Books, Reading, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Moonshot by Brian Floca

Brian Floca’s “Moonshot” (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books 2009) is hands-down the best recounting of the historic Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon. Floca’s poetry, coupled with his stunning images, truly captures the majesty of the historic feat. Here is one of my favorite stanzas:

“They go rushing into darkness,/flying toward the Moon,/far away,/cold and quiet,/no air, no life,/but glowing in the sky.”

Floca periodically repeats his description of the Moon, giving children a touchpoint as the Moon goes from lifeless to full of life as Armstrong and Aldrin land. Once the men are on the Moon, Floca contrast’s the Moon’s cold lifelessness with the Earth, which is covered with air, water….and life.

My husband picked up this book at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum several years ago, and we’ve been reading it to our older son since he was four. It’s a little bit long for a bedtime story at this age (48 pages), however, we’ve read this book countless times, poring over the oversized pages (they measure almost 12 x 11 inches). For parents and older children, there is detailed front and back matter showing the various stages of the Apollo spacecraft, how the stages separated after launch, as well as providing a brief overview of the Apollo program and its historical origins.

“Moonshot” is truly a masterpiece for any child interested in space, the planets or explanation.

Books, Reading

Nonfiction Friday: Thanksgiving Picture Books

Ok, I’m cheating a little bit. The following books aren’t nonfiction, but with Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to share two favorite Thanksgiving-themed picture books.

1) “The Night Before Thanksgiving,” by Natasha Wing (Grosset & Dunlap, 2001). “‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the nation families got ready for the big celebration.” This clever tale transforms Clement C. Moore’s familiar “Twas the Night Before Christmas” into a story of one family’s Thanksgiving fiesta. Will Uncle Norm, who is stuck in a snowstorm, make it in time? Will the bird make it safely to the table? Wing’s clever poetry encourages children to read on and find out.

2) “Thanksgiving Day,” by Anne Rockwell (HarperCollins, 2002). Mrs. Madoff’s class puts on a play about the first Thanksgiving. Each child has a role, from the Mayflower to Chief Massasoit. Preschoolers learn the historical story of the pilgrims and the Wampanoag people and why we celebrate Thanksgiving each year. They learn the symbolism of traditional thanksgiving foods from turkey to cornbread and cranberry sauce. Yum!

Do you have other favorite Thanksgiving tales? Let me know.

Books, Reading

It’s National Picture Book Month

With the push to get children to read chapter books and the rise of e-books, many fear that the picture book is on its deathbed. Enter National Picture Book Month, created by several picture book authors to celebrate the genre.

What makes a good picture book? Picture books rely on both text and illustrations to tell the story. You can’t have one without the other. Picture books are the books you remember reading to your babies, long before they could understand your words. All they knew was that they were loved.

Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon,” Sam McBratney’s “Guess How Much I Love You,” and Mauris Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” are all classics. These are the books that we, and our children, will remember long after we’ve moved on to early reader chapter books, young adult fiction and New York Times Bestsellers.

One of my all-time favorite picture books is “I Will Hold You ‘Til You Sleep,” by Linda Zuckerman and Jon Muth. I received the book from a family friend before our eldest son was even born. Ever since I have delighted in its simple poetry and beautiful watercolor illustrations. It’s truly a love song from parent to child.

When I hosted a baby shower for my younger sister, her friend and I selected a picture book theme. Each guest brought his or her favorite picture book. I, of course, bought her a copy of “I Will Hold You ‘Til You Sleep.”

So this month, I challenge you to dust off one of your favorite picture books. If you have children, read it to them. If you don’t, read it for yourself, and allow yourself to remember your childhood. Feel free to share your favorite books in the comments section. I’m always on the lookout for new book titles.

Education, Homeschool, Reading

5 Stars for Starfall

When it comes to kids and technology, I’m a Luddite. My Wii is gathering dust. We don’t have a DS or an iPad, and I certainly can’t tell you what Angry Birds is. Typically, I limit the boys to a couple of PBSKids shows per day, but they can only watch when I’m getting ready for the day or cooking dinner at night. Still, I give the Starfall computer program 100% of the credit for teaching my son how to read at age 4.

My mom, an elementary school computer teacher, bookmarked the program on our computer a couple of years ago, and she’s played it with my son from time to time. I upgraded to the subscription version of the Starfall program last year ($35 per year).

My son became obsessed with “Word Machine,” an animated game that helps children learn short vowel sounds. The word machine starts with a word, for example, mat. Pull the lever, and a boot squashes the “m” and replaces it with an “r.” The game then has the child sound out “rat.” The colors are bright, the characters are silly, and I think my son enjoyed pushing buttons, pulling levers and watching what happened.

Before I knew it, he was sounding out words left and right, and I was struggling with how to teach him long vowel sounds. I even bought a set of Starfall early reader books. We had been using Bob books, but the black and white pencil drawings were no match for Zac the Rat and his jam or Peg the Hen (who flies a jet, by the way).

My son is now showing his little brother how to play Word Machine. It’s pretty funny to watch him coach. Pretty soon my husband and I won’t be able to spell words in front of them, when we don’t want them to know what we’re saying.