Monthly Archive for March, 2008

Nonfiction Monday – Gallery Ghost

Remember those “spot the difference” puzzles you solved as a kid? I loved the challenge of comparing two illustrations or photographs and finding all differences between them. Imagine my surprise and utter delight to find a book that uses this format to introduce children to the world of art.


In Gallery Ghost: Find the Ghost Who Paints the Most! by Anna Nilsen, readers learn that the ghosts of 24 artists haunt a gallery. At night, the ghosts play a game where they sneak details from their own paintings onto other artists’ pictures. Sarah, the art student who helps to keep the gallery clean, challenges readers to help find the ghost who makes the most changes to the paintings of others. First she introduces each of the 24 artists, from Hendrick Avercamp to Marguerite Zorach. Next she outlines the steps to take to find the changes and “keep score” for each ghost. The book comes with a magnifying glass to help readers compare original paintings to the ones with changes, as well as a score sheet to keep track of which ghost has made the most changes.

Once directions have been given, readers get to the heart of the matter. The pages in the center of the book are cut (literally) horizontally. The paintings, which come from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., are arranged in two ways. The top half of the page shows the images in chronological order. These are the “doctored” paintings, or the ones with ghostly changes. The bottom half of the page presents the artists in alphabetical order, accompanied by their original painting and a short poem that highlights the painter’s philosophy or technique. Written by Besty Franco, the poems cover a range of topics, from subject matter, to color and composition.

I decided to test my skills by beginning with the doctored painting Tropical Forest with Monkeys by Henri Rousseau. It was rather easy to spot what was added to the painting, but quite another matter to determine which artists were the culprits. I must admit that my old eyes did need the magnifying glass, and that at times it was hard to compare images when they didn’t align directly top-to-bottom. However, I had great fun searching for answers and learned a lot in the short time it took me to solve this first puzzle. I imagine any reader interested in art will have internalized quite a bit about the artists and their works by the time they finish spotting and attributing the differences for all the paintings.

The book ends with a brief biography of each author and an answer key where the differences are highlighted on the piece of artwork and identified by artist who made them.

Gallery Ghost is an interesting book that introduces art to young readers in an unusual and engaging manner. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys puzzles, close observation and/or art.

Book: Gallery Ghost: Find the Ghost Who Paints the Most!
Author: Anna Nilsen, poems by Betsy Franco
Illustrator: Richard Sala
Publisher: Birdcage Press
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 4-8
ISBN: 978-159960-036-9
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – Leonardo Da Vinci

A little over a week ago on Weekend Edition, Sylvia Poggioli reported on a lost mural by Leonardo da Vinci. In one of his notebooks, da Vinci wrote, “On the sixth of June, a Friday, at the stroke of the 13th hour, I began to paint in the palace.” The palace he wrote of was the grand hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. It was here that he was commissioned to paint a mural of the Battle of Anghiari, a mural that has since been lost in time. You can see some of the preparatory drawings da Vinci made at the the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s Web site.


After listening to the story, High-Tech hunt aims to find missing da Vinci mural, I was immediately reminded of the book Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Inventor, Scientist in Three-Dimensional, Movable Pictures by Alice and Martin Provensen. Published in 1984, this pop-up book was one of the favorites in my middle school science class. This beautiful volume contains six double-page spreads with pop-ups, pull-tabs, slide wheels with ribbon pulls and other movable objects.

This biography provides only brief highlights from the life of da Vinci, but accompanied by the Provensens’ panoramic views and paintings that evoke 15th century Florence, there is much here to pique the interest of any reader. Attention is given to da Vinci’s fascination with flight and his attempts (although failed) to build flying machines. Quotes from da Vinci’s notebooks and examples of his sketches can be found on several pages. Readers also learn about his interest in drawing a range of objects from nature, his study of the heavens, and some of his works of art.

Here is an excerpt. It is found on a page where readers pull down a movable section of the page to see a mural fade from view.

Leonardo was invited to paint a mural in the great hall of the grand council of Florence. In order to cover the vast space he constructed an ingenious scaffold that could be raised or lowered to reach any part of the wall.

At last Leonardo began to paint.

He made a design so extraordinary that all Florence came to marvel. Alas! The wall was as porous as a sponge! As the paint sank in, the wonderful picture disappeared before their very eyes.

This is the very mural referred to in the NPR piece. It is easy to understand why the mural faded when listeners learn that da Vinci experimented with techniques used by the ancient Romans. He faced many challenges in using oil on dry plaster, not the least of which was how to dry the painting.

I am not generally a fan of pop-up books, but this one has always held my interest, largely because of the beauty of the illustrations and my general fascination with da Vinci. If you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend it as a nice introduction for readers with a budding interest in the original Renaissance man.

Book: Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Inventor, Scientist in Three-Dimensional, Movable Pictures
Author/Illustrators: Alice and Martin Provensen
Publisher: Viking Press
Publication Date: 1984
Pages: 12 pages
Grades: 4-8
ISBN: 067042384X
Source of Book: Personal copy.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Computation Podcast – The Grapes of Math


In this podcast, Jamie Malone introduces listeners to the book The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang.

Greg Tang is an extremely creative author of interesting books for young math students. In his New York Times bestselling book, The Grapes of Math, he uses unique riddles and methods for students to solve math problems. He encourages students to approach math problems in different ways, rather than placing an emphasis on simple memorization skills. Tang is a brilliant author, and this book does a wonderful job of helping students to group numbers and solve word problems.

Related Books
Mathterpieces by Greg Tang

More Information
Learn more about the author and see some sample pages from his books.
Try this pattern search lesson plan using examples from the book.
Read this interview with the author.

Nonfiction Monday – The Dirt on Dirt


As a child who lived in the sandbox, played in the mud, dug for worms and other creatures, I find books about this topic appealing. The back cover of the book begins with the words, “Muck around in the dirt!” Yes, this is the book for me! As for the rest of the world, how can anyone not like a book in which the table of contents opens with You and Dirt?

The Dirt on Dirt, by Paulette Bourgeois, is an interesting mix of information and activities (labeled FUN with Dirt). In the categories of You and Dirt, Dirt Matters, Buried!, Building with Dirt, and Dirt for Gardening, readers learn everything under the sun about dirt. Here are a few interesting facts.

Some animals, like elephants and pigs, wallow in mud to get rid of ticks and fleas. The dried mud then helps protect the animals from the heat of the sun.

There are more than a million dust mites in an average bed. They don’t eat dust, but rather flakes of skin. Since we shed skin flakes every minute, they never go hungry!

It can take from 100 to 10,000 years to make 2 cm (0.8 inches) of good topsoil from crushed rock.

In 1974, archaeologists uncovered 7,000 life-sized, clay soldiers while digging on a peasant’s farm near the city of Xi’an.

Earthworms turn rotting plants and animals into fertilizer and create spaces for air and water to flow through the soil.

Using vivid photographs and inviting illustrations, this text captures the imagination of readers. My seven year old son was enamored of the section on building with dirt, which looks closely at the world that lies beneath our feet and the animals who inhabit it. There is a wonderful true or false quiz that asks readers to test their knowledge of earthworms. The book also contains a glossary and extensive index.

Throughout the text readers are encouraged to try activities related to dirt science. They can experiment to see how soap and detergents work, bake a mud cake, make the world’s greatest dirt (from a homemade composting box), make a dirt shake to see what’s in dirt, learn about erosion, and more. On the Kids Can Press web site you can download a free activity.

I love just about about everything about this book, save for one thing. On the back cover of the book, is the sentence, “Earth, mud, grime, soil–whatever you call it, dirt is everywhere, even where you don’t expect it.” The scientist in me really bristles at the use of the word dirt, and I am disappointed that the word soil wasn’t used more often. I know this is picky, and that for some of you, this is simply a matter of semantics. However, I work very closely with teachers and kids in classrooms to define and study soil. Calling it dirt is akin to calling insects bugs.

Despite this one tiny complaint about the use of the word dirt instead of soil, I found this book to be extremely entertaining and informative. I highly recommend it.

Book: The Dirt on Dirt
Author: Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrator: Martha Newbigging
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 48 pages
Grades: 4-8
ISBN: 978-1554531011
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

For those of you interested in digging around for some more info on dirt (soil!), here are some terrific sites to get you started.

Pi Day

Tomorrow, March 14th, is Pi Day. No, that’s not a typo. It is Pi day, as in 3.14159… you get the idea. The first Pi Day celebration was held at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988. That means tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of Pi Day.

What is pi anyway? I’m sure you remember it from math in some formula you memorized, but do you really know what it is? Pi represents the relationship between a circle's diameter (its width) and its circumference (the distance around the circle). Pi is always the same number, no matter the circle you use to compute it. In school we generally approximate pi to 3.14 in school, but professionals often use more decimal places and extend the number to 3.14159.

One activity I loved doing with students was to ask them to bring in a can and lid that would soon be recycled. I always brought in a few extras so that there would be a variety of sizes. Each student was given a lid and directed to measure the diameter and circumference. Students then divided the circumference by the diameter. We recorded the results on the overhead and discussed them. Most were amazed to find that the results were nearly the same, allowing for some margin of error in measurement. This is a quick and fun and provides a meaningful way to introduce the concept of pi.

What will you be doing for Pi Day? I hope you’ll be celebrating in some small way. Perhaps you could make a pi necklace. If you’re looking for ideas, visit the Exploratorium pi site. Since tomorrow will be poetry Friday, I just may write some pi poems.

Computation Podcast – One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale


In this podcast, Laura Bradlee introduces listeners to the book One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi.

The book I chose, One Grain of Rice, is another example of children's literature that exposes students to another culture. This classic mathematical folktale allows children a glimpse into another era of time through incredible illustrations that are full of exquisite detail and beauty that portray life in ancient India. This book would be an excellent way to begin a lesson about the concept of doubling and exploring large numbers. I hope that this book, along with my other book choices, will encourage children to become interested in different countries and cultures, opening their eyes to the great big wondrous world that we live in.

Related Books
How Much Is A Million? by David Schwartz
If You Made A Million by David Schwartz

More Information
Try this activity sheet for use with the book.
Here is an economics lesson on scarcity for use with this book.
Try this lesson on finding patterns using this book.
Cynthia Lanius's Million Dollar Mission lesson plan would directly complement this book in an advanced fourth or fifth grade classroom that has had a lot of experience with manipulating numbers.

Outstanding Science Trade Books 2008

The NSTA list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for K-12 Students is out. The introduction to the list includes this excerpt about the books selected.

Each of these outstanding selections defies the traditional image of a child "curling up with a good book." Yes, they can be a source of great personal reading, encouraging students of all ages to stretch their skills and their imagination as they interact with the printed page. But these journeys of the scientific imagination seldom end with the final chapter. They have the capacity to draw the reader out from that cozy seat and into the natural world€”to observe, investigate, and continue the process of discovery that has characterized scientists from Aristotle to Hawking. The adventures begin here.

The list of books is below. Each title was assigned a reading level by the reviewers. These suggested levels are intended as guidelines and are not meant to limit the potential use of titles. Reading levels include: P = Primary (K–2); E = Elementary (3–5); I = Intermediate (6–8); A = Advanced (9–12). Finally, titles marked with a * are books that individual reviewers responded to with particular enthusiasm.

Archaeology, Anthropology, and Paleontology


Earth and Space Science

Environment and Ecology

Health and Science

Life Science

Physical Science

Technology and Engineering

Back in January I created my own list of outstanding science books published in 2007, and even used some of the NSTA categories. A few of my selections made this list. You should also recognize some of these titles as Cybils nominees and finalists.

Computation Podcast – Pizza Counting


In this podcast, Kelsey Rdzanek introduces listeners to the book Pizza Counting by Christina Dobson.

The short book Pizza Counting is a great book for students in grades 1-4. It works well for teaching addition and multiplication, and even introduces fractions near the end of the book.

Related Books
Subtraction Action by Loreen Leedy
Little Nino’s Pizzeria by Karen Barbour

More Information
Make some pizza mats to use while reading the book.
Check out the Reading Rainbow guide for Little Nino’s Pizzeria.
Share these interesting pizza facts with your kids.

Computation Podcast – Shark Swimathon


In this podcast, Farah Salman introduces listeners to the book Shark Swimathon by Stuart Murphy.

Shark Swimathon can easily be integrated across content areas in math and English. It is a level 3 (ages 7 and up) book in the MathStart series and covers subtraction with and without regrouping. While young readers excitedly read on to see if the sharks will be able to swim the laps needed to win the prize, they learn how to subtract two digit numbers.

Related Books
Pigs Will be Pigs by Amy Axelrod
Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst

More Information
HarperCollins has a teacher activity page about this book.
Try this subtraction lesson integrating technology and Murphy’s book.

Computation Podcast – How the Second Grade Got $8205.50 to Visit the Statue of Liberty


In this podcast, Kristin Coffee introduces listeners to the book How the Second Grade Got $8205.50 to Visit the Statue of Liberty by Nathan Zimelman.

This podcast discusses the computation book, How the Second Grade Got $8205.50 to Visit the Statue of Liberty. The unique way this book is written, along with the diverse and eye-catching illustrations, make it a great choice to incorporate literature across the curriculum. The surprise ending will make students smile and they won't believe they're reading a book about math!

Related Books
Each Orange Had 8 Slices by Paul Giganti

More Information
Try this economics lesson on profit that uses Zimelman’s book.
Find some great ideas for teaching about money while connecting math and literature.