Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Happy Holidays!

A few years ago, my book Under the Snow was featured in the Festival of Trees at the Concord Museum in Concord, MA. To celebrate the holiday season, I’m going to leave you with a photo of that gorgeous tree.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m looking forward to plenty of fun family festivities. But I’ll be back on January 5. I have  a feeling that 2018 is going to be a fantastic year.

Monday, December 18, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by JoEllen McCarthy

Imagine if students were all given the opportunity to pursue their passions? Passion empowers learners. In our most exciting reading and writing workshops, students are invigorated by books that help them extend the opportunity to read, to write, to build, to create, to question... to address a real need in their world. As Melissa Stewart has reminded us, “they’re most likely to develop a love of reading if they have access to fact-filled books with clear main ideas and supporting details. They’re captivated by books that include patterns, analogies, concepts, and calculations.”

On that note, I’d like to share a few favorites that demonstrate passion from authors and are sure to inspire passion in readers and writers of expository texts.

Every Body’s Talking: What We Say Without Words by Donna M. Jackson and Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD (Twenty-first Century Books, 2014)
This fascinating book explores ways we communicate beyond words. The authors take a close look at how our feelings, actions, and body language send messages. It is a great exploration of the importance of reading others’ social cues and why it is necessary to read and reflect on other’s emotions. Filled with sources, interactive links, and a body-talk glossary, it’s an informational book that supports empathy, caring, and communicating with others, and that’s a win-win!
 
Hello Atlas: Listen to 133 Different Languages by Ben Handicott, illus. Kenard Pak (Wide Eyed Editions, 2016)
This book is really more like an adventure. Want to take a trip around the world? Want to learn about other communities? Want to “hear” from children around the world? (Yes, this book comes with an app to download and hear phrases spoken by real children.) Rich with illustrated word charts, maps, and more, this book is a celebration of language as well as our unique and wonderful world.
 
Hmmm… ever wonder why the pro experience is so different for a man than a woman? This book is for you. Sports fans of all genders will have a chance to explore and reflect on  opportunity, progress, and women in sports! This takes a realistic and optimistic look at a world where women hopefully one day be equal to men.  

Pocket Change: Pitching in for a Better World by Michelle Mulder (Orca, 2016)
This book is part of a series that shows kids making a difference in the world.  This book focuses on community rather than consumption. It is rich with voice and serves as wonder-full mentor text for craft, for literacy, and for life lessons.
 
This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids fromAround the World
by Matt Lamothe (Chronicle, 2017)
This simple pattern book compares and contrasts moments in the lives of children from around the world. It helps readers take a look and a walk in the shoes of others while learning about traditions, family, and experiences of others. Great book to add to our discussions to find the similarities and differences that connect us all.
 
Passionate readers and writers of expository texts are on a journey to answer a question, to learn more, to be more. They are on a clear path to understand their subject matter with depth and breadth. Passion, purpose, process…  Warning: will cause learning and book love.

JoEllen McCarthy, a dedicated educator for 20+ years, is a self-proclaimed literacy geek who spreads a love and enthusiasm for learning and the role literature plays in all aspects of education. Her considerable knowledge of effective literacy practices and child development coupled with her passion and expertise for children’s literature makes her a significant resource in the school districts with which she works. @JoEllenMcCarthy

Friday, December 15, 2017

My 10-ish Fave STEM Books of 2017

Last year, around this time, I decided to post my 5 favorite STEM books of the year. But guess what . . . I ended up with six. I just couldn't narrow it down.

This year, I promised I'd be stricter with myself. But I guess it was a great year for STEM because I ended up with 11 + a bonus book I just couldn't ignore.

 
Animal Journal: Land Mammals of the World by Juan Carlos Alonso (expository)

Exploding Ants and Other Animal Defenses by Rebecca E. Hirsch (expository)

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu (narrative)

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (expository text/art adds a narrative)

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg (expository) 


The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler (narrative)


Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal'd by Mary Losure (narrative)
 Note: I wish the cover had more kid appeal, but the writing is exceptional.
 

Life on Sutsey: Iceland's Upstart Island by Loree Burns (narrative)
 

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer (expository)

What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating and David DeGrand (expository)

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue by Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley (expository)


Bonus Book
Here’s a fabulous 2014 title that I just recently discovered.
Zoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Real Animals by Helaine Becker and Alex Reis (expository)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Behind the Books: The Nonfiction Family Tree

If you’re a longtime reader of Celebrate Science, you may remember that back in 2012 and 2013, I spent a lot of time trying to develop a Nonfiction Family Tree. This effort to categorize and understand the various kinds of nonfiction and the interplay among them was heavily influenced by the ideas of such nonfiction thought leaders as Marc Aronson, Myra Zarnowski, Sue Bartle, and Mary Ann Cappiello.

Eventually, I gave up on the family tree and started to think about other ways to classify nonfiction, but recently I decided to take a fresh look at the tree analogy, and I came up with something that I think is worth sharing:

Traditional Nonfiction
At one time, nonfiction books for children routinely included dry, stodgy expository writing—prose that explains, describes, or informs. Most books were text heavy, with just a few scattered images decorating rather than enriching the content and meaning. While nearly all nonfiction now includes captivating art and dynamic design that's integral to the presentation, some series books continue to feature traditional straightforward text.

Browse-able Nonfiction
Thanks to Dorling Kindersley’s innovative Eyewitness Books series, the 1990s brought remarkable changes to traditional expository nonfiction. These beautifully designed, lavishly illustrated books with short text blocks and extended captions revolutionized children’s nonfiction by giving fact-loving kids a fresh, engaging way to access information. Today, National Geographic, Time for Kids, and the Discovery Channel are all publishing engaging books in this category.

Narrative Nonfiction
In the mid-1990s, children’s authors began crafting narrative nonfiction—prose that tells a true story or conveys an experience. Narrative nonfiction appeals to fiction lovers because it includes real characters and settings; narrative scenes; and, ideally, a narrative arc with rising tension, a climax, and denouement. The scenes, which give readers an intimate look at the events and people being described, are linked by transitional text that provides necessary background while speeding through parts of the true story that don’t require close inspection.

Expository Literature
When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school funding priorities changed. School library budgets were slashed, and many school librarians lost their jobs. Around the same time, the proliferation of websites made straightforward, kid-friendly information widely available without cost, which meant general survey books about volcanoes or whales or the Boston Tea Party were no longer mandatory purchases for libraries.

As nonfiction book sales to schools and libraries slumped, authors and illustrators had to raise their game. The result has been a new breed of finely-crafted expository literature that delights as well as informs. Besides being meticulously researched and fully faithful to the facts, expository literature features captivating art, dynamic design, and rich engaging language. It may also include strong voice, innovative point of view, carefully-chosen text structure, and purposeful text format.

Active Nonfiction
Inspired by the maker movement, publishers have recently began creating what booksellers call “active nonfiction”—browse-able books that teach skills readers can use to engage in an activity. It includes how-to guides, cookbooks, field guides, craft books, toy-book combinations that involve building a model, etc.

I’m happy with this new tree because it highlights how nonfiction has changed and improved over the last two decades. What do you think?

Monday, December 11, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Jason Lewis

The following list includes some of my favorite recent expository nonfiction reads.

Animals at Night by Anne Jankeliowitch (Sourcebooks, 2017)
In this book, readers will learn what many animals do at night. There are many reasons I’m excited to share this with my students. First, there is a lot of factual information about a variety of animals. I could see teachers using this book at the beginning of an animal study and students using it to gather more information about a specific animal. Second, I love how the animals are presented in their natural habitat. Each double page spread is a different habitat including the forest, the riverbank, fields and orchards, a country road, the mountains, the garden and many more. Finally, there are glow-in-the-dark pictures on every page. I wonder how many students are going to try finding dark rooms to read this book in?!

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2017)
In this very creative book, Melissa uses rhyme and repetition to teach readers how animals communicate. There are several things that I love about this book that I know will have students coming back to it time and time again. First, there is a wide variety of animals shared throughout the book. This is another book that I could see teachers using at the beginning of an animal study and students using it to gather more information about a specific animal. Second, the format is consistent throughout the book with great pictures. I love how Melissa introduces a sound with a question, tells the reader how a specific animal communicates, and then shares several other animals that make the same sound but for different reasons. Last, I think this book will intrigue students to find other animals that speak in similar ways or to create new categories of sounds that animals use to communicate.  

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2017)
In this book, readers will learn all about the history of the Grand Canyon through its regions and the habitats. There are several reasons why I can’t wait to share this beautiful book with my students. First, the amount of research that Jason includes in this book is amazing. Although I am a New Englander, I felt like  I had been to the Grand Canyon after reading this book. Beyond learning about the Grand Canyon, I could see this book being used when learning about erosion and habitats/biomes. Second, the illustrations! Each page is beautiful. I can see students having a different experience each time they open this book because of the details in the artwork. Finally, the back matter provides many resources for readers who want to further their study of the Grand Canyon. After reading this book, I know many will!

In Sarah’s latest book, she shares the role poison has played throughout history. Just like in her previous books, I know I won’t be able to keep this one on the shelf.  I love Sarah’s books for many different reasons. First, there’s a wealth of research presented using many different nonfiction features. There are short stories, sidebars, photos, illustrations, and much more. Second, each chapter centers around a different time period in history. This format allows students the opportunity to read a chapter at a time and not have to read the book cover to cover. The next thing I love about Sarah’s writing is her humor. It’s on every page. Sarah’s humor makes a difficult subject more accessible to readers. Finally, there’s a ton of great information in the front and back matter, including a table of contents, author’s note, bibliography, research guide, and index.

In the second book of her World of Weird Animals series, Jess highlights creatures that are considered monsters. There are several things that I love about this book. First, the information is given in multiple text layers. There is a description that tells the reader a little about each creature. Then there’s a blurb that shares myths, legends, and facts. Finally, there’s a sidebar of factual information about the creature. Second, the layout is consistent throughout with stunning pictures. I can see my students picking this book up and learning new information each time they skim the pages. Last, the back matter is full of great information, including critical questions and a glossary.

Jason Lewis (@jasontes5th) is a 5th grade teacher at Tyngsboro Elementary School in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. Jason’s participation in the Nerdy Book Club has positively impacted the way he teaches and has introduced him to outstanding people he calls friends. When not reading, talking about books, or attending Nerdcamp in NNE, LI, and MI, Jason can be found at the baseball field or basketball court with his boys or trying to tire out his one-year-old chocolate lab.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Sibert Smackdown! 2017/2018

The Sibert Smackdown is an activity intended to build enthusiasm for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, which is given each year as part of the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards. It focuses on picture books because they are more manageable to read in a school setting.

Here’s how it works.
First, students in grades 3-5 select two nonfiction picture books from class’s Mock Sibert list. You can use the list I’ve compiled below or you can create your own list. My list includes titles that have strong kid appeal, will promote for good discussions, and can be used as mentor texts, reinforcing the research techniques and craft moves included in your curriculum.
 

You may also want to consider titles on the lists created by Alyson Beecher, Michele Knott, Melanie Roy, and the folks at Anderson’s Bookstore. (The list created by Anderson’s also features long-form nonfiction titles.)

 
Balderdash!:John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books by Michelle Markel and Nancy Carpenter

 
Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton


Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler

 
One Proud Penny by Randy Siegel


 

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
 
Oth
Enlarge After reading the two titles they've selected, students evaluate and compare the books, recording their thinking on a worksheet like this one, which is a kid-friendly version of the real Sibert criteria (actual criteria are availabAfter reading the two titles they've selected, students evaluate and compare the books, recording their thinking on a worksheet like this one (shown below), which is a kid-friendly version of the real Sibert criteria (actual criteria are available here):
 
When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. If time permits, students can do multiple rounds of this activity to select classroom, whole-grade, or multi-grade favorites. The Sibert Award committee will announce its winner and honor titles on Monday, February 12, 2018, at the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony.

I’d also recommend reading this post, which describes how some educators modified or enhanced the Sibert Smackdown! It’s so important to create learning experiences that are perfect for your particular students.
 
Have fun!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Holiday Book Bazaar You Won't Want to Miss

If you live in New England, you may want to check out this mega-spectacular, multi-author event on Saturday. It’s at An Unlikely Story, the bookstore owned by Diary of a Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney.

Monday, December 4, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Mindi Rench

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
When I shared this book with my third graders, they could not get enough of it.  I would see pairs of kids excitedly talking about the amazing comparisons Jenkins makes throughout the book. We also used it as a mentor text for different ways of comparing and showing data when we were writing our own informational books about animals.
 
A Beetle is Shy by Diana Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2016)
With beautiful illustrations by Sylvia Long, this picture book gives an in-depth look at many different kinds of beetles. The format is easy for young readers to navigate, and the information is presented in such a way that kids will want to learn even more about many of the beetles introduced here.  

Bones: Skeletons and How They Work by Steve Jenkins (Scholastic, 2010)
Steve Jenkins is a popular author among my students, and for good reason. In Bones, Jenkins illustrates the bones and skeletons of many different kinds of animals and explains how they work.  Many of the illustrations compare the bones of different animals, including humans. It’s fascinating reading.

This was another book we examined closely as a mentor text for informational writing. The photography is amazing and the writing is engaging—just right for the young readers in my classroom. Also, who can resist a book with a blobfish on the cover?

Kids love to read about other kids.  After I shared this title with my students, they had lots of questions about aspects of the children’s lives that weren’t covered in the text. This provided an opportunity to do further research about what life is like in the places featured by LaMothe.


Mindi Rench is a third grade teacher at Greenbriar Elementary School in Northbrook, Illinois. When she’s not reading books to share with her students, she’s cooking dinner, walking her dog, or driving her daughters to dance classes.

 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Aardvark Interview

I’m delighted that Mathew Winner (@MatthewWinner) recently interviewed me for his fabulous podcast, All the Wonders far ranging conversation touches on:

—the story behind my recent nonfiction picture book Can an Aardvark Bark?

—the Interactive Text Structure Timeline I created to accompany Can an Aardvark Bark?

Perfect Pairs, resource guides I co-wrote with educator Nancy Chesley so that teachers can integrate science and ELA

—the importance of sharing plenty of high-quality expository nonfiction books with children

I know it’s a busy season, but I hope you can take the time to listen.