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A Brief History of Life on Earth
Creator: Clémence Dupont
Published March 19th, 2019 by Prestel Junior

Summary: The story of life on earth unfolds in dramatic fashion in this amazing picture book that takes readers from 4.6 billion years ago to the present day.

It’s difficult to grasp the enormous changes life on Earth has undergone since it first came into existence, but this marvelously illustrated book makes learning about our planet’s fascinating history easy and entertaining. In an accordion style, the series of pages take readers through every major geological period, with bright artwork and detailed drawings. Opening on lava-filled oceans and smoking volcanoes, the book unfolds, era by era, to show how life evolved from tiny protozoa and crustaceans to dinosaurs and mammals.

Fully expanded to 8 meters (26 feet), this spectacular visual timeline is a very impressive panorama that reveals evolution in all its glory. Each page is brimming with illustrations that readers will turn to again and again. A celebration of life, this extraordinary and beautiful book illuminates the history of Earth for young readers in an unforgettable and delightful way.

About the Author: Clémence Dupont is an illustrator living in Strasbourg, France. This is her first book.

Review: This book is so beautiful, useful, and just plain neat! First, I love that it folds out (as does Trent!):

When folded out, it reaches 26 feet with one side showing the images created by the author for each of the time periods while the other side has a timeline which is to scale showing how long respectively each time period was.

This book is a work of art. How each time period stands alone yet also is part of the entire timeline when folded out is beautiful to see. Additionally, I adore the artist’s technique of art with rough edges and bright colors.

Each spread focuses on one time period and the life on Earth at the time with a brief write up in the bottom left corner; however, many of the organisms/animals/plants not mentioned in the paragraph are labeled allowing readers to jump into inquiry about them if they wish.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Did anyone else do the activity in elementary school where the teacher had the class convert the miles(?) between planets into centimeters then had the class create a to-scale solar system showing just how far apart the planets are? This book reminds me of that activity in that it shows the true expanse of time Earth has existed versus the very small time humans have. I would use this timeline to create a similar to-scale idea for students to show the history of life on Earth.

Also, as I stated above, each time period only has a brief write up and leaves much to research if one is interested.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What surprised you about the history of life on Earth?
  • What did the timeline on the back show you about the history of life on Earth?
  • When did dinosaurs appear? When did the first human ancestor appear? (etc.)
  • What animal surprised you that has been around a long time?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose in creating the book in this structure?
  • How did the Earth change from one period to the next? Take two periods and compare and contrast them.

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Read This If You Love: Animals, Biology, Geology, Earth’s history

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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.

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

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Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas
Author: Josh Farndon
Published November 6th, 2018 by Silver Dolphin and the Smithsonian

About the Book: Head off on a globetrotting adventure in this interactive atlas! Learn about the diverse cultures, customs, wildlife, and natural beauty that form our world through informative text and full-color photograph. Children will love the hands-on aspect to learning as they blow up their inflatable globe and build the cardstock models of some of the wonders of the world. Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas (ISBN: 978-1626867208) is the perfect way to engage kids in the amazing world around them!

Includes:
56-page fact book
30 stickers with world map poster
1 inflatable globe
3 cardstock models to assemble: the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and a Mayan pyramid

Review: I think the best way to review this exploration set is to show you Trent’s experiences with it as we had an amazing time exploring the world with the globe, map, landmark stickers, and landmark 3D sets:

         

I don’t think anything can show how wonderful a book is other than showing a child completely involved in its purpose. We’re definitely going to get all the sets in the series!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This series (see Ricki’s review of the Solar System set) is made for education. How fascinating would it be to go through the 30 landmarks on the stickers, maybe one a week, and put them on the poster and discuss the landmark. There are ones all around the world which would allow the class to explore so many cultures. Or maybe separate the landmarks and have a different student become an expert on each one and share. There is so much to consider!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Where is _____ located?
  • What landmarks are in ____?
  • What did you learn about ____?
  • How is ___ different than ___?
  • Any Atlas/Geography questions!

Read This If You Love: Interactive sets, Geography, Landmarks

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

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Smithsonian Exploration Station: Solar System

Summary: Take a trip into the stratosphere with Smithsonian Exploration Station: Space! With informative text and full-color photographs, young astronomers will learn about the intricate makeup of our solar system as well as distant galaxies and constellations. The 56-page fact book combined with the sticker sheet, space figurines to play with, and the glow-in-the-dark stars make this space experience interactive and engaging.

Includes a 56-page fact book, 30 stickers, 22 glow-in-the-dark stars, and 2 figurines (astronaut and rocket).

ReviewI love book kits. There is something about them that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. My almost 5-year-old loves them just as much. Opening the box is like opening a world of fun. We were thrilled to receive this kit, and it didn’t disappoint. My son played with the rocket and astronaut figurines as we read the book together. The rocket and astronaut touched every page of the book! After we read about each part of the solar system, he affixed the appropriate sticker on his poster. He’s very much looking forward to sticking the glow in the dark stars on his ceiling! Parents will love these kits. The interactive learning component is wonderful. I intend to purchase several other kits from this company!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might purchase 1-2 kits each of the Smithsonian Exploration Station series. These include the Human Body, World Atlas, and Human Body. They can be found here. Students can select the kit that is most interesting to them and engage in an inquiry unit on the topic. These kids would be very fun to use in small groups!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn as you did the activities?;
  • What parts of solar system do you find most interesting? Why?;
  • How do the different parts of the solar system together?

We Flagged: 

The kit!

The full-sized poster! Notice the grayed out planets. The stickers match these and make for a great interactive reading experience!

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about the solar system; interactive books and kits (like this one about the human body)

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

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Astronaut, Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact
Author: Jennifer Swanson
Foreword by Fabien Cousteau and Kathryn D. Sullivan
Published January 9th, 2018 by National Geographic Society

Summary: Journey from the deepest trenches in the oceans to the farthest humans have ventured into space and learn what it takes to explore the extremes. You might just be surprised by how similar the domains of ASTRONAUTS and AQUANAUTS really are.

Space and the ocean. If you don’t think they go together, think again! Both deep-sea and space explorers have to worry about pressure, temperature, climate, and most importantly, how to survive in a remote and hostile environment. Join us on an amazing journey as we go up in space with astronauts and dive deep down in the ocean with aquanauts to explore the far-off places of our planet and the solar system.

With a strong tie into STEM topics–such as making connections, making comparisons, and recognizing patterns across content areas–readers will discover the amazing science and incredible innovations that allow humans (and sometimes only machines) to survive in these harsh environments.

Review: First, I want to share this image because it is one of my favorites ever, and I want a poster of it for Trent’s room!

I love the idea of this book! First, from a personal point of view: my son loves animals and space, so this is a perfect book for him. We didn’t read word for word together, but we spent hours over the last couple of weeks flipping through the book, looking at different spreads, reading parts of the book, and answering any questions that Trent had. Also, from a educator point of view: this text is so full of information told in such an interesting way with fun facts, activities, and so much fascinating information! Swanson did a beautiful job making connections between the two professions and scientists and giving equal looks into both. And since the book is for middle grade students, it is essential for it to be written in a way that will be intriguing to readers, and this book is definitely that!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Throughout the book there are questions that can lead to inquiry (see below) and many topics that are introduced that could be further researched. Additionally, there are a few activities throughout such as one on submersibles, docking the ISS, and design your own space suit. The book is also set up for comparing and contrasting looking at exploration in both space and the sea and how they differ and overlap.

Discussion Questions: The text is FILLED with books that can lead to phenomenal discussions or inquiry projects such as

  • How does studying the topography of the ocean floor help us understand the space?
  • Why is it important for astronauts to train underwater?
  • What does it feel like during blastoff?
  • What is it like to live in space/under water for a long time?
  • Why and how do we explore?
  • How can studying the ocean help astronauts better understand conditions in space?
  • What can space teach us about the ocean?

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Read This If You Love: Space travel, Science, Marine biology

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review!**

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One of the goals in my advanced reading classroom is to help my students become close readers of the world, including when it comes to vocabulary. Through my own time in the classroom and my early teaching years, I learned very quickly that teaching vocabulary out of context does not work. There is only memorization, no retention. Teaching vocabulary in context can work, but only if the word is revisited often which doesn’t always happen with new vocabulary words. It wasn’t until I decided to start teaching word parts that I felt that my vocabulary instruction was something that was long-lasting.

I begin each year with a word part unit. Students really buy in because we have a great conversation about the inconsistencies of vocabulary education in their (and my) past. I then show them what word parts are, the different types of affixes, and how they can give the reader a clue to the meaning of a word.

 

The first step is to build up knowledge of some regularly used word parts. I’ve been building up our word part list over years now. Since I have some of the same students every year, I don’t want to start over for them, so I just keep adding, and you would be surprised how quickly students grab onto these word parts. This year, we started with 77. In my classes that had students who already knew them, I paired them up with new students and gave them a section of the 77 to go over with the new student. In my new 6th grade class, I gave each group a section and they used their brains and resources (the internet) to learn. During this initial introduction, I do have them go over the definition, but more importantly, they were to find words that are in their vocabulary that would help them remember what the word part meant. Then I grouped together different groups that reviewed different sections and teach what they learned to each other.

 

I also use Quizlet as a way for students to learn the word parts. Quizlet is a great website for flashcards and also has this super fun collaborative game called Quizlet Live where students, in groups of 3-4, get definitions and have to match them to words and each member of the group has different words to choose from. Here is a link to my Quizlet profile if you want to check out our word parts!

This year, one of the initiatives at our school is academic vocabulary and interactive word walls, but as you see above, I do not have a lot of wall space in my room because of the book shelves, so with the help of an awesome science teacher in my hallway, we came up with the idea of making a word hallway instead of wall. Each student was given 2 word parts to make a mini-poster about with the type of word part, definition, and examples. During this activity, so that everyone was able to complete two, 19 new word parts were added. We then laminated the mini-posters and strung them into banners then hung them on the lockers that aren’t used in our hallway.

Now that they have a basic knowledge of types of word parts and different common word parts, we start breaking apart words using brace maps into word parts knowledge to define the words. I start with words that they already know, like subway and unbelievable, to show how word parts work. We then start breaking apart words they may not know, like intangible and junction, to show how it can help them when encountering unknown vocabulary.

Now, when the unit ends, our time with word parts don’t stop. First, we have word part flashcards at the door almost every day. I also revisit the unit throughout the year and point out whenever a word part comes across in our lessons. We’ll also do a mini-unit in January also where we’ll add more word parts.

This unit is one of the most mentioned units when I ask students the most useful things they learned in my class AND also their favorite unit. Here are some responses when I asked students how the word part lessons helped them:

  • I can define most words without having to look in the dictionary! My vocab has expanded a lot!
  • They help me because now that I’m in high school, I can understand new words faster.
  • When there are words I do not know, I use my knowledge of word parts to break it apart and find the definition.
  • The words parts help us by giving clues on what a word means in a book or article that we are reading.
  • The word part lessons from Advanced Reading have helped me SO MUCH in my high school English. We constantly have new vocabulary and knowing affixes has really helped me figure out their definitions.

I say that that, along with the success I see in vocabulary acquisition after learning about word parts, shows the success of this take on vocabulary instruction.

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Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation
Author: Patricia Newman
Published August 1st, 2018 by Millbrook Press

Summary: Deep in the Central African Republic, forest elephants trumpet and rumble along with the forest’s symphony. And scientists are listening.

Scientist Katy Payne started Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project to learn more about how forest elephants communicate and what they’re saying. But the project soon grew to be about so much more.

Poaching, logging, mining, and increasing human populations threaten the survival of forest elephants. Katy and other members of the Elephant Listening Project’s team knew they needed to do something to protect these majestic animals. By eavesdropping on elephants, the Elephant Listening Project is doing its part to save Africa’s forest elephants and preserve the music in the forest.

About the Author: Patricia Newman has a passion for uncovering fascinating aspects about our world and crafting books that lead children on an adventure of discovery. She gravitates toward stories about animals and conservation science and enjoys sharing her excitement with readers. Books include Sibert Honor title Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; Junior Library Guild Selection Eavesdropping on Elephants; Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue; Booklist Editor’s Choice Ebola: Fears and Facts; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She frequently speaks at schools, libraries, and conferences about writing and conservation. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Praise: 

“…this book does an excellent job of transporting readers and providing a clear, multifaceted picture of African forest elephants…The more you listen to wildlife, the more your mind opens up to new ideas about why the world is a place worth saving… VERDICT: A great pick for middle school nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal

“Fascinating for earnest conservationists.” —Kirkus Reviews

Review: I am never disappointed when I read a Patricia Newman book. Each of her books are filled with fascinating information told in a way that will make any reader feel the passion that Newman obviously feels about her topics.

Her newest, Eavesdropping on Elephants, takes it to a whole new level! Not only does the book still include informational and narrative nonfiction, sidebars, glossaries, and classroom connections all well-researched and interesting, but it also includes QR codes (or links if you do not have a QR reader) to actually see and/or hear the elephants that are being discussed in the book. This really makes the book come to life in a way that I haven’t seen before.

Like all of her books, by the end I wanted to talk to people about what I read, wanted to go make a difference, and wanted to keep learning. If this isn’t a testament to how good her nonfiction is then I don’t know what is.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: “Consider an Authors for Earth Day visit in conjunction with Eavesdropping on Elephants. Students research a list of five conservation nominees selected by Patricia Newman and then vote for their favorite. Newman writes a check to the winning organization. The mission? To empower young readers to shape the world around them!”  –https://www.patriciamnewman.com/books/eavesdropping-on-elephants/ 

Research, reading, and writing activities for the classroom in conjunction with Eavesdropping on Elephants can be found on Patricia Newman’s Elephants Pinterest Board!

I, personally, am going to use Newman’s texts in my passion project research unit this year. I’m going to use her texts to show mentor texts of a nonfiction picture book and students are going to make their own nonfiction book or video. I also hope to have my lunch book club read Newman’s books as one of their month choices.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the videos/recordings help with the understanding of the book?
  • What is a keystone species? And how are the forest elephants a keystone species of their habitat?
  • What is the difference between ultrasound and infrasound? What does this have to do with elephants?
  • What figurative journey did Katy take to finally make it to Africa to study elephants in the wild?
  • What did the scientists learn by listening to the elephants?
  • Why are elephants’ ears the shape that they are?
  • How is what Katy did with elephant sounds similar to a dictionary?
  • How are humans a threat to forest elephants?
  • What did Teagan Yardley do when she learned about these threats?

Book Trailer: 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction about animals, Nonfiction titles by Patricia Newman

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**Thank you to Lerner Publishing and Patricia for providing a copy for review!**

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