Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Planting...

What image comes to mind when think of when you hear the word "farmer?" I'll admit - when I hear "farmer," I picture a man with a pitchfork in overalls, standing in his field monitoring the rows of corn. Planting the Wild Garden (Galbraith, 2011), which we found at the IRA Convention, challenges that image with the first page spread, as the author writes:

"A farmer and her boy plant their garden. They drop seeds - tiny, fat, round, and oval - into the earth.... In the wild meadow garden, many seeds are planted too, but not by farmers' hands."


In this NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book and  Growing Good Kids Book Award winner, wind, rain, streams, animals, and unsuspecting people are also carriers of seeds, and these and other types of seed dispersion are beautifully depicted through the large illustrations supported by smaller frames within the book. The text of the book makes it an easy and engaging read-aloud or independent read, with certain verbs bolded and purposefully oriented to  match the action. 

For a companion book about different kinds of seeds, try A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston (2007). This is another Growing Good Kids award winner. Each page spread focuses on one aspect of seeds, such as "A seed is fruitful," and in smaller font, additional information is provided. The only reason this book is not ideal for an independent read by primary students is the font of the primary sentence on each page - unfortunately, the main text is written in cursive, though the supporting details are in a readable print-type font. However, as a read aloud for adjectives about seeds, this book is easily paired with the verb-rich Wild Garden book.

We had the privilege of meeting Dianna at IRA in 2007, and were enchanted by the story of how the title her first book of this kind, An Egg is Quiet, came about. (You'll have to ask her if you ever run into her...I'm not sure we could do the story justice!) She has continued in this vein of writing with A Butterfly is Patient, and her 2012 book, A Rock is Lively. which both follow a similar format with excellent up-close details in the illustrations.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Poetry, Art, and Science--Oh My!

We spent most of Saturday afternoon wandering through the IRA 2013 exhibit hall on a quest to discover more great science trade books. The good news is that we found plenty! Sadly, however, neither of us had enough room in our bags (Kristin continues to remind me that despite my 86 pounds of checked bags, thanks to Southwest, I had 14 pounds to spare!) to bring back all the incredible titles we ran across, though my book wish list is much longer. But, we did actually purchase a few stunning titles.

One of my favorite finds is the brand new Stripes of all Types, by Susan Stockdale. The illustrations of all sorts of animals in their habitats are bold and beautiful, and I was pleased to find both additional information about each of the animals and a note of gratitude to the scientists from the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History for their research support, thus giving credence to the the information contained within. However, it was the text that truly caught my eye.
The information is presented in rhyming verse like, "Propped on a log, poised on a leaf. Scaling a ridge, and scouting a reef," though only one sentence runs across most 2-page spreads. This layout makes the text appear easily accessible for younger readers, and though the illustrations do provide direct support for the reader, it is the author's choice of verbs that raises the text complexity.  As a result, this book is not only perfect for initiating a conversations about animal habitats and camouflage, but is also great for use as a mentor text for using strong verbs.  It is just so easy to picture 7- and 8-year-olds crowding around this book, re-reading it, exploring the pictures, and trying to match the boxes of various stripes at the back of the book with their corresponding animals.

Susan has authored and illustrated other colorful animal-oriented books in her distinctive style, and is already working on her next book about spotted animals. We can't wait to see it!

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Despite travel delays caused by the the prevalence of cumulonimbus clouds in East Tennessee, we made it in plenty of time to the International Reading Association conference in San Antonio. Today's cumulus clouds signaled beautiful weather, perfect for walking from our hotel to the convention center (where we took this picture!).
Cumulonimbus, cumulus... where did these terms originate? Read The Man Who Named the Clouds by Julie Hannah and Joan Holub (2006) to find out about how Luke Howard, an 18th century citizen scientist, created a classification system for clouds just like Linnaeus did for organisms. What we love about this book is that the narrative of Luke's life is accompanied by suggested activities to monitor the weather - a perfect pair of literacy and science for younger intermediate level students! As a read-aloud, you can select pertinent pages to depict Luke's interest in clouds (beginning at age 10) and his strategies for communicating his ideas about cloud classification to the scientific community.
If you are looking for a weather-related book for older kids, consider Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone. This book chronicles the the life of Francis Beaufort, a 19th century naval officer who wanted to categorize wind speed on a numerical scale. Although the Beaufort Scale is not nearly as well known as cloud types, the impact of different wind speeds is definitely visible around the school yard (such as the different position of the school flag). With period-style font and vivid illustrations, this book is an engaging independent read.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Human (and Canine) Perspective of Space-based Engineering

"I wanted to share the human element of the Apollo 11 landing... but was there really any need for yet another moon book?"

And so began the conversation we had with author Catherine Thimmesh at the NSTA convention last week about her book TEAM MOON: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon.  This is not just another moon book! Clearly Houghton Mifflin saw the unique perspective Catherine wanted to share about this lunar landing mission, and in saying "YES!" to her initial musing, a unique gem was on its way to publication in 2006. With text geared at an upper elementary/middle school level, Catherine weaves the stories of some of the 400,000 "behind the scenes" people into an engaging narrative about this epic moment in human history.

If you are teaching research strategies using primary sources in science, social studies, or ELA, TEAM MOON can serve as an exemplary model. From Walter Cronkite's commentary about the grainy photos of televisions images to the quintessential photo of an astronaut footprint in lunar dust, the visual images and quotes that Catherine meticulously selected engage and inform the reader. The final 17 pages of the book include an Author's note about her research, two pages of sources, chapter notes, an index, and a glossary. Direct quotes from interviews, mission transcripts, and oral history resources are included in the chapter notes. Brief summaries of other Apollo missions are provided, along with websites for further information.  AAAS also has a set of activities based on this book.

If you are looking for another book about the earlier days in the "space race" for this age group, you might want to consider the graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis (2007). Although this is not a purely informational text (there are fictional elements in addition to the true story of the canine cosmonaut), it is similar in that the narrative presents the human (and canine) stories in the forefront of space missions. Warning: Keep the tissues handy for this one!

Amy and I are heading to to the IRA convention tomorrow, and we will be sharing these books along with many others in our "science books worth celebrating" session on Saturday!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ben Franklin, Lightning, and Physical Science

If you are looking for a great trade book that is appropriate for elementary students and focused on physical science, you might be looking for quite a while. Engaging books that address physical science concepts are rare, so we thought that we'd share one of our all time favorites, How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning, by Rosalyn Schanzer, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Schanzer typically writes about important events in history, but when she crossed over into science, she hit the nail on the head.

From the endpapers filled with parts of Franklin's original drawings of his experiments, through the engaging text peppered with slightly cartoonish depictions of Ben, Schanzer details Franklin's lesser known achievements as a scientist and inventor. The text itself is well-written and historical context is woven throughout. However, from the beginning pages where young Ben holds on to a kite string to pull himself across a pond through the description of Franklin's well-known experiment with flying a kite in a storm, the focus is clearly on his fascination with electricity and his desire to solve everyday problems.

Of course, Schanzer includes descriptions both of how "electricians" of the time played with electricity (making almost 200 French soldiers stand at attention via an electrical charge, for example!) and how Franklin himself designed some arguably "interesting" experiments with electricity. She writes, "Ben even figured out how to light up a picture of a king in a golden frame. Anyone trying to remove the king's gold paper crown was in for a shock!" The biography of Franklin the scientist culminates with a discussion of his invention of the lightning rod and the ensuing expressions of gratitude from around the world.

This book is one that depicts not only physical science in action, but also the ingenuity, tenacity and determination that we want to encourage in our students...and future inventors!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meet Melissa Stewart!

With bumblebees buzzing around the budding trees, and frogs bellowing in the marshy bogs, it's easy to forget that we've neither heard nor seen certain animals all winter. Have you ever wondered where those bees and frogs have been? What about the ladybugs and snakes you might see around your house or in the nearby park?

Author Melissa Stewart, who presented with us at the recent NSTA conference, has an excellent book to engage students with thinking about where animals have been all winter.  Under the Snow (2009) is just one of Melissa's 150 nonfiction books for children. The opening sentence of this book instantly creates an advanced organizer for the reader: "In the heart of winter, a deep layer of snow blankets fields and forests, ponds and wetlands." This "hidden world" under our feet and under the ice is captured by watercolor illustrations, with simple yet descriptive text about animals in each of these
four habitats.

A similarly styled book by Melissa is When Rain Falls (2008). In this book, animals in the forest, field, wetland and desert are portrayed as rain falls. We learn about the hawk, which "puffs out its feather to keep water out and warmth in," as well as ants, which "stay safe in their underground nests." Both of these book are definitely appropriate as read-alouds for primary students, and the beautiful watercolor illustrations can support new vocabulary such as "crevice."

Are you looking for a book to apply cause and effect? Try A Place for Birds (2009). This book provides age-appropriate descriptions of how human actions impact birds. For example, one page spread depicts the Eastern bluebirds, with sidebar text describing how nesting needs of these birds are adversely impacted by cutting down dead trees and replacing wooden fenceposts with metal ones. The main text reads: "Some birds can only build their nests in small hollow places. When people build nesting boxes that are the right size and shape, birds can live and grow." The text of each subsequent page spread continues with the pattern of "When people (engage in an action)... birds can live and grow."We love how positive solutions are presented in each scenario!

A final note is Melissa's blog, which focuses on nonfiction books for children, and her "Science Clubhouse" website, with links for kids, teachers, and librarians. Definitely check out her teacher resources on the clubhouse website, which include curriculum guides and Readers Theatre scripts! Melissa makes it easy to integrate science and literacy!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Scientist Biographies by Peggy Thomas

Since returning home from NSTA, we've been going through our books picking out which ones we'll take back to San Antonio at the end of the week--this time to share with teachers at the fast approaching International Reading Association Convention!  Two that are at the top of our list are Farmer George Plants a Nation and For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson, both of which are biographies, NSTA Outstanding Trade Book Award winners, and written by Peggy Thomas.

Farmer George tells the story of George Washington, First President of the United States and agricultural innovator. In narrative form, Peggy masterfully integrates the stories behind George's contributions to the agricultural field, including adapting a plow that enabled it to do three jobs at once, supervising construction of a treading barn that could be used to thresh wheat even in bad weather, and conducting scientific experiments to analyze the impact of various kinds of compost on plant growth. Peppered throughout the text are excerpts from letters and other papers written by George himself.  Peggy's meticulous work enables us to see beyond the Revolutionary War General to the inventor, scientist, and dedicated farmer. And, she includes some great additional information about George (including a timeline, information on George and his Mt Vernon home and a bibliography) in the final pages of the book. Oh! And don't forget to explore the end pages which include a fabulous map of Mt Vernon.

You might not recognize the name Roger Tory Peterson, but if you've ever picked up a Peterson Field Guide, you would be reading his work. Again, Peggy's book is a biography of a scientist, but this one starts by describing Roger as an inquisitive, unique child who spent hours outside collecting specimens for further exploration. Influenced by a teacher who formed a Junior Audubon Club, Roger was inspired to put his artistic talents to work drawing birds of all sorts. Frustrated by trying to paint birds from memory, by the time he turned 14, he earned enough money delivering papers to buy a camera and his dreams became a reality. His passion for birdwatching coupled with his keen eye and meticulous data collection eventually led to the publication of A Field Guide to Birds. Again, Peggy does an excellent job of bringing Roger's work to life in a most engaging manner. And, if you want to extend the book with some great free resources, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website.

Even if the content is not directly related to your grade level curriculum, both books model characteristics (curiosity, determination, perseverance) and practices (asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data) of scientists in ways that students of most ages can relate to. (The books are a bit on the long side for K-1 students.) Thus, these are great resources for both content, if applicable, and process. And, are beautifully illustrated to boot! 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Model Nature Journal for Linking Science and Writing

Continuing in the spirit of the books & authors we've had the opportunity to chat with here at NSTA in San Antonio, we want to tell you about The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal, by Sallie Wolf. This book is organized by the seasons, highlighting observable behaviors and characteristics of birds throughout the year.  Therefore, it's not only a great resource across the grades (K-5 and beyond, really) for teaching the seasons, but also serves as a model for nature journals with its sketches, observational notes, and questions for further exploration.

I (Amy) love it because Sallie allows us to enter the world of revision by including snippets of her drafts, with phrases visibly marked out and replaced with other words. It is so hard to get students to understand the revising process, and in this book, a "real" author allows them to glimpse into her revision process. Sallie also takes a page (at the back of the book) to explain her journals--from what they look like to how she gets ready to write, and from their organizational structure to the kinds of information she includes. Of course, I have other favorite parts, like the Author's note, where Sallie talks about her inspirational 7th grade teacher, who taught her class how to use Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America (if you have time, check out another award winning book on Peterson, written by Peggy Thomas!), and who is the reason she became a bird watcher. The list of resources Sallie includes will also help guide any student who suddenly becomes interested in finding out more about birds! So, if you are looking for  a mentor text for nonfiction writing instruction, poetry, journaling,  and revision, I say this is one you can't be without.

Finally, like most incredible, authors, Sallie has a website. Upon entering it, you get to pick where you want to start, which, if you know Sallie, is exactly where she would want you to start. If you happen to select "Kids and Teachers," you'll be taken to her explanation of what she wanted to be when she grew up, and if you read it, you will get a sense of the thoughtful, passionate, deliberate questioner that Sallie is. No matter what you explore, you'll find it has a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, with just a touch respectful impertinence.  And DO NOT leave her site until you've taken the opportunity to explore her moon project, which we are convinced will become  another one of her amazing books someday.

Update: Sallie has a Robin Makes a Laughing Sound facebook page that would be worth your time to check out!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Keep an eye out for Sylvan Dell

We had the opportunity today to sit and chat with with Darcy Pattison and Terry Jennings, two  award winning authors who write for Sylvan Dell publishers. Their enthusiasm and excitement about their books, Desert Baths (Darcy) and Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story (Terry) reminded us of why we keep coming back to see Lee & Donna German, who started the publishing company, every chance we get.

We first met the folks from Sylvan Dell at the 2008 NSTA Convention in Boston, when their books The Rainforest Grew All Around, ABC Safari (both of which are perfect for the tough K-1 crowd), and Ocean Seasons (for the older 3rd -5th crowd) caught our eye. Over the past five years, we've seen their collection of offerings grow to over 80 books focusing mostly on science (and math & and geography) concepts for elementary age learners. Many of their books have won awards...including some International Reading Association/Children's Book Council's Teachers Choice Awards & some NSTA Outstanding Trade Book Awards--two of our favorite "lists" for good books! They also quite impressively rely on a cadre of scientists in the field who vet each book, ensuring accuracy. These are books teachers can use knowing the information is correct.

However, Sylvan Dell offers unique opportunities to push the reading experience beyond the pages of the book with some of the more unique aspects of their publications.Teachers will likely be impressed with the "For Creative Minds" sections included at the back of each book. (Follow this link to see the Creative Minds pages for Ocean Seasons!) These pages include a variety of ways to extend the concepts explored in the book in cross-curricular ways, often including more detailed information, related maps and charts, fun little quizzes, and even experiments. But... of the most exciting parts of the Sylvan Dell way of doing things has to be their online supplemental resources. Each book has its own homepage with an array of "extras" that include .pdf previews of each book, teaching guides, quizzes, related websites, and even interviews with the author. They also have a searchable standards database that links books with individual state standards or vice versa. And, just in case that wasn't appealing enough, Sylvan Dell offers eBook options in both English or Spanish (text AND audio!). They even offer some free trials and actually have pretty good deals for school site licenses.

If you ever get to NSTA or IRA or any of trade shows Sylvan Dell attends, keep an eye out for them and be sure to stop by the booth and introduce yourself to Lee and Donna (or any of their friendly employees!). But even if you don't get out much, you can spend a few hours exploring their books and resources on the website. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Science Trade Book Blog for Busy Teachers

Welcome to our new blog, Perfect Pairings: Linking Science and Literacy! We were inspired to start this blog to share all of the great books we have been reading over the past few years. We have been looking at science trade books from science (Kristin) and literacy (Amy) perspectives, and are getting ready to present at the NSTA National Convention in San Antonio Texas with some of the authors of the NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books.

One of the books we're going to share at our session (which is tomorrow at 1:00 in room 216B at the Convention Center, if you're here in San Antonio) is Blockhead: The life of Fibonacci by Joseph D'Agnese. It's a wonderful biography of Leonardo Fibonacci, told through his own eyes, from his youth in Italy, through his world travels and exposure to Arabic numbers, and ultimately to his discovery of what we now know as the Fibonacci sequence. The young mathematician is portrayed in this book as one who questions the world around him, wondering about nature and architecture and observing details that many seem to overlook. In the book it is this inquisitive nature that ultimately leads to the discovery of nature's famous sequence. D'Agnese seamlessly integrates famous problems (multiplying like rabbits, anyone?), applications of the sequence (pinecones, flower petals, sunflower seeds), and the Fibonacci spiral into the story in a way that engages the reader, while John O'Brien's illustrations provide a visual representation of each. And, the author wraps up the book with a one page explanation of what we actually know about Fibonacci's life (which is nice in terms of sorting out what's fact and what may be a bit of fiction in the story) and a "Can You Find?" page that invites readers to look for specific examples of the Fibonnaci sequence hidden in the illustrations,  challenges (and guides) them to find applications in real life, and even poses some pretty good  higher order thinking questions. It would make the perfect read aloud for 2nd grade and up. (Even though the text language is such that younger students would likely understand it, it would likely push the boundaries of their attention spans!)

And if you like the whole idea of exploring the Fibonacci sequence, you might also check out Sarah C. Campbell's non-fiction book Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, which uses vivid photographs, taken by Sarah and her husband, to show examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature. She, too, includes additional information on Fibonnaci, his now-famous numbers, and other related information (The Golden Ratio, The Rabbit Problem, Golden Spiral, etc.) in the final pages of the book, and has some ideas for use in classrooms on her website (check out the "For Teachers" section in particular!). And, just in case you're here in San Antonio, think about coming to tomorrow morning's session (9:30-12:30 in the Marriott Rivercenter, Salon L) where you can meet and interact with Sarah (and Amy) and a number of other science trade book authors or a Saturday morning session (9:30-10:30) where Sarah (and Kristin) will talk about using scientists' stories in teaching!

That's enough for now--we've got to head back over to the Convention Center and check out more of the sessions (and exhibits!). Looking forward to sharing more books tomorrow!