Monday, December 28, 2015

A Friend for Lakota

 A Friend for Lakota: The incredible true story of a wolf who braved bullying
by Jim & Jamie Dutcher
48 pages; ages 4-8
National Geographic Children's Books, 2015

"Spring blooms over the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Wildflowers splash patches of bright colors across the meadows. And a young wolf pup, Lakota, rolls in the fresh green grass."

Lakota spends his days roaming the forest and meadows with his brother, Kamots. But where Kamots is fearless, Lakota is timid. A year later new wolves join the brothers, and they form a pack. As with all wolf packs, every member has a place. Some are leaders, some trouble-makers. Lakota's job is to help everyone play. But his low position in the pack makes him a target for aggression (bullying).

Fortunately, Lakota has a friend who won't let the others tease and bully. And that makes all the difference in how Lakota develops into the compassionate adult he is today.

Back matter includes a map and facts about gray wolves. The authors also write about their life living with the wolves, and include lots of resources for curious kids who want to learn more about wolves.

 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.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Lucky Litter

The Lucky Litter: Wolf Pups Rescued from Wildfire
by Jenifer Keats Curtis; photos by John Gomes
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2015

When a huge wildfire engulfed the Funny River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, firefighters expected smoke and soot. The last thing they expected was to rescue a family of wolf pups. But sure enough, there they were - five fuzzy blue-eyed pups... and no tracks near the den. These pups were on their own.

The pups were covered in dirt, prickly with porcupine quills, and in desperate need of food and water. So medics used syringes to give each pup a drink, then flew them to the Alaska Zoo. This story follows the keepers who fed and cleaned the pups, played games with them, and helped each one find his or her place in the pack.

Back matter highlights the importance of wolves as a keystone species (animals that help hold an ecosystem in balance). There's also information on wildfires and some activities related to the book.

Come back next week for another book about wolves growing up.
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, December 18, 2015

Animal Groups

Animal Groups
by Jill Esbaum; photos by Frans Lanting
32 pages; ages 5-8
National Geographic Children's Books

If you're hanging out at the Arctic you might notice a colony of Atlantic Puffins, or perhaps a celebration of polar bears. If you're in Africa you might come across a cackle of hyenas or scare up a zeal of zebras.

No matter where you are, if you come across a group of animals there's likely a collective noun to describe them. Jill Esbaum describes ten animal groups, sharing secrets of their family life. Each page features gorgeous photos plus extra facts in "Did You Know" boxes. Did you know that zebras help to keep their friends looking sharp?

Back matter includes additional animal facts, a list of names of other animal groups, and a map showing where the photos were taken.

This year sure has been the year for books on collective nouns for animals. Check out these other books, here and here.

If YOU were in charge of making up names for groups of things, what would you call a group of puppies? A group of kittens? A group of flies? A group of kids at school? A group of books about animal groups?

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy from publisher.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation
by Peggy Thomas; illus by Stacy Innerst
48 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek, 2015

"Thomas Jefferson loved to grow things," begins Peggy Thomas. He grew potatoes and peppers, pippins and peaches and peas. "Throughout his lifetime, he scattered seeds, like a brisk wind, around the world."

He even helped grow the nation, writing the Declaration of Independence. But there was one thing that bothered Jefferson: a French naturalist wrote that wildlife in the new country was small and weak.

So Jefferson set out to prove him wrong. He wanted to introduce Europeans to American wildlife and crops - and he got the chance to do that when Congress appointed him "minister plenipotentiary" to France. There, in his garden he planted corn and watermelons, and he passed out persimmon plants and sumac seeds to friends.

This is a delightful look at Jefferson's agricultural explorations and his attempts to "grow" a nation from the soil on up. Back matter includes discussion about the Founding Fathers' struggle over a vision for this new nation: one of agriculture and farmers? or one of merchants and industry?

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.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding & Author Interview

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding 
by Linda Liukas
112 pages; ages 4-8
Feiwel & Friends, 2015

Imagine a picture book with chapters, combined with an activity book, all with the focus of inspiring young children to play around with tools of computer programming. At the core of this book is the philosophy that play is integral to learning, and that coding is a way to express yourself through play - like crayons or LEGO blocks.

This is no coding guide. Instead, Hello Ruby introduces fundamentals of the kind of thinking that kid coders need: how to break big problems into small problems; how to look for patterns; and how to write step-by-step directions (useful not only in sharing recipes but also in telling a computer what to do).

Ruby, the character in this book, is a small girl with a huge imagination and lots of cool friends. She builds things using her imagination, and that sometimes means making maps, gathering information, and testing out different solutions to problems.

The second half of the book is a collection of activities designed for parents and children to explore together. This is where the actual “coding” comes in. For example, how would you instruct Ruby in making her bed? You see, coding is how you tell a computer what things to do, and what order to do them in. This back section is where you play with logic, meet Booleans, and decode a secret language. Perfect for cold winter afternoons! 

Nothing helps you learn about coding faster than trying it yourself. Head on over to Ruby's website to play some games... some of them require nothing more than a pencil and your imagination. And when you've finished there, check out the resources over at Archimedes Notebook. 

I wanted to know more about how Hello Ruby came about. Author Linda Liukas graciously answered Three Questions. 

Sally: How did you get started in computer programming? And what did you love about it that made you want to do it? 

Linda: I was 13 and madly in love with Al Gore, the then vice-president of US. I had all this teenage girl passion and energy and wanted to make a website for him in Finnish. At the time there was no Tumblr or Facebook, so the only way for me to express all my feelings was by learning HTML and CSS. This has probably influenced my later programming career: for me, coding has always been about creativity, expression and practical application. 

Our kids should learn to bend, join, break and combine code in a way it wasn't designed to - just as they would with crayons and paper or wood and tools. I want to show how coding can be as creative a tool as music or drawing or words. You create something out of nothing, with pure words and thought structures. Learning programming teaches you to look at the world in a different way. 

Sally: Why did you want to write "Hello Ruby" as a picture book? 

Linda: Such a huge part of our daily lives is spent in front of a screen. I believe there's a lot of value in parents and children exploring and interacting offline. That's why Hello Ruby is aimed for 5-7 year olds to be read together at bedtime with the parent, kids who don't necessarily read or write yet on their own. And there's a wealth of knowledge about computers and computing concepts we can teach to the little ones before even opening the terminal. 

Sally: Are there some games parents can play with really young kids before they get on computers? I'm thinking things like putting blocks into patterns (color & shape), but can you think of others? 

Linda: I think computing principles are everywhere around us, and the book familiarizes kids with fundamentals of programming, computational thinking and the attitudes that are important for any future programmer. These include things like the ability to decompose a problem, spot patterns, think algorithmically, debug problems and work together. My hypothesis is that when a kid learns to spot computational thinking in everyday situations, they’ll also be able to learn abstract programming languages more easily. 

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, December 4, 2015

An Inuksuk Means Welcome

An Inuksuk Means Welcome
by Mary Wallace
32 pages; ages 3 - 7
Owlkids Books, 2015

theme: friendship, multicultural, Arctic living

opening: For thousands of years, people living in the Arctic have built stone towers called inuksuit to guide them across this land of snow and ice.

An inuksut can mark a good place to fish or hunt, or how to get home. It can be a way to say "welcome".

What I like love about this book is that it's an actrostic. But instead of an acrostic poem written down the page, this acrostic flows across the pages of this book, from beginning to end. 

It begins,  I is for inuksuk, the stone messenger that stands at the top of the world.  The next spread shows how to pronounce the word and the Inuktitut characters.

 By the end of the book readers will have learned seven words from the Inuktitut language - words that give a sense of the traditions and customs of Inuit life in the arctic. Some words may sound familiar, like nanuq, the polar bear. Others, like umimmat (musk ox) less so.

Beyond the book:  Cold winter days are perfect for learning more about life in the north. Head outside when the wind is blowing, and snow flying. Then come in to warm up with some hot tea and bannock, a type of skillet bread. You can follow the recipe here.

Build your own Inuksuk. Find 6 - 10 stones with flat sides, so you can stack them. For help, watch this video. If you can't find stones, build one out of blocks or make some "stones" out of salt dough that you can let dry.

Make a Bone and Stick game. All you need is a stick (a pencil will do), a cardboard tube, some string, a hole punch and a pair of scissors. Follow directions in this video.

Make art. Check out these coloring pages - or draw your own pictures of arctic animals and inuksuit.

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.