Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Behind the Books: Voice Choice 2

Here’s a little game to get a stronger sense of voice in nonfiction writing. One of the books below has a fun, joyful voice. The other has a conversational, confessional voice. Which is which?
When the first fossil bones of Iguanodon were found, one was shaped like a rhino’s horn. Scientists guessed that the strange bone fit like a spike on Iguanodon’s nose.

Boy, were we wrong about Iguanodon! When a full set of bones was found later, there were two pointed bones. They were part of Iguanodon’s hands, not its nose!

Fourteen thousand years ago
the north was mostly ice and snow.
But woolly mammoths didn’t care—
these beasts had comfy coats of hair.


Fuzzy, shaggy, snarly, snaggy,
Wonderful woolly mammoths!

What elements give each piece their distinct voice?  

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs by Kathleen Kudlinski actually contains a confession and the author’s clear, and strong but informal voice seems to be speaking directly to the reader.

The rhyme, rhythm, and fun word choice of Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler will make any reader smile. It never ceases to amaze me that the author could maintain this scheme throughout the book AND convey tons of great information about the prehistoric creatures.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Having Fun with Common Core: Circle Stories


This post is a continuation of my discussion about using picture books to create science-themed Readers Theater scripts that can help your students meet CCSS for ELA in the Reading Informational Text #4.

Today I’ll be discussing two books that are structured so that the reader begins and ends in the same place. These circle stories are appropriate for Readers Theater scripts because they describe a variety of creatures, each of which can become characters portrayed by your students, and because they have natural choruses. (And because both books describe relationships between living things, they can also be used to address CCSS for ELA in the Reading Informational Text #3)

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre (illus. by Kate Endle; Charlesbridge) has an alluring title that most young readers will question, but as students plunge into the food chain narrative, they will begin to understand how all the living things in an ecosystem are interconnected. Although the text doesn’t mention people, the fun, colorful collages brings two children into the story—notebooks in hand.

The interconnectedness of living things is also the theme of Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman (Charlesbridge) , which leads young readers through a chain of natural events that occur on a typical day in a bog, beginning with a frog hopping off a fern and landing on some moss, which causes two mosquitoes to fly away. Simple sentences describe what is happening in the soft, colorful watercolor art, introducing readers to a variety of plants, insects, and animals. One event leads to another until, finally, the frog spots a cricket, catches it and then hops onto a fern.

What’s next? More book suggestions for Readers Theater.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: Why did the little pebble look so much like the big boulder?
A: It was a chip off the old block.

Q: What did the angry rock say to the sassy soil?
A: Come on! You want a piece of me?

Q: Why does magma move in circles?
A: It doesn’t want to be square.

Q: What did Ruby’s grandmother tell her?
A: Sweetheart, you’re a real gem!

Q: How do mountains hear?
A: With mountaineers.

Looking for more super silly jokes about the weather? Check out Mountains of Jokes About Rocks, Minerals, and Soil.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Behind the Books: Voice Choice

Here’s a little game to get a stronger sense of voice in nonfiction writing. One of the books below has a stately, respectful voice. The other has a lively, playful voice. Which is which?

Here is a ship that holds her place.
She does not sail from port to port.
She does not carry passengers or mail or packages.
She holds one sure spot as other ships sail by.
She waits.



Pop, pop, pop.
What’s that sound?
Is this the rain at last?
No, it’s a rat,
hopping in lengthy leaps
like a tiny kangaroo.


What elements of the writing give each piece their distinct voice?

Lightship by Brian Floca features lots of repetition and sentences that are longer than they need to be. It gives a sense of thoroughness, a job carefully and patiently completed.

Dig, Wait, Listen by April Pulley Sayre features sound effects, a bolder format consisting of questions and answers, and alliteration.

Come back next week for another round of this game.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

Did you know that lots and lots of animals eat poop? Yep, it’s true. Here’s a quick list: koalas elephants, giant pandas,rabbits. And that’s just the beginning.

To find out more, check out my book Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Behind the Books: Lyrical Nonfiction

One author can write using many different voices, depending on what he or she is trying to accomplish. For example, when I was writing When Rain Falls, I hoped the books would be used in classroom science lessons as well as bedtime reading.

How would you describe the personality of this passage? How does the writing make you feel?

Inside clouds, water droplets budge and bump, crash and clump. The drops grow larger and larger, heavier and heavier until they fall to the earth.

When rain falls in a forest, scurrying squirrels suddenly stop. They pull their long, bushy tails over their heads like umbrellas.


A hawk puffs out its feathers to keep water out and warmth in. Chickadees stay warm and dry inside their tree hole homes.

Calm.

Relaxed.
Comforting.

Peaceful.


Did you come up with words like these? They describe the voice.

Here are some more great nonfiction book with a lyrical voice:

A Butterfly is Patient by Diana Hutts Aston (illus Sylvia Long)
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill (illus. Bryan Collier)

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

A Seed Is Sleepy
by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus Sylvia Long)

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost (illus Rick Lieder)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
by Joyce Sidman (illus Beth Krommes)

Under the Snow
by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)

Vulture View
by April Pulley Sayre (illus Steve Jenkins)

When Rain Falls
by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Having Fun with Common Core: Look for Rich Backmatter


In my last post, I discussed how layered text can facilitate adapting a book into a Readers Theater script, focusing on two titles that have two text blocks on each page. Many of the books created by Steve Jenkins, often with his wife Robin Page, also include layered text—but in a different kind of format.

The main text is spare, but the back matter includes a wealth of additional facts—all the information you’ll need to create roles for both the narrators and the animal characters in your RT scripts. Two especially good choices are Move! and What Would You Do with a Tail Like This?, both published by Houghton Mifflin.

Move! is a lively title with simple, cleverly conceived text and gorgeous cut-paper collages that highlight a host of animal movements. Well-written backmatter rich in details provides additional information about the featured animals.

The Caldecott Honor recipient What Would You Do with a Tail Like This? has a wonderful guessing game format in which one double-page spread asks a question and shows intriguing bits of animal bodies and the next double-page spread answers the question and reveals the entire bodies of the animals.

Using the information on these spreads, which discuss how a variety of animals use their noses, ears, tails, eyes, mouth, and feet, with additional facts in the backmatter, it is easy to convert the text into roles for both narrators and animal characters. In addition, the book’s dynamic artwork will inspire children to add flair to their own performances.

As I noted last week, books like this are also great to use as mentor texts and can be used for Reading Buddy programs.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What’s the biggest kind of ant?
A: A gi-ant.

Q: What did the housefly say to the mosquito?
A: Don’t bug me.

Q: How do you keep flies out of the kitchen?
A: Put a pile of manure in the living room.

Q: What does a cricket like to do at recess?
A: Jump rope.

Q: What do you call a female termite?
A: A her-mite
Looking for more super silly jokes about the weather? Check out Creepy, Crawly Jokes About Spiders and Other Bugs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Behind the Books: A Look at Voice in Nonfiction


What is voice? It’s the personality of the writing. It’s how the writing makes you feel.

As you read the following passage from my book, It’s Spitacular, try to come up with some words that describe the voice. What is it’s personality? How does it make you feel?

“Spit a little saliva into the palm of your hand. Now take a good long look. What do you see?

Spit is a clear, slippery liquid. It looks a lot like water, but it’s a little slimier, and it’s full of tiny bubbles. If you haven’t brushed your teeth lately, your spit might also contain tiny bits of food. Ew! Gross!

There’s a good reason spit looks like water. Water is its main ingredient. But spit also contains many other things. They help saliva do its job.

The slimy mucus in spit makes swallowing easier. Proteins in saliva start to break down food before it reaches your stomach. Spit also contains salts, gases, and all kinds of yucky germs. That’s something to think about the next time someone hits you with a spitball.”

Fun.

Sassy.

Gross.

Energetic.

Humorous.

Did you come up with words like these? They describe the voice.

Here are some more great nonfiction book with a humorous voice:

11 Experiments that Failed
by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter

It’s a Dog’s Life: How Man’s Best Friend Sees, Heara, and Smells the World by Susan E. Goodman (illus. David Slonim)

It’s Spit-acular: The Secrets of Saliva by Melissa Stewart

John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith

Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up
by Sarah Albee

See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman (illus Elwood H. Smith)

Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

The Story Goes on
by Aileen Fisher

The Truth About Poop by Susan E. Goodman (illus. Elwood H. Smith)

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

Monday, January 7, 2013

Having Fun with Common Core: Look for Layered Text

This post is a continuation of my discussion about using picture books to create science-themed Readers Theater scripts that can help your students meet CCSS for ELA in the Reading Informational Text #4.

See my earlier posts for general information about Readers Theater, suggestions for adapting book text into a great script, and key text characteristics that make a book well suited for Readers Theater. Today I’ll focus on text format.

As you search for books to convert into RT scripts, keep in mind that some of the text on each page will be used as an animal introduction for the narrator, and the rest will be presented as dialog by an animal character. That means books with two sections of text—shorter, simpler text that conveys a general idea and a longer section with more details—can work especially well.

The good news is that, in the last decade, science-themed picture books with this kind of layered text have become an increasingly popular. Two book that work especially well for Readers Theater are Animals Asleep by Sneed Collard (illus. by Anik McGrory) and Leaving Home also by Sneed Collard (illus. by Joan Dunning). Published by Houghton Mifflin, these two titles have a simple main text at the top of each page and smaller, detail-rich text blocks at the bottom of each page. (These books are also great for Reading Buddiesprograms.)

In Animals Asleep, soft, appealing watercolors and accessible text describe the sleep habits of a wide variety of animals. Large-type text is general and flows well, while more detailed small-type text provides interesting tidbits about featured animals.

Leaving Home looks at how a variety of animals grow up and leave home. Large, striking watercolors accompany clear, simple text presented in two levels. Short, simple text in large type gives general information, while smaller type provides details.

In both of these books, the main text is great for introductory speeches by the narrator, while the detailed text provides a variety of options for animal roles. 

In addition, each of these books begins with a simple introductory sentence that presents the topic in a general way.

“Most of us need sleep.”

“Sooner or later, we all leave home.”

This structure makes the books great models for teaching students how to organize their nonfiction writing—by beginning with a topic sentence and then adding additional paragraphs with supporting details. 

Note to self. That would make a good topic for a future blog post.