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Our World: A First Book of Geography
Author: Sue Lowell Gallion; Illustrator: Lisk Feng
Published: July 15, 2020 by Phaidon Press

Summary: A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe

Children are invited to identify and experience the Earth’s amazing geography through rhyming verse and lush illustrations: from rivers, lakes, and oceans deep, to valleys, hills, and mountains steep. Secondary text offers more detailed, curriculum-focused facts and encourages readers to consider their own living environments, making the reading experience personal yet set within a global backdrop. This informative homage to Earth is sure to inspire readers to learn more about their planet – and to engage with the world around them.

ReviewOh, how I love this book! It is very cleverly designed. My sons have decided that they will alternate having it in their rooms each week, so it was a hit in my household. The book opens to form a globe! The information within the book is educational for both kids and adults. For instance, I learned about the different temperatures of deserts. Very cool! The book is marketed to ages 2-5, but my almost 7-year-old found it fascinating and learned new information (as did I!). I think other elementary schoolers would also really enjoy this book.

Each page features a theme of information and artworking, like a living environment or the rivers, lakes, and oceans. It’s packed with interesting facts on the thick, sturdy board book pages. This book would make a great gift to a teacher or child. I recommend it highly!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers could pair this book with a unit on geography. Students might each take a different page and research further the topic of the page. Alternatively, kids might design their own three-dimensional books using this one as their mentor text. For instance, they might design a book based on a planet or some other theme. I am hoping for more books in this style!

Discussion Questions: Which was your favorite page? Why? What did you learn on the page? What other information could you research about the topic?; How do the pages work together to teach us about our world?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Love: Any nonfiction books about the geography and our world; interactive books

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**Thank you to Wendy Kitts and Frannie Gordon for introducing me to this book and providing a copy for review!**

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Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun
Author: Pail Farrell
Published: April 7th 2020 by Pavilion Children’s

Summary: Turrets, ramparts, windows, walls, and more–create your own medieval masterpiece with the first in a new series of graphic-designed building cards.

This pack contains sixty-four cards (4 x 2¾ inches) of a variety of graphic designs. Clever paper engineering allows you to slot the cards together, building up and out in whichever way you like! Also included is a short ten-page booklet, with descriptions of the card designs and suggestions of stacking methods. The instructions tell you how to build a castle, or you can let your imagination run riot and design your own!

Renowned illustrator Paul Farrell has designed these cards in his bold, colorful graphic style–turning the image of a castle into a work of art.

ReviewBuilding, building, building. My three kids love to build. I am always looking for something new and different. When I heard about Build a Castle, I knew it would be a huge hit in my house, and (spoiler alert), it was.

The cards come in a thick cardboard box that is very inviting. The pictures on the cover give kids ideas (if they need a sort of mentor text to get started.

I was pleasantly surprised by the long informational guide within the box. It provides a lot of neat details for kids to read and learn all about castles. I found it cool, myself, even though I know I am not the target audience. I suspect other adults will find joy in this box.

Here’s a closeup of one of the informational sections about castles. Younger kids might slot the castle together haphazardly, but older kids would enjoy choosing intentionally the placement of the items of their castle. For instance, a battlement might be better placed at the top of the castle to allow for safety from invaders from far away!

Building!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would make for a great classroom station. Or perhaps teachers would enjoy using it for fast finishers or for a free learning time slot. My son says that his classroom as a free learning time, and everyone fights over the iPad. Build a Castle would be a great competitor for the iPad. I know that my kids would enjoy building a castle just as much as using the well-loved tablet.

Discussion Questions: What did you learn as you did the activities?; What parts of the castle do you find most interesting? Why?; How do the different parts of the castle together?

Cool Video to Show How It Works: 

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about castles; interactive books and kits; legos; building; architecture

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

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Dream Big, Little Scientists: A Bedtime Book
Author: Michelle Schaub
Illustrator: Alice Potter
Published: February 18, 2020 by Charlesbridge

Summary: Twelve kids. A dozen bedtimes. Endless sweet ways to say goodnight with science! Spark curiosity and exploration with this innovative bedtime story for budding scientists that introduces eleven branches of science. From astronomy to physics to chemistry to geology, this STEM picture book will help kids get excited to explore. Includes further information about each branch of science.

Praise:

About the Author: Michelle Schaub is an author, a veteran teacher, and a poetry-in-the-classroom advocate. Her books include Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections and Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market; her poems have appeared in And the Crowd Goes Wild, A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, and The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations. To download free activity kits and curriculum guides for her books, visit her website: http://www.michelleschaub.com/; Twitter: @Schaubwrites; Instagram: @schaubwrites

About the Illustrator: Alice Potter is a London-based illustrator and children’s-wear print designer. Dream Big, Little Scientists is her first picture book. www.alicepotter.co.uk

Ricki’s ReviewThis book is very cleverly conceived. The spreads depict the different branches of science, and I had a lot of fun (as an adult) playing detective and examining the different bedrooms. My sons adored the book and asked questions about the different scientists and posters on the walls of the bedroom. We googled and learned about new scientists! A significant amount of thought and care went into this book, and it was not lost on me. I’ve read this several times now with my sons, and each time, I find something new that I enjoy. This book will make readers really excited to learn about science. Further, the language is beautiful, and it is very fun to read aloud. I have two science-y friends who are having a baby soon. You bet that I’ll be buying this book for them!

Kellee’s Review: I love when a traditional book is turned upside down and turned into something new and fresh, and that is exactly what Michelle Schaub and Alice Potter have done. It is a next level bedtime book because while it has such lyrical text that definitely will bring some yawns, it also is a book that will bring lots of curiosity to its readers as each spread unleashes another discussion about a different branch of science. Each page we looked at the posters, decorations, and books to see how they all connect. It was wonderful how the illustrator brought the authors intentions to life!  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Download the EDUCATORS’ GUIDE!

From the author’s note: “Be curious! Look around, explore, and talk about the world where you live . . . just like a scientist! To explore the different branches of science even more, visit: www.sciencekids.co.nz

Visit www.michelleschaub.com/scientists to learn about the scientists on the posters in each kid’s room.”

There are some great assets for this book in addition to learning about each scientist, including a book trailer. Here’s the link to the page on her site: https://www.michelleschaub.com/dream-big.

Additionally, doing a visual analysis of each spread as a connection to science would be such an interesting activity!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which page excites you the most? Which branch of science is depicted on that page? Why did the page interest you?
  • Which scientist intrigues you? Why?
  • How did the author creatively organize this book? How does this increase your interest, as a reader?
  • How does each room reflect the branch of science the child likes?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Love: Books about Science; Bedtime Books

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copies for review**

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AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: September 10th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug are animals that have been hybridized to find other planets for humans to live on once we’ve ruined Earth. So off they rocket to the Plant Planet! Will that planet support human life? Or do Plant Planet’s inhabitants have a more sinister plan?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for AstroNuts Mission One:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about AstroNuts on its webpage.

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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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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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