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Thunderhead
Author: Neal Shusterman
Published: January 9, 2018 by Simon & Schuster

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Review: Thunderhead packs a punch as a conceptually compelling and action-packed follow up to award-winning Scythe. While at times it moves slowly and teeters on the precarious edge of “middle book syndrome.” Its expansion of the world of the Scythdome helps the book feel more well-rounded. Despite the action, Thunderhead shines most in its explorations of democracy and the implications of AI technology.

Citra’s questioning of identity, though immediately rooted in her struggle between her civilian past and scythedom, provides a good example of identity searching for teen readers. For Citra and Rowan, the stakes are high– despite the novel’s focus on the guiding AI of the Thunderhead, the fate of the world rests not on the shoulders of the political technology or the Scythe’s government, but on the teenage protagonist’s shoulders. Though Thunderhead didn’t invent the trope of teens saving the world, in 2018 it feels all the more prevalent.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As a sequel, Thunderhead will primarily be useful in addition to classroom libraries. However, in discussing the Arc of a Scythe series as a whole, Thunderhead raises interesting questions of power dynamics in politics, democracy, and the role of AI technology. If Scythe is already a text you’ve considered using in literature circles, a discussion about the themes raised in the sequel could provide an interesting supplement to the unit.

Discussion Questions:  Is the Thunderhead justified? Is the Scythedom?  In what ways is the world of the Scythes in MidMerica and beyond a dystopia or utopia?

Flagged: “You may laugh when I tell you this, but I resent my own perfection. Humans learn from their mistakes. I cannot. I make no mistakes. When it comes to making decisions, I deal only in various shades of correct.” (Chapter 4).

Read This If You Loved: Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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Louisiana’s Way Home
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: October 2nd, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Louisiana’s Way Home: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Louisianaon Candlewick Press’s Louisiana’s Way Home page.

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The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World
Creators: Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill
Published April 23rd, 2019 by Running Press

Summary: A whimsical and imaginative catalog of fantastical beasts and creatures of myth and legend from around the world-complete with a code that needs cracking to uncover the mystery of the monster atlas!

One day a collection of very old maps is found in a dusty library. They show where in the world monsters and creatures from mythology and folklore can be found. According to the notes left with the maps, they were made by Cornelius Walters, an intrepid explorer from the 15th century. But did Walters really make these elaborate maps, or is it all a hoax? The librarian who discovered them is not certain . . . and what are the strange messages in a cryptic code that Walters records in his ship’s log? The codes throughout, once cracked, may indeed lead to something sinister that will happen should the atlas ever be published!

This is a gorgeously illustrated and comprehensive catalog of monsters, beasts, and mythical creatures from around the globe, with an easy-to-read format and incredible detail on each spread. It is many things, all at once:

  • A reference guide: Grouped by continent, this illustrated atlas lists and defines magical creatures from folklore around the world. Readers will find creatures from stories they’ve heard–like leprachauns, manticores, zombies–and learn about lesser-known creatures like the squonk, the tatzelwurm, and the fengu.
  • A journal: Presented as a record created by a fifteenth-century voyager named Cornelius Walters, the book includes Cornelius’s personal anecdotes about encountering monsters during his journey.
  • A mystery: The book also includes notes from a librarian who supposedly found the atlas and is trying to figure out whether Cornelius was making up stories for the monsters…or whether monsters are real.
  • A code: A mysterious code appears on each page and is referred to by both Cornelius and the librarian, encouraging readers to crack it…before it’s too late.

For kids (and adults) who love mythology, the supernatural, mysteries, or code-breaking, this whimsical blend of folklore and fiction provides both a joy and a surprise on every page.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Lawrence is an author and journalist. She is the author of two middle grade history books: Grisly History: Death and Destruction and Grisly History: Trials and Treachery. She lives in London, England.

Stuart Hill is an illustrator and designer. He is especially interested in printed textures, hand-lettering, and map illustration. He lives in England.

Review: This book is really everything that the summary states. It is fascinating! And beautiful! There is some humor because of the voyager’s anecdotes and the librarian’s notes, too, which is always nice. And the addition of the code adds an interactive element to the text. Highly recommended for any teacher teaching mythology or any traditional stories with monsters/creatures.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be perfect for teaching and discussing the Literacy.RL.9 standard which discusses how modern texts uses traditional text. Using The Atlas of Monsters, students can get an introduction to allusion around a discussion of where they have heard of the monsters before. And this is just the beginning! It would be so much fun to make your own Atlas of Monsters!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Find the clues throughout each page, and crack the codes in the book.
  • How many different points of view are shared in the book? How does this affect the reading experience?
  • Pick one of the creatures and do further research and create a longer profile about them.
  • Before reading about one of the continents, do your own research and try to predict which mythical creatures will be mentioned.
  • What are some similarities/differences between what you knew about ____ and what is in the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Cryptozoology, Folklore, the supernatural, code breaking

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**Thank you Running Press Kids for providing a copy of the book to review!**

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“Environmental Science Activities for Kids”

We can all agree that Earth is a pretty amazing planet. We’ve got oceans, rainforests, icebergs, and a huge range of diverse species living all over the place!

Earth is amazing, and it’s also enormous. It can be easy to forget and hard to imagine just how much area there is and how many organisms share it. One way that makes it easier is to think of the planet as a whole system and imagine it as being sectioned into different biomes. That’s what I did when I set out to write a book about what it’s like to live on Planet Earth. By taking a tour of the earth’s different biomes, we can see how interconnected all species actually are and how important it is to take of the environment where you live—because whatever happens to the land, water, and air where you are will have repercussions elsewhere in the world.

In Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids, I focused on nine biomes: deciduous forests, coniferous forests, tropical rainforests, deserts, temperate grasslands, tropical savannas, tundra, mountains, and oceans. Each one had an entire ecosystem to discover and explore, along with distinct species that had adapted specifically to their environment.

Inviting children along the journey is especially important. Climate change is no longer a slow-moving, far-away issue. Intense storms, rising sea levels, and altered seasons are all readily apparent in ways they didn’t use to be, and children are noticing and asking what they can do to be of service to the planet and help keep it healthy.

So, fasten your helmet as we get ready to embark on a bumpy ride around the world on a tour of the nine biomes! Our first stop is some super cool projects designed to get kids thinking about the environment and their role in its care.

MAKE RECYCLED PAPER

This activity is pretty messy! Be sure to do it outside if possible! You can use your homemade paper to take notes or send letters to friends about your biome discoveries.

Caution: Have an adult help with the blender.

Rip scrap paper into teeny pieces. Place about 1/2 cup of it into a blender. Pour about 2 cups of hot water over the paper. Repeat this process until the blender is halfway full. Cover the blender and set it at a low speed. Mix the paper and water until it reaches a pulpy consistency. If the blender gets sluggish, add a bit more water.

Carefully take the pulp outside. Spread newspaper on a flat surface, and place a towel or rag over it. Set it aside for a moment.

Place a window screen in a pan or on a baking sheet. Pour the pulp over the window screen. Wiggle the screen back and forth until the pulp coats it. Gently lift the screen from the pan or sheet, and allow any excess pulp to drip off.

Set the screen on top of the towel and newspaper. Keep the screen’s pulpy side up. Layer a second towel or rag and more newspaper on top of the screen, creating a sandwich. Use a rolling pin or other tool to press on the sandwich from one end to another until you’ve wrung out all the water.

Spread out a third towel or rag in a warm, dry spot, and carefully place the sandwich on top of it. Allow it to dry for 24 hours. If you live in a humid place, it will probably require more time.

When the paper is completely dry, peel the newspaper and towels away. You’ve got homemade paper!

Think About It:

  • How might this method of recycling paper into new paper work for large amounts of paper?
  • Could a factory use this process?
  • What are some ways companies could change this process so they could work with recycled paper from an entire school?

SALT AND SEED GERMINATION

During periods of drought, soil becomes salty. How does salt concentration in soil impact seed germination? Sprout radish seeds to find out!

Use three plastic deli tubs of the same size. Individually label the tubs, each with a different solution identifier: Solution 1: 1 Teaspoon; Solution 2: 2 Teaspoons; Solution 3: 3 Teaspoons.

Place a piece of paper towel or coffee filter at the bottom of each container. Sprinkle quick-sprouting radish seeds over each piece. Label three plastic cups to match the solution identifiers of each deli tub.

Prepare the solutions. Pour 1 cup of distilled water into each plastic cup. In the Solution 1 cup, add 1 teaspoon of salt. In the Solution 2 cup, add 2 teaspoons. In the Solution 3 cup, add 3 teaspoons. Stir to thoroughly dissolve the salt.

Use an eyedropper to add a small amount of each solution to its corresponding container. Make sure you completely wet each paper towel or coffee filter, but don’t drench it. Cover each container with a piece of clingwrap.

Predict what will happen over a two-week period as you tend the seeds. How will different salt solutions impact seed germination? How will the solutions affect seedlings as they begin to grow?

Place the containers in the same location, where they can receive sunlight undisturbed. Monitor the seeds each day. Write down your observations. Add more solution to each corresponding plant. After two weeks, assess and analyze your results. What are your findings about soil content’s impact on germination and growth?

Think About It:

  • What do your conclusions mean for large-scale agriculture?
  • What happens when entire farms have soil that becomes too salty?

TEST YOUR AIR QUALITY

Arctic haze is a certain kind of polar air mass. Chock-full of chemical pollutants from Canada, Eurasia, and the United States, this reddish-brown smog sometimes hangs over Alaska, creating poor air quality. What’s the air quality like where you live? Conduct this test to find out.

Choose four separate areas, both indoors and outdoors, to test the air. Indoors, you might select  your kitchen, and outdoors, target a bush or shrub.

Label one index card for each location. Your labels should match those in your science journal. Use a craft stick to spread petroleum jelly over the cards. Leave each card in a safe spot in its target area. Wait 8 hours.

To collect data, visit each location and gather its card. Use a magnifying glass to study each sample. Do you observe any particles? What color are they? Can you identify what they are? Record your findings in a notebook.

While you’re at each location, use your senses to take in your surroundings. In your journal, write your observations of the area on the correct page. Can you smell anything? Does the air feel dusty or damp? Do you see blowing sand or plant parts? Is there cigarette smoke, industrial emissions, or road construction that are affecting air quality?

Place each sample in a row. Use the magnifying glass to compare and contrast each card. Which sample is the cleanest? The dirtiest? What conclusions can you draw about the air quality?

Think About It:

  • Saharan sunsets occur when gigantic dust clouds from Africa’s Sahara Desert travel thousands of miles across the globe. These produce hazy skies, hotter temperatures, allergies—and beautiful sunsets.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What type of biome do you live in?
  • How does Earth sustain life?
  • How are food chains essential to life on Earth?
  • How are living things adapted for life in the coniferous forest?
  • Why are tropical rainforests called “the lungs of the planet?”
  • What changes will occur if the desert continues to be Earth’s fastest growing biome?
  • How are grasses and hooved animals adapted to thrive in wide-open spaces?
  • What happens when ecosystems change?
  • In the interconnected web of life, how do warming temperatures in the Arctic impact the planet?
  • What makes mountains different from other biomes?
  • How does ocean depth impact biodiversity?
  • What have you discovered about Earth’s vast interconnections?

More classroom resources can be found at https://nomadpress.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Biomes-Classroom-Guide.pdf.

Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
Author: Donna Lathan
Illustrator: Tom Casteel
Published March 5th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What’s the difference between a desert and a rain forest? A tundra and a coniferous forest? These are all examples of biomes, and they are all home to plants and animals that are uniquely adapted to live in those environments!

In Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Science Activities for Kids, middle school kids journey across the planet and visit the world’s nine terrestrial and aquatic biomes to learn about the distinctive climates, geologies, resources, and organisms that can be found there. Kids will wander through forests, sizzle in deserts, shiver in the tundra, slog through marshy waters, and plunge beneath the seas to explore coral reefs. Along the way, readers will encounter the flora and fauna adapted for survival in each unique climate zone. They’ll learn about gnarly krumholz trees, bioluminescent sea creatures, camouflage, carnivorous plants, and blubbery marine critters.

The health and wellbeing of the world’s biomes are an essential part of the balance of the planet as a whole. Biomes and their inhabitants around the world are being threatened by climate change and human behavior. In Biomes, kids will learn how to take steps toward positive change and keep the environment healthy and functioning in a way that best supports sustainable life on Earth!

Biomes includes hands-on STEM activities and critical thinking exercises to encourage readers to consider threats to the environment and figure out ways to be part of the solution. Fun facts, links to online primary sources and other supplemental material, and essential questions take readers on an exploration of the biomes of Earth.

About the Author: Donna Latham is an award-winning author and playwright. She is the author of Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build YourselfBackyard Biology Investigate Habitats Outside Your Door With 25 ProjectsDeciduousForestsDesertsGarbage Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out With 25 ProjectsNorah JonesOceansRespiration and PhotosynthesisSavannas and Grasslands, and Tundra. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Society of Midland Authors. She lives in Batavia, Illinois. Website: donnalatham.com

Thank you so much for this guest post about our amazing Earth and how it works!

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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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If I Were a Park Ranger
Author: Catherine Stier
Illustrator: Patrick Corrigan
Published April 1st, 2019 by Albert Whitman Company

Summary: If you were a national park ranger, you’d spend every day in one of the most treasured places in America. You’d have an amazing job protecting animals, the environment, and our country’s natural and historical heritage, from the wilds of Denali to the Statue of Liberty!

About the Creators:

As a child, Catherine Stier wanted to be an author or park ranger. She visited her first national park as a baby and has been a fan ever since. She is the author of If I Were President and several other award-winning picture books, and has worked as a magazine writer, newspaper columnist, writing instructor, and children’s literature researcher. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and volunteers with programs that connect families and children with nature and the outdoors. To learn more, and to download free activity sheets and curriculum guides, visit her website: catherinestier.com.

Patrick Corrigan was born in the north of England and grew up drawing and designing. After University, he was an art director in a design studio for nearly ten years. He now lives in London with his wife and cat, illustrating children’s books. See more of his work at www.patrickcorrigan.co.uk.

Review: What a great informational text about National Parks and the park rangers that take care of them! The text did a wonderful job introducing not only the National Parks and all the different ones throughout the country but also all of the amazing things that park rangers do to take care of these national treasures. I was most impressed by how it was all inclusive of all the different types of jobs that keep the parks going as well as all the different types of parks that can be visited. The text, filled with information, along with the colorful illustrations bring it all to life for the reader and keeps them engaged in a way that other non-narrative informational texts struggle with sometimes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

2019’s National Park Week is April 20-28th, and If I Were a Park Ranger is a perfect read aloud for the week! It would be perfect for when a class is learning about Theodore Roosevelt or any other founder of National Parks also.

The author’s website also includes activity pages for the book: http://www.catherinestier.com/curriculum-guides/!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What National Park would you want to visit?
  • What does it take to be a park ranger?
  • What type of person do you think would succeed the most as a park ranger?
  • How does science fit into a park ranger’s job? Technology? Engineering? Math? Art?
  • What is the author’s purpose for creating the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: National Parks, Nature, Conservation

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Giveaway!

Ten lucky winners will receive a copy of If I Were A Park Ranger by Catherine Stier. One Grand Prize winner will receive a signed copy of the book PLUS a Park Ranger Stuffed Doll, a “National Park Geek” Iron-on Patch, National Park Animal Cookies, Camping Stickers, Woodland Animal Mini Notebook, and Book Cover Postcards! Winners will be selected at random and notified via email. One entry per person, please. US addresses only. Entries are due by 5/3/19. Follow this link to enter!

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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You Choose in Space
Author: Pippa Goodhart
Illustrator: Nick Sharratt
Published March, 2019 by Kane Miller Books

Summary: Zoom off into space for an adventure where you choose what happens next. Which alien would you most like to be friends with? And what fantastically freaky food will you decide to munch for lunch?

The possibilities are infinite in this mesmerizing creative toolkit which will inspire children to make their own stories time and again — it’s out of this world!

Ricki’s Review: The You Choose series books are easily among my favorite books to read to my kids. We take them on family vacations and visits with relatives and friends because we love to hear what our friends and family would choose. This is one of the best books to bring in car trips because kids can select a different ending every time! When this book came in the mail, my kids shrieked with joy. Since then, we’ve read it dozens of times. I love seeing how my kids’ tastes are different. There is also a lot of great classroom potential in these books (see below).

Kellee’s Review: I’m so glad that Ricki told me to review this You Choose book with her! She received the first one, but I was booked at the time, but she said that I could not let this chance pass, and I am so glad! It is a choose your own adventure book for the picture book age. It really does build up the story-telling capacity because it gives a foundation and lets the reader build up from there. It is such a fun book that is different every time, so a reader is never done!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: You Choose in Space, Just Imagine, and You Choose make for fantastic texts for creative writing units and courses. As teachers, we know that students often struggle to get started, and paging through these books allows for wonderful story starters. I use these books to discuss teaching composition with preservice teachers, and I also use them for a unit about using picture books in the classroom. My students love these books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you choose? Why?
  • What did you NOT choose? Why?
  • Which page was your favorite? Why was the spread most interesting to you?
  • Did you notice any trends or patterns with your choices?

Ricki’s family reading one of the You Choose books on vacation: 

Flagged Spread:

Read This If You Loved: Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart; You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart; Choose Your Own Journey by Susie Brooks and Tracy Cottingham; Story Path: Choose a Path, Tell a Story by Madalena Matoso; Where’s Will? by Tilly; I Want to Be… books by Ruby Brown

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 RickiSigand 

**Thank you to Lynn Kelley at Kane Miller Books for sending us this book!**

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