Our Country’s Presidents

Our Country’s Presidents
written by Ann Bausum
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Readers are curious about how Presidents coped with the challenges of their eras and how they lived their personal lives.

It’s so nice when you can go to one place for the information that you need. As a person who has trouble finding his car keys or reading glasses, this is very comforting. Our Country’s Presidents is your one stop shop for commander-in-chief research. It’s organized chronologically in six historical periods. These are like the aisle signs in the grocery store. They guide you to what you need so you don’t walk around the store endlessly looking. Not that I’ve ever done that. Each period is accompanied by a timeline to give context to the era. The staple items in this store of knowledge are the presidential profiles. A full page official portrait introduces each profile. Need to know the ingredients of this leader of the free world knowledge stew? There is a text box that lists several pieces of information (family, number of terms, party, etc.) about the featured president. The bulk of the profile is a several paragraph narrative highlighting the president’s accomplishments. I appreciate that Ann Bausum doesn’t pull punches in these narratives. She tells you the good, the bad, and the ugly in language conducive to young readers. Sprinkled in between the presidential profiles are twenty topical essays that help give this book an even heartier flavor. Topics like the president’s role in the branches of government, the first ladies, and kids in the White House, are included in the essays. This is a National Geographic book, so you are going to get the creme de la creme of nonfiction illustrations and photographs. Like a five star restaurant, they don’t make an unattractive product. In the back matter of the book, there is a chart of each election result and a page of books, videos, and websites that will prompt further research.

I am the patriarch of a family of history nerds. This is the kind of book that we can get cozy in a comfortable chair and be lost in American history for hours. The profiles will be great for biography presentations such as wax museums. Our Country’s Presidents is also full of terrific fun facts. Chester A. Arthur was nicknamed “Elegant Arthur” for his penchant to change clothes to match each occasion of the day. Not a “khaki pants everyday wearer” like this blogger.

This book is an excellent resource for information about the history of our nation’s highest executive office.

How Things Work

How Things Work
written by T.J. Resler
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Cool gadgets and scientific discoveries don’t just come from laboratories. Many are dreamed up in the minds of storytellers.

I’ve had many parents come to me with a story that involves their child taking apart a family appliance/gadget because they were curious how it worked. This is the book for them. Five chapters feature the inner workings and history of fascinating devices. Chapter 1 focuses on inventions that came from science fiction. A four page spread discusses invisibility cloaks and how cloaking works. The idea is to make something disappear from your view. The trick is to bend light so it doesn’t bounce off an object and therefore you are unable to see it. There are three terrific diagrams that show how vision works and how it can be deceived. Other devices included in this chapter are inventions that hover, with a nice nod to Marty McFly, bionic arms and legs, and tractor beams. Can’t go wrong with Back to the Future and Star Wars. Chapter 2 is about household devices. Can you explain how a microwave works? I know about waves, but this explanation goes way deeper with more illustrations and photographs that would be excellent teaching resources on a document camera. Chapter 3 highlights items in a school. Topics include photocopiers, erasers, and thermoses. Hmmm. Maybe we could train students to fix photocopiers. If I had to guess which chapter in the book would be the most popular, I might go with Chapter 4 which is titled Extreme Fun. Who doesn’t want to know how surfing and roller coasters work? And bounce houses? Don’t get me started. How Things Work finishes with a chapter on transportation vehicles like rockets and escalators. Again, most of us have ridden an escalator but probably can’t explain how it works. Now you can know and impress your friends.

Inside each chapter is a biography of an inventor. Chapter 1 features David Moinina Sengeh. He designs prostheses and mentors other young innovators in Africa. I love that we have STEM role models in these pages. Another great section of each chapter is Try This! where readers get detailed instructions so they can create their own device. Chapter 5 gives details on how to make a submarine with a 2 liter bottle. I also appreciate how in tune the author is with what students want to know. These are the subjects that will get readers to the page every time.

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Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist
written by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

People loved Juan’s colorful music. It took them to other worlds, other planets. It sounded like a crazy rocket ride zigzagging through outer space!

Juan Esquivel embraced music at an early age. At the age of six, he took the paper roll out of a player piano so he could practice. If his family couldn’t find him, all they had to do is look for a piano and he would be there. A move to Mexico City helped land Juan a job playing piano for 15 minutes each day at a radio station. The pay was enough to buy a sandwich and a ride home. His lack of traditional training (lessons, teachers, etc.) proved to be an asset as he looked at how sounds could be arranged without the dictation of others. Only seventeen, he was handed the job of directing an orchestra for a comedy show. Like an artist working with a myriad of paints on a canvas, Juan dabbled in sound and painted audio masterpieces. Having achieved success in his native Mexico, Juan moved to New York City and began working in stereo which was perfect for a genius like him. Being able to separate sounds brought about a whole new world of possibilities. He even had singers who would sing in sounds instead of words. This led to Juan having his own orchestra, selling many records, and becoming a popular act in Las Vegas for fourteen years. He was known as the father of space-age lounge music.

Juan Esquivel was passionate about the music he created and he had fun! He enjoyed his art and life. We should all have such joy about our work. His spirit seems to run through the author and illustrator as they exhibit the same joy in this book. This biography would be a great addition to a unit on sound as students, like Esquivel, can experiment with sound. It also would work well in a biography study. I would encourage readers to go on YouTube to check out Juan’s music. One reviewer of his music was prompted to place two exclamation marks behind his name. After reading about this pioneering musician, I might add a third for good measure.

New STEM books from Pogo

Pogo Books
Fall 2016 (Jump!)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

Written at a second grade reading level, each title is packed with infographics, sidebars, activities, and bright, colorful spreads that appeal to young readers.

So I’m looking at Measure It! which is one book in the seriesMath It! from Pogo Books. What catches my eye first are the bold colors. As you flip through the pages, those colors continue to make this an attractive selection. Next, like its sister Bullfrog Books, you have an ideas page for parents and teachers that encourages making this reading an interactive experience, with opportunities to front load and measure things. If you’re going to hawk a STEM book, there need to be plenty of chances to do something active. Measure It! fulfills that requirement with measuring activities on nearly every spread. The choice of content is impressive as readers will relate to pictures of gardens, kittens, and toys as they measure away in their classroom and at home. Another STEM series sure to please is Space Explorers. In Rovers, readers learn how and why rovers are used to explore Mars. The photographs of the surface of Mars are fantastic and readers will enjoy learning how these machines travel and how they work.

One of the big pluses with Pogo Books is the opportunity they give to struggling readers, in upper elementary classes, to dig deep into STEM material without having to worry about decoding. I also like having a culminating activity in the back matter. In Solar Power, part of the Green Planet series, young scientists use a pizza box, a leftover slice of pizza, and other materials to make a solar cooker. Do your students know why roads are treated with salt during an ice storm? After performing the task at the end of Ice Storms,  they will know.

If we are going to make strides with encouraging students to be more STEM oriented, we need engaging content like Pogo Books to be part of our resources.

Time for Kids Almanac 2017

Time For Kids Almanac 2017

2016 (Liberty Street)

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A chocolate sundae is nice. Vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. But what if you added a slice of banana. And sprinkles. Ooh, some peanuts would be good too. What about another flavor or two of ice cream? Imagine having seventeen flavors of ice cream! That’s how an almanac is an indulgence for an informational text fan. It takes some facts and adds more and more. The nice thing about this informational sundae is that you gain zero calories from reading it. There are seventeen sections to the Time for Kids Almanac 2017.

Within each of those sections, there are plenty of facts, but the beauty of this almanac is that text is presented in several different ways. For example, the geography section has a two page map with seven circles of data representing the continents and a table with information about the five oceans. The next page features informational text about the Earth in a narrative format. On the opposite side is a first person report about Antarctica by TFK writer David Bjerklie. Three different styles of nonfiction on three consecutive pages. That’s how an almanac rolls. It’s more than just lists of data. And it’s quite handy too. If you need facts about a president, it’s there. What about the flag of a particular country? Got it. Loads and loads of info that will be useful beyond this calendar year.

When I was a kid, I could count on two gifts each year: The new paperback edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and The Associated Press Almanac. I had a happy childhood! Using this in the classroom, you could sit it right next to a dictionary for reference purposes. Want to add some tech? You could also use an app like Goose Chase and add a scavenger hunt using facts from the book. There are many uses for this unique tool!

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Place Value

Place Value
written by David A. Adler; illustrated by Edward Miller
2016 (Holiday House)
Source: Mebane Public Library

We write numbers with digits. There are ten digits in our number system.

The monkeys at the Banana Cafe have a massive challenge. Using recipe 5,432, they have to create a colossal banana cupcake. Colossal, as in needing 2,426,782 bananas. When you’re making a dessert the size of Mount Rushmore, you will need a good sense of place value. Digits have values depending on where they are placed. 4,5, and 6 can be 456 or 646. That makes a big difference. The monkeys know that digits are grouped in threes with commas separating those groupings. This allows them to have groupings of hundreds, thousands, and millions. Going to pay for all of the ingredients that go into a gargantuan pastry? You will need to know decimals, but with the help of the place value charts that are on each spread, the intrepid simians are top bananas.

If you want to help students learn, one effective strategy is to make comparisons. By comparing place value to the arrangement of letters in a word (cafe as opposed to face), David Adler will make these concepts stick. The humorous illustrations will also help the knowledge go in deeper. I can see placing (I see what I did there.) these charts under a document camera and modeling how to write large numbers. I think challenging students to find a replacement for the monkeys (elephants in a peanut factory?) would be a fun activity as well. Place value is a huge deal in primary classrooms, so don’t monkey around (couldn’t help it) and find a copy of Place Value.

Jeff teaches second grade and blogs about children’s literature at NC Teacher Stuff.

Animal Bites from Animal Planet

Animal Bites: New Series from Animal Planet

Animal Bites
written by Laaren Brown
2016 (Animal Planet)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All life in the ocean is connected. Tiny plankton are the most plentiful ocean food, and are eaten by bigger creatures. Animals are at the top of the food web aren’t hunted-they do the hunting. 

A new book series from Animal Planet features animals and their habitats. The first two books detail the lives of ocean and polar animals. There are several aspects of these books that will delight young readers, parents, and teachers. A beautiful two page photographic spread of an animal greets the reader first. This is what you would see in a high-end coffee table book. One unique part of these books is the use of colorful tabs as a guide. The tabs are easily located on the top right side of each spread. Categories include close-ups of animals, data, similarities and differences, and how people interact with animals and their habitats.Where They Live is one tab that begs particular attention because it highlights useful text features such as charts and maps. In Ocean Animals, this is a two page chart of the different levels of the ocean such as the sunlight zone and the twilight zone. Photographs of animals that live in these zones are present with factoids interspersed. Polar Animals has maps of both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles in conjunction with factoids and several photographs. Another favorite section of mine was The Stackup. Several varieties of a particular animal are stacked so readers can compare size and talents. Penguins (chinstrap, macaroni, adelie, gentoo, king, and emperor) are stacked inPolar Animals while whales (beluga, gray, sperm, fin, and blue0 are stacked in Ocean Animals. This would be a great place to practice using organizers like a chart or a Venn Diagram.

With an abundance of luxurious photographs and tons of fun facts, you would think these books are going to be expensive. On the contrary, they are reasonably priced at $12.99. I would have expected a price tag much higher for coffee table-like books that clock in at 80 pages. I could see them being a big hit at a book fair. As a teacher of K-2 writing, I would use this as a mentor text for nonfiction writing. If you are going to tackle projects like All About booklets, this is a good place to talk about and model formatting.

Your animal lovers (and that would be all of your students) will quickly dive into this exciting new animal series.

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