Monday, October 5, 2015

Exploring Nitty Gritty Planet Earth with the Dirtmeister

Dirtmeister's Nitty Gritty Planet Earth
by Steve Tomecek
128 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Kids, 2015

If you want to know all about rocks, minerals, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes - and even dirt - then dig into this book. Chapters begin with some cartoonish introductions and then delve into the science of.... our planet.

Steve Tomecek, aka "the Dirtmeister", is a geologist who studies the blood and guts - er, the strata - of the Earth. He begins at the most logical place: wa-a-ay back when the earth was nothing more than spinning dust.

To get a feel for how geologists "tell time", he takes us on a field trip down the Grand Canyon, where we can see layers and layers of sedimentary rock laid down over the eons, and explains how scientists use radioactive decay to determine the age of rocks. In addition to learning about the innards of the Earth we also learn about the bling: the minerals and gems and shiny metals that can be found within the crust. Plus the volcanoes and erosion and plate techtonics.

Scattered throughout the pages are "Dirtmeister nuggets - bits of info that add to our understanding of geology - and short bios of scientists who've studied the earth. Like the guy who discovered that the continents are not staying put, but are drifting about.

For teachers & homeschoolers, there's a page at the back that lists STEM science standards, and for everyone there's a handy index. (I love indexes!)

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 2, 2015

999 Frogs... and a Little Brother

999 Frogs and a Little Brother
by Ken Kimura; illus. by Yasunari Murakami
40 pages; ages 4-8
North/South Books, 2015

theme: friendship

It was spring. At the edge of the big big pond, 999 tadpole brothers were playing together.
999 tadpoles were doing well.
998 tadpoles sprouted legs.

So... when the other tadpoles use their froggy legs to frog-kick across the pond, one little tadpole is left behind. And when they use their skinny froggy arms to swim, that last little tadpole is left behind. And when they lose their tails and JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! out of the pond, the last little tadpole watches them go.

And then he hears a tiny voice calling "Big Brother!" It is a young crayfish, and the two of them form a strong amphibian-crustacean brother bond. Which lasts as long as it takes for mama crayfish to find her lost baby.

What I like about this book: The wonderfully simple illustrations of frogs. And crayfish. And the big bad snake. (Did I neglect to mention the snake? ooooh.... he's hungry and loves to eat frogs.) I like stories about unlikely heroes, and people (or frogs) pulling together to help save someone from certain death and ingestion. And it reminds me a whole lot about the story of people trying to pull a humongous turnip out of the garden. Plus 999 is a really big number.

Beyond the book: It's the wrong season to find tadpoles, but you just might find some frogs making a last-minute dash to a wintering spot. Snakes and crayfish will be settling in for winter, too - at least here in the northern hemisphere.

What sort of frogs live near you - and where do they go in the winter? We have wood frogs around these parts. They hibernate in the winter. Draw a picture of a frog that lives in your area.

Why don't frogs freeze in the winter? They turn into "frogcicles". Learn more here and here. How cold does it get where you live? Maybe you can put up an outdoor thermometer on your porch and write down the temperatures every day.

Listen to some frog songs. When the frogs stop calling, you can click here to listen to an hour of frog choruses.

Play Leap Frog with some friends.

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Trouble with Ants

The Trouble with Ants (The Nora Notebooks #1)
by Claudia Mills; illus. by Katie Kath
176 pages; ages 7-10
Knopf, 2015

I love ants - so I could not wait to get my hands on this first in a new series by Claudia Mills. Because who can resist a story about a fourth-grade myrmecologist which features loose ants, a skunked dog, and that dreaded assignment to write a persuasive essay.

The book begins: "Nora Alpers woke up early on New Year's morning and reached for the handsome, leather-bound notebook she had gotten for Christmas." She could use it for a diary, suggests mother. She could write stories in it, suggests her sister. She could write poetry in it, suggests her brother.

But no - Nora plans to scribble interesting facts about ants. Right now, in fact, she's investigating whether ants dig faster in wet sand or dry sand.

I love that chapters end with ant colony observations. I love that random animal behavior facts show up in unlikely places - like how fourth-graders sort themselves into various groups in the cafeteria. And I love the details about making your own ant farm using ants from the back yard (don't do this with fire ants!). Mostly I love that author Mills doesn't shy away from complex language. She calls ant scientists by their name and figures that kids will figure their way through all five syllables.

Oh yeah - and there's a real story going on, too, in spite of the ants. But....will Nora submit a paper about her ant research to Nature? Will she solve the mystery of disappearing ants? And will she be able to convince her friends that ants are cool? Find out the answers to these questions and more in your very own copy of the book, because I'll be re-reading mine.

IF you've got some ants living around your neighborhood, try out these experiments I wrote up in an article for Ranger Rick back in 1998 called "Invite Ants to Lunch".

 Today is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review from ARC provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Vincent Paints his House

Vincent Paints His House
by Tedd Arnold
32 pages, ages 4-99
Holiday House, 2015

Another book I would choose by its cover!

theme: art, imagination

When the book opens it's time to paint the house. Problem is, Vincent can't decide what color to paint it.

"Maybe I will just paint it white," said Vincent.

..."Stop!" said the spider. "This is my house and I like red."

Vincent agrees that red is nice, but then caterpillar butts in and says it's his house and he likes yellow. Yellow is nice too... but animal after animal insist that the house be painted a different color. What's a post-impressionist Dutch painter to do?

What I like LOVE about this book: It's fun. Entertaining. Educational. I love that when Vincent says he'll "just paint the house white", the colors on his pallet include snow, ivory, titanium, and cream. Yellows include amber and ochre, reds everything from peach to cadmium, and blues include my favorite: cyan.

I love that he visualizes his newly painted house as part of one of his paintings, and that as he paints he gets blobs and drops of color on his shirt, jeans, beard.... And I really love the last page: an homage to Starry Night - but featuring his humble abode instead of the town.

And did I say I love the cover?

Beyond the Book :

Go on a color field trip. Head to a store that sells paints and look for the displays with paint color samples. It's fun to see how many colors of white they offer, or yellow, blue, green. Collect a rainbow (if you can). White isn't called "white" - it's oatmeal or eggwhite or cream. What cool names are there for colors? Then go on a field trip outside and see how many different shades and hues of each color you can find. You might want to take a camera.

Mix up some colors and paint your own house - but on paper. Draw a picture of your house and paint it. What color - or colors - would you choose? If you can't find the right color, mix up one of your own. Check out some historically painted homes, or  these houses

Learn about Vincent Van Gogh. You have probably seen his paintings in books - or even a museum. Check out this gallery of his paintings. And if you have a chance to look at one of his works, take a close look at his brush strokes and a distant look at how the colors come together. 

 Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Is That a Cat?

Is that a Cat?
by Tim Hamilton
32 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2015

The cat wants another cat to play with. Looking out the window he sees what looks like a cat's tail.

But no - it's the handle of an Elf's umbrella. And the elf is looking for some rain so he can test his umbrella. Look... droplets of water falling from the sky. Could it be rain?

Nope. It's a bear crying on the roof. Crying because he lost one of his boots. But wait! could that be his lost boot over there?

Nope. But welcome to this crazy story where everyone is looking for something and just when they think they find it, they discover it's something different. It is one wacky chain of events that just might inspire youngsters to look at their world with a bit more imagination. But wait! Isn't this the same author who, just last spring, had us hunting for pirates?

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Let's Read Week ~ Crow Made a Friend

Crow Made a Friend
by Margaret Peot
24 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2015

OK, I confess: this is a book I would choose by its cover!

themes: friendship, seasons

Crow is alone.
He has a plan. He uses sticks.

Crow wants a friend, and since there's no other crows around he sets about making one. He tries sticks, but they don't work. He tries building a friend out of snow, but snow friends only last so long. Then he hears "Caw! Caw!" and he makes a new plan that works out much better. In the end crow is surrounded by friends.

What I like about this book: I like the simplicity: crow wants a friend and so he makes one. I like the seasonality: in the fall he uses sticks; in the winter he uses snow. I like that he tries to solve problems in a crow-like fashion, and that the materials he uses are things that a crow would find in nature. And I like love the way it ends, when crow puts his building skills to a different use: making a nest for his new friend.

And did I say I love the cover? I also love the play on words in the title. And the language is simple enough for beginning readers, and yet engaging enough that I would read it aloud to a child as a picture book.

Beyond the Book:

Make a pocket friend. You probably have all sorts of things around the house that you could use to make a "friend": un-matched socks, felt, clothespins, yarn, scraps of fabric. If you like to use needle and thread, try making a sock friend. But if you're more the glue-it-and-be-done-with-it sort, then maybe a clothespin person would be the friend for you. Be creative. Have fun.

Be a friend to people and other living things. Two years ago a girl in Seattle started feeding the crows in her neighborhood. Now her crow friends bring her presents when they visit. Crows are smart; they can use tools and build things, and they can tell when someone is a true friend. How can you be friendly to the birds who visit your backyard? How can you be a better friend to your pet?

The legend of Rainbow Crow. The crow on the cover of the book has feathers the colors of a rainbow. And that reminded me of a tale from the Lenni Lenapi people about Rainbow Crow. Rainbow Crow was a true friend to the other animals - you can read his story here. And if you look at crow feathers in sunlight, you can still see the rainbow.

I've been reviewing early readers all week. Here are links to the earlier posts:
Lost Dog
Hiding Dinosaurs
Cool online resources 
Pie for Chuck

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Let's Read Week ~ Pie for Chuck

Pie for Chuck
by Pat Schories
24 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2015

I love it when stories begin on the end pages. Open the cover and you see a gentle scene, with mom and child placing a hot pie on the windowsill to cool.

Without even reading the story, we know there's gonna be trouble. It's all about that pie.

Big Chuck (he's a woodchuck - which, if you know anything about woodchucks, means he's nothing but trouble....) can see that pie. He can smell that pie. But he cannot reach that pie.

With some fun repetition, Pat Schories explores whether any of the other woodland creatures can reach that pie. We see them try....
                  ... and fail. Until Big Chuck gets a big idea. I won't say what happens, but this last sentence should give you a clue: "Pie for everyone!" The wordless spread on the back end pages allows readers to fill in the rest of the story.

This book, with its lovable but zany characters, should entice even reluctant readers to open the covers. Because who doesn't want to read about a pie-stealing critter who outsmarts the mom? And it opens the door for sharing stories about when you were little and wanted to reach the popsicles in the freezer, or how your mom thought that hiding cookies on the tip-top shelf would keep them safe.

Or maybe your child is more technically inclined. Perhaps, if he were in charge of the story he'd have woodchuck build a catapult or some sort of pie-snitching crane? Grab some paper and markers and challenge your child to design different ways to get a pie off a ledge. 

Here's a few more ideas for enticing children to read:
  • Tell a few jokes or riddles, and then when you stop laughing, pull out the book where you got them. Maybe your kid wants to read a joke.
  • Does your child want to learn magic? Make a car out of a mouse trap? Introduce him to "how to" books for things he wants to do.
  • Introduce a series book (like Encyclopedia Brown, or Cam Jansen mysteries, the Magic Treehouse or Boxcar Children)
More tips here. And don't forget to check out posts from earlier this week:
Lost Dog
Hiding Dinosaurs
Cool online resources