titled "Atomic Popcorn Balls" begins with a lesson on molecules- units of two or more atoms. Inside each atom is a nucleus with protons and neutrons. Elements are composed of only one type of atom. Think about water. You have two hydrogen atoms along with one oxygen atom. Now think about using food coloring along with marshmallow coated popcorn to illustrate this scientific fact. I think popcorn is an excellent conduit for teaching about atoms. Take some toothpicks and connect different color pieces of popcorn and you have a fun model of a molecule.

Want to illustrate miscible and immiscible (liquids that can and cannot be combined) and density? Create a density dressing! How about teaching chemical processes like oxidation? You need to make Invisible Ink Snack Pockets. Take pizza dough and put toppings on top. Fold over the dough and spread a paste, made of baking soda, sugar, and water, over the dough. Then you can write a message on the dough. When you bake the pockets, your message will appear!

Eat Your Science Homework is a fun way to teach scientific processes. If you are looking for ways to keep your child's mind sharp during a long weekend or the summer, this would be a great resource.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker
written by Laurie Ann Thompson
2014 (Simon and Schuster)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's easy to criticize the generation that comes after you. I have found myself veering into "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!" territory and I haven't even hit a half century on this earth yet. You might think that teenagers are just a bunch of texting and video game playing zombies occasionally revved up by an energy drink. You would be wrong. I know plenty of teens, including one in my house, who work their tails off and are great people. They try to spread kindness and want this planet to be a better place. Most of them are also getting prepared for college and one of the things they should do is show an interest in volunteering in their community and the world beyond. One of the ways you could help such a student is to find a copy of Be a Changemaker. Laurie Ann Thompson has created a great guide for young people (and old geezers like me!) who want to take up a cause and make a difference. Each chapter guides the reader as to how they can get started. I recommend viewing the table of contents on this link so you can see how Thompson covers all of the bases and then some. There are chapters on doing research, running meetings, budgeting, using social media, and planning events. One of the best parts of this book is the profile of a successful venture in each chapter. For example, the chapter on meetings features a group of young women in Massachusetts who want to improve their neighborhood. Young people will appreciate these examples of peers who have been successful in their social ventures.

Be a Changemaker is a unique and important book. It provides the tools needed for young people who are seeking to be a positive influence. If you are a middle or high school teacher that sponsors a club, you will want your students to have access to this book. A group that puts together a food drive or a car wash to raise money for a charity will find these chapters invaluable. My wife teaches high school social studies and I'm giving her my copy of the book. Find a group and help them become changemakers.

Visit the other blogs that are part of this tour:
*Thanks to Sue Heavenrich for the cut and paste!

Tues, Sept 9 ~ at Girl Scout Leader 101 
Wed, Sept 10 ~ at Unleashing Readers 
Thurs, Sept 11 ~ at Teen Librarian Toolbox
Fri, Sept 12 ~ at The Nonfiction Detectives
   and Kirby's Lane   
Sat, Sept 13 ~ at The Styling Librarian  
Mon, Sept 15 ~ at NC Teacher Stuff   
Tues, Sept 16 ~ at The Hiding Spot 
Wed, Sept 17 ~ at Kid Lit Frenzy   
Thurs, Sept 18 ~ at GreenBeanTeenQueen   
Sat. Sept 20  ~ at Elizabeth O. Dulemba  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Boy on the Page

The Boy on the Page
written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

How much time do you spend on your phone? How much time do you spend in lines? If you are like me, probably way too much time and not enough time on important things like family and friends. Do we stop often enough and ask ourselves, "Why are we here?" The Boy on the Page asks himself this question and I'm glad he did. One day the boy finds that he has landed on the page of a book. Initially alone, he sees a world beginning to appear around him. As it grows, he does too, but he is troubled as to why he is there. He has experiences like riding a horse and catching a fish. The boy paints, plays an instrument, and saves an animal. Eventually he falls in love and sees the world through the eyes of his child. Having aged and experienced much more, the boy is now an older man but is still wondering why he landed on the page. In his search for an answer, he leaps off the page. What happens next surprises him and provides the answer he is looking for.

Peter Carnavas, an Australian author/illustrator, is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Like his previous book, The Children Who Loved Books, Carnavas gives readers a sweet story with plenty of depth packed in two page spreads. My wife, a high school teacher, read this book last night and remarked on how lovely it was. With the question that is at the heart of the story, I think you could read this book to people of all ages and have them think about who they have influenced. I think young readers will connect and think about all of the people in their lives. Older readers may need to reach for a Kleenex if they're not careful. One of my favorite books of the year.

Here is a video of a song Peter Carnavas wrote that is based on the book. Your students will enjoy listening to this.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Bob is a Unicorn

Bob is a Unicorn
written and illustrated by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt
2014 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Bob's friends think he is having an identity crisis. Bob thinks he is a unicorn. Bob's friends think differently. Marvin, a moose, can't tell that he is a unicorn. Ted, a polar bear, doesn't realize what is on Bob's head. Margo the rabbit thinks Bob is just being silly. Other animals in the neighborhood are either too busy, too old, or too important to play with Bob or realize that he really is a unicorn. It's not until Bob meets a like-minded fairy princess that he finds someone who thinks he is a unicorn.

Bob is a Unicorn is a story that runs strictly on a dialogue between Bob and his friends. Bob's parts are in a white font and his friends' in a black font. This is very different than the standard format of a picture book. This was a bit of a challenge for the kindergarten class that I share these books with, but their teacher was pleased about having something different and wants to read it again. I like books that show us something we haven't seen before or very often. Bob is a Unicorn is a great book to share with preschool or kindergarten students when you want to talk about using your imagination or being yourself. It's easy to follow the standard paths, but much more difficult to do what Bob does which is to stick to your dreams even though others want to "tut-tut" you along the way. Take a break from convention and imagine yourself as a unicorn or whatever floats your boat. Bob the Unicorn would approve.