Sunday, June 25, 2017

Busy Builders Series














Busy Builders
written by Katherine Sully, Chris Oxlade, Timothy Knapman; illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
2016 (Silver Dolphin)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Welcome to the construction site! These workers are going to build a school. Everyone has an important job to do, and the right skills to do it.

Busy Builders is an interactive series of books that I think PreK-1st grade students will really like. All of the materials come in two boxes that also serve as the site for what you are building. The outside box unfolds to provide the grounds of the site while the inside box stands on the spine of the unfolded outside box, providing more scenery. This is a good lesson in recycling as the packing materials are continually used. There are 48 model pieces that will be put together to complete the site. With the Construction Site kit, you are building a school so some of the pieces add to the road. Other pieces will make a school clock, traffic cones and signs, construction equipment like a bulldozer, a digger, and a dumptruck. More pieces will allow you to make stand-alone construction workers and a site dog. All of these materials surround the centerpiece of the kit which is a 32 page book full of informational text about a construction site.

The information is presented in sequential order and includes subjects such as Preparing the Ground, Mixing Machines, Bricks and Mortar, and Power and Water. The last part of the book includes directions for putting the pieces together. I love, love, love that a fun model kit and an informational text came together like syrup and pancakes. This is a great combination! Check out the labels and detailed illustrations in the picture above. There is a ton of new vocabulary (rebar, cables) that is supported by the engaging art work. If you are looking for gift ideas for a PreK-1st grade student, these Busy Builder kits should be something you consider.  They would also make a nice center/inside recess station for a K-1 classroom. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper
written by Anastasia Suen; illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Down, down, down!
Bars of steel.
A building's bones 
Make it real.

From the ground up, this is a terrific book. It explains, in sequence, how skyscrapers are built. On each spread, there are two sets of explanations of each step. The big bold print in the upper half is a quatrain with the second and fourth lines rhyming. This will be great for shared reading for a whole K-1 class or a small group. On the bottom half, there is a smaller print that is more like an informational text for older readers.
I like how the different texts target a wide range of readers. Plus, there are labels and inserts that add details and show how pieces fit. These touches show that author Anastasia Suen is well aware of the needs of her audience. Ryan O'Rourke's art work is eye catching with bright colors and sharp lines that add to the reader's understanding. I love the end piece which is a foldout of the skyscraper. In addition, if you click this link, you can print pages to make a flip book of the building of the skyscraper.

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper takes a subject that is intriguing to students yet difficult to explain and makes the explanation engaging and simple to understand. That is not easy. Did you know how skyscrapers are built? I had a general idea, but this book helped me fill in a lot of missing pieces. Kids will love sharing the details they learn with their friends and parents. For very young readers who like buildings and transportation (and there are many!), I can see the quatrains being repeated often as a bedtime read aloud. This book is also good for a social studies unit on cities and comparing them to rural areas. For the students that I work with, this is a valuable resource as most of them have never seen a skyscraper. Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper is floors and floors of fun informational text.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Baby's First Book of Birds and Colors

Baby's First Book of Birds and Colors
written and illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher







See the cover? Yes, a nice painting of birds relaxing at a bath. Then you open the book:
 BAM! You are hit with a wave of color richer than a double chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Look at those reds! Two birds in their native habitat are featured on a plant with matching colors. In this case we have the scarlet tanger and the northern cardinal. They are perched on a summer red maple tree. The birds are named along with their gender. In addition, the name of the featured flora is on the back cover of this board book. On the orange page, you have a Baltimore oriole sitting on a fire orange azalea. The paintings are simply stunning. Wee board book readers will love the colors and seeing the birds. There's a goldfinch on the yellow page. A dynamic green parakeet on the green page. Nine colors in all are featured. If you're going to work with your child or grandchild on learning colors (and you will), this is a beautiful book in which to do so. The book ends with a sweet painting of three children playing with bird blocks. 

I really like the details of the paintings. The lines in the feathers, the leaves, and the tree bark are entertaining for the eyes. My one wish would be for purple to be included, but that's can be in the sequel. Young, young readers will bounce with joy for these birds. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Best in Snow

Best in Snow
written by April Pulley Sayre
2016 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Water seeps. Crystals feather as ice creeps.

This exquisitely photographed picture book begins with a heron standing on one leg on the snowy ground. It's like he's standing watch and waiting for the snow to come again. With the ingredients of cold air, wind, and a cloud, the skies cut loose. But it's not simply snowing. It's sailing. The vivid verbs give great detail and create visuals. The snow lands on a squirrel's nose and on a duck's wings. It highlights the shapes of the branches of a tree. Sometimes clingy, the snow is shifted and drifted by the wind. There's a glorious photograph of a tree covered in ice and snow against a blue sunny sky with puffy clouds. Speaking of ice, there are photos of crystals with feather shapes and icicles. As the temperature warms, the icicles get longer and longer. The ground gets mushy and slushy. Then another freeze arrives and the cycle starts all over again.

Let's start with the title. Clever, clever! Then you get these photographs that you just ooh and aw over again and again. The text is sparse, but conveys so much. There's a ton of science going on and that's explained in the back matter notes. And the writing. The vivid verbs and the rhyming. It takes a lot of skill to pull both of those off in short sentences. When you study weather in primary grade levels, you'll want a copy of Best in Snow.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Very Berry Counting Book

The Very Berry Counting Book
written by Jerry Pallotta; illustrated by Joy Newton
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

6 juicy mulberries






As you can see on the cover, this is a gorgeous board book. Each page contains a different illustrated berry (blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, elderberries) in a spare yet beautiful design. Obviously, you will want to read this book to practice counting, but there are other uses beyond math. For science, you are helping toddlers to learn plant vocabulary such as leaves, stems, and flowers. Grapes are in the book, so that had me looking for the definition of a berry and would be a good topic of discussion for older students. There are also a couple of berries (salmonberry, elderberry) that will be unfamiliar so you can also research that with your class or child. For writing, you can use this book to do a mini-lesson on adjectives. Words like juicy, tasty, and tart adorn the various fruits. Many kindergarten classes have food units where students try new foods. The Very Berry Counting Book could be a starting point for your child or student to be more willing to try new fruits. This attractive new board book is a luscious literary treat!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bugs!: Animal Planet Chapter Book

Bugs! (Animal Planet Chapter Book)
written by James Buckley, Jr.
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are about 10 quintillion (19 zeroes) individual insects alive at any given time. There are about 7 billion human beings on Earth. That means insects outnumber us by 1 trillion to one!

You're at a cookout. You forgot your bug spray and you haven't eaten or worn enough garlic. If you say, "There must be a million mosquitoes out here.", you may not be exaggerating. I say know your enemy! That would be chapter 9 where you can also read about flies and fleas. Now, not all insects are enemies. Many are quite helpful. For example, in chapter 11 you will read about bees and wasps. How are wasps helpful? Would you rather have a tarantula or a female tarantula hawk wasp that will dispose of a tarantula for you? I'm going with the wasp. This chapter book is loaded with insect information. It's like you are buying seven or eight picture books work of information for the price of one chapter book. That's a bargain! The first of three Bug Bites (a quick snack of facts) and two chapters of the book cover basics like anatomy, why insects are insects, and life cycles. Don't forget to pick your favorite version of the head, thorax, abdomen song to sing. From there, you'll get nine more chapters about different aspects (moving, insect senses) and species (ants, beetles, butterflies, mantids) of insects. Inside each chapter is a two page Fact File that goes further in depth with more information. Did you know about the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar? It has a chemical like antifreeze in its body to keep from freezing.
In the back matter, there is a list of 13 of the 31 insect orders in the world. Within these lists of orders, there are estimates about the number of species in the order and examples of some of those species. This is fascinating stuff!

I appreciate how crisply James Buckley, Jr. writes this book. Many of the sentences are short and there isn't any waste here. That's important when you're trying to coax a reluctant reader to take on an informational text. You can ask them to read a chapter or even a Bug Bite and have them work on retell and/or summarizing. Pieces of chapters can also be used for working on identifying main idea and supporting details. This book is something buggy that readers will enjoy.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks
written by Heather Lang; illustrated by Jordi Solano
2016 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Genie knew the more she discovered about sharks, the less people would fear them.

Eugenie "Genie" Clark saw the world of sharks differently than most people. They looked with fear while she looked with wonder. As a young girl, she dreamed of swimming with them. Later, Genie got a master's degree in zoology and an opportunity to research in the Pacific Ocean. She was hired by the US Navy to study poisonous fish in the South Seas in 1949. It was here that she encountered a large shark. This close rendezvous increased her love of these mysterious creatures. Six years later, Genie opened a lab in Florida and added a shark pen where she was the first to study sharks in their natural habitat. She even went so far as to train a pair of lemon sharks. As her work continued, she earned the nickname of "Shark Lady". Her extensive research underwater led her to discover that shark numbers were decreasing. Genie made of mission of reaching out to the public and educating people about these glorious animals in order to save them. She continued her research until her death at age 92. In the Author's Note, readers learn that Genie "published over 175 articles about fish and made seventy-two submersible dives."

What a fascinating life and book! If I were introducing the scientific method (and we all should be), I would use Swimming with Sharks as one of my resources. Genie Clark is shown always observing and taking notes. I like how pieces of Genie's notebooks are included in the illustrations. In this world of hot takes and snap judgments, I love that we have a heroine who thoughtfully studied her subject. We need to encourage this more and more. And what a great figure for a class wax museum! A student could wear a mask and flippers as they talk about Eugenie Clark's research. Swimming with Sharks is an excellent picture book biography.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Through the Gate

Through the Gate
written and illustrated by Sally Fawcett
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

On Friday I stopped at our gate. 
I gazed at the old house ahead. 
Something was different. 

A young girl stops outside the fence of her new home. She sees all the flaws of the house. A drooping roof and peeling paint. Not only does the house seem broken, but her outlook on her new life as well. Everything has changed for her. As the days go by, she "plods" to school and back home. One week after moving, she notices something different about her new home. Another week goes by with slow walking to school and back. At the end of the week, again the new house looks a little bit different and the scenery is not as dark. Now, the girl's pace picks up a little and she finds things in her life to be a bit brighter. Soon, she's making new friends in the neighborhood. A classmate to walk with. A puppy to give a belly rub. And a plum tree is blooming in her yard. In no time, everything is fresh and new. Including the smile on her face.

I really like how Sally Fawcett uses shading and colors to get readers to think about mood. Through viewing the illustrations, readers can talk about changes in the main character and how setting influences a story. Through the Gate is also a good book to share to prepare your class for accepting a new classmate. Moving to a new school is scary and books like this can make the transition easier for a new student.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Bear and His Boy

A Bear and His Boy
written by Sean Bryan; illustrated by Tom Murphy
2007 (Arcade Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

"Who are you?" asked Mack, to the kid on his back.

Mack is a very busy bear who wakes up one morning to find a boy on his back. He tells the boy, named Zach, that a busy day was ahead so there was "no time to slack." In fact, Mack's schedule is "totally packed." The day starts with a plate of flapjacks. From there, Mack accepts a "Bear of the Year" plaque. After doing jumping jacks in the gym, the twosome looks at books in the library stacks. See a pattern? Each page features a word with an ending /k/ sound. They are not all spelled the same, but the sound is there. And there is something else going on here. Mack is a bear on the move. In fact, he might be a wee bit over-scheduled. Who rides a kayak and plays quarterback in the same day? Finally, Zach grabs his attention and challenges Mack to "smell the lilacs." When he follows Zach's advice, Mack learns how to relax. This is a lesson many of us should heed.

It's not easy to write a book that rhymes. It's not easy to write a picture book filled with witty humor. It's not easy to write a book with a lesson that resonates. When you do all three in one book, that's pretty impressive. If you're teaching kindergarten and working on the /k/ ending sound, you will want to check out A Bear and His Boy. If you're teaching second grade and working on finding the lesson in a book, you will want to check out A Bear and His Boy. If you want to laugh and relax for a few minutes, you should find a copy of A Bear and His Boy.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Gareth Lucas Noisy Books



Dig, Dig, Digger!
Dinos on Deck!
written and illustrated by Gareth Lucas
2017 (Silver Dolphin Books)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Camel lifts the crane cautiously, making sure not to sway.

Aren't books supposed to be quiet? Not when dolphins are working backhoes and a T-Rex is the captain of a pirate ship! On each spread of these bouncy board books, readers will be able to push a button to hear a noise that fits the setting of the book. For example, when the walrus foreman of the construction crew blows his whistle, readers can push a button to hear the sound. Even though this is a board book, I think you could use this to teach setting. You could ask students, "Does this sound fit the setting?" and "What sounds would not fit this setting?". But the books are more than sound. Gareth Lucas adds a large dollop of humor with the illustrations. Dinos play tennis with a coconut on board their ship. A pig in a hard hat jumps rope through a patch of wet cement. They're like DVD Easter eggs where you don't notice on the first or second reading, but on the third, you say "Oh, that's funny!". There's also an opportunity to work on alliteration on several pages. One page features the phrase "a busy bear bulldozes...". You can also work on shared reading as there is plenty of rhyming going on as well. These board books are quite noisy, but also loads of fun.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Woodworks Nursery Rhyme Books: Old MacDonald Had a Farm/The Wheels on the Bus

Old MacDonald Had a Farm
illustrated by Elliot Kreloff
2017 (Silver Dolphin)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher










The Wheels on the Bus
illustrated by Elliot Kreloff
2017 (Silver Dolphin)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher



You could buy a board book and that would be fine. Nothing wrong with a good board book. But what if you added transportation? Say a tractor or a bus. Have you seen a toddler with a toy car or truck? Their eyes brighten and their happiness meters go way up. Also included is a cool map that you can drive on with your tractor or bus. Old MacDonald has a colorful map that matches the verses in the song. This will crank up the vocabulary acquisition a few notches. Driving around town or the farm, there are several conversations to be had. On the farm, you drive by the cows first, so as you're singing and working on building vocabulary and phonemic awareness in your toddler's brain, sequence also comes into play. The great thing about these songs is that they're so catchy, your child will be singing them over and over again as they drive their vehicle. If you get tired of the songs, just remember how you are building the foundation for reading skills one song at a time. Driving, singing, and reading in an adorable package. Speaking of which, you could recycle your package by using it as building next to the map. This series will be a winner with the toddler crowd.





Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Rise of the Rusty Robo-Cat!

The Rise of the Rusty Robo-Cat!
written and illustrated by Mike Lowery
2017 (Workman Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Mr. Kitty Flakes took all of my aluminum foil! I can't wrap up my leftover sauerkraut egg rolls. 

Yeah, it's getting pretty weird in the city so get your pencil sharpened so you can help the Doodle Adventures Society solve this case of cats behaving badly. What? You say you're just a reader and can't help? Wrong-o! It's your drawing talent that's going to save us all. Citizens from all over the city have been reporting their cats doing strange things like stealing hangers and taking light bulbs out of houses. Why are they doing this? That's a mystery that you and Agent 86B37, also known as Carl the Duck, will have to solve. But first, you need to draw a snack for Carl's pet cat Herman who seems to be the only feline that is behaving. Carl tries to capture one of the misbehaving cats, but is unsuccessful. It also seems like they are hypnotized. Fortunately, you and your artistic skills draw something that creates mud so you can follow their tracks out of town. As you track them, you find out that the cats are going inside a big fake mountain with a kitty door. Has a fake mountain ever been a good thing? What's inside the metal mountain? A giant Robo-Cat! It's driven by an evil genius cat who's speaking in a broken syntax. Quick, draw a missing part for the cat-to-human translator! Having fixed the translator with your impressive sketching, you find out this evil genius wants to build an army of Robo-Cats using old tuna cans and other materials to take over the world. Can our planet be saved? It's up to you and your sharp #2 pencil.

This third book in the Doodle Adventures series is a whole mess of silly fun. Just what I needed on a Sunday night. We talk in education circles about creating engaging activities for students and here is Mike Lowery doing just that. The humor is spot on for elementary students (and adults who never grew up) and the story has a classic hero vs. villain plot. This book could be the antidote for a reader that is having a hard time getting started independently.