Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thank You and Goodbye

After over 8 years of blogging about books, I'm taking a hiatus after November 1st. I need time to make a go of my own writing career while working a full-time job. Thank you for supporting this blog and the wonderful books that I shared with you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Wild World of Buck Bray: The Missing Grizzly Cubs

The Wild World of Buck Bray: The Missing Grizzly Cubs
written by Judy Young
2016 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Buck rolled his eyes, but Dad and Toni took turns seeing who could come up with another word to describe the landscape's beauty, counting each word as they went. 

Buck Bray is an eleven-year-old with a famous father. His dad goes around the world filming documentaries while Buck stays with his grandparents since his mother has passed away. Hoping to spend more time with Dad, Buck pitches an idea of a kid-centered nature show. The producers are very excited, so Buck and Dad are on their way to Denali National Park in Alaska. At the airport in Fairbanks, they meet Shoop the cameraman and his daughter Toni. Buck is not thrilled about hanging out with a girl, but he soon grows to respect Toni's acumen in audio production. They become partners in exploring as they prepare for Buck's first show. Sometimes the two intrepid explorers go a little too far. Hiking alongside a river, they witness a grizzly bear taking down a caribou. Buck wants to see bears, but this is a little too close. The adults they meet are much less wild, but they are suspicious of a rude passenger on their bus. He bumps them and then stays with his computer as if he is tracking something. They do enjoy spending time with park ranger Craig, who shows them an old bear's den as they begin filming. Later, Buck and Toni hear about two bear cubs missing and they have an idea who may behind it. Now they have to produce enough information to convince the adults that their hunch is a real possibility.

When you combine a mystery, kid heroes, and the Alaskan wilderness, you're going to hook elementary school readers. I'm well beyond my elementary student days and I gobbled this up. It's an engaging story with interesting characters. In addition, there is a lot of geographic and science information in this book. Students will learn about the landscape of wild Alaska and the behavior of many animals. Readers will enjoy exploring Buck Bray's Wild World.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade: A Thanksgiving Story

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade
written by Trinka Hakes Noble; illustrated by David C. Gardner
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All you had to do was dress up like a beggar in old ragged clothes and parade down Broadway. For Rettie, dressing up was easy. She already had holes in her shoes and worn, patched clothes. 

Rettie lives in the tenements of New York's Lower East Side. Even though she's only nine years old, she is the oldest child in her family and carries quite a load. Her mother is bedridden with consumption and her father is fighting overseas in World War I. Rettie does all of the chores for her family of 5 and washes rags for the ragpicker to make money. This family needs every penny she can earn and Rettie pins her hopes on the annual Ragamuffin Parade on Thanksgiving where children walk down Broadway and scramble for pennies tossed from the watching crowd. As Rettie does the shopping for her family, signs of severe poverty are everywhere and also of the terrible influenza outbreak. Children are huddled in alleys as they have been left orphaned by the epidemic. People wear masks and vendors are scarce as many have been quarantined. Rettie manages to buy stale bread, cabbage, and a few mealy potatoes. Even the manager of her apartment building is stricken and ordered to stay inside. But this leads to an opportunity for Rettie to take on a cleaning job that will bring more money. Now she starts to work at four in the morning to earn enough to keep her family together. Good news comes in the form of the war ending in November 2018 and cold weather diminishing the effects of the epidemic. This means the parade will be held and Rettie can help her family even more.

So what does Thanksgiving represent to you? For this young lady, it was hope and gratitude. This story provides an opportunity to have a class discussion about Thanksgiving that goes deeper than paper turkeys and pilgrim hats. Does everyone have the same Thanksgiving? It might open some eyes. It's also a terrific history lesson that highlights life from a century ago. You could compare 1918 to almost 2018. The excellent artwork really sets the mood and provides information about the era. There aren't many bright colors here which is pitch perfect. Make sure you check out the Author's Note too. Another teaching possibility would be to do a character study of Rettie. What traits does she have? 2nd and 3rd graders, who are about Rettie's age, will be amazed at what she does to keep her family afloat. Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a great choice for a Thanksgiving read aloud.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Old MacDonald Had a ...Zoo?

Old MacDonald Had a ...Zoo?
told and illustrated by Iza Trapani
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Old MacDonald in the sty, E-I-E-I-O,
Saw a kangaroo hop by, E-I-E-I-O.

Old MacDonald was having a typical day. Milking a cow. Feeding the pig. Getting splashed with mud by a kangaroo. E-I-E-I-Whoa! That's not typical. It seems the farmer has a few visitors. Going to the hose to clean up, he finds an elephant taking a drink from the trough. "Everywhere a squirt squirt" finds Old Mac doused with water. Moving on with his chores, he hears crunching in the barn. What could it be? Zebras finding hay on the menu. A fox in the hen house would disastrous, but monkeys? Eggs splatter on the ground. Picking beans is usually a quiet duty. But when a crocodile intervenes, it's every man and beast for himself. This is the last straw. With a loud stomp on the barn floor, Old MacDonald has his E-I-E-I-No moment. With some rope and a trailer hitched to his red truck, this old man doesn't go rolling home, but instead returns the visitors to their home at the zoo. On the last page, there's lyrics and sheet music that would make for a week's worth of uproarious shared reading.

There are a lot of possibilities for classroom use with this book. Want a fun activity that connects to phonemic awareness? Have students guess the last word in a two line stanza.

Old MacDonald heard a crunch, E-I-E-I-O. 
Zebras helped themselves to _____, E-I-E-I-O. 

How about contrasting farm animals with zoo animals? What's different? What's the same? Or you could contrast Old MacDonald with another book like Goodnight Gorilla. You could also read the book to older students for a mini-lesson on using vivid verbs in writing. The fun will E-I-E-I-Flow with this lively twist on a traditional nursery rhyme.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Melvin the Mouth:Young Mel Blanc

Melvin the Mouth
written by Katherine Blanc; illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I'm flying over the cat, laughing like a loony bird. I'm Melvin the Mouth, maker of sounds. 

There's going to be a little bit of bias here. Bugs Bunny was one of the molders of my childhood. He cracked wise, and I loved him for it. I'm occasionally humorous to my friends and family, and I owe part of that to Bugs and Mel Blanc. So I was thrilled to learn about this picture book biography and it doesn't disappoint. Instead of chronicling his whole career, the author (his daughter-in-law Katherine) presents a day in the life of young Melvin. It reads like a Looney Tunes cartoon and that's a good thing. Melvin starts with a laugh that will remind older fans of a certain red-headed bird on the loose. Racing through the halls of his school, he roars like a tiger. Melvin's imagination is brought to life with an accompanying black and white illustration of what he is portraying. In the bathroom, there's water so of course you need a shark chomping. If you have a hallway shaped like a tunnel, you're going to need a train with Melvin the engineer at the helm with "Woo-Woo"s echoing through. Putting young Mel on trash duty instead of recess will teach him a lesson, right? It will teach him that a half-eaten carrot can lead to a character that needed to take a left turn at Albuquerque. Any situation in Melvin's day is an opportunity to liven things up with his imagination. Sweeping calls for a tornado. Eating means a visit from a hungry hippo. It's only sleep that can quiet this noisemaker and even then, he sounds like a snoozing dragon.

I really like the approach taken with this picture book biography. It captures the zaniness that I remember being exhibited in those beloved Warner Brothers cartoons. Students will also see that using your imagination can lead to bigger things down the road. This will be such a fun read-aloud with your class as you use your imaginations to think about everyday occurrences and make connections like Melvin does in the book. The Author's Note provides information about Mel's career and some of the many characters that he voiced. Perfect for a biography unit/wax museum or just when you need a fun read.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pug and Pig: Trick or Treat

Pug and Pig: Trick or Treat
written by Sue Lowell Gallion; illustrated by Joyce Wan
2017 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

And this is Pug not in costume. Pug does not care about Halloween anymore. 

Pig loves Halloween and loves her costume. She can't wait to partake of "tasty tidbits" at the party. She can't wait to trick or treat. She can't wait to answer the door. On the other paw, Pug can't stand it. His costume is all kinds of too tight and he doesn't like the idea of being disguised. As a dog is want to do, he disposes of his costume quite easily. (As one who has tried to outfit his dog with reindeer antlers, I totally get this.) Now Pug is comfortable and ready to settle in for a quiet evening. But his best friend is making perhaps the saddest face ever (Don't believe me? Get the book.) What to do? Pug problem solves and creates his own costume using a very simple earthy material. Now the two can go trick or treating and eat "tasty tidbits" at the Halloween party.

Adorable. Cute. Charming. Delightful. Precious. Awww-inducing. PreK-Grade 2 will LOOOOOVE this. Open book. Pour out words for instant read aloud hit. That easy. But wait, there's more! This opens up a discussion about how to compromise when friends have different viewpoints. Speaking of viewpoints, how about a mini-lesson on point of view? Or compare and contrast? You could use a graphic organizer with one pug shape and one pig shape to write about their feelings toward trick or treating. Google "pug template" and you'll find what you're looking for. If you're looking for a guaranteed winner of a Halloween read aloud, I nominate this one.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Ultimate Space Atlas

Ultimate Space Atlas
written by Carolyn DeCristofano
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

This book is your vessel for a visual trip through the universe.

This is a very cool book from the ground up. Literally. Starting with viewing from good ol' terra firma and our atmosphere and stretching out to far, far, galaxies, Ultimate Space Atlas is an arcade of informational text about the universe as it presents facts in a variety ways. For example, the charts and maps are terrific. A vertical infographic shows the different layers, along with size amounts, of the atmosphere with pictures in each layer highlighting what would exist there. There are plenty of star charts showing constellations you will find in the northern and southern skies during seasonal times of the year. A cutaway diagram features various sections of the sun. A map, based on scientists' observations and measurements, of the Milky Way with labels and the 5 Cool Facts to Record text boxes provides a host of information about our galaxy. The 5 Cool Facts format is in several sections, which I think is great because it takes information that can be dense and chunks it into morsels that can be easily digested. I'm just scratching the surface with the amount of facts that are presented. If you teach a unit on the planets, each one is showcased with at least one two page spread with photographs, artist's impressions, and plenty of fun facts. Just about anything an elementary or middle school student would want to know about space is available here.

Instead of purchasing a series of books about space, you could save money and get one copy of Ultimate Space Atlas. The combination of text, photos, and illustrations make for a great look on a document camera as you present a mini-lesson on text features or how to read informational text. It's also a nice model for creating a nonfiction presentation in writing. With over 150 pages of info, this atlas goes above and beyond.

Monday, September 18, 2017

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk
written by Josh Funk; illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
2017 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Spoiler alert: A giant lives here. Can I go home now? 

Jack is not a happy camper. Issues with a giant? Not really. More like an overbearing narrator. First, he's told to give away his best friend in the world. This leads to a river of tears from Jack and the cow. But hey, these are magic beans! Well, if you're hungry, that doesn't do you any good. Jack is so cranky that he tosses the beans out the window. When he wakes up, there's a rather large beanstalk outside. And a pushy narrator telling him that he has to climb it without any equipment since readers have been told that Jack has no possessions. Jack puts on a brave face as he climbs the beanstalk. He meets Cinderella on his way up as she is standing on a balcony in her castle. Their ensuing conversation ticks off the narrator because it impedes the flow of the story. I love it because it reminds me of the great "This is SportsCenter" commercials on ESPN where worlds collide. Jack has some trepidation about entering the castle. He questions the narrator who forcefully exclaims that Jack must enter the house. Sure enough, the giant captures Jack. But when Jack explains, against the wishes of the narrator, that it doesn't end well for the giant, the story takes a much different road than the one through Traditionville. And that, as Robert Frost once wrote, makes all the difference.

Where do I start with all the reasons why I love this book? First and most of all, this is such a fun and funny read. Your day will instantly improve after reading it. If you use it as a read aloud, you can count on having to read it more than once. But there are also several teaching opportunities available here. The back and forth between Jack and the narrator is terrific. This story would help teachers be able to explicitly talk about the role of a narrator and teach a point of view mini-lesson. The design of the book helps immensely with speech bubbles for Jack's "outside the narrative" conversations. There's also the element of Jack questioning the authority of the narrator. That's great role modeling for our need to ask questions and occasionally challenge authority. Mentioned earlier, the meeting of Jack and Cinderella is a mash-up that opens up a lot of writing possibilities. What if this character met that character? How would the dialogue go? Speaking of dialogue, you could use this book to create an entertaining Reader's Theater script/classroom play. With delightful twists and turns, you'll be glad It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pirates Magnified

Pirates Magnified
written by David Long; illustrated by Harry Bloom
2017 (Wide Eyed Editions0
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher)

Not only were pirates some of history's toughest adventurers-they were also some of the most skillful. 

Tuesday (September 19th) is Talk Like a Pirate Day. It's not enough to say a few words. You need to have the background knowledge to really be convincing. Fortunately, Pirates Magnified, a mashup of informational text and search and find, will give you the info you need to go beyond a mere "Shiver me timbers." Although that's covered too with an excellent two page spread in the back with pirate rules, slang, terms, and ship vocabulary.

The first four two page spreads of the book feature background information about pirate life. That information takes several forms. There are two or three paragraphs of interesting text. In Merchants On the High Seas, the text explains that there were many items beyond gold and silver that were valuable. For example, a small bag of spices from Indonesia could bring great riches. The star of the spread is the search and find. Each is a mural of pirates in action. Accompanying the large illustration is a 10 Things to Spot infographic with small figures that appear in the mural and a sentence or two of information. You will be looking for jewels, but other important items like salt fish. A pirate's gotta eat! To make it easier to find the figures, you receive a magnifying glass to spot them. Other text boxes with even more facts also appear.

After pirate life, there are ten biographies of famous pirates. Some familiar, like Blackbeard and William Kidd, but others that may not be as familiar to you. Did you know there was a Spanish pirate like Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor? His name was Amaro Pargo and he also sometimes used tricks instead of violence to board ships. There were also pirates on American rivers!

Two more spreads highlight seafaring in a storm and treasure hunters. A hilarious and informative Rogues Gallery shines a spotlight on pirates who didn't make it into the spreads but were infamous nonetheless. Finally, more search and find fun comes with many extra items to spot as you review the previous spreads.

With a combination of fun and loads of pirate information, Pirates Magnified is the perfect book for land lubbers like me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Reena's Rainbow

Reena's Rainbow
written by Dee White; illustrated by Tracie Grimwood
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Reena couldn't hear the children count to ten, but she saw their smiles, and ran to join them. 

Reena is unable to hear but she uses her eyes to take everything in. At the park, she meets a dog who doesn't have a home. Reena and Dog enjoy each other's company. Soon, she sees a group of children playing hide and seek. Dog shows them good places to hide while Reena is the seeker. She's very good at finding the other children. Without relying on sound, Reena uses her keen eyesight to spot them. Now it's time for Reena to hide. Unfortunately, she's a little too good at hiding. The other children can't find her and wonder if she has gone home. When Reena reappears, she ends up being alone. She worries about being different, but her mother explains that we are all like the colors of the rainbow. Different, but better together as one. This didn't seem to help Reena or Dog as he felt apart as well. On another day, Reena is once again at the park and sees a group of kids playing on a low to the ground zip line. One of the group is standing underneath a tree branch that breaks. Reena lets out a warning scream and Dog pushes the boy out of harm's way. From that point on, Reena and Dog no longer felt apart at the park as they became a permanent team.

Children want to belong. Being alone stinks. When you are different, it can be harder to be part of a group. That's one of the reasons why building a welcoming community in their classroom may be the most important thing a teacher can do. One way to build a community is to share books like Reena's Rainbow that encourage students to work together. I really like the example of a rainbow and the colors combining to make something special. This is also a terrific book to share when studying the five senses. The story alludes to Reena having great eyesight by continually saying "Reena saw..." or "She saw..." It would be interesting to see if students pick up on this. All in all, this is a sweet story that illustrates the need for acceptance and working together.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Anchor Charts for Making Inferences

Anchor charts are some of the most popular posts on this blog, so to quote The O'Jays and Jalen Rose, "Give the People What They Want!" Here are some anchor charts that I found on making inferences.

This comes from Katelyn Gagnon's Reading Pinterest board.

4th grade Weebly from James R. Wood Elementary School.

Using inference in fiction. This comes from Sara Dumpman's Making Inferences Pinterest board.

 I like the non-example and example shown here. Amanda Hudacek's Making Inferences board.

Important distinction made here. Brittany Thornton All Things Reading board.

Another important distinction right here. The Classroom Nook.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Baby Loves Quantum Physics and Thermodynamics!

Baby Loves Quantum Physics!
Baby Loves Thermodynamics!
written by Ruth Spiro; illustrated by Irene Chan
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cat is in the box! Maybe Cat is asleep. Shhh... Maybe Cat is awake.

Baby loves her cat. So when Cat decides to hide, Baby looks for him. A tail hanging out of a box gives a big clue to Baby as to the location of Cat. Now here's the big question: Is Cat asleep or is Cat awake? Or is Cat in both states? This is where quantum physics comes in. Physicist Erwin Schrodinger created a thought experiment involving a cat and a box. Professor Eric Martell explains that Schrodinger's point was that rules used to describe big objects "couldn't be used to explain how an electron or atom works." The thermodynamics book was easier to understand as Baby enjoys the warmth of the sun and also observes that the energy of the sun transfers to an apple tree to help it grow. Then, an apple falls from the tree and Baby eats it to gain enough energy to throw a ball.

So my mind is officially blown. But here's the really cool thing about these two board books: On one level, these board books are gentle stories with engagingly colorful illustrations that babies and toddlers will enjoy. The next level is what it does to adults like me. I spent hours scrambling to learn about quantum physics and the laws of thermodynamics. And it was fun! Plus, it's a great example that I can use with my students about what to do when you don't know something. I can recall to them how I used several resources to learn about quantum physics and thermodynamics. I consulted internet articles and videos to learn. There was a lot of comparing and talking inside my head. The process was an enjoyable journey. Now Jeff loves quantum physics and thermodynamics!