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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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In-Class Book Clubs are one of my favorite units that I do in my classes. They are my version of lit circles but with the only job of all students is to read, analyze, and discuss. These book clubs build community, stamina, and reading love in my classroom.

I’ve shared a few times about these in-class book clubs. First in April, 2018 where I went over the basic procedures of the book clubs and then in November, 2018 where I shared my students’ choices for this year’s clubs. Now, I am happy to share how this school year’s clubs went!

I did things a little bit differently this year. I had noticed that students were understanding the basics of the narrative and loving the reading but weren’t meeting the standards. I had to make sure to help guide their thinking but also I didn’t want to make the act of reading tedious. It is a slippery slope that I know I am always going to be reflecting about.

Because of this, I went with thought logs this year. A thought log was a strategy I was introduced to by my teacher friend Sarah Krajewski. Thought logs have four boxes for students to take notes while reading. My thought logs had two constant boxes: 1) Important details & 2) Conflict. Important details allowed them to just take notes on anything important that happened and the conflict box had them track the progress of the conflict. The other two boxes changed for each thought log: Confusion, Characters, Setting, My Feelings, Change, & Theme/Impact. Additionally, I added a bottom to my thought log that asked the students to come up with three open-ended discussion questions. Here’s our first thought log, so you can see an example:

Other than the new thought logs, everything else stayed the same: Students chose their books, I made their groups, we came up with class book club norms, they created their schedule, they met once a week, at the end of the unit I gave an individualized standards-focused assessment, and the kids LOVED it.

Well, everyone stayed the same until the end. At NCTE 2018, I went to one of Kelly Gallagher’s sessions and he shared a way he connects nonfiction and fiction when his students are reading novels: He has the students find nonfiction text features that connect to their novel. I decided to try this with my students, and I loved it!

As a book club, my students found two nonfiction elements (maps, graphs, images, etc.) that would help the reader of their book have their experience enhanced. They then said what page they would place the element and explain why it is important.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Resistance by Jennifer Nielsen

Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London by Elvira Woodruff

Reflection: I’m not completely sold on the Thought Logs yet. I don’t want to kill the joy of reading. Ever. But my job is to teach standards, too. Always a conflict within me, and we’ll see what I decide next year! I will say that I loved the nonfiction element, so I think that will stay. Until next year!

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Don’t Mess With Me: The Strange Lives of Venomous Sea Creatures
(How Nature Works series)
Author: Paul Erickson
Photographer: Andrew Martinez
Published

Summary: How Nature Worlds books don’t just catalog the natural world in beautiful photographs. They seek to understand why nature functions as it does. They ask questions, and they encourage readers to ask more. They explore nature’s mysteries, sharing what we know and celebrating what we have yet to discover.

Scorpions and brown recluse spiders are fine as far as they go, but if you want daily contact with venomous creatures, the ocean is the place to be. Blue-ringed octopi, stony corals, sea jellies, stonefish, lionfish, poison-fanged blennies, stingrays, cone snails, blind remipedes, fire urchins—you can choose your poison in the ocean. Venoms are often but not always defensive weapons. The banded sea krait, an aquatic snake, wriggles into undersea caves to prey on vicious moray eels, killing them with one of the world’s most deadly neurotoxins, which it injects through fangs that resemble hypodermic needles.

About the Creators: 

Paul Erickson creates websites, exhibits, guides, and videos for zoos, museums, and aquariums nationwide. He has authored or co-authored numerous magazine articles and three books about undersea life. His book The Pier at the end of the World (Tilbury House) was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book of 2016 by the National Science Teachers Association.

Andrew Martinez specializes in images of the undersea world and is the author and photographer of Marine Life of the North Atlantic. He travels the world to photograph sea life, and was the photographer for The Pier at the End of the World.

Review: Don’t Mess with Me is a step up on the reading ladder from basic nonfiction books about undersea life because it takes the basic information about these venomous sea creatures and dives deeply (pun intended) into the actually whys and hows of their existence.

I was fascinated by so many of the facts in the book, and I loved learning about creatures I didn’t know about as well as learning more about ones I did. Check out the Flagged Passages to see how in depth the authors got which allows the reader to get a quite solid foundation about the different creatures. Additionally, the photographs are so cool because many of these creatures live where we’ll never see them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the Nature Works series (Catching Air; City Fish, Country Fish; Extreme Survivors; and One Iguana, Two Iguanas) in a lit circle/jigsaw setting where each group becomes an expert on the different topics in the series the creates a presentation of their choosing to share what they learned about nature with their classmates.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the difference between poisonous and venomous?
  • What are some clues that an animal is venomous?
  • Why are some animals in the sea venomous?
  • How does the “How Nature Works” text features help when reading this nonfiction text?
  • What are some ways that animals are venomous?
  • Pick a venomous sea creature. Create a list of 5 facts about the sea creatures to share with your classmates.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction texts exploring nature and animals

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The Undefeated
Author: Kwame Alexander
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Published April 2, 2019 by Versify

Summary: The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is an incredibly powerful book. I loved seeing the poem (which was previously performed) turned into a picture book. The book touches upon many critical topics for youth to consider across time and place. It offers a strength that makes readers want to jump from their chairs to support the message of the text. This is a must-read. Teachers might use this book in classrooms by asking students to select a page that they find to be particularly inspiring. Then, they might research individuals who reflect the undefeated-ness that they see on the pages. This might devolve into research projects that explore the “faith and fire,” as quoted from the book summary, that students see across time, space, and place.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book make you feel?
  • What do you perceive to be the author’s and illustrator’s purpose(s)?
  • What similarities and differences do you see across the pages?

Read This If You Love: Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander; We March by Shane W. Evans; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance
Author: Tod Olson
Published January 1st, 2019 by Scholastic Inc.

Summary: There wasn’t a thing Ernest Shackleton could do. He stood on the ice-bound Weddell Sea, watching the giant blocks of frozen saltwater squeeze his ship to death. The ship’s name seemed ironic now: the Endurance. But she had lasted nine months in this condition, stuck on the ice in the frigid Antarctic winter. So had Shackleton and his crew of 28 men, trying to become the first expedition ever to cross the entire continent.

Now, in October 1915, as he watched his ship break into pieces, Shackleton gave up on that goal. He ordered his men to abandon ship. From here on, their new goal would be to focus on only one thing: survival.

About the Author: Tod Olson is the author of the historical fiction series How to Get Rich and the four books in the Lost series–Lost in the Pacific, 1942; Lost in Outer Space;  Lost in the Amazon; and Lost in the Antarctic. He has written for national magazines on the Columbine school shooting, homeless teens, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and many other stories of interest to children and young adults. Tod holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Vermont with his family, his mountain bike, and his electric reclining chair. To learn more, and to download free teaching resources, visit his website: todolson.com.

Praise for Previous Titles in the Series:

★”A riveting, completely engrossing true survival story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Engaging… A great choice for collections.” —School Library Journal

Review: I do not know how I am just learning about this series! It is right up my alley! As a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, I couldn’t put the book down, and I cannot wait to read the others in the series. What I loved about the book is it is written like a novel but is all truth! The author did a great job taking the truth of the historical event and turning it into a story that will truly suck in a reader.

And I know I am on the right track because when I went to school to talk to my students about the series, specifically to my historical fiction and nonfiction loving 4th period, there were a few kids who had already heard of, read, and loved previous books in the series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, add these to your library! These will be perfect for your I Survived series readers and nonfiction fans. I also think that the series would be a wonderful series for in-class book clubs for each group to read about a different historical event then after finishing the book, the culminating task for the book club could be sharing about the event with their class.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What made Shackleton the perfect captain for an Antarctic expedition?
  • What do you believe was the decision that doomed the voyage?
  • Why were the dogs and cat not able to go through the whole voyage with the crew?
  • Why would the author have chosen this voyage for his series?
  • What is the difference between historical fiction and narrative nonfiction?
  • How did the addition of a photographer on the trip change the way that we learn about the voyage now?

Flagged Passages: “Prologue, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, October 26th, 1915:

The ship didn’t stand a chance, and Frank Hurley knew it. He’d been in the engine room with the carpenter, trying desperately t keep the water out. They had walled off the leak, where the sternpost and rudder had been wrenched out of place… The Endurance was being squeezed to death around them.

One man stood mostly still, watching the commotion from the raised deck in the stern. The crew referred to him as Sir Ernest in writing. In person they called him ‘the Boss.’ He had broad shoulders and a compact frame, blunt features, and a square jaw. He looked like he was built for this kind of venture–leaving every known thing behind to risk his life in a frozen wilderness.

Ernest Shackleton had been to Antarctic twice already. Twice had had almost died there. Now, his third expedition hovered on the brink of disaster.” (p. 1-4)

Read This If You Love: Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong, The I Survived series, Narrative nonfiction, History

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Scholastic for providing books for review and giveaway!**

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Crow Not Crow
Author: Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Illustrator: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Published August 28th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group

Summary: New York Times bestselling children’s author, Jane Yolen, and her son, Adam Stemple, have teamed up to write a gentle tale of a father introducing his daughter to the joys of bird watching. Using the simple “Crow, Not Crow” method for distinguishing one bird from another, father and daughter explore the birds near their home…and there are so many to see! After the story ends, readers learn more about all the birds that appear in the book with photographs, descriptions, and QR links to bird sounds.

About the Creators:

Jane Yolen has authored more than 365 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, loved by children and bird watchers of all ages, You Nest Here With Me, a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world. Her husband, David Stemple, was both a well-known bird recordist and professor of computer science who taught his family how to identify birds. Many of Ms. Yolen’s books are about wildlife, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.

Adam Stemple is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, graphic novels, and children’s books. He is also an avid bird watcher, taught by his father David Stemple. He invented the Crow Not Crow method of teaching beginning birders in order to teach his city-bred wife to bird. He lives in Minneapolis with his family—all birders—where he is also a working musician and is hard at work on his next novel.

Elizabeth Dulemba has always loved birds. As a kid, she used to run across the yard, flapping her arms, trying to fly. She later became a hang glider pilot in Tennessee. When not chasing birds, Elizabeth loves to draw, write, and teach. She has over two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut, award-winning novel A Bird On Water Street. In summers, she teaches in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia. She spends the rest of her time in Scotland, where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.dulemba.com.

Praise: “…a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers.” – Kirkus Reviews

Kellee’s Review: My father love bird watching, but I’ve always been intimidated by it. He has books and guides and flyers, all with different information about different birds. But I also have always been fascinated by birds. They are beautiful and just a true testament of the miracles of Mother Nature. Crow Not Crow introduces the reader to a really fun way to introduce birdwatching to anyone interested. The story of a dad spreading the love of birdwatching to his young daughter is a sweet tale filled with interesting bird information. What takes the book to the next level though is the back matter. While the book is full of only “crow” and “not crow,” the back matter has all of the different birds’ names as well as a QR code to listen to the bird. There is even information about two different bird apps! I am excited to read this book with Trent then start with “crow” or “not crow” with him!

Ricki’s Review: I come from a long history of bird watchers. My brother, aunt, and mom are huge bird watchers, and it isn’t unusual for them to stop conversation to name the bird that they hear in the background. I had a very rare bird in my backyard in Connecticut, and they were all incredibly thrilled. So reading Crow Not Crow was an absolute delight. Jane Yolen is one of the best picture book authors alive, so I was particularly pleased that this book did not disappoint me. Like most of her books, it is quiet and has a powerful force behind it. It lends itself to a “crow not crow” type of game with children that would be quite fun. I will be purchasing this book as a gift for several friends. It’s beautifully done.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, use the backmatter as a key to a scavenger hunt within the book. Find each bird and discuss what clues were used to figure out that was the certain bird. Also listen to the bird using the QR code. Then, take your class outside! Start with “crow” or “not crow” but then create your own glossary like the back matter in the book to share your “not crows.” Comparison and contrast activities could also easily be weaved in as well as science!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What traits of the crow did the birders use to determine if the bird was a crow or not a crow?
  • What was your favorite bird that they encountered?
  • Take one of the birds and compare/contrast it to a crow.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Birds by Kevin Henkes, On Gull Beach by Jane YolenOn Duck Pond by Jane YolenOwl Moon by Jane Yolen

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**Thank you to the Cornell Lab Publishing Group for having us as part of their book tour!**

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Where’s the Architect?: From Pyramids to Skyscrapers: An Architecture Look and Find Book
Author: Susanne Rebscher; Illustrator: Annabelle von Sperber
Published October 23, 2018 by Prestel Junior

Summary: This wonderfully illustrated and captivating introduction to the wonders of architecture will have young readers poring over each spread and learning as they go.

From the top of China’s Great Wall to the base of the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, this journey through the world of architecture stops in nearly every continent and travels through centuries. Annabelle von Sperber populates her dynamic and intricate double-page spreads with many details and a hidden architect or important figure on every page that kids will have fun trying to locate. Along the way they’ll learn about the iron workers who built the Empire State building, how many bulbs it takes to light the Eiffel Tower, where the royal jewels are kept at the Tower of London, and why there is so much red and yellow in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Young readers will find themselves fully immersed in this large format book while learning about the incredible architectural wonders that continue to amaze us today.

Review: My son and I absolutely loved this book. It is oversized with giant illustrations, and we spent much time on each spread. The pages feature magnificent works of architecture from the past (and currently existing in the present). In most of the drawings, the architecture is in the process of being built or was recently built, so the book leads readers into a historical time period. We learned so much from this book, and I loved all of the new-to-me facts about the famous architectural structures. My son loved looking and talking about the buildings, and he enjoyed doing the search-and-finds on each page. It is a wonderful book that would be a great resource for classrooms.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to work in groups to pick a page that is particularly compelling for them. They can research more about the structure and the time period to understand context and explore historical aspects of the architecture that interest them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which architectural design is most interesting to you? Why do you find it to be interesting?
  • Which facts surprised you?
  • Do you notice differences in the architecture throughout time?
  • Which structures are close to you? Which are far away?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Interactive search-and-find (seek-and-find, look-and-find) activity books filled with educational information

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

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