Thursday, February 13, 2014

Round up of science picture books

I’ve been busy reading of late and have three pictures books to recommend.

Bone by bone: comparing animal skeletons by Sara Levine is a terrific information book that engages readers with questions about what kind of animal they would be if --- [insert a specific bone size or specialization here]?  

For example,
What if you didn't have any arm or leg bones? What kind of animal would you be if you had just a skull, vertebrae and ribs?
     [turn the page] and…
There you are as a snake.


What kind of animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet?
       [turn the page] and…
Now you have an arm with a bat wing.

It’s a fun exploration of skeletons, exploring similarities and differences, vertebrates and invertebrates.

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber highlights the importance of the honey bee for pollinating plants, resulting in seed and fruit production.   This picture book looks at the life of a scout, a specialized bee within a hive that hunts for flowers.  She’s a skilled navigator and will communicate with her sister bees the location of good sources of pollen and nectar.  During her search she escapes a hungry bird, sits out a rain storm and fights off the attack of a yellow-jacket on her hive.  There is so much information packed into this engaging book with its brightly coloured illustrations adding vibrancy to these creatures’ busy lives, it will be impossible to not to learn something.

My last recommendation is Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.  Will Allen is a real person with a mission to teach people the importance of good food and how to grow it for ourselves.  As a child, he took for granted the plentiful food his mother put on the table every night.  As a young man, he had no desire to continue the ‘farming’ traditions of his family and turned to professional basketball instead.  But a chance occurrence helping a friend dig up potatoes, reawakened his desire to grow his own food.  He felt that everyone, everywhere had a right to good food.   But what to do for those folks living in the city?

Will Allen had a vision and with lots of hard work, a steep learning curve and lots of help he turned empty, unproductive city lots into mini-urban farms.  His ‘table’ continues to grow by teaching people how to grow food in healthy ways.  The book ends with a letter from Will Allen encouraging readers to grow their own fruits and vegetables in whatever space available, whether it’s in pots on a balcony or in a backyard.

All books will work well in the elementary grades.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The power of Once Upon a Time

 The Storytelling Animal: how stories make us human by Jonathan Gottschall is a fantastic read about the perpetual story craving and creating that humans imbibe in constantly.

This is more for professional reading rather than for kids.  For all us story junkies this is a wonderful validation for our addictions but it also informs us as to the power of this addiction, too.

Humans need stories to help us figure out life.

And story is everywhere.

This is not just about reading stories.  It’s about seeing and listening to stories, as well.

The author recounts how a country song (not his usual musical milieu) had him in tears. The song is about a  young man meeting his girlfriend’s parents and realizing that the little girl dressed as a princess in the photos in the room is his girlfriend as a child and that he is taking something away from the father - that he is stealing the princess.  Jonathan Gottschall wanted to delve into knowing more about why this story had affected him so strongly.

So delve he does, into the nature, manner and opportunities where humans indulge in story.  Child’s play, dreaming, and everyday life with us featuring as the heroes: all  is story telling and story making and it comes to us as naturally as breathing air.

I really tapped into a chapter entitled Ink People Change the World for a couple of workshops that I've just done about the nature and power of stories. Education instructors wanted their student-teachers to explore this idea and think about how to capitalize on it when they will be teaching children in their own classrooms.

Gottschall tells true stories about real people being affected so strongly by a story that it gives them some life-changing insight.

Apparently, Hitler, as a sixteen-year-old, heard Wagner’s opera Rienzi and it so moved him he told a friend that his destiny had been revealed to him.  “He was talking of a mandate which, one day, he would receive from the people, to lead them out of servitude to the heights of freedom.” (p.140). Hitler told many of his inner circle that the opera “was when it all began” (p.142).  Because of Wagner’s brilliance as a composer, Hitler also tapped into some of Wagner’s political and personal beliefs – extreme German nationalist and strong anti-Semitism.

Besides anecdotal evidence, recent research does support the impact of stories and their influence:.

Fiction does mold our minds. Story –whether delivered through films, books, or video games – teaches us facts about the world; influences our moral logic; and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behaviour, perhaps even our personalities. (p. 148)


In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. (p.150)

And, one more

When we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up.  We are critical and skeptical.  But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard.  We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defensiveness. (pp.151-152)

I find all of this fascinating.  Stuff that I intuit but couldn't necessarily articulate let alone prove, is all here.  Story is important and it does shape us.

It kinda makes sense why people who are against same-sex couples get their knickers in a knot when they read a book like And Tango Makes Three, doesn't it?

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