Author Archive for Christine Mingus

Teaching Earth Science with Children’s Literature: Our Seasons

Introduction/Summary
Exploring the seasons is a very simple way to teach earth science to elementary school students.  Our Seasons, written by Grace Lin and Ranida T. McKneally, shows four young children experiencing the joys of each season while answering basic scientific questions about how the seasons affect weather, plants, and people.   The book answers the question “why do we have seasons?” in a very accessible and kid-friendly way, and offers a helpful illustration showing the rotation of the earth around the sun.  From this starting point, each of the following pages features lovely illustrations of the children enjoying the seasons and their natural phenomena, accompanied by seasonal haikus.  For example, in the cold autumn air, “Ki-Ki sees her breath./She pretends she’s a dragon/Blowing out hot steam.”  The text then answers the question, “Why do I see my breath?”  Other pages offer more fun illustrations, haiku, and seasonal questions and answers; for example: Why is there frost on the windows?  What makes a thunderstorm?  Why is the air sticky?  Parents will be very familiar with these often-asked questions, and they are charmingly answered here.  The book concludes with the question, “Does everyone have four seasons?,” and the authors explain that some regions of the world have only two, and even at the North or South Pole, you have a light season and a dark season, though both seasons are cold.  A glossary in the back provides helpful vocabulary for young readers.

Curriculum Connections
This picture book could be used to add more information to any earth science lesson focused upon the seasons and weather observations.  Kindergarten students learning about weather (K.8) or the different states of water (K.5) would certainly enjoy the pictures and an educator could simply conduct a picture walk through the book to talk about changes throughout the year.  Elementary students learning more about seasonal changes and their effects on weather phenomena (2.6, 3.8, 4.6) would enjoy this engaging book, and can see how seasonal change affects plants, people, and their surroundings (1.7, 2.7).  Fourth graders who are studying the motion of the Earth around the sun and the causes of the Earth’s seasons (4.7)  could utilize this as well.  Independent readers would enjoy this easy read, and it would be a good addition to the classroom library.  Educators could use the pictures and seasonal haiku as an inspired springboard for a science/language-arts activity.

Additional Resources

  • National Geographic’s Xpeditions: A Reason for the Season activities: Younger students can work as season sleuths over the course of the year as they draw pictures of a place in their yard or neighborhood on each of the solstices and equinoxes, recording observations about natural phenomena and noting activities that people enjoy during that time period.  Older students can investigate seasonal celebrations around the world and create their own celebrations using foods and flowers particular to each season.

  • Brain Pop:  Seasons:  This site provides fun information and animated videos about the seaons, the solstices and equinoxes, why birds seasonally migrate, and even offers a spotlight on winter and snow that offers hibernation information.

  • Not Just Cute’s blog post:  Vivaldi’s Four Seasons:  Don’t Just Listen, Get Up and Move!  (12/30/2009) – This blog site offers up many great ideas for preschoolers, but this lesson could certainly be adapted for any elementary grade level as it incorporates music and movement to talk about the seasons.  Many children have heard Vivaldi’s music before and this offers a great incentive to make a cross-curricular connection and can be extended into a visual art activity.

  • NASA Kids offers up two science activities to help explain the reason for the seasons and the role of water in each of the seasons. Their four seasons of water paper plate collage could easily be turned into a foldable activity.

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Weather Service has links to help explain seasonal weather patterns such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

  • Traditional Japanese haiku poems must contain a kigo, a season word, to indicate in which season the haiku is set.  For a lesson plan on how to introduce haiku into a seasons lesson plan, the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English’s readthinkwrite website offers great tips on how to get your students writing.

General Information

Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: It’s a Butterfly’s Life

Most children are thoroughly familiar with the classic Eric Carle book The Hungry Little Caterpillar, and while that book does a great job of introducing them to the various stages of a butterfly’s life, there are so many more interesting facts that are part of a butterfly’s life cycle story.  The book It’s a Butterfly’s Life, written and illustrated by Irene Kelly, is chock full of amazing details and lovely illustrations.  There are about 17,500 different types of butterflies and 160,000 types of moths in the world, and Kelly uses her illustrations to help children understand the differences between the two insects.  Something that most people do not know is that a butterfly’s taste buds are located in their feet:  “You might not be able to taste a cupcake by standing on it, but a butterfly can!”  Other fun features of the book include a close up look at the scales on the wings, the buttterfly’s proboscis rendered in close-up detail, an explanation of the migratory feats of the mighty monarchs, and the ways butterflies use camoflague to scare off predators.

The most remarkable part of a butterfly’s story is of course its transformative metamorphosis.  Kelly helps put it in perspective for children by relaying this incredible fact:  “A caterpillar is a leaf-eating machine.  Just two weeks after hatching, Monarch caterpillars are 2,700 times their originial weight!  If a newborn baby gained weight that fast, it would weigh eight tons in fourteen days.  That’s as big as two full-grown rhinos!”  In every class that I have used this book to talk about butterflies, this fact never fails to elicit huge gasps of awe.  While Kelly ends her story by talking about the threats butterflies face due to habitat destruction, she gently reminds readers what they can do to help beautify their world by planting flowers in a yard to attract butterflies.

Curriculum Connections

Because the book is so very detailed in certain sections, parts of this book work well as a read-aloud, while other parts can be simply shown to the class as part of a picture walk.  Children will certainly enjoy having time to peruse this book on their own, so it would be a good addition to an elementary classroom library.  It would be best utilized in a discussion of changes and life cycles in a kindergarten class (K.6) or second grade (2.4a).  Third graders learning more about life cycles would enjoy it as well (3.8), especially as they explore how animals migrate and use camoflage to survive (3.4b).

Additional Resources

 General Information

Teaching Physical Science with Children’s Literature: A Drop of Water

Most young children are familiar with Scholastic's I Spy series of books- they are full of incredible and exacting visual challenges that help cultivate the reader's powers of observation.  Photographer Walter Wick is best known for his I Spy work, but in his book A Drop of Water he utilizes his keen eye and artistic sensitivities to explore the physical properties of water.  After years of  collecting old science books written for children over a century ago, Wick became fascinated with how they used illustrations to depict simple yet clever science experiments.  He then began recreating the experiments and photographing them. "The results seemed magical," he writes, "but not because of any photographic trick; it was only the forces of nature at work." 

Many of the experiments he demonstrates in his book are the same as, or similar to, the ones used over a century ago.  Wick's photographs are elegant and simple and inspire the same sense of artistic awe as his I Spy work.  While it is overwhelmingly spare in comparison, it invites the same sense of the marvelous by examining water in all of its forms.  Using stop motion photography and magnification, he shows us lovely water splashes, amazing soap bubbles, ice, evaporation, condensation, snowflakes, frost, dew, water acting as a prism refracting light, how clouds form, and at the end, he reminds the reader how truly precious the water cycle is.  The book concludes with a list of suggestions on how to make your own observations and experiments based on his work for the book. 

Curriculum Connections

This is not a read-aloud book per se.  For younger students learning about the states of matter (K.5a, K.5c), an educator could use a picture walk through the book to show them the different properties and states of water.  The strong visual component to this book would be exciting for students in the younger grades; it would be a good book to make available to students in the classroom library, to flip through and examine.  Second graders would also find this book intriguing as they explore solids, liquids and gases (2.3), as would third graders learning more about the water cycle, evaporation, condensation, and precipitation (3.9a, 3.9b, 3.9c).  Older elementary students with stronger reading skills would be able to read more of the supporting text, which has scientific explanations of the experiments; for example, fifth graders could learn more about light’s interactions with water (5.3b).  Sixth graders reinforcing their knowledge of water’s properties in all three states (6.5b) might also enjoy having a fresh look at a familiar topic. 

Additional Resources

General Information

 

Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: The Kid Who Named Pluto

Planning that science fair project can seem so daunting for a student.  Many students may assume that you have to be much older to solve a scientific mystery or make your mark in the scientific world.  There's one book that proves them wrong.  The Kid Who Named Pluto,written by Marc McCutcheon and illustrated by Jon Cannell, tells several stories of young children who dared to push the envelope and question the world around them in new and exciting ways.  The book is quick to quote famed inventor Thomas Edison in its introduction:  "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."  The moral – develop a plan, give it your best shot, and keep working on it – is the very first step in developing process skills that will take students beyond mere rote learning of the scientific method.  The kids in these real-life stories will doubtless inspire any budding scientific minds and remind all students that science begins with natural intellectual curiosity.

This engaging book tells the story of young innovators like Louis Braille and physicist Robert Goddard, as well as Philo Farnsworth, the teen inventor of television, and Mary Anning, a famed  paleontologist who began finding incredible fossils as a young girl looking for ways to help her family out financially.  They all had several traits in common:  they started with simple ideas, had lots of energy, imagination, and enthusiasm, they found ways to test their ideas using basic scientific methods, and they were persistent in their efforts. 

Curriculum Connections

While this would not be suitable for a read-aloud book for the class, this would be a great book to make available to science students – especially as they prepare for their science fair projects.  It is geared toward older elementary students and requires strong reading skills for independent readers (third through sixth grades). It would be a great addition to a classroom reading center where students could spend time with the book, or it could go home with students if teachers have a book borrowing system in the classroom.  Discouraged young science students might find the inspiration they are looking for in this book as it could encourage them in their experimental endeavors.  There are so many examples of these young role models utilizing the scientific method in their hypotheses, predictions, and experimental tests (3.1, 4.1, 5.1, 6.1).  Having these real-life examples helps students understand the importance of developing reasoning and logic skills, as well as a strong work ethic and life-long love of learning.   

Additional Resources

General Information

Teaching Economics with Children's Literature: Sweet Potato Pie

Introduction and Summary

Sadie’s family is in trouble.  The family farm has suffered from drought and Papa has received a letter from the bank threatening to take the farm unless a debt is repaid.  The only thing left is the sweet potato crop.  Mama has a brilliant idea that saves the day:  sweet potato pie!  The family will work together to make sweet potato pies and sell them at the upcoming Harvest Festival.  So begins a charming tale of how plain and simple economics can make a difference in people’s lives:  Sweet Potato Pie written by Kathleen Lindsey and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb.  Everyone has a job to do, and the family’s collective efforts pay off.  At the Harvest Festival, Mama’s pies win a blue ribbon and the family begins a business enterprise selling their award-wining sweet potato pies.

Curriculum Connections

This intimate look at how economics can affect one family’s life provides a wonderful introduction to key economic terms:  goods (the pies), services (baking), producers (the family), consumers (the people who buy the pies), human resources (the family doing the baking), capitol resources (the sweet potatoes, the ingredients, the baking tools), income (the money the family made), and enterpreneurs (the family who developed a new product and started a new business for profit) (SOL 1.7, 1.9).  Most young readers know how to bake with their families, and everyone loves pie!  This allows children to understand how making something yummy can turn into an economic benefit. This book would be most appropriate for first graders.

Additional Resources

  • Make your own sweet potato pie holder or sachet - the author’s website offers a fun suggestion for an art project for students.  If you have access to an oven at school, it could also be fun to make your own sweet potato pie, using the author’s recipe.  Students can act as producers providing a service (sewing or baking).

  • Kids Econ Posters offers great tips on how to integrate concepts introduced in this book into a lesson plan.

  • EconEdLink provides another good source for producers/consumers lesson planning and activity ideas.

  • Sadie’s family worked together to make money to save the farm. In today’s economic climate, many families are working hard to save their earnings and spend wisely.  This story and a subsequent economics lesson could parlay into a great discussion on how students can help save money at home.  Brainstorming ideas helps empower students to take an active role in family finances, and Scholastic’s website has a few suggestions in Fun Family Finances.

 General Information

Teaching Ancient Civilizations with Children's Literature: Tales of the Dead: Ancient Egypt

Introduction and Summary

“In a world full of traitors and thieves, who would you trust?”  This is not your typical overview of ancient Egyptian civilization!  The book Tales of the Dead:  Ancient Egypt written by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Inklink and Richard Bonson deftly incorporates a mini-graphic novel into a factual overview with the exceptional detail you would expect of a Dorling Kindersley book.  Geared for older readers, this blend of historical fiction with a non-fiction encyclopedic approach helps to capture young readers’ imaginations.  It allows them to envision themselves living in ancient Egypt in a fresh, new way.

The introductory pages set the historical context for the characters of the mini-graphic novel in the book.  Methen, a boy scribe, and Madja, a serving girl in a nobleman's court, happen upon tomb robbers, and get caught up in a plot of courtly intrigue, ultimately meeting the pharaoh herself, Sobekneferu.  Their story is told in strips along the edges of the book pages, which serve to add more concrete historical information to the plot developing in the fictitious storyline.  Different aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization are discussed along the way to give readers a better understanding of Egyptian society and religious life.  Cross-sections of pyramids, town dwellings, drawings demonstrating the various steps of the mummification process, and other richly detailed pictures provide greater insight and cultural context for the story unfolding in the marginalia.  In so doing, this book makes learning about life in ancient Egypt more dynamic for young readers and forges a more personal connection to the factual material presented.

Curriculum Connections

While not really suitable for a read-aloud book for the class, this would be a great book to make available to second grade students studying ancient Egypt.   It would be a good addition to a classroom reading center where students could spend time with the book, or it could go home with students if teachers have a book borrowing system in the classroom.  A map at the beginning of the book shows the geographic location of the ancient Egyptian civilization (2.4a), and subsequent pages elaborate more upon its cultural significance, architectural contributions, religious customs, and life along the Nile River (2.1, 2.4b).

Additional Resources

General Information

Teaching Civics with Children's Literature: Duck for President

Fed up with Farmer Brown’s demands to pitch in and help with the farmyard chores, ambitious Duck decides things have to change, and so he proactively decides to stage an election to take charge.  In Duck for President by author Doreen Cronin, Duck begins his ascent to great political heights one step at a time.  Once he’s taken over the farm, he finds that it is hard work, so he then tries the governorship and wins.  He again becomes restless and decides to run for President, and wins the presidential election.  However, he finds that with great power comes greater and greater responsibilities – and headaches.  “Running a country is no fun at all,” he remarks.  The story concludes with Duck returning to the simpler life he once enjoyed on the farm, writing his autobiography.

As the ultimate “outsider” candidate in each of the elections, Duck demonstrates the principal that America is comprised of a great diversity of people (and animals), all of whom can make a contribution to their community.  The story will doubtless resonate with young children who are all too familiar with hearing their parents ask them to help with household chores and wish to change things.  Duck’s message is to stop complaining, make a stand, and help make a difference.  However, Duck finds that it’s much harder work when you are given larger responsibilities.  Throughout his rise to power, the book’s humorous treatment of the political process - voting, campaigning, tallying the ballots – gives young children an accessible look inside the electoral process and an understanding of the level of commitment needed to hold government office.  Math skills are utilized throughout the text via tallies following each election.

Curriculum Connections
This book’s light treatment of the electoral process would make it a great introduction to civics for kindergartners, and would allow for an expansion of basic civics ideas for first and second graders.  Kindergartners can get some simple insight into the political process (including some idea of how hard the president’s job is) (K.9), while first and second graders could build upon their existing knowledge of elections to understand more about the responsibilities of being in office, how candidates campaign, and the voting process (1.10, 2.10).  First and second graders will also learn how people (or ducks, in this case) can make a difference in their communities (1.12c, 2.12). 

Additional Resources

General Information
Book:  Duck for President
Author:  Doreen Cronin
Illustrator:  Betsy Lewin
Publisher:  Atheneum
Publication date:  2008
Pages:  40 pages
Grade range:  Kindergarten, First and Second Grades
ISBN: 0-1416958002

Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Madlenka

“In the universe, on a planet, on a continent, in a country, in a city, on a block, in a house, in a window, in the rain, a little girl named Madlenka finds out her tooth wiggles."  In her tiny corner of the globe, Madlenka finds that she can travel around the world by visiting her multicultural neighbors on a New York City block as she tells them about her big news. Madlenka by author-illustrator Peter Sis shares a common human experience that everyone can relate to, regardless of where they came from or where they presently live.

As she talks to each of her neighbors and they greet her in their native tongue (“Hola!,” “Buon Giorno!,” “Guten Tag!”), Madlenka tells the readers what she knows about their cultures and countries of origin.  When she greets Mr. Eduardo, the Latino greengrocer, for example, she imagines a tropical landscape full of animals and luscious fruits.  As you turn the page following each interaction with a neighbor, we see how their stories take flight in Madlenka’s imagination as she envisions herself immersed in their culture.  Her trip around the block entices young readers to explore different cultural experiences in their own backyards, and helps communicate the complimentary ideas of commonality and uniqueness among people.

This book makes learning geography a more intimate and accessible journey for young children.  A small red dot pinpoints Madlenka’s exact location on the world map, a map of Manhattan, and a neighborhood map in the introductory pages.  A world map at the end of the book grounds the lesson nicely by showing children precisely where Madlenka’s neighbors came from.

Curriculum Connections
This vividly detailed picture book would be suitable as an introduction to geography for kindergarten and first grade students.  For kindergartners, it provides a basic introduction to world cultures and will help them understand and use simple maps and globes (K.4, K.5, 1.4).  The book’s playful treatment of world cultures and language would allow first graders to better comprehend the diversity of American culture (1.12c) while reinforcing basic geography lessons and the locations of continents on a world map.

Additional Resources

  • Peter Sis’s personal website features information about the author and illustrator, as well as games for children, including a Madlenka matching game which asks users to link her neighbors to the multicultural greetings used in the book.  It also mentions a follow-up book entitled Madlenka’s Dog in which Madlenka revists her neighbors.  A teacher’s guide is provided and would prove a valuable resource in further lesson planning.
  • National Geographic Kids “People and Places” is a perfect website for students to learn more about the cultures and countries mentioned in the book.  Facts, photos, videos, maps, and national flags are all easily accessible.
  • PBS Kids Big Apple Historyis a fun resource for older students, but use of this site would require advanced reading skills and/or direct teacher supervision.  A great section that could be adapted for use with younger students is the activity entitled “Neighborhood Portrait,” where educators could guide a discussion about the special qualities of a neighborhood:  the people, the cultures, the physical environment and structures, and the “feel” of a community.
  • As an artful lesson component, a kindergarten map activity can guide students as they create a “community collage” and discuss where they live in their community.

General Information

  • Book:   Madlenka
  • Author/Illustrator: Peter Sis
  • Publisher:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
  • Publication Date: 2000
  • Pages: 48
  • Grade Range:  Kindergarten and First Grade
  • ISBN:  0-374-39969-7