Monthly Archive for August, 2008

Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Join the polar bear while he learns all about animal sounds at the zoo. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? is the “auditory” version of Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You See? is a colorfully decorated book that takes children from animal to animal learning about different animal and people sounds. Eric Carle’s pictures seem flawless and give children a more fantasy feel when reading the book. The illustrator uses simple shapes and colors that children could easily begin to copy, trace, or color in to practice their own art skills.

In addition to the art, the repetitive nature of the book brings a read-aloud quality to the story and encourages students to participate in the reading experience, while simultaneously learning about the different noises of elephants, zebras, peacocks and many more. The book begins and ends with the similar tell-tale lines, “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear? I hear a lion roaring in my ear.”

Curriculum Connections
This book could be useful for kindergarten and first grade. Students begin to work with their five senses in kindergarten and Polar Bear can help with auditory and visual awareness as well as practice with sensory description of the pictures and sounds. Into first grade, students can use this story to help with predictions based on patterns about which animal may come next and which sounds match the animals on the final pages. In Virginia this relates to science SOL K.1c (objects are described both pictorially and verbally) and K.2 a and K.2b (students will investigate the five senses and sensory descriptions).

Additional Resources

  • DLTK’s Book Break offers coloring pages of the animals in the book and suggestions to make puppets or felt board characters to act out while reading the story.
  • Illustrator Eric Carle’s website offers suggestions from teachers around the United States about how to use Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You See?. Some activities include an endangered species book/lesson, class books about what they hear with portraits, and recordings to reinforce listening and auditory skills through sounds in the book and around the classroom.
  • Nichols Elementary School offers a lesson plan with multiple activities that relate to the story and include language arts, science and art. A few examples are matching animal sounds to pictures, identify different sounds using body parts (clapping, stomping, etc.), and mixing paints to color pictures of animals in the story.

Book: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Bill Martin Jr.
Eric Carle
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: 1997
Pages: 24 pages
Grades: K-1
ISBN: 0805053883

How’s Your Content Knowledge?

My students arrive in 75 minutes. On the first day of class we begin by with a scavenger hunt as both a means of introduction and a way for me to see how much they “know” about the curriculum they will one day teach. Here are the rules and the questions.
  1. Begin by reading the questions and writing in any answers you already know.
  2. Walk around the room and find someone to confirm your answers and/or provide answers you do not know. Have that person initial next to the question.
  3. Remember that one person may not supply more than two answers on your paper.
  4. Sit down as soon as your hunt is completed.
  • Define and give you an example of opportunity cost.
  • Name the "Father of the Constitution."
  • Name the most highly valued barter item in Colonial Virginia.
  • Tell you who Christopher Newport was.
  • Name two important figures in the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Name the five regions of Virginia.
  • Tell you the difference between latitude and longitude.
  • Name two things George Washington Carver was famous for.
  • Tell you about Werewocomoco.
  • Name the five oceans of the world.
  • Draw and name the parts of a light wave.
  • Name the components of soil.
  • Describe the difference between the waxing and waning phases of the moon.
  • Tell you the required components and products of photosynthesis.
  • Name the eight planets in order from the sun.
  • Tell you what a dichotomous key is.
  • Explain why it is hotter in the summer than in the winter.
  • Name four nonrenewable energy resources.
  • Tell you the difference between weathering and erosion.
  • Name the five kingdoms of classification.
  • Name the six types of simple machines.
How did you do? My students will be moaning and groaning, cheering every so often, and then wondering how they’ll ever learn/remember it all. We’ll spend the semester thinking about these topics and more, while we explore the best ways to teach them. You can be that books (and I don’t mean textbooks) will play some small role here. :)

Nonfiction Monday – A Food Chain Trio

While I’ve been preparing my syllabi for fall, my son and I have been reading sets of books on some of the topics that are covered. Our recent reading has taken us into the realm of food chains and food webs. Here is a trio of books that examines different aspects of the energy transfer in nature.

Trout Are Made of Trees, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Kate Endle – What happens when leaves fall from a tree and land in a stream? “They ride in a rush above rocks and over rapids. They snag and settle soggily down.” From here they become food for bacteria and a home for algae. They are further broken down by little critters, like crane flies, caddisflies, shrimp and stoneflies. These critters are eaten by predators. Guess where those leaves are now? When the predators are eaten by trout, the trout are made of trees. This is a beautifully illustrated book (mixed media collage) that not only introduces a simple food chain, but also the life cycle of trout.

Vulture View, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Steve Jenkins – Scavengers and decomposers play a very important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. In helping to break down dead organisms, they are responsible for returning basic nutrients to the soil so that they may reenter the chain. In this book, we get a glimpse of the scavenging role that vultures play, along with some poetry and interesting facts about these oft maligned birds. For more information on this book, please read my review.

Wolf Island, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin – What happens when a top predator in well-balanced ecosystem disappears? This story highlights the changes that occur on an island after a family of wolves accidentally leave the island for the mainland. Without predators, there is nothing to keep the deer population in check. When it swells, the deer eat so much grass that rabbits and mice have fewer young. This results in less food for foxes and owls. This is a terrific resource for demonstrating how the balance of an ecosystem can easily be upset. It also does a fine job of explaining why the top predators in a food chain are so important.

There are other books about food chains and food webs, but these are my favorites and the least didactic of the bunch. All make great lesson starters for teaching elementary students about this topic.

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 – 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World


I was browsing the stacks at a local bookstore yesterday when this book jumped out at me. I was struck in part by the light bulb cutout on the cover and in part by the recycling symbol and statement indicating that the book was made from 100% recycled material. After being drawn in by the cover, I was hooked once I leafed through the pages. My son’s school has adopted a “green theme” for the year, so this book will be the first one I donate to the library, as it’s a real gem.

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World: Fun and Easy Eco-Tips, written and illustrated by Melanie Walsh is not only about being eco-friendly, it serves as an excellent model. There is not one bit of wasted paper or space in this book. There is no front matter to the book, and the copyright information is included on the back cover. As soon as the book is opened the reader is launched into the text. Remember that light bulb cutout that grabbed my attention? When the cover is opened the reader finds a page in black except for where it is bathed in light from the bulb and four insects are basking in its glow. The text reads “I remember . . . ” When the page is turned readers find a double-page spread bathed in black with only white text and eyeballs staring out at them. The text on the left page reads “to turn off the light when I leave the room.” On the right page the bulb is outlined in a bit of concrete text that reads “Turning off lights and using more efficient lightbulbs saves valuable energy.” There is quite a bit of this concrete text throughout the book. It comes running out of the faucet and can be found around the edges of trash cans and trees. It’s not poetry, but it is a wonderful bit of design. (To get a feel for what these pages look like, view an inside spread at the Candlewick site.)

The tips in the book include:

  • turning off lights
  • turning off the faucet while brushing teeth
  • throwing away trash
  • feeding birds in winter
  • using both sides of a piece of paper
  • unplugging the television when not in use
  • making toys from objects that are often thrown out
  • walking to school
  • planting seeds
  • sorting materials for recycling

The acrylic illustrations are refreshing and often appear on pages where edges have been cut or shaped for an interesting effect. The final set of pages includes the text “I help . . . ” on the left hand side, accompanied by illustrations of sets of objects such as bottles, cans and food scraps. The right hand page pictures a variety of receptacles with cutout openings. The beauty of this double-page spread becomes apparent when you turn the page, for what appears are labeled receptacles with the appropriate items insides. Readers will find cans, glass, compost, plastic and paper bins filled to the brim along with the text that completes the sentence begun earlier “sort the recycling.”

The final endpaper is a black page covered with stars and a semicircular fold that reads “All because . . . ” When readers fold the flap down they find the earth and the words “I love my world.”

This is a fabulous resource for early elementary classrooms studying recycling and caring for our world. I recommend it with enthusiasm!

Book: 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World: Fun and Easy Eco-Tips
Melanie Walsh
Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: K-3
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local bookstore.

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 – It’s Back to School We Go!


Back to school is right around the corner for many kids. As summer’s end approaches, minds are on new teachers (who will it be?), new clothes (what will I wear?), school supplies and much more. First day jitters may already be appearing. In my house we have long been anticipating the start of school. Don’t get me wrong–summer has been fun, but my boy is ready to go back. To get ready for school we’ve been reading a bit about what school is like for kids in other countries. It’s Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories From Around the World, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, provides a wonderful introduction to schooling around the world.

The book opens with a world map that highlights the countries that are featured. On each double-page spread that follows, a child is introduced through a first-person narrative of their school day on the left page, while interesting facts about children in that country are presented. Readers meet:

  • Achieng – An 8-year old girl from Kenya
  • Anton – A 7-year old boy from Kazakhstan
  • Kendi – A 6-year old Inuit boy from Nunavut, Canada
  • Jessica – A 9-year old girl from Australia
  • Misaki – A 6-year old girl from Japan
  • Jinsong – An 8-year old boy from China
  • Thomas – A 7-year old boy from Peru
  • Gunther – A 6-year old boy from Germany
  • Rajani – An 8-year old girl from India
  • Nadia – A 7-year old girl from Russia
  • Casey – A 9-year old boy from California (Why CA and not United States?)

The author’s note at the beginning of the book provides some information about the children highlighted. It begins:

Each of the eleven children portrayed in this book is a composite of several real individuals. Obviously, every country provides a variety of educational opportunities and no one child can represent them all. Some children live in villages; others in cities. Some schools have computers and science labs; others don’t even have desks or books.

Here are just a few of the interesting facts readers will learn from this book:

  • In Kenya, children go to school six days a week, from January to November.
  • In China, students who exhibit good behavior earn red neckerchiefs.
  • The first day of school is a time of celebration in Kazakhstan. Students there bring flowers for their teachers. (Much better than apples, I think!)
  • In the United States, 9 out of 10 children go to public school.

There is an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, as well as a list of web resources. I particularly liked the link to Children’s Games from Around the World. The author has also provided some ideas for teachers at her web site.

Overall, this is a terrific book for thinking about back-to-school and for studying different cultures through a common, shared experience. I recommend pairing it with Edith Baer’s book This is the Way We Go to School, which looks at how children in different countries make their way to school. For even more ideas, check out the thematic book list on school around the globe.

Book: It’s Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories From Around the World
Author: Ellen Jackson
Illustrator: Jan Davey Ellis
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-5
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased online.

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 – Go, Go America


Alright readers, time for a quiz. Read each of the following statements and name the STATE that correctly completes the sentence.

It illegal for boys to hurl snowballs at trees in the state of __.

The annual Bald is Beautiful Convention held is held in the state of __.

The highest literacy rate in the nation can be found in the state of __.

The lowest and highest points in the continental U.S. (lower 48) are in the state of __.

It is illegal to wear your boots to bed in the state of __.

Stumped? You won’t be after reading Dan Yaccarino’s book, Go, Go America. This fun-filled tour through the 50 states and District of Columbia is filled with all sorts of strange and wacky facts.

The book begins with an introduction to the Farley family, your guides on this oddball tour. There is (1) Mom, “all ready to read maps, ask directions, and settle any backseat arguments;” (2) Dad, who “can’t wait to hit the road! Unfortunately, he’s not the greatest driver in the world and has a lousy sense of direction;” (3) Freddie, who “knows lots of interesting facts about the United States and is eager to share his knowledge, even if no one wants to hear it;” (4) his sister, Fran, who “would prefer to be biking, hiking, or skiing cross-country rather than riding in a car. And she’s still mad at Mom for telling her she can’t ride on the roof;” and finally (5) Fido, the family pooch who “thinks they are going to the park.”

After the introductions, the “table of contents” introduces readers to the map of the states, covered with a dotted line that highlights the Farley’s journey from Maine to Hawaii. What follows is a page (or two) devoted to each state. Each state page identifies the state, along with its nickname. An outline map of the state with the capital placed and identified is also included. The rest of the page is a visual delight, with each family member engaged in an activity that depicts the state in some way. For example, on the state of Maine page, Father is fishing, Mom and the kids are eating blueberry pie, and Fido is sitting quietly wearing a pair of ear muffs. The text on the page describes these images and presents other interesting and sometimes outrageous facts. The states are presented in the order that the faimly visits them on their trip. The states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, California, Alaska, and Hawaii all get a two page treatment.

There is quite a bit of witty repartee in these pages and much to enjoy both visually and textually. The family and the graphics have a very retro 1950’s feel about them. Dad wears a plaid suit that makes me laugh every time I look at it. Mom wears cat-shaped glasses and cropped pants. Dad seems to be the butt of a good many jokes, as he seems to mishear or misinterpret information. For example, on the Vermont page he is trying to scoop a glass of bubbly out of the water, while Mom says, “Lake Champlain, not Champagne, dear.” On the New York page Dad is wearing an umpire’s vest as Mom says, “The Empire State, dear. Not umpire.”

The family’s journey ends in Hawaii with the Freddie asking “So, Dad, how are we going to get home?” The last nine pages of the book presents the states in alphabetical order. Each state is presented as a column of information, beginning with its abbreviation, name, capital, date of statehood, order of statehood, square miles, bird, flower, tree, motto, and nickname. The page where the state is highlighted in the book is also listed. The final page lists a number of books where readers can find more information, as well as web sites of interest.

Overall, I found this is a thoroughly humorous and enjoyable read. You can bet I’ll be adding this title to my 50 states thematic book list. I highly recommend this one for a fun-filled romp through the states.

Book: Go, Go America
Author/Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 80 pages
Grades: 2-6
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at local independent bookstore.

Scholastic has a lesson plan for use with this book. It’s listed for grades K-2, but I can’t see using this book much before second grade (and that might be a stretch). I think this book will largely appeal to upper elementary students.

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.

P.S. – Are you looking for answers to the quiz? Here they are! – Illinois, North Carolina, Utah, California and Oklahoma.

Nonfiction Monday – And So They Build


I love books about animals homes. I’m always amazed at the vast array of shapes, sizes, and locations they come in. Perhaps more impressive though, is how some of these homes are built. That is the subject of this beautifully illustrated work by Bert Kitchen. And So They Build introduces readers to 12 animal builders, from birds (4 species) to spiders, frogs, fish and more.

Each double-page spread includes a full page illustration on the right, and two levels of text on the left. Rendered in watercolor and gouache, the images are highly detailed views of the animal(s) in action in their natural landscape. Only the illustration of cubiterme termite mounds lacks actual images of the builders. (Perhaps they are there but are too small to be seen). The text comes in two forms. First there is large print text that states in simple terms why the animals build and serves as an explanation for the illustration. Below, in smaller print, is a paragraph of information that explains in detail more about the builder and the structure. Here is an excerpt.

A tailorbird will be safer
if she hides her nest
and so she builds . . .

The tailorbird lives in southern China, India, and Southeast Asia, and the female usually nests in a garden or on cultivated land. She chooses one or two large, living leaves on a tree and draws their edges together, using her beak and feet. She makes small holes down the sides with sharp point of her beak. Then she twists spiders’ webs, bark, and plant fibers into threads and pushes them through the holes to hold the leaves together.

The explanation goes on to describe how the stitches are fastened. The illustration shows the bird at work, literally sewing the leaves together. How this feat is accomplished by beak alone is simply amazing. The bird builders were some of my favorites. I was particularly taken with the male satin bowerbird, the animal that appears on the book’s cover. The bowerbird builds a bower to attract a mate, decorating it with bits of brightly colored objects and shiny bits. You can watch a video, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, that explores a bower and even allows viewers a glimpse of the bird at work.

Anyone interested in animal homes will find much here to love. The illustrations alone are enough to recommend it, but the text provides enough information to arouse the curiosity of young naturalists and interest them in learning more. The only drawback is that there are no references in the text or resources for additional information. However, this is a minor weakness that should not discourage anyone from picking up this striking volume.

Book: And So They Build
Author/Illustrator: Bert Kitchen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-4
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a zoo gift shop.

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.