Can An Aardvark Bark?

Can An Aardvark Bark?
written by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins
2017 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Can a porcupine whine? Why, yes, it can! Lots of other animals whine too.

My first thought is Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins together? On their own, both have contributed mightily to children’s nonfiction literature so when they combine their talents, the book becomes a must read. An intriguing question for the title? Hmm, never thought about the noise that an aardvark makes. Now my curiosity is at a high level and I really want to dig in. Plus, how can you resist a book with an adorable aardvark on the cover? So I open the book and get a full length view of the aardvark with the details that make Jenkins a big favorite among readers of all ages. Up top, the title question is on the left side of the spread and a response on the right side in a larger font while in the bottom left corner is additional information in a smaller font. With the rhyming of the large font question continuing throughout the book (Can a wild boar roar? Can a giraffe laugh?), we have a pattern that says “Big time fun shared reading ahead.” K-1 students will love reading along and viewing the artwork. You could also cover the right side and have students predict whether the animal can make that sound. The smaller text will feed the appetite of animal enthusiasts who want more information. After you learn about the feature animal, the next spread highlights four other animals who make the same noise. There are eight feature animals in all. Add four animals that support each lead animal and you have forty animals in all.

Now you have an opportunity to work on building categories and making graphic organizers. Divide your class into eight groups and create bubble maps for each sound. Another bonus? Each of the paragraphs that accompany an animal is a great opening to work on cause and effect. Why does the animal make that sound? There’s always a reason. On the final spread of the book, all of the spotlighted sounds are combined so readers can practice their animal communications. Beside being loads of entertainment, this will help them connect to the information previously presented.
Whether you have to barkgruntgrowl, or bellow, do what you have to do to add this book to your classroom collection. With so many possible uses, it will be a valuable addition.
You should also check out Melissa Stewart’s Clubhouse for more science resources.  If you want more stuff from Jeff, go here.

Bugs! An Animal Planet Chapter Book

Bugs! (Animal Planet Chapter Book)
written by James Buckley, Jr.
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There are about 10 quintillion (19 zeroes) individual insects alive at any given time. There are about 7 billion human beings on Earth. That means insects outnumber us by 1 trillion to one!

You’re at a cookout. You forgot your bug spray and you haven’t eaten or worn enough garlic. If you say, “There must be a million mosquitoes out here.”, you may not be exaggerating. I say know your enemy! That would be chapter 9 where you can also read about flies and fleas. Now, not all insects are enemies. Many are quite helpful. For example, in chapter 11 you will read about bees and wasps. How are wasps helpful? Would you rather have a tarantula or a female tarantula hawk wasp that will dispose of a tarantula for you? I’m going with the wasp. This chapter book is loaded with insect information. It’s like you are buying seven or eight picture books work of information for the price of one chapter book. That’s a bargain! The first of three Bug Bites (a quick snack of facts) and two chapters of the book cover basics like anatomy, why insects are insects, and life cycles. Don’t forget to pick your favorite version of the head, thorax, abdomen song to sing. From there, you’ll get nine more chapters about different aspects (moving, insect senses) and species (ants, beetles, butterflies, mantids) of insects. Inside each chapter is a two page Fact File that goes further in depth with more information. Did you know about the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar? It has a chemical like antifreeze in its body to keep from freezing.
In the back matter, there is a list of 13 of the 31 insect orders in the world. Within these lists of orders, there are estimates about the number of species in the order and examples of some of those species. This is fascinating stuff!

I appreciate how crisply James Buckley, Jr. writes this book. Many of the sentences are short and there isn’t any waste here. That’s important when you’re trying to coax a reluctant reader to take on an informational text. You can ask them to read a chapter or even a Bug Bite and have them work on retell and/or summarizing. Pieces of chapters can also be used for working on identifying main idea and supporting details. This book is something buggy that readers will enjoy.

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This Book Stinks!

This Book Stinks!
written by Sarah Wassner Flynn
2017 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

People around the world daily throw away roughly enough trash to fill ten Empire State buildings. 

A book about garbage? Initially you might think that’s a stinky idea. But here’s the thing: What else could you write about that affects everyone as much as this does? All of us create waste and contribute to landfills. That levels the playing field when it comes to background knowledge too, so readers of all abilities can add to discussions.

The facts presented in this book are staggering. What if you told your students that the average person throws away in food the equivalent of 120 pizzas a year? Or that a family of four wastes about $1,500 worth of food a year? More than one quarter of all fresh tomatoes in the U.S. are tossed before they are sold. But a great thing about This Book Stinks! is that it’s not all about amounts of garbage. There is a lot of information about how we can make things better in regards to dealing with waste and how people around the world are doing this right now. For example, Adidas is now developing a sneaker that is made of fishing nets and recycled ocean waste. The last chapter, Take Out the Trash, is devoted to what students can do.

As a teacher, my favorite part of this book are the different formats that are used to convey information. It’s like a buffet of informational text. There are terrific infographics like the spread on pages 60-61 that illustrates how much food is wasted each year. Another presents info on garbage in space. Did you know that about 14 million pounds of space junk is floating up above? Other formats include question and answer, narratives, and flow charts. This is a great book to showcase how many different ways a young writer can reveal facts about a subject.

Students (or adults) may not like taking out the garbage, but This Book Stinks! will help them see it in a whole different way.

Check out more garbage from Jeff Barger at NC Teacher Stuff.

Motor Girls

Motor Girls
written by Sue Macy
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The impact of the automobile on the fight for suffrage could not be denied.

On June 9, 1909, Alice Ramsey set out in a 30-horsepower Maxwell DA touring car from New York City in an attempt to be the first female driver to cross the United States. To compare, today’s Toyota Prius has about a 99 horsepower engine.  Ramsey had to deal with many roads that were unpaved, muddy, and full of large holes filled with water due to thunderstorms. She dealt with thirty foot deep irrigation ditches that crossed roads in Wyoming. A prairie dog hole in Utah caused a break in the front axle and Ramsey changed 11 tires during the 3,800 mile long trip. After 60 days of driving, with “18 days off for rest and repairs”, the crew made it to San Francisco and into the history books. When faced with adversity, Ramsey replied “There was only one thing to do. And that was to go ahead as well as we might and try to get out of it.” Ramsey’s journey inspired more long trips in automobiles and sent the message that women were very capable of handling this fairly new mode of transportation and the hazards that came with it.

I’m really impressed with this book. There are many threads that author Sue Macy weaves through it. First, we get to meet many “motor girls” like Alice Ramsey who would be great new additions to biography units and classroom wax museums. Additionally, they’re terrific examples of positive character traits like courage and determination. Macy also leads readers through the connection between the automobile and the women’s suffrage movement. Groups supporting suffrage traveled across the country, in cars, gathering signatures on petitions that would help push legislators to ratify the 19th amendment in 1920 and grant females citizens the right to vote. As if that isn’t enough, there’s another thread of the history of the automobile. Motor Girls is a fascinating ride on the road of American history.

My First Book of Soccer

My First Book of Soccer
written by Beth Bugler and Mark Bechtel; illustrated by Bill Hinds
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review book provided by the publisher

Since the foul was serious, the referee shows the player a yellow card. That’s a warning that he’d better not do it again. 

The first competitive sport for both of my daughters was soccer. You’re outside in the fresh air and there’s a lot of running. Equipment costs are fairly low at the beginning and it’s fun when the adults behave. To help introduce the sport, you can read My First Book of Soccer. It combines informational text about the game with action photos and two animated characters who add humor and give a kid’s point of view. For example, on the two page spread about halftime, the characters bring gallon size bags of orange slices onto the field while making a pun. If you’ve been a soccer parent, you know the importance of halftime snacks.

I really like the visuals in this book. A labeled soccer field helps readers see the lined sections. This will assist when readers later learn about penalty areas and corner kicks. The photos used to teach passing show proper foot form and players in the act of passing. I can see that the creators of the book were very intentional in their choice of photographs. All aspects of the game (skills needed and rules) are covered. Even yellow and red cards are included.

One interesting use of this book in the classroom would be for students to compare the rules in the text to the rules that they use in their soccer games. There will be some difference (number of players, amount of time, substitutions) between the two. I also think this would also be a good mentor text to use when you write How-To books in class.

*I have to admit I have a bias in that Bill Hinds illustrated the animated characters. He is half of the team that created the iconic Tank McNamara comic strip which was a favorite of my childhood. Unfortunately, I may have to explain what a newspaper is to my students.

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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