Books, Nature, Outside, Reading

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Camping Trip That Changed America

I feel truly honored to review this delightful book. I had read so much early press about it on several nonfiction blogs. The story intrigued me, especially since we recently took the boys to Muir Woods, named for naturalist John Muir. I was lucky enough to win my a copy from one of my favorite blogs, Teaching Authors. And Barb wrote a beautiful inscription to Cooper and Finley so that they’ll always remember their trip to Muir Woods.
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Mordicai Gerstein
Publication Info: Dial Books for Young Readers – Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012
Intended audience: Ages 6 to 8
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: U.S. history, nature
Opening and synopsis: “Teedie and Johnnie didn’t have much in common — but they shared a love of the outdoors. They both loved a good story, too. And that was enough to change America.”
Rosenstock focuses on a brief excursion in 1903 when famed naturalist John Muir and then-President Theodore Roosevelt camped amongst the giant sequoias in the Yosemite wilderness. The two grown men swapped tales and relived their boyhood during their three-night camp out. Though Johnnie and Teedie never saw each other again after the trip, they became lifelong friends, and that friendship influenced outdoorsman Roosevelt, spurring him to protect more of America’s wilderness. Roosevelt subsequently helped establish 18 national monuments and 55 bird sanctuaries and game preserves. He also added 148 million acres to the National Forest system and doubled the number of National Parks, according to Rosenstock’s notes in the back of the book.
Resources: Rosenstock’s site has a lesson plan for teachers and parents, which is written to Common Core Standards. The boys and I also enjoyed exploring the Yosemite Web site, taking in numerous photos and videos of the majestic park. There are separate sections for kids and teachers.
Why I like this book: As a writer, I am always interested in narrative frameworks. In this book, Rosenstock focuses in on a period of four days, yet these few days have far-reaching impact in America’s history. This approach stands in sharp contrast to books that attempt to cover whole lives of well-known figures or entire historical periods. By narrowing her focus, Rosenstock is able to explore the camping trip in great detail, drawing upon primary resources like newspaper articles and government reports.
Mordicai Gerstein won a Caldecott Medal in 2004 for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. His illustrations capture the beauty and majesty of the ancient redwood forests.
This book would be a great read for Arbor Day or Earth Day. Or, if you have budding naturalists or history buffs, this book is a perfect everyday read.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Older Than The Stars

Author: Karen C. Fox
Illustrator: Nancy Davis
Publication Info: Charlesbridge, 2010
Intended audience: Ages 7 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: cosmology, evolution, science
Synopsis and opening: ”You are older than the dinosaurs. Older than the earth. Older than the sun and all the planets. You are older than the stars. You are as old as the universe itself.”
Karen C. Fox explains Big Bang Theory and evolution in a simple and child-friendly way. Her tale connects the reader and all the plants and animals on the Earth to the beginning of time when the Big Bang created the “bits” — the protons, neutrons and electrons — that became the building blocks of all elements and life. These elements are eternal, Fox explains. You breathe the same oxygen the dinosaurs breathed. Your fingernails contain carbon that might have been part of a plant. As she knits the tale together, she follows the format of “This is the House That Jack Built” to show how the Big Bang ultimately resulted in complex life.
Resources: BrainPOP has a fantastic animated cartoon that explains Big Bang Theory. You’ll need a free trial to access it. Several Web sites use balloons to explain Big Bang Theory. In this one, from Discovery Education, children blow up a balloon and measure distances between different objects marked on the balloon to see how the universe is expanding. DLTK has an activity for making your own universe in a baby food jar. It’s kind of like the snow globe activity I posted previously.
Why I like this book: I wish I had written this book. Karen C. Fox’s book is the perfect marriage of scientific fact, told simply and within a beautiful narrative framework.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: When the Wind Stops

Author: Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrator: Stefano Vitale
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995 (third edition)
Intended audience: Ages 4 and up, though my three-year-old loved it
Themes/topics: nature, natural science, weather
Synopsis and opening line: “The bright yellow sun had shown all day, and now the day was coming to an end. The light in the sky changed from blue to pink to a strange dusky purple. The sun sank lower into the long glowing clouds. The little boy was sorry to see the day end.”
In Zolotow’s beautiful, lyrically written book, the boy’s mother explains that nothing comes to an end. When the day ends at his house, night begins and day breaks at another spot on the globe. Falling leaves signal not the end of autumn, but the beginning of new life, as the decaying leaves nourish the soil. Zolotow’s text is a poetic preschool introduction to the natural world and its cycles.
Resources: This book encompasses much of the natural world. To explain the Earth’s rotation, you need only a flashlight and a globe. Don’t have a globe? Try an orange instead. Show children where you live on the globe (or mark the spot with an x on the orange). Tell the children that the flashlight is the sun. When the sun shines directly on the x (or your city on the globe) it’s daytime there. Now rotate the globe or orange 180 degrees. Explain that now your home is in Earth’s shadow, and it’s nighttime. But see, the sun is shining somewhere else! You could also compost to explain how old leaves and dead plant matter create nutrients and new life. Boil water to show how water becomes water vapor, which creates clouds. Trap some water vapor in a bottle and let it cool. Now you’ve got rain.
Why I like this book: A busy two-year-old serendipitously handed me this book at the library when he saw me pulling books off the shelf. His choice couldn’t have been more perfect. At each sunrise and sunset my three-year-old asks, “Is the sun coming up or going down?” We talk about the Earth’s rotation and the fact that sunset means a new day is dawning somewhere else in the world.  This beautifully written book provides just enough information about nature and its cycles for preschoolers.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, History

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Lightship

Title: Lightship
Author/Illustrator: Brian Floca
Publication Info: A Richard Jackson Book | Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, 2007
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Ages 3-7 ( I think it’s more of interest to ages 4 and up)
Themes/topics: History, vehicles, helping others, perseverance
Synopsis and opening line: Floca’s Lightship is a lyrical history of lightships, lighthouses on the sea. These ships first served in America in the 1820s and marked the way in areas where lighthouses could not be built. Working aboard a lightship was a dangerous job requiring dedication and teamwork in close quarters. Floca chronicles the crew, routines and challenges of a lightship called The Ambrose, relying on extensive historical research.
Here is Floca’s first line: “Here is a ship that holds her place. She has a captain and a crew: helmsman, oiler, engineer, deckhand, fireman, radioman, messman, cook, and cat.”
The book received starred reviews and numerous awards:
• A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
• Booklist’s “Top of the List” Youth Picture Book for 2007
• Winner of the 2007 Cybil Award for Best Nonfiction Picture Book
• An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book
• A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing Selection
• A Banks Street Best Books of the Year selection
• A Junior Library Guild Premier Selection
• A 2009-2010 Buckaroo Award Nominee (WY)
Resources: Lightship contains a labeled schematic of the lightship, as well as an author’s note briefly explaining the boats’ history. Floca’s Web site includes a coloring page, additional reading resources, notes on where you can visit retired lightships, as well as plans for building your own lightship.
Why I like this book: How do I love Brian Floca? Let me count the ways. As in his Apollo 11 book, Moonshot, Floca marries science-based history with simple poetry. His books constantly remind me that writing nonfiction for elementary schoolers does not mean throwing a constant stream of facts at them. Simple, well-written phrases convey the mood and just the right amount of information.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, Nature

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Pipaluk and the Whales

Author/Illustrator: John Himmelman
Publication Info: Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Children’s Books, Feb. 1, 2002
Genre: Fiction, but based on a true story
Intended audience: Ages 4-8
Themes/topics: Perserverance, nature, animals, history, geography (Arctic circle)
Synopsis and opening line: Pipaluk and the Whales is a fictionalized account of a true story. In December 1984, several thousand beluga whales were trapped in a hole in the ice off Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula. An icebreaker reached the whales after nearly three months, but the whales refused to head out to sea — until the icebreaker played classical music. John Himmelman’s protagonist is the fictional Pipaluk, a native girl who discovers the whales as she journeys home from a hunting trip with her father. After the icebreaker arrives, it’s Pipaluk’s singing that first moves the whales out to sea. Her song inspires the icebreaker to play music and lead the whales to safety. Himmelmans’ story begins:
“The night was bitter cold. Pipaluk shivered, but she did not complain.”
Resources: Himmelman includes a note in the back with picture of the real story. In addition, there are number of helpful classroom resources relating to this book. For students in grades 3 through 5, a conflict/resolution lesson can be found…..here. An Inuit and the Arctic lesson plan can be found…..here. For parents and teachers alike, National Geographic has a comprehensive beluga whale page with audio….here. Find their kids’ version of the page with maps, video and sound ….here.
Why I like this book: The visual of thousands of whales trapped in the ice is compelling, however I think the most moving part of this book is a community that works together day and night to save helpless creatures. Pipaluk’s family could easily have killed the trapped whales and had enough food for weeks. However, they respected the whales too much to slaughter them. This book goes a long way toward helping children learn to respect nature.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.


Books, Nature

Nonfiction “Perfect Picture Book Friday:” Mama

This week I’m joining author Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Book Friday” effort while continuing to spotlight nonfiction each week. This week’s book is “Mama” by Jeanette Winter.
Title: “Mama: A True Story in which a Baby Hippo Loses His Mama During a Tsunami, But Finds a New Home, and a New Mama”
Author/Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Publication Info: Harcourt, 2006
Genre: Nonfiction fiction (of course!)
Intended audience: Ages 4 and up
Themes/topics: Friendship, family, animals
Synopsis and opening line: “Mama.” That’s the first line of this book and almost the only word that appears throughout this true tale. Winter relies upon her colorful illustrations to retell this story of a baby hippo who gets swept out to sea and separated from its mama in a 2004 tsunami. Owen, as the hippo is later named, gets rescued by Kenyan wildlife officials and adopts 130-year-old male tortoise Mzee as his new mama.
Resources: The Web site OwenandMzee.com has a wealth of resources for parents and teachers including Scholastic’s teacher guide and three classroom activities. Visitors also will find rebus stories, a game and a sing-along.
Why I like this book: This is a versatile book. It’s a quick read, and preschoolers are drawn to the colorful illustrations and the tale of two different species forming a friendship. With words like “mama” and “baby” beginning readers can read the book on their own. For older children, Winter includes an author’s note in the back, which explains the true story of Owen and Mzee. And, more than anything, I am reminded to keep writing for children simple. Winter “tells” her tale in fewer than 30 words.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, History

Nonfiction Friday: Pascual and the Kitchen Angels

Fiction or nonfiction? It’s often tough for me to classify Tomie dePaola’s work. His biography of Pascual Bailon, Pascual and the Kitchen Angels (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004), is truly creative nonfiction at its best.

Using playful illustrations and captivating prose, dePaola recreates the story of Saint Pascual, a shepherd boy who yearns to be a friar and feed the hungry. When Pascual arrives at the monastery with tasty food from his mama, the friars ask him to cook a dinner. Pascual has no idea how to cook. What can he do? Why, pray, of course.

While Pascual is praying, the kitchen angels appear turning his ingredients into tasty dishes. This happens night after night. The curious friars want to know how Pascual produces his delicious dishes. When they see Pascual’s piety and how God has blessed him, they fulfill his wish of helping to feed the hungry.

Cooper, my five-year-old, loves the magic of the kitchen angels zipping around the kitchen to boil beans, chop vegetables and slice cheese. DePaola’s drawing are hilarious and half the fun. Pascual and the Kitchen Angels is what all nonfiction should be — a great story first and a lesson second. For those who are interested, dePaola includes a note in the back matter with the legend of Saint Pascual.

I’m contemplating a biographical picture book for my February  12 x 12 in 2012 manuscript. I think I’ll use dePaola as my inspiration.

Books, History, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Amelia Earhart – The Legend of the Lost Aviator

As you may recall, last week was Amelia Earhart Day, and I wanted to find an age-appropriate book to support our discussions about this famous aviator. Unfortunately, my efforts met with little success, as most of the library books available were way over a preschooler’s head. However, I did find a beautiful picture book targeted for children ages eight and up: Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2008).

While Cooper couldn’t read the whole thing, I did! (Note: I did not want to get into a protracted discussion with a preschooler about death, so I pretty much skipped over the part about Amelia disappearing. We just read about her key aviation accomplishments.)

At 45 pages, the book is lengthy, however it covers Earhart’s life from her childhood through her disappearance and its aftermath. It opens with Earhart’s first view of an airplane at the 1908 Iowa State Fair and recounts in detail her idyllic early childhood with her sister Muriel. From an early age, Amelia was an adventurer who enjoyed trying new things. Her parents instilled in her and her sister that girls could do anything from playing football to climbing trees.

The book also covers Amelia’s first experiences with flying, her record-breaking achievements and her final flight. Sidebars detail other related subjects and provide context: air travel, female fliers, Amelia’s fan mail, navigation techniques and other circumnavigation attempts. The book includes a mix of historical Earhart photos, including childhood pics, and beautiful illustrations by David Craig.

For older children, this provides a complete portrait of Amelia’s courage and dedication to flying. It’s an inspiring tale worthy of upper elementary children who are ready for chapter books.

Books, History, Holidays

Nonfiction Friday: Of Thee I Sing

I still haven’t made it to the library to pick up books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Amelia Earhart for the kids. I was hoping to review a picture book about one of those famous Americans for today’s installment of Nonfiction Friday. Instead of beating myself, up, I decided to scour the house for a book that might be appropriate.

For Christmas 2010, my sister-in-law bought the boys Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010). Today, we opened it to read Obama’s entry on Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s how it reads:

“Have I told you that you don’t give up?

When violence erupted in our nation,/ a man named Martin Luther King Jr./ taught us unyielding compassion. He gave us a dream/ that all races and creeds would walk hand in hand./He marched and he prayed and, one at a time,/ opened hearts and saw the birth of his dream in us.”

No matter how you feel about Obama as a president, this is a great book that captures the spirit of America and Americans. The book features personalities and talents as diverse as Georgia O’Keefe, Cesar Chavez, Billie Holiday, and Albert Einstein. It also includes more famous Americans like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The book reveals, through each person, the character of America.

Obama’s poetry coupled with Loren Long’s vibrant images makes for a great read. The book is recommended for ages 5 (kindergarten) and up. However even small children will enjoy the poetry and images, though they might not yet grasp the concepts.

Books, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Dino Poop

Dino Poop and Other Remarkable Remains of the Ancient Past by Jane Hammerslough (Scholastic 2006) is one of my favorite books from the kids’ dino-obsessed days. First, the title is perfect for children: what child doesn’t love any excuse to say “poop?” Second, each book comes with a piece of real dino poop (technically known as a corprolite), which totally raises the cool factor. Third, the book is chock full of information, maps, quizzes, activities and more.

Hammerslough discusses how ancient remains help us learn about the past. Dino poop — some dating back 400 million years — provides clues about what dinosaurs ate and how they ate, as well as the environment in which they lived. Some paleontologists, called paleoscatologists, have devoted their life solely to the study of dino poop. Amber, which Hammerlogh calls “tree spit,” has preserved ancient insects, reptiles, plants and moe dating back 225 million years. She also discusses the roles of permafrost; peet bogs, which have preserved whole humans; and asphalt like the La Brea Tar Pits, which has preserved many ice age mammals.

In the back, she includes activities like making your own dino poop doorstop using pasta, making edible amber out of jello, and creating fossils using plaster. There’s lots of hands-on fun for sure.