Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Start of School - Nothing to Sneeze At

Even though it's not yet Labor Day - the signature date for the end of summer in many areas - teachers are two weeks into the school year here in Knoxville. It's back to basking in the glow of fluorescent lights after soaking up extensive amounts of Vitamin D while reading a novel on your back porch or watching grass grow from the bleachers of the T-ball field this summer. The start of school brings visions of classrooms stocked with pencils, glue sticks, new crayons, and hopefully a case of tissues. Yes, it's that time of year when you have to rebuild your germ immunity that may have lapsed over the summer.

Fighting off those ever-present germs in a classroom is nothing to sneeze at (for a brief history of that phrase, check out this explanation). If you want to learn more about sneezing, here is an excellent resource:  Sneeze, by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel (2007).  Alexandra is an outstanding science trade book author, and I guarantee that kids will love this book! It has the "wow" factor from the full page scanning electron microscope images of items that cause you to sneeze (mites, house dust, goose down, influenza virus) as well as the parts of you involved in sneezing (bronchial tube, skeletal muscle). The images are paired with simple text and pictures of kids sneezing and engaging in activities leading to sneezing (looking for their cat under the couch). So clever! A glossary and information about the book images completes this resource.

As long as we're on the topic of body invaders, I'll include a second one that has perhaps a little more of the ick-factor as far as my kids were concerned: What's eating you? Parasites - The inside story by Nicola Davies (2007). The cartoon-style illustrations do include talking tapeworms and bike-riding fleas, but the text is scientifically accurate (as well as extremely interesting). You may not encounter fleas or tapeworms at your school, but you are most likely already a host for harmless hair mites, and many schools have head lice checks --- it's just science in your everyday life! This book presents information about both harmful and harmless parasitic organisms in a non-threatening (and not overly grotesque) manner, and along the way, contextualizes terms such as habitat, ectoparasite, and endoparasite.

Best wishes for a healthy school year!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Snails, Slugs, and Spirals

Our front sidewalk has long been a highway for slugs on humid summer nights, but my barefoot kids (and husband) often forget this when they take the dog out after dark. Usually, their reaction involves words like, "Gross!" "Ugh!" or (on the rare occasion that it is the last straw at the end of a long day) "Salt!" Usually, in true mom fashion, I take that opportunity to remind them about cool slug and snail those contained in these books. (Well, in two of the books, anyway!)

We highlighted one of Sarah Campbell's books in our very first blog entry, but I want to point out another one here. Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, is an informational text told in a clear, simple
fashion that even young elementary students can understand, despite including some complex vocabulary. The large photographs bring the reader eye to eye with this carnivorous snail, and Sarah includes additional wolfsnail facts and a glossary at the back of the book, which is great for teachers who want to be able to answer students' questions about this fascinating snail. And, if you explore Sarah's website a little more, you can find the backstory about how this book came to be (think real life research project sparked by a 3 year old's discovery), a video of a wolfsnail eating, and teaching materials designed for use with the book. All three of my kids (ages 9-17) loved both the video and book!

A nice partner book for this is Joyce Sidman's more poetic Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature. This book combines simple text like, "A spiral is a growing shape. It starts small and gets bigger..." with bold, labeled illustrations of a variety of spirals. Sidman characterizes spirals using words like
"strong," "clever," and "bold," in the primary text, and then, in the last two pages of the book, includes both a definition of a spiral and expanded details about the labeled pictures found throughout. (It also mentions the Fibonacci series, which would go hand-in-hand with Sarah's other book, Growing Patterns!)

Finally, the language arts teacher in me has to mention one of my favorite books from the team of Pamela Duncan Edwards and Henry Cole, Some Smug Slug. The only scientific value I can truly attribute to this book has to do with the circle of life, but the vocabulary is fabulous...particularly in relation to words that start with "s"! This book starts, "One summer Sunday while strolling on soil, with its antennae signaling, a slug sensed a slope." Animals (whose names each start with s) try to warn the slug of the impending doom, but the slug continues sauntering and swaggering and slithering up the slope. I won't ruin the surprise, but suffice it to say that it is no ordinary slope.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Insects Part II

Sounds of summer include the songs from ice cream truck, splashing in pools, and as Amy noted in the last post, the buzzing of insects all around. So continuing with that theme, the first book is one that she did not need, as she was surrounded by insects without even trying.

  Insect detective by Steve Voake is a  2010 Junior Library Guild selection which offers primary and early elementary students information about not only insects and their life cycles but also where to look for them. I also like that the text distinguishes between insects and non-insects that kids might find when they are detectives - such as spiders, centipedes and slugs -  by indicating the number of legs for an insect (6). Dual-layer text provides additional information for kids who want to go beyond the main narrative. The watercolor and ink illustrations are just cartoony enough to be engaging without leading to misconceptions. The book ends with a spread entitled "Be an insect detective" with suggestions for capturing insects, such as a beetle trap design.

A familiar sound of summer is the chirping of crickets. A suggestion for a book about these fascinating creatures is from the "Let's Read and Find Out" series. Unlike insects we sometimes consider to be pesky (yet are still such an integral part of the ecosystem), crickets are symbols of good luck in some cultures and are one of the few insects purposefully kept as pets. Let's just not dwell here on the fact that they are also utilized to keep some pets alive, such as retiles and frogs.  Chirping crickets by Melvin Berget is an older book (1998) but still a great resource. As you can see from the cover, the illustrations are more like technical drawings, with some containing labels for specific body parts such as the back and front wings. The cricket's life cycle is depicted with both text and pictures, including how they molt during their nymph stage. This makes for a great comparison with insects such as butterflies for a compare/contrast opportunity. The final page spread includes suggestions for keeping a pet cricket (just for a day) and ways to use cricket chirps to find the approximate temperature. A "Find out more" describes how to make a model of a cricket and a "Do you know?" game about cricket and insect facts.

Finally, although I am not a huge fan of books with anthropomorphic depictions, I'll end here with A cricket in Times Square by George Seldon. This book won a Newbery Award way back in 1961, and yes, the animals do talk, but there is still a bit of contextual vocabulary and accurate information about insects. For example, Chester Cricket is a male who chirps (which is correct -- females do not) and even the word "entomologist" is used in context. There are so many ways to use this book in a cross-curricular fashion! The cultural significance of crickets is described when Mario looks for a cricket cage in Chinatown; additionally, the contrast between the environments of New York City and Connecticut, from where Chester arrived, easily links with geography and habitats. Tie-ins with music are also easy to make with the names of some of the pieces Chester plays. And taking a minute to step back from always having to learn from text, it's just a good book to read for enjoyment! The sounds of summer will be fading soon, and while I won't miss that buzz of mosquitoes, I will definitely miss the music of the crickets.