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National Geographic Kids: Little Kids First Big Book of Science
Author: Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
Published April 4th, 2019 by National Geographic Kids

Summary: What is science? What do scientists do? This lively reference book answers these questions and many more, all while introducing kids to the amazing things that scientists study: animals and plants, oceans and space, earthquakes and volcanoes, sound and light, inventions, and more!

Make sure kids’ first experience of the wonders of science is a thrilling eye-opener with this fun reference book. Fun activities, games, and simple experiments encourage interactive learning, showing kids that anyone can use scientific observation and experimentation to be a scientist and discover new things. With bright images and age-appropriate text, this book inspires kids to be curious, ask questions, and explore the world around them. And, maybe even grow up to be a scientist one day, too! Topics touched on include astronomy, botany, paleontology, malacology (that’s the science of clams, snails, and other animals with shells!), zoology, and more.

Inside you’ll find:

  • More than 200 incredible photos
  • Age-appropriate explanations of the things that scientists wonder about and learn
  • Questions and activities in each chapter that encourage interactive learning
  • Simple text for reading aloud or for beginning readers, and fun facts on every page
  • Parent tips that extend the experience beyond the book

About the Author: Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld was a children’s book editor for more than 10 years before becoming a full-time writer. She has published more than 60 books for children, most about animals and natural history.

Other National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Books:

 

Review: National Geographic Kids books are such amazing resources for kids and adults! I just love reading through the books because I always learn something, too, and the images are beautiful. And as a mom, I love reading it with Trent because he adores science and the books are such an inquisitive conversation starter. As a teacher, I can see so many ways that this book could be used in an elementary classroom. It is just a perfect triad!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book is made to be used with children when discussing science. There are a plethora of ways to use it! The book speaks for itself:

Additionally, the parent resources in the back are amazing for home and classroom! Here are some examples of the hands-on science discussions/activities for adults to do with kids in the “Parent Tips” section (just a summary):

  • Egg, Plus Heat (Chemistry): Looks at how heat changes the egg.
  • Moon Shapes (Astronomy): Lunar calendar
  • House of Blocks (Engineering): Make the most stable structures.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is a hypothesis?
  • What is a Control?
  • What are the different branches of science?
  • Why do we get vaccinations?
  • What are the different kinds of animals?
  • What is an ecosystem?
  • What are the three different states of matter?
  • What moves faster: light or sound?
  • Word play with the glossary!

Some of the Interactive Questions from throughout the book

  • If you could spend a day with one of these scientists, who would you choose?
  • Which part of the body would you like to learn more about? Why?
  • Can you name three ways you look different from when you were a baby?
  • What wild animal would you most like to study? Why?
  • Which ecosystem would you most like to visit? Why?
  • How many ocean animals can you name?
  • If you could travel to another planet, which one would you choose?
  • What would you like to invent?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Science!

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

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Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the Williamsburg Bridge after quitting the jazz scene in 1959.

Rollins is one of the most prolific sax players in the history of jazz, but, in 1959, at the height of his career, he vanished from the jazz scene. His return to music was an interesting journey–with a long detour on the Williamsburg Bridge. Too loud to practice in his apartment, Rollins played on the New York City landmark for two years among the cacophony of traffic and the stares of bystanders, leading to the release of his album, The Bridge.

Written in rhythmic prose with a bebop edge, this picture-book biography of Sonny Rollins’s journey to get his groove back will delight young and old fans alike.

About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now a New York City elementary-school substitute teacher and children’s author. He is the author of The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: The True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) and Waiting for Pumpsie. Barry lives in the Bronx.

About the Illustrator: Keith Mallett studied art at Hunter College in New York City. Keith’s work was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic breakthrough into major league baseball, has graced the cover of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, and has been featured in many movies and TV shows. He is the illustrator of Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee and How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz. Keith lives in San Diego, California.

Praise: “An appropriately jazzy picture-book biography of African-American musician Sonny Rollins. It impresses from the endpapers, which mirror a vinyl LP in its paper sleeve and then playing on a turntable, to the liner notes about Rollins’ seminal album “The Bridge” in the back.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The life of jazz legend Sonny Rollins pulses with the rousing spontaneity of his music in Wittenstein’s free verse biography. Readers witness Rollins’s career as an acclaimed musician followed by his explosive success and the subsequent reincarnations of his art.” -School Library Journal, starred review

Review: The rhythm of the writing in Sonny’s Bridge automatically gets you toe tapping while reading. It captures the feeling and flow of jazz which truly sets the stage for Sonny’s story because in the end this is the story of Sonny Rollins and his path to finding his musical voice.

In addition to the rhythm in the writing, the illustrators images bring the words to life using movement, color, and line to show the power of the music.

Together, the words and music bring Sonny’s story to the readers in a way that will illuminate his struggles and his triumphs.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of the rhythmic writing, this will be an amazing read aloud! And then the students can listen to The Bridge.

We are lucky to be living in a time with so many wonderful biographies out there about amazing people and a lot of them happen to be musicians, so what a great opportunity for book clubs or jig saws to look at different musicians and how they became who they are/were and how they changed not only musical history but sometimes even history.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does Sonny find the bridge to be the best place for him to practice?
  • Why did Sonny take off two years and how did it change his life?
  • How did Sonny’s life correspond with Black Americans’ fight for equal rights?
  • How did the illustrator show Sonny’s music through is artwork?
  • Why would some want the bridge to be renamed Sonny’s Bridge?
  • After listening to The Bridge, how did the author capture the feeling of jazz in his writing?

Creator Corner with Barry Wittenstein from KidLitTV: 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Music (specifically jazz), Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, Trombone Shorty by Troy AndrewsLittle Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Ella Fitzgerald by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Hip Hop Lollipop by Susan Montanari, The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy Andrews, Born to Swing by Mara Rockliff, Muddy by Michael James Mahin, Stand Up and Sing by Suanna Reich

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**Thank you to Charlesbridge Publishing for providing a copy for review**

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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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Is 2 A Lot? An Adventure with Numbers
Author: Annie Watson
Illustrator: Rebecca Evans
Published June 4th, 2019 by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary: Two is not a lot of pennies, but it is a lot of smelly skunks. Ten is not a lot of popcorn pieces, but it is a lot of chomping dinosaurs. One thousand is not a lot of grains of sand, but it is a lot of hot air balloons!

While Joey’s mom explains the context of numbers in vivid ways, Joey’s imagination transforms their ordinary car ride into a magical odyssey through a land of make-believe.

Is Two a Lot? is a wonderfully charming and authentic exchange between mother and child. Annie Watson’s story makes numbers tangible, and Rebecca Evans’s illustrations bring them to life.

About the Author: Annie Watson (Flagstaff, AZ) is proud of the meaningful work that she does as a high school English teacher, and she feels balanced whenever she can get outside and find time to write. She finds daily joy in reading bedtime stories, and she looks forward to her family’s next adventure to the bookstore, museum, or beach. She and her husband and two children enjoy the beautiful mountains, sunflowers, parks, community events, and pizza places in and around Flagstaff.

About the Illustrator: Rebecca Evans worked for nine years as an artist and designer before returning to her first love: children’s book illustration and writing. Her children’s books include Someday I’ll Fly; Friends in Fur Coats; The Good Things; The Shopkeeper’s Bear; Naughty Nana; Amhale in South Africa; Mei Ling in China; Tiffany in New York; Masterpiece Robot; and Finding the Speed of Light. She lives in Maryland with her husband and four young children, shares her love of literature and art regularly at elementary schools, teaches art at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, and works from her home studio whenever time permits. Rebecca’s own boundless imagination enjoys free reign at www.rebeccaevans.net

Praise: “A picture book that accurately depicts how children think about numbers and values in a fun and engaging way.

Readers will want to count the number of skunks, cowboys, and other imaginative creatures and objects Joey and his mother discuss throughout the book, and they will enjoy seeing various characters from the places they visit pile into the trunk of the station wagon.

Children who are learning the meaning of value and numbers will both learn from this book, with its whimsical examples of what “a lot” means, and find much to enjoy.” – Kirkus Reviews

Review: Trent loves books like I do, but he really is more of a science and math kid than I was (am!), so whenever we can combine the two in fun ways, the book is a favorite in my house. This also shows the engagement opportunities with a book in a classroom.

I love that the story is a conversation between a mom and her son. It reminds me so much of so many conversations I’ve had in my car with Trent. I really promotes the inquisitiveness of kids which is something I think we all need to keep promoting.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Trent actually had a hard time grasping the concept that is being discussed in the book, so it would be an amazing math activity to turn the conversations into manipulatives and bring the numbers to life!

Discussion Questions: 

  • When is ___ (#) a lot? When is it not?
  • How many pieces of sand are on a beach?
  • How many bones are in your body?
  • Why do skunks spray?
  • How many types of dinosaurs were there?
  • How many kids fit in a bus? A double-decker bus?
  • How do hot air balloons work?
  • What questions do you have that you would like answered?
  • Look at the illustrations and how all of the things mentioned throughout come together, and write your own narrative telling the story about what happened.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Math, Inquiry

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Feral Youth
Authors: Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Published: September 5, 2017 by Simon Pulse

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: This is a complex anthology of traditionally ignored teenaged voices that demand to be heard; I couldn’t put it down! Feral Youth is compelling from the front flap to the final page. The distinct voices of all 10 characters shone through in every part, from their individual stories to the transitional narration, creating an established sense of the full cast that is difficult to attain when juggling so many stories.

In this day and age, it feels more important than ever read book that remind us that all people, even those “troubled kids” traditionally written off by society, have a unique story to tell. Though I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially those with similar sounding names!) having such a diverse cast of characters share their stories was really rewarding. Those stories, both those intended to be “factual” and those grounded in fantasy, refuse to go quietly from my mind. In a story centered around teens whose voices have been all but silenced by society, I think that’s a victory.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As the book was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, teachers could have students read the two (or passages from both) and compare and contrast. In particular, looking for thematic parallels could lend itself to discussions about the nature of storytelling and whose voices get told. In that regard, the book could also fit into a unit about “objective truth” in storytelling, perhaps in discussing other narratives or nonfiction.

Even in including the text as a free-reading option, I think it is essential to build empathy through reading diverse stories. Including this text could be not only a way to build empathy, but could provide a starting point for further future reading of a diversity voices as well.

Discussion Questions: What parallels do you find to the Canterbury Tales? Which stories surprised you? Were there any characters you related to that you wouldn’t have anticipated connecting with?  

Flagged: “’They think we’re probably nothing but a bunch of animals, but we showed them who we really are. We showed them that they can’t ignore us’” (287).

Read This If You Loved: The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, other YA anthologies

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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik
Author: David Arnold
Published: May 22, 2018 by Viking

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

Review: The longer I sit with this book, the more I feel like I’m still it; every time I sit down to think about it, I find new things to consider. If that’s not the sign of a good book,I don’t know what else is. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hipnotik is a surreal exploration of identity, friendship, and family on the brink of the many changes protagonist Noah Oakman faces (both before and after his hypnotic episode) as he looks to the future beyond high school.

Above all else, I loved the nerdom in this book, both in its literary and historical detail as well as the variety of pop-culture references. In particular, much of the book (including its title) is drawn from musical icon David Bowie, so I’ll admit,  it’s hard to go wrong. The humor also brings some lightness to the moral questions and philosophical questions of self and reality, which helps keep the largely internal narrative afloat.

Through it all, this book captures an important to capture the emotional gamut of someone’s life, especially when it feels like everything is ch-ch-ch-changing around you. Whether you’re looking for fun or serious contemplation of reality, this book will let you escape for a while (and even for a while longer after you’re done!)

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Though grounded in humor and pop culture references, this book would make for a really interesting companion to classics like James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In asking students to compare the latter with Strange Fascinations, there are some really interesting parallels to be made both in the coming of age story and in the respective protagonists’ relationships with their sisters.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree, like Circuit, that genuine conversations are rare in the contemporary world? What do you think of Noah’s “strange fascinations?” Do you have any “fascinations” of your own, in this sense?

Flagged: “Some books are songs like that, the ones you go back to, make playlists of, put on repeat” (page 108).

Read This If You Loved: Mosquitoland by David Arnold, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

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