Monthly Archive for January, 2008

Podcast No. 1 – What Makes a Good Counting Book?

In this inaugural podcast, I consider the qualities of good counting books. This one comes in at a whopping 16 minutes, but it’s filled with book suggestions and points to consider when selecting titles.

Books mentioned include:

Nonfiction Monday – I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer

I am always on the lookout for strong biographies to add to my teaching collection. I stumbled across I, Matthew Henson shortly after the new year and after reading just a few pages, knew I had to have it. Here’s how it begins.

I did not walk forty miles
from the nation’s capital
to Baltimore’s busy harbor to eye
ships from a dock. Though just thirteen
I yearned for a taste of the adventures
that I had heard old sailors speak of,
to explore the seven seas
and somehow find my calling.

I did not start as a cabin boy, climb
the ranks to able-bodied seaman,
sail five continents, and learn
trades and foreign tongues to be shunned
by white crews who thought blacks
were not seaworthy. I did not chart
this course to drift in humdrum jobs
ashore. My dreams had sails.

And what dreams they were. In language that is lyrical and poetic, accompanied by vibrant pastels, readers learn how Henson serendipitously met Robert Peary while working as a clerk. Once he signed on with Peary, his life was never the same. In haunting words and images, we are taken north again and again with Henson. The images are stark and help us to understand how arduous these trips were. Henson made this trip seven times between 1891 and 1909. A trip like this would be difficult today, with all our advanced technologies. Knowing this makes the feat accomplished by Henson that much more extraordinary.

In his time with Peary, Henson sailed to Greenland, where he befriended the native peoples, learned the Inuit language, learned to hunt and track on ice, and honed many more skills that would help him eventually reach the North Pole. On April 6, 1909, six men reached the North Pole. One was black, one was white, and fur were native. The text ends here, but the Author’s Note explains that when the explorers returned, they were greeted with controversy. Dr. Frederick Cook, who sailed on an earlier expedition with Henson and Peary, claimed he reached the Pole in 1908. But this was not the only difficulty Henson faced. America was not willing to accept an African American hero in 1909.

It took years for Henson to achieve the recognition he deserved. In 1944 he was finally awarded duplicate of the Congressional silver medal given to Peary. In 1988 he was moved to Arlington National Cemetery, where he is buried beside Peary.

This book works on many levels, not only because of the beauty of the writing, but also the strength of the illustrations. I can’t say enough about how lovely this book is. I highly recommend it.

Book: I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 32
Grades: K-5
ISBN-10: 0802796885
ISBN-13: 978-0802796882
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore

To learn more about the author, be sure to visit The Brown Bookshelf. As part of their 28 Days Later project, Carole Boston Weatherford will be featured on February 20th. And if you didn’t know it, Weatherford’s book Birmingham, 1963 was just awarded the 2008 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen’s blog and check out the round-up of posts.

School Around the Globe

I recently received an e-mail with the following request.

I need to come up with a collection of children’s books that includes various representations of schools. I was hoping to find books involving schools in other countries and cultures, but the “multicultural” books I’ve found so far only involve foreign children coming to American schools. Do you know of any good books, preferably for grades 1-3, that include representations of non-American schools?

I looked through my collection and found a few picture books that fit the bill, but decided I needed to do some additional research. Here are some titles that will be useful in exploring schools around the world.

It’s Back to School We Go by Ellen Jackson – See what the first day of school is like for children from 11 different countries while learning about where they live.

This is the Way We Go to School by Edith Baer – While technically this isn’t about school, it is interesting to contemplate the many different ways children get to school.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs – This book presents 13 different countries and shows how books make their way into the hands of children. Photographs show everything from donkey cart to bicycle and camel to elephant.

The Global Fund for Children has published two books about going to school. The first is a very simple picture book, while the other is much more advanced.

  • Back to School (It’s a Kid’s World) by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko – Photographs with short captions depict the school lives of children around the globe. How children get to school is also described.
  • Going to School in India by Lisa Heydlauff and Nitin Upadyhe – This is really a volume for older students (grades 4-6), and at 98 pages it’s long. However, it looks at the many kinds of schools that exist across India. There is an extensive index of information and many photographs that make this a useful resource.

Running the Road to ABC by Denize Lauture – In beautiful, vibrant images, this book follows a group of Haitian children on their way to school to learn to read.

A School Like Mine by Penny Smith – This book was released in 2007 and is published by DK Publishing in conjunction with UNIICEF. I have not seen it yet, but if it’s anything like most DK books, it’s bound to have useful information. The publishers have also produced a teacher’s guide (pdf) for you to download. Be sure to visit the lesson plan page to learn how to sign up for the pen pal project.

School Days Around the World by Catherine E. Chambers – This book is one in the DK Readers series. Aimed at children beginning to read on their own, it looks at an average school day in the lives of children from seven countries around the world.

While searching for good titles I also found the following resources.

  • Time for Kids has a short graph interpretation activity that looks at the number of years children to go school in different parts of the world.

I’m still looking for ideas, and will add to this list as I find appropriate materials. If you know of a book that explores going to school outside the U.S., please let me know.

Outstanding Science Books Published in 2007

Yesterday I posted the results of the BCCB Blue Ribbon Awards in Nonfiction on my other blog. While I found the selected books to be excellent choices, I was more than a little disappointed that not one science book made the list. I was also disturbed to read this statement regarding the selection of this year’s choices.

Then we turned our gaze to our sparse field of nonfiction and decided that we’d rather sacrifice list length than standards.

Sparse? They’re kidding, right?

I’ve decided to correct this HUGE oversight by naming my own award winners for science. Using the categories and criteria the NSTA uses each year in selecting the books that appear on its list of outstanding trade books for science, I have reviewed the books in my teaching collection and come up with a list of my own. The criteria are:

  • The book has substantial science content.
  • Information is clear, accurate, and up-to-date.
  • Theories and facts are clearly distinguished.
  • Generalizations are supported by facts, and significant facts are not omitted.
  • Books are free of gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic bias.

So, without further ado, here are my choices for the best science books for children and young adults (K-12) published in 2007.

Archaeology, Anthropology, and Paleontology
Dinosaur Eggs Discovered!: Unscrambling the Clues by Lowell Dingus, Rodolfo A. Coria, and Luis M. Chiappe – This amazing book recounts the discovery and subsequent work of a group of scientists who stumbled upon the remains of a dinosaur nesting ground in Patagonia in Argentina. In addition to dinosaur eggs and embryos, they also discovered the fossilized bones of an adult dinosaur.

The Discovery and Mystery of a Dinosaur Named Jane by Judith Williams – Follow along with an expedition to the Badlands of Montana, where the greatest treasure, a new dinosaur, is discovered on the last day of the dig. Photos of the expedition make this one come alive.

George Washington Carver: An Innovative Life by Elizabeth MacLeod – This engaging text introduces readers to a George Washington Carver that just isn’t described in most biographies for children. Using photographs, newspaper excerpts, journal pages, timelines and more, this book celebrates and illuminates the life of this important African American scientist. Read my review.

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto by Elizabeth Rusch – This biography of Mike Brown details his youth and work as an astronomer. You’ll learn how his discoveries led astronomers to reconsider the definition of a planet, and how this led to Pluto being demoted.

Earth and Space Science
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns – In this entry in the Scientists in the Field series, readers follow the research of several ocean scientists and learn how floating garbage has helped them conduct their research. The scientists in this book track “The Garbage Patch,” a mass of floating plastic trash that extends close to 1,000 nautical miles in the waters between California and Hawaii. Read Mindy’s review at

Will It Blow? Become a Volcano Detective at Mount St. Helens by Elizabeth Rusch – “Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to predict a Mount St. Helens eruption.” With cartoon drawings, hands-on experiments, lots of clues (science explanations and diagrams), this is one entertaining and informative book on volcanoes. Also included are a vocabulary list and list of related books and web sites.

Environment and Ecology
One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss – In a series of double page spreads containing both informational paragraphs and short, factual boxed insets, readers learn about the distribution of water on earth, the water cycle, water’s essential role in life on Earth and watery habitats. From here, the author looks at how people use, need and access water. The book concludes by looking at demands on the well, pollution, and saving our water. Read my review.

Health and Science
Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy – What makes your nose so itchy and twitchy that you sneeze? Readers get to examine black and white photos of irritated noses and color enlargements of the microscopic things causing the problem. Then they can find out about the 9 reasons for sneezes while learning all about this reflex. This one is highly informative and fun!

Life Science
Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd by Karsten Heuer – This is an adaptation of Heuer’s adult title that describes the five months he and his wife spent following the migration of more than 100,000 Grant’s caribou to their breeding ground in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This is an amazing story that helps readers to understand the delicate Arctic ecosystem.

Bugs Up Close by Diane Swanson – This book provides a highly magnified, up-close and personal view of some creatures belonging to the largest and most widespread group of animals on earth. This book is jam-packed with interesting facts about insects.

Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool by Doug Wechsler – Vernal pools are temporary wetlands that dry each summer, then refill during the fall, winter and spring. This book examines the changes in a vernal pool in the woods of Delaware and describes the creatures that live there. Read Susan’s review at Chicken Spaghetti.

Lions, Tigers and Bears: Why Are Big Predators So Rare? by Ron Hirschi – With incredible photographs by Thomas D. Mangelsen, this book looks at cougars, polar bears, lions, cheetahs, tigers, grizzly bears and killer whales and examines why their numbers are not only small, but dwindling. Read Liz’s review at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.

Living Color by Steve Jenkins – Using his distinctive cut paper collage, Jenkins explores the meaning of color in the animal world. Arranged by color, each animal is accompanied by a short paragraph of information. Did you know some animals color is a result of their diet? Or that some animals change color when they reach adulthood? There is much to learn and enjoy in this bright and colorful book.

Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe – This journal written by a mother for her daughter recounts their summer tending turtles together during the loggerhead nesting season. The journal begins in May, when female loggerhead turtles return to the beach they were born on to lay their eggs, and ends in July when the hatchlings return to the sea. At the end of the book is a section entitled For Creative Minds, which contains turtle facts, reproducible forms, and directions for making your own nature scrapbook. Read my review.

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre – This informative text introduces readers to the world of the turkey vulture in rhythmic, precise text, accompanied by gorgeous cut paper collages. Read my review.

What’s Eating You?: Parasites–The Inside Story by Nicola Davies – Every living thing has a habitat where it finds food and shelter and reproduces, but some organisms make their homes on other living things. This creepily entertaining and fact-filled book let’s us in on the secret lives of parasites.

Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed … and Revealed by David Schwartz and Yael Schy – Amazing photographs of animals hidden in plain sight, clues to their location in the form of poetry, and background info galore hidden in the gatefold all come together in this handsome and highly effective book about camouflage. Listen to the podcast review at Just One More Book!!.

Physical Science
The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! by Adrian Dingle – Undeniably entertaining, Basher’s illustrations for each element are creatively telling (with a decidedly Japanese anime kind of flair), and nicely supported by the descriptions, which read like personal ads. Read my review.

Wired by Anastasia Suen – This book about how electricity makes it from the power station to your home fills a much needed gap in the literature. The book works on two levels, with short poetic text that moves the story (and electricity) along, and informational text that explains each step along the way.

Science-Related Careers
Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings by Fran Hodgkins – This entry in the Scientists in the Field series looks at how scientists are working to discover the reasons why whales beach themselves. While they have no definitive answer, this book explores the theories, including illness or injury, hearing damage, magnetic attractions, confusing geography and more.

Have you seen a science book published in 2007 that you believe should make this list? Leave me a note and let me know about it. I’ll take a look and let you know what I think.

BCCB Blue Ribbons – Nonfiction

Each year the staff of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books awards Blue Ribbons to the books they believe to be the best of the previous year’s literature for youth. Here is this year’s list for nonfiction.

The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr, written and illustrated by Nicolas DebonHenry's Freedom Box, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Houdini the Handcuff King, written by Jason Lutes and illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices From a Medieval Village, written by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Robert Byrd

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
, written and illustrated by Peter Sís.

This is an outstanding list, full of great biographies and interesting history, but I do have one question. WHERE IS THE SCIENCE?

Finding Winning Science Titles – Awards and Booklists

Finding good science books for kids isn’t hard, not if you know where to look. There are many outstanding lists published each year, as well as some lesser known awards that highlight excellent science books. Here are some gems you should consider looking to for guidance.

AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books – This award celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. Begun in 2005, the first prizes honored five authors and one illustrator with lifetime achievement awards for their lasting contribution to children’s science literature and illustration. The names on this list are standouts (Patricia Lauber, Seymour Simon, Jim Arnosky, etc.) and their books should be a part of any strong science collection.

The Green Earth Book Award – This award was created to “promote books that inspire a child to grow a deeper appreciation, respect and responsibility for his or her natural environment. Started in 2005, the award focuses on books that best raise awareness of the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility that we have to protect it.” If you are interested in titles for environmental science, you’ll get some good ideas here.

Science in Society Book Award – This award is given by the Canadian Science Writers Association each year to honor outstanding contributions to science writing. First awarded in 1994 to a single book, the Association began naming two winners in 2003, one for children’s books and one for youth books.

The Eva L. Gordon Award – No longer given, the list of award winners still provides a rich resource for finding excellent science books. First given in 1964, it was awarded to an author for a body of work that met these criteria:

  • Does the author open doors to new adventures?
  • Does the author develop good attitudes?
  • Does the author build understanding of interrelationships?
  • Does the author encourage children to make their own scientific observations?
  • Are the author’s writings accurate, readable, and have a quality of joyousness?
  • Do the author’s writings relate to many kinds of 20th century situations?

Past winners include Seymour Simon, Vicki Cobb, Bruce Hiscock, Gail Gibbons, Joanne Ryder and many other outstanding science writers.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award – While this isn’t strictly a science award, many of the honor books and medal winners are science-themed. Given annually since 2001, it is awarded to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year. Informational books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material.

Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 – The granddaddy of all lists, it highlights the titles selected as outstanding children’s science books for young people. They are selected by a book review panel appointed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), assembled in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council (CBC), and published in March each year.

Blogrolls and Resources

I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of blogrolls and how to link to the resources that I find most valuable in my teaching. I’ve decided that instead of generating a blogroll that will extend down the page and well beyond the scope of most posts, I’m going to create a series of categorical posts with helpful links. I will link to these posts in what would normally be the blogroll section of the sidebar.

Here’s what you’ll find.

If you have an idea for a topical link list, please let me know. I’ll see what I can come up with. For now, I hope this gives you some new sites to explore.

Poetry Resources

Integrating children’s literature across the curriculum means using poetry as well as picture books. If you are looking for poetry resources to get you started, check out some of the sites on this list.

30 Days of Poetry
ArtsEdge: A World of Poetry
Celebrate Poetry
The Children’s Book Council: New Poetry Books for Young People
Children’s Poetry in The Poetry Zone
Combining Poetry and Science
EDSITEment – Poetry Lesson Plans
Favorite Poem Project: For Teachers
Fooling with Words
Getting Started with Poetry
The Horn Book – Recommended Poetry Books
Instant Poetry Forms
Joyce Sidman – For Teachers and Librarians
Linking Picture Books and Poetry: A Celebration of Black History Month
Making Connections Across the Curriculum Through Poetry
National Poetry Map
National Poetry Month Activities
Poetry Across the Sciences
Poetry 180
Poetry for Children
Poetry in the Classroom
Poetry Out Loud
Poetry Teachers Children
Purposeful Poetry
Teaching with Poetry Tools
Wild Rose Reader
Writing With Writers: Poetry

If you have a link to suggest, please leave a comment and I will review the site for inclusion on this list.

General Resources for Children’s Literature

There are many, many good resources on the web for thinking about children’s literature. Here are few of my favorites.

Booklists by CLP Children’s Librarians
Booktalks Quick and Simple
Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site
Children’s Book Council
Children’s Literature Themed Reviews
The Children’s Literature Web Guide
Children’s Picture Book Database
Connections: Connecting Books to the Virginia SOLs
Cooperative Children’s Book Center
Database of Award Winning Children’s Literature
Fairrosa Cyber Library of Children’s Literature
International Children’s Digital Library
Nonfiction Matters (Marc Aronson’s Blog)
School Library Journal: Curriculum Connections

If you have a link to suggest, please leave a comment and I will review the site for inclusion on this list.

Connecting Social Studies and Children’s Literature

Looking for some ideas for integrating children’s literature into social studies instruction? These sites offer some great starting points.

Thematic Book Lists from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center
40 Books About Labor
40 Books About Peace and Social Justice
Global Reading: Selected Literature for Children and Teens Set in Other Countries
Literature for Children and Teenagers About WWII

Thematic Book Lists from Book Links Magazine
Around the World in 22 Books
Children Caught in War
Discovering the Bill of Rights Through Fiction
Ellis Island and American Immigration
Exploring the Civil Rights Movement
From the Dust Bowl to Harlem: The Arts in Depression-Era America
Get Out the Vote! Books About Elections
Huffing and Puffing Through Economics
Picture Perfect Geography
Recent History in Threes: Fiction, Nonfiction and the Web
Seeing the U.S.A. Through Books
Shrouded in Mystery: Mummies and Ancient Burial
Stories From the Silk Road
Struggle for Freedom: Slavery to Reconstruction

Other Resources
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Winners
Children’s Books That Build Character
Children’s Literature with Social Studies Themes
EconKids: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children
Economics and Geography Lessons for 32 Children’s Books
Great Picture Books to Teach Social Studies, 4-6
Great Picture Books to Teach Social Studies, K-3
Growing Up Around the World: Books as Passports to Global Understanding
Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards
KidsEconPosters Literature Connection
Notable Trade Books for Young People (NCSS)
One Hundred Picture Books for Peace
Opening Doors to Social Studies with Children’s Literature
Pages of the Past: History/Social Science Literature K-6
PBS Teacher Recommended Books for Social Studies
Social Studies Literature Articles
Traveling Through American History (Children’s Fiction Books on 1492 through 1990s)

If you have a link to suggest, please leave a comment and I will review the site for inclusion on this list.