Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beach Journaling

I just got back from a short trip to Florida--and our annual day on the beaches of Captiva and Sanibel Islands. If you love shells, I would recommend a day on either island! There is also a great wildlife sanctuary on Sanibel that is worth a visit! In this picture, my daughter is holding her favorite find of the day, though we left it at the beach...

Anyway, spending the day combing the beach reminded me of one of my favorite beach books, Out of the Ocean, by Debra Frasier. This book is written from the perspective of a young girl, whose mother tells her that if you ask the ocean to bring you something, it just might. The rest of the book highlights things the ocean might bring...from shells to glass and feathers to turtle tracks. The backgrounds of the pages look like sand, and Frasier uses her own photographs of the items she mentions alongside cut paper illustrations. At the back of the book, she also includes what she calls an ocean journal, that identifies, in detail, items that are found (by her and others) at the beach. She provides additional information about sand, water, waves, and both the sun and the moon. And, she reminds readers not to forget the plants that are often found at the beach, providing a little bit more information about them, as well.

I wouldn't call Frasier's book a beach journal, but Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini has two books, Salamander Rain: A Lake and Pond Journal and Saguaro Moon: A Desert Journal, that could serve as models for one! These two are presented as journals created by young people and are appealing ways to show students the variety of items that might be included in such a journal. Of course, Sally Wolf's book (highlighted in one of our first entries) provides another perspective on nature journaling.
Maybe if I would've started a beach journal when we began our now annual trips eight years ago, I would've had enough material to write my own book! I guess there's always next year...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A dog named Newton helps explain physics!

Finding high-quality trade books about animals, plants, space and weather can take time, but the task of locating a physical science trade book appropriate for primary grades is definitely daunting. One book we've found is Newton and Me by Lynne Mayer. Published by Sylvan Dell and recognized as an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, this book shows applications of Isaac Newton's first and second laws of motion in contexts familiar to kids - pushing a ball and pulling a wagon, for example. The story of a boy and his dog, Newton, is told in prose with limited text on each page. Cartoonish drawings support the text and sometimes contain embedded content -  the name of the street where the boy lives (Lincolnshire) is Newton's birthplace in England. Like all Sylvan Dell books (see our previous blog about this publisher), there is a "For Creative Minds" section at the end. This section includes questions/answers about the content, a brief biography of Newton, and a matching game.

If you want a little background information in physics, or have a highly  inquisitive upper intermediate student, one suggestion is to keep Physics: Why Matter Matters! on hand. Written by Dan Green and illustrated by Simon Basher, this 2008 book is one of many in the Basher science series published by Kingfisher. The format of each page is the same: one page of text written in first person, and a full-page cartoon drawing of the concept personified. For example, "Acceleration" is depicted as a little face in a rocket, accompanied by the following text: "Forget the need for speed - I've got what it takes to get you going. I'm what makes things pull away from one another, like cars at a traffic light... To fire me up, forces have to be unbalanced, and I always zip off in the direction of the bigger force..." Fun facts are included in smaller font at the bottom of the page; in this case, we learn the acceleration of a cheetah (144 m/s2) and person associated with its discovery  (Benedetti in 1553). Topics include motion, light, sound, waves, electricity, and nuclear energy. Students - or teachers! -  with those beyond-the-elementary-textbook questions (What is a vacuum in space? How do magnets work?) would benefit from this book's easy-to-read format.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Getting ready for summer!

If you live in the south, Memorial Day weekend often signals the end of the school year... which means that by this time next week, some of you may be heading off to vacation! With that in mind, here are two books about the beach.

If you've ever strolled along the the Atlantic coastline, you've probably encountered an empty shell of a horseshoe crab. By the time we located them, they have already contributed to the ocean food web (think crab legs on the seafood buffet, but for birds who are not picky eaters). Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Food Web by Victoria Crenson (2003) focuses on another contribution made to the ocean food web by horseshoe crabs: their eggs. During their mating season, horseshoe crabs crawl to the shore to lay and fertilize billions of eggs. As told by Crenson, many of these eggs are a food source for different animals, such as migrating birds traveling north from as far as South America. Smaller birds feasting on the eggs are themselves the food source for larger birds. Bigger fish prey on smaller fish feeding on the horseshoe crab eggs. You get the picture -- seven billion eggs don't result in seven billion horseshoe crabs (thankfully). Crenson's text, appropriate for upper intermediate and above, weaves a story of interdependence among many animals. Watercolor illustrations depict the scenes in full-page view. In the author's note (at the start of the book), Crenson shares her concern about the diminished presence of horseshoe crabs, particularly in the Delaware Bay area. Given their importance in the ocean food web, a decrease in horseshoe crabs would have a devastating effect on the delicate balance of life along the shore and beyond. You can check out a site for a horseshoe crab census here.

A second book about the shoreline is one of Frank Serafini's Looking Closely Along... series: Looking Closely Along the Shore. Published by Kids Can Press in 2008, this book follows a pattern of a page showing a small subset of photo and the text "Look very closely. What do you see?.... What could it be?" followed by a page spread with the full picture, identification, and about six or seven short sentences of information.  Sand dollars, palm trees, smooth coastal rock, and barnacles are some of the items profiled in the book. Serafini's vivid, up-close photographs are certain to engage young readers, and while some of the vocabulary may be unfamiliar, pronunciations are sometimes included (such as for conch shell). He includes a "Photographer's Note" in which he describes the importance of taking the time to look at the world around us. He states, "I hope to help people attend to nature, to things they might have normally passed by." This book would inspire any young explorer to indeed look more closely.

So whether you are heading to a vacation destination or just relaxing in your backyard with an umbrella-garnished cold drink, here's to a perfect pair of beach books!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Color, Critical Thinking, and Camouflage

It's hard to find books with science content that are appropriate for primary grade students, but George Shannon has authored one that is perfect. White is for Blueberry focuses on colors, but they are not presented in typical fashion. Shannon pushes the reader's thinking by highlighting different aspects of the identified object, as exemplified by the rest of the title sentence, "...when the berry is still too young to pick." Young children will quickly engage in the book as a guessing game, which, with guidance from the teacher, presents multiple opportunities to hypothesize and draw conclusions. And, the clever ending provides a jumping-off point for a discussion of perspective.

And, I couldn't let this go without pointing out the obvious language arts connection; the simple text  provides a great model for writing informational text! Even kindergarteners could complete a sentence frame based on the book:  (Color) is for (object) when...

If you decide to follow a color theme, it would be easy to continue with Melissa Stewart's  A Rainbow of Animals series. Six different books, Why are Animals (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, or Purple) highlight how and animals use their colors. The easy text and vivid photographs make these books fast favorites among the younger crowd, as well. Plus, Melissa offers a reader's theater script and curriculum guide on her Science Clubhouse website.


It would also be quite easy to use these books to introduce camouflage, and though it isn't quite as stunning as some of the other books we've highlighted here, Animals in Camouflage, by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes, is another great book. This book, too, presents the information in kind of a guessing game format. Each animal description is told in rhyming verse, and ends with the question, "What am I?" Upon turning the page, the reader gets the answer as well as more details about the animal. However, my favorite part (as usual) comes at the end of the book when Tildes provides more detailed descriptions of types of camouflage (blending, color change, disguise, and pattern), identifies the type used by each animal presented in the book, and adds even more information about the animals in an additional paragraph.This book is perfect for taking the concept of color to a higher level.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Are trees alive?

"Are trees alive?" 

The inspiration behind Debbie Miller's book Are Trees Alive(2003) was that very question from her child. So often young children associate "living" with movement or with observable growth, neither of which a mature oak tree would display; in this case, her daughter thought that trees could not "breathe" because they did not have noses, and therefore were not living. The parallels between features of trees and features of humans - for example, how roots anchor the tree just like feet anchor us to the ground - make the scientific content relatable to primary-level children in a meaningful way. It's important for children to realize that just because trees don't "breathe" like humans doesn't mean they don't rely on oxygen! From a language arts standpoint, this book would be a great model for the "A is to B as X is to Y" kinds of comparisons. The end notes contain additional information about specific trees featured in the book, including the general geographic location of the species and scientific names.

It's not winter, but keep this other award-winning book about trees in mind for next fall as the leaves begin to drop: Winter Trees by Carole Gerber (2008). We often consider tree identification through leaves and on what trees look like in the summer and fall seasons, full of green leaves or the hues of yellow and red as the days become shorter. This book is unique in its portrayal of the branching structures only observed in the winter when trees are without their leaves (although evergreens are also portrayed). Written in prose with limited text, this read-aloud book contains just enough information to convey the structural differences among oaks, beeches, and other types of trees. The illustrations by Leslie Evans are realistic enough for noting those differences, though not as detailed as those presented in books by Sill (such as About Habitats).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Under the Sea...Under the Sea... (cue jaunty Carribean music sung by an animated crab)

Inspired by a poetry book we found at IRA (Was that already two weeks ago?!), we're going to highlight some wonderfully diverse ocean-themed books.

First on the list is At the Sea Floor Cafe: Odd Ocean Critter Poems, by Leslie Bulion. To be honest, Kristin found the OSTB Award winning book tucked away in a little corner of the Peachtree Publishers booth at IRA in San Antonio, but I grabbed what turned out to be the last available copy. (I felt a little guilty...but not enough to hand it over to her. I did promise to share, though!)  This little gem is masterfully crafted with both a poem and an informational paragraph about a sea creature on each page. As kids read about snapping shrimp and Osedax worms (among others), they will be amazed at the way Bulion, who holds a graduate degree in oceanography among other things, artfully integrates key content into her poems. Her poems could serve as great models for succinctly summarizing information in a creative way--one which might even be used to assess science content knowledge in format other than a multiple choice test!  In addition, the book has both a glossary and a poetry notes section, where the author provides a description of the forms she used for each poem. The only thing we would caution you about in regard to this book is the relatively tiny print and the deceptively simple text. This book is really most appropriate for upper elementary and beyond.

However, if you want a great ocean related poetry-esque book for the primary grades, look to Madeleine Dunphy's Here is the Coral Reef, which was an OSTB winner in 2008. Written in the style of  the traditional poem "The House that Jack Built," this book starts off with one sentence, "Here is the coral reef," accompanied by a more than full-page color illustration of a reef. Each two-page spread builds from there with the next bit of text reading,

"Here is the coral
of all colors and shapes
that lives in the clear waters
in this vivid seascape:
Here is the coral reef."

The information contained throughout is related directly to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, as explained in a short bit of informational text on the final pages of the book. This information is accompanied by black and white labeled sketches of the animals mentioned throughout the poem. 

Finally, we want to share a third book that takes a different stance on life in the sea, Project Seahorse, by Pamela S. Turner. This book, from Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series, highlights how villagers and scientists came together as a community to restore the damaged coral reef which the declining seahorse population called home. This dense book is not intended to be a read aloud, though a teacher could certainly share parts with a class. However, upper grades students who are interested in conservation, ocean life, becoming a scientist, coral reefs, or even just seahorses, will love diving into this book. Replete with resources, a glossary, and, in what might be loosely called an acrostic poem, a guide to helping the seahorse, this book has tons of interesting science content and beautiful photographs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"About..." books by Catherine Sill

It's rare to find museum-quality paintings in a book targeted for young children, but Catherine Sill's books in her About series have that unique feature. About Hummingbirds (2011), an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, pairs text consisting of one- or two-sentences per page with full page illustrations. The format of the text makes this a perfect book for young students to read independently. Facts such as "Hummingbirds are found in different habitats" are supported by husband John Sill's beautifully detailed paintings, called Plates. In the Afterword section, each plate is further explained with addition details. This book has 18 such plates. Other features include a glossary, suggested books and websites for additional information, and the resources used by Catherine in creating the book.

A second book by Sill is About Deserts (revised edition 2012). This is one of her four books pertaining to habitats (Mountains, Grasslands, and Wetlands are the other habitats profiled in this series). Similar in format to the Hummingbird book, simply structured text is supported by realistic paintings on full page plates. One of the best features of this book is that it includes features of a desert that students would typically consider (heat, plant life, sand) as well as those they might not. Deserts, categorized by rainfall amounts, are typically thought of as hot and dry -- but they can also be cold and dry! Both are included in this book, along with locations of various deserts around the world.

Interested in more nature-based books by Catherine Sill? Check out her booklist here.