Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Roebling and Grandin: Extraordinary Engineers

You may have never heard either of those two engineers, but I bet you are familiar with the work of at least one of them. John Augustus Roebling was the mastermind behind the design of the Brooklyn Bridge. Arriving at age 25 from Germany, John began drafting the bridge design and proposal in 1867 as a way to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn. His son, Washington, took the lead after John tragically died right after construction started. The bridge opened with enormous fanfare in 1883.

As told by Lynn Curlee in Brooklyn Bridge (2001), the engineering challenges posed during this nearly 25 year project were unprecedented. Full page paintings depict the inner workings of the structural design, such as the caissons used for allowing the workers to dig under the river (initially by hand, mostly by Irish immigrants). This is definitely an upper elementary book with some technical information interspersed during the human drama of the construction, but it is very readable and engaging. At only 35 pages long with full page illustrations, it's an informative narrative about a fascinating project.

End pages include a full spread labeled drawing of the Brooklyn Bridge, and during/after depictions of the suspension component of the bridge. A page is devoted to the specification for those who love numbers, and a timeline is also included.

And now for the second engineer for this blog, Temple Grandin. Sy Montgomery's 2012 book about her life is nothing short of amazing. How had I never heard of this person??!! Pick up Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. I guarantee you will be inspired!

As the title indicates, Temple was diagnosed with autism as an young girl. The first chapter of 13 provides background on Temple's early years during which she struggled with sensory overload. As the title "Senses on fire" suggests, sounds and sights that would not be noticed by most kids were overwhelming to her. After struggling for years in school, her mother sought a high school that allowed her to flourish, and she went on to pursue a master's degree and eventually a Ph.D. in animal science. She looked at problems differently from others -- from the perspective of the livestock -- and revolutionized the designs of cattle chutes, dip vats, and slaughterhouses.  This, from a girl whom many considered unable to be educated!

Photos and design schematics complement the text, and the schematics show the marvels of engineering. An appendix entitled "Temple's advice for kids on the spectrum" contains her seven suggestions for kids with autism. Suggested books, articles and websites are also included. So whether you are seeking an upper intermediate or middle school book to depict engineering applications, promote understanding and tolerance, or provide a glimpse into the life of someone with autism, the story of Temple will not disappoint you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gardening, Part 2

So...the basil has been planted, and the hydrangeas (blue--but I can never remember what that means about the soil its in!) and Easter lily are blooming in the backyard. And, I never got around to planting a garden...not even tomatoes. 

Luckily, as one reader noted in a response to last week's blog, Groundhog, from How Groundhog's Garden Grew, doesn't have the same problem as I do! Once Squirrel points out that he should grow his own garden rather than eating out of someone else's, together they plan for and successfully grow a beautiful garden. Lynne Cherry's beautiful illustrations do double duty as they both portray Groundhog and Squirrel's actions in the primary 2-page spreads  and identify seeds, sprouts, insects, and even the development of some plants from flower to fruit (or vegetable, as the case may be) in a way that frames a number of the main illustrations. The endpapers are not to be missed, either as they show a number of plants from seed to mature plant. Cherry's Author's Note offers more information on children's gardening and invites students to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the address for even more. The only tricky thing about this book is its reliance on anthropomorphism. It is critical to point out what is "real" (most vegetables grow from seeds, insects help pollinate the flowers, etc.) and what is not (squirrels helping groundhogs plant gardens) to young children in particular. Despite the fact that these things appear obvious to adult readers, there is some research that suggests students can easily take away inaccurate messages from "story" books that attempt to convey science concepts. In a nutshell, this is a great book, but you have to be very thoughtful about using it to teach about gardening.

If you're looking for another gardening book for older students (grades 3 and up), I would suggest The Good Garden: How One family Went from Hunger to Having Enough, by Katie Smith Milway. The story is about a young Honduran girl, Maria Luz Duarte, and her family, who have a small plot of land where they grow their own food. However, their plot has "gone bad," and the family is struggling to grow their much needed food.  Then, Don Pedro (based on the real-life Don Elias Sanchez) arrives as the new teacher at Maria Luz's school, and he shows them how to use compost and terraces to grow their own food and encourages them to sell their own food at market, thus turning around their formerly failing garden and others around it. The afterword tells about Don Elias Sanchez, hunger, and help around the world...and can provide stimulus for talking about issues like independence, poverty, hunger, and economics which are related to, but beyond the scope of gardening, per se. Katie has even done an interview about the book, which is one of the books in the Kids Can Press "Citizen Kid" series...a few of which will be highlighted in future blogs!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gardening, Part 1

As I was sitting outside this morning, soaking up the sun and trying to hit the halfway point in the 5th book in the Game of Thrones series, I realized that the five basil plants we bought last week had still not made it into the garden (thank goodness for rain. . . ). Of course, that made me think of the garden I would like to have, if I had any hint of green in my thumb, and led me to search my bookshelf for good garden books. I found a few worth sharing...

The first two, both written by Deborah Hodge, photographed by Brian Harris, and published by Kids Can Press, make a great combo, with Up We Grow! documenting a year on small farm and Watch Me Grow!, highlighting city gardening.

Up We Grow!
Up We Grow! is structured around the seasons and information is presented through two levels of text: the primary "story" of the small farm, the people who run it, and its animals and crops, and the information found in smaller green boxes that discusses more general information like "Caring for the Land" or "Caring for Our Food." The text is supplemented by bright photographs depicting all aspects of the farm and simple questions like, "Do you have a compost bin?" and "Is there a farmer's market where you live?" are scattered throughout. While this book could be used as an interactive read aloud (even in small parts), the text is simple enough that a fairly fluent 2nd grader and most 3rd graders could read it independently.

Watch Me Grow!
Watch Me Grow! is structured around the ideas of growing, sharing, eating, and caring. The book shows different places (windowsills, backyards, rooftops, etc.) and kinds of gardens--including caring for chickens and honeybees. (Yes! I realize that's not really "gardening," but it's still in the book--and interesting!)  The green boxes highlight items like "Sharing your Garden" and "Growing an Herb Garden", and lots of kid are pictured helping work, cook, and eat.

Both books have a page of brief information at the back--one providing a little more information on sustainable farms and the other on urban agriculture, and both would be very useful for talking about life science (needs of living things, habitats, life cycles, etc.)--and even a little bit of social studies (rural vs. urban, communities, etc.). And, both could be particularly inspiring for those kids who, unlike me, DO have green thumbs!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bird nests

Mother bird feeding her baby

Two years ago, we watched a pair of birds build a nest on our back porch right next to the door. We were fascinated by their clever use of material, which included not only natural items such as twigs but also remnants of a bright pink feather boa that had dropped some of its feathers. Ryan's depiction to the left captured his interpretation of how the mother bird was feeding the babies in the nest. Journaling about the birds was just something he chose to do as we watched the bird family grow. This is right in line with what Amy's previous post featured!

So what do birds use in making their nests besides pink feather boas? Irene Kelly's (2009) Even an ostrich needs a nest: Where birds begin opens with a page of illustrated items birds can use: twigs, grass, and spider silk, along with paper clips, rubber bands, and socks!  Full page spreads include a descriptive caption in the upper left corner, such as "Some birds don't need a nest at all" (such as penguins) and "Most birds build a cup-shaped nest" (such as robins). The text is laid out in various alignments, often curving around the watercolor and ink illustrations. Towards the end of the book, the location of each featured bird is identified on a world map, making a great connection with geography. The final page includes a "You can help!" page with a list of materials that birds might use in making their nests around your home. Feathers are included, though not specifically from a pink boa! You can find more of Irene's books on her website. And if you want to see a live feed from an eagle's nest, check out the streaming bald eagle cam in Minnesota, funded by their state lottery (who knew??!!). 

As long as we're on the topic of bird nests, let's continue with the ubiquitous Canadian geese that seem to reside on every golf course and at any water-bound park. Personally I prefer to watch them flying in V-formation overhead than to share the picnic grounds with them, but maybe that's from a few close calls with a protective goose parent. April Pulley Sayre's Honk, honk, goose! Canada geese start a family (2009) is a perfect read-aloud for young children about Canadian geese's nesting, feeding, and yes, those protective instincts. Simple sounds made by geese sliding in water, chasing predators, emerging from eggs, etc are highlighted in italics font  throughout the text ("Crack! Crick! Peep! The chicks were hatching!").  Cut-paper collages fill each page.  The last page spread includes additional information about geese migration, geese species, and geese families. The author's note includes the references used in ensuring accuracy of the information. April's website has many educator resources for her books, so check out what else she's written!