Friday, March 30, 2007

Poetry Friday - On Reading and Books

For poetry Friday today I offer a poem and some thoughtful words about reading and books.

First, here is a poem by Emily Dickinson. You can also read it at Bartleby.
Part One: Life
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
Second, here are some of my favorite quotes about reading.
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.
Francis Bacon

When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.
Maya Angelou

We read to know we are not alone.
C.S. Lewis

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
Dr. Seuss

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
Victor Hugo
Happy reading and happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Circle, A Square, A Book Over There

The concept of shape serves as the basis for most geometric learning in the early elementary grades. Children are regularly asked to identify and describe objects in their environment that depict plane geometric figures, often without regard to position and/or orientation in space.

Studying these simple figures (circle, triangle, square, rectangle) in our daily lives is one of my favorite math activities. In addition to what we can see in the classroom, at home and the world outside, there are many terrific pieces of literature that allow children to examine these figures. In this list of books you will find selections that present shapes in a variety of interesting ways and, where possible, include children representing diverse backgrounds.
  • I Spy Shapes in Art by Lucy Micklethwait - This book takes art appreciation to a new level by using the "I Spy" format to encourage children to find geometric shapes in paintings.
  • Museum Shapes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - Using pieces of art owned by the Met, children are encouraged to recognize shapes and geometric forms in the details of the pictures. A key at the end identifies the artwork presented.
  • Shapes by Philip Yenawine - Using the paintings of Picasso, Seurat, Gauguin, Malevich, Mondrian, Arp, Klee, Smith and Dali, readers are asked questions relating to the shapes that are present.
  • Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong - Illustrated beautifully by Grace Lin, this book takes readers on a tour of a young girl's neighborhood where the shapes she sees are celebration of Chinese culture.
  • A Triangle for Adaora by Ifeoma Onyefulu - Using full color photographs, readers learn about life in an African village while Ugo and his cousin Adaora find a variety of shapes (squares, circles, ovals, diamonds, etc) while searching for a triangle.
  • Shape Space by Cathryn Falwell - When a young gymnast opens a box to reveal a variety of shapes, she tosses them out and balances on them, builds with them, and even wears and dances with them.
  • Icky Bug Shapes by Jerry Pallotta - Who wouldn't love a book that uses bugs to introduce readers to basic shapes? Kids love this one.
  • The Wing on a Flea by Ed Emberley - In this update of the 1961 (I have the original!) text, Emberley using rhyme and simple pictures to show where we might find circles, triangles and rectangles in the world around us.
  • Ship Shapes by Stella Blackstone - When two children and a dog set sail, they search for nine basic shapes on the sea. In Barefoot Books tradition, this one is illustrated with bold colors and beautiful artwork.
  • Changes, Changes by Pat Hutchins - In this wordless picture book, two wooden dolls rearrange a variety of shapes (blocks) to form different objects.
  • Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh - While keeping an eye out for the cat, three creative mice play in a pile of shapes. They build a house, a tree and a sun, but when the cat comes back, they build the best shapes of all.
  • Lois Ehlert has created two books that introduce colors and shapes with illustrations of shapes on die-cut pages that form animal faces when placed on top of one another.
  • When a Line Bends . . . A Shape Begins by Rhonda Gowler Greene - Watercolor and ink illustrations accompany verse in this book that presents the shapes of circle, square, triangle, diamond, rectangle, octagon, oval, star, heart, and crescent. Each shape has a its own double-page spread with lots of examples.
A square was sitting quietly
Outside his rectangular shack
When a triangle came down--keerplunk!--
And struck him in the back.
"I must go to the hospital,"
Cried the wounded square,
So a passing rolling circle
Picked him up and took him there.
  • Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews - This simple counting book shows readers where circles appear in the world around them.
  • A String of Beads by Margarette Reid - A young girl and her grandmother spend time together stringing beads to make necklaces. The beads come in many different shapes.
While not a book, you should most definitely take a look at these songs and poems about shapes.
Since the focus here is on plane figures, I have not included books relating to 3-D shapes (cones, cylinders, cubes, etc.) or any other aspect of geometry. Please let me know if I've missed any of your favorite shape books.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More on Science Books for Kids

Thanks to Elaine over at the Blue Rose Girls blog, I have found a new blog to follow. It is the Science Musings blog of Chet Raymo. I'm a science geek at heart, so I love this stuff, but for those of you with an interest in books, you should definitely check out these entries from last year.

In the first entry, Kid Lit, Raymo writes:
Science is an attitude toward the world -- curious, skeptical, undogmatic, and sensitive to beauty and mystery. The best books for children are the ones which convey these attitudes. They are not necessarily the books labeled "science."
In the second entry, Kid Lit - Part 2, Raymo shares excerpts from Randall Jarell's book The Bat-Poet.

Both of these are extraordinary pieces on the wonder and value in using children's literature as a springboard to science. Don't miss them!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Selecting Literature for Science Instruction

Just as my students and I spend time evaluating books for math instruction, we also carefully examine and debate the qualities of books that make them useful for science instruction. We begin by reading two terrific articles. They are:
  • Mayer, D. A. (1995). How can we best use children’s literature in teaching science concepts? Science and Children, 32(6), 16-19, 43.
  • Rice, D. C., Dudley, A. P., & Williams, C. S. (2001). How do you choose science trade books? Science and Children, 38(6), 18-22.
The Rice article builds on the earlier work presented in Mayer's article. Both use a checklist to evaluate trade books for their appropriateness for introducing and reinforcing science concepts. The checklist looks like this:
In addition to this guide, we also use a series of questions devised by Jo-Anne Lake in her 2000 work Literature & Science Breakthroughs: Connecting Language and Science Skills in the Elementary Classroom. These questions are:
  • Is there a strong science thread running through the text and illustrations?
  • Are there opportunities in the text and illustrations to enhance science skills?
  • Does the text incorporate vocabulary familiar to science teaching?
  • Do the illustrations and text introduce hands-on material reflecting and encouraging their use in an activity-based environment?
  • Have I chosen books that provide a balance in opportunities for all science strands?
  • Do my selections reflect a variety of literary genres?
  • What scientific principle and/or concept is projected?
  • Have I considered using a variety of special effects books in my selections?
After using both forms of guidelines, we work together to develop a list of criteria that we are all comfortable in using to guide our selection of books. The one guideline that students struggle most with in its use and application is: Are the animals/objects portrayed naturally? In this case, I like to encourage them to think more broadly about "living things," since often times plants and animals are anthropomorphized.

I'll admit, that I find this difficult myself. Take for example, the new book by Dianna Hutts Aston entitled A Seed is Sleepy. I love the artwork and the sheer poetry of the language. It is a glorious book. I bought it and I plan to use it with my students. However, somewhere between the strong science and the poetic language is this nagging feeling that the seeds are just too "human." Here are some examples:

A seed is sleepy.
It lies there, tucked inside its flower,
or its cone, or beneath the soil. Snug. Still.

Once a seed has shed its coat, it drinks in the rain, the dew, and yesterday’s icicles. It feasts on minerals in the soil. It knows to seek the sunlight… to push itself up, up, up through the soil. But it must wait awhile before that happens.
I balance my uneasiness about these anthropomorphized seeds with this idea presented by Patricia Manning in an article entitled Promoting Science Books at the Library.
"Science books can be beautiful as well as accurate and evocative. When the type font is elegant, the layout graceful, and the illustrations luminous, the whole book feels good to the hand and eye."
I interpret this to mean that there are some books out there that just demand to be loved and appreciated for their beauty, and A Seed is Sleepy and its Cybils-winning forerunner, An Egg is Quiet, certainly fall into this category. I'm not sure how I feel about this book as an instructional resource yet, or how I will address this issue in the classroom. What I do know for sure is that A Seed is Sleepy will be one of the books I pull out for intense discussion with my students when we begin to delve into the appropriateness of resources that use anthropomorphism. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Celebrating Robert Frost

Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874. Of poetry Frost wrote, "A poem...begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words."

In celebration of his day, here is a poem befitting the season.
A Prayer in Spring
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Books That Fill the Senses

I am one of those people lucky enough to live within walking distance of work. Mind you, this is not a "walk 20 blocks in Manhattan" kind of jaunt, but rather one that takes me through a hole in a privacy fence near the fraternity lodges and through the parking lot, across the street (where people drive well above the posted 25 mph speed limit), around the baseball field, over the Lake (the most beautiful part of the morning or afternoon), into the woods, past the Greek Theatre and up the hill to North Court. This beautiful building was completed in 1914 and is one of the oldest on campus. As you can see from the picture, it is surrounded by green space that is lovely to look out on any time of year, though the array of colors in fall are particularly nice.

My walks to and from work are the only "quiet" times of my day. There is no iPod, no NPR, no other voices to distract me from my thoughts. I am always moved by what I observe, like the ping of a ball off an aluminum bat, the leaves crunching under my feet, the sweet smell of lilacs in spring, or my favorite blue heron looking for a meal. These walks are a veritable feast for the senses, though I don't eat while taking them, and my extreme allergy to poison ivy (and there's lots of it here!) keeps me from touching anything. So as I arrived this morning, greeted by a beautiful spray of cherry blossoms, I decided this would be a good time to write about books that make us think about using all of our senses to really "see" this world of ours. Mind you, I think the best way to teach kids to be careful observers is to go and actually practice the skill, but leading off or following up with a book is always a good thing to do.
  • Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young - This Caldecott honor book is a variation on the story of the blind men and the elephant. It ends with the moral, "Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole." I use this to help kids understand that careful observation comes from using all the senses.
  • You Can't Taste a Pickle With Your Ear by Harriet Ziefert - This terrific book has an introduction to the senses, chapters for each one, and a conclusion. Each sense chapter ends with questions for kids to think about like: What sounds does your body make? How do you sound when you're happy? What sounds from the outside world are coming through you window right now?
  • The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses - Mrs Frizzle is at it again. This time she and her class board the bus and then enter the eye of a policeman, the ear of a child, the nose of a dog, and more.
  • Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Martin Briggs - This Caldecott Medal winner tells the story of Wilson Bentley's obsession and love for photographing snowflakes. Because of his diligence and careful observation, he produced more than 5000 images of snowflakes, not finding any two alike. You can see digital images of the collection at The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection.
  • The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor - In this story, an old man teaches a young boy how to truly listen to the world around him.
  • Good-Night, Owl! by Pat Hutchins - How will Owl ever get to sleep, with the bees buzzing, the crows creaking, the starlings chittering, the jays screaming, and the other inhabitants of the tree making a cacophony of sounds? I love this for way the sound words roll off the tongue and for what it teaches children about nocturnal animals.
  • The Listening Walk by Paul Showers - In this book, a father and daughter take their dog for a walk and listen to the sounds around them.
  • Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern - In this story, an old man named Peter lives in an old house where it was much too noisy. "The bed creaked. The floor squeaked. Outside, the wind blew the leaves through the trees. The leaves fell on the roof. Swish. Swish. The tea kettle whistled. Hiss. Hiss."
  • Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan - In poetic form, a young girl describes her experiences at the beach using her five senses.
  • More Than Meets the Eye: Seeing Art With All Five Senses by Bob Raczka - Have you ever tasted a painting? This is a question the author asks as he encourages readers to experience art imaginatively with their mouths, ears, noses, and fingertips. Artwork is selected and arranged by the senses.
  • Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin and John Archambault - With onomatopoeia and poetic language, the authors describe the sound of rain in its many forms.
  • Voices From the Wild: An Animal Sensagoria by D. Bouchard - This volume contains 25 poems, 5 for each of the senses, with each one about a different animal. Each poem describes how animals use their senses to survive in the wild. A lifelike painting of each animal accompanies each poem. Finally, the book concludes with short paragraphs about each of the animals.
  • Animal Sense by Diane Ackerman - This wonderful volume contains 15 poems, 3 for each of the 5 senses, with each one about a different animal.
  • Touch the Poem by Arnold Ardoff - This book of poems is a wonderful salute to the senses, with its poems of seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing and smelling.
    • Look!: A Book About Sight
    • Shhhh…: A Book About Hearing
    • Sniff, Sniff: A Book About Smell
    • Soft and Smooth, Rough and Bumpy: A Book About Touch
    • Yum!: A Book About Taste
  • My Five Senses by Aliki - This book in the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out series provides a basic introduction to the senses that is appropriate for kindergarten.
  • Sounds All Around by Wendy Pfeffer - Another book in the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out series, this one provides a simple explanation of sound and hearing.
In addition to these titles, don't forget the I Spy series, Where's Waldo? and the Look-Alikes books as welcome titles for encouraging close observation.

I'll leave you with this wonderful poem by Shel Silverstein. You can find it in A Light in the Attic.

A Mouth was talking to a Nose and an Eye.
A passing listening Ear
Said, Pardon me, but you spoke so loud,
I couldn't help by overhear."
But the Mouth just closed and the Nose turned up
And the Eye just looked away,
And the Ear with nothing more to hear
Went sadly on its way.
Enjoy the list, and do please tell me what I've missed!

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Foggy, Froggy Poetry Friday

I'm longing for a quiet, misty morning. One of those days where I can get up alone (stay in bed, boys!) and take my pot of tea out on the patio to sit, and sip and listen. Here are some poems that make me feel as though I'm almost there.

This first poem is by Carl Sandburg.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking

over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

The second is by Aileen Fisher.
I Like It When It's Mizzly
I like it when it's mizzly
and just a little drizzly
so everything looks far away
and make- believe and frizzly.

I like it when it's foggy
and sounding very froggy.
I even like it when it rains
on streets and weepy windowpanes
and catkins in the poplar tree
and me.
Happy Poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Celebrating Randolph Caldecott with a New Book Meme

Randolph Caldecott was born on this day in 1846 in Chester, England. He is best known for his illustrations for children's books. You can read more about him at the Randolph Caldecott Society site.

The Caldecott Medal was named in his honor. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. First awarded in 1938, the list of winners and honorees is an amazing testament to the talent and skill that is directed towards the production of children's books.

In honor of Ralph Caldecott's birthday, I propose this new meme. Review the list of Caldecott winners from 1938 to the present and list your five favorite titles (based on illustrations, not the text), whether Medal winners or honorees. Then, name one book that didn't make this list that you feel was deserving of the nod.

Here are my answers.
Favorite Titles
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1940 honor book)
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1963 Medal winner)
  • Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say (1994 Medal winner)
  • The Gardener illustrated by David Small, text by Sarah Stewart (1998 honor book)
  • Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type illustrated by Betsy Lewin, written by Doreen Cronin (2001 honor book)
Book That Missed the List
A book William and I have great fun reading that did not make the list is The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers. I love the ink and watercolor illustrations and the glimpse of another time provided in this wordless picture book. I also love Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (I get chills every time I place my hand over the gorilla's) and Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Finally, I am completely enamored of the illustrations in Russell Freedman's The Adventures of Marco Polo. Okay, that's four. So sue me, I couldn't stop at just one.

Now, it's your turn! Leave your lists in the comments or better yet, leave me a note and complete this meme on your blog. If you read this, consider yourself tagged.

P.S. - While you're thinking about this, consider whether or not the next round of Cybils should include a category for illustrations. I certainly would love to see it.

P.P.S - And while you are here, take a gander at my idea for the Caldecott 2008 announcement. Ain't it grand?!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Birthday to Mitsumasa Anno

Mitsumasa Anno was born on this day in 1926. After attending a teacher training college in Japan, he worked as a mathematics teacher before turning to art as a full time endeavor. His works show that he never left this love of math behind, as the mathematical world appears in many of his books. He tackles concepts as simple as counting, to the more difficult idea of factorials, all with an eye towards helping readers understand them. Some of my favorite math books include:
In addition to these books, I often use Anno's Journey and Anno's USA while introducing students to geography and map making. I also love All in a Day, a book illustrated by 10 artists, including Mitsumasa Anno, Raymond Briggs, Eric Carle and others, that illustrates the similarities and differences in children and their activities in eight different parts of the world throughout one 24-hour day.

Mitsumasa Anno was honored for his work with the 1984 Hans Christian Anderson Award. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art hosted the first major exhibition of Anno's work in America in 2003. You can learn more about the artist in the interview he gave in the winter 2004 edition of Japanese Children's Books. You can see his work in Shimane, Japan at the Anno Museum of Art.

Celebrate the birthday of this wonderful artist by reading one of his books. They are marvelous celebrations of the world (both natural and mathematical) around us. Happy birthday, Anno!

Monday, March 19, 2007

March Carnival is Up!

The March Carnival of Children's Literature is up over at Midwestern Lodestar. I have never participated in a carnival before, so this time around I thought I'd be brave and submit. Oh how I wish I had read Susan's background information on a blog carnival over at Chicken Spaghetti before I suggested entries! You see, being the indecisive person that I am, I could not decide what to enter, so I recommended three posts and said, "Please pick one." Well, now I know this isn't how it works. So greedy little me has taken up way too much space in this latest extravaganza. Suffice it to say that next month I will throw darts and pick one and only one post. Mea culpa, friends. Bear with me as I grope my way around the blogosphere in the hopes of actually learning the ropes.

In any case, do head on over and check out the Carnival. It's a beauty.

Thematic Book List - Timely Reading

So, here I am, back with part two of my thematic book list on measurement. Time is a big part of measurement instruction in the elementary grades. It's not just about telling time, however. Teaching about time includes a hefty dose of work with the calendar and calendar language (yesterday, today, tomorrow), as well as understanding equivalent periods of time, such as the relationships among days, months, and years, as well as minutes and hours.

You won't find many didactic books on this list, best described as those that explain how to tell time. Whether it's through poetry, novel study, or picture books, this list is meant to expose kids to a time in all its infinite configurations in ways that are fun and imaginative.
  • First Morning: Poems About Time compiled by Nikki Siegen-Smith - Beautiful watercolors accompany the 24 poems in this book that consider the passage of time across days, months, and more. (NOTE: This is a Barefoot Book! See my publisher spotlight for more info.)
  • It's About Time! by Florence Parry Heide, Roxanne Heide Pierce and Judith Heide Gilliland - This humorous book of poems encourages children to think creatively about time.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster - When Milo drives through a tollbooth that mysteriously appears in his room, he has an adventure of epic proportions. Along the way, he learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock. (This was one of my favorite childhood books. It is a terrific read aloud.)
  • Tuesday by David Wiesner - In this Caldecott Medal winning book, the nearly wordless story (told with just a few times) of frogs in the night is inventive and funny.
  • All in a Day collected by Mitsumasa Anno - Ten artists, including Raymond Briggs, Eric Carle, Leo and Diane Dillon, and Mitsumasa Anno, illustrate the similarities and differences in children and their activities in eight different parts of the world throughout one 24-hour day.
  • Eric Carle has a few books that look at different aspects of time. Be sure to visit the Caterpillar Exchange, a bulletin board where teachers and parents describe using Eric Carle's books in creative ways.

    • The Grouchy Ladybug - When a ladybug won't share aphids with another ladybug, she leaves and on her way and throughout the day, encounters and challenges larger and larger animals to fight with her. (Analog clocks show the hour on the pages.)
    • The Very Hungry Caterpillar - When a caterpillar emerges from its egg, it is hungry and eats everything in site. Watch what it eats each day and what happens when it finally has eaten its fill.

  • Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins - What is Mr. Higgins to do when the clocks in his house seem to be showing different times? A trip to the clockmaker answers the question.
  • Chimp Math: Learning About Time From a Baby Chimpanzee by Ann Whitehead Nagda - Read the story of a chimpanzee raised by a veterinary assistant while reviewing a variety of time lines, charts, clocks, and calendars that were used to measure and record the growth and development of baby Jiggs.
  • Bats Around the Clock by Kathi Appelt - Click Dark leads a 12-hour dance program in this book where bats jitterbug, swim, twist and more. At the bottom of each page a mouse holds a clock that advances from 1:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight as the show progresses.
  • The Apartment Book: A Day in Five Stories by Leo Hartas - This book presents the stories of the people and families that live in the old house at 51 Albert Street during the course of one day. This is not a book that can be read aloud, but rather, is a book that children will pour over the illustrations of (much like I Spy and Waldo books) to see exactly what happens to each character living and/or working in the house.
  • Just a Minute by Bonny Becker - How long is a minute? To a child it can be endless. As Johnny waits for his mother, minutes seem like hours or even years as he imagines he has grown up, bought a house on the hill, and had kids!
I'll end with a poem from Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins.
Time Passes
by Ilo Orleans

Sixty seconds
Pass in a minute.
Sixty minutes
Pass in an hour.
Twenty-four hours
Pass in a day -
And that's how TIME
Keeps passing away!
For books about the calendar, please check out Month by Month. As always, please let me know if I have missed any standout titles.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Publisher Spotlight - Barefoot Books

I first encountered the wonderful books of Barefoot Books in 1999 while looking for resources to use in teaching social studies. I wanted to integrate the history portion of the curriculum and its study of ancient China with the economics portion and its focus on trade. I found a terrific work entitled Stories From the Silk Road. I fell in love with the illustrations and felt the selection of stories was thoughtfully compiled. A few years later while searching for books for geography, I came across one book by Laurie Krebs, and then another, and another. I knew immediately that they were Barefoot Books, as the boldly colored illustrations were a dead giveaway. The Krebs titles I use in class include:
My collection of Barefoot Books expands every year as I continue to look for ways to diversify my collection, and they publish new outstanding titles. These books are always among the first I introduce to my students, and they are the ones I usually select as gifts for new teachers. Last year I bought the terrific counting book My Granny Went to Market: A Round the World Counting Rhyme and the lovely tale The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac.

The mission statement of Barefoot Books mirrors what I try to inspire my teachers to do with children in their classrooms. It is:
At Barefoot Books, we celebrate art and story that opens the hearts and minds of children from all walks of life, inspiring them to read deeper, search further, and explore their own creative gifts. Taking our inspiration from many different cultures, we focus on themes that encourage independence of spirit, enthusiasm for learning, and sharing of the world’s diversity.
From all I have seen, Barefoot Books easily meets this objective with every title they publish. If you haven't seen their catalog, run, don't walk to their web site and sign up for a catalog or review their products online. These are some of the most beautiful books on the market. They deserve a spot in your collection.

P.S. - These aren't just great books for the classroom, they're also great for home. William and I have been reading and listening to The Barefoot Book of Pirates. You will find a nice selection of books with CDs so that you can both read and listen to stories. We also love The Story Tree: Tales to Read Aloud (also with a CD) and the one we'll listen to tonight, Tales From Old Ireland.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Poetry Friday - The Wind and the Kite

William and I have been thinking and talking of building and flying kites. It is, after all, the glorious month of March. So, I present my poetry Friday selections, poems about the wind and kites. Enjoy!

The first poem is by Christina Rossetti.
Who Has Seen the Wind?
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing thro'.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
The second poem is by Leslie Tryon.
Have you seen the wind?
Did it just pass by?
I can't see it,
In the cloudless sky.

But my hat blew away,
And I saw the trees sway,
So this must be
a windy day.
Finally, here is a short poem on kites by Mark Sawyer.
Kite Days
A kite, a sky, and a good firm breeze,
And acres of ground away from trees,
And one hundred yards of clean, strong string --
O boy, O boy! I call that Spring!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Books That Measure Up

It's that time of year. The students have just returned from spring break and as I look over my syllabus, I grow weary, as I am STILL pushing my way through arithmetic. We have covered number sense, counting, place value, whole number operations and computation and estimation. Now we are well into fractions and decimals. I am so ready to move on. I think my students are too. Looking down the road, I am gleefully anticipating the arrival of measurement and the opportunity to do all kinds of wonderful activities.

As I begin to plan for this new topic, I find myself on the floor of my office, pulling books from the shelves, happily deciding which ones to use for lessons. Here are some of my favorite books on standard and nonstandard measurement.
  • I am CRAZY about the work done by Steve Jenkins. His size books are marvels, as are his comparative books. I can't say enough good things about them, so do check out ALL of these fantastic titles.
    • Actual Size - If the gorilla hand and pygmy mouse lemur on the cover don't grab you, check out the Goliath birdeater tarantula inside!
    • Big and Little - This lovely book offers pairs of animals that are related but vastly different in size.
    • Biggest, Strongest, Fastest - This book presents 14 record holders in the animal world along with some amazing facts about them.
    • Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest - Read this book to learn about some amazing places on Earth and how they measure up.
    • Prehistoric Actual Size - Following on the heels of Actual Size, this book features interesting aspects of prehistoric figures.
  • Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni - In this Caldecott honor book, an inchworm measures a robin's tail, a flamingo's neck, a toucan's beak, a heron's legs, and a nightingale's song in order to keep from being eaten.
  • How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller - When a king measures his wife for a bed (using his feet to pace off the distance), he is surprised when the bed that is made is much too small for the queen.
  • Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs - The giant Jim meets at the top of the beanstalk is in sorry shape, so Jim helps by measuring him for new teeth, hair and eyeglasses.
  • Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy - When a young girl is challenged by her teacher to measure things in a number of ways, she measures her dog and her dog's friends using both standard and non-standard (dog biscuits, cotton swabs, etc.) units.
  • Esio Trot by Roald Dahl - A lovestruck Mr. Hoppy is determined to find a way to Mrs. Silver's heart. When he provides her with some strange language to make her tortoise grow bigger, amazing things begin to happen to Alfie's (the tortoise's) weight.
  • Millions to Measure by David Schwartz - Marvelosissimo the Magician explains the development of standard units of measure, and shows the simplicity of calculating length, height, weight, and volume using the metric system.

  • George Shrinks by William Joyce - George wakes one morning to find that he is three inches tall and that his parents have left him to mind the house and his younger brother. This is a terrific look at what life would be like if you were smaller in size than a toy soldier.
  • Pair the above book with this wonderful poem by Shel Silverstein, found in Where the Sidewalk Ends.
    One Inch Tall
    If you were only one inch tall, you'd ride a worm to school.
    The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
    A crumb of cake would be a feast
    And last you seven days at least,
    A flea would be a frightening beast
    If you were one inch tall.

    If you were only one inch tall, you'd walk beneath the door,
    And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
    A bit of fluff would be your bed,
    You'd swing upon a spider's thread,
    And wear a thimble on your head
    If you were one inch tall.

    You'd surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
    You couldn't hug your mama, you'd just have to hug her thumb.
    You'd run from people's feet in fright,
    To move a pen would take all night,
    (This poem took fourteen years to write--
    'Cause I'm just one inch tall).

  • To keep the theme of "little people" going, read one of my favorites from childhood, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. In this book, the Clock family lives under the floorboards of a country house in England where they "borrow" objects for their home, making use of such items as matchboxes for storage and postage stamps for paintings.
  • Is It Larger? Is It Smaller? by Tana Hoban - No math collection is complete without the fabulous wordless books of Tana Hoban. Using stunning photographs, the book introduces young children to examples of big and small in the world around them.
  • How Tall, How Short, How Far Away? by David Adler - This book introduces the history of measurement and looks at several measuring systems, including the ancient Egyptian system, the US customary system and the metric system.
  • How Big is Big? by Stephen Strauss - This is a lovely book of poems that examines at the relativity of measurement terms, such as big and small, fast and slow, deep and high. Here is an excerpt from the book.
How big is big?
A super fat pig?
A giant tomato?
A skyscraper potato?
No, bigness is something no one can consume,
Like how many oceans
Fit into the moon.

There are many other books about measurement found within different math series, including Stuart Murphy's MathStart (I love these), Hello Math Reader, Math Matters, Math Counts by Henry Pluckrose, and many more. Even though our state curriculum includes time and money in the study of measurement, this list focuses largely on length, mass and volume. Please let me know if I've missed any stand-out titles.

On Building a Classroom (or Home) Collection

My parents made the trek to Richmond, VA from Rochester, NY for Thanksgiving 2006. We had only been in our new house for a few months, but even with a few unpacked boxes still hanging around, I was determined to have them visit. Both of my parents were born before 1930, so I can tell you that as much as I love them, they have some "old-fashioned" ideas that at times, I just find hard to swallow. Here's one example. Upon entering my son's new room (yes, we bought bunk beds for an only child), my mother commented on the bed first and then on the enormous number of books he owns. What can I say, I love to read and so does he. During the visit I was surprised by the comment that there were lots of (forgive the language here) "black and oriental" books in the collection, as well as many books about girls.

I still think about this comment. It wasn't meant to be offensive, it's just that my mom reads about the world she is comfortable and familiar with, and I read about the world that I don't know, want to know better, or fear/hope I will never be exposed to in this lifetime. I want my son to read for the same reasons. I want him to experience what he may not know or see, but I also want him to know that there is so much more beyond his little corner of the world.

I think this holds true for classroom collections. As a teacher, I made an effort to purchase books that covered a range of genres and included characters from all walks of life. I began my career teaching in a preK-8 private, Catholic school. There was not a lot of diversity in the student body, but there was diversity in my collection, precisely because I wanted students to know that not all children in this world were like them. This is what I want for my son. Perhaps I am still feeling the pangs of guilt about abandoning the city and its urban schools for a suburban neighborhood closer to work with a fantastic school system. William loves Kindergarten and is thriving, but I can't help but worry about the startling lack of diversity in the school. How will he learn to appreciate the gifts that children from different races, ethnicity, religion, and background (think SES and family structure) can bring to the life of the classroom and our world if he doesn't experience them first hand? This is why we read such a broad range of books. It is why I hope teachers will build collections that represent this colorful quilt of humanity. It is why in my thematic book list posts I try hard to provide a selection of titles that cut across these lines.

In a recent post on PlanetEsme, Esme Codell wrote:
Teachers and parents, especially if you work or live in a homogeneous school or community, you don't have to apologize or rationalize or explain when you buy a book that widens horizons and gives children the chance to vicariously meet people they would not or could not in their day-to-day lives. Recognize that you have a special opportunity, maybe even a responsibility to take integration another step from the classroom to the bookshelf. Be inclusive in your collection based on the excellence of the text and illustrations sooner than the race of the reader, and in this way, your collection will be richer and naturally more representative of many people, and your children can fully benefit from the empathy towards the human experience that great children's literature--and great literature at large-- has to offer.
Thanks, Esme, you've given voice to what I feel in my heart, and I couldn't agree more.

Caldecott 2008 Announcement - My Grand Idea

I may as well get it out there and admit that I carry a huge blog crush for Read Roger. Therefore, I was tickled pink to learn that Roger Sutton is currently enrolled in a cabaret singing class, as the six-CD changer in my car is never without Cole Porter and at least one Broadway soundtrack.

So, here is my grand idea. Wouldn't it be amazing if the 2008 Caldecott winner learned of his/her honor with an early morning call that began with a brief, yet delightful rendition of Cole Porter's You're the Top? Mr. Sutton is on the committee. It could happen!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kids' Favorite Reads

Thanks to Ruth over at Inspiring Readers and Writers for this tidbit.

At the Center for Teaching and Learning, a K-8, non-profit, demonstration school in Edgecomb, Maine and the working home of Nancy Atwell, you will find a list of books recommended by kids. Here is the introduction from the page.
We asked our students to list the ten books each of them loved enough to believe they would convince a kid in their grade who was like him or her but didn't like to read that reading is great. These were their picks.
Frankly, I was surprised that the lists are separated by gender. I was a reader in school, so I took peer recommendations very seriously, regardless of whether they came from boys or girls. This may make more sense at the upper grades, but I'm not convinced it should be a division we push in the early elementary grades. Since my son is in Kindergarten, I looked carefully at the lists recommended by boys and girls at this level. Believe it or not, I was astounded by the results. Sure, Eric Carle, Mem Fox, Kevin Henkes, Leo Lionni and a few other notables appear on both lists, but there are more differences in the two sets of selections than there are similarities. Here are a few things I noticed.
  • There are a total of 41 authors on the K boys list and 53 on the K girls list.
  • While the boys and girls may share similar authors, they don't necessarily share the same books by those authors.
  • The only Eric Carle book on the shared list is The Mixed-Up Chameleon.
  • The Magic School Bus series appears on one of the K lists. (My thought - really???)
I'm not quite sure what to make of these lists. I reread a lot of books as a kid, so I wonder how many books on the K list appear on the 1st and so on. With so many kids working through AR these days, rereading is not something many kids are encouraged to do. I also worry about the dichotomy between books for boys and girls. While my son reads his fair share of train books, he also reads Eloise and Madeline, loved The Year of the Dog, and is now laughing his way through the Ramona series with me. I want him to love books about both boys and girls. In addition to our books about girls, we have read the Stuart books by Sarah Pennypacker and just about every Henry and Mudge book that's been written.

I have lots of questions, but no real answers. Head on over and check out the lists, then please come back and share your thoughts. I'd love to hear them.

Birthday Wishes for Leo and Diane Dillon

Leo and Diane Dillon are known for their outstanding body of work in illustrating children's literature. Born 11 days apart in 1933, Leo on March 2 and Diane on March 13, they met at the Parsons School of Design in New York City and married in 1957. They are the only recipients of back-to-back Caldecott medals, for the works Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1977) and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (1976). In 1997 they celebrated their 40th anniversary and completed their 40th book together, To Every Thing There Is a Season, a beautifully illustrated version of passages from the Book of Ecclesiastes. I wonder what the 50th anniversary will bring this year?

Here is an excerpt about them from Embracing the Child.
There are two major messages the Dillons want to convey. The first is that all people, whatever their culture or race, experience the same things. "We all have a lot in common. It is our beliefs that divide us. We have little control over what life brings us but we can change our thoughts." The second is that since the beginning of history, people have expressed themselves in wonderful and unique ways. "Art in its many forms has survived to inform us of lives long gone. Art inspires, lifts our spirits, and brings beauty to our lives. We wish to pay homage to it and the people that created it."
Nowhere are these ideas more apparent than in To Everything There is a Season. Each passage in the book is accompanied by artwork from one of 16 different cultures, Celtic, Egyptian, Japanese, Mayan, Green, Indian, Medieval European, Ethiopian, Thai, Chinese, Russian, Aboriginal, Inuit, and Arab. This is a book that truly captures the similarities and differences that all people share.

So, happy birthday, Diane, and happy belated birthday, Leo. May you have many more years and beautiful books together.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Celebrating Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton was born on this day in 1936. One of five children, she traced her interest in literature to the fact that her parents were "storytellers and unusually fine storytellers, and realized, although I don't know how consciously, that they were passing along heritage and culture and a pride in their history." She was so moved by this tradition that oral storytelling methods appear in her writing. For her work, she was honored with the National Book Award, the John Newbery Medal, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.

Even though M.C. Higgins, The Great won the Newbery and all sorts of other awards, my favorite book is still The People Could Fly. This terrific collection of American Black Folktales was honored as the Coretta Scott King Award winner, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book (with fantastic illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon), a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Horn Book Fanfare selection and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book (just to mention a few).

Ms. Hamilton died five years ago, but her family has kept her web site going. Stop in and take a look, then pick up one of her books and remember her this day.

Happy Birthday to Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on this day in 1952. The daughter of a Palestinian father and American mother, she grew up in Missouri, Jerusalem, and Texas. Both a poet and author (and plenty of other things, I'm sure!), she has won many awards, among them the Jane Addams Children's Book award for Sitti's Secrets and Habibi. If you don't know this award, it is given to works that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence.

Among my favorite books of Nye's poetry are 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East and Come With Me: Poems for a Journey. She was also responsible for collecting the works in the terrific volume The Space Between Our Footsteps.

Here is the title poem from Come With Me: Poems for a Journey (Greenwillow, 2000).
Come With Me
To the quiet minute between two noisy minutes
It's always waiting ready to welcome us
Tucked under the wing of the day
I'll be there
Where will you be?
Why don't you take the journey with this wonderful author and poet? Open up a book or volume of poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye and find your way to a world where many of us have never been.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Nye!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Publisher Spotlight - Sleeping Bear Press

In recent weeks I have noticed that many books by a few small or regional publishers are appearing with regular frequency in my posts. I thought it might be nice to actually feature some of these folks, as I regularly search out their books and am rarely disappointed by what I find. So, without further ado, I present the first in what I hope will be a series highlighting publishers with a catalog of works of which I am particularly fond.

I was first introduced to Sleeping Bear Press through two books. H is for Home Run: A Baseball Alphabet and Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about baseball books, and frankly, I'm surprised I left this one off! In addition to being a lover of all things related to baseball, I also love hockey. I was a fanatic when I lived in Buffalo, but it's a bit hard to follow now without an NHL team in the city. I fell in love with these books for the way they both captured the spirit of the games, and for the format in which the letters introduce the concept in rhyme, but also in anecdotal bits of information in the margins. I was intrigued and looked for other books in this series. There are LOTS of them, and they're all terrific. Some of my favorites include:
  • D is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet
  • G is for Galaxy: An Out of this World Alphabet
  • I is for Idea: An Inventions Alphabet
  • P is for Passport: A World Alphabet
  • R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet
  • W is for Wind: A Weather Alphabet
Another popular series is Discover America State by State, an alphabetic tour of the United States (51 volumes with D.C.) that examines what makes each state unique, from indigenous plants and animals to the famous people and significant landmarks.

There are many other wonderful selections in the Sleeping Bear Press catalog. In addition to many fine books, you will find that this publisher is particularly teacher friendly, as evidenced by the extensive list of downloadable (PDF) teacher guides for many of their books.

All-in-all, this is a publisher with works that elementary teachers will enjoy using in their classrooms.

Celebrating Valerie Worth

The March issue of Book Links arrived in my mailbox today. I was overjoyed to see that the Literary Legends feature has reappeared, and that this month it is devoted to Valerie Worth. Here is an excerpt from this terrific piece.
In an interview with poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins in Pass the Poetry, Please! (HarperCollins, 1972; reissued 1998), Worth observed, "Written poetry is simply a way of revealing and celebrating the essentially poetic nature of the world itself." Worth was able to find poetry in the most unexpected places, and her writing encourages readers (and writers) of all ages to follow her lead.
For those of you looking for an introduction to Worth's work, this is a wonderful article. Also, don't miss the terrific review of Animal Poems, the latest posthumous publication of her work, by Elaine at Blue Rose Girls.

I'll leave you with a Valerie Worth poem I've been thinking about lately. I'm hoping we will have a need to use this machine VERY soon!
The lawnmower
Grinds its teeth
Over the grass,
Spitting out a thick
Green spray;

Its head is too full
Of iron and oil
To know
What it throws

The lawn’s whole
Crop of chopped
Green hay.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Poetry Friday - Birches

I spent the day yesterday with a terrific group of teachers, leading a Project Learning Tree workshop. We spent time outside and found, to our great delight, that the maple and cherry trees were beginning to bud. It may be cold here, but the promise of spring is on the way.

In honor of trees and spring, I present one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Happy Poetry Friday!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Beyond the Wild Wood

Kenneth Grahame was born on this day in 1859. He was raised by his grandmother in the village of Cookham Dene, which served as the chief setting of The Wind in the Willows. The author created the character of Toad to amuse his son, but it was not until 1908 that the book was published. It was originally published without illustrations, but in 1931 was released with lovely illustrations by E. H. Shepard.
"Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World," said the Rat. "And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all..."
The remarkable story of Rat, Mole, Badger and Mr. Toad and their adventures in the English countryside is a classic of children's literature. It is a fabulous book to read aloud. If you haven't read this one, you simply must.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Honor of Lisa Yee - Check Out the Peeps!

For those of you who haven't heard, Lisa Yee has been named the 2007 Thurber House Children's Writer-in-Residence. Congratulations, Lisa!

Since this post is for Lisa, I am going to direct you to two sites that I know would hold a special place in her heart. Anyone who reads Lisa Yee's blog knows that she is a total freak for Peeps. Yes, those disgusting marshmallow chicks and bunnies that pop-up during this time of year. In her honor, I recommend that you run, don't walk, to the Brotherhood 2.0 site (What? You haven't been there?!) to see John Green's brother Hank take on the challenge of eating as many Peeps as possible in 6 minutes.

Once you've seen the vlog entry for March 6 (perhaps March 5 as well so you can understand the punishment that was established), head on over to the Washington Post to learn about the Peeps diorama contest. No, really, this article is not a joke.

Lisa Yee, wherever you are, enjoy the Peeps and again, congratulations!

Adventures in Saving: Story-Writing Contest

I don't normally write about things like this, but the contest described below would make a fabulous writing project for the classroom. Read on!

As part of its commitment to financial literacy, ING DIRECT has created the Adventures in Saving story-writing contest to recognize people in 3 age groups (ages 6-12; 13-19; and 20+) for writing a children’s fictional story focused on a basic financial topic. The story should address a concept that teaches kids a basic lesson about responsible money management. Each grand prize winner (one per age group for a total of 3) will have his/her prize-winning story published and receive an ING DIRECT Orange Savings Account containing $1,000. Stories must be submitted online by 11:59 p.m. EST on June 30, 2007.

  • Must be targeted to 4- to 7-year-olds.
  • Must not exceed 1,400 words.
  • Must follow proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar rules.
  • Must incorporate a basic financial theme such as:

    • What money is
    • How to save money
    • Making money
    • Wise spending
    • Budgeting
    • Banking cash
For more information, visit the Adventures in Saving web site.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Selecting Literature for Math Instruction

In thinking about choosing and using children's literature in the mathematics classroom, my students and I spend considerable time on the topic of evaluating the appropriateness of books for instruction. With so many reviews and tidbits of information at our disposal, how does one choose? If a book receives a 3 or 4 on the Horn Book scale, is it worthy? What about books that are poorly evaluated by The School Library Journal, but rated enthusiastically by other reviewers? Because students are new to process of critically evaluating literature, they look to "expert" reviews for guidance, but when there is not clear concurrence on a work, they are often stumped as to how to rate a selection.

Because of this, I introduce them to two sets of evaluation criteria and practice the art of critiquing books with them. The first set of guidelines comes from the November 2000 article entitled Making Informed Choices: Selecting Children's Trade Books for Mathematics Instruction (from Teaching Children Mathematics), the authors present the scale below for evaluating mathematics trade books.

I like the notion of using a continuum to rate books in these five areas, as not all books will be outstanding in every one. Indeed, the authors conclude with this statement:
"A rare mathematics trade book would excel in all five criteria; many books will be noteworthy in one or more aspects but weak in another dimension. Most mathematics trade books are potential resources for instruction if the teacher devises ways to use them to help children learn concepts meaningfully."
One cannot dismiss the importance of the teacher's ability to think creatively about these things. It is one thing to suggest useful books, but teachers must then take a suggested book and develop a motivating and engaging lesson based on its use.

The second set of criteria comes from the book New Visions for Linking Literature and Mathematics by Phyllis and David Whitin. Briefly outlined they look like this:
Mathematical integrity
  • accuracy of the mathematical ideas and vocabulary
  • functional use of math in believable contexts
  • accessibility of ideas through illustrations, analogies, real-life examples, clear explanation
An aesthetic dimension
  • heightened appreciation of form and design
  • compelling illustrations, charts, diagrams, photographs
  • well-crafted, beautiful language
Potential for varied responses
  • hook the reader by the intrigue of the story
  • open-ended nature of the illustrations
  • natural integration of mathematical ideas
  • invitational tone, not didactic
Racial, cultural and gender inclusiveness
  • free of bias and stereotypes
  • content, language and illustrations promote equity and diversity
These criteria, for the most part, embody the qualities that teachers look for in selecting any book for the classroom. In fact, the authors state in the introduction to their criteria that:
"First and foremost, math-related books should be good literature."
The Whitins carefully consider a range of books and their classroom applications in ways that allow teachers to meet curriculum objectives in both language arts and mathematics. This is exactly where the book differs from so many others that offer up suggestions for integrating children's literature into math instruction. It's dual emphasis leads to a general exclusion of books that are didactic in nature, and written expressly for instruction, albeit in perhaps more interesting ways than a textbook, but certainly nowhere near as entertaining as those that more naturally integrate mathematical ideas. (To learn more about these criteria, you can read the introduction online.)

For my students, the challenge then becomes one of finding a way to blend the guidelines in these two examples in order to come up with some personal measures for evaluating children's books for instruction. In many cases, the responses students have to a book are visceral, and no matter how well the book scores on the majority of criteria, this initial response, or gut feeling, may override all other reasonable responses to it. One example of this is Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell. In the last two years, nearly every group of students I share this with dislikes the book. Why? They don't like the illustrations. Even though the book scores relatively well in the other categories, students say they won't use it. Then I ask the all-important question: "If you won't use this text, then name another counting book that features African-American children or families that you can use instead." Silence. The fact that they haven't seen any other books that promote this kind of diversity is astonishing. This is a powerful moment for students, and one that encourages them to view more holistically the books they are evaluating.

I don't know that I have lived up to the title of this post yet. I suppose I hope merely to offer some insights into the process I teach others to use, and the one I use myself. The best tool I have in finding books for instruction is to read, read, read. I spend a lot of time in libraries and bookstores, really looking closely at this amazing world of children's literature.

If you're still not convinced of the value of using children's literature to teach math, you should read the article Using Storybooks to Teach Math by Marilyn Burns (my hero in all things related to pedagogy in elementary math.)