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.

Books, Homeschool, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: “You’d Never Believe It But…the Sun Was the First Clock”

Telling time

Cooper’s had a digital clock in his room for a year and a half now. He went through a couple of years when he wanted to wake up as soon as the sun peeked over the horizon in the summer…at about 5 a.m. Also, he refused to stay in his room during mommy-imposed rest time in the afternoon. Thus, we taught him how to look for 6-0-0, when he could wake up in the morning, and 2-3-0 when he can get up from rest time. He normally runs out of his room yelling,”It’s 6-0-0! Time to wake up!”

Now that he’s five, it’s time to learn to tell time. Santa brought him an analog watch for Christmas, and we’ve been showing him how to read it. A nice companion to this effort is Helen Taylor’s, “You’d Never Believe It But…the Sun Was the First Clock” (Aladdin Books, 1999), which we borrowed it from the library.

“The Sun Was the First Clock” shows children how the earth’s rotation creates daytime and nighttime, how people kept time long ago, and defines hours, minutes, seconds, years and more.

The best part of this book is the hands-on activities. I’ve already shown Cooper and Finely how the earth’s rotation creates day and night by shining a flashlight (the sun) on our globe (you could also use an orange). We also plan to make a sun dial out of some sturdy cardboard, a pencil and some clay. Finally, we’ll make a clock so we can practice telling time using cardboard, some construction paper and a brad (stay tuned for these projects!). This should also serve as a good introduction to fractions.

There are many good books out there about telling time. You might also enjoy, “Clockwise: A Time-Telling Tale” by Sara Pinto (Bloomsbury, 2006), which is more fiction than nonfiction, but helps children understand time concepts.

Books, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm

Here’s the highest compliment I can pay a children’s nonfiction author: when we didn’t finish Hannah Bonner’s When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs before nap time, I finished it myself — sans children — while the babes slept. Here’s the second highest compliment I can pay an author: We love this book so much, I bought a Hannah Bonner book for my fossil-loving 10-year-old niece for Christmas months ago.

Bonner mixes her clever and humorous cartoons with complex evolutionary concepts to discuss life WAY before the dinosaurs roamed the earth (specifically the Silurian and Devonian). She begins the book with a look at Pennsylvania 430 million years ago, a land covered with algae, lichen and moss. This land had little life compared with the vast ocean, which was teeming with living things. How did we get from this to life swarming on terra firma? Bonner deftly explains in the first of three books covering time leading up to and including the dinosaurs. (Her most recent book covering dinosaurs is forthcoming in 2012).

Perhaps my favorite appendix is the first, which shows an illustrated timeline of earth beginning with the Big Bang. This resulted in me having to explain Big Bang Theory to a four-year-old, but no matter. It was wonderful to be able to place the creatures in the book in relative context visually.

While Bonner’s books are probably most appropriate for upper elementary school students, anyone can enjoy them from preschoolers to adults. I found it to be a fantastic refresher of the natural science I studied in eighth grade. If you have a budding paleontologist, you’ll probably want to buy all three of Hannah Bonner’s books.

Books, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Caves and Caverns

Cooper snatched this book off the shelf during a recent visit to the library’s science section. (We aren’t allowed to leave the library without visiting the science shelves….never ever.) Often the boys grab books that are geared towards older children, and we only end up reading portions of them. Case in point: I currently have a chemistry book called “Tests” at my house. However, “Caves and Caverns” by Gail Gibbons (Harcourt & Brace, 1993) is perfectly appropriate for early elementary students, including five-year-olds.

This book easily captures the imagination of early elementary readers, especially since caves are home to bats and other creepy creatures, like isopods and copepods. Gibbons provides a wonderful explanation of how caves and caverns are formed through erosion. She also discusses key cave features like stalagmites and stalactites, describes animals who live in caves and talks about archeological finds like bone fragments and cave paintings.

Finally, Gibbons supplies an illustrated list of supplies a good caver needs, as well as cave rules and areas with famous caves. After reading the book, I really want to take the boys to Luray Caverns in Virginia, the state I hail from. In the meantime, I think a trip to Santa Barbara to see Chumash Indian paintings may be in our future.

Books, Homeschool, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Heating Up and Cooling Down

This is a wonderful time of year for books about weather and weather investigations. We recently checked out Darlene Stille’s “Temperature: Heating Up and Cooling Down,” part of the Amazing Science series. This book is a simply written, yet fascinating overview of temperature, which is perfect for the preschool set.

I love it when a children’s book teaches me new things (or perhaps just reminds me of things I knew long ago but forgot.) For example, did you know that heat only moves in one direction like a conveyor belt? Heat always moves from hotter things to cooler things. Your warm juice box gets cold when placed in ice because the heat moves from the juice box to the ice. This seems counterintuitive; I always thought the ice was forcing cold into the warm juice.

Back matter includes “hot facts,” a glossary, and sources for additional information. The book also features an activity for making your own thermometer using common household items like a plastic water bottle, rubbing alcohol, food coloring and a drinking straw. I can’t wait to try this one.

Books, Nature, Outside, Reading

Nonfiction Friday: Snowflake Bentley

Family friend Carol Hopper always has given the boys the most wonderful books. From Eric Carle’s The Very Quiet Cricket to the The Mitten, she has introduced us to fantastic stories. Last year (at least I think it was last year), she introduced us to Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Houghton Mifflin Company 1998), the true story of Wilson Bentley, the man who loved snowflakes.

Wilson Bentley’s life’s work was photographing snowflakes. As a young boy with little schooling, “Willie,” as he was called, used an old microscope to study nature, including snowflakes. He discovered that each snowflake had a unique design, and he looked at hundreds each winter. When he was 15 years old Willie started to record his observations by attempting to draw snowflakes. When Willie turned 17, his parents bought him a camera so he could capture snowflakes before they melted.

From that day forward, Willie spent each winter photographing snowflakes. Sometimes he captured just a few. Some years, he photographed hundreds. He wrote and published his pictures, and when he was 66 years old, his book was published.

We love this book because of Willie Bentley’s inspiring passion for his work. He was often laughed at and ridiculed, but he still carried on. The book contains notes in the margins giving additional details about his story. I’m wrapping this one up and adding it to our basket of advent books.

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

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.