Monday, January 30, 2012

Seriously, a good series.

I’ve spent some time reading a book from a recently published series, Civil Rights Struggles Around the World.  

 
The Force Born of Truth: Mohandas Gandhi and the Salt March, India, 1920 by Betsy Kuhn (954.035 KuF 2011) was certainly a very informative read.  It provided a brief introduction to the life of Gandhi, where his ideas of nonviolent protest originated and a more thorough grounding into India’s struggle for independence from the British.
I thought there was enough information to get a handle on the ‘who, what and where’ without being overwhelmed. The section dealing with the Salt March is fairly long, encompassing its importance and the lengths to which the National Congress of India went to ensure its success.
Overall, the book is well written giving a concise report of events, implications and repercussions.  It also includes a timeline, list of people involved, source notes, bibliography, web resources and index. This is a good resource for a secondary student writing a report about Gandhi, or India or a specific example of a civil rights movement.  However, I don’t see a student picking the book and reading it cover-to-cover but selecting the bits most relevant for a report.  It does not provide any great personal insights into any of the many people involved. 
As a series, I was interested in the range of protest movements included.  If you say “Civil Rights Movement”, I immediately think of Black-Americans fighting for their rights in the 60s and 70s and there is one book in the series covering this.  Other American struggles include gay activists in the 1960s, migratory immigrant produce pickers in the 60s and 70s, and striking garment workers in 1909. International examples are Chinese student activists in 1989 at Tiananmen Square and South Africans fighting against apartheid laws in 1952.
Definitely worth a look.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Movie magic

Have you heard about the 90-second Newbery Video Contest?
If not, you should continue reading.

This is a contest proposed by children’s author, James Kennedy that challenges the public to compress the premise of any Newbery winner or honour book into a video of 90-seconds.  Let the fun begin.

Visit his website for details on how to enter the contest and what it entails. But even better, continue scrolling down this page until you see his list of posts about last year’s contest.  Within this list are many of the videos that were entered.  Some of them are brilliant.  Can’t say that I’ve watched all of them but I’m working on it.

Many of the videos have been posted on YouTube and if you search ‘90-second newbery’ you will retrieve a good number of them.

One of my favourites (so far) is this particular version of The Graveyard by Neil Gaimon.  The silent film era styling is really well done. Good creepy atmosphere.


Perhaps you'll be inspired to try your hand at creating your own winner.

Monday, January 23, 2012

From the depths of the Siberian permafrost comes…

Baby Mammoth Mummy: frozen in time!: a prehistoric animal’s journey into the 21st century by Christopher Sloan (569.67 SlB 2011) is a fascinating read.  It had been recommended by the blog Nonfiction Detectives  a few months back and I’m glad I followed up.  It will very likely become one of those books kids will glom onto because of its high appeal.
It starts in the high north of Siberia not far from the North Pole.  Nomadic reindeer herders (the Nenets) often discover the frozen remains of prehistoric animals and in this case, they found the frozen body of a tiny (only 33 inches tall) mammoth.  After its initial discovery, the body disappeared, causing a bit of palaver with authorities and scientists.  A well preserved body of a mammoth could be significant in learning what contributed to the extinction of mammoths.  Eventually, the frozen body was recovered from a local merchant who had traded with a Nenet herder, both recognizing the monetary value of such a find.
Once scientists recovered the baby mammoth (now known as Lyuba) the book leads us through the intensive analysis that the cadaver underwent. Questions such as when did she live? (approximately 42,000 years ago), what did she die from? (most likely suffocated in mud), what caused deformation in her head? (a vacuum created by the mud as it was sucked from her trunk into her air passages), how old was she? (about 32 days old determined by counting the layers of dentin forming the tusks), and what was the world like 42,000 years ago? (the third section of the book explorers this further). Unfortunately, Lyuba did not live at the time when mammoths were going extinct, so was unable to contribute to this research.
There are a few side bars and double page spreads that detail scientific concepts (carbon dating for example) or provide timelines, maps  or overviews of a specific topic (the relationship between today’s elephants and other species of  Proboscidea  including mammoths, mastodons and others).  I think the information is detailed enough to offer students in grades 4 to 8 some understanding of the science involved, without being overwhelming.  A glossary is included to help with terms that may be unfamiliar.  Lots of photographs and illustrations are included to help us get to know Lyuba and the research she was involved in.
Like I said, this is a fascinating read.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fiction (mostly) update

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I can’t say I read all that many books over the Christmas break – just too much to do.  But coming back to the university before the students, gave me an opportunity to catch up on many picture books, both fiction and nonfiction.  Here are a few highlights that I’m recommending:

Picture books – Fiction



 Chewy Louie by Howie Schneider (823 SCH57C 2000 PIC BK): Maybe I’m just projecting with this one (two kittens in my house, one who will try to eat just about anything) but I really could relate to the dilemma this family has with a young dog that literally chews the house to bits.  Suggested for grades K-3.



Earth to Clunk by Pam Smallcomb (823 SM19E PIC BK): Ever have to do 
something you just didn’t want to do?  Meet the ‘hero’ of Earth to Clunk.  Required to write to an alien pen pal from Quazar, this young boy sends him all sorts of repugnant things, including his bossy older sister. The alien in return also sends fairly bizarre things to Earth.  Not until the alien doesn’t write does the boy realize how much he enjoyed his correspondence.  Humorous story that ends well for all.  Suggested for grades 1-3.


Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson (823 W3347H PIC BK)
We’re to the second year anniversary of the devastating earthquake to hit Haiti. We have a group of children playing with a soccer ball made of rolled rags, restore faith in an adult who has lost faith that life is slowly getting better.  Though a little didactic the book might be useful in the classroom.

I broke my trunk by Mo Willems (823 W666I2 PIC BK)
Another story in this series about Piggie and his friend, Gerald.  Find out how Gerald the elephant breaks his trunk.  It’s a long, crazy, hilarious story that could happen to anyone. Suggested for grades K-2.

My best friend by Mary Ann Rodman (823 R6182M PIC BK)
The trials and tribulations in making a best friend are told in this neat little story about 1st grader Lily and 2nd grader Tamika.  Sometimes these things just don’t work out the way you want.  Suggested for grades K-3.


Those shoes by Maribeth Boelts (823 B621T PIC BK)
Good story about fitting in and being empathic.  Jeremy is keen to wear the same hightops that all the other kids in school are wearing.  But, after his Grandmother tells him they can’t afford them, he uses his own money to buy a second-hand pair that is too small.  Eventually, he give the shoes to another boy with smaller feet, who seems to be even poorer than Jeremy is. Suggested for grades 2-5.


Picture books – Nonfiction
Birds of a feather by Jane Yolen (811 YOBI 2011 PIC BK)
Beautiful photographs are paired with beautiful poems about a variety of birds.  Suggested for grades 1-6.


Doggy slippers by Jorge Lujan (811 LUD 2010 PIC BK)
A collection of free-verse poems written collaboratively with the author and children from Latin America about their pets.  Interesting and funny.  Suggested for grades K-3.

One foot two feet: an exceptional counting book by Peter Maloney (513.211 MAO 2011 PIC BK)
The format of the book contributes to the funny way to learn about the plural forms of some nouns.  Foot become feet, mouse become mice, die becomes dice, etc.  Suggested for grades K-2.


Novels

Ivy + Bean: Doomed to dance by Annie Barrows (823 B2792I FIC)
Imagine your disappointment when you dream of being a beautiful ballerina in a beautiful ballet but then are cast as a squid! for your first recital.  Good thing Ivy and Bean have each other to get through this one.  Suggested for grades 2-4.


Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children by Ransom Riggs (823 R4485M FIC)
It’s all very odd – mysterious death of grandfather, crazy stories told by same grandfather, strange photographs of children doing strange things living half way across the world – What’s a guy to do but go check it out for himself? Good adventure/action/fantasy.  The photographs are included and are great fun.  Suggested for grades 7 and up.

Savvy by Ingrid Law (823 L411S FIC)
This one came up as recommend on Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac. A tale of a quirky family who develop ‘powers’ when they turn 13.  Mib’s 13th birthday is here and she can hardly wait to find out what hers is to be.  Unexpected trouble happens when her father is in a car accident and she tries (with help from her brothers and a couple of soon-to-be friends) to visit him while in hospital.  Suggested for grades 5-7.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Science is everywhere

I like the idea behind the series Science Explorer Junior that promotes thinking like a scientist.

Looking at three books, Think like a scientist in the classroom by Susan Hindman (507.8 HiT 2012), Think like a scientist in the car by Matt Mullins (507.8 MuT 2012) and Think like a scientist in the backyard by Matt Mullins (507.8 MuTB 2012),I came away feeling that science is everywhere.  Whether I was looking at the weather to decide what to wear, wondering how many miles a car can travel on a tank of gas, or how my peripheral vision can prevent me from focusing on the work in front of me.  This ties in well with making science relevant and approachable for kids.
 
Each book outlines the premises of the scientific method in a step-by-step list starting with observing what is happening around you, developing a question, suggesting an answer, testing it, recording the results and drawing a conclusion.
The books then present three scenarios that are associated with the car, classroom, or backyard, giving us a few questions to think about in that scenario. 



For example, in Think like a scientist in the backyard, the scenario is stepping into the backyard and noticing the weather.  Depending on the conditions and the temperature I may need to wear a coat.  A thermometer can be helpful in deciding this.  A little background information is presented about thermometers from the 1600s which then leads into the experiment of making a rudimentary thermometer on your own.  Additional questions are asked, leaving me to answer them based on my experiment and to draw my own conclusions.  No answers or predetermined conclusions are included.
I like the format of the books and what they are trying to teach – that there is a process or method in trying to understand natural phenomena, that research is required, that guessing is ok, that testing is essential, and observing and critical thinking is crucial.  Finding definite answers doesn’t seem to be the focus and none are provided in the book.
There may be an issue with the publishers suggested grade level of 4 to 8.  The books look too young for the junior high crowd with the large print and simple, brightly coloured illustrations.  Unfamiliar or difficult words are highlighted in the text and defined in a glossary at the back.  I also wonder if some of the concepts will be of interest to kids in the younger grades.  The background information is fairly cursory, leaving me wondering on one occasion (p.24 in Think like a scientist in the car: “Astronomers use parallax to measure the distance between Earth and the stars.” Hmmm, how did they do that?), so I would suggest these are great as introductions to science concepts with the expectation of doing additional research, which is not a bad thing at all. There is a short list of references for additional information and an index.
Again, I like what is behind this series, the invitation and challenge of really taking in what is happening around us and working through the why and how of it. However, I expect that some younger kids will need additional coaching.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

No foolin’ – I’m back.


Happy New Year, everyone.  I’m feeling a little out of shape both for blogging and running.  But there’s no time like the present get back at it.


The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky (823 K882G PIC BK) offers some interesting possibilities for classroom use.

The story is based on a hoax perpetuated by the New York Sun newspaper in 1833. The Sun ran a series of stories about the findings of an astronomer, Sir John Herschel who had apparently discovered many bizarre and incredible creatures living on the moon.  The story is told from the perspective of two young newsboys who temporarily benefit from the hoax as more people buy more newspapers to keep up with the new discoveries.
The picture book is good but not brilliant.  A few liberties are taken with some historical points of accuracy, like whether a newsboy as poor as the ones depicted in this story could read well enough to read these stories, as an example. The illustrations are quite artsy but I find they don’t add much to the story in terms of establishing place or time.  One picture shows a woman in a short dress, which is confusing. They do however illustrate the newsboy’s poverty, living in the streets.  Small snippets from the actual news stories are included and add an authentic element.

I like the potential the book has for discussion about the role of media and the importance of criticallyreading (or listening or watching) all news stories.  Questions like, why were people so gullible believing this story?  Could it happen today?  How can we check whether something is true or not? What are potential consequences of untrue or inaccurate journalism?

To supplement this topic also try What’s your source?: questioning the news by Stergios Botzakis (302.23 BOW 2009) for students in elementary grades and  Unspun: finding facts in a world of disinformation by Brooks Jackson (302.2 JAU 2007)for high school and older.

Now I’m thinking about the Orson Welles radio dramatization of the War of the Worlds in the 1930s – an almost-hoax.  I expect kids would be fascinated and amused to know about the hysteria this sparked with confused listeners about invading Martians.  Seek out Kathleen Krull’s book, The night the Martians landed : just the facts (plus the rumors) about invaders from Mars (791.4472 KrN 2003) for a full retelling of this event.

Discussions around child labourers could also be sparked from this picture book and the conditions in which these boys and real life children must work in.  There are many good resources to bring in to supplement this component of the story, both historical and contemporary, and fiction and nonfiction. One recommendation is Before their time: the world of child labor by David Parker (331.31 PAB 2007) for a look at child labour in contemporary situations around the world.
I recommend The Great moon hoax for grades 3 to 5 or 6.

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