Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Brainstorm 65: Seven silly/seriously funny reads (plus some bonus ones)

It's April Fool's Day. I am not one to appreciate this day. Just thinking up the things that over zealous Secondary students will try to pull on this day gives me the shivers. But I have this great list of fun and silly reads that have some potentially helpful classroom activities too, so why not use the day of great hijinks as an excuse to share some silly/seriously funny reads?

Picture Book Resources

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Floyd's kite got stuck in a tree. So Floyd throws his shoe, which also gets stuck. And then his other shoe...which also gets stuck. And soon Floyd has quite a collection of odd (and quite impossible) things up in the tree in a mad effort to get down the kite (and the other things).

A humorous and absurd modern tall tale that is sure to delight. Oliver Jeffers has quite the imagination (and gives that boy Floyd quite the throwing arm!), and the comic ending was delightfully funny. My one qualm with the book is the font of text used. I'm guessing little ones may find it hard to read as they don't often learn cursive till 2nd or 3rd grade (if they learn it at all).

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Tall Tales: For those covering tall tales, this is a good example of something that even kids can tell is a bit too ridiculous to ever have really happened. Use it to help illustrate key things that make a story a tall tale. What could have been the root real tale this was based on? What parts of the story make it a tall tale?
  • Writing Extension: Have students write their own version of this tall tale. Pick a different type of tree, have a kite get stuck, and then let their imaginations run with what they would do to get the kite down.
  • Memory: Warn the kids before reading, that they’ll need to pay close attention to what is going on because there will be a memory challenge afterwards. After reading the book, hide it away, and have the class (or individual child) see if they can come up with a list of all the things Floyd threw into the tree.
  • Fun Read: Have some fun! Read a ridiculous story!

Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, ill. by Brigette Barrager
Uni the Unicorn is a mostly typical unicorn, except that she believes that little girls are real. Though everyone scoffs and laughs at her for this, Uni holds on to her belief and imagines all the things she and her little girl will do together.

My younger self would have loved this book. Ok, my present day self still loves this book. Mostly, I like the bright and colorful, beautiful illustrations that harken to the intro of a Disney movie. I also like the imagination stuff as a dedicated fantasy fan and fantasy animal fan. A splendiferous fantasy picture book for kids who have good imaginations. The open ending just begs to be fleshed out by those imaginative young minds.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Creative Writing: Have students continue the story either individually or as a class.
  • Point of View: If you’re studying point of view in writing or reading, this book shows the story from two sides, both Uni’s and the little girl’s.
  • Fantasy: This could be used in classes looking for examples of the fantasy genre.
  • Imagination: Both Uni and the little girl have fantastic imaginations. You could use this to introduce the concept of imagination to younger readers, or to start a discussion with older readers about what kinds of things they can imagine.
  • Art: This is a beautifully illustrated book. Look at the pretty pictures!

Sparky by Jenny Offill, ill. by Chris Appelhans
A little girl desperately wants a pet. Her mom says she can only have a pet that does not need to be walked or bathed or fed. Ever resourceful, the little girl consults her school librarian and discovers that a sloth would be the perfect pet that meets her mother’s requirements. So she sends off an order and soon enough her very own sloth arrives. She dubs it Sparky. Sparky does not quite impress like other pets, but the little girl still adores him.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Sloths: If you’re studying unusual mammals, here’s a fun book about a sloth. There’s actually quite a few other books out featuring sloths recently. You could easily do a sloth reading day, combining this with other books like Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon
  • Thinking Outside the Box: The little girl in this story does a fantastic job of thinking outside the box (perhaps more than her mother would have liked). If you’re working on projects that you want students to approach in unique ways, this could be a good inspirational book. (I also love that her first step is to consult her librarian!)
  • Unconditional Love: Sparky does relatively little to earn the adoration of his owner. It would be very understandable for the little girl to be bored or upset with his lacklusterness. It’s a great opportunity to talk about unconditional love.
  • Pets: If you’re talking about pets, this is an unusual and sweet pet book to include.
  • Art: The illustrations are light and airy and seem to fit the mood of the book well. 

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, ill. by Lane Smith
Drywater Gulch had a big problem. A big problem by the name of Toad. No, not hippety-hoppety toads, outlaw bandits of the family name Toad. Kid Sheriff rides slowly into town on his tortoise, and promptly changes all of the wanted posters to rightly reflect the perpetrators of the crime in his opinion...dinosaurs. Will the Toad gang let the dinosaurs take all the credit for their crimes? Will Kid Sheriff find real dinosaurs? Will the town's cumin ever be safe again?

This was completely, unexpectedly marvelous. It has impeccable comic timing (especially with Kid Sheriff on his trusty steed). The plot line is sure to first befuddle and then amaze readers with its brilliance. And the illustration style matches the tone of the story to a T. A thoroughly enjoyable Western tale with unforgettable characters.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Vernacular: If you’re talking about the use of vernacular in writing or how to read it, this is a good book to use as an example. The characters speak in vernacular, and thus some of the spellings will look wacky to kids who’ve never encountered this writing device before.
  • Western: If you’re studying the Old West, or doing a Western unit, this is a fun book to include.
  • Reading Comprehension Challenge: Kid Sheriff is one slick character. Readers will have to stay on their toes to keep up with his plan. Make sure to follow this read with comprehension questions or see if they can summarize the book in their own words. What was Kid Sheriff’s plan? What did the town think of Kid Sheriff at first? What did the Toads think Kid Sheriff was doing? Did your understanding of Kid Sheriff’s plan or his intelligence change? At what point?
  • Dinosaurs: Ok, so there aren’t any real dinosaurs in this book, but there is plenty of talk about them and drawings of them. Could be a good book to read to a dinosaur enthusiast.
  • Comic Timing: This book does an amazing job with comic timing, especially with Kid Sheriff on his trusty steed (a very, very slow tortoise). For classes working on their own picture books or comic books, this would be a good study for figuring out why certain page spreads make readers laugh.
  • Color Scheme in Art: Lane Smith picked a color scheme of rusty earth tones that really helps readers get into the Ol’ West feel. It’s a good example for art classes when talking about how color choice can influence mood. (You could use Uni the Unicorn as a further example for how the art color scheme influences the mood. It is a good contrasting color scheme to Kid Sheriff and provides a different feel.)

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett, ill. by Kevin Cornell
Readers get all set to count the monkeys...only to find that a cobra has scared them off! Two mongooses show up to scare off the cobra, but the monkeys still aren't there for the count of three. Readers are encouraged to perform various actions to try and scare away the ensuing groups so that the monkeys can finally make an appearance.

This was a hilarious book. I had no idea what I was getting into, except Mac Barnett hasn't let me down yet. This was oh so much fun, and I can see kids really getting into this book. If you're looking for a very fun and interactive counting book, look no further.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Prediction & Prior Knowledge: Before opening this book, have kids predict what they think the book will be about. But before reading this one, read some other Mac Barnett books. Then ask them if they would like to revise their prediction. What does their prior knowledge of Mac Barnett’s writing style tell them will likely be true about this book?
  • Counting: This one wild and crazy counting book that will get kids practicing their numbers as well as keeping them entertained.
  • Interactive Read: If you need to make sure kids are engaged or need to get the wiggles out during reading time, having the kids act out the prompted things to get the various animals to leave should help.
  • Compare/Contrast: Compare this book to tales like There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly in which one animal is introduced to chase away another animal, and then that animal needs to be chased away. 
  • Humorous Read: If it is just one of those days and you need a good laugh, pull out this book.

Graphic Novels Resources

Rocky & Bullwinkle: Moose on the Loose by Mark Evanier, ill. by Roger Langridge
A collection of four two-part Rocky & Bullwinkle adventures with short Dudley-Do-Right episodes thrown in between. This new graphic novel of Rocky & Bullwinkle adventures as they try to evade the plots of Boris & Natasha felt true to the original cartoon tv series, with some modern devices thrown in (like cell phones).

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Puns: Just like the original TV series, the titles of the episodes in this graphic novel collection are all horribly pun-laden. If you’re talking about puns in language arts, you’ll find some doozies of examples in here.
  • Reluctant Readers: Graphic novels are always a great way to get reluctant readers devouring a book.
  • Intergenerational Connection: Are you looking for a way to get youngsters to connect with an older generation? Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons first came out in 1959, has had reruns showing since then and spin-off movies, so new and old fans could use this as a common topic to break the ice.
  • Fun Read: Of course, nobody is meant to take Bullwinkle or Dudley too seriously. Just enjoy the wacky adventures. 

Invader ZIM, Vol. 1 by Jhonen Vasquez, Eric Trueheart, and Aaron Alexovich, ill. by Megan Lawton, Simon Troussellier, and Rikki Simons
A spin-off of a TV cartoon series that was out some-odd years ago. ZIM is an incompetent alien invader, sent to Earth by his superiors just to get him out of their hair. Most of his kind are busy taking over planets. ZIM is so incompetent, he’s lucky to make it from one day to the next, but of course he’s totally oblivious to his banishment or incompetence. Dib is ZIM’s next door neighbor and the only Earth resident on to ZIM’s schemes. (Well, except for Dib's sister Gaz, but she realizes ZIM isn’t really a serious threat so she mostly ignores him.) ZIM’s only companion for his invasion and takeover of Earth is a robot. Most other invaders got a good robot, ZIM was given a damaged one, GIR. (My most favoritest character!!! See, I like him so much I throw aside the conventions of good grammar just for him.)

Activity Tie-ins:
Just read this one for fun! (You may want to find an episode of the original TV series to watch just so you can get the voices in your head right.)

Bonus: When asked for a funny read, here are some of my go-tos. 
(This list is by no means satisfactory in length to me. It would take way, way too long for me to write a list here that fully meets my desire to introduce you to all the wonderfully funny books out there. Sometimes the perfectionistic librarian just needs to be told to chill out. So this is just the tippy-top of the funny reads recommendations iceberg.)


Picture Books: Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems ; Tacky series by Helen Lester

Lower Grade Fiction: Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish & Herman Parish ; Bad Kitty series by Nick Bruel

Middle Grade Fiction: Alcatraz Smedry series by Brandon Sanderson ; The League of Princes series by Christopher Healy

Young Adult Fiction: The Last Dragonslayer series by Jasper Fforde

Adult Fiction: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome ; Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

Juvenile Nonfiction: Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst, ill. by Jelmer Noordeman ; Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series by Nathan Hale

Adult Nonfiction: What If? by Randall Munroe

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Brainstorm 64: 6 Picture Books for Building Values & Character

Here's 6 picture books that have messages about the importance and value of good character, whether generosity, unselfish love, self-control, kindness, or honesty.

Picture Book Resources

The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
A little mouse sets off in search of the great land far beyond he has heard and dreamed of. The way there has challenges, but Magic Frog gives the little mouse the ability to jump which helps make things easier. Along the way, Jumping Mouse comes across others animals in need, and with magic from Magic Frog he self-sacrificially gives away of his magic and senses to help them. In the end, Jumping Mouse reaches his destination but cannot see or smell it due to his acts of kindness until Magic Frog rewards his unselfishness.

I absolutely love Steptoe's illustrations, even though they are black and white, they are still incredible. The story itself is also wonderful. Jumping Mouse is so sweet and kind, he's a great little hero and role model.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Unselfishness/Sacrificial Love: Jumping Mouse is an incredibly loving little critter. He gives away to others regardless of the hardships it could cause himself. Ask students whether or not they would have done the same thing. Do they know any real people, living or historical, who have demonstrated sacrificial love that they admire? 
  • Native American Folklore: This story is based on a Native American folktale. Have students research which tribe first told this tale and why the kangaroo mouse was chosen as a main character. 
  • Creative Writing Extension: Folktales are often altered and adapted as they are spread. Have students rewrite the tale to fit a different geographic area. For example, what creatures could be used if the story were set in the Arctic or Japan or Hawaii? You can have students randomly choose an area that interests them, or do it as a class writing activity and rewrite it for the area in which you live. For example, students in my school could rewrite it with Thai jungle creatures.
  • Ecosystems/America West: Those studying ecosystems of the American West will find this book includes a good survey of organisms found in those areas, and could be used to create a food web or just to introduce students to the typical animals of that region.
  • Caldecott Honor: If you're studying award books, this is one that won the Caldecott Honor. Have students discuss why they think Steptoe's illustrations earned this honor.
  • Art: Steptoe did so much with just black and white. Have students discuss why they think he chose this style for this story.

Give and Take by Chris Raschka
An apple farmer learns to balance listening to the two little men Give and Take.

This tale's moral didn't quite turn out the way I had predicted because not only do the little men prompt the farmer to give and take things but also to give and take advice. The moral is thus to balance listening and advising, as well as generosity versus selfishness. I like Raschka's illustrations of his dog stories, but the broad strokes and such can make some of these pages hard to understand illustration-wise. Still, it provides a good conversation starter and some of you may love the unique illustrations.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Listening Skills: This is a good book to use when talking about the importance of good listening skills.
  • Controlling Your Tongue: Teaching kids when to talk and when to keep quiet is an ongoing battle that really never ends, even when the kids our quite big (aka well out of high school). This is a great book to use as a conversation starter on when it is important to speak up, when others might really need to hear what you have to say, and when you should just keep those lips tightly sealed.
  • Generosity vs Greed: Have students compare and contrast what it is to be generous and unselfish, versus greedy and selfish. What are the intangibles both reap for their actions?
  • Art & Opinion vs Fact: I mentioned the unique art style up above. I have a feeling most kids are going to have an opinion about the art too. Use this as an opportunity to differentiate between fact and opinion. Have students state some facts about the art. Then have them share some opinions about the art.

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, ill. by Gail de Marcken
A very greedy king finds out that there is a quiltmaker in his kingdom who just gives away
beautiful quilts to other people, and he is hurt that he has never received one. He demands that she make him one of his beautiful quilts. The wise quiltmaker takes the opportunity to require payment in rather unique methods and teaches the king valuable lessons on the joys of blessing others and being unselfish. The king must give things away from his hoarded treasures, and each time he does so, she will add a square to his quilt. The king’s heart changes dramatically in the process, and in the end, he learns to joyfully give until he cannot give any more.

The pictures are beautifully captivating and the message against materialism is wonderful. This is a longer picture book, so it may require two sittings to read.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Generosity vs Greed: Perhaps even more than the previous book, this one helps demonstrate some of the intangibles people reap as a result of greed or generosity. See if students can identify them. You can also have students brainstorm and identify anyone in real life or history that they admire because of the person’s generosity.
  • Giving & Heart Attitude: Have students chart or just discuss how the King’s attitude about giving changed over time. Can they think of a time when they showed generosity, but were grumpy about it? Can they think of a time when showing generosity gave them joy? You can also have students brainstorm someone they admire who gives with a happy heart.
  • Compare/Contrast: Read this book and Raschka’s book, and have students compare and contrast the two.
  • Materialism & the Media: This book provides a fantastic opportunity to evaluate the media that surrounds them. If the King were in their world, where would he have gotten the idea that having more things would make him happier. See if they can identify print or video ads that contain that message and have them analyze why those companies might want the King to believe that. 
  • Unselfishness Quilt: To encourage students in your class to be unselfish, challenge classmates to write on a quilt square when they observe someone acting unselfishly. Over days and weeks, piece together a quilt of unselfish acts students have observed in each other. (The quilt could be real or just paper put on a bulletin board.)

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
A rabbit and mouse plant some seeds and eagerly reap the fruit, but they learn the hard way about the benefits of sharing and kindness.

A beautifully-illustrated story with a fantastic message about patience and the blessings of kindness.

Activity Tie-ins: 

  • Patience: The rabbit and the mouse find that it takes a while for the seeds to grow into fruit. Waiting is not easy, but it is worth it in the end. Rabbit and mouse also demonstrate some things to do while waiting, like reading that can help make the time go faster. You can have the class brainstorm other things that can be done to help themselves have patience. Or have them brainstorm some things that take a long time but are worth having patience for.
  • Kindness: Rabbit and mouse learn the hard way that selfishness and being unkind can hurt both themselves and others. See if students can identify the benefits of being kind in the story and in real life situations.
  • Plant Units: A good read when studying plants and waiting for your own little seeds to sprout.
  • Art: Kadir Nelson’s artwork is amazing. It is 100% ok to pick this one up just to look at the pictures. 

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
Charlie, Dash, and Theo are doing something they know they really shouldn't do when they accidentally break their mother's favorite blue shell. Rather than fess up to their deed, they set out in their boat to find a replacement shell. They search high and low, face a few dangers, each other's pointing fingers and their own guilt. And when they’re finally ready to do the right thing, they get an unexpected reward (though no dessert).

A beautifully illustrated adventure with a nice little moral too.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Honesty & the Blame Game: This is a great book to use to talk to kids about blaming others and owning up to their crimes/faults. It also provides a good example of how you can get yourself into even greater trouble by delaying doing the right thing. How would the story have been different if the bears had admitted what they had done right away? What could they have avoided?
  • Discipline: This is also a good book to use when talking about why adults discipline children. It's a well-balanced story in that the mother obviously loves and forgives the three little bears, but that doesn't mean she withholds all consequences of their actions. (Some will argue that the little bears deserved a more severe punishment, but there's also the terrifying storm they weather which seems to have straightened them out better than many other consequences would have. This could be fodder for an interesting class debate or persuasive paper: Did the bears get the punishment they deserved or not?) 
  • Plot Diagram: This is a good story to have students practice doing a plot diagram of. There are several events. There’s a clear-cut onset of the problem when the shell breaks, a definite climax that leads the bears to decide to admit their guilt, and then the denouement when they confess.
  • Art: What the kids will enjoy most about this book is probably the illustrations.  They are enchanting.
  • Adventurous Read: If you’re looking for an adventurous read, this is a good short one. The little bears go on quite an adventure and see many wonderful things in their hunt for a replacement shell.

Little Elliot Big City (Little Elliot #1) by Mike Curato
There are several challenges faced by a small elephant in a great big city. But Elliot tries to make the best of things. He can't help but be disheartened though when he can't get a cupcake because he's too small to be noticed. In his tragic state he starts home when he comes upon someone in even more dire straits. He helps a creature even smaller than himself and finds himself rewarded in more ways than he expected.

Elliot is cute all by himself in the way he handles being small. Add to that his kind actions and the touching rewards he gets in exchange, you get one stellar book (and quite possibly the need to run out for cupcakes). I liked the 1940s-ish setting of the book too. It adds a certain extra charm to New York. Oh, and did I mention that the illustrations are fantastic? The illustrations are fantastic.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Self-pity Trap: Elliot could easily just wallow in his own self-pity, but instead, he decides to focus on helping someone else. Kindness gets him out of his little slump and brings unexpected joy. Ask students when are they tempted to feel sorry for themselves. Does it help? Have them talk about the saying that there’s always someone worse off. Is that true? Challenge them to try Elliot’s cure for self-pity next time by looking for a way to show kindness to someone else.
  • Kindness: Elliot’s friendly act gets him a new friend, and a cupcake too! What are some of the benefits students have seen from being kind? At the same time, discuss if we should be kind just to get something out of it for ourselves.
  • Friendship: Elliot doesn’t set out from home planning to make a new friend, but because of his kindness he ends up with one. Some kids struggle with knowing how to make friends. Elliot provides some key ingredients for friendship: reach out with kindness, and find a common interest, even something like cupcakes.
  • 1940s: If you’re studying the 1940s, this is a fun look at New York during that time period.
  • Elephants: Ok, so a polka-dotted elephant is a little unusual. Still, if you’re doing a unit on elephants for little ones, you could include Elliot. You could also do an extension activity and read about real elephants. Or have students do a project on elephants in literature. (Others like Babar come to mind.)
  • Cupcakes: You cannot read this book without cupcakes. It would just be torture. If you’re fighting the mid-year slump and need an excuse to have cupcakes in class to spice things up, Elliot is there to help you out. He’ll provide the story and excuse, you can provide the cupcakes.
  • Fun Read: What’s not to love about a polka-dotted elephant who loves cupcakes? Little Elliot has other adventures too. So far there’s one other Little Elliot book published, and a third coming out in August of this year. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Brainstorm 63: 7 Savory Food Reads

This week’s Brainstorm hunts some savory reads. Seven books that celebrate food: whether cooking, baking, investigating, or devouring.

Picture Book Resources

I Really Like Slop! (Elephant & Piggie, #24) by Mo Willems
Piggie really likes slop. Gerald isn't sure he can stand to smell slop. When Piggie offers Gerald some of her precious food, Gerald at first refuses but then decides to be polite and try some. The results are amusing.

I love that Gerald at least tries Piggie's slop in this! He finds a way to be honest about his opinion and tactful too. Parents and teachers will appreciate Gerald's bravery and manners. Kids will love the hilarity of the illustrations.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Etiquette/Disagreeing Civilly/Respecting Others’ Opinions: Gerald and Piggie do a fantastic job in this story of exemplifying how to disagree over something without hurting each other. It is a great lesson for kids when talking about others’ precious tastes in food or other things. Gerald gives Piggie’s opinion a chance, manages to express his own opinion without hurting her feelings about her favorite meal, and they come out of the experience clearly with different thoughts but still good friends. Manners and consideration for others’ feelings goes a long way.
  • Honesty with Tact: Gerald does a great job of being both honest and tactful. Have students discuss the difference between telling the truth hurtfully and telling the truth with tact. Why is this important in friendships?
  • Picky Eaters: Use Gerald's bravery in this story to challenge picky eaters to at least try that next weird food.
  • Prep for Cross-cultural Eating: Whether you’re just heading across the city or venturing across cross the world, this is a great book to talk to little ones about how to approach strange food dishes with bravery and sensitivity to other cultures.
  • Funny Read: Mo Willem’s illustrations of Gerald’s face in this book threaten to steal the show with their hilarity. Kids (and adults) should find this a highly entertaining read.

Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by Paulette Bogan
The farm animals begin to get a little bored of their normal diets. So, thanks to the farmer's wife's obsession with cooking shows and the rooster's keen eyes, the chickens whip up some salsa, the ducks make guacamole, the pigs scrounge up nachos, and everyone's ready for a fiesta when the farmer and his wife swipe all the ingredients for their own tamales. But never fear, rooster has another idea...

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Prediction: There are repetitive elements of this book, and little foreshadowing clues in illustrations that lend this book well to predicting exercises. See if students can predict which animal group will get creative with their food next.
  • Pre-Readers: This book has repetitive elements good for youngsters just catching on to the idea of reading. They can get the hang of the pattern and start to “read” the book along with you.
  • Mexico/Multicultural Read: For classes studying Mexico or Hispanic culture, this would be a fun book to include, especially as there are recipes in the front and back inside covers for the dishes the farm animals make.
  • New Vocabulary: Reynolds employs some creative and varied vocabulary young readers may find new. Go over with students how to approach new words, how to guess what they mean by context, and how to use a dictionary to check their educated guesses.
  • Creative Writing: At the end of the book Rooster tries his hand at a different ethnic food. Have students write further adventures of the barnyard culinary crew whipping up their favorite ethnic foods.
  • Measuring or Fractions & Cooking: Have your class make some of the dishes and give them hands-on practice with culinary volume measurements or work with fractions as they follow the recipes.
  • Biology/Nutrition: The farm animals got bored of eating the same old thing every day. Animals usually don’t have that problem, but humans do. Have students research some of the hazards if humans don’t have enough variety in their diet. The slew of disorders and diseases possible should reinforce the need for a balanced diet.
  • Funny Read: The idea of farm animals watching cooking shows is somewhat humorous, and Reynolds milks the humorous elements for all they’re worth. Kids should really enjoy watching the animals whip up the dishes. And of course there’s that twist at the end of the story to enjoy too.

Lower Grade Fiction Resource

Tales for Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider
In a series of short stories we learn that James doesn't like broccoli, or mushroom lasagna, or lumpy oatmeal, or milk, or eggs. Well, that's what he says. But when confronted with the options other than broccoli, or the fate of the troll that makes lasagna, or the consequences of not eating oatmeal or milk, James always seems to find a reason to go ahead and eat the yucky foods anyway.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Picky Eaters: Parents will want to hire James' father (aka a genius child psychologist in disguise I'm sure) to work on their picky eaters. It won’t hurt to try reading this to them to see if they can learn anything from James.
  • Psychology: Have students analyze how James’ father is using psychology and why it works.
  • Geisel Award: This book won the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award in 2012. The Geisel award is new compared to several other book awards. Have students research what the award is for and why it was named for Dr. Seuss. Can they find other books in the library that are Geisel Award or Honor winners?
  • Nutrition: It would be easy to work in a little lesson on nutrition in coordination with reading this story. Let’s say James only wanted to eat pizza or hot dogs for every meal. Why might that be a bad idea? What food do students say they want to eat for every meal? How could that hurt them eventually?
  • Compare/Contrast: Read this along with I Really Like Slop! and have students compare and contrast Gerald and James. 
  • Humorous Read: This is a good all around pick for lower grade readers looking for a fun read. James’ father can really cook up some fantastic stories and the illustrations are captivating too.

Nonfiction Resources

Ice-Cream Cones for Sale by Elaine Greenstein
Several people claim to be the inventor of the first ice cream cone, but in this book Elaine Greenstein attempts to set the record straight. She separates the facts from the legends surrounding the first creators, and does a splendid job of clearly stating which is which (and when she is just speculating herself). She accompanies this thoroughly engrossing text with fanciful and unique illustrations that are monoprints overpainted with gouache. Kids should eat this up.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Nonfiction Writing: One of the trickiest parts of writing historical essays is clearly separating facts from speculation. Greenstein provides a great model for kids of how to do that well. She clearly states when things are for sure facts and when she’s just guessing based on the evidence available. 
  • How to Read Nonfiction: This is also a good opportunity to talk about how to read nonfiction and figure out when an author is just speculating or stating facts, because many are not as clear when writing. What are some words that can clue you into something being speculation? How can you verify a fact?
  • History Research: Encourage students to track down the history of other favorite foods. (A good resource for this is The World in Your Lunchbox by Claire Eamer, ill. by Sa Boothroyd.) 
  • Art: The art style of this nonfiction picture book is worth a look at for art classes. It isn't a style you come across very often.
  • History Read: If you’re looking for a fun nonfiction read for history, this is a good pick. It isn’t too long, and it’s a fascinating little bit of history that still impacts regular life.

The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky, ill. by S.D. Schindler
Kurlansky gives kids a whirlwind history of salt's importance on earth, from the ways it determined top empires to how it impacted the diets of civilizations, and even how it permanently changed our vocabulary.

I've read the adult microhistory that Kurlansky boiled down into this picture book. Getting that highly detailed almost 500 page volume summarized into salient points for kids was no mean feat, but Kurlansky managed to do a good job of it. He stayed true to the original purpose while tossing out lots and lots and lots of details that could have lost his younger readers. It's an interesting look at how one little compound has so drastically impacted our world. I love the illustrations in this book to help kids better form a visual image of what is being described as there's several terms or concepts that will be new to most kids.

If you want more details to share with kids about any of the points in this book, I recommend going to the adult version. Each of the points shared here in about one page have numerous chapters in the other book. Both are fascinating.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • World History: We take salt for granted today, but it was so rare and valuable in the past it greatly impacted major historical events. Read this with kids if you’re studying the rise and fall of major empires of the past, or if you’re studying food preservation methods.
  • Chemistry: A fascinating look at how one little compound can affect the world. The diverse uses of salt beyond just a condiment are covered.
  • Vocabulary: Salt has been so important it has snuck into our everyday vocabulary in many ways we don’t realize. This book points out several everyday words that owe their roots to salt.

Graphic Novel Resources

Bake Sale by Sara Vernon
Cupcake and Eggplant are best friends. When Cupcake finds out that Eggplant's family knows the famous pastry chef Turkish Delight, Cupcake is bound and determined to be able to go with Eggplant to visit the family in Turkey. Cupcake quits their band to make extra money. But when Eggplant loses his job, Cupcake decides it's more important for Eggplant to see family, and so Cupcake gives Eggplant a ticket and stays at home. Of course, everyone ends up happy in the end.

Warning: Do Not Attempt to Read When Hungry!!! This is a cute (and mouth-wateringly delicious) story about friendship. You definitely have to put reality on pause when vegetables and pastry goods do things like go to the Turkish Baths and walk out without being turned into steamed mush. But if you can suspend reality and just enjoy the main story about two friends learning what's really important, it is fun. Oh, and all the baked goodies included in the story come with recipes in the back for those who find themselves drooling on the pages.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Friendship & Unselfishness: Cupcake demonstrates an incredible act of friendship by putting Eggplant’s needs in front of his own needs or wants.
  • Prioritizing: Cupcake also is a good role model by realizing he can’t do it all. He has to make a tough choice, and chooses the trip to Turkey and making extra money for it, over being in the band. Have students brainstorm examples from their own lives when they’ve had to prioritize or what happened when they didn’t prioritize.
  • Math Skills/Direction Following Skills & Baking: Have students practice those math or direction following skills and make some of the recipes in this book.
  • Reluctant Readers: Graphic novels are always a great choice for reluctant readers. The pictures help reinforce the potentially tough words, draw the reader in, and make the story zip by.
  • Foodie Reads: Some readers are just looking for a book that makes their mouth water and arms them with recipes to fill their tummies. There aren’t tons of graphic novels out there that fill this bill, but there are a few. This is probably the cutest of the lot.

Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman 
Julia Rothman takes you on an informative and captivatingly illustrated tour of all things natural that intrigue her. From the rock cycle to edibles in the woods or garden to critters you're likely to happen on in North America, you get a broad introduction to the natural world around you.

Rothman consulted experts in various fields to help her and she summarizes main points nicely. You do get a little bit of everything from Earth Science and Biology, but it doesn't feel too random. The topics are organized a bit to help with that. I found her field guide sections on plants, fungi, insects, and animals very well done. She highlights things you are most likely to see. The edibles parts along with a few recipes are quite interesting; there were several plants I recognized and had no idea they were edible. (She also does give a healthy warning to make sure you know which plant is which.) This normally wouldn't be the kind of book you just sit down and read, but it is a great resource.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Earth Science: There are several nice charts of seasons and phases of the moon and other natural cycles that could be used in class.
  • Biology/Botany:  The guides on plants, animals, fungi and insects could be useful for classes, especially if you’re studying classification systems or if you’re about to take a hike in North America.
  • Random Fact Lovers: Have this graphic novel around for those students who like random facts and are always looking for little new tidbits of information. It’s a good book for the curious reader.
  • Foodie Reads: The sections on edible wild plants and recipes for them will be of interest to food lovers. But make sure you read her important warning about knowing which plant is which!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Brainstorm 62: 5 Books on Emotions & Dealing with Tough Times

It's not always easy to talk about emotions or how to deal with life's hardships. Sometimes a fictional character going through a similar experience can help break the ice. Here's 5 new-ish books that can help kids understand and deal with emotions and tough times. And though the focus is on kids, there are extensions where many of these books can be used in high school or even college as well.

Picture Book Resources

Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley
You would think knights, pirates, ninjas, superheros, cowboys, and pro-wrestlers have it all together. But they would like you to know, that sometimes they have tough days and shed a tear or two too.

A somewhat comical picture book that's boldly illustrated to convey an important message: It is ok to show feelings. An important book for giving tough boys (and girls) the freedom to cry when they need to. I loved some of the situations that brought various "tough" guys to tears. The pirate who has a bazillion holes dug and hasn't found the treasure yet, the knight who broke his sword, the cowboy falling off his horse, and perhaps best of all, the tough motorcycle guy crying over a squirrel that is now road kill.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Emotional Health: This book provides a great opportunity to talk to kids about what happens when we bottle up emotions and try to hide them. You can also talk about healthy ways to deal with sadness and hurts.
  • License to Cry: If you need to give a tough kid a license to cry, this book does so with touches of humor.
  • Social Studies/Cultural Geography: A lot of how we express our feelings is dictated by our culture. Sometimes this can lead to cultural misunderstandings. This book could be a good launching pad into researching how various cultures commonly express (or repress) various feelings, and when this can lead to misunderstandings when interacting cross-culturally. Which cultures are the most outwardly emotional and which are the most stoic? You can also extend this and debate the question of when it is ok to forgo cultural mores and express emotions in different ways.
  • Class Discussion: Have the class discuss things that make them (or others) super upset. When is it ok to get really upset? When might it seem silly to get really upset?

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, ill. by Isabelle Arsenault
Virginia wakes up very grumpy and the whole house suffers with her. Eventually, her sister finds a way to help Virginia (and the house) out of the doldrums.

Supposedly very loosely based on the real Wolf sisters, this is a universal story of one person helping the other out of a bad mood. The illustration style is quite interesting. When Virginia is down, the illustrations are dark and foreboding and full of shadows. But once her sister has her cheering up idea, colors start to take over and chase out the shadows.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Grumpy Days: This book provides a good opportunity to brainstorm things that help when you wake up in a bad mood. It could also be a good time to talk about what makes you wake up in a bad mood (like going to bed late) and how to avoid those. Pull this one out when the whole class seems to be a bunch of grouches (including maybe the teacher).
  • Art: Arsenault does some very clever things with the art in this book. She coordinates colors and moods. She also does something with the top of Virginia’s head that’s quite clever. (I’m purposefully being vague here. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.)
  • Loved Ones & Depression: There are inevitably going to be children out there with loved ones struggling with depression. This could be a good book to open up the door to talking about that issue and how to help someone facing the wolf of depression (though it isn’t quite as easy as in the book).
  • Compare/Contrast: Read When Sophie Gets Angry --Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang and compare/contrast it with this book. Both are about dealing with strong emotions, but they also have quite a few differences.

Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt
A little fly gets sucked up into the vacuum. This sudden change sees him going through the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and acceptance.

You would think a picture book about grief would be depressing, but this one ends on a hopeful note and it addresses the topic in a light way. The accompanying illustrations are in a retro theme, and I can't imagine how long it took Ms Watt to make this book. It is three times the normal 32 p. though it doesn't feel too long.

Activity Tie-ins: 

  • Loss of a Loved One: This is a great pick for anyone facing the death of a loved one, even a family pet. Though grief looks different for everyone, the stages will probably appear at some time and in some way. This book is a very non-threatening way to broach the topic of where they are in the grief process.
  • Support for Someone Grieving: This is also a fantastic resource if you want to help a group understand what their friend is going through after the loss of a loved one.
  • Moving or Life Changes: Any kind of big change can cause us to experience grief to some level. This is a good book to use when facing a family move or really any other change that really hurts.
  • Psychology: Psychology classes could use this book when talking about the stages of grief. It illustrates them well and helps make them memorable. 

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
A little girl is curious and has a full heart, until her father is gone. Then she decides she needs to keep her heart safe and protected. So she takes it and puts it in a bottle for safe keeping. But though her heart is safer, the girl grows into a woman finds her life has less spark. Eventually, a little girl helps restore her heart to the proper place.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Symbolism in Art & Literature: This book is just dripping with symbolism, making it an excellent illustration when talking about symbolism in literature or art. 
  • Grief & Keeping an Open Heart: This is another book that could be helpful for someone going through the grieving process. After going through a hard parting, it is always a temptation to close yourself off from all others in an attempt to avoid future pain. Hopefully, readers can learn from the character and keep their hearts open to others.
  • Expats & Third Culture Kids: Third culture kids and expats in general tend to face so many changes, especially in their community make up, on a regular basis it is easy to fall into the temptation of the main character in this book. It’s a good reminder to not withdraw from new friendships when you’re tired of constantly saying goodbye.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm, ill. by Matthew Holm
Sunny has to go stay for a part of the summer with her Gramps in Florida. She isn't too thrilled with Gramps' idea of fun, or that he lives in a 55 & over neighborhood. But when she meets the son of the golf course's groundskeeper, she finally finds a friend. Buzz introduces her to comic books and ways to pass the time in the retirement village. In flashbacks, readers slowly find out what was going on back in Pennsylvania with Sunny's brother Dale and why Sunny was sent to Florida for part of the summer. Eventually, the summer provides insight and healing for a little girl desperately in need of it.

A fun and sweet story that tackles a potentially heavy topic in a very delicate, respectful, and hopeful way. It will hopefully empower children in similar situations (dealing with a family member who is an addict) to know how to handle it in healthy ways. There's a note in the back from Jennifer and Matthew saying that this book is somewhat autobiographical for them, as they had a close family member who struggled with substance abuse when they were growing up. Even though the book deals with a heavy topic, much of it is humorous and upbeat. The plight of a little girl stuck with a bunch of senior citizens in Florida is done in a funny but oh so realistic way. (As a teen I spent one summer in Florida in my grandparents’ similar community, and a lot of experiences resonated with me.) The trip to the cafeteria was especially hilarious. Comic book/superhero fans will love Sunny & Buzz's debates about which superhero is best. The illustrations are attractive, and I'm sure that the huge group of students who love Telgemeier's books and CeCe Bell's El Deafo will eat this one up.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Unfounded Guilt: Sunny thinks her brother’s problem is her fault, and the guilt of this is really starting to bear down on her. There are many things that can make children take on unwarranted feelings of guilt, so this book provides a good opportunity to talk about that.
  • Helping Addicts: There are really two addicts in this story, Sunny’s brother Dale has what we’d call a more serious addiction problem, while her Grandfather has also supposedly quit smoking. Sunny finds evidence of Gramps slipping back into his bad habit. It is a good opportunity to talk about how to help someone who is addicted to something.
  • Intergenerational Relationships: If you’re looking for a read that allows characters of different generations to interact and learn to appreciate each other, this is a great one.
  • Reluctant Readers: These chapter book graphic novels are a great way to get hesitant and struggling readers hooked on a good habit.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Brainstorm 61: Science & Math Reads for K-12

Here’s a few great books we’ve acquired in the past year that focus on math and/or science topics and could be of use from Kindergarten all the way up to High School. And of course, they don’t have to be used just in math or science classes.

Picture Book Rescources

Tree of Wonder: the Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree by Kate Messner, ill. by Simona Mulazzani  
One almendro tree in the rainforest hosts a great number of other creatures in its branches. Each page spread features a different creature living in, on or under an almendro tree, and the numbers double with each spread, culminating with 1024 leaf cutter ants. Each number is written numerically as well as shown visually with that number of critters.

A great combo science and math book with a topic that makes both fun.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Ecosystems: If you’re studying ecosystems, this book provides a great visual of how an ecosystem is made up of the community of organisms living in the same area. You could easily use the organisms highlighted to also make a food web for this ecosystem or talk about bio mass (especially with the numbers highlighted).
  • Biomes/The Rainforest: Many classes study the various biomes of the world or due rainforest units at some point. This is a great nonfiction book to include. And the illustrations are not too childish for even upper grades.
  • Symbiotic Relationships: If you’re studying the interaction of species, this book provides a wide variety of species who interact in different ways.
  • Patterns/Multiplication/Exponentials: Each new spread multiplies the previous number highlighted, but the book doesn’t tell you that’s what it is doing. See if students can catch on to the pattern and then see if they can correctly name the next number to be featured before you turn the page. Those of you teaching higher math could chart the numbers and use them to talk about exponential growth.
  • Big Numbers: For some little readers, this could be the first book they are read that introduces them to hundreds or thousands. You can use it to introduce the hundreds place and thousands place.
  • Word Problems: Word problems are often dreaded and feared, but here’s a sneaky way to make word problems more interesting. There are word problems of varying levels of difficulty in the back of this book featuring the critters and numbers highlighted in the book. It’s a way to make word problems a little less painful and a bit more relevant.
  • Animals: If you’re doing a unit on animals or just have an animal lover, this highlights some unusual ones that don’t often appear in picture books. There’s further information on each critter in the back of the book.

Lifetime: the Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, ill. by Christopher Silas Neal
In one average lifetime...animals can do some amazing things. Schaefer and Neal tell and show kids some of the average numbers for the lives of common and uncommon animals.

This book is simple, but informative. And it could be used with a wide age range. The illustrations are simple, but eye-catching. Animals definitely make "boring" old average finding a bit more interesting.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Counting: For little ones just learning their numbers, here’s a unique counting book featuring animals both familiar and strange.
  • Averages: In the back of this book the author does a fantastic job breaking down how to find averages and how she figured out the averages featured in the book. Let this book do your instruction on averages for you. There’s even further practice problems in the back for students to try out on their own. And all of them involve facts about animals, which makes it a bit more interesting and fun.
  • Rounding: In the process of explaining how she figured out the averages about the animals for the book, the author includes a little information on rounding. She also provides a great practical example of when rounding is useful.
  • Applications of Math to Real Life: In an answer to that ever present question of math students everywhere “When will I ever use this in real life?” the author demonstrates how an author used math to make a book, how animal researchers use math, how math helps satisfy curiosity, and more. 
  • Animals: If you’re looking for a book that features interesting facts and figures about animals, this is a great one.
  • Curious Readers: There’s a whole group of readers out there that can’t get enough information. They love those random facts. This is a good one for those insatiably curious readers.
  • Art: Art teachers may want to have classes look at the art style of this book, which is minimalistic but works for this book.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, ill. by Beth Krommes
With simple text and gorgeous colored woodcut illustrations, Sidman & Krommes invite readers to find spirals in the natural world around them.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Patterns: Spirals aren’t featured all that much in pattern books, but they are interesting and they are all around for those who look. (See below for one specific pattern that relates to spirals, the Fibonacci sequence.)
  • Design Complementing Function: In the back of the book, it mentions a little bit how the spiral shape is beneficial for various creatures/plants featured. Design teachers could use this to inspire design class students to have design complement function of furniture or other inanimate objects they are producing. Science teachers could challenge students to brainstorm other oddly shaped organisms and how their shape might benefit them.
  • Fibonacci Sequence: Spirals follow the 1,1,2,3,5,8, etc. pattern of the Fibonacci sequence in the way they grow larger. A great book to use when talking about this sequence in math classes.

An Egg is Quiet by Diana Hutts Aston, ill. by Sylvia Long
An exploration of the form and function of eggs for all sorts of creatures.

This is a spectacular survey of eggs, their coloring, their variety (in structure and creatures who lay them), and their purpose. A great science resource, which if you just read the main text and not all the little side info is quite poetic. But who can resist fantastic little tidbits of information? Also the illustrations are quite eye-catching. You can definitely tantalize young readers and learners with this nonfiction book.

Activity Tie-ins: 

  • Design Complementing Function: See the ideas for Swirl by Swirl. You can also use those for this book. Use both books in conjunction to give further examples of the ways design complements function.
  • Birds: If you’re studying birds, this covers a lot of different birds, including the biggest and the smallest species.
  • Animal Classes Similarities/Differences: Not all of the egg-layers in this book are birds. It provides a good opportunity to talk about similarities and differences of the organisms in the five classes under Kingdom Animalia’s Phylum Chordata.
  • Compare/Contrast: The eggs in this book are quite varied, but many of them share similarities as well. Pick some from the ones highlighted and have students use their observation skills to compare and contrast.
  • Poetry: The main text of this book is quite poetic in the way it talks about eggs. It provides a poetry example that is both entertaining and informative.
  • Nonfiction Read: If you're looking for a nonfiction book that will captivate the class or an individual reader, this could be a good one.

Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by Andy Rash
Leonard is super excited to start Superhero School. He can't wait to practice stopping speeding trains and flying. So it is an incredible disappointment for Leonard and the others to realize that their teacher, the Blue Tornado, seems to want them to practice fractions and division more than using superpowers. School is such a bummer, until the day the ice zombies kidnap all the teachers and the students finally get to use their superpowers to rescue them. What they don't realize though, is how much they're also using those math skills too.

A very funny way to show kids how math does get used in everyday or superhero situations. The Blue Tornado is one smart teacher.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Judging a Book by Its Cover: Only show students the cover of this book, and ask them to predict what the book will be about. Then read the book and ask them to evaluate how much of their prediction was correct and how much of the book was missing just based on the cover. (I’m guessing no one will predict the book is about the importance of math.) You can use this to talk about ways to better evaluate books before they read, or you can just use it to reinforce to not give up on a book just based on the cover or assume too much based on the cover. And of course, you can apply that little lesson to people too.
  • Fractions: Students frequently struggle with fractions. This book can help make them a little more fun, show them the value of fractions, and help students realize they aren’t alone in the struggle.
  • Division: Like fractions, division skills are proved important to the main characters even though they may be hard. Use this to help encourage students in their division skills.
  • Math in Real Life: Ok, so I’m guessing most of your students aren’t superheroes, but have them brainstorm ways they might use math skills in real life somewhat like the characters in the book.
  • Superheroes: Who can resist a good superhero story? And if readers learn a thing or two about math along the way, all the better.
  • Fun Read: If you’re just looking for a fun read, this is a good one for entertainment value alone.

Millions, Billions, and Trillions by David A. Adler, ill. by Edward Miller
Let’s face it. Numbers followed by a train of zeros are really hard to picture. What does a million or billion even look like? You hear these numbers in news reports and science figures, but do you really understand them? David Adler and Edward Miller do their best to take these great, big, huge, monstrous numbers and put them in terms and pictures even young readers can understand.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Math: This really helps students visualize these huge numbers and put it in terms they can understand. If you’re covering these large numbers, this is a great resource.
  • Science: If you’re talking about scientific notation and why we use it, or population figures, or any other science topic dealing with huge numbers, this is a good book to help students visualize the numbers.
  • Current Events/Economics/History: News reports and historic facts tend to contain a lot of these huge numbers. Help students better visualize just what these numbers mean and put the stories into terms they can understand with this book.