Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2

Teach Life Science, K-2

Perfect Pairs
written by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
2014 (Stenhouse)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are two kinds of professional books. One kind stays on the shelf and is in pristine condition because it is rarely opened. The other kind of professional book looks battered. It has a cover that is worn from being placed daily in your book bag. There are several pages that are dog-eared and sticky notes abound. Perfect Pairs definitely belongs in the latter category. In the text, two picture books are the anchor for each life science lesson. For example, Plantzilla and A Seed is Sleepy are the featured books for a second grade lesson titled How Plants Change as They Grow. I love how this book is designed. The authors lay out each lesson with easy to follow steps. First off,  two picture books are briefly summarized. A wonder statement, accompanied by a learning goal, follows the two summaries. Being curious and knowing where you’re going are important in a lesson. The next steps in the lesson areEngaging Students and Exploring with Students. In the changing plants lesson, students play concentration with seed and plant cards made from A Seed is Sleepy. One of the purposes of playing the game is to look for connections between the cards. From there, students explore by reading both books and comparing real plants with the fictional Plantzilla. The teaching steps are laid out for you, but it doesn’t strike me as too didactic. There are places for students to turn and talk and to use a chart for comparing. These are important skills for a second grader to practice and the steps keep the lesson engaging as opposed to a talky 15-20 minute mini-lesson. The following step ties everything together by Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions. In this lesson students write a letter to a character in Plantzilla comparing fictional and real plant changes. They also draw pictures of plant changes and address a set of True/False statements. Each Perfect Pairs lesson will take about a week to complete if you have 30-45 minutes for science each day. There are 7 lessons in kindergarten, 8 lessons in first grade, and 7 lessons in second grade, but you can take lessons from any of these grade levels and tweak them to fit your grade level. These lessons are thoughtful and engaging. There’s no fluff here but instead meaty science teaching and learning.

I use and like Teachers Pay Teachers, but some of their lessons are rather thin because it takes a lot of time to construct lessons with deep learning. When you get a copy of Perfect Pairs, you save time because you have 22 lessons from two highly skilled educators in Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley that will challenge your students to really dig into life science. Encourage your media center specialist or principal to purchase this book. Check out the website for more reproducibles related to the book.


Ghostly Evidence by Kelly Milner Halls


Exploring the Paranormal

by Kelly Milner Halls

Millbrook Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4677-0593-6

MG/YA Nonfiction

Grades 5 and up

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Do you believe in ghosts? Enter the realm of the paranormal with Kelly Milner Halls. Explore what ghosts are, where they’re found, and meet some famous ghost busters. Check out the high-tech equipment modern ghost hunters use, and see their most convincing evidence that ghosts are real. Finally, take a look at a few famous hoaxes. This book is a little bit spooky and a whole lot of fun!


Kelly Milner Halls specializes in high interest, well researched nonfiction for young readers. Her books include TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS, SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH and ALIEN INVESTIGATION. But she is also an avid YA fan and loves realistic fiction including GIRL MEETS BOY, the anthology she edited for Chronicle (January 2012). Her first short story is in that anthology. She hopes it won’t be her last. When she’s not writing or doing school visits, she works for her friend and mentor Chris Crutcher in Spokane.


While I am not a big believer in ghosts and the paranormal I did find this book quite interesting. With a wide variety of different opinions existing on the subject of the paranormal it’s a topic that is bound to attract many readers of all ages. This book provides an introduction to the topic for young readers. The author starts by exploring the topic of what exactly is a ghost and what types of manifestations people claim to have had, everything from apparitions to shadow figures and mists. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the variety of stories she shared from all over the country including ships, houses, hotels, and prisons.  She leaves it up to the reader to decide what to believe but shares a variety of opinions from self-proclaimed ghost hunters, mediums, and skeptics.  The stories I found most interesting were the ones from children’s book authors Lisa Yee and Bruce Coville.  These kinds of stories really leave one wondering because of their strangeness yet lack of concrete evidence.

The author goes on to look at famous haunted places including the Alamo and Gettysburg battlefields.  The occupation of ghost hunter and medium are both explored as is the equipment that they often use.  Real-life hoaxes and some of the tricks that have been used to con people are also discussed.  It never ceases to amaze me how much time people spend conning other people out of their money.  The last chapter is basically a look at stories and experiences that really don’t have a clear explanation, including some the author herself had while researching the book.  Overall, an interesting look at a controversial topic that middle grader readers are sure to enjoy.

For more reviews check out my blog here.

Cybils Nonfiction: How to Make a Planet

Ah, the Cybils nominations for elementary and middle grade nonfiction are almost complete, and what a wonderful list it is. Today at Wrapped in Foil we reviewed How to Make a Planet: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building the Earth by Scott Forbes and illustrated by Jean Camden, a middle grade title from the list.


How to Make a Planet… races through the consensus of what scientists have discovered about our universe so far, from the best estimate of the time of the Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago) to when the Earth formed (4.7 billion years ago) to modern times using the premise of building a planet as a way to keep the information focused. At the same time, the text hurtles through various fields of science, encompassing astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth science, geology and even biology. Although it covers so much territory, it is still easy to read and understandable because Scott Forbes has done an excellent job of organizing and condensing the material. The book will help make big numbers and mind-blowing concepts accessible to everyone.

Even though the book covers a lot of territory and a lot of time, the bottom line is that our planet is a unique place and that we should take care of it. It is definitely a good resource for units on astronomy and earth science, particularly those covering the solar system.


Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls.  Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.

Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming.  And, I’ll pose a question on memoirs in children’s literature.

First, the links:

And now something to ponder:

As a librarian who often helps students in choosing books for school assignments, I have written many times about the dreaded biography assignment – excessive page requirements,  narrow specifications, etc.

Obviously, a best choice for a children’s book is one written by a noted children’s author. Sadly, many (by no means all!) biographies are formula-driven, series-type books that are not nearly as engaging as ones written by the best authors.  Rare is the author of young people’s literature who writes an autobiography for children as Ms. Woodson has done.  When such books exist, they are usually memoirs focusing only on the author’s childhood years.  This is perfectly appropriate because the reader can relate to that specified period of a person’s lifetime.  Jon Sciezska wrote one of my favorite memoirs for children, Knucklehead, and Gary Paulsen’s, How Angel Peterson Got his Name also comes to mind as a stellar example.  These books, however, don’t often fit the formula required to answer common student assignment questions, i.e., birth, schooling, employment, marriages, accomplishments, children, death. Students are reluctant to choose a book that will leave them with a blank space(s) on an assignment.

I wonder what teachers, other librarians and parents think about this. Must the biography assignment be a traditional biography, or can a memoir (be it in verse, prose, or graphic format) be just as acceptable?  I hate to see students turn away from a great book because it doesn’t fit the mold.  If we want students to be critical thinkers, it’s time to think outside the box and make room for a more varied, more diverse selection of books.



See this and all of my reviews at Shelf-employed.

Twitter: @shelfemployed

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Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! coverATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!
written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Joey Spiotto
published by POW! Kids Books, October 2014
32 pages

From the publisher’s web page:

An ironic yet informative alphabet that defines the most important gaming terms that everyone needs to know, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet is the ultimate crossover gift for our age, a book that can actually bring together video game-obsessed kids and their often perplexed parents.
If you can decipher the following sentence, you don’t need this book: “This open beta game is in third-person but first-person is unlockable if you know the cheat code or install your own mod, but either way, for the best attack on the boss on this level, try to grab that power-up!”
– See more at:

Okay, I know I’m showing my geeky gamer girl side, but I love, love, love this book, and I think today’s young (and not-so-young) readers will, too!

Click here to read the full review and find out why.

Beetle Busters

SITF Beetle BusterBeetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People who Track It
by Loree Griffin Burns; photos by Ellen Harasimonwicz
64 pages; ages 10 – 14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

This is a book about one gorgeous beetle (look at the beautiful antennae), the damage it does to forests, and the scientists and citizens who are trying to save their trees. The Asian Longhorn Beetle, also known as the ALB, came from China tucked into wood used to ship products to the US. Now it’s infesting trees from Massachusetts to New York and into Canada, and foresters are in a race to control its spread. But is cutting thousands of trees the answer?

In this book Loree Burns takes a close look at the beetle – its life cycle inside and outside the trees – and the scientists tracking the insect. She talks trees: bark, tree rings, leaves and buds. She takes us into the woods with the beetle busting team for some surveying and a bit of tree climbing (don’t worry; we’re roped in), then into the lab. Beetle busting is hard work, and the scientists need help. That means we – yes, just ordinary citizens – need to help track and report beetle break-outs. Even if it means losing a tree we love.

Burns includes diagrams, sidebars, author’s notes and resources for curious beetle naturalists. Ellen Harasimonwicz’s photographs are integral to this book. She traipsed from field to lab and her photos of beetles, trees, and scientists in action help us understand the complexity of the problem.

Loree has been traveling this fall, but she took a few minutes to answer some questions about her new book over at Archimedes Notebook. She talks about her research for this book and what kids can do to help scientists monitor these beetles.

Nonfiction Monday

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A Halloween Drawing Spooktacular!

A Halloween Drawing Spooktacular!
by Jennifer M. Besel (Author) and Lucy Makuc (Illustrator),

Booktalk: What’s more fun than celebrating Halloween? Try drawing Halloween! Become an artist, and learn to sketch the sights and symbols that make this holiday special. It just takes a pencil and a spooktacular attitude!

Tip 1: Draw lightly. You will need to erase some lines as you go, so draw them light.

Tip 2: Add details. Little details, such as cobwebs or eyes, make your drawings super scary.

Tip 3: Color your drawings. Color can make a creepy drawing even scarier!

Nonfiction Monday

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See more booktalks at the Booktalking #kidlit blog.

Copyright © 2014 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.
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Flying Solo

How Ruth Elder Soared into America’s Heart

Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Publishers)

Published 7.23.2013 *  32 pages

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top

Author:  Julie Cummins
and Illustrator: Malene R. Laugesen

Character:  Ruth Elder

Overview from the jacket flap:

“In 1927, women were supposed to stay at home, mostly in the kitchen, with their feet planted firmly on the ground. But one woman proved that she could do anything a man could do – even fly an airplane. Before Amelia Earhart made her name crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Ruth Elder set out to beat her to the record. She didn’t make it, but she flew right into the spotlight and America’s heart.

This is the story of a remarkable woman who chased her dreams with grit and determination and whose appetite for adventure helped pave the way for generations of female flyers.”

For a Tantalizing Taste and Something More, visit the blog of kidlit author, Jeanne Walker Harvey *** True Tales & A Cherry On Top  ***  to learn more about this book.


THE SCRAPS BOOK by Lois Ehlert

written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, March 2014
72 pages

There have been several picture-book autobiographies of children’s book authors and illustrators over the past few years. Sadly, most have left me feeling just a little underwhelmed. While I personally enjoyed them, I felt like they were aimed more at their long-time adult fans than at contemporary child readers. While I, as an adult, was able to appreciate the rich context and interesting personal histories, I wondered if children would be able to relate to the stories and find directly relevant meaning within the pages. So, although I myself am a fan of Lois Ehlert, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I picked up THE SCRAPS BOOK. Boy was I in for a delightful surprise!

Read the full review here.


The Next Wave

SITF Next WaveThe Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Ocean (Scientists in the Field)
by Elizabeth Rusch
80 pages; ages 10-14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Elizabeth Rusch takes us to Oregon’s wave-battered coast to check out the newest technological research in renewable energy. In this book we find surfer scientists and engineers working to transform the energy in ocean waves into electricity. We meet the Mikes and Annette von Jouanne, the AquaBuOY, and a team of Columbia Power engineers.

The pages are jam-packed with photos of waves, boats, surfers, bigger waves, and turbines of all types and sizes – including the Mikes’ prototype turbine constructed of plastic spoons from a fast-food joint. There are diagrams and graphs that help explain wave motion and watts, and plenty of sidebars that delve more deeply into the issues surrounding wave energy technology.

One question is what happens to sea life when you harness waves for energy. Rusch notes that because the technology is so new, “no one really knows how it will affect marine animals or the environment.” Buoys and other machinery could introduce new sounds and electromagnetic fields into the sea and set cables to thrumming, like guitar strings. Devices that capture wave energy will remove that energy from the waves, and reduced wave power could affect sand movements, water temperature, and water mixing near the shore. Scientists don’t think they’ll increase beach eroion, but they might affect the lives of tiny creatures. If you are interested in learning more about potential environmental impacts, check out the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the US Department of Energy Report to Congress (downloadable pdf).

Rusch does a good job of taking us behind the scenes in a growing energy technology field. Some countries are beginning to use wave energy – in small experimental situations. So if you’ve got kids who are interested in renewable energy, waves are the next big thing to watch. And that calls for a field trip to the ocean, right?

Nonfiction Monday

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