Friday, July 9, 2021

7 Days, 7 Books, Day 7. The Big Beach Clean Up by Charlotte Offsay, illustrated by Katie Rewse

Today's books are awesome stories that coincidently plant seeds for STEWARDSHIP.

Kids love being part of the world around them--playing, learning, exploring--and I believe these books show different ways that children can become more involved in it.

In The Big Beach Clean Up by Charlotte Offsay, illustrated by Katie Rewse, Cora is dismayed when her plans to win the sandcastle contest are derailed by too much trash at the beach. Cora finds ways to make her beach better and get the contest back on course.  

What I love about this book is that its theme can be applied to any community or gathering place. Working together to improve our environment is a goal we all share for our home spaces, and this delightful, kid-centric story shows children how and why efforts for cleaning up the outdoors can be done. I highly recommend this book for any family, any classroom, in any region -- beachside or inland, riverside or mountaintop. Cora's voice will connect with and inspire readers everywhere.

Dear Earth, From Your Friends in Room 5
by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Luisa Uribe is a story about children who write to Earth over the course of a year, beginning with their New Year's resolution to help the Earth, and Earth writes back. 

What I love about this story is the simple things that kids (and everyone else) can do toward improving the environment. The text is fun and engaging, with the personalities of classmates and Earth itself shining through in the letters that are exchanged. I highly recommend this book for any classroom or home as a way to mentor monthly goals and activities to make Earth Day an "Every Day" mindset.

She Leads, The Elephant Matriarch by June Smalls, illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara, is a beautifully written story about the elephant matriarch and how she cares for her family. The text is written in a way that I believe young readers can see themselves on the page, as leaders and friends, working together and living side by side in a way that uplifts and inspires. 

When paired with either of the two books above, or even when read independently, I believe She Leads can serve a multitude of purposes: 

engage curiosity to learn more about elephants and other animals, 
propel conversations about how children can be leaders in different roles in their own lives, and 
inspire an appreciation of our connections to all living things in the natural world. 

I highly recommend this book for everyone.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

7 Days, 7 Books, Day 6. The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe by Tricia Springstubb

We're back from the holiday break with a look at middle grade titles that combine a seamless interplay between story and STEM.

The Most Perfect Thing is the Universe
 by Tricia Springstubb is about a girl named Loah who worries her mother cares more for an endangered bird than her own daughter when she decides to extend her two-month birding expedition in the Arctic even longer. Loah's situation gets worse after her elderly caretakers fall ill, but then Loah finds a new friend named Ellis who needs some saving of her own. The two girls discover ways to not only rescue each other, but also Loah's mother. 

Although the loah bird that is highlighted in the novel is not a real species, the rest of the birds that essentially play as background characters in the book are real, as well as the facts that are woven into the story about them. This beautifully written novel will likely encourage young readers to learn more about birds--nearby and far away.

Song for a Whale
by Lynne Kelly is the story of a deaf girl named Iris who develops a strong connection to a whale that can not communicate with other whales because it is a hybrid of a humpback and blue whale. The unique pitch of its song does not match either species, and therefore, the whale cannot be heard. Because Iris fixes antique radios by touch and feel of the sound vibrations, she wants to use her skills to find a way to play a song that the hybrid whale can hear so that it knows it is not alone. This quest takes Iris on a journey far from home.

What I love about Song for a Whale are the tidbits of information that are knitted into the story, from the nature of sound, to the building of radios and transmission of sound, to ecology of oceans and threats to whales and other marine species. This novel is another engaging story that will inspire readers to forge their own connections with wildlife species.

The next two books in my TBR pile are We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly and Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds. 

After that, I'll be looking for new STEM-based middle grade novels with boys for main characters. If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 2, 2021

7 Days, 7 Books, Day 5. How to Catch a Clover Thief by Elise Parsley

 Today's books are those that pack a surprise in story or structure, which as a reader and writer I find absolutely delightful. These are books that show children how to think outside the box and enjoy the unexpected and then reflect on the path that brought them there.

How to Catch a Clover Thief is written and illustrated by Elise Parsley, and the first lines of this story show it isn't going to follow the typical "How to" structure.  Instead, readers are presented with a scene, a character, and what he wants, while the antagonist watches from the background with a book in hand.

The stems were tall. The leaves were large. Roy couldn't believe his luck--all this clover patch needed were those sweet white blossoms and then he could gobble up his favorite snack. They were nearly ready. He just needed to be patient. 

But as it turns out, being patient is not all Roy needs to do. Roy needs to find a way to outwit the clever rodent named Jarvis. This science teacher's heart soared with the final illustrations and path the story took, because it landed ingeniously and humorously in the lap of STEAM. And interestingly, young readers might go back and see where application of the scientific method lurked in the details all along. This book definitely ought to find its way into every child's hands. 

Turtle in a Tree written and illustrated by Neesha Hudson offers a fun read aloud with two characters who each see something different in a tree and each insist that they are right and the other is wrong. Of course, the twist at the end is clever, satisfying, and funny. Although this story doesn't wave the STEM flag from its cover, it can provide an interesting and unique tool for discussing the process of scientific inquiry and debate in the classroom. But aside from my own educational interests as an educator, Turtle in a Tree is simply plain fun and won't disappoint.

The Safe Return, written by Ashley Wheelock and Arwen Evans and illustrated by Abigail Gray Swartz, offers a surprise in the structure of the book, which in and of itself is STEAM-based in that it offers children an alternative way that a book can be created and enjoyed. The Safe Return offers the same story but illustrated from two different perspectives. Each story is read separately, with the first being read from the front cover and moving toward the middle of the book, and the second being read by flipping the book over and reading forward from the back cover. 

I imagine children will compare each story version and pick out the differences and the reason for the change. I also believe this book is a timely celebration of our world experience. It offers comfort and hope as we begin to shift back to a new normal after going through a pandemic.

With the U.S. holiday weekend of July 4th upon us, I'll pick up with the final two days of book recommendations on July 6th. 


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

7 Days, 7 Books, Day 4. I'm a Hare, So There! by Julie Rowan-Zoch

What is the difference between a jack rabbit and a hare?

What is the difference between a chipmunk and a ground squirrel?

What type of animal might want to eat rabbits, I mean, hares? A jackal? Or a coyote?

I'm a Hare, So There! by Julie Rowen-Zoch moves us into the middle of the week with a fun picture book that also provides curricular tie-ins to biological science for all sorts of topics. Evolution. Predation. Comparison of Traits. Ecological and Community Interactions. And so on.

I envision this book providing an entertaining way to engage kids and get them thinking about ecological relationships, as well as the names that are assigned to different animals, or even different names that are given to the same animal!

When it comes to books written about animal topics, there are so many to choose from--especially when it comes to pairing titles in the classroom. Below, I offer a few that can provide bridges into a variety of subjects.

Whole Whale by Karen Yin and illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff is a rhyming story that features inclusion and mathematics given that there are 100 animals to count by the end of the story! For an extra exploratory game, children may enjoy seeing how many habitats are represented among the animals. How could the animals be sorted? Big vs small? Dryland vs Wetland? Hot region vs cold? And what about that whale? Will they be able to predict how that big, big whale will fit on the page with the rest of them?

Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) written by Phaea Crede and illustrated by Terry Runyan is a book that offers a twist to the theme of identity and naming labels that is offered in I'm a Hare, So There!  

Jet the Cat explores expectations and what makes Jet like other animals, but also . . . what makes Jet different . . . and unique. 

Lastly, I offer the pair of books written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman: This is a Sea Cow and This is a Sea Horse. In reading these stories, children will laugh at the comparisons between manatees and cows, and between sea horses and land horses, respectively. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

7 Days, 7 Books, Day 3. SOAKED by Abi Cushman

The books on yesterday's blog post allowed for deductive reasoning in young readers. Today's books provide a chance for higher order thinking skills. 

Wait! Don't let these nerdy teacher phrases make you nervous. Bear with me, PUN intended! 

Because look at this cover!

Aren't these animals adorable! And that umbrella! I must get myself that bee-utiful umbrella!

But don't worry, the books I'm sharing don't need to make you smart or anything. 

They are wonderful enough to enjoy for the pure pleasure of reading.

What I love about SOAKED is that at first glance, it doesn't seem to be about a science topic in any way. (No need to scare off the children). In fact, it seems to be more hinged on emotion given that its main character is a glum bear who reminds me of Eyeore from Winnie the Pooh who is trying to pass the time with friends on a rainy day. 

Yet, science teachers like me will quickly recognize that all of the elements of the water cycle shine through in the illustrations, which can instantly turn this book into a fun treasure hunt for evidence of processes like evaporation, precipitation, infiltration, interception, condensation, saturation, adhesion, and cohesion, as well as properties of water like universal solvency and dissolution, etc. 

Another wonderful book to pair with SOAKED is WATER IS WATER, A Book About the Water Cycle written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin. I suggest following up reading and discussion of both of these books with sipping apple juice! Read these books to find out why! Enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2021

Seven Days, Seven Books, Day 2. Invent a Pet by Vicky Fang and Tidawon Thaipinnarong

Hold on to your seats, we're moving into Day 2 with the picture book, INVENT-A-PET written by Vicky Fang and illustrated by Tidawon Thaipinnarong.

INVENT-A-PET touches the "nerd heart" of this science teacher for showing the scientific method in action in a fun and creative way.

This time, instead of documenting what is found and observed in nature as shown in The Collectors for Day 1's post, we are now moving into keeping track of data and analyzing Outputs that result from Inputs. In essence, today's book is all about finding patterns to crack a code.

In INVENT-A-PET, Katie wants a pet of her own, but the goldfish suggested by her mother seems too ordinary. So when her mother gives Katie a machine that will allow her to invent an extraordinary pet, Katie jumps at the chance. Of course, as with most scientific endeavors, the process is not as straightforward as Katie expects and the pets she creates are definitely packed with surprising traits. Eventually Katie figures out how the machine works by monitoring each output that is produced for every input that is changed -- one at a time.

I love this story because it combines the process of coding with scientific discovery and experimentation.

In the classroom I can envision numerous ways in which this story could be used to spark imagination and engage learning. Three books below offer different applications and pairing that a teacher could use depending on their goals.
However, each story involves the common thread of understanding the links between inputs and outputs, as well as overcoming odds in finding solutions to seemingly impossible and difficult questions.

Counting on Katherine, How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. This book relays the importance of patterns in numerical relationships and being able to recognize patterns in understanding when answers make sense. In this case, the lives of three men depended on the getting the answer right!

Gregor Mendel, The Friar Who Grew Peas, written by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Jos A. Smith. This book tells the story of Gregor Mendel who was determined to figure out how breeding and artificial selection worked in cracking the code toward the inheritance of traits. Mendel is considered to be the Father of Genetics based on his detailed accounting of offspring over generations that were created from cross-breeding particular selections of parent plants.

The Leaf Detective, How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets in the Rainforest by Heather Lang and illustrated by Jana Christy. Margaret Lowman follows her dream to study and understand trees of the rainforest, a biome never studied before in Australia, particularly by a woman.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Seven Days, Seven Books. Day 1. The Collectors by Alice Feagan

Hooray! I have been wanting to get back into doing this blog series for a while, and at last, here we are!

I have so many wonderful books to share. This time I'll be focusing on books that can be enjoyed in both a home and school setting--no matter the level--they're THAT GOOD! I teach high school science, and I'm always thrilled when I can see ways to weave fiction or informational fiction into learning and the nonfiction side of it. And if I find a book that can make reading AND learning fun, then you know it has to be fantastic. In this series I'll also be recommending companion books that can be paired with the daily feature title for similar or cross-curricular themes.

Day One is kicked off with a new favorite book: The Collectors, written and illustrated by the immensely talented Alice Feagon. When I look back at all the new releases I've read in 2021 and reflect on a list top ten, I can guarantee that this book will be sitting among the titles. 

the collectors by Alice Feagan

From the engaging prose to the amazing artwork to the captivating story that inspires wonder and exploration of our natural world, this story speaks to my scientifically-educated heart. In addition, big, bold words like Too Heavy!Too High!, and Too Hidden! are excitingly kid-centric and will draw readers in to both text and illustration.

I imagine young readers will be eager to forge into amassing their own collections of things that interest them, or simply step outside to explore. After being limited in this kind of movement through the last year and a half, isn't outdoor exploration what we all are eager to return to doing? 

I especially appreciate Feagan's depiction of the scientific approach to cataloging items that are collected by Winslow and Rosie. This part of the story can provide a handy tool for teaching the process of discovery science in the classroom.

I highly recommend The Collectors by Alice Feagan. This book deserves an active spot in any book collection.

Companion books that I recommend focus on a starting or expanding a different type of collection--one that involves growing a collection of cultural experiences and friendships. 

The Star Festival, written by Moni Richie Hadley and illustrated by Mizuho Fujisawa

Festival of Colors, written by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Dia De Los Muertos, written by Roseanne Thong and illustrated by Carles Ballesteros

The Invisible Boy, written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton

Be Kind, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill

See you on Day 2 for my next book recommendations!

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Seven days, Seven books. Day 7. Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated Cindy Derby

I end the week with a beautiful and lyrical picture book, Outside In, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby.

In this story, Outside is personified as loving entity that reminds us of its unconditional presence in everything we do, even when we are indoors and set apart from what lies in the world outdoors.

Simply put, this beautiful book begs for conversation and contemplation in the spaces between listening to the soothing words and soaking in the emotive illustrations. 

I highly recommend this Caldecott Honor Book. I imagine it is one that will beg for revisiting, time and again, much in the same way the outdoors calls to everyone, young and old. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Seven days, Seven books. Day 6. Where are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim

Today is Multicultural Children's Book Day (#ReadYourWorld), which is organized to celebrate and spotlight diversity in children's books. 

In that spirit, I'm sharing the beautiful, lyrical picture book Where are You From? written by Yamile Saied Mendez and illustrated by Jaime Kim (HarperCollins).

This poetic and heartfelt picture book addresses a question that I'm sure is part of many family discussions in recalling history and roots of ancestors. The lyrical text exudes universal feelings of love, comfort, and pride in ancestry, while also acknowledging some difficult truths about the treatment of some people based on the color of their skin.

Yet, the beautiful, soft kernel of Where are You From? remains throughout the story--words full of pride and love. 

This book begs to be reread, and lends itself to being shared in any setting, whether that be at bedtime or story time at school. Children love to hear stories of themselves, and to talk about their own stories, as well as look toward future possibilities of what they might become. This book opens the discussion into personal histories of all.

I highly recommend adding Where are You From? to your library and sharing it with the little ones in your life.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Seven days, Seven books. Day 5. On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex


As a parent, I can attest to having lived through the experience of dealing with gum caught in the hair of at least one of my children. I won't say who, but if you were to guess any of their names, you would be right.

Although I'm sorry to admit that our experience in the detangling of gum was not nearly as fun as the romp that Adam Rex brings his readers on in his new picture book, On Account of the Gum (Chronicle Books).

If you think you know how this story goes, because you've had children, or know young children, or are a professional gum chewer, I can assure you that you are wrong. And I can most assuredly say that I'm right in asserting that when you read this book, you will be surprised at what happens,... all because of the gum.

Any child will love this book, and if they don't laugh out loud or gasp at the illustrations, then perhaps they need a little reining in, because their life probably is far more wild than I could ever have dreamed, or Adam Rex could have thought up....Maybe. I can't really speak for him. But I do speak for myself, and I highly recommend this book! 


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Seven days, Seven books. Day 4, Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

When it comes to books, if any part of the story involves the ocean, a lake, or a river, I'm hooked. So, the title of today's feature won my heart with the mention of the sea. And since I'd already become a Beth Ferry fan after reading The Scarecrow (illustrated by The Fan Brothers)I knew I was in for a treat with Swashby and the Sea. However, the heart, ingenuity, and clever literary surprises in this latest book from one of my favorite authors swept me all the way to the moon and back. 

If you have a soft spot for grumpy old men hiding a kinder side of themselves from the world, if you love word puzzles and word play, if you love the idea of your environment working to put your best interests forward on your behalf, you'll enjoy sharing this picture book with the young readers in your life. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Seven days, Seven books. Day 3. Saturdays are for Stella by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan

Aren't grandmother's the best?

Although part of Candy Wellins' book, Saturday's are for Stella, is about the relationship between a child and his grandmother and the grieving that follows with her passing; ultimately, the story is about how love is passed along in families from one person to another. Although George struggles emotionally after Stella is gone, he comes to see her spirit in the new baby sister he has, and begins enjoying his Saturdays with her.

Saturdays are for Stella is full of tenderness. I imagine this story will be valuable for young children who may be dealing with an aging, older grandparent, or adjusting to a new sibling. 

I highly recommend it!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Seven days, Seven books. Day 2, Looking for Smile by Ellen Tarlow, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

 Bear and Smile were always together.

And so begins Ellen Tarlow and Lauren Stringer's picture book, Looking for Smile, a story about a bear and his Smile, who fills him with happiness in all that he does throughout his day.

Bear and Smile go on many happy adventures together. But one morning begins differently.

I love this profound story of the dark days that both children and adults can experience. Like Bear, I remember the joy that simply waking up brought me as a young child, and how that joy followed me, along with expectation, as I stepped outdoors to find unplanned adventure and discovery. But I also knew sad days, too, and those were harder to navigate. 

Ellen and Lauren's story brings shape and form to this type of universal experience without prescription, and instead leaves the reader with hope and understanding that good days follow the bad ones.

I highly recommend Looking for Smile.

If you want to add this title to your collection or gift it to someone you love, consider shopping at your local independent book store. Here is mine, The King's English, in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Seven days, Seven Books. Day 1. A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

It's time for another series of 7 days, 7 books, with a modified twist today of something old, something new. Because although writing projects kept me away from this blog for the last little while, they didn't keep me away from reading.

I'm proud to start off the series with one book I wrote about wanting to read last summer. This book took three "starts" before I felt the connection I needed to become hooked into it: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This novel had been recommended by many people that know me. And yes, they were right. I loved it. Once things started calming down in my own writing life, I found the space I needed to appreciate the story that Delia had to tell. 

The aspects I loved most about Crawdads were Kya's connections to her environment and her discoveries of the natural world as she explored it. The story threads that intrigued me most were her ability to survive on her own and her choice to live that way at such a young age. Having spent a lot of time in the outdoors on my own as a graduate student doing research in the rocky mountains, I can understand the desire to return to connections with others while being apart from them. 

During my experience, I longed for civilization after a mere handful of days spent by myself in the mountains, but Kya didn't, at least not enough to change her circumstances to a great degree. Thus, this character stuck with me because I wanted to see how she coped with her challenges, along with how the mystery of Chase's death was resolved.

Where the Crawdads Sing brought to mind another book that I read last winter called Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah. Hannah's story presented a different, and equally gripping approach to the effect that aloneness and loneliness can have on a young child who was raised by wolves. This is another novel I highly recommend.

Both the novels mentioned above reminded me of another that I enjoyed at a younger age, which still remains just as much of a page turner. Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, where a boy must figure out how to survive in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash.

All of these books and many others deal with human connection and the effects of separation from it. Thus, to continue with this theme, I leave you with a picture book: A Map Into the World, which was a 2019 debut picture book by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Seo Kim. In this story, a young Hmong girl observes, reflects, and reaches out in response to changes in relationships that she sees happening in her new home and neighborhood.

Don't forget to support your indies and local shops. Here's a link to mine at the King's English in Salt Lake City.