Friday, October 31, 2014

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Behind the Books: Thinking About Nonfiction Writing Styles

According to CCSS, there are four types of nonfiction—literary, expository, persuasive, and procedural. But traditionally, writers have used terms like these as labels for various nonfiction writing styles.

I like the word “styles” because it implies some sort of craft, some sort of decision-making process on the part of the writer. When reading a nonfiction text, it’s important for students to think about the author’s purpose and how that purpose influenced the way he/she chose to present facts, ideas, and/or true stories. Remembering that the author is a person with a distinct point of view will help young readers think critically and spot potential biases. And that’s not all. Recognizing how other authors craft their manuscripts can help young writers communicate their own thoughts and ideas more effectively.

Okay, I’ll get down off my soapbox now.

If you google “nonfiction writing styles,” you’ll pull up a gazillion different articles. Some of the ideas in them overlap, and some don’t. Like I said last week, classifying nonfiction can be a messy process.

After reading dozens of articles on this topic and thinking about the children’s nonfiction books being produced today as well as the kinds of writing that twenty-first century learners should be able to craft, I see these three style categories—expository, narrative, and persuasive.

Expository writing explains, describes, and/or informs. That’s the author’s purpose in crafting the piece.

Narrative writing reads like a story because the author has worked hard to create that effect.

Persuasive writing argues a position because the author wants to convince the reader of something.

I’ll be talking more about each of these three style categories over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Leatherstocking Conference: Having Fun with Common Core Handout

Today I’m presenting two talks at the Leatherstocking Conference & Technology Showcase in Vernon, NY. This year’s theme is STEM & Maker Spaces, so it’s the perfect conference for me. I’m sharing my handout here (rather than on paper), so that interested people can simply click on the links. (Plus it saves trees.)

Thanks to blogger’s scheduling option, the online handout for my second talk, The Science of Readers Theater, will magically post at 2:20, when that presentation begins.

This post is the online handout for my first talk, Having Fun with Nonfiction: Using Award-winning Children’s Books to Support the Reading Information Text Standards. It includes teaching ideas and book lists that address each of the Common Core Reading Information Text Standards. Enjoy!

Here are some general resources to get you started:



I have created easy-to-read tables that show how the CCSS RIT standards scaffold from one grade level to the next, and educators seem to love them. They are especially useful for teacher-librarians, reading specialists, and teachers with multi-grade classrooms. You can access them here:
http://www.melissa-stewart.com/PowerPt/Easy-to-Understand%20Tables%20RIT%20Standards.ppt


CCSS RIT #1 and 2: Identifying main ideas/Recognizing supporting details
Reading Buddy programs have many proven benefits. When buddies use nonfiction trade books with layered text, the benefits increase. Younger students read the simpler main text (which includes the main idea) and the older student reads the secondary text (which includes supporting details). Then they discuss the art together. When they are done, they can work together to complete supporting activities.


Recommended Titles
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Beaks by Sneed B. Collard (illus. by Robin Brickman)

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre (illus Patricia J. Wynne)

A Butterfly is Patient by Diana Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (illus. Sarah S. Brannen)

Meet the Howlers by April Pulley Sayre (illus. Woody Miller)

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (illus. Nicole Wong)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (illus by Higgins Bond)

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins& amp; Robin Page

When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (photos Dan and Cassie Hartman)

 
CCSS RIT #3: Identifying connections/relationships 
It can be tricky to find books that are perfectly suited for teaching this skill. Here are some titles that I recommend:

For Younger Students
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman


For Older Students
Energy Island by Allan Drummond
 
John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonard da Vinci by Gene Baretta

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

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

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre (illus. Kate Enderle)

 
CCSS RIT #4: Building Vocabulary
For younger children, fun songs are a great way to reinforce domain-specific vocabulary introduced in children’s books. Here are some sample songs I’ve written to build vocabulary included in lifecycle units on butterflies and frogs.


For upper elementary students, Readers Theater is a wonderful way to reinforce vocabulary (not to mention build fluency and comprehension). Many science-themed children’s books can easily be adapted into Readers Theater scripts that kids will love practicing and performing.


For information about the benefits of RT and how to adapt books into scripts that are perfect for your students, please look at the online handout for that program in the post immediately following this one.

 
CCSS RIT #5: Identifying text features/Analyzing text structures
This is an important skill twenty-first century learners. Many of my books include a wide variety of text features, so I’ve developed teaching materials to go with them, including a SmartBoard slide and several worksheets and activities that you can download:

 
I’ve also sorted dozens of award-winning nonfiction books by text structure and developed some related activities. You can access them here:




CCSS RIT #6: Visual literacy and point of view
Most of the other RIT standards focus on one skill that is introduced in K and builds from one grade level to the next. This standard looks at visual literacy in the early grades and author intent in grades 2-5.

Grades K-1
Visual literacy is a critical skill for twenty-first century learners. While any book illustrated with art or photos can be used to discuss the role of the words and pictures, here are a few that I particularly recommend:

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (illus. Tony Persiani)

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

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkle

Redwoods by Jason Chin


Grades 2-5
To meet this standard, students should have experience considering the intent of texts and author point of view. Today’s students are also being asked to imagine themselves “in the shoes” of the authors. They must consider that an author’s world view affects how he/she approaches topics. For discussions of author intent, I recommend two activities.

1.    Compare The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder (illus Lynne Cherry) and Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell, focusing on why two authors might have created such different books about the same small animal.

2.  Imagine author Brenda Z. Guiberson’s thought process as she developed the voice for Frog Song. How do students think the publisher’s choice of Gennady Spirin as the illustrator reinforced the author’s intent for the book?

 
For discussions of point of view, ask students to consider how the authors’ world view inspired them to write the following titles:

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann

A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)

Step Out Gently by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

  
CCSS RIT #7: More visual literacy and accessing information quickly
Because visual literacy is so important, this standard addresses it at increasing degrees of complexity from grades K-4. See my notes above for book recommendations.

At grade 5, this standard suddenly switches its focus to building skills for accessing information. The good news is that publishers have already begun beefing up the index and resource sections of all books, especially those for ages 10 and up.

 
CCSS RIT #8: Examining how an author supports points
List books (in which the main idea is stated on the first page and subsequent spreads are essentially a list of examples that reinforce the main idea) are a simple and powerful way to show students how author can support their points. I recommend the following titles:

Bird Talk by Lita Judge

Born to Be Giants by Lita Judge

A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

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

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (illus. Sarah S. Brannen)

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins

Move! by Steve Jenkins& amp; Robin Page

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

A Rainbow of Animals by Melissa Stewart

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

Wings by Sneed Collard

 
CCSS RIT #9: Comparing multiple texts and various media
There are lots of ways to help students develop this skill, and trade children’s books can play a central role. Students will enjoy comparing fiction and nonfiction books that look at the same topic. Here are some book pairs I recommend:

Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale + Birds by Kevin Henkes (illus. Laura Dronzek)

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart (illus. Candace R. Bergum) + Under and Over the Snow by Kate Messner (illus.  Christopher Silas)

A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer (illus. John Butler) + Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Htakoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu (photos Peter Greste)

And if you are looking for a resource that combines studying fiction/nonfiction pairs with teaching science, you might want to use Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2, a book I co-authored with former teacher Nancy Chesley. It’s available here:

http://www.stenhouse.com/html/perfect-pairs.htm

Students will also be interested in comparing two, three, or even four or even three nonfiction books covering the same topic but written in different ways by different authors. Here are some great examples:

The Wolves Are Back by Jean Craighead George (illus. Wendell Minor)

When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

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

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

The Tale of Pale Male by Jeanette Winter

City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male by Meghan McCarthy

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City by Janet Schulamn (illus. Meilo So)

Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter

Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola

Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli (illus Kadir Nelson)

A great general resource for planning lessons that take advantage of multiple books and/or various media is Teaching with Text Sets by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes. Follow their blog here: http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/

Some of the books I've listed above will eventually go out of print. Plus new books are being published all the time. How can you find great nonfiction books in the future?

Keep an eye on these lists:  

AAAS/Subaru Prizes for Excellence in Science Books

ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

CA Reading Association Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Award

Cook Prize for STEM Picture Book

Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices List

Cybils Nonfiction for Middle Grade & Young Adult

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Books
 
NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
 
NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
 
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

And that's it! Phew.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS K-ESS2-2. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs.

Try these book pairs:























For more suggestions and full lesson plans, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Behind the Books: What CCSS Says About Informational Text Types

In last week’s post, I described four nonfiction categories that can help readers and writers make sense of the vast array of nonfiction book being published today. They were survey, specialized, concept, and biography/autobiography.

As I gather information for the science books I write, I often encounter instances in which scientists disagree about how to classify a particular plant or animal. Some say it belongs in genus X, and they have convincing evidence to back up their claim. Others say it belongs in genus Y, and they too have solid rationale. Classifying living things is messy. And it turns out that classifying nonfiction can be messy, too.

Why do I say that? Because CCSS has a completely different way of classifying informational texts. Its four “types” (which it uses to classify much more than just books) are literary, expository, persuasive, and procedural. Here’s how they define their categories:

literary—some personal essays and speeches, most biographies/autobiographies, memoirs, narrative nonfiction, some poetry, some informational picture books
expository—Q & A books, some informational children’s literature, textbooks, reference books, most primary sources
persuasive—some letters, essays, and speeches; opinion pieces, some informational children’s literature, some biographies/autobiographies
procedural—cookbooks, craft books, Mapquest and Google Maps, assembly instructions

Here’s how some popular children’s books would be sorted according to this system:

 
Literary Nonfiction
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad Tale by April Pulley Sayre  

Energy Island by Allan Drummond

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston  

Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy & Dennis Kunkle

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman

The Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery  

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost  

Those Rebels John & Tom by Barbara Kerley

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart  

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre  

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

 
Expository Nonfiction
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Frogs by Nic Bishop

John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonard da Vinci by Gene Baretta

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

Redwoods by Jason Chin

See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

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

Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed . . . and Revealed by David M. Schwartz & Yael Schy (photos Dwight Kuhn)

 
Persuasive Nonfiction
Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Gaia Warriors by Nicola Davies and James Lovelock


A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart

Write On, Mercy: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle

Wheels of Change by Sue Macy

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone

Procedural Nonfiction
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau

Get Outside by Jane Drake and Ann Love

The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger

Let’s Try It Out series by Seymour Simon

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

Science Play series by Vicki Cobb

Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made by Bill Slavin

These categories are useful in some ways, but they seem contrived to me. For example, the “literary” category seems too broad to be meaningful. And isn’t a procedural text really just one specific kind of expository text?

I’ll talk more about these categories next week.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Wonder Why


2009
Every year my husband and I try to figure out whether the leaves on our trees are changing earlier than, later than, or at the same time as previous years.  After we make our guesses, I pull out the photos I took in 2009 documenting the annual cycle of the sugar maple tree in our front yard.

Year after year, we think the trees are changing later, but my 2009 photos always prove us wrong. Hmph!



2014
I also took a few photos of other trees in our yard in the autumn of 2009, including a sugar maple behind our driveway. For some reason, that tree always changes earlier than the one in the front. But what's even more interesting is that this year the leaves are reddish orange, where as in 2009 they were much more yellow. I wonder why.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Categories

During a Twitter chat this summer, Cathy Potter drew my attention to this post from The Nonfiction Detectives, the blog she maintains with Louise Capizzo. Cathy served on the Sibert committee in 2013, so if anyone knows how to evaluate nonfiction books for children, it’s her.

In hindsight, this wasn’t the first time I’d seen the basic nonfiction “types” mentioned. I read this post Mary Ann Cappiello shared on The Classroom Bookshelf, the blog she maintains with Erica Thulin Dawes and Grace Enriquez, in 2012. Although Cappiello calls them “subgenres,” she’s describing the same categories as Potter and Capizzo.

Clearly, back in 2012, I wasn’t ready to fully see the value of thinking about these categories when reading and writing nonfiction. Maybe that shows that I’ve grown as a writer or at least as a thinker over the last couple of years.

In her post, Cappiello says, “Students benefit from understanding what type of nonfiction they are reading from the start, because understanding the purpose of a book is a clue to the content it contains.” In other words, writers (consciously or unconsciously) choose a particular text type based on their purpose, based on the information they want to share and how they want to share it. That’s a good lesson for writers as well as readers. It’s a good lesson for me.

In other words, before I begin writing, I can (and should) ask myself the following questions:

  1. Is my goal to provide a broad overview of a topic?

If yes, then a survey book is the best choice.

If no, go to 2.

As Cappiello says, “Survey books tend to focus on one broad topic and break it down into a variety of subtopics. They do not go very in-depth with any of these topics, but they give the reader a general introduction.”

Most of my National Geographic Readers are survey books. So are Eyewitness books. That’s the best category because these books are meant to be general introductions.

Here are ten more sample titles:

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins
 
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee

Frogs by Nic Bishop

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

Ice: The Amazing History of the Ice Business by Laurence Pringle

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper
 

  1. Is my goal to delve deeply into a highly-focused topic?

If yes, then I should write a specialized book.

If no, go to 3.


As Potter and Capizzo say, in a specialized book, “topics are delved into more deeply and may use primary or secondary resources.” They suggest Bomb by Steve Sheinkin as a mentor text because it looks closely at a very specific series of events that affect the outcome of World War II. Sheinkin’s Port Chicago 50 would also fit in this category, as would my own book A Place for Butterflies, which looks closely at ways people are protecting butterflies and preserving their habitats. We are seeing more and more specialized books in recent years, and my guess is that this trend will continue.

Here are ten more sample titles:

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cats by Sy Montgomery

Frog Song by Brenda G. Zuiberson

Energy Island by Allan Drummond

Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Plastics Ahoy! by Patricia Newman

Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell

Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah Campbell

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson


  1. Is my goal to help my readers understand an abstract idea or process?
If yes, then I should write a concept book.

If no, go to 4.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is a perfect example of a concept book because its central nugget is the interdependence of living things, an idea that I think is critically important for my young audience to understand. I’m passionate about my purpose, and as this revision timeline shows, that passion is what kept me working on the project for ten long years.  Concept books work especially well for science-themed picture books that seek to elucidate life cycles, seasons, animal behavioral patterns, and other key concepts.

Here are ten more sample titles:

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

Just a Second by Steve Jenkins

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animals’ Lives by Lola Schaefer

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

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

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre


  1. Is my goal to write about my life or the life of another person and his/her specific accomplishments?

If yes, a biography/autobiography is the obvious choice.

If no, go to reconsider 1-3.

 
As Cappiello points out, this is probably the most familiar category of nonfiction as well as the easiest to identify. Still some sample titles can’t hurt:

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill

Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skeleton by Meghan McCarthy

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley

How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson

The Mad Potter: George Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

Does every book fit into one of these four categories? Maybe not. But the vast majority do, so this exercise is a good place for readers and writers to start as they think about nonfiction.