Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Animal Atlas: Animal Planet

Animal Atlas: Animal Planet
Text by James Buckley, Jr.; Maps by Aaron Meshon
2016 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The maps in this book are a little different. They show the borders of the major biomes of the world. 

This is a way cool idea. Instead of dividing a map politically (by country), the creator of Animal Atlas divide by biomes. These are the geographic areas that are divided not by borders but by the flora and fauna that live there. Each of the seven continents are represented. For example, North America is not divided by Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the countries of Central America. Instead, we have the tundra in the far north where we find polar bears and walruses. It is bordered on the south by the taiga region. Here you find an abundance of trees, along with black bears, wolverines, and spotted salamanders. Most of the United States and Mexico is divided between the desert, grasslands, and temperate forest biomes. Tropical rainforest is the predominate biome for Central America and the Caribbean. Each biome in each continent is represented by summaries and beautiful photographs of some of the animals that live there. In the marine biome of Australia, you'll find saltwater crocodiles, giant clams, whale sharks, and reef fish. Also present are green sea turtles though none seem to come with a surfer accent. These summaries would be a great jumping off point for creating graphic organizers like tables and charts. Another nice aspect of Animal Atlas are the ROAR boxes. These boxes teach readers about ways humans are trying to improve the life of animals. One box details the positive news about how swallowtail butterflies are making a comeback in the British Isles.

Animal Atlas is a terrific way to introduce the concept of biomes to young readers. I would like to see a companion book that focused on the flora in each of these biomes. Chock full of photographs and fun animal facts and priced like a hardcover picture book, Animal Atlas clocks in at 94 pages which is a great deal. This would be an interesting way to teach knowledge of the continents and other map skills.

Here is a link to some terrific resources in a downloadable curriculum guide. Check it out!

Monday, May 23, 2016

50 Free E-Books

RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) has partnered with Ustyme to give away e-books. Participating families can access 50 free books. Click on this link to learn more. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What Could It Be?

What Could It Be?
written and illustrated by Sally Fawcett
2016 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

This is a parasol down by the sea. Can you find a black octagon? Can you find a purple octagon? Can you find a brown octagon? How many other octagons can you find?

You're an ambitious parent. You want your child to learn their colors and shapes so they can secure that Ivy League acceptance letter in twelve years. Wandering through a store, you eyeball a set of flash cards with shapes. A little practice each day and before long your little one will be able to explain the Pythagorean theorem. Fight the urge to pick up that pack of lifeless cards. You can do much better than that. Instead, find a copy of What Could It Be? and have a good bedtime math read. Written by a teacher, this charming picture book is an interactive search for shapes in the real world. Illustrated with vivid colors, What Could It Be? features seven shapes. Each shape is introduced with the opposite page asking "What else could it be?". The first two page spread has sparse illustrations to set up the reader for the blast of hues that come in the second two page spread. For example, after drawing a circle, a child looks at a snail trailing away from a bowl of fruit and asks "What else could it be?" Turn the page, and a gorgeous garden appears with circles abounding in many places. The reader is encouraged to find different colored circles. Squares are featured in a grandmother's living room and triangles in a snowy mountain scene. Placing the shapes in familiar settings encourages children to make connections in their world. They will probably be looking for shapes around them before they even finish the book.

In a preK - 1st grade classroom, you could have a shape hunt after reading What Could It Be? Inspired by the back cover, your students could use watercolors to paint a picture featuring a particular shape. The author, being a teacher, has provided a ton of resources on this page including teacher notes and several art activities. Students can upload their illustrations to this website as well. Sally Fawcett deserves a round (or square) of applause for this fine effort.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Thank You Book: Elephant and Piggie Call It a Day

The Thank You Book
written and illustrated by Mo Willems
2016 (Hyperion)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Speaking directly to, otherwise acknowledging or doing something to the audience through this imaginary wall – or, in film, television, and video games, through a camera – is known as "breaking the fourth wall". 
- Wikipedia

One of the great duos of children's literature has said farewell. After nine years and twenty-five books, Gerald the Elephant and Piggie have called it a day. This delightful duo goes out in style. Piggie decides that she has a lot to be thankful for. In order to show her gratitude, she is going to thank everyone who is important to her. What follows is a thanking of a wide list of animals from large (Hippo's Big Sister, Whale) to small (Flies). Even a special guest from another book series (think wannabe bus driver) makes an appearance. The problem is that Piggie, as Gerald predicted earlier, left out an important someone. It takes a few clues, and a little anger, but finally Piggie remembers who and it's not Gerald. A satisfying end to a classic series.

I'm intrigued when characters directly talk to the reader or viewer. Two examples that come to mind are Garry Shandling and Ferris Bueller. Gerald and Piggie also break the fourth wall in order to say something special to neatly tie up this series. This really isn't goodbye, because these two will continue to be loved and read by generations of early readers.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Place Value

Place Value
written by David A. Adler; illustrated by Edward Miller
2016 (Holiday House)
Source: Mebane Public Library

We write numbers with digits. There are ten digits in our number system.

The monkeys at the Banana Cafe have a massive challenge. Using recipe 5,432, they have to create a colossal banana cupcake. Colossal, as in needing 2,426,782 bananas. When you're making a dessert the size of Mount Rushmore, you will need a good sense of place value. Digits have values depending on where they are placed. 4,5, and 6 can be 456 or 646. That makes a big difference. The monkeys know that digits are grouped in threes with commas separating those groupings. This allows them to have groupings of hundreds, thousands, and millions. Going to pay for all of the ingredients that go into a gargantuan pastry? You will need to know decimals, but with the help of the place value charts that are on each spread, the intrepid simians are top bananas.

If you want to help students learn, one effective strategy is to make comparisons. By comparing place value to the arrangement of letters in a word (cafe as opposed to face), David Adler will make these concepts stick. The humorous illustrations will also help the knowledge go in deeper. I can see placing (I see what I did there.) these charts under a document camera and modeling how to write large numbers. I think challenging students to find a replacement for the monkeys (elephants in a peanut factory?) would be a fun activity as well. Place value is a huge deal in primary classrooms, so don't monkey around (couldn't help it) and find a copy of Place Value.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Apologies and My Third Book

I want to apologize for not blogging lately. I have been neck deep in other projects and haven't found the time to blog for the last couple of weeks. I will try to change that soon.

My third book is arriving on August 1st according to this website. Trying to explain how engines work to an audience of 6-8 year old readers was challenging. I hope I did a good job!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man

Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man
written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
2015 (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Wait a minute! We've pledged to protect our town. Protect our planet-"
"And our favorite TV show."

Box Man. Phat Tyre. Trash Man. Hose Nose. These are some of the foes that Bucky and Stu face in the backyard. In their battle to save the planet and their favorite TV show, these hometown heroes show ingenuity and bravery against the spare part scoundrels. After a successful morning, Bucky reveals a secret to Stu. He and his Uncle Ernie have been building the behemoth Mikanikal Man. All he lacks is a Bio-Mechanical Nuclear Power Pac, so there is little chance he will actually come to life. With a nod to Doc Brown, a lightning strike brings the energy needed for the Mikanikal Man to come to life. Bucky and Stu engage the metal monster, but with little progress. The end seems near (think Batman TV show endings) until the Mikanikal Man shows a human foible that is very near and dear to Stu's heart and stomach. Foe becomes friend and the planet gains another dedicated defender.

People complain that our current video game generation doesn't engage in imaginative play. They need to visit an elementary school playground. Imagination abounds with role playing all over the place. Bucky and Stu will fit right in with any primary classroom. My class enjoyed the comic book panel artwork and the superhero tensions that come with it.  If you're looking for a book to model how to use quotation marks, this book would be a good pick. Another lesson could be how to incorporate plot twists in your writing. Celebrate imagination and a can-do spirit by bringing Bucky and Stu to your class.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Animal Bites: New Series from Animal Planet

Animal Bites
written by Laaren Brown
2016 (Animal Planet)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All life in the ocean is connected. Tiny plankton are the most plentiful ocean food, and are eaten by bigger creatures. Animals are at the top of the food web aren't hunted-they do the hunting. 

A new book series from Animal Planet features animals and their habitats. The first two books detail the lives of ocean and polar animals. There are several aspects of these books that will delight young readers, parents, and teachers. A beautiful two page photographic spread of an animal greets the reader first. This is what you would see in a high-end coffee table book. One unique part of these books is the use of colorful tabs as a guide. The tabs are easily located on the top right side of each spread. Categories include close-ups of animals, data, similarities and differences, and how people interact with animals and their habitats. Where They Live is one tab that begs particular attention because it highlights useful text features such as charts and maps. In Ocean Animals, this is a two page chart of the different levels of the ocean such as the sunlight zone and the twilight zone. Photographs of animals that live in these zones are present with factoids interspersed. Polar Animals has maps of both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles in conjunction with factoids and several photographs. Another favorite section of mine was The Stackup. Several varieties of a particular animal are stacked so readers can compare size and talents. Penguins (chinstrap, macaroni, adelie, gentoo, king, and emperor) are stacked in Polar Animals while whales (beluga, gray, sperm, fin, and blue0 are stacked in Ocean Animals. This would be a great place to practice using organizers like a chart or a Venn Diagram.

With an abundance of luxurious photographs and tons of fun facts, you would think these books are going to be expensive. On the contrary, they are reasonably priced at $12.99. I would have expected a price tag much higher for coffee table-like books that clock in at 80 pages. I could see them being a big hit at a book fair. As a teacher of K-2 writing, I would use this as a mentor text for nonfiction writing. If you are going to tackle projects like All About booklets, this is a good place to talk about and model formatting. Check out these cool activities that you can use with this book:

Your animal lovers (and that would be all of your students) will quickly dive into this exciting new animal series.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Wee Gallery Books

2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

When you are a parent or grandparent, you want to flood your toddler with books. They need to be colorful, cute, and have interesting textures. I'm holding Pets slide and play board book right now. I like the contrast between the bright blue and the black and white. I'm sure someone has done research and found out that this combination of colors is attractive to toddlers. Opening the book, I read three clues about the pet on the left side of the spread. The right side is an illustration with slides. You can go up and down and make different versions of the picture. These slide and play books are fun and a perfect size for a toddler. 

Now your toddler has grown into a kindergartner or a first grader. They love to count, draw, and play games. The Playgroup activity books will be a big hit with them. There is a WIDE variety of activities in this book. Math activities including counting and drawing patterns. Activities that ask the reader to find the differences and several mazes as well. A five to six year old will really enjoy this book. I would buy it for a kid getting ready for a long car trip or as a stocking stuffer. 

Check out the Wee Gallery website for many more cute activity books. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Twenty Yawns

Twenty Yawns
written by Jane Smiley; illustrated by Lauren Castillo
2016 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Lucy slipped out of bed and padded to the door. Her dad was snoring in the living room. 

Lucy's family is having a wonderful day at the beach. She buries her dad in the sand. He helps her fly a kite. The two of them and Mom roll down the dunes. This is the most time they have ever spent at the beach. As the family heads home, Mom announces "Early bedtime!" Seeing the exclamation mark, you know she's not messing around. With Lucy in bed and yawning, Mom begins reading a favorite bedtime story. The sound of zzzzzs fill the air. Except it's not Lucy. Mom is snoozing away in the chair. Having the roles reversed is like a jolt of caffeine to Lucy. She can't sleep with the silence only punctuated by Dad's snoring in the living room. She tiptoes to the shelf near the couch to find Molasses, her bear. He's tucked in behind stuffed friends on the shelf so when she retrieves him, all of the others fall to the carpet. A bear in tow, Lucy expects to drift back to bed. What happens instead raises the clever and sweet levels of this superb new bedtime tale.

I often use a thesaurus to try and avoid repeating words in a blog post. Adorable, charming, and delightful help me avoid using cute a thousand times which is what I really want to do when describing this story and the wonderful illustrations. Just look at the cover! What puts Twenty Yawns in the top tier of bedtime stories is that it's savvy too. There are two twists in the story that should be used as a model for those of us who want to create picture books. If you want to write a really good one, you need to be this smart.

In the classroom, I would definitely use the bedtime part of the story as an example of a small moment story. This section takes a tiny piece of time and stretches it out with splendid details. It could also be a good book to give to a young friend who likes to count. One other possible exercise would be to challenge your class to think ahead to a twenty-first yawn. Where would it come from?
Twenty Yawns produced twenty smiles for me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Go, Little Green Truck!

Go, Little Green Truck!
written by Roni Schotter; illustrated by Julia Kuo
2016 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Little Green was ready! Ready for adventure. He was set. Go!

Little Green is a plucky pickup. He loves his work and is proud of the help that he provides his farming family. Corn, hay bales, and pot-bellied pigs all take a ride in his bed. Life is great until a rival appears on the scene. Farmer Gray acquires a bigger blue truck that can carry more pigs and even cows. Big Blue takes over all of the chores Little Green loved doing. Instead of hauling and traveling around town, Little Green is left to rust in the meadow. After a lonely winter, hope arrives in the form of a cat. Farmer Gray's cat crawls up in Little Green's cargo bed to catch some rays in the spring sunshine. Noticing the cat's absence, Farmer Gray's daughter Fern finds her in the cargo bed and decides to hang out. One by one, members of the Gray family follow suit. Surrounded by her mom and dad (and many farm animals), Fern announces that Little Green is the perfect size vehicle to take to the new farmer's market. The family pitches in and gives Little Green an auto makeover including a new engine that runs on corn and soy oil. With Fern's fresh paintings on his sides, Little Green happily transports the Gray family and crates of vegetables to the farmer's market and shows that going green is a great idea.

Go, Little Green Truck! is a vibrant book that can be used several ways in a K-2 classroom. When discussing how a fiction book works, we talk about how most fiction books have a problem. Tying in prediction, we also talk about the possible solutions to the problem. This book has a classic problem of a character not feeling appreciated. This problem can also be paired with the need to discuss classroom culture and making sure everyone feels a part of it. Like the Gray family finding a way to appreciate Little Green, we need to make sure all members of our class feel like a part of our community. Go, Little Green Truck! is also a welcome addition to a unit on taking care of the environment and finding ways to recycle. Many kindergarten classes teach a unit on farm life so this book fits nicely there too.

Arrayed in bright colors and adorned in a winning story about an underdog pickup truck, students will gladly take a ride with Go, Little Green Truck!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

Samurai Rising
written by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Gareth Hinds
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Warning: Very few people in this story die of natural causes

That warning is no joke. If you and/or your students, like me, are into comic book hero movies, this book will be to your liking. Minamoto Yoshitsune is like Batman on a horse. Before he could walk, his father and two older brothers are killed in their attempt to kidnap the Retired Emperor and gain respect for past slights. Losing parent at early age bringing about bitterness that fuels the hero to fight injustice as he grows older: check. Did I mention that, unlike the Caped Crusader, this is a true story? Yoshitsune is sent to a Buddhist monastery, by the man who vanquished his father, so he could follow the path of the monks. Instead of becoming a monk at age 15, he finds a traveling gold merchant who is a friend to his family. This is his chance to escape and start his plan to seek revenge for his family. Being caught after escaping from the monastery would have probably brought about a beheading, but when you want to exact revenge, you have to take your chances. Yoshitsune grows into a samurai who takes enormous risks in battle and survives. In one particular fight, he rides a horse down a cliff to penetrate a coastal enemy fortress. He's an unbelievable fighter and leader.

Samurai Rising was a book that I couldn't put down. Minamoto Yoshitsune is such an intriguing underdog that I kept flipping pages so I would find out what happened next to the most famous of all samurai. The writing, maps, and illustrations are all first class. You feel like you are riding along with Yoshitsune as he hurls himself into the battles. Middle and high school readers who like action and history will devour this book. Now I want a movie. C'mon Hollywood, make it happen!

This trailer will help provide background for interested readers: