Monday, February 25, 2013

Peek and be Piqued.

Another very cool book for the duo that brought us Out of Sight

Birds of a Feather by Francisco Pittau and Bernadette Gervais provides us with a peek into the world of fascinating factoids about all things feathered.

The number of caterpillars a great tit eats determines how yellow its belly is.

There are six spreads/sections that present attributes of birds that the reader uses to guess the bird it fits with.  Each spread/section has a unique ‘puzzle’ format that involves flipping-the-flap to find out an interesting fact about the featured bird.

Eurasian eagle-owls live for about 20 years in the wild though they can live for more than 60 years in captivity.

For example, a pair of bird’s legs are outlined in white on a black background.  The legs look long and have thick looking toes with claws.   By pulling down the flap we learn that the legs belong to an ostrich and that these birds are the fastest things on two legs, able to run 70 km (44 miles) per hour.

Mallard duck females lay more than half their body weight in eggs.

A couple of pages further into the book and we have several rounded, roughly wing-shaped cut-outs illustrated with coloured feathers.  Each cut-out reveals a piece of information about a range of smaller birds.

Zebra finches pass their songs from father to son.

Turn the page and we have a giant size serving of several eggs of various colourings, patterns, and sizes.  (I'm uncertain whether the eggs are accurate to life-size or not.)  Under each egg is a tid bit of information about the associated bird.

Seagulls are able to drink seawater and then expel the salt via glands located above their eyes.

This oversized book is a treat to peruse and play with.  Good for working on predicting and observation skills and would add interest to science units about birds.  But you don’t need to have a curriculum connection to bring this book into the classroom.  It’s good fun with lots of random facts.

Recommended for elementary grades.

Today is Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed, a list of blogs that have reviewed a nonfiction children's title.  Worth checking out.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Top 10 Nonfiction Picture Books - Join the Jog

Some of you may be familiar with a summertime meme that has bloggers compile their top 10 favourite picture books for the Top 10 on the 10th event.  I've participated in the last two summer events and have always come away with a largish list of new books to seek out.

This week, on Tuesday, February 19th the same people, Cathy (at Reflect & Refine), Mandy (at Enjoy and Embrace Learning) and Julie (at Write at the Edge) are hosting a similar event that is focused on nonfiction picture books.  They will create a ‘jog’ that will bring together a diverse list of fantastic books – without a doubt.

My Rules
So the challenge has been set – 10 of my favourite nonfiction picture books.
I had to set a few parameters to help pare down my selection which greatly exceeded 10.

* I focused on books for the elementary level.
* I didn't include books that made my top 10 list of picture books in the previous challenges (click here to see those lists). (Okay, I lied.  I did include one book…)
* I cheated by including an author because I could have done a list of 10 books for him alone.
* I also included a ‘type’ of book that isn't a typical picture book (but really is mostly pictures) and included a few examples to showcase this ‘type’.
* I also tried to figure our which books I turned to again and again when teaching my various workshops. 

The List
  1. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.
I love books that touch on social justice and global issues and make them accessible to a younger audience.  This one also plays with our expectations about an African nation that reaches out to a powerful country offering solace at a time of great confusion and despair.  Gorgeous illustrations.

  1. What does peace feel like? by Vladimir Radunsky
This one plays with imagination through the senses.  Peace can be a tricky concept to convey and make concrete for a younger audience.  Here, children between the ages of 8 and 10 describe what peace tastes, feels, looks, sounds, and smells like in very poetic terms.  For example, peace smells “like a bouquet of flowers in a happy family’s living room.” Or, peace sounds like “a growling bear of war who gets shot by a love arrow and the fighting stops…”.

  1. Toad by Ruth Brown
The Doucette Library has classified this one as fiction but I use it as nonfiction.  It demonstrates strong narrative while giving us information about this ‘vile’ toad.  I love that the illustrations add to the storyline that is not addressed in the text.  Good at building tension and predicting what is going to happen next.

  1. Red-eye tree frog by Joy Cowley
This older award winner is a fabulous reminder that nonfiction books can make great read-alouds.  The tension slowly builds as we spend some time with this frog as he wakes and begins to look for food.  But what might be looking for the frog as a meal?  The photographs are beautifully crisp, bold, and colourful. Very appealing.

  1. Trout are made of trees by April Pulley Sayre
I like this one as much for its title as for its information.  It presents the life cycle of a trout in an easily understood way with good illustrations.  But it’s the title that will pique the curiosity of children as they try to figure out and visualize what it means.  Good language arts cross over for the use of alliterative, poetic language.

6. Mathematickles by Betsy Franco
A great cross-curricular book for math, science and language arts.  Creating visual riddles/poems using seasonal topics and using math operation symbols, this picture book offers lots of opportunity for playful thinking.  I've been told by a student-teacher that a class of grade 4 students really enjoyed the challenge of trying to make their own.

7. One is a snail, ten is a crab by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre.
This is a really good math concept book.  It’s a counting book that also has come basic addition and counting in groups of 10’s all introduced by counting the feet of creatures found on a beach.  For example, 1 is for the 1 foot of a snail.  Two is for the two feet of a boy. Three is a boy and a snail together. Eighty is eight crabs (each with 10 feet/legs) or 10 spiders (each with 8 feet/legs). Clear concepts with fun illustrations makes this an exemplary picture book for math.

8. Unlikely pairs by Bob Raczka
Bob Raczka is my go-to guy for picture books about art.  He’s brilliant at combining art concepts with art works from all periods in really interesting ways.  Unlikely pairs is a particular favourite because it’s so playful with combining two pieces of art (usually from very different time periods) and juxtaposing them in such a way that they work together to give us a visual mischievous story.  The cover picture is a good example.  Placed side-by-side it looks like the Self-portrait of the artist Jean- Brederic Bazille has just been painting a paint-by-number which is in fact Do-It-Yourself, a painting by Andy Wahol.  Very clever.

  1. Steve Jenkins
Okay, here’s my first cheat.  I use many of Steve Jenkins books over and over in almost all my workshops.  He focuses on the natural world giving us books filled with intriguing facts and images.  Actual size looks at the animal world and provides pictures of the actual size of a Goliath frog, the eyeball of a giant squid or the hand of a gorilla among a few of the selected creatures.  Living color is a beautiful resource that shows animals classified according to colour.  The pages seem to glow with vivid colours. Just one bite again offers visual representation for what and how much food animals eat, from a grain of sand (meal of choice for worms) up to a fold-out spread for a sperm whale chomping on a giant squid.  He finds remarkable examples of interesting facts that he makes visual.

  1.  My second cheat is promoting coffee table books.
This type of book when done well can be amazing.  Anyone will become fascinated with books like Rainforest by Thomas Marent, The Deep by Claire Nouvain, The Life and Love of Trees by Lewis Blackwell or The Material World by Peter Menzel when we are offered high quality, interesting photographs centred around a specific topic such as the creatures found in the deepest depths of the ocean, close-ups of insects that look extraterrestrial or graphic portraits of the physical possessions of people from around the world, from the poorest to the richest countries. 

Today is Nonfiction Monday and hosted by Wrapped in Foil.  Check out this great round-up of nonfiction children's literature. 

Visit the jog to see all the recommendations by all participants.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Guest Blogger - View from the school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

Do I see future book reviewers?

Back to the girls

The grade 6 teacher, Jane and I cooked up a little scheme. The Doucette Library has lots of really good fiction titles. Her Grade 6 girls were going through the school library titles faster (almost) than I could buy them. So we agreed that I would bring in some titles for them to read – and in turn, they could write reviews and recommendations for me.

I selected about 20 or so books – I tried to pick a range of titles, some new, some old, some I had read, but most I had not. I took some old School Library Journals in to the class so they could understand the basic elements of a book review. I talked about how, even with all the time in the world, I couldn't read everything and so I relied on magazines like the SLJ to guide me in purchases.  But that sometimes adults don’t get it right, so here was their chance to tell me what to do. And then I handed out a sheet with 5 questions on it. In addition to the title and author, I wanted them to give me a 100 word plot summary, tell me if they liked the book (or not) and why (or not). Then I wanted to know – should I buy the book for the library? And how many stars would they give the title?

The reviews were interesting – and I now have a bit of a shopping list for my next order. Here, in no particular priority are several of the 4 ½ and 5 star books – and some of the feedback I received.

Bird in a box by Andrea Davis Pinckney
Emma said “This heartbreaking book will draw you in and you will keep reading it until you are done. I love this book because it is intense, sad, scary, happy and exciting all in one. A bit of love mixed in made it perfect. This is the best book ever. You should defenitely(sic) buy it.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Boyea
Anna: “This is a suspenseful and awesome book. I can really relate to some of the characters in the book and I love the way it is written. I give this book 5 stars!!”

May B by Caroline Starr Rose
Gabby’s comments: “I like this book because it was very dramatic and she has an amazing personality. I like how she deals with problems. You should (buy this book for the library) because I finished that book in about 3 hours.”

Nature girl by Jane Kelley
Caroline said: “Jane Kelly gives a great storie(sic) on a laugh out loud survival book. I liked it because I myself am a nature girl, so it was a great book for me.”

The boy who saved baseball by John H. Ritter
Carla: “I liked the book because when one problem was solved, another one came up. It was very realistic. It was so interesting that I wanted to read it all night.”

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams
Caroline: “Gangsta Granny is a laugh out loud book……this book will make you smile! I liked it because it reminded me how much my granny means to me.”

There were, of course, some books that were less than successful, although I was a little surprised that the reviews were all generally positive. Of the books that I took in and reviews I received, only two were “Do not buy”. One was The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones. The reader’s comment? It is a sequel and without the first book, this one was hard to understand. Fair comment (maybe I would buy the first book Charmedlife instead.) And the second book was Keeper – the reader did not like it because the book “switched back and forth from past to future”. This was one book that I had bought for the library based on journal reviews…..
What I found completely charming in all of this? When I went to take the books back, so that I could return them to the Doucette, there were groans and moans – everyone wanted to keep reading them. So I left them – at last check, they are “almost” all done. And they want to do it again.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nonfiction Monday is Here Today!

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday.  If you are interested in reading about children’s literature from around the blog-o-sphere, you've come to the right place.  Please link up to today’s event with the Mister Linky’s tab at the bottom of this post or leave a comment with all pertinent information and I’ll link you up.

My contribution for today is Last Airlift: a Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue From War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.

This narrative recounts 8 year-old Tuyet’s evacuation from Saigon in 1975 as it was being invaded by Communist North Vietnamese.   The experience must have been terrifying for the little girl as she and several babies are whisked away from their orphanage, stuffed in an over crowded van that pushes through crowds of people looking for their own ways of escape, until it reaches a military airfield.  There, she and the babies (placed in boxes) are loaded onto a Hercules aircraft that would soon be filled with children.  There’s a photo that shows how the boxed babies were secured with long straps that looped around several boxes at a time.

The author conveys the desperate, rushed and tense atmosphere.  We too feel claustrophobic as the door of the airplane shuts and the heat and smell closes in around us and Tuyet.  Everyone seems kind to Tuyet but she has no understanding of why things are happening to her.  Was she selected to help with the babies like she did at the orphanage or because she has one weak ankle and foot, the result of polio?  Where is she going?  What will happen to her once she arrives?

Eventually, she arrives in Toronto. Again everyone is kind but no-one explains what is to happen next.  Her new friend, Linh thinks that they will be adopted by Canadian families but Tuyet is unsure if this will be her fate.  In Vietnam only healthy children were adopted, not children like her with a physical impediment.  But within a few days, a family does come for Tuyet who can’t believe her good fortune and initially thinks the family wants her to work for them, to help care for their other children.  This is not the case, of course and we learn how she settles into her new and often confusing, life.

Told in the third person, there is a remote element to the story that keeps us from emotionally connecting to Tuyet.  It is easy to imagine how frightening and incomprehensible the whole event must have been but the ‘voice’ of the book has a distant quality to it.  In the author’s note, Skrypuch mentions that Tuyet began to remember more of her experience as she told her story  which may have contributed to this feeling of being a little removed from the story.

However, the story is fascinating.  Being Canadian, I think of the Vietnam War as an American war.  Growing up during the 70s, even in small town Alberta, there were many ‘boat people’ settling into our schools and communities but I didn't really know specific stories.  Film, TV, and media usually depicted the American situation.  I've seen footage of Vietnamese people desperately trying to get onto to aircraft as they were leaving Saigon.  I hadn't realized that Canada had much involvement.

A sequel has been published, One Step At a Time, that continues Tuyet’s story as she undergoes treatment for her foot and ankle.  I too will continue with Tuyet’s story.

Recommended for grades 3 to 8.

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