Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space

To the Stars!
written by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan
illustrated by Nicole Wong
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On another bright blue day, Kathy listened to mission control count down the minutes. "T minus three minutes and counting."

Kathy Sullivan loves adventure. She wants to explore at a time when girls are encouraged to do other things. Kathy dreams of being in the sky and often wonders where planes in the sky are going. To the Stars! tells the story of this unique pioneer who was one of the first women astronauts and the first American woman to walk in space. A giant kudos to the authors because I love how this picture book is set up. The lives of young Kathy and adult Kathy alternate between two page spreads. As a child, she does a cannonball in the cool water and notices how her arms and legs moved in slow motion. A grown up Kathy wears a space suit underwater as she simulates the working conditions above our atmosphere. Teenager Kathy is nervous as she learns to fly a plane with all of its bells and whistles. The space shuttle presents a similar challenge to an adult Kathy. My favorite part of the book shows Kathy being a passenger in an experimental Breezy aircraft.
 Courtesy of Wikipedia

The authors describe Kathy as sitting on a magical kitchen chair. The connection between text and illustration is terrific. The book ends with a two page spread showing Kathy above the earth, working in space. 

This is an inspirational book that would be great for sharing during a unit on space and/or a biography project. Students of both genders will be fascinated by the story and the illustrations. Readers will also appreciate the generous back matter. Included is a note from Kathy to students and brief biographies about other women in space. Beyond inspiring my students, I will use To the Stars! to work on the skill of comparing and using a graphic organizer. This is one flight you will not want to miss. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Diana Trujillo: Mars Science Lab Engineer

Diana Trujillo: Mars Science Lab Engineer
written by Kari Cornell
2016 (Lerner)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I spent so much time as a child trying to connect the dots. My job now allows me to do just that.

Right after graduating from high school, Diana Trujillo moved from Cali, Columbia to Miami, Florida. She had a dream of working at NASA. Since childhood, Diana loved doing math but she concentrated on learning English at Miami Dade College. Needing a break from learning a new language, she borrowed a textbook from the math department so she could relax by working math problems. Diana ended up graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in aerospace engineering. Finding a job at her dream destination, she worked on the Mars Curiosity rover project. Diana’s team needed to find a way to collect rock samples on Mars. The problem was the red dust that covers the planet. This team created a Dust Removal Tool which allowed scientists to see the rock underneath and make a decision about drilling. Trujillo became the lead engineer on the team. She continues to work on the Curiosity rover project, mentors new scientists at NASA, and speaks to students in schools.

Diana Trujillo is a role model for all students who are interested in STEM subjects. She set a goal and realized it through dedication and a love of learning. Her story also emphasizes the role of teamwork in STEM occupations. Trujillo is a shining star who will inspire students to dream big. 

*Use of Legos in childhood figures prominently in both Diana's biography and Markus Persson, who created Minecraft. If you have a young child, invest in those blocks!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Little Artists Books

Little Artists Books
written and illustrated by Niki Daly
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Mondi loves music. His fingers go snappety snap!

Each  of the four ten page board books in the Little Artists series celebrates the arts by featuring a different character. Mondi is fond of music. He plays several instruments including the xylophone, trumpet, and drums. There are many examples of onomatopoeia in this book. The last spread is a cute collection of stuffed animals following the lead of Mondi. Ruby is a fashion designer with flair. She mixes a polka dot dress with striped shorts and a pair of doggie slippers. It's all topped off by a hat that doubles as a mixing bowl. I'm reminded of my own daughters' desires to dress themselves when they were younger. Nina is a dancer. With her pink polka dots, tutu, and purple leggings, she floats through the air like a cloud or pounces like a cat. Her last move is the best with a leap into her Papa's arms. Carlos loves to paint. He draws several colorful geometric shapes which will remind adult readers of Picasso. This would be a good book to introduce shapes to a toddler.

This series of palm-sized board books with a cast of diverse characters is a sweet read for toddlers. The colors pop and the text is a just-right size. I could hear myself saying, "Why don't we dance like Nina today?" or "Let's paint like Carlos" to a toddler. Little Artists Books is a terrific way to introduce a child to the arts.

Monday, February 1, 2016

STEM Trailblazer Bios: Markus "Notch" Persson

Markus "Notch" Persson 
written by Kari Cornell
2016 (Lerner)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

After a while, I figured out that if you didn't type out exactly what they told you then something different would happen when you finally ran the game. That sense of power was intoxicating. 

Markus Persson is the creator of Minecraft, an extremely popular computer game. His father, a computer tinkerer, bought a Commodore 128 when Markus was 7. This gave the young Swede his start in programming. He typed code and made things happen on the screen. Along with coding, Markus enjoyed role playing and video games. School did not hold much interest for him so he dropped out of high school to work as a programmer. He struggled for years until landing a job at a video game company. His experience at and further work at jAlbum helped Markus make connections that would prove valuable later. During one weekend in May 2009, Markus wrote code for what would become Minecraft. This was a world where players could create as they tried to build a shelter that would help them survive during the night. Persson released the game days later and it was an instant hit. He later adopted the name Notch for use in online communities. In 2014, he and two co-founders sold their company for 2.5 billion dollars to Microsoft.

I appreciate that we have a biography of a figure that made their mark near the present time. Minecraft aficionados (and there are so many) in your classroom will enjoy reading about the creator. If your school participates in the Hour of Code, or uses programming games like Scratch, this will also be a popular read for young coders. Text features include a timeline of Persson’s life and back matter that lists websites for those interested in coding. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On the Way to School - Movie

On the Way to School
A film by Pascal Plisson
Available on Netflix
Rated G; 1 hour and 17 minutes

We often forget how lucky we are to go to school.

This documentary follows the paths to school for four children. In the photo above, you see Samuel from India whose brothers push and pull his wheelchair over two miles every day to arrive at school. Zahira walks 4 hours every Monday in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to spend a week at a boarding school. Jackson and Salome walk 15 kilometers through the wilderness of Kenya. They wake up at 5;30 and work hard to avoid elephants along the way. Carlito rides a horse through the hilly countryside of Patagonia, sometimes on narrow and dangerous paths.

This is not a perfect movie. Jordan Mintzer, in a review from The Hollywood Reporter, points out some flaws. But I think you will still come away inspired by the efforts of these students to obtain an education. I suspect it will also make you reflect on your own experiences with our educational system.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Anchor Charts for Main Idea and Supporting Details

We start working on main idea and supporting details next week, so I have gathered some anchor charts that are popular on Pinterest. Check out my Pinterest board, Main Idea and Supporting Details, for some TPT freebies that are out there.

The Lemonade Stand

Life in First Grade

Crafting Connections

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle

The Red Bicycle
written by Jude Isabella; illustrated by Simone Shin
2015 (Kids Can Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

But there is no hint that a girl pedaled along dirt roads carting goods to market or that a boy once whipped around a small North American town on the red bicycle.

Leo has been working for two years to save enough money to buy a bicycle. He buys Big Red and takes it everywhere. When he grows taller, Leo realizes that he will have to part with Big Red. At the same bike shop where he made his initial purchase, Leo finds a place to donate his beloved two-wheeler. A group is giving bicycles to families in Burkina Faso. When Big Red arrives in Africa, the bike is adored by Alisetta. She learns to ride it right away and puts the bike to use. Having this bicycle allows Alisetta to go early in the morning and chase the birds away from her family's sorghum plot. Now they produce more than ever and have more money. Alisetta can also ride Big Red to village markets and sell items that she and her grandmother have made. One day, Alisetta goes to the city to purchase a new bike with money she has made. When she arrives back home with a new green bike, she finds out that Big Red has been damaged. Fortunately, Alisetta meets Boukary who is looking for bikes to use at his medical clinic. Boukary fixes up Big Red who is turned into an ambulance. Big Red's days of service continue.

I appreciate being able to share picture and chapter books that are set in Africa. It allows my students to see a part of the world that is unfamiliar to most of them. I also welcome books that show children being industrious. Leo and Alisetta are children who work hard to earn money and seek to pass on their good fortune to others. That's a great lesson for young children and one I could have used. I see reading The Red Bicycle for a unit on economics or one on kindness. It will give your class a perspective on how important bicycles are to many cultures around the world.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How the Sun Got to Coco's House

How the Sun Got to Coco's House
written and illustrated by Bob Graham
2015 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It had to start somewhere. While Coco slept far away, the sun crept up slowly behind a hill, paused for a moment, and seemed to think twice...

On its way to Coco's house, the sun crosses the Arctic and makes shadows in the snow for young Jung Su. Soaring over a yurt in perhaps Mongolia, a child in a plane gazes out the window to view it. The sun continues to press on, crossing a city in Asia and waking animals in the countryside. It moves over the desert and pushes the night out of many countries. After taking a look at itself in some city towers, the sun breaks into Coco's house through her window. It joins her family for breakfast and spends the rest of the day with Coco.

Bob Graham gets it. He knows that children find wonder in what adults consider mundane. We're dulled to the joy of the sun rising, too besotted with the day that lies ahead. The last time I seriously considered a sunrise, I was blinded through my hotel window at 4:30 in the morning in Copenhagen. Read this book to a group of kids and they will recall different times in their lives where the sun made an impression on them. This would be a terrific text for a lesson on the earth's rotation. It's also an excellent lesson for wanna-be writers like myself who seek to capture what children find interesting. Bob Graham is a role model for such aspiring authors. Check out How to Heal a Broken Wing and Vanilla Ice Cream to learn more.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Max the Brave

Max the Brave
written and illustrated by Ed Vere
2015 (Sourcebooks)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Max does not like being dressed up with bows.

Max doesn't think of himself as a cute kitten even though he fits the bill. He's courageous and ready to take on the mice of the world. The problem is, he doesn't know what one looks like. Once he finds out, he'll be ready to do battle. Max finds a tin can and asks a fly if he is a mouse. No, replies the fly but he mentions that Mouse was there a moment ago. Max has similar encounters with a fish, a group of birds, and an elephant. Finally, Max meets Mouse. But being a clever creature, Mouse declare himself to be Monster and points to a place where Mouse might be scurrying. When Max meets "Mouse", he looks much larger than expected and he's asleep. When Mouse's mouth opens, his teeth look really big. Falling into "Mouse's" mouth creates a bit of a problem for heroic Max.

Max the Brave is a really good book to explore the meaning of bravery. I think primary age students would take this topic and run with it. The great thing about Max is that you can approach the subject in a humorous way as opposed to the traditional "let's read some books about some really brave people." This opens the door to thinking about bravery in different ways. Plus, you can't beat a black cat wearing a cape on the cover of the book.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Where's Walrus? and Penguin?

Where's Walrus? and Penguin?
by Stephen Savage
2015 (Scholastic Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

I like it when a book makes me look stupid. This being my first experience with Walrus and Penguin, I had it all figured out. A walrus and a penguin escape from the zoo. What I thought followed was a series of settings where a hopelessly baffled zookeeper can't see the walrus and penguin. Walrus ties on a kerchief and looks like an elderly grandmother cradling a grandchild on the subway. Switching to a brown chapeau, Walrus sits on a park bench and feeds the birds including a curious looking black and white flightless fowl among the pigeons. At this point, I'm thinking "Oh, this is a cute Where's Waldo type book." As my favorite cynic Bugs Bunny would say, then the book takes a left turn at Albuquerque on me. A plot appears with twists and turns. Walrus is hiding out on the infield of a baseball game when he takes a fly ball to the noggin. The kind zookeeper and Penguin escort Walrus to the hospital. A walrus nurse dotes on Walrus and he falls whiskers over flippers for her. The final surprise shows up on the ending page.

This book will be a popular addition to your wordless collection. It is clever, clever, clever. I would use it for a cause and effect lesson with older students in addition to a fun read aloud. Preschool and kindergarten students will be engaged and open to prediction questions. You will enjoy this meeting of Arctic and Antarctic animals.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bernice Gets Carried Away

Bernice Gets Carried Away
written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison
2015 (Dial Books for Young Readers)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It was a horrible, dreary day, and it suited Bernice's mood just fine.

You would think going to a party would be fun, but not for Bernice. No frosting rose on her piece of cake. A soda, not of her choice and warm. Pinata smashed before she got a swing and all to show from that biggest of party favors is a stepped on gumdrop. The party was the pits for this fractured feline. But one chance for gala glory remains. When she saw the balloons, Bernice went for it. Not one, not two, not three. She grabbed them all. Being a small tyke grabbing a whole bunch of helium, Bernice gets a new point of view on the party and her getting smaller by the minute party problems. She floats by a cranky squirrel and a bluebird with an empty nest. Settling underneath a black cloud also having a bad day, Bernice gains a fresh perspective and sets about solving her high flying predicament.

I'm a sucker for a book with a hands-on-her-hips kitten on the cover. This is a sweet book with a pretty good message for primary age students (and their teachers): Don't sweat the small stuff. I would read Bernice at the beginning of the year when you are setting expectations. If you are studying states of matter, you can read this as part of a picture book unit on balloons (A Balloon for Isabel and Balloons Over Broadway are two possibilities). No bubbles burst here. This book rises above the norm.