Monday, May 30, 2011
It is Nonfiction Monday. This week History with a Twist is the host. Click HERE to check out other non-fiction book highlights.
Summary of Alexander the Great:
Alexander the Great was born in 356 B.C. in Macedonia. As a boy, he trained for battle and for leadership. He learned to scale mountains, to throw a javelin, and to fight lions. Showing bravery and cleverness, he tamed a wild and spirited horse that no one else could ride. At thirteen, the great philosopher and teacher Aristotle tutored him in literature, medicine, science, and philosophy. Aristotle also taught him the importance of compassion. From his father, he learned about the wars and fighting amongst the Macedonians, Greeks, and Persians. At a time when most modern students are still in high school, Alexander was leading a cavalry into battle and conquering cities. When his father was assassinated, Alexander, then 20 years old, was prepared to be king. He, also, had the military skills to become the greatest general who ever lived.
During his remaining 12 years, he conquered the Greeks, the Persians, and most of the known world of ancient Greece. The major battles and highlights are covered in Demi’s narrative biography of this mighty general. A few personal stories are also included, such as the relationship with his dearest friend Hephaestion, his encounter with a wise sage, and his final analysis of his life. Alexander the Great brought the Greek culture to Asia and the Asian traditions to Greece. He, also, laid the ground work for another great power: Rome.
I am a huge fan of Demi’s fiction and non-fiction works. She has a unique artistic approach in her many multi-cultural books which is reminiscent of Asian and traditional styles. The illustrations contrast a few bright colors with lighter neutrals and shiny gold accents. Demi covers the highlights of a historical figure with a rich, active life. As a result, the material is denser and longer than most picture books. Younger readers will likely need to move through it in a couple of sittings. Demi does a brilliant job interspersing the personal vignettes with Alexander’s many military and political victories. She conveys well his importance in world history and his personal feelings of emptiness despite all the victories. These ideas induce the reader to consider what makes a life well-lived and fulfilling. I recommend Demi’s Alexander the Great for ages 8 and up.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
In most of the Greek myths and tales, women are relegated to a subservient role, portrayed as a temptress, or depicted as a monster (literal or figurative). The story of Atalanta is in stark contrast to most of these narratives. Atalanta is independent, resourceful, and brave. Here is her story.
Summary of Atalanta’s Race, A Greek Myth:
King Iasus of Arcadia only lacks one thing in life: a son. He prays often to the god Zeus to fulfill his greatest wish for an heir to his throne. When a baby is finally born to his wife, though, she is a girl. The Queen sees her as a gift from the gods and names her Atalanta. King Iasus is so outraged; he gives the baby to a guard and commands him to “cast her on the highest slope of Mount Cyllene.” Instead, the guard carries the baby up the snowy mountainside and places her inside the mouth of a cave where a she-bear lives. The she-bear cares for the baby along with her two cubs.
A year later, a hunter named Ciron finds Atalanta in the dark cave as he seeks out the bear for her skin. Ciron teaches Atalanta all about hunting, and her swift feet make her the talk of the land. King Iasus, now bent with age and loneliness, requests to meet the remarkable, young woman. During her visit, he learns that she is his daughter. Now full of grief and humility, the King asks her to stay with him. She accepts his offer. Atalanta wants for nothing in the palace and becomes the “pride and pleasure” of Iasus.
Yearning for a grandson who could take over his kingdom after his death, the King insists that Atalanta finds a husband. No one suits her, though, so to put off (hopefully permanently) making a marriage commitment, she proclaims that she will marry the man who can defeat her in a footrace. Any man who challenges her but does not win will be put to death. Despite the possible consequences, many men come forward. None are able to outrun her…until a young Greek warrior, Melanion, comes along. With the help of Aphrodite, Melanion is able to win the race and Atalanta’s love. The compatible couple lives happily together and provides a future heir for the kingdom. Their happiness and pride prompt a surprising punishment from the Aphrodite.
Author Shirley Climo has created a indispensable retelling of this famous myth. She depicts a strong but flawed Atalanta as well as portrays well the character changes in Iasus. Artist Alexander Koshkin used watercolors, tempera, and gouache for the illustrations which wonderfully capture the ancient Greek world and compliment the text perfectly. I recommend Atalanta’s Race: A Greek Myth for a unit or study of the ancient world or Greek myths. Atalanta’s story is especially pivotal because it centers on a competent female protagonist—a rarity in ancient literature. Also, this story compliments well with a study of the ancient Olympics. Despite being a superior athlete, Atalanta would not have been able to compete. The story prompts a discussion of that rule, the role of women in the ancient Greek world, and the example of Atalanta to women past and present. Atalanta’s Race: A Greek Myth is geared for readers 8 and up.
· Journal—Do you think Atalanta let Melanion win? Why or why not?
· Physical Fitness—Hold races within the class (or between classes) or neighborhood/family. Experiment with different types like three-legged, sack, and foot. Replicate the race of Atalanta and Melanion. Allow one runner to throw down three objects that another runner (preferably stronger) must pick up during the race. See who wins.
· Social Studies—Discuss the role of women in the ancient world/Greece. Compare it to the role or women in the modern world.
· History—Learn about the first Olympic games and the traditions/competitions in the ancient Olympics.
· Literature—Read and compare/contrast Atalanta’s narrative with other Greek myths.
· Reading Skills—Identify the sequence of events and cause/effect relationships in the story.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Summary of Lola Loves Stories:
On Saturdays, Lola’s daddy takes her to the library. Lola always finds and checks out some excellent books. Each day, her parents read her one of the library books, prompting imagination and adventure! After reading a book about a fairy princess with her daddy, “Lola wars a fancy dress and sparkly crown.” She spends her daypretending she is a “fabulous fairy princess.” The next day, her mommy reads to her about an amazing journey. As a result, Lola takes her friends (stuffed animals), on exciting trips to foreign lands like Paris and Lagos. Sometimes she acts out her imaginative explorations with friends, like taking care of babies with Ben and running through "the jungle" with Orla. On Friday, her daddy creates an original story about magic shoes. Lola has her own magical shoe experience--all the way to library! Stories and books fuel Lola’s brain and send her on amazing adventures.
I love Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn! The book reminds me of the power of books and storytelling. Lola has a richer and fuller life because of the books she experiences from her weekly trips to the library. Both her parents are activity involved in reading to her and fostering her imagination. Rosalind Beardshaw’s adorable illustrations depict the text beautifully. They show her parents interacting and reading with her as well as her imaginative exploits. Lola Loves Stories is ideal for ages 2-7.
Friday, May 27, 2011
On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart leaves Harbour Grace, Newfoundland (Canada) as the “sunset ripples over the rough-hewn airfield.” Her red Vega speeds down the runway and “swoops like a swallow over dark puddles and patches of tundra” until it is high in the sky. As she crosses the “dark and seething ocean,” she thinks back to her adventurous childhood and her first experience seeing an aircraft. At midnight, “blackness erupts. Clouds heave. The sky unlocks.” The tumultuous storm is dangerous and blinding. Then, her altimeter breaks! She does not know how high she is flying! The pilot and plane struggles through the icy storm, coming close enough to the Atlantic Ocean that it “stares up with its huge uncaring eye. Breakers rise like teeth from it angry mouth.” Alone, Amelia flies on across the seemingly endless ocean, despite the difficulties and setbacks. Finally, the sunlight sifts through the clouds. Soon, she spots the Irish countryside as it “spreads out like a green fan beneath her.” She lands safely on a lush green field. A farmer comes running, shocked to see a flying machine with a women inside it! Amelia simply smiles and says, “Hi, I’ve come from America.”
Ever since I was a teenager, I have found Amelia Earhart to be a fascinating figure. When I came across Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic during a blog hop recently, I decided to check it out. I was not disappointed. Author Robert Burleigh’s poetic language and stunning imagery make Night Flight a literary must-read. (See phrases in quotes above for a sampling.) He uses similes and personification to capture the pleasure and excitement of flight as well as the peril and fear of the stormy night flight. Amelia Earhart is a wonderful role model for all people, but especially young women. She overcame gender barriers and pioneered air travel. (The author provides additional information about her life at the back of the book.) She spoke boldly, acted courageously, and lived fully. Rich in figurative language and exemplifying a thrilling plot, this book will be enjoyed by youngsters and adults ages 8 and up.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I am A Reader, Not a Writer blog is hosting the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop. Click HERE for a list of all participating blogs. Books4Learning is offering a $20 E-Gift Card from Barnes & Noble.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011
Summary of Rodeo Ron and His Milkshake Cows:
Riding atop a bright red cow, Rodeo Ron moseys into the town of Cavity. Three more cows—yellow, blue, and green in color—follow behind. Burping and running, the towns’ children gather round Rodeo Ron, wondering why his cows are unusual colors. Ron explains that the red one only eats strawberries, the blue one eats blueberries, and the yellow one eats bananas. The green one munches only grass and provides “cow juice” (milk). The children have never had cow juice before. They only consume sweet drinks at the soda shop of two brothers—Frothy and Fruity. It shows…the townspeople’s teeth are dirty, brown stumps.
The children lead Rodeo Ron to the soda shop where everybody is gathered. Burping as they work, the brothers create a sugary treat for him. He takes a big, long gulp and lets out the biggest burp of his life! Ron points out that these sweet and frothy drinks are the cause of their bad teeth! Frothy and Fruity challenge Rodeo Ron to a contest to see who can make the tastiest beverage. The brothers “BURP! BURP! BURP!” as they create their best concoctions. Each of Ron’s cows buck, bronk, shiver, and shake their way to the frothiest and fruitiest shakes in strawberry, blueberry, and banana. Each time, he wins the taste test. Finally, the green cow dances his way to the frothiest, creamiest, whitest milk. The townspeople declare it “the finest drink ever!” Now, the soda bar is replaced by a milk bar. Instead of dirty, brown stumps, the townspeople now have bright, white smiles.
Rowen Clifford wrote this imaginative story and created the vibrant pictures. Rodeo Ron and His Milkshake Cows is set in the Old West, but the narrative incorporates the modern with the soda shop and the milkshakes. It uses a common childhood fantastical element of different color cows being the origin of the various flavors of milk. (Who hasn’t jokingly said chocolate milk comes from brown cows?) In an entertaining and subtle manner, the story teaches the importance of a wholesome diet, including healthy drinks like calcium-rich milk, while incorporating the incredible characteristics of tall tales. I recommend Rodeo Ron and His Milkshake Cows for ages 4-10.
· Choral Reading—The repetitive pattern during the competition is an amusing choral reading occasion.
· Similes—Identify the similes in the narrative. Discuss other stories with similies or complete additional activities with similes. Create other similes for actions or descriptions in the story.
· Alliteration—Identify examples of alliteration. For younger children, connect the sounds to the corresponding letters. For older ones, create examples of alliterative phrases or study poems with alliteration.
· Health—Teach about oral hygiene and the importance of limiting sugary drink/food consumptions.
· Literature—Connect this narrative to a unit study of tall tales or discuss the characteristics of a tall tale and how they related to Rodeo Ron and His Milkshake Cows.
· Comparative Literature—Pick another tall tale from the library or book store. Compare the two using a Venn Diagram or other chart.
· Field Trip—Visit a local dairy farm (or find a video about one).
· Cooking—Create a milkshake concoction of your own! Use a basic recipe for a milk shake and add ingredients of your choice—strawberries, bananas, mangos, and so forth.
· History/Social Studies—Add this story to a unit study on (or related to) cowboys.
Friday, May 20, 2011
This week’s selection is The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders by popular poet Jack Prelutsky. The collection of poems is full of rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration. Some of the subjects are non-fiction observations about nature, such as animals and seasons. Rather than read facts about these subjects, children “experience” nature at a differed level. “One Old Owl” exemplifies this type:
One old owl upon a tree,
high atop a hill,
watched the forest silently
while the night was still.
One old owl looked around,
while the moon was bright,
flapped its wings without a sound
and few into the night.
Other poems are silly and imaginative. This type accomplishes an important job: teaching children that poetry can be hilarious and amusing. “Sarah Small” illustrates this kind:
In her garden, Sarah Small
grows galoshes, short and tall.
Shirts of yellow, hats of red
beautify her flower bed.
Near pajamas, row on row,
multicolored sweaters grow.
Neckties flutter in the breeze
underneath the mitten trees.
Shoes of every shape and size
blossoms right before her eyes.
Stocking vines adorn the wall,
planted there by Sarah Small.
The final type is about places, prompting an opportunity to discuss them and to even show them on a map. “In the Heart of South Dakota” provides a glimpse of the state and a national monument:
In the heart of South Dakota,
Jenny Jay stepped off a train,
leapt upon a nearby bison,
raced across the windy plain.
On the day in South Dakota,
Jenny Jay sat on a fence,
gazing at the wondrous mountain
topped with giant presidents.
The pictures by Petra Mathers are sweet and entertaining. Children ages 3-8 will enjoyThe Frogs Wore Red Suspenders.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Summary of Where is Catkin?
Catkin roguishly flees his owner’s lap to hunt out the sights and sounds in his backyard habitat. The golden kitty comes upon a cricket in the grass, a frog in a pond, a mouse near the shed, and a snake in a rock pile, but each creature easily eludes capture. The story follows a pattern (parts in bold change with each new encounter):
Catkin creeps by the pond.
He sees something green and spotted.
Catkin leaps…(turn page)
Frog leaps into the pond.
Where is Frog?
Then, Catkin hears a rustle in the tree—a bird. Feathers fly. The bird gets away. The sneaky cat climbs up, up, up the tree in search of it. Catkin looks down to realize he is high, high, high. He lets out a loud “Meeeow,” prompting his owner, Amy, to search for him in the grass, in the pond, near the shed, and in the rock pile. She looks up and finds her mischievous kitty. Rescued and back on land, Catkin is purrfectly content in Amy’s arms.
Janet Lord skillfully uses repetition in this interactive tale. Using textual and visual clues, children will enjoy guessing and finding the hunted creatures in a tapestry of leaves, flowers, and rocks created by illustrator Julie Paschkis. Stylized borders in vibrant colors maintain the rollicking hunting action. Children ages 2-6 are sure to adore reading Where is Catkin?
· Choral Reading—Practice saying one or more of the repetitive parts together or take turns with them.
· Vocabulary—Children can learn to identify places and animals in a backyard habitat.
· Parts of Speech—Identify the various actions that Catkin depicts, such as creeps, tiptoes, explores, hears, races, and so forth. With older children, discuss the differences between the action words (verbs) and the visual/seeing words (nouns).
· Onomatopoeia—Practice saying the animal sounds and matching it with the correct animal.
· Science—Explore a backyard habitat together.
· Creative Movement—Move like Catkin. First, teach how to creep, tiptoe, race, and other actions like Catkin demonstrates in the book. Then, play “Catkin Says” by directing the child (children) to do the action directed.
· Predicting Skills—Guess which animal Catkin is hunting based on the context clues. Anticipate after multiple readings which one is next. Childrent can, also, relate back the sequence of events in the story.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Summary of Trashy Town:
Mr. Gilly drives around town doing an important job: collecting trash. As he goes to various places in the community—the school, the pizza parlor, the park, the doctor’s office, and the fire station—the following fun, rhythmic refrain is recited:
Dump it in,
smash it down,
the Trashy Town!
Then, the question is posed: “Is the trash truck full yet?” Each time (except for the final one) the answer is “No. Mr. Gilly drives on.” The narrative ends with Mr. Gilly depositing the trash into the dump where “up, up, up goes the truck. Down, down, down goes the trash.” When he is done ridding the town of all its trash, he goes home where he cleans himself up.
Youngsters will love the catchy repetition and opportunities for interaction in Andrea Zimmerman’s Trashy Town. Younger children can respond to the question at each stop and anticipate where Mr. Gilly will go next. Older children can recite the chant along with adult readers. The appealing illustrations (by Dan Yaccarino) are created with simple shapes and a coherent color scheme (blues, reds, neutrals). For added fun, there are two little grey mice on each page. Mr. Gilly’s amiable smile and hard-working behavior provide a positive view of this community helper. The text and illustrations emulate a sense of pride and satisfaction in a job well done. Trashy Town is good, clean fun that children ages 2-7 will enjoy experiencing over and over again.
· Choral Reading—Recite the repetitive stanza and question/answer together.
· Unit Study—Add to a study of community helpers or transportation. Even though being a trashman is far from glamorous, it is an essential job in the community. Children can learn to appreciate their important contribution as well as where the trash ultimately goes.
· Environmental Science—The story provides an opportunity for action! If all the trash is being dumped in our environment, what can we do to limit what we discard? Discuss recycling and composting along with ways to limit individual trash output.
· Character Education—Mr. Gilly has a smile on his face and a cheerful attitude. He epitomizes what it looks like to have joyful heart no matter what job you are doing. Children can be reminded of the importance of doing their jobs or chores with a happy heart.
· Creative movement/physical education—Around an open area (gym, playground, field), place “trash” all around. This can be real (paper balls, food boxes, beverage containers) or fake items (small balls, cones, athletic equipment). Have the children in small groups first collect it into smaller containers. Then, dump into a larger one. The first group with a full large container wins.
· Music—Pick a tune familiar to the students. Write original lyrics together teaching others about littering or recycling.
· Art—Use trash items (bottle caps, newspaper, shoe boxes, wire bits, old magazines) to create an original work of art.
· Writing—As a class, write a thank you note to local trash men, thanking them for their essential community service. Teach and demonstrate the parts of a friendly letter.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Amidst the dozens and dozens of collections of nursery rhymes available, illustrator Salley Mavor has created a remarkable, one-of-a-kind experience in Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. Beginning with morning rhymes and ending with bedtime ones, a whole gamut of daily experiences are explored. Mavor masterfully weaves the well-known with the unfamiliar. For instance, on one layout a town is pictured where the rhymes “Pat-a-cake,” “Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoe,” and “Polly, put the kettle on” are all intertwined. In another instance, a rain scene fluidly depicts “Rain, rain go away,” “There was an old woman lived under a hill,” and “Rain on the green grass.”
Here are a couple of the lesser known rhymes:
I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny.
But it keeps them on my knife.
Molly, my sister,
And I fell out,
And what do you think
It was all about?
She loved coffee
And I loved tea,
And that was the reason
We couldn’t agree!
One of my favorites is a bit of a riddle describing the seasonal cycle of a tree:
In the spring I look gay
decked in comely array,
In summer more
clothing I wear.
When colder it grows,
I fling off my clothes,
And in winter
quite naked appear.
The BEST part of this collection is the illustrations! Salley Mavor used great care and detail in her unique fabric relief technique. The embroidered scenes use wool felt, hand-sewn dolls, and appealing embellishments to create brilliant multi-dimensional scenes. The soft colors and rich textures make the pictures pop off the pages! Each stunning layout is a treasured work of art.
Reading and memorizing nursery rhymes build important literacy skills for later reading success. I highly recommend Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes for ages infant to 6.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Summary of Seeds of Change:
As a young girl in a Kenyan village, Wangari learns the value of the mugumo tree from her mother. The tree not only provides food and shelter for people, but also for animals and other creatures. Her people also believe that the spirits of their ancestors rest in the trees’ shade. The mugumo tree is an essential part of life. Wangari carries this lesson and a love for her people with her as she grows up.
Most girls in her culture are not educated or sent to school. Wangari’s family is able to send her though. Enthusiastically, she pursues her studies. After finishing elementary school, she is sent to the capital city to continue her education, and eventually, she earns a scholarship to study in the United States and to learn from other women scientists who inspire and challenge her. In America, she discovers the spirit of possibility and freedom.
When she returns to Kenya, she accepts a teaching position at the University of Nairobi where she works for equal rights and respect for women. Wangari watches sadly as foreign companies buy and destroy her native land. Native trees and the creatures that live in them vanish. The land erodes without the trees, and crops are difficult to cultivate. Despite many obstacles, Wangari helps her people in general and women specifically by spearheading a tree planting project that saves the land and feeds the people. Eventually, she is able to meet world leaders, teachers, farmers, and students to share her vision of positive change. Her persistence, patience, and commitment helped her win the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
I picked up Seeds of Change from a new book display at the library. I began by causually skimming through it, but I became engrossed in the narrative. I was inspired by Wangari’s commitment to her studies and to her people. I respect her work to help women in her culture have more opportunities for freedom and possibility as well as the chance to care for their families. First time author Jen Cullerton Johnson recreates Wangari’s life story in an engaging narrative. Illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler beautifully illustrates it with bright colors and an authentic African flare.
Children may benefit from this book in several ways. First, it offers a glimpse into a culture very different from their own. They can learn more about Kenya or African culture through research and further reading. Second, there are so few positive “heroes” today. Wangari, though, is an inspirational figure that girls and boys can admire. She epitomizes commitment, loyalty, diligence, and perseverance. Third, Wangari demonstrates how one person can make a difference in their community. Students can brainstorm ways to volunteer or to problem solve community issues. Finally, children can learn about the importance of trees to environmental health. Families and classes can plant one or more trees in a backyard, a schoolyard, or community area. I recommend Seeds of Change for ages 7 and up.
This post is link with the Non-Fiction Monday roundup. Check out other non-fiction posts and/or join-in at Self-Employed.