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Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
Author: Stephanie Roth Sisson
Published: October 14, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press

A Guest Review by Brittany Brown

Summary: A curious boy living in a small city apartment finds the world astonishing. He wants to know about light bulbs, inch worms, and rocket ships. Carl sets out on a journey to find answers, but finds bigger, even more powerful questions. Through his research and studies, Carl eventually earns the title of Dr. Carl Sagan and spends his life seeking knowledge and understanding about the universe. This young

boy’s contributions to science and education have inspired many children everywhere to question the world around them. His story will resonate every child who has ever wondered “how” or “why” or spent an evening looking up at the night sky.

Review: I am constantly looking for books which will inspire my students and get them excited about learning. This book, which is brought to life with beautiful illustrations and the great mysteries of the universe, did that for myself as an adult, too. After reading it, everyday life is once again imbued with the magic and novelty it had in childhood. In Sagan’s eyes, there is no phenomenon too mundane to investigate. The curiosity which most adults leave behind drove Sagan to be the lifelong learner that all teachers hope to foster in their students. Reading this book shows that science is all around us, that we all belong here in the universe, and that in everyone there is a scientist. I absolutely loved reading this book, and as a new teacher building my classroom library, this is the first one which I will be purchasing multiple copies of to share with my students.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story would pair well with any science or biography unit. It would also serve as a great example of narrative nonfiction.

The most obvious use for this story is in a science unit. I would love to use this book to open up a discussion at the beginning of a unit on the solar system. Not only would it generate excitement, it would also begin to build some vocabulary and background knowledge. It would make the information in the unit more personal and relevant to kids, and would be a great launching point to encourage students to come up with their own questions about how the world works.

This book is also a wonderful book to use for mini lessons in writing. Using this book as an example, a teacher could lead a discussion on how to choose which life events to include in a biography, how to sequence and organize it, and how to incorporate quotes from a historical figure into a writing piece. It also shows how to include facts and achievements in an engaging way, and how to demonstrate a person’s impact on history.

Finally, this book would also be a superb example of narrative nonfiction. Despite containing lots of scientific facts, it reads like a storybook and the illustrations do much of the talking. Students will be captivated with the descriptive narration, and discussions could explore their experiences as readers or how they may be able to attempt this style in their writing.

Discussion Questions: What are your big mystery questions? Where would you go to try to find answers to them? What character traits helped Carl on his journey? What impact did he have on the world? Who does he remind you of?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada, I Wonder by Annaka Harris, You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Edros by Deborah Heiligman, Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, a Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh

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Thank you, Brittany!

RickiSig

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The Wonderful Things You Will Be
Author: Emily Winfield Martin
Published: August 25, 2015 by Random House

A Guest Review by Jennifer Zafetti

Summary: This heartwarming picture book is from the point of view of a parent who is eager to see the development of their child. The parent questions who their child will become and what interests they will possess. In the end, there are endless possibilities that the future has to offer to the child.

Review: This is a great book to give to a parent with a small child! The Wonderful Things You Will Be would make for a soothing bedtime story. The sweet message of the story is that a child can be anybody that they want to be. There are no expectations set for a child to adhere to so their future is an empty canvas waiting to be painted! The book, using second person, discusses the uniqueness of you and the wonderful attributes you have to offer to the world. There are many “what if” questions that will get the reader thinking about all the wonderful things that they can do with their life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Wonderful Things You Will Be is an engaging children’s book that encourages the reader to embrace the future. There are beautiful illustrations to accompany the text. The teacher can use this book to discuss rhyming words, as well as point of view.

Discussion Questions: What are some rhyming words that you noticed in the story? How do the illustrations enhance the text? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, and If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul

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Thank you, Jennifer!

RickiSig

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book
Authors: Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong
Illustrator: Franzi Paetzold
Published January 11th, 2017 by Pomelo Books

Summary: Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book is a story in poems and a writing journal designed to help kids think about social change. It contains 12 PowerPack sets featuring Ameera, David, Jack, and Jenna, a diverse group of kids working together to make an impact in their community. Sylvia Vardell’s inventive PowerPlay activities make it easy for writers to get inspired, while her Power2You writing prompts extend learning. Vardell also created extensive back matter resources for young readers, writers, and activists.

Praise: “This interactive book and the abundance of resources provided will motivate students to take action through words and ideas to make their world a better place—a must have for today’s classrooms.” —Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, Authors of Mentor Texts

“I absolutely love this book! The invitations are inspiring and offer opportunities to think about the world and respond both personally and critically.” —Mary Napoli, Associate Professor of Reading, Penn State Harrisburg

“This book will allow all sorts of emotions and thoughts to bubble forth, including difficult and painful ones . . . and that will be a source of healing.” —Ed Spicer, Educator and literacy expert

“Really glad and excited that this book will be in the hands of young people.” —Jeana Hrepich, Core Faculty, Antioch University Seattle

This book is a Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Press” selection for January 2017 and the second Poetry Friday Power Book. The first book in that series, You Just Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book, is a 2017 NCTE Poetry Notable.

About the Authors: Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book features the work of the dynamic team of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, plus 12 poets: Ibtisam Barakat, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, Robyn Hood Black, David Bowles, Joseph Bruchac, Kate Coombs, David L. Harrison, Renée M. LaTulippe, Naomi Shihab Nye, Margaret Simon, Eileen Spinelli, and Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrations by Franzi Paetzold.

Sylvia M. Vardell is Professor at Texas Woman’s University and teaches courses in children’s and young adult literature. She has published five books on literature, as well as over 25 book chapters and 100 journal articles. Her current work focuses on poetry for young people, including a regular blog, PoetryforChildren.blogspot.com, since 2006.

Janet Wong is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former lawyer who became a children’s poet. Her work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and other shows. She is the author of 30 books for children and teens on chess, creative recycling, yoga, superstitions, driving, and more.

Together, Vardell and Wong are the creative forces behind The Poetry Friday Anthology series.

About the Book (from the authors): Why is this a “Poetry Friday Power Book”? Because we believe in the power of poetry to express our deepest feelings, and our most powerful experiences, and to inspire us to use our words to create change in teh world. Plus, we want you to discover the power of poetry in your own thinking and writing with the PowerPlay prewriting and Power2You writing prompts that pull you into poetry and inspire you to get your own ideas on paper–creatively, whimsically, powerfully, and immediately–right now in this book…

This book offers you several choices for reading, thinking, writing, and responding. Overall, it’s a story in poems, but all of this is also organized in PowerPack groups that help you get a “behind the scenes” look at how poems work and how poets write and think. In each of these PowerPack groups, you’ll find five things:

-PowerPlay activity
-Anchor poem (from an outside source)
-Response poem
-Mentor poem
-Power2You writing prompt

Have fun reading and thinking about poetry and learning about how poetry uses just a few words but says so much and can inspire us to take action. Ready? Let’s “power up” and get started!

Review: I have an interesting relationship with poetry. I overall love it. I love writing it, and I love reading it, but I really have trouble with the analyzing aspect. It is in this very serious analyzing step that kids get afraid of poetry, but I think books like Here We Go help students learn to love poetry instead of being afraid of it while still teaching about the beauty and importance of poetry.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Here We Go is a book that is made for classroom use! There are 12 PowerPacks, each with a different anchor poem and focus. Some PowerPacks work on rhyming, some work on format, and others focus on inspiration. There are so many different ways these PowerPacks could be organized to be used in the classroom! They can be daily during a poetry unit or weekly for half of the school year–whatever works best in your classroom, but this book is begging to be in children’s hands as an inspiration for our future poets.

Discussion Questions: What inspires you to write?; What is your favorite season? Why?; What are your favorite rhyming words?; How can you use your daily life to inspire you as a poet?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Writing poetry; Any poetry anthology including Out of Wonders by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth and When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

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the memory of things

The Memory of Things
Author: Gae Polisner
Published: September 6, 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

Review: I read this book several weeks ago, and I still can’t thinking about it. As a few other bloggers have said, this is a book about 9/11—but it isn’t a book about 9/11. It is more a book about friendship, about growing up, and about being human. There are so many topics in this book that are worthy of discussion, and I think teachers will really appreciate its beauty. The writing is quiet yet powerful, and the book has a sort of shattering impact on readers. I loved the connections that Kyle makes in this book, and I particularly enjoyed the ways each of the individuals he interacts with tells the reader more about him. He grows from everyone in this book, and I’d love to discuss this growth with students.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to research the many themes of this book to provide background information. They might look at disability/caregivers, PTSD, suicide, and 9/11—just to name a few. They could also look at the different stages of trauma to learn more about how each of the characters reacts differently to the tragic events that occurred on 9/11.

Discussion Questions: Is Kyle helping the girl, or is she helping him?; What do we learn from Kyle’s uncle? What does he teach us about disability and humanity?; In what ways does Kyle show strength, and in what ways does he show weakness? How does he grow from each experience of the text?

We Flagged: “So now I get it. Now I fully understand. Tuesday, and those planes, they’ve broken something. Permanently. And in the process, they’ve changed everything. And everyone.”

This is a quote from an advanced reader’s copy. Some quotes may change before publication.

Read This If You Loved: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson; Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt, If I Lie by Corrine Jackson, Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

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bea garcia

Bea Garcia: My Life in Pictures
Author and Illustrator: Deborah Zemke
Published March 8th, 2016 by Dial Books

Summary: Bea Garcia is an artist. She draws anywhere and everywhere—but mostly in her own notebook.  When Bea’s first and only best friend Yvonne moves to Australia, not even drawing makes Bea feel better. And things only get worse when a loud, rambunctious boy moves in next door. He’s nothing at all like Yvonne! But with a little imagination and a whole lot of doodles, Bea Garcia might just make a new friend.

This first book in a brand-new chapter book series is a must-read for doodlers everywhere.

Review: I am loving learning more about early middle grade books, and Bea Garcia is going to be a protagonist that will be welcomed in this group of books. Bea will join forces with so many strong girls that 4th through 6th graders can read about. What I love about Bea’s story is that it is one that so many readers will relate to. She deals with losing a best friend and a bully moving into her classroom and neighborhood. She also has a supportive and real family that will reflect many families out there. Also, I loved Deborah Zemke’s illustrations throughout. They really brought Bea’s personality, dreams, and thoughts. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Bea’s story will be one that can be used to start so many discussions while being read aloud. It is a perfect story to discuss different types of people, bullying, friendship, school, etc.  Also, I think it would be interesting to discuss the addition of illustrations and even voice with students. One idea would be to read aloud part of the story without showing the illustrations and discuss how the illustrations help the story and how Bea’s voice is crafted.

Discussion Questions: Bea uses drawing to think through her emotions. What do you use to help think through your emotions?; What would have been a different way that Bea could have dealt with Bert?; Is there a time that you lost a best friend? How did you deal with it?; How would Bea’s story have been different without illustrations?

Flagged Passages: “We played together at recess and after school, on weekends and vacations, running back and forth in the backyards from my house to her house.

One winter day, we rolled a snowball from her yard to mine and back a hundred times until it was the biggest snowball in the world. Then we turned the snowball into a giant Snow Kitty.

I don’t think Sophie liked Snow Kitty.

When it was warm, we played in the crabapple tree that was just the right size for us to climb.

It was a magic tree.” (p. 20-21)

Bea Garcia Illustration

Read This If You Loved: Amelia’s Notebook series by Marissa Moss, Popularity Papers series by Amy Ignatow, Mackenzie Blue series by Tina Wells, Middle School series by Jenni L. Holm

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**Thank you to Deborah for providing the book for review!**

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Doodle Adventures

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs
Author: Mike Lowery
Illustrator: Mike Lowery and YOU!
Published May 17th, 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: Draw your way through the story!

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs! is a lighthearted fantasy where the reader first draws him- or herself into the story, and then continues by following prompts and adding more illustrations and doodles. Set in space, the book invites the reader to join Carl, a duck and member of a super-secret international group of explorers, on a journey in search of a very important grail-like object. The book is sturdy paper over board with beautiful cream paper—perfect for defacing! And by the end, the reader will have co-written a tale to return to again and again, and show off to family and friends.

Kellee’s Review: I cannot wait to see this book completed by students. I think so many kids of all sorts of ages will enjoy this book. It is silly enough for young elementary students, and its plot is interesting enough for middle school students. I love the narrator, Carl, who is a puny and out spoken duck who takes the reader on a journey to the Slug Planet (in 2nd person point of view!). The  illustrations are also so well done for what the book is trying to do. They are comic-esque and funny. I truly enjoyed my journey with Carl, but I am really looking forward to watching a kid complete this book in the interactive way that it is made for. 

Ricki’s Review: After I review books, I almost always give them away to schools. I couldn’t help but think it would be such a great book for the boys who live next door. They are always adventuring in their backyard, and they will surely be captivated by this book. The narrator Carl (a duck) is highly entertaining, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the book. He talks to the reader, and the second-person narrative makes the book particularly funny. The reader will be catapulted into the story because of its interactive nature. Even kids who don’t enjoy drawing will want to put their pens to the pages.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book promotes creativity, plot development, and humor. There are so many different ways that a teacher could utilize this book, one for each of our recommendations below. First, it could be a class read aloud where the teacher does the drawing based on the class’s votes or students can take turn drawing. It could also be a lit circle/book club book where students complete the book in groups then they can jigsaw into new groups to share their newly created book. Lastly, the book could definitely be an independent read or class read where students draw in their own books and each student will have their own unique book.

Discussion Questions: How does drawing help you interact with the story? Which drawings were particularly fun to draw?; How does the second person narration make this story engaging? What other stories are written in this point of view?; Why might the book be narrated by a duck? What does this do for you, the reader?

Flagged Passages: “I brought you down here because the unthinkable has happened! Someone found our secret HQ, broke in, and stole a PRICELESS artifact from our collection of…priceless artifacts!

I’ll pause here so you can GASP!” (p. 26)

Doodle Adventures spread

See more at www.mikelowery.com or the author’s Instagram @mikelowerystudio

Read This If You Loved: Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, Diaper Baby series by Dav Pilkey, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Drawing/Illustrating books

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**Thank you to Estelle at Workman Publishing for providing copies for review!**

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Handful of Stars

A Handful of Stars
Author: Cynthia Lord
Published May 26th, 2015 by Scholastic

Goodreads Summary: This powerful middle-grade novel from the Newbery Honor author ofRules explores a friendship between a small-town girl and the daughter of migrant workers. When Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it’s Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season. After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily’s grandfather, and Salma’s friendship transforms Lily’s summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they’ll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant—and possibly win? Set amongst the blueberry barrens and by the sea, this is a gorgeous new novel by Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord that tackles themes of prejudice and friendship, loss and love.

My Review, Teachers’ Tools for Navigation, and We Flagged: Salma and Lily quickly become star friends (friends who may not always be together, but will look at stars to think of each other). Salma is different than anyone that Lily knows. Not only because she is a Hispanic migrant worker, but because she is carefree. Lily, on the other hand, is a rule follower, and Salma may be just what she needs and vice versa.

Every Cynthia Lord book I read, I am reminded of why I enjoy her writing so much. Her stories are always touching and find sweetness and love in situations that are not always examined. She also paints her stories with such beautiful imagery. “Our feet crunched the reindeer moss under our feet, as loud as if we were walking through autumn leaves. The only other sounds were the mind blowing the little American flags on the soldiers’ graves, the buzz of insects, the chirp of birds, and the occasional rumble of a car driving down the gravel road past the cemetery.” (p. 109) Beautiful. She always transports me.

As an art museum director’s daughter, I always appreciate some art love also, and Salma really shares the importance and immense greatness of art. Great quotes about art: p. 151-153, 156

Other favorite pages: p. 60, 74, 94-96

A couple other things I loved: Another wonderful grandfather in a book, the reference to Blueberries for Sal (p. 112), and the look at adolescences and how hard it is the grow up.

A Handful of Stars was also my informal Twitter book club’s August book choice. Some of my favorite things said from the chat were:

“I found I was absolutely connecting to the characters and story but having to stop and just be in awe of certain lines.” Carrie Gelson

“But somehow summer fills up & flies by…as August wore on, I couldn’t help feeling sad pangs.” A favorite quote shared by me and Michele Knott

“I love how @Cynthia_Lord talked about how being in a friendship can be lonely – ‘lonelier than if you were by yourself.’ pg 56” Carrie Gelson

“She just is such a great example of living in the moment, being true, taking risks. [About Salma]” Carrie Gelson

“I loved the differences in the approaches to art.” Michele Knott

“I think this would be a perfect pair with the Cesar Chavez PB.” Leigh Anne Eck

“And that there is more than one road to happiness and therefore, different kinds :-)” Carrie Gelson

This is a book that screams to be read with/by kids. Such a quiet, important book with so much within.

Discussion Questions: How was Salma different from Lily’s other friends?; How are Salma and Lily different?; What do you think will happen to their friendship?; How did Salma influence Lily? How did Lily change throughout the book?

Read This If You Loved: Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, Eleanor series by Julie Sternberg, Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

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