Monday, April 30, 2012

Picture Book (History): Pompeii Lost and Found (Osborne)

Summary of Pompeii: Lost and Found (by Mary Pope Osborne):
Osborne begins by painting a portrait of life in Pompeii, almost 2000 years ago, before Mount Vesuvius erupted.  People were tending their homes and business, going to school and work, and enjoying leisure activities.  Things changed though on August 24, AD 79.  The sea became choppy.  Streams suddenly dried up.  Animals began acting out of the ordinary.  Then, a huge volcanic blast hit.  It bombarded the town with stones, ash, and poisonous gases until it was completely entombed.  Pompeii is unique because it is the only town of the ancient Roman Empire in which everything was “frozen” in time and untouched for hundreds of years.  As a result, historians and archaeologist have learned a lot about the era and the everyday people.  Osborne describes some of the finding about family life, houses, entertainment (gladiator contests and theater), social gatherings (in bathhouses, courtyards, cobblestone streets, and schools), shopping (a forum or outdoor market), and religious rites (personal shrines and temples).  Then, she returns to the fateful day when everything changed.  Finally, a glimpse of the present day is given where modern era people with cameras and guide books are exploring the ancient ruins.  Bonnie Christensen uses wonderful fresco paintings in muted colors to reflect the popular art form of the era and to depict life in Pompeii at the time of the devastating natural disaster.   

Evaluation:
Mary Pope Osborne is best known for her Magic Tree House series.  She knows how to write in order to captivate a young audience.  Pompeii: Lost and Found is an example of her power to engage.  The text reads more like a fascinating and mysterious narrative rather than a stiff factual account.  Christensen’s sweeping frescoes are an essential part of the storytelling (see example below).  They reveal common tools found on the site as well as some of the residence fossilized as the ash encompassed them.  The illustrations, also, depict everyday life—meals, theater, children’s games, marketplace, and so forth.  I highly recommend this book for ages 8 and up. 



Teaching Opportunities
  • Science:  learn about volcanoes--what causes them to form and to erupt, what happens to areas after a volcanic eruption (see Gopher to the Rescue which is about an area that slowly revitalizes after a volcano erupted)
  • History:  use this book as part of a unit on ancient Roman or learn more about ancient Roman after reading (see Osborne's Ancient Rome and Pompeii Research Guide)
  • Comparison:  compare/contrast life in Pompeii to life in your city or another historic town
  • Literature Connection:  read a historical fiction book set in Pompeii (see Osborne's Vacation Under the Volcano) or ancient Roman (like the Roman Mystery Series)
  • Poetry:  write a poem describing what you think it would have been like to see and experience Mt. Vesuvius exploding
  • Art:  learn more about the fresco painting technique and create your own fresco paintings
This post is linked up with Non-Fiction Monday at Gathering Books.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Picture Book (Science): Luna Moths (Sandra Markle)


The book begins with a basic explanation of how insects are different from other animals.  Then, Markle identifies differences between moths and butterflies.  A detailed exploration of the luna moth’s body, inside and out, is depicted with broad two-page labeled diagrams.  Each one has additional information about it in text boxes.  The largest part of the book is focused on a chronological study of the moth by looking at its life cycle.  The stages are described and illustrated well.   An added feature is that Markle highlights the ways that other moths—in the larva and adult stages in particular—defend themselves.  The layout of Luna Moths: Masters of Change is reader friendly.  The sections are clearly labeled with bold titles in bright orange headline boxes.  The text is primarily on the left with a full-page, close-up photograph of moths in various stages and activities on the right.  Other pages have the text on top with bold pictures below corresponding to it.   The vibrant and organized layout patterns are pleasing to the eyes. The book concludes with information on other insect life cycles, a glossary of important terms, luna moth extension activities, and suggestions for book, video, and web resources.   

Evaluation:
My two favorite parts of this book are the diagrams of the body—internal and external—and the information on the various ways moths defend themselves.  On the external diagram, the basic parts are identified and described—head, thorax, abdomen, wings—as well as others like spiracles (breathing holes), compound eyes, body texture/scales, antenna, legs, and feet.  The internal figure lays out fascinating information about reproductive organs, heart, brain, and nerve cord.  I did not even realize they had all these parts in that tiny, tiny body.  The sections on protection from predators are fantastic.   They includes pictures of moths to fit each description, adding to its merit.   For instance, some caterpillars use their looks like the hag moth caterpillar that looks like a hairy spider and the elephant hawk moth one that appears as a snake ready to attack!  Others camouflage well or use poisonous secretions.  I cannot help but to be in absolute wonderment at our Creator whenever I study science.  There is so much variety, intricacy, and creativity.  My kids get tired of me saying these words. J 

I have read many children’s book on insects, butterflies, and moths, yet I learned a lot from Luna Moths: Masters of Change.  It is more detailed than many similar children's science books, but the straightforward text is highly engaging.   In addition, the eye-catching and brilliant photographs depict a variety of views and stages. This book is part of the Insect World series from Lerner Publishing Group.  Because I am so impressed with this one, I plan on looking up additional titles in the series.  I recommend this book for ages 8 and up.  

This post is linked up with Science Sunday at Adventures of Mommydom.  


5 Steps to Make Reading More Meaningful


I recently came across an incredible literacy-related video at the blog Mom with a Lesson Plan called 5 Steps to Make Reading More Meaningful.   It is by a guest poster, Kim from Little Stories.  She uses one of my favorite series:  Little Quack by Lauren Thompson.   

I love how Kim encourages interaction and participation.  I was amazed at how quickly the toddler-listener picked up the pattern of the story and began to interact verbally and physically.  I hope you enjoy this video and become inspired by it.  Click HERE to watch it on youtube.  I would love to hear your response to it.  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fairy Tale Activities and Teaching Ideas

Yesterday, I posted a short study on Jack and the Beanstalk.   I enjoyed reading every version I could get my hands on, and then I spent time analyzing and comparing.  This activity is also perfect as a class or home project.  You may be surprised how much you and your children will learn.    

1.   Check out every version available at the library. 
2.  Read them together and discuss similarities and differences.  Here are some areas to consider.  Most of these are specific to Jack and the Beanstalk, but hopefully, they will spur you to consider types of areas to evaluate in any fairy tale.  Focus on both general (setting) and specific (hiding places) elements to the tale of your choice.
  • Setting
  • Catalyst (what starts the action)
  • Protagonist
  • Protagonist’s character qualities (description)
  • Description of the mother
  • Describe the trade
  • Number of trips up the stalk
  • Reason for return(s), if any
  • Description of greeter at the top of the stalk, if any
  • Description of giant
  • Chorus (fee, fie, foe)
  • Variations in chorus throughout story
  • Hiding places, if any
  • Items taken/given
  • Protagonist’s outcome 
  • Antagonist’s outcome
3.   Pick 2 or more (depending on age of children) to do an in-depth comparison. 
  • Use a Venn diagram as a comparison tool (good for comparison of 2 or 3 stories).  Use a Venn diagram with lines for younger children.  
  • Create a chart or excel spread sheet to explore the different versions.  On the left side list the areas in #2 and on the top put in the story titles. 
  • Write a paragraph (either together or independently) discussing the similarities and differences between 2 or more versions.
  • Put the versions in order of publication.  Evaluate and discuss how they have changed and how those differences reflect cultural changes.  For example, modern versions have female protagonists.  Earlier versions were more didactic. 
  • Write a book review on your favorite version. 
  • Draw two parallel comic strips (one from each of the 2 versions chosen).  Depict the similarities and differences with a one to one correspondence of drawings. In other words, in both strips in same place illustrate the scenes with the hiding place, the items stolen, the trade, and so forth. 
  • Act out scenes from 2 or more versions.
4.   Delve in deeper to consider the significance of the story and the elements of the plot.  Why do so many cultures have their own retellings?  What might this story reveal about human nature?  Childhood?   
5.   Older children can do research on the fairy tale to write an essay or to add to the discussion on it.  The Classic Fairy Tales (by Maria Tatar) is an excellent resource as well as the website SuLaLune.  
6.   Try some other literature extension activities as well, like the ones at Primary Resources.

Most of all, children will be enjoying the different fairy tale versions and having fun comparing them.  Little will they realize, they are exercising important critical thinking skills.  


This post is linked up with Sunday Showcase at Momto2LilPoshDivas where dozens of teaching ideas are highlighted each week.   


Friday, April 27, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: Jack and the Beanstalk

For information on how to do your own fairy tale study and related activities, click HERE.  
       
         “Jack and the Beanstalk" is one of the most well-known fairy tales in our modern culture.  There are many variations of the tale, but the one feature that defines it, is the beanstalk. This soaring magical plant gives people access to an upper world.  For the common people of the past, it represented wish fulfillment.  Jack, who is poor like them, has the opportunity to have his fate changed—a wish they all likely hoped would be their reward.  In most versions, Jack brings back a magical object that helps his family elevate themselves financially, showing a victory of the poor over the rich.  As the giant falls to his death, so have all the big, strong, and powerful barriers in Jack's life. The story gave children hope that what happened in the tale (overcoming great obstacles) could also happen in real life.  For the upper class of the past, Jack represented the world of magic and an opportunity for education.  Fairies and magic were often used to fascinate the audience while subtly teaching important values.  As children heard about the magic beanstalk, the enchanted treasures, and the mythical giant, they are also learning about social class barriers.  For instance in a version published in 1908, a fairy reveals to Jack that everything the giant has really belongs to him, thereby justifying his thefts.  Even though Jack and his mother have enough in the end to rent a castle, they chose to stay in their humble cottage. The beanstalk is the unifying element utilized to prompt people to dream, to hope, and to learn their place in the world. 
Jack and the Beanstalk” has been modified for centuries to reflect the realities of life and to give hope for transcending obstacles.  The story continues its relevance through retellings that illustrate equality in gender roles as well as hope for the weak, small, and poor.  The unifying image of the beanstalk offers a glimpse of the magical and an experience with the supernatural.   It is a tale that is likely to continue to be popular for its flexible narrative structure and hopeful message.  Why do you think this story continues to be popular?  What is your favorite version?

Jim and the Beanstalk (Raymond Briggs)
One day Jim wakes up to find a giant beanstalk outside his window.  He climbs up and finds a castle.  Jim travels to the castle for breakfast.  An old giant answers the door.  Toothless and weary, the giant shares his meal, despite a desire to eat the boy.  After the giant complains his eyesight is too bad to read his books, Jim offers to help him.   Jim measures him, travels back down the beanstalk, and meets with an oculist.  After working all day and night, the oculist finishes a pair of glasses for the giant. Jim carries them up the beanstalk.  This same pattern is followed for false teeth and a wig.  The giant is so elated about his new look, he sends Jack home safely and gives him a large gold coin.   

This narrative is adapted from one written by B. A. T. that appeared in London in 1807.   Old Mother Twaddle finds a sixpence and sends her son, Jack, to the market to buy a goose.  Instead, Jack trades it for a bean.  Scolded by his mother, he leaves the house to plant the bean.  In the morning, a large beanstalk has grown.  Jack climbs it and meets a fair maiden who warns him to leave.  He begs her to allow him to stay, so she agrees to hide him.  When the giant arrives he says, “Fe, fi, fo, fan! / I smell the breath / of an Englishman!” The maiden coerces him to first drink some strong wine.  He leans back so far that he falls over and goes to sleep.  Jack comes out from hiding under the bed, snatches a large knife, and chops off the giant’s head.  He sends for his mother, so they can enjoy a goose dinner.  Jack marries the damsel that helped save him. 

Jack and the Bean Tree (Gail E. Haley)
Jack and his mother are poor mountain folk.  His older brothers and paw are fighting in a war.  The pair run out of food.  Like many of the other versions, idealistic Jack trades his cow for magic beans which become a beanstalk.  When Jack reaches the top, he meets a lady, Matilda, who is married to a giant.  She helps him out and hides him.  Jack travels up it three times, stealing a cloth that prepares and cleans up meals, a dancing hen that lays golden eggs, and a singing harp.  Each time the giant recites a different chorus related to his smell of the boy. Matilda knows it is Jack, yet she hides him in a different place each time.  His first two robberies lead the giant to believe his neighbors are stealing from him, so a war begins between them.  After each trip, Jack is content for a while, but he returns to the top of the stalk to find something more.  In the end, the giant dies when Jack chops down the stalk while he is still climbing down.  The story ends with Jack and his mother receiving a letter from his paw and brothers informing them that they will be home soon.  

Jack and the Beanstalk (Steven Kellogg) 
This version is from Joseph Jacobs’ tales (published in 1889) with only a few minor wording differences.  Kellogg adds to the narrative with his pictures.  On the front end paper, he illustrates the origin of the giant’s riches—stolen from pirates—and on the title page, Jack's meeting with the princess he will later marry is depicted.  Jack lives with his mother, a poor widow.  Their cow stops giving milk, so Jack travels to the market to sell her.  On the way, he trades the cow for the magic beans.  His mother is furious, so she throws the beans out the window.  The next morning, Jack wakes up to see the beanstalk.  He climbs it and meets the giant’s wife, who helps him.  When the giant returns, he recites the well-known “fe, fi, fo, fum” chorus.  Jack visits three times—each time stealing something—gold, a goose, and a harp.  As he flees the final time, the giant chases him and falls from the beanstalk to his death.  Jack and his mother are now rich.  Jack marries the princess.  The back endpaper depicts a happy scene with Jack, the princess, and their three children.  

Waynetta and the Cornstalk (Helen Ketteman)
Waynetta and her mother live on a ranch that has dried up so much they have to sell all their longhorns.  As Waynette takes the last one to market, she comes across a man who trades it for some magic corn.  The next morning, she climbs the large stalk that appears.  At the top, she meets a giant cowgirl who informs her that the giant stole items from her mother.  When the giant arrives, he uses a variety of “fee, fie, foe” chorus.  From her hiding places, Waynette sees a miniature longhorn that produces golden cow patties, a teeny lariat that never misses, and a tiny bucket that doesn’t run out of water.  Once the giant falls asleep, she takes off with the rope and longhorn.  Her mother is pleased with her plunder, but she points out that money and a magic rope cannot bring about the rain water they need.  Waynette goes back up the stalk to steal the bucket.  The giant sees her taking it and pursuits her down the tall stalk.  The mother chops it down.  When the giant falls, the mean is knocked out of him.  Waynette and her mother get their ranch up and running again.  The giant and his wife help them out with the work. 

The text was originally published in 1908 in The Old Nursery Stories.  Jack is a lazy daydreamer who lives with his widowed mother.  She works all day while he creates things from books and makes up his own poems.  When they are in dire straits, Jack is sent with the cow to sell it for five gold pieces.  He runs into the butcher on the way who convinces him to sell it instead for a handful of colorful beans.  When the beans grow into a large plant, Jack climbs to the top where he meets a fairy.  She tells him the kingdom used to be his father’s, but a giant stole it from him and all the people are trapped in trees.  The fairy reveals that he daydreams all the time because he is searching for this place.  Jack is greeted by an old lady at the castle.  He eventually steals the golden egg laying hen, the bags of gold, and the self-playing harp.  The giant falls to his death in pursuit of him. Jack and his mother live well off the items from the castle.  The giant’s death frees the people in the kingdom where his wife rules them fairly. 

Kate and the Beanstalk (Mary Pope Osborne)
Kate lives with her mother in a humble cottage.  After a hard winter, Kate is sent to sell the cow to get money for food.  Kate meets a beggar who trades her for four magic beans.   She cannot sleep during the night, so she takes a walk and finds the beans have grown into an enormous plant.  She climbs it.  At the top she meets a fairy who challenges her to take back three items that were stolen from a now poor family.  Kate gets into the castle by posing as a servant (twice she disguises herself to look different).  She steals back the items, only to find out they belong to her.  The fairy tested her to make sure she is worthy.  Kate and her mother move into the castle and live happily ever after. 

The Giant and the Beanstalk (Diane Stanley)
This version is told from the perspective of a compassionate giant named Otto.  He loves his pet hen who lays golden eggs.  One day, he catches a boy, Jack, breaking into his house and stealing his beloved pet.  Otto follows Jack down the beanstalk and goes in search of him.  He meets Jack’s mother at the bottom who tells him that Jack only stole the hen to sell so he can get his cherished cow back.  The giant tells her to keep the golden egg, but he wants the hen back.  As Otto searches for Jack (of “Jack and the Beanstalk”) he is mistakenly sent to other residents of the Nursery Rhyme community—Jack B. Nimble, Jack Sprat, Jack and Jill,  and Little Jack Horner.  Finally, at “The House that Jack Built” Otto locates and buys the boy’s cow back for him.  Finally, they meet and trade pets.  When Otto returns, he positively inspires his fellow giants to be more “civilized.”  

See SurLaLune for more versions and information on Jack and the Beanstalk.  

You are cordially invited to participate and link up for Fairy Tale Friday which will officially begin on May 5.  


This post is link up to Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Middle Grade Fiction: 11 Birthdays (Wendy Mass)

Summary of 11 Birthdays (by Wendy Mass):
Ever think about what it would be like to relive your birthday, every day?  Experience what it might be like with 11 Birthdays.  

Amanda and Leo are born on the same day in the same hospital.  With a little help from “fate,” their parents meet in the hospital and again on their first birthday, leading to a close connection between the two families.   Each year, Amanda and Leo grow in their friendship and look forward to celebrating their birthday together.    Everything changes when Amanda overhears Leo saying unkind things about her to a group of boys at their 10th birthday party.  So begins an “infamous” silent wall between them...until their 11th birthday.  Amanda celebrates it without Leo.  When she goes to sleep that night, she is relieved it is all over.  Unfortunately, when she wakes up, her day begins EXACTLY like the day before.  At first, she thinks it is some kinds of joke, but when the bus arrives, she knows it isn’t.  Each morning after, she wakes up to find that it is still her 11th birthday!  Sound fun?  It isn’t.   Her  11th birthday is a disaster!  She has a miserable party without Leo, her mom gets fired, her dad is sick, she embarrasses herself at try outs, and her sister has her heart broken by a boy she likes.  After a few days, Leo reaches out to her.  He is stuck in this birthday rewind too!   The duo work together each day trying to figure out what to do to fix what went wrong the first day and to mend their friendship in the process.   They learn that the origin of the “curse” goes back to their great-great grandparents.  They must solve the mystery of that famous feud and put things right in their own lives before they can finally move forward.   

Evaluation:
Both Amanda and Leo are likable and relatable characters.  Each has fears and insecurities to overcome.  They grow in their relationship with each other and those around them.  Despite having the same day repeated, the children problem solve by using their previous experiences to change things—in most cases to make circumstances better, not only for themselves but others.   One day they skip school to live out an ideal type birthday since there are no real consequences.  While the day is mostly harmless fun, they do lie and sneak around. Another day is devoted to helping others they encounter.  Many of them are spent working to piece together what happened to their ancestors many, many years earlier in order to learn how to break the curse.  In the end, Amanda and Leo are close friends again, but they are unable to “fix” everything.  For instance, Amanda’s mother still loses her job and Kylie (Amanda’s sister) does not get the boy she seeks.  Nevertheless, the story ends with hope and optimism. 

I know there is no “perfect” book.  Kids have to do something “wrong” to have plot.  As a parent, I have a concern though.  Leo and Amanda lie…A LOT.  You may be able to argue that in some circumstances they have to.  If they tell the adults what is happening, no one will believe them.  (Amanda does try once to tell her dad with no success.)  There were other times though that they really did not have to lie for that reason.  Though Amanda expresses some guilt over lying, it does not stop them.  I do not believe the lying issue is a reason to prevent a child from reading it.  Instead, I bring it up as an opportunity for parents/teachers to discuss the issue with their children using questions like:
  • Is it ever okay to lie?  If so, when?
  • What are our family/school/class values on the subject of lying?
  • What are possible outcomes of lying?
  • Does this book illustrate “real” consequences for lying?
  • Who are some other people, real or fictional, who lied? What was their outcome?
Overall, 11 Birthdays is an entertaining read for ages 8-12.  The characters and plot will definitely engage young readers.  It also offers a perfect opportunity to discuss a significant moral issue.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Picture Book (Science): Star of the Sea (Janet Halfmann)



Beginning on a starry night, an ochre sea star clings to a rock under the crashing waves.   When it is high tide, it moves along the ocean floor, avoiding predators.  On the shore, it inches along by twisting its body like a pretzel onto the shore to hunt.  Coming upon a mussel bed, it hunches over one and grips it with its strong feet.  A tug-a-war between them ensues until the sea star successfully cracks and feeds off it, in a most unusual and fascinating manner.  Follow this amazing sea creature as it fights its way back to the ocean before the tide recedes while protecting itself from predators. 

Evaluation
Author Janet Halfmann, along with illustrator Joan Paley, has created a superb picture book. The well-written text captures the magnificent sea star beautifully.  I found myself completely captivate by the story.  Hand-painted papers in watercolor blends are used to create a textured and enchanting vision of the ocean and the life of the sea star.  I recommend Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish for ages 4-10.   This book is ideal for leisure reading or as part of an ocean unit.  For more ocean related activities, see my Pinterest Teaching Activities Ocean Unit folder. 

This post is linked up with Read Aloud Thursday hosted by Hope is a Word.  



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Picture Book: Cows Can't Quack (by Dave Reisman)


Author David Reisman has brought us another entertaining work, ideal for young listeners.  Like his previous title, Cows Can’t Jump, he uses a patterned text in Cows Can’t Quack that invites children to predict and participate.   For instance, it begins with “Cows can’t quack…”   Turn the page and find, “but they can moo.”  This sample is followed in the next sequence, “Moose can’t moo…”    Now that a model has been experienced, children can be prompted to guess what sound a moose does make.  The book has a nice balance of animal/sounds that children will likely already be familiar (cat, frog, tiger) as well as ones they are not as likely (hyenas, rhinos, hippos).  

Because the text has a repetitive pattern with key words being repeated in each sequence, it is beneficial in building up sight word knowledge.  Older youngster will quickly memorize the pattern and use picture cues to help them “read” the words. By encouraging them to put their finger on the words as they read, they are learning to recognize them and getting the rhythm of reading.

The illustrations (by Jason A. Maas) are expressive and entertaining.    The background remains consistent with a soft blue sky and appealing green grass, allowing the focus to be on the animals.   Because they depict various emotions, child listeners can discuss what emotions they might be feeling and why they feel them using the pictures as a guide.

Expand the text for older children to teach them the “big word” for animal sounds—onomatopoeia.  This word is fun to say, and it has the added bonus of making them sound sophisticated. J    Encourage them to brainstorm other sound words or onomatopoeia.  Another early reading skill is recognizing the same sounds in words.   Identify together alliteration (same beginning sounds in words close to each other), like cows/can’t, moose/moo, and can’t/croak. 

For character building, talk about the uniqueness of each animal and parallel it to people.  Never try to be like the crowd:  An original is always worth more (quote I saw once).   We may do things differently, but we are all important and interconnected.  

I highly recommend Cows Can’t Quack for ages 2-7.  It is a story that should be read over and over for maximum enjoyment and benefit.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

NonFiction Monday: A Place for Bats (by Melissa Stewart)

Non-Fiction Monday is here! It is my first time hosting, and I am thrilled!   Please join in using the self link-up below. 

I have read several picture books about bats because they are such fascinating creatures.  My first encounter with one scared me to death!  I was 11 years old when one flew into my room late at night.  I had no idea what it was at first.  Eventually, it knocked itself out by running into the closet wall.  My dad picked it up and let it go out the window.  Even though they might startle you, I realized bats are harmless.  A few years ago we used to swim sometimes at night.  The bats would sweep down close to us to snatch the insects attracted to the light and water.  It was a wonderful site to see!  I had no fear at all.  Fortunately, my children did not either.  Bats play a vital role in our world.  We need to protect them. 

A Place for Bats takes a different approach than most non-fiction picture books do on this topic. Author Melissa Stewart reveals interesting information about these flying mammals through her narrative, but the focus is on how humans can help make the world a safer place for them. 

This book could actually be read a couple different ways, depending on the audience.  The top margin offers a straight-forward description while the semi-circle bubbles on the sides go into more detail about the topic on the page and relate it to a particular species of bats that has been impacted.  For younger audiences, teachers could read the top margin and, perhaps, summarize the more detailed information.  Older children will enjoy the well-written specific stories about the various types of bats and the environmental impacts. 

Stewart offers many excellent and practical suggestions for how humans can live more harmoniously with the bats, such as turning off wind turbines on calm nights, not using harmful insecticides, putting up gates at the mouths of cave and mines, and protecting their natural habitats.  Many suggestions are simple things we can do in our backyards like building bat boxes, keeping cats indoors, leaving drooping fronds on trees, not removing dead trees, and planting flowers that attract the moths bats eat.

There are some fascinating facts about bats.  For instance, I did not realize they caught insects with their feet.  For some reason, I always thought they caught them with their mouths.  LOL  Also, plants need bats.  They play a vital role in pollination and the spreading of plant seeds.  One of the most important facts:  Despite commonly held myths, bats do not hurt people.  Instead, they are essential for keeping the insect population down.  

Higgins Bond’s illustrations look like photograph snapshots with their vivid details and brilliant colors.  Bats are depicted in their caves and other natural habitats as well as in backyards and neighborhoods.  Each stunning picture encompasses a two-page spread.  I recommend A Place for Bat for ages 7 and up.   The book is an amazing combination of beautiful pictures and vital information.  


Friday, April 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: Peaceful Pieces Poems and Quilts About Peace (Grossnickle)


Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace explores peace at different levels from personal to interpersonal to world-wide.   Author Anna Grossnickle Hines uses the quilt motif for her illustrations.  Each page is a full-color reproduction of a handmade quilt that compliments the poems.  Quilts are also used as a metaphor for our interconnectedness and, thus, elevating the importance of peace.   


 The book concludes with short summaries of people who have worked for peace—both well-known adults like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and lesser-known children like Samantha Smith and Mattie Stepanek.  I recommend Peaceful Pieces:  Poems and Quilts About Peace for ages 8 and up.  The poems can be applied to circumstances younger children understand—family relationships, enjoying nature, and individual choices.  Older children can be guided to connect the concept to history, politics, and current events.

“Peace:  A Recipe”
Open mind—at least two.
Willing hearts—the same.
Rinse well with compassion.
Stir in a fair amount of trust.
Season with forgiveness.
Simmer in a sauce of respect.
A dash of humor brightens the flavor.

Best served with hope. 

“Weapons”
I have never fired a gun
But have shouted words
that pierce and stung.

I have hurled cutting remarks,
ignited flames with hateful sparks.
I’ve shot daggers from my eyes
at those I momentarily despised.

I have never fired a gun
but want to learn
to hold my tongue.                                                     

“Weightless”
Dark and heavy,
anger presses
my pinched heart
into my stomach.
       But…
when I forgive,
when I truly forgive
my feather heart
       lifts
floats
      light
free
spacious enough
to take in
the whole
wonderful
world.

This post is linked up with Poetry Friday at Random Noodling.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Picture Book: Spring Is Here (by Will Hillenbrand)

Today, I had a BLAST reading Spring Is Here to a kindergarten class!   I began by showing them the cover and reading the title.  I asked the class to predict who the main character is and what the story is about.  They had some amazing and insightful suggestions.  The consensus was that Mole would try to wake Bear up from his winter hibernation.   As I read, I took the opportunity to point out the difference between reality and fantasy.  I asked if moles really hibernate by sleeping in comfy beds like people.  Of course, they knew moles do not.  We differentiated between reality (hibernating/waking up when it is spring) and fantasy (sleeping in a bed in a little house/being friends with a bear). 

As Mole walks over to his friend Bear’s house, he squish, squish, squishes through the mud.  Then, he raps on Bear’s window—Tap, Tap, Tap.  The only reply he receives from Bear is “Snore.”  Next, Mole knock, knock, knocks on Bear’s door.  Again, “Snore” is Bear’s reply.  At this point, I introduced a new word:  Onomatopoeia.   I defined it as sound words, like squish, tap, snore, and knock.

The narrative continues with Mole trying various ways to wake up Bear, such as a feather on his nose and a horn noise.  Bear always replies with “Snore.” I began to pause before each repetition of “snore” and invited the students to participate by “reading” it with me. 

I praised the students for doing a wonderful job predicting who the main character is and what the story is about.   When Mole scampers outside, I asked the students what they thought Mole would do next.  One of my favorites is that he would go out to the river and get some water to dump on Bear.  LOL   No one predicted the right answer.  On the next page where he is gathering eggs, milk, and butter, I asked the class again to predict what Mole is doing.  They guessed he is making a pie.  The students were close (It is pancakes, muffins, and other breakfast foods).   Bear finally wakes up to the smell of Mole’s yummy food. 

The children giggled at the ending:

“Yum,” replied Bear.
Then he looked at Mole.
“Wake up, Mole!”  said Bear.
“Spring is here.”  

(turn page—Mole is snuggled up next to Bear)

“Snore,” replied Mole. 

At the end of the book, I asked the children to give me other examples of onomatopoeia.  They had great ones both from the story and their own experiences.  I also asked them to identify the beginning, middle, and end.  With just a little guidance, they did a wonderful job relating the parts back to me.  

I had only skimmed this book before this reading session.  After reading it with the group, I realized how alive and exciting this narrative is.  I highly recommend Spring Is Here (by Will Hillenbrand) for ages 4-8.   It is a fun read aloud selection with many teaching opportunities for parents sitting one on one or teachers in the classroom.  

For multiple readings with the same group or child, invite them to participate in reciting the repetitive patterned text.  For other learning opportunities, you may want to discuss: the signs of spring, animal habits during spring, and the qualities of a good friend. 

This post is linked up with Hope is the Word for Read Aloud Thursday.  


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Picture Book (History): John, Paul, George, & Ben (by Lane Smith)

Summary of John,Paul, George, & Ben (by Lane Smith):  
Author Lane Smith envisions what type of youngsters our founding fathers might have been—John (Hancock), Paul (Revere), George (Washington), Ben (Franklin), & Tom (Jefferson).   Focusing on one key aspect of each person, Smith depicts a fictional childhood incident.  For instances, Paul Revere is portrayed as a noisy lad who spends hours ringing the church bells in the belfry tower.   He also loves to yell things out—that some people might be embarrassed by (think “great, big, extra-large underwear”).    Many years later, his “talent” plays a significant role in the American Revolution.   Also, Lane takes an amusing poke at the story commonly associated with George Washington—the chopping of the cherry tree.   In this version, honest George does much more than cut down a cherry tree.  He also takes out an entire apple orchard, levels the barn, and makes kindling of his father’s carriage.    Each character’s childhood is treated similarly.   Lane pulls everything together in the end by providing a brief summary of the contribution each man did make in his real life.  Finally, the book is rounded out with a fun and witty True and False section where the record is set straight on the information in the book.

Evaluation
I am a fan of Lane Smith’s picture books.  He is always creative, entertaining, and even, a bit irrelevant.   Smith contributes a lot of the reshaping and rethinking of what a picture book and a story should be.  John, Paul, George, & Ben is no exception to his unique fingerprint on the world of children’s literature.  Anyone can write “the facts” about a founding father or other famous individual.  Smith has crafted a fictional narrative, but children will no doubt remember some genuine significant details about the figures.  For example, we don’t know if Ben Franklin quoted witty sayings as a child.  Children will likely remember that he is famous for them as an adult though.  The illustrations, also by Lane Smith, are wonderful.  They have a grainy, crackled texture and sepia coloring to give an old-fashioned feel.  Conveying lots of emotion and energy, the pictures compliment and expand the text well.   I highly recommend John,Paul, George, & Ben for ages 7 and up. 

Teaching Opportunities:
  • History:  it is a perfect complement to a study of the American Revolution
  • Writing:  pick a well-known figure and 1-2 predominate facts about him/her; write a story about their childhood using exaggeration and the predominate fact(s)
  • Critical Thinking:  evaluate and discuss what parts of the story are facts and which are fiction
  • Research:  research and report 5 facts on one of the figures from the book
  • Literary Comparison:  read another picture book on the founding fathers; compare/contrast them based on illustrations, facts, story telling, and so forth