Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Behind the Books: A Look at Life Stories

Last year at this time, I wrote a post about Nonfiction Types, which included references to posts written by Mary Ann Cappiello and Cathy Potter. Since then, Mary Ann and I have continued to discuss these major groupings (which she called subgenres). Now we are both calling them categories.

As we see it, m
ost nonfiction literature for children can be classified in one of four categories: life stories, survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books.

Life stories include:

— “cradle to grave” biographies

—partial or episodic biographies that focus on a pivotal event or period in a person’s life


—collective biographies that feature many different people

In children’s literature, life stories are most commonly presented as either picture books or long-form biographies, but there are some very popular collective biographies have been published in recent years and memoirs are especially popular right now.

Here are some of my favorite life stories to read and study:

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Brave Girl by Michelle Markle

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Lives of the Presidents (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatium

The Right Word by Jen Bryant

Over the next few weeks, I will take look at the other three major nonfiction categories— survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book of the Week: A Place for Birds

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

A Place for Birds was originally published in 2009, but was revised and updated in 2015, so it has the latest information about the challenges birds face and how we can do simple things to help them survive.

You could share one or two spreads to support NGSS PE K-ESS3-3 or read the whole book as part of a lesson that addresses NGSS PE 5-ESS3-1.

I have also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards. You can find additional activities here.

This book is great for Reading Buddies programs. For more information, read this article and look at the materials on my CCSS ELA RIT #1 & 2: Reading Buddies pinterest board.

The main text of A Place for Birds has both a cause & effect text structure and a problem-solution text structure, while many of the sibdebars compare past human activities that hurt birds to current more-bird-friendly activities. That makes it a great mentor text for students learning about nonfiction text structures.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Behind the Books: Go, Go, PebbleGo*

Lately, it seems like Capstone’s PebbleGo is sweeping the nation. At almost every school I visit, elementary students are using the research database to gather information for reports and projects. I think that’s great because I rely heavily on research databases too, and now I can discuss that part of my research process with students.

The PebbleGo database is an online encyclopedia in which each topic is discussed at three different complexity levels, and students can choose the one they want to read. It also has an audio option that makes research possible for pre-literate students.

The databases I use are a little bit different. They help me locate articles on a particular topic in science journals. In some cases, I can download the articles for free. When there’s a fee, I google the title to see if I can find it for free on the Internet. If so, I download it there. If not, I can often get it for free through Interlibrary Loan. If that doesn’t work, I may contact the lead scientist and ask him/her to send me a PDF.
I read dozens of articles for many of the books I write, gleaning small bits of information from each one. I couldn’t have written Feathers: Not Just for Flying or the A Place for books or Summertime Sleep, a new picture book coming out in 2017, without combing through journal articles for key information.

Why are scientific papers so important? Because they are the best way to get up-to-date information, and they often include important details that articles written for a lay audience leave out. These articles also help me to understand the intricacies and challenges of a scientist’s research, so that I can talk intelligently when I interview him/her.

I love that I can now explain this important part of my process to even young students and they get it because, like me, they use a database as part of their own research process.

*I do not endorse PebbleGo over other databases for elementary students. It’s merely an observation that most of the schools I visit seem to have selected this particular product.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book of the Week: Hurricane Watch

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Since we’re smack dab in the middle of hurricane season, I’ve decided to feature my newest book, Hurricane Watch, this week. It includes two fun activities at the end and can be used to support a range of NGSS Earth Science PEs for grades 2-4.

Hurricane Watch has a blended writing style—part narrative, part expository—and an en media res opening. By examining and discussing these features, students can gain insight into my writing process and learn techniques that they can experiment with in their own nonfiction writing.

Want to share some authentic ways authors gather research? This blog post has just what you need. For more resources on conducting research, visit my Researching Nonfiction board on pinterest.


Friday, September 25, 2015

10 Great STEM-themed Expository Nonfiction Picture Books

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge

Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston 

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta

Tiny Creatures: The Invisible World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Behind the Books: Writing By Hand

During school visits, students and teachers often ask me how I physically write my manuscripts. Do I type them using a computer keyboard or do I write them by hand?

The answer is YES. I do both.

I type all my research notes into a computer, but during this process, I also “play around with ideas” by writing longhand on paper. I jot down sudden thoughts about structure. I record fun phrases as they pop into my head. I try out different voices or writing styles in short bursts.

Some of this writing is recorded on legal-size pads of paper, but a lot of it is written on scraps of paper. That’s because this kind of thinking often happens while I’m drifting off to sleep, just waking up, taking a shower, out for a walk, or driving in the car. In other words, these thoughts are rising up from my subconscious at times when I’m not actively focused on something else. At these moments, paper is practical. Plus I like to line up all the random scraps of paper and rearrange them.
When I’m done with research, I organize information and ideas on the computer, using a method I call chunk and check. Then I begin writing my drafts on the computer.

I know that early drafts will involve false starts, deletions, insertions, and a whole lot of reorganizing. The computer makes sense because cutting and pasting is easier than erasing and more eco-friendly than tossing all my failed attempts into the trash.

But when I feel stuck, when things just aren’t flowing, when I suspect an underlying problem that I can’t yet identify, I return to pen and paper. I have often suspected that I somehow think differently when I am writing longhand. I have wondered if the tactile nature of writing by hand somehow causes different neurons to fire or allows thoughts to travel through or around different neural networks. All I knew for sure is that it worked, so I kept on doing it.

This summer I read Write Like This: Teaching Real-world Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts (Stenhouse, 2011) and was delighted to see author Kelly Gallagher address this topic. He says “writing by hand can produce a different, and often richer, level of thinking than does typing away at a keyboard.” His evidence includes studies with the following results:
—students wrote faster by hand AND generated more ideas when composing essays by hand.

—the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory

—students who wrote by hand had neural activity that was more advanced

Wow, maybe I should spend even more time writing by hand!