Monday, June 20, 2011

NonFiction Series: Animals with Super Powers (by Natalie Lunis)

Bearport Publishing has many stunning and informative non-fiction book series.   My first experience with their books was the Spectacular Animal Town series, a perfect collaboration of pictures and text.  Bearport has introduced several new series.   One of my favorites is Animals with Super Powers by author Natalie Lunis.  Two of the four vibrant books in the series are Electric Animals and See Through Animals.   

Electric Animals 

It might be shocking to learn that some animals have “super” powers.  In the case of these unique creatures, they are able to use electricity to survive.  They don’t even need an outlet!  The electric eel, electric catfish, electric ray, and stargazer send out shockwaves to stun or to kill their prey, making them powerless to these hungry carnivores.  The sleek knifefish, the great white shark, and the platypus use electricity in various ways to find food (similar to echolocation). The elephantnose fish uses electroreceptors to find food, to navigate through the water, and to communicate.  Which one has the strongest electric charge?  Which uses electricity to find a mate?  Which creatures are still a mystery to scientists?  Which animals uses electricity to keep predators away? Read Electric Animals to find out! 

These amazing creatures camouflage, but not like most others with this natural gift.  Nine animals use “invisibility” to help them survive.  They do not completely disappear, but their  transparency makes them virtually indistinguishable to potential predators.  For instance, most butterflies are renowned for their vivid colors.  The clearwing butterfly, though, has see-through wings that make it hard to spot whether it is in the air or on a flower.  Of the eight remaining see-through animals, only two live on the land:  the glass frog and the transparent frog.  The others make their homes in the sea—transparent anemone shrimp, transparent sea butterfly, jellyfish, glass squid, transparent octopus, and transparent zebrafish.  Transparency protects and provides for these creatures in various ways.   Fascinating mysteries abound in See-Through Animals.  

It is Non-Fiction Monday.  Check out other great non-fiction titles at Geo Librarian. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Early Reader Series: Katie Woo (by Fran Manushkin)

I am like a moth to the light when it comes to bright colors.  When I walked by the display table at the library last week, I was immediately drawn to a new early reader series:  Katie Woo.  Little girls will love the vibrant, multi-colored book covers in pinks, purples, greens, and yellows showing an Asian-American young girl confronting typical childhood situations.  The series is multi-cultural, depicting Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and Caucasians.  Each book is broken up into three small chapter, allowing youngsters to feel like they are reading “chapter books.”  Author Fan Manushkin uses vocabulary ideal for early readers to help them navigate through the grade school years dealing with issues like bullies, moving, bossiness, sleepovers, lying, and much more.  The illustrations by Tammie Lyon are appealing and colorful.  They focus on the characters by illustrating the text in snapshots contrasting with a mostly white background. Teachers and parents will appreciate that each book includes a glossary of less familiar words (with pronunciation hints), discussion questions, writing prompts, and a fun Katie Woo activity.   I recommend this series for ages 5-8. 

Highlighted today are three of the currently twelve books in the Katie Woo series.

Moving Day  
Katie's parents assure her that she will love her new home, but she has mixed feelings about moving.   To help her transition, she writes a letter to the new girl who will live in her room, wishing her well.   When her father describes some of the features of their next home, Katie is concerned.  Her experience initially limits her understanding of what a whirlpool tub or a sunken living room is, but she is relieved to see her fears were for naught.  As the family moves in and resumes their normal rituals, Katie begins to feel at home.  To Katie’s surprise and glee, she finds a note from the last young girl in her new room.  She realizes that she is going to have a great time there. 

Boss of the World 
Katie is spending the day at the beach with her family and friends, Pedro and Jojo.   While making a sand castle, Katie delegates all the “working” jobs to her friends and the “fun” ones for herself.  Then, she greedily eats the majority of their shared snack.  Katie is not concerned about the wants and needs of others, even when they express them to her.  As the day continues, Katie monopolizes the only vacant swing and lays on the entire blanket during rest time. The final straw is when she selfishly snatches a shell Jojo is attempting to pick up.   Her friends walk away and begin an activity on their own.   Katie sees them having fun, so she wants to join.  They agree, but not before they help her realize how her bossiness is negatively affecting them.

Katie trips, falls, and hurts herself on the way to school.  As she begins to cry, classmate Roddy Rogers calls her a “cry baby.” His teasing causes her to cry even harder!  Once he sees the affect of his teasing, Roddy continues to torment Katie at recess and a lunch.  She yells at him, tells him to stop, and even makes ugly faces at him.  Roddy loves the attention though.  Katie doesn’t know what to do to make him stop.  Then, one day she is so captivated during a class activity that she completely ignores his teasing.  He becomes so mad that he inadvertently injures himself.  Katie realizes the secret:  Ignore the teasing, and the teasing will stop. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Picture Books: Animals and Animals Sounds

I have a soft spot for delightful books about animals, especially when they include animal sounds (onomatopoeia).   During my recent trip to the library, I came across two memorable selections—an old one (This and That) and a new one (Baby Says “Moo!”).  Both are perfect for reading out loud to little ones. 

Baby Says “Moo!” (ages infant-3) by JoAnn Early Macken  
People wave and smile as Baby rolls along in the grocery store.   Mommy asks, “Baby, what do people say?”  Baby responds with “Moo!”  Mommy tells him:

People say moo?
That can’t be so.
Everybody knows that
people day hello.

A cow says moo,
sure as you’re my bunny.
Where’d you ever find
an idea so funny. 

As the young family travels on their day trip, they encounter a bird, a cat, a horse, and a dog.  Each time Mommy ask Baby what the animal says.  The baby always answers, “Moo!”    Mommy gently corrects the baby with cumulative poetic rhyming stanzas that include the correct animal sound.  Finally, as they arrive in the country, they spot an animal, white and black. The family is so excited to show the baby the cow.  They ask, “Baby, what do cows say?” This time, he correctly says “Moo!”  Baby Says “Moo!” has a great rhythm and rhyme. There are some key repetitive words and phrases, ideal for reader-listener interaction and child participation.  Bright pictures stand out on a white background.  The text and illustrations capture well this developmental stage and loving family interactions. 

This and That  (ages 2-8) by Julie Sykes and Tonya Linch  
On the farm, Cat wakes up early.  She has lots of work to do.  She comes across Horse, grazing in the field.  Cat greets him and asks to borrow his stable.  Horse neighs a “Yes,”  He wants to know what she will use it for.   “This and that,” purrs the cat.  Cat visits Pig, Goat, Sheep, Hen, Cow, and Donkey, each time requesting something from them and following the same format as the meeting with Horse. The animals happy concede, but they curiously inquire what she needs the items for.  Of course, the response is always vague and nonchalant, “This and that.”  All the animals wonder why Cat is acting so strangely.  They creep over to the barn and peer in to see…two little kittens!  The animals are all abuzz with excitement.  Everyone wants to know their names.   Cat says, “I don’t know, I can’t decide.  What do you think?"  In unison, the animals say, “We know…This and That.”  The textured paper collage illustrations are playful and expressive.  They depict live on the farm in a vibrant manner.  The patterned narrative is sure to engage young listeners and readers. This and That is a brilliant and delightful read. 

It is Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.   Check out favorite Read Aloud book suggestions from around the blogosphere and/or add links from your blog.  Click HERE.  See "comments" if the list is not in the blog post yet. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fantasy Novel: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (by Terry Pratchett)

The Amazing Maurice, a talking cat, leads a group of “changed” rodents and a musical orphan boy, Keith.  Together, they con towns with their pied piper scam.  The rats infiltrate the town and wreak havoc.  Then, Keith offers to help the town by luring them out with his music.  When they enter one last town before retiring, there are evil forces at work.  The townspeople survive on limited rations as well as live in fear of the rats and the plague.  Strangely, the rat crew finds few "normal" rats in the town, but a plethora of poisons and traps litter the underground pathways.  Keith and Maurice befriend Malicia who possesses a rich imagination from the many fairy tales she reads.  The trio stumble upon the rat-catcher’s scheme, but there is something more sinister at work.  Everyone must work together to defeat it or the human race will be annihilated. 

A cat with a conscience?  Rats talking and thinking?  I know.  It sounds ridiculous.  I thought so too as I read the first few chapters.  As the characterization unfolded in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, I found it to be a thought-provoking, literary read.  Several motifs are explored.  First, the rats spend much time grappling with age-old questions: What does it mean to be a rat?  How does it differ from humans?   Is there a part that goes on eternally?  If so, where does it go?   Not all of these questions are answered clearly or realistically, but they prompt a good discussion and deep thinking.  Next, I found the inner conflicts of the rats intriguing.  I could not help but to think of the book Flowers for Algernon where a mentally challenged man evolves into a genius and then back to his former self.  As he gains intellect, a lot of pain comes with understanding the world and people in it.  There is a fascinating contrast between being simple but happy and a genius but tormented.  The rats have a similar conflict.  As their intellects grows, so do their problems.  They begin to fear the shadows and the unknown.   One of my favorite elements is the fantasy vs. reality tension.  Much of the humor of the novel comes from this contrast and ironies associated with it.   Malicia represents fantasy and fairy tales while Keith symbolizes reality and real stories.  These two characters (ideas) are at odds for much of the narrative, but they eventually develop a friendship.  This conflict also plays out between the rats and humans.  Fairy tale stories and deep thinking prompt the rats to imagine a world where they are safe and can co-exist with humans, but in reality they must negotiated a contract for the two species to live harmoniously in a fallen and imperfect world. 

There are a couple ideas I do not agree with in the novel.  For instance, humans are often depicted as evil for desiring to eradicate rodents.  The human race is drawn as inhumane and selfish. While these are qualities found in some individual a great deal and in everyone at least a little, I do not believe they are what define humans. It felt a bit too narrowly focused by not showing the incredible generosity, sacrifice, and love that is also in the human race. Also, an underlying thread is that humans and rats are no different in their rights and value.  While I understand why some people react so vehemently toward those who are not respectful of animals and their habitats, the proper response is not equal rights.  Humans have special significance as the one creature made in God’s image and in whom God breathed life.  We have a responsibility to care for and to protect the rest of the creation, but we are not all "equal."  While I disagree with some the author's premises, I believe those areas are worthy of discussion as with many other ideas in this profound book.  

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents has many other areas to explore like leadership, nature of good and evil, selflessness, and friendship.  I highly recommend this novel for ages 10 and up. 

Teaching Activities and Information for Lesson Plans

Suggested Teaching Resources
Annotations, Information, and Quotes
Discussion Questions from Harper Collins
Pearson Teaching Guide

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Middle Grade Fantasy: The Dragon of Lonely Island (by Rebecca Rupp)

Three children, along with their mother, plan to spend the summer on Lonely Island where their elderly great-aunt Mehitabel has a home.  The only current residents on this island off the mainland are Mr. and Mrs. Jones, the caretakers.  Before they arrive, the children—Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily—receive a short note from Aunt Mehitabel urging them to explore Drake’s Hill and to find the Tower Room.  A key is included.  The first morning on the island, Sarah Emily and Zachary find the intriguing Tower Room with its antique toys, books of fairy tales, and a puzzle box.  Later, they enthusiastically venture out to Drake’s Hill.  The smell of cinnamon and smoke permeates the air and entices them to explore a cave in the side of the hill.  To their amazement, there is a tridrake (three-headed dragon) named Fafnyr living there.   During each visit, one of the three dragon heads is awake.  The children curl up with the mythical beast as he tells them a story.  The eldest dragon head teaches Hannah about being responsible and compassionate from the experience of Mei-lan, a young girl from ancient China.  The middle dragon head is awake on their second visit.  He illustrates for Zachary the importance of sharing and selflessness through an orphan named Jamie who was taken captive by pirates.  The youngest dragon is alert on the children’s next visit.  Fearful Sarah Emily sees through the story of her young aunt Mehitabel’s (referred to as Hitty) plane crash on an island that she needs to be more resourceful and courageous.  The final story also reveals how Fafnyr came to live at Lonely Island.   The children inherit an important job:  protector of Fafnyr’s existence.   As the summer ends, the trio are reluctant to leave, but they look forward to the next summer on the island with Fafnyr and the Joneses. 

The Dragon of Lonely Island is an interesting combination of fantasy and reality. This non-linear narrative moves fluidly from present to past to present by using key repetitive phrases as a flashback begins and italics during the past encounters.  The majority of the setting is in the “real” world with the only fantastical element being the dragon encounters.  Even the flashbacks with the dragon are historical fiction accounts where the dragon meets human children and indelibly impacts them in a positive manner.  While the dragon is clearly wise from its centuries on the Earth, the flashbacks reveal that Fafnyr experienced  many of the same inner conflicts as the humans.  The tale is clearly instructional with lessons for the characters and readers in sharing, honesty, responsibility, courage, and resourcefulness.  There is also an underlying thread about the lack of compassion and understanding of humans.  For instance, in the Mei-lan story, a man shoots and injures the dragon as it benignly flies through the sky.  In addition, a few remarks are made about humans taking up all the space on the planet.  The narrative plays it safe.  Author Rebecca Rupp uses direct presentation and popular plot conventions—summer in a large, old house, a mysterious box, and a secretive place.  As a result, there is nothing profound in the plot or characterization.  Nevertheless, the realistic setting with fantastical experiences and stories will appeal to many young readers who want to escape for the afternoon.  I recommend this middle grade fantasy novel for children ages 8-11.   

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Picture Book: Michael's Golden Rules (by Deloris Jordan)

The team has two outs.  The bases are loaded.  Jonathan is up at bat, nervously waiting for the next pitch.  The ball whizzes passed him.  He strikes out.  Even though his team members try to assure him it is okay, Jonathan wants to run from the dugout.   After the game, he walks home with his best friend, Michael, and his Uncle Jack.  Jonathan is discouraged because they lost the game.  Uncle Jack encourages him that the game is not about winning or losing.  Instead, it is about how you play.  Jonathan is still not convinced, so Uncle Jack agrees to share his golden rules of baseball with him:

1.     Know the game.
2.    Pay attention to the coach at all times.
3.    Know your opponent.
4.    Be a team player.
5.    Practice a winning attitude.
6.    Find out what you do best.
7.    Find out what you need to work on.
8.    Practice, practice, practice.
9.    Learn from your mistakes.
10.  Have fun!

The two friends enjoy an afternoon trading and looking at baseball cards.  As they talk about the great players, they remember the golden rules of baseball. The boys decide to go outside to practice what they need to improve on because there is a big game the following day.  

The next day, Jonathan keeps those golden rules at the forefront of his mind.  For instance, he acts as a team player, first by helping someone out and then forgiving a team mate for rude comments.   He listens to his coach's advice while at bat, resulting in a base hit!  Even though there are some mistakes in the game, Jonathan keeps a winning attitude.  Unfortunately, his team does not win.  This time, his perspective is much different.  Jonathan has learned not only to play a better game but also to have a great outook. 

I love books like Michael’s Golden Rules.  Deloris Jordan (author of Salt in His Shoes and Michael Jordan’s mother) does a wonderful job depicting a common experience in childhood sports.  The protagonist is discouraged because he is not a strong player.  He struggles with a negative attitude and even with a little bullying.  I appreciate how it is an adult that comes along side Jonathan to mentor and encourage him.  The author does a wonderful job unfolding the character development and depicting Jonathan’s positive changes, despite obstacles.  These types of examples are essential for helping children learn how to problem solve their individual circumstances.  Roslyn M. Jordan, the illustrator, captures well the tensions, setbacks, and victories on the field as well as the personal interactions.  I  highly recommend this book for ages 7-11. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Settings In Books

It is Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s list is Top Ten Settings in Books.  Except for Prince Edward Island, all my favorites are imaginary places or magical versions of reality.  Fantasy literature takes up a bulk of my favorites because of the creativity and imagination that went into their design.  Other than Panem, these are places I would love to live or visit. 

1.     Hogwarts and Wizarding Community (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)
2.    Train and North Pole (The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg) 
3.    Kyrria (Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine)
4.    Museum on Christmas Eve (The Dinosaurs Night Before Christmas, Anne Muecke)
5.    Westlandia (Westlandia,  Paul Fleischman)
6.    Monkey’s Treehouse (Monkey with Toolbelt, Chris Monroe)
7.    Panem (Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins) 
8.    Prince Edward Island (Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery)
9.    Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia series, C.S. Lewis)
10.  Treecrest and Surrounding Kingdoms (The Wide-Awake Princess, E.D. Baker)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Picture Books: Survive Alive series (by Neil Champion)

It is Non-Fiction Monday.  Check out notable non-fiction titles from blogs around the web at Chapter Book a Day

My son has recently taken an interest in survival techniques.  (I believe it is all those Man vs. Wild episodes my husband has been watching on Netflix.)  As a result, he wanted to check the library for survival skill books.  There are not many books for children on this topic.  I did find a noteworthy series by Neil Champion called Survive Alive. There are six books in the series.  There were three at my local library:  Finding Your Way,  Making Shelter, and In An Emergency.   Each book provides basic information on the topic, true survival story vignettes, and some step-by-step instructions.  In An Emergency covers first aid, extreme heat or cold, fire, hunger, thirst, dangerous places, and angry animals.  Making Shelter begins by giving some guidelines on choosing a camp site and building basics.  Then, it provides instructs on how to make shelters in varies places—forest, jungle, caves, snow, desert, and prairie.  Finally, Finding Your Way offers background information in ancient navigation skills as well as modern day techniques.  Readers learn how to use the sun, how to navigate at night, how to use maps and high-tech gadgets, and other smart skills.  I recommend this series for ages 9 and up  because of the interesting stories, fascinating facts, and project possibilities.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Picture Books: Stella series (by Marie Louse Gay)

Recently, I have read several books in the Stella series by Marie Louise Gay.  I find myself drawn to this character because of her whimsical imagination and pure heart.  One of my favorite aspects of these series is the sibling relationship.  Stella mothers and mentors her little brother, Sam, in a child-like, sweet manner.  Sam is inquisitive but a bit apprehensive during new experiences.  The stories are a brilliant blend of fantasy and reality.  Two selections that are perfect for summer reading are Princess of the Sky and Star of the Sea. 

Stella and Sam are spending the day at the sea shore.  It is Sam’s first time at the beach.  Stella was there once, before Sam was born.  She knows all the secrets of the sea.  Sam is full of questions, and Stella always knows the answer.  First, he wants to know if the water is cold and deep, but he also wonders if there are any sea monsters.  Stella assures him, “the water is lovely…and not a sea monster in sight.”  She encourages Sam to come in, but Sam hesitates.  Questions pour out like water on the sand.  He asks where starfish come from.  Stella tells him, “Starfish are shooting stars that fell in the love with sea.”  Then, he wants to know if the stars were afraid of drowning.   He has nothing to fear, though, because Stella assures him they learned to swim.  Together they discover shells from the moon and that “you can ride a sea horse bareback.”  Sam continues with numerous questions which reflect his age and attempt to mask his fears of the water.  Eventually, with Stella’s calming answers and confident demeanor, Sam realizes that the sea is a fun place to play and to swim.   

Sam is alarmed by the red tints in the sky.  He runs to his big sister, Stella, declaring that the sky is on fire.  Stella knows better though.  She comforts him by telling him, “The sun is just going to sleep…It’s wearing red pajamas.”  Of course, Sam wants to know where the sun goes to sleep.  Stella informs him that the sun sleeps “on a fluffy cloud…and every morning the sun jumps into the sky.”  On rainy days the sun sleeps in.  The pair decides to spend the night outside, where they hear a symphony of night sounds.  Sam continues with his incessant questions about the animals and the moon.  He asks:  Does the moon live in the lake?  Does it swim? Does it have wings?  Stella’s fanciful answers sooth her little brother.  They see and hear an owl, a frog, bats, fire flies, and a pack of raccoons.  The night would not be complete without an exploration of the sky with its millions of stars that look “like the moon spilled a glass of milk.”  They curl up in warm blankets, reminiscing and relaxing.  Sam realizes there is nothing to fear in the night. 

Other Stella Books:
Stella: Queen of the Snow
Stella: Fairy of the Forest
When Stella Was Very, Very Small

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Picture Books: Little Quack (by Lauren Thompson)

Little Quack, illustrated by Derek Anderson, is one of the most adorable picture book characters. This series of books, written by Lauren Thompson, is entertaining, educational, and endearing.  Little Quack and Little Quack’s Hide and Seek are among my favorites.  They both illustrated early math skills and invite listener participation.  I HIGHLY recommend this series for ages 2-7.  As an extension idea, follow up reading with a trip to local lake or pond to feed the ducks!  

Little Quack   
Mama Duck has five little ducklings:  Widdle, Waddle, Piddle, Puddle, and Little Quack.  They have lived securely in their nest, but now it is time to leave.   Mama urges them to paddle on the water with her.  The little ducklings squeeze in close.  One by one, they gather the courage to jump.  Each time the following repetitive text is given before the next duckling plunges in: 

“No, Mama, no!” they cried. “We’re too scared!”
“You can do it,” Mama said. “I know you can.” 

There is onomatopoeia to accompany the ducklings as they enter the pond, such as “splish,” “splash,” and “splosh.”  Along the bottom border, a running quack-u-lator tallies how many ducklings are in the pond. The numeral, a picture illustration of the number, and the numeral word are all included.  The final duckling to take the plunge is Little Quack.  As he splishes and splashes in the water, he cries, “I did it…I really did it!”  His Mama replies, “I always knew you could.” This sweet book is perfect for teaching about courage and confidence as well as onomatopoeia, counting to five, numerals, number words, and pond life. 

One day Mama suggests they play hide-and-seek.  Each duckling is confident that Mama Duck won’t be able to find him.  He will find the “best” place of all.  One by one they find a spot to hide as Mama counts to ten.  (The quack-u-lator on the bottom border illustrates the basic subtraction problem.)  As Mama finishes counting,  Little Quack has not found a place to hide yet.  He stealthily swims up behind her as she seeks out her little ducklings.  The repetitive text states each time:

“Any ducklings down there?"  she called.
(Ducklings respond in various ways as they are found.)
“That’s (number) little ducklings found,” said Mama.
“Who will I find next?” 

Little Quack sure is tricky.  After all the other ducklings are found, Mama Duck cannot locate him.  (Children will enjoy “finding” him though.)   Finally, Little Quack jumps out and yells, “Here I am...Right behind you, Mama!”  She responds, “You did find the best hiding place of all!”  The family all laughs at how Little Quack tricked Mama Duck.  Little Quack’s Hide and Seek teaches adding, subtracting, counting, and numeral words.   It also depicts a family playing and laughing together. 

Other Little Quack Books

For babies and toddlers, there are Little Quack Board Books on ABC's, Counting, Bathtime, Colors, and Opposites.

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Title:   Freedom Over Me:  Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life Author :   Ashley Bryan Illustrator :   Ashley...