Monday, May 31, 2010

Nonfiction Monday - Arctic Reading

It's been quite hot out, so the reading I'm doing with my son has taken a chilly turn. Here is a trio of books that examines life in the harsh Arctic wilderness.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, written by Debbie S. Miller and illustrated by Jon Van Zyle - The city of Fairbanks, Alaska lies one hundred and fifteen miles south of the Arctic Circle. This book provides seasonal descriptions of the changing hours of light and temperatures in Fairbanks from one summer solstice to the next. Across the top of each page readers will find the date, total number of hours and minutes of daylight, times for sunrise and sunset, and average high and low temperatures. The text examines everything from the migration of birds and caribou to the hibernation of bears, all placed within the context of the lengthening and shortening of days. Animals referenced in the text include the moose, snowshoe hare, grizzly bear, ground squirrel, sandhill crane, caribou, wolf, raven, and trumpeter swan. The text ends with a glossary that explains phenomena like "blinks," "diamond dust," and "sun dogs."

Ice Bears, written by Brenda Guiberson and illustrated by Ilya Spirin - Beautifully written and illustrated, this story begins in December with the birth of two polar bear cubs and follows them through the year. Readers learn how they grow, develop, and learn to survive in a complex ecosystem. The ice is a central focus here, and readers will come to see the threat to the bears as the climate warms and the ice melts. The back matter explains a bit more about threats to the Arctic and includes a list of websites for environmental organizations. (You can learn more about this book by reading my review.)

Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd, written by Karsten Heuer - Read that title again and let two words sink in--ON FOOT. This is an adaptation of Heuer’s adult title that describes the five months he and his wife spent following the migration of more than 100,000 Grant’s caribou to their breeding ground in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In describing the difficulties they (humans) faced, Heuer also provides readers with an intimate view of this seasonal trek from the perspective of the caribou. While journeying thousands of kilometers, the caribou must cross mountain slopes and thawing rivers while surviving blizzards and the constant threat of predators. Accompanied by photographs of the migration, this is an amazing story that helps readers to understand the delicate Arctic ecosystem.

If you are interested in learning more about the Arctic and Arctic wildlife, check out these resources.
This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Lori at Lori Calabrese Writes. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Ottava Rima

I keep going back to form when I need some structure for my writing. It actually helps me when I have constraints to work within. Ottava rima is an Italian form that consists of a stanza of eight lines with the rhyme scheme abababcc. In English, the lines are usually written in iambic pentameter. Ottava rima is generally associated with epic poems (like Don Juan), but can be used for shorter poems.

An example of ottava rima can be found in the poem Sailing to Byzantium. Here are the first two stanzas of the poem.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

So, your challenge for the week is to write a poem in the form of ottava rima. Leave me a note about your work and I'll post the results here later this week.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Poetry Stretch Results - By the Numbers

The challenge this week was to write some mathematically inclined poetry. Here are the results.
By Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech

One she wore on Sunday mornings
strolling with a friend.
Two she took on pleasant outings
by the river bend.
Three she kept for secret errands
prowling in the dark.
Four she hid beneath a bush
beside the city park.
Five she dressed in scarlet ribbons
meant to catch the eye
Of chickadee or meadow mouse
or bashful butterfly.
Six she bought on market day
and paid a level price.
Seven tagged along behind
against her own advice.
Eight she gambled and she lost
in midnight games of chance.
Nine she broke while practicing
a whirling-dervish dance.
Ten she groomed to gleaming black
until her tongue turned red.
Eleven she abandoned
for a buttered crust of bread.
Twelve she had inherited
at birth with regal pride.
She curled it close upon her breast
and wore it when she died.

© 2010 Steven Withrow. All rights reserved

Four Leaf Clover
by Amy LV of The Poem Farm

We hunted on our knees in clover
running our fingers through grass
trying to find four leaves
in a green sea of threes.
My little sister turned her back
took two clovers
ripped one leaf from each
twisted both stems together
and called, “Look I found one!”
I used to do that
so I almost told her it wasn’t real
not a real lucky clover.
But then
I remembered how Grandpa says
"You make your own luck."
I gave my little sister a thumbs up
and she smiled.

© Amy LV

Proper Fractions
by Kate Coombs of Book Aunt

Whole numbers endlessly march up the line,
their long journey never is done.
But fractions stay home to slice up the space
that lies between 0 and 1.

The whole numbers always add units:
plus one and plus one and plus one.
The fractions divide it, then use only part,
for some reason, they think that's fun.

A fraction may cut up the unit
like a pizza into six, eight, or four.
Still, the work's microscopic: a fraction can cut
that one into a billion or more.

The fractions look sadly restricted,
as they slice and re-slice the same space.
Yet they can divide it in infinite ways,
though the fractions seem stuck in one place.

Oh, the whole numbers grab our attention
with their soldierly march up the line.
But there in the space between 0 and 1
the fraction world plays with design.

--Kate Coombs, 2010, all rights reserved

by Diane Mayr of Random Noodling

One little bee seeing an apple under a tree,
flew back to the hive as quickly as could be.

Two curious bees seeing the first bee's dance,
flew away from the hive at the very first chance.

They scouted around, then flew back home,
alerting three more at the honeycomb.

Four hungry bees who just couldn't wait,
flew off to the apple tree and ate and ate.

They ate and ate and ate some more,
and the last five bees got nothing but the core.

Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

by Violet Nesdoly

The number pathways
in my brain
are grown over
with words

Mental machete’s
what I need
to clear the nouns
and verbs

And make again
a traffic trail
for all those

© 2010 by Violet Nesdoly (all rights reserved)

Number Facts
By Liz Korba of

IMAGINARY numbers!
Do they vanish in thin air?
My teacher says in sixth grade math -
“Just know that they are there.”

I did a little Google search -
According to one text
REAL numbers and IMAGINED ones
Create what’s called COMPLEX.

IRRATIONALS struck me this way
Since they’re so very long,
But they’re still REAL though they won’t stop
(I’m shocked that I was wrong.)

The NATURALS I understand -
To order and to count.
And NEGATIVES make sense to me –
Alas, my bank account!

And NATURALS with “OH”
A most important number
They discovered long ago.

Its other name is ZERO
Somehow EVEN – with no leaning
Divide with – there’s “no meaning.”

Which leads me to the “number”
That I read about today
It’s NaN – that’s “NOT A NUMBER”
And it’s quiet – so they say.

Ten digits should be simple
(Though INFINITY’s a lot.)
I fear I don’t KNOW numbers
Be that RATIONAL or not.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poetry Friday Is Here!

Memorial Day (my mother still calls it Decoration Day) is this Monday. Decoration Day was first celebrated to honor Union soldiers killed during the Civil War. It was later expanded after World War I to honor all those men and women killed in service to their country.

I've been thinking quite a bit about our troops who are still deployed, those who've returned home, and those who have not made it back. I spent some time looking for a poem to honor them, but when I remembered this poem by Stephen Crane, I decided it was the piece I wanted to share.
from War is Kind ["Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind"]
by Stephen Crane

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

        Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
        Little souls who thirst for fight,
        These men were born to drill and die.
        The unexplained glory flies above them,
        Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
        A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Read the poem in its entirety.
We're kickin' it old-school this week. Leave me a note about your post and I'll add it to the list.

On Writing Poetry
Jeannine Atkins shares some thoughts on Poetry and Computers.

Kelly Fineman of Writing and Ruminating shares some thoughts about process.

Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children shares a wealth of poetry news.
Original Poetry
Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) shares a poem entitled Baseball Dreams.

Tiel Aisha Ansari of Knocking From Inside shares a poem entitled Epithalmium.

Julie Larios of The Drift Record shares a villanelle entitled At Play.

Toby Speed of The Writer's Armchair shares a poem entitled Gardening Tips.

Jim Danielson of Haunts of a Children's Writer shares a poem entitled Life.

Diane Mayr of Random Noodling shares some news and an award winning poem in the form of a haiga.

Kurious Kitty of Kurious Kitty's Kurio Kabinet shares a newspaper blackout poem entitled Our Destiny.

Heidi Mordhorst of my juicy little universe shares a poem entitled Indians.

Sara Lewis Holmes of Read*Write*Believe shares a poem entitled Dedication and directs us to RN Clara Hart's post at The Sandbox.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater of The Poem Farm shares a poem entitled Science is Like Writing.

Elaine of Wild Rose Reader shares a number of book spine poems.

But wait! Elaine also blogs at Blue Rose Girls where she shares another book spine poem.

Kate Coombs of Book Aunt shares some original poems of war in honor of the upcoming holiday.
Poetry of Others
Mary Lee of A Year of Reading shares some thoughts and poetic excerpts on the race to the finish line that is the winding down of the school year. Her post is entitled Hurdles and Sprinting and the Finish Line.

Ruth of There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town shares The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling.

Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup shares The Love-Hat Relationship by Aaron Belz.

Carol of Carol's Corner shares Encouraged by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

The folks at The Stenhouse Blog share the poem Your World by Georgia Douglas Johnson. Taken from Debbie Miller’s recent book, Teaching with Intention: Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action, K-5, you have an opportunity to win the book if you leave a comment describing what the poem means to you.

Tabatha Yeatts of The Opposite of Indifference introduces us to Doug Savage's Poet-Bot.

Laura Evans of Teach Poetry K-12 shares Antiphon for the Holy Spirit by Hildegard of Bingen.

Laura Purdie Salas shares an excerpt from the poem Cages by Jane Kenyon.

Sally of The Write Sisters shares some poems by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Little Willow of Bildungsroman shares The Town of Hay by Sam Walter Foss.

Karen Edmisten shares Waving Goodbye by Wesley McNair.

Fiddler of Rockhound Place shares The Best Thing in the World by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Book Reviews
Linda Kulp of Write Time shares a review of Conversations with a Poet: Inviting Poetry in K-12 Classrooms by Betsy Franco.

Sally of Paper Tigers shares a review of Jack Pine by Christopher Patton.

Anastasia Suen of Picture Book of the Day shares a review of An Egret's Day by Jane Yolen.

Janet of All About Books with Janet Squires shares a review of Mr. Ferlinghetti's Poem by David Frampton.
Happy poetry Friday all!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Two Favorite Science Jokes

I have a special place in my heart for science jokes. I could always count on my dad to chuckle along with me. Since I cannot share them with him, I'm giving them to you. Just promise me you'll laugh with me!
Joke 1
Two strands of DNA are talking and one says to the other "Do these genes make me look fat?"

Joke 2
Two Hydrogen atoms were walking down the street.
One atom said, "Hey! I just lost an electron!"
The other atom said "Are you sure?"
The first atom replied, "Yes, I'm positive!"
Are you smiling? Or confused? Do you have a favorite science joke? If so, please share!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - By the Numbers

Summer school starts today! I will once again be teaching preservice teachers HOW to teach math. While elementary math is certainly composed of more than this, numbers and number sense are a huge part of what is taught. I generally open this class by sharing some mathematically-inclined poems, including Sandburg's "Arithmetic" (I actually show a video ), Numbers by Mary Cornish, "Take a Number" by Mary O'Neill, and this little gem by Patricia Hubbell.
by Patricia Hubbell

Pi r squared is forty-two,
Diameter is three,
Two and two add up to four,
(Do you love me?)
X and Y equations,
Add the number two,
Twelve and twelve are twenty-four,
(I love you.)

Poem ©Pat Hubbell . All rights reserved.
As you can see, I've been thinking a lot about math lately and think it's high time we write about it. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Poetry Stretch Results - Colorful Poems

The challenge this week was to write a poem that is about or relies on color(s). Here are the results.
Sea Is Sound; Air Is a Door Ajar
By Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech

Sea is sound; air is a door ajar.
Sound is glass; door is the color of plums.
Glass is brine, stippled with plum-warm rain.
Brine is black; sea is glass-colored sound.
Air is a jar of warm plums.
Sound of rain is a door:
Sea stippled, brine black, jar glass.

©2010 by Steven Withrow. All rights reserved.

by Kate Coombs of Book Aunt

You never hear red, yellow, and puce
when kindergarteners talk crayons.

Never lavender and puce when girls
and their mothers plan bridal showers.

Puce isn't painted into sunsets
in poems, or the shadows of flower petals.

It's never puce for a hero's t-shirt
or a heroine's dress, except

in historical fiction, and even then
puce is reserved for unpleasant

teapot-wielding ladies named Gertrude.
Poor puce, which sounds like "puke"

and is uncertain—dark red or a sort
of grayish purple, depending.

To finish off the indignity,
its Latin root means "flea."

--Kate Coombs, 2010, all rights reserved

Lee Wind of I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the hell do I read? left this poem in the comments.

Blue is a song
It makes me look in
A spring feeds the river
I go for a swim
Each stroke gets me nearer
To the story-filled sea
Blue is a song
And a feeling set free.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater of The Poem Farm

Brown is a color that feels like a friend.
It's that sweater you wear every day.
Brown is cool earth in a garden you tend
on the very last weekend in May.
Brown is a quiet old cat in your lap
purring secrets into your soul.
Brown is firewood.
A nest full of eggs.
Warm oatmeal in a bowl.
If you ask my favorite color
I think of cornstalks and tea.
Let others have neon and rainbow.
Brown is the color for me.

© Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Color Smells
By Liz Korba of

The colors in a crayon box
Smell all the same, it’s true
But that’s the scent of crayons,
Not of red or green or blue.
Bright yellow smells like lemonade
Lime green like new mowed grass
Red is the rose perfume of spring
Black’s hot-tarred road - or gas.
Dark purple – that’s grape jelly
Pure white – new fallen snow
Brown is a blend of dirt and leaves
That fell some time ago.
Blue is the air beneath the sky,
Blue changes with each season
But orange has an orange smell -
For some peculiar reason…

by Carol Weis

Encircle me in lushness
wrap your branches
tightly about me
as I breath in your
verdant bouquet.
Envelope me in
your innocence,
the chartreuse of
your tender glow,
oh soft and delicate
leaves of spring
just one last time
before you go.

© Carol Weis, all rights reserved

by Violet Nesdoly

Black cormorants claim the poles
silhouettes against the sky
knobs, columns or a spread
of wings hanging to dry.

© Violet Nesdoly (all rights reserved)

by Diane Mayr of Random Noodling

Two months before he and Mrs. Lincoln
went to Ford's Theater, the president

had a portrait taken at Mr. Gardner's
Gallery. The photographer caught

the shadow of Mr. Lincoln. He was
by then, merely a body without its soul.

Little did John Wilkes Booth know,
his bullet would only be the coups de grace.

Note: this was based on one of the saddest photos I have ever seen. It is the quintessence of gray for me. It was taken by Alexander Gardner, who, ironically, later "shot" the co-conspirators in Lincoln's assassination.

Doraine Bennett of Dori Reads

golden tassels bend
beneath yellow cornsilk sun
a buttercream breeze

sister AE of Having Writ shares a poem entitled Dressing in Black.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nonfiction Picture Books - What I Love and What Makes Me Crazy

I love nonfiction. I do, I do, I do. And I can say without a doubt how far those books have come in style and readability since I was a kid. Even the books I used when I first started teaching can't hold a candle to the great stuff that's being published these days. What follows is an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of nonfiction picture books. Please note that EVERY book listed here, whether used to illustrate strengths or weaknesses, is a WINNER in my book. I do not hesitate to recommend any of these titles.

What I Love, Love, Love
Here's what I love about the current crop of nonfiction picture books.

Illustrations - Holy mackerel! I weeded my bookshelves this time last year and the illustrations and photographs in some of the books produced in the 80s were downright laughable. The books I'm seeing now are SLICK. There's just no better word for it. Those with photographs are gorgeous. Some writers use their own incredible pieces (Nic Bishop, Sarah Campbell), while others rely on a growing body of stock photos that are just as beautifully crafted. And how about those author/illustrators? Their books come in a range of artistic styles and media, but the marriage of text and illustration produces stunning results. Don't believe me? Consider the quality of work produced by the likes of Brian Floca, Gail Gibbons, Lita Judge, Steve Jenkins, Loreen Leedy, Meghan McCarthy, Jeanette Winter, and others. Even non-readers and early readers can find things to enjoy and learn from in these books as they begin to interpret and make meaning from the illustrations.

Quality of Writing - I truly believe that writers of nonfiction for children have gotten more skilled over the years. From texts for the youngest readers to more sophisticated works for the 9-12 age range, it's clear that these folks take the craft of writing seriously. Not only do they manage to share essential bits of information in interesting ways, they organize and arrange the information in a manner that draws readers in and propels them along. And please don't buy into the notion that nonfiction is boring. These people are terrific storytellers and use their skills to great advantage in producing highly readable informational texts.

If you're interested in learning more about the craft of writing nonfiction, what inspires these authors, and how they go about their work, be sure to visit the blog I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.

Wealth of Topics - For a long time it seemed to me that all the nonfiction texts I read, particularly those in science, covered the same ground. These days, however, authors of nonfiction are opening doors to topics big and small. Looking for a book on the history of the alphabet? Check out Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet. Interested in learning about floating lighthouses? Look no further than Lightship. Are you both grossed out and fascinated by tapeworms and lice? Then you won't want to miss What’s Eating You?: Parasites–The Inside Story. I could go on with a list of quirky, engaging, intriguing and highly entertaining titles as there are many of them.

Not only are the topics covered today more interesting and varied, the thematic approaches taken by many authors are downright genius. How do animals use bubbles? The book Bubble Homes and Fish Farts has a wealth of answers. Have you ever thought about sibling relationships in nature? You can learn all about them in Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World. If you've wondered about something, chances are an author has too, and if you know where to look there's probably a book out there waiting for you.

What Frustrates Me
While my love for nonfiction is very real, there are two things about nonfiction picture books that make me completely CRAZY! I don't generally fault authors for these missing features, as they seem to be design choices. If any editors, agents, or other publishing type folks are reading this, I'd love an insider's view on these nagging issues. To some readers, reviewers, and teachers using nonfiction picture books, these choices often don't make a whole lot of sense.

MISSING Page Numbers - I know that a lot of picture books don't have pages numbers. This makes sense since the standard is 32 pages, though some titles fall in the range of 24-48 pages. For fiction titles I don't see a reason to pinpoint specific pages, but for many nonfiction titles it's absolutely essential. Suppose I want to point readers to the pages on the Dark Zone in Jenkins' book Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. How exactly can I do that? Additionally, how can I connect the extensive back matter with the pages of text? The answer is, I can't. Why are so many nonfiction picture books lacking page numbers?

While this may not seem like a big deal to some folks, I find it extremely frustrating. Sometimes when I'm writing a review I want to point readers to a particular page where I've described the text in unusual detail or want them to view something specific about an illustration. In a recent review of Lita Judge's book Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World I wrote, "Kudos to Judge for making even ferocious meat-eating babies look appealing. Don't believe me? Check out the illustration of the Troodon hatchlings being fed by a parent (near the end of the book)." Imagine how much more precise this review would have been if I could have said something like "Look to the illustrations on pages 37 and 39 for examples."

Lack of page numbers also means that there can be no table of contents and no index. Now, lack of these things isn't a deal-breaker for me when I'm reviewing a nonfiction picture book as I don't often expect them, but for books chock-full of facts they are really useful tools. Let's take Nic Bishop's book Frogs as an example. This title comes in at 48 pages and while it has no table of contents, it does have an extensive index. If I'm a kid interested in dart poison frogs (1, 2, 24-25, 42, 43, 44, 47), frog tongues (15, 44), or how frogs breathe (8, 30, 32, 35, 36), I know EXACTLY where to go. For nonfiction picture books written in a more traditional narrative structure (think biographies like Wangari's Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter or historical accounts like Meghan McCarthy's Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account Of The 1938 War Of The Worlds Radio Broadcast), page numbers are not really necessary nor are they particularly helpful. But for many kids reading nonfiction, half the fun in perusing these texts lies in their ability to jump around to different bits of interest. In fact, this "a la carte" style of reading is quite common. For those who want to read selectively (picking and choosing specific areas of text) instead of reading in order from front to back, the table of contents and index are essential tools.

**Here's another thought about page numbers. When young readers are learning about conventions of print they need to learn to find page numbers (are they always in the same location?), follow them, and use them to look for specific sections of a book, even a short one. Without page numbers they simply cannot do this. So, while page numbers may not be essential to understanding a story and finding your way around in it, they are vitally important to kids learning to read.**

MISSING Sources - Let's say you've just finished a terrifically interesting book and want to know more. Where did the author get his or her information? Is it accurate? Can it be trusted? Where can you go to learn more? Without a list of sources or acknowledgments, there is no way to know. I wouldn't say a bibliography or list of references is essential in a nonfiction picture book, but it sure would be nice. If you've written a book about sea turtle rescue, it would be nice to know you've consulted with the experts. Now you can argue that Nic Bishop doesn't have references in his books, but the man has a PhD and extensive experience. I trust him. (I know, it's a terrible double-standard, but there you go. Perhaps even a nod to the author's qualifications would help.)

When authors have limited room to tell their stories, I can understand not wanting to devote space to this, but an author's note, end notes, additional sources, etc. often add a great deal to the reading experience. April Pulley Sayre's book Vulture View is 32 pages long. She devotes pages 30 and 31 to additional information about vultures and includes links to a helpful web site. While this section does not include references, readers will find on the copyright page that she thanks reviewers who include the Science Director of the Peregrine Fund, the Director of Conservation Science at the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, a professor of wildlife science at Virginia Tech, and the Vice President for Policy at the American Bird Conservancy. Phew! This brief thank you tells me that the book has been looked at by the experts and that I can be confident with the accuracy of its contents.

In the grand scheme of things these are really minor complaints, but they do affect the way I read nonfiction picture books. How about you? Do you think I'm all wet or do you agree? What do you love or find frustrating about the nonfiction picture books you're seeing these days?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nonfiction Monday - Mathematical Reading

I picked up a bunch of books at my local independent bookstore recently, several of which I can't wait to put to use in my math classes this summer.

First Shapes in Buildings, written by Penny Ann Lane - Using photographs of architectural sites, Lane introduces readers to a range of two- and three-dimensional shapes and prods them to consider how and why the sites were built that way. I'm thrilled that this one uses such creative forms to highlight the shapes. Readers will find sites from around the world including Stonehenge (UK), the Temple of Anon at Karnak (Egypt), the Ka'bah in Makkah (Saudi Arabia), St. Peter's Piazza in Rome (Italy), the Imperial Villa of Katsura in Kyoto (Japan), the Masjid-in shah Mosque in Isfahan (Iran) and others. Each double-page spread includes a full-page photo of an architectural site and a facing page with a simple illustration of the shape being featured and text that explains the related aspect of the structure. Here is a sample of the text from the cylinder page. The photograph shows a row of columns from the Temple of Anon at Karnak.
These huge cylinders look like tree trunks.
The people who built this temple believed that walking
through this forest of columns would remind them
of their journey to the next life.

How would you feel if you walked through
all these massive cylinders?
I loved the way this text read and looked. The text and illustrations are clear, crisp and bright. Students will love finding the shapes in the 12 illustrations. It ends with a photographic glossary that identifies each building and its location in the world. This book will be the perfect resource for introducing a lesson on shapes in the environment and a terrific jumping off point for kids creating their own shape books using photos of architectural sites, either famous or local.

For Good Measure: The Ways We Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old, written by Ken Robbins - Since we here in the US still cling to the customary system of measurement, teachers must be familiar with it and the metric system when teaching measurement. When I teach HOW to teach this topic I like to throw in a good bit of history and focus on nonstandard measurement. My students actually use their bodies to measure to get a feel for hands, fathoms, cubits and other "antiquated" measures. (Oh, how I wish they were!). Ken Robbins has just made my job of introducing these concepts a whole lot easier with his new book. Here's how it begins.
Certain words and phrases that we use to describe things are just not very specific: "lots," "scads," and "many," for instance, or pairs of opposites like "far" and "near," "big" and "small," "light" and "heavy," "new and "old." With words like that it's hard to know exactly what somebody means. Sometimes it doesn't matter so much, but when it does matter, we need standards of measurement that we can compare things to—units we can all agree on.
Each measurement in the book is accompanied by a photographic reference, a description of how the unit is measured and, if available, a bit of historical background. The text opens with measures of length and distance and includes the foot, span, hand, cubit, yard, fathom, mile (and pace), furlong, rod, league, and light-year. If these sound familiar, it is because we still use these terms! Horses are measured in hands, races run in furlongs, fabric cut in yards. After distance comes area, then weights, liquid measures, dry capacities and time. This book is chock full of information that is highlighted by lush illustrations, largely of Robbins making.

I do see one weakness with this title and that is the lack of back matter. Once the section on time ends, the last page of the book shows an image of the Earth with a measure of its diameter. I would have liked additional resources, a bibliography, or some list of references to show where this wealth of information came from. Don't get me wrong, I loved the book, it just ended with me wanting and needing a bit more.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, written by Sarah Campbell with photographs by Sarah Campbell and Richard Campbell - This one begins with a series of photographs of flowers with different numbers of petals. The number of petals on the flowers—1, 2, 3, 5, and 8—are used to introduce the Fibonacci sequence and how the pattern is created. After looking at a few more flower species with numbers of petals in the Fibonacci sequence, Campbell shares other examples that include the spirals seen in pine cones, sunflowers, pineapples, and the nautilus shell. The text finishes with this encouragement.
Not all numbers in nature are Fibonacci numbers. A dogwood has 4 petals, and an amaryllis has 6. A garden snail and the fiddlehead on the fern are spirals, but they don't have the same shape as the nautilus. The next time you are outside, take a close look at the plants and animals. See if you can find Fibonacci numbers, spirals, or some other pattern. The are growing all around.
Campbell's book ends with a page of additional information on Fibonacci numbers and a helpful glossary.

Though not topically connected, what ties these three books together are their superb illustrations and clearly written texts. I recommend them all as terrific resources for integrating literacy and the study of math.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Carol at Rasco From RIF. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Colorful Poetry

I'm working on a thematic book list about colors in nature. There are lots of concepts books for kids about colors, but it was only after raiding my shelves that I noticed how many beautiful books were focused on animal colors, flower colors, or colors in the natural world. Inspired by this list, I thought this might be a good time to write some colorful poetry.

Here are two poems about the color orange to inspire you. The first comes from Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People, written by Jane Yolen with photographs by Jason Stemple. The second comes from Flashy, Clashy, and Oh-So Splashy: Poems About Color, written by Laura Purdie Salas.

I want to take a bite
out of that sunset sky,
letting the orange juices
run down my chin,
spitting out the pulp
onto the rocks below.

Poem © Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.

Orange You Jealous of My Color?

I'm flashy
and clashy
and beautifully
and everyone notices me!

I'm bright
and unwhite,
quite a dazzling
I certainly hope you agree!

Poem © Laura Purdie Salas. All rights reserved.
What color will inspire you? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Poetry Friday - A Summer Shower

We've had some strange weather this week--hot and humid one day, rainy and cold the next. Those rains made me think of summer showers and this poem.
A Summer Shower
by Henry Timrod

Welcome, rain or tempest
From yon airy powers,
We have languished for them
Many sultry hours,
And earth is sick and wan, and pines with all her flowers.

What have they been doing
In the burning June?
Riding with the genii?
Visiting the moon?
Or sleeping on the ice amid an arctic noon?

Read the poem in its entirety.
The round up is being hosted by Jama at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Do stop by and take in all the terrific poetry being shared this week. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all!

Poetry Stretch Results - Homework

The challenge this week was to write about homework. Here are the results.
by Kate Coombs of Book Aunt

My teacher assigned me to write a report
on the habits of honeybees.

I wish she had asked about habits of kids—
I know a lot more about these.

For example, "Please tell where the animal lives."
I know just where kids can be found.

They spend time in classrooms, or on monkey bars,
dangling their heads upside down.

What do they eat? Hamburgers with catsup,
or pizza, taquitos, and chips.

Plus ten kinds of candy and slurpies and slushees
that give them strange colors of lips.

We have to report on communication,
and kids do a whole lot of that.

"No, you can't make me go to the dentist!"
Plus meowing right back at the cat.

Behavior: kids play on computers and text
or spend time interacting with balls.

They can also be seen with markers of green
writing words on the living room walls.

Too many people write about bees
and their boring behavior in the wild.

But I would be happy to write a report
on the habits of the human child.

--Kate Coombs, 2010, all rights reserved

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater of The Poem Farm shares a poem entitled Homework Spot.

By Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech

No ravenous dog.
No Martian invasion.
No thirty-mile slog
To a family occasion.
No sudden swine flu.
No CIA visit.
I’d homework to do.
You wonder, “Where is it?”
No grandmother died.
No nibbled by mouses.
No night trapped inside
The most haunted of houses.
No transformer crashed
Blacking out my whole block.
No asteroid smashed
Shelling me such a shock
That the part of my head
Where I store my assignments
Was tattered to shreds
And knocked out of alignment.
No bully’s reprisal.
No baby bro’s vomit.
No search of the skies
For a hundred-year comet.
No freak springtime snow.
No lottery winnings.
No open bus window.
No game past nine innings.
You say, “Give it here.
No lies. No excuses.”
Is this the cold fear
That NO HOMEWORK induces?

Home Work
by Heidi Mordhorst of My Juicy Little Universe

Reading Log: Friday 6:35 am
The Great Brain, Chapter One
Read "The Magic Water Closet"
out loud in the bathroom
while first-grader
with mercenary tendencies soaks
filthy fingernails in the tub.

Upper Elementary Media Studies: Saturday 8:30 pm
In 90 minutes, conceive, cast, script, make up and costume four amateur actors for a short film entitled "Small Talk: the YouTube talk show about everything too insignificant to matter!" Extra credit for including a theme song to the tune of "Heart and Soul."

Advanced Logistics: Saturday, 10 am
If travel time from home to
Camp Open House Destination A
is 30 minutes and travel time from there to
Camp Open House Destination B
is an additional 20 minutes,
and if Soccer Game A begins at 1:30
and Soccer Game B begins at 12:50,
1)how many cars are needed,
2)which Camp Open House Destination should be visited first, and
3)at what time should each Parent-Child pair depart for soccer?

Math Basic Facts: Sunday 12:20 pm
Mother's Day Smoked Salmon Spread
12 ounces smoked salmon =
16 ounces cream cheese.
Our smoked salmon says "NET WT 4 OZ".
How much cream cheese should we use,
which of the half-dozen plants
in the herb garden is the dill,
and where does the Wizard of Oz
come in?

Homework: Become a Snake
by Laura Purdie Salas

My editor said,
“Write a poem
about this picture”

Slithery snake
wearing a sly smile…
two tiny pink mouse feet
and one whip-slip tail
disappearing down
the snake’s throat

Couldn’t I just conjugate
“to swallow” in Latin?

Or write a 500-word report
on the habits and habitats of corn snakes?

Or diagram snake anatomy,
including spine and stomach, heart and fang?

But I am a writer, a poet, a magician.

I must be the snake,
undulate my muscles across fields,
soak August sun into my scales,
and feel the crunch of fragile mouse inside my mouth

and like it

--Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

©By Mary Nida Smith of Life's Beautiful Path

Ah, Mom
Not again tonight.
I know,
You told me before
If I do all my homework
I’ll be smarter tomorrow.

Ah, Mom
I am already smart.
I don’t have time,
There is much
To do outside
Like exploring
And learning
About nature.

Ah, Mom
Can’t I have any fun?
Yes, Mom, I’ll hurry
I’ll do my homework
So, I’ll be smarter

Ah, Mom
When I grow up
I’ll never do homework.
I’ll play and explore
While I tell
My kids that story,
Do your homework
You’ll be smarter tomorrow.

Ah, Mom
Not again!

A tanka
by Diane Mayr of Random Noodling

his pencil breaks...
he slips out of his seat
to hug the dog
and to be reassured that
he's still a good boy

Coming Soon (I Hope)
By Liz Korba of

Someway, somewhere, someday
I know
They’ll make a homework pen.
Someway, somewhere, someday
For sure -
(Can hardly wait ‘til then.)
I will be buying one
Somehow, right there, that day.
This pen will do my homework –
Oh, at last, free time to play!
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the results.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - Homework

Graduation was yesterday, so for two blissful weeks I will be without homework. There will be no papers to grade, no lessons to prepare, no reports to write. Come this time of year I am tired of the homework. For my friends in public schools and all their darling students, they feel this weariness as well. Given this, I thought it might be a fine time to write a poem about homework.

So, there's your challenge. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Nonfiction Monday - Born to Be Giants

I have a nine year old son who is crazy about dinosaurs and has a stack of books to prove it. Did he really need another title to add his library? After reading and rereading Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World, the answer is an unequivocal YES!
The baby T-Rex hatching on the cover under the watchful of eye of its mother,made we want to open the book. The huge taloned feet pictured beside a hatching oviraptor on the title page immediately had me wondering how an animal so large could care for an offspring so much smaller in size. Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World, written and illustrated by Lita Judge, not only answers this question, but explores how dinosaurs hatched from eggs grew and survived to become some of the largest creatures that ever walked the earth.

Judge has broken new ground with this book, taking evidence discovered by paleontologists and using that information to hypothesize how dinosaurs may have behaved. Judge also distinguishes her work from others by
describing dinosaurs by making comparisons to living animals. Here's an excerpt that shows just how deftly she combines these two approaches.
Some plant-eating dinosaurs kept their nests safe by grouping into large colonies. Over a thousand fossilized nests of HYPACROSAURUS, a duck-billed dinosaur, were found in one area!

Penguins, pelicans, and many seabirds gather at huge nesting sites today. The nests are clustered with just enough space to fit babies and adults. The parents work together, alerting each other if a predator comes near.
There are many comparisons to modern-day birds here, and given the view that some species of dinosaurs may have evolved to become today's birds, these are reasonable comparisons to draw.

Judge doesn't shy away from difficult vocabulary in the text, using words like altricial and precocial. However, readers are supported in understanding these words through simple, explanatory sentences, as well as the inclusion of a glossary. Here's an example.
Most bird species today are altricial. Their babies are helpless when they hatch, with wobbly, undeveloped legs and weak necks. The hatchlings must stay in the nest until they grow stronger and older. It is likely that Maiasaura were altricial—like robins today.
Eight species of dinosaur are explored in the book. Early on readers are introduced to Argentinosaurus, a dinosaur that likely weighed as much as 17 elephants. Imagine for a moment just how large this dinosaur must have been. Now juxtapose this with the knowledge that the largest dinosaur eggs ever found were only 18 inches long. As Judge tells readers, "These mothers probably couldn't protect their tiny babies without trampling them underfoot." Judge continues:
A herd of Argentinosaurus was an earth-shaking, bone crushing stampede of feet. Their tiny babies probably hid under forest cover. Hungry, meat-eating dinosaurs stalked them for a bite-sized meal. Huge crocodiles ate them. Even little mammals ate them. The babies were hungry all the time and had to find their next meal without becoming one! Only a few survived.
Dinosaurs may have been giants, but surviving to adulthood was no easy task.

The text leaves readers much to ponder while also
providing a wealth of factual information. There are some brief notes in the back matter about each of the dinosaur species, including pronunciation (always important with dinosaur names), approximate size, location of fossils, and period of appearance.

The watercolor illustrations do a fine job of portraying scale. They also give a clear sense of what these dinosaurs may have looked like, what their coloration may have been, and
how their nests may have been constructed. Kudos to Judge for making even ferocious meat-eating babies look appealing. Don't believe me? Check out the illustration of the Troodon hatchlings being fed by a parent (near the end of the book). I wouldn't call them cute, not with those serrated teeth and scraggly feathers, but they are a bit endearing.

This title is a must-have for classrooms and school libraries. Science teachers tackling the nature of science, scientific method, survival of the fittest, animal behavior and more will find this one a gem. Additional resources can be found at the author's web site where there is a page devoted to the book. On it you'll find preliminary and working sketches of the illustrations, dinosaur coloring pages, and photos from the author's dinosaur digs with the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Well written, handsomely illustrated, and thoughtfully organized, Born to Be Giants offers a fresh perspective on a topic kids can't seem to get enough of. After several readings my son said, "Don't you wish we could meet some REAL baby dinosaurs?" No, actually, I don't, but I was thoroughly satisfied with the introduction provided by Judge. You will be too. Highly recommended.

Book: Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: April 2010
Pages: 48 pages
Grades: 3-6
ISBN: 978-1596434431
Source of Book: Personal copy published from Amazon.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Poetry Friday - Talk Nerdy to Me

I've mentioned before my love affair with the blog How a Poem Happens. Not only do readers get poems, but they can get into the heads of the authors and learn about the inspiration, number of revisions, time to completion (or abandonment), and more. This week I'm sharing the opening lines from Matthew Dickman's poem.
by Matthew Dickman

The skinny girl walking arm-in-arm
with her little sister
is wearing a shirt that says
and I want to,
I want to put my bag of groceries down
beside the fire hydrant
and whisper something in her ear about long division.

Read the poem in its entirety.
How could I not be drawn to a poem that includes long division, comic books, D&D cards, Dr. Who, String Theory, and other "nerdy" references? Yeah, I know it's a little racy, but I love it.

The round up this week is being hosted by Diane at Random Noodling. Do stop by and take in all the terrific poetry being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Birthday Remembrance

My dad would have celebrated his 84th birthday today. While he didn't read poetry, I think he would have liked Ted Kooser.
A Birthday Poem
by Ted Kooser

Just past dawn, the sun stands
with its heavy red head
in a black stanchion of trees,
waiting for someone to come
with his bucket
for the foamy white light,
and then a long day in the pasture.

Read the poem in its entirety.
Happy birthday daddy. I miss you.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - Sijo

Originating in Korea, sijo are poems divided into three or six lines. These poems frequently use word play in the form of metaphors, symbols and puns. Here is a description from AHApoetry.

More ancient than haiku, the Korean SIJO shares a common ancestry with haiku, tanka and similar Japanese genres. All evolved from more ancient Chinese patterns.

Sijo is traditionally composed in three lines of 14-16 syllables each, totaling between 44-46 syllables. A pause breaks each line approximately in the middle; it resembles a caesura but is not based on metrics.

I'm quite fond of the poems in Linda Sue Park's book Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo Poems. Her sijo are full of little surprises. One of my favorites is entitled Long Division. It is the poem that gives the book its title. Another favorite is the poem below.
Summer Storm

Lightning jerks the sky awake to take her photograph, flash!
Which draws grumbling complaints or even crashing tantrums from thunder--

He hates having his picture taken, so he always gets there late.
You can read some other examples of sijo at the Sejong Writing Competition.

How do you write a sijo? Here is a brief summary of the advice Park gives at the end of her book.
Three line poems should contain about 14 to 16 syllables per line. Six line poems should contain 7 or 8 syllables per line.

The first line should contain a single image or idea. The second line should develop this further. The last line should contain the twist.
So, your challenge this week is to write a sijo. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.