Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Monday, March 19, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Franki Sibberson

Here are five expository nonfiction books I was excited to add to our classroom library this year:
Once I brought this book into the classroom, I could not get it back. It is hugely popular with fifth graders. This book is packed with information about cities in our country. The colors and the visuals are appealing and the layout makes it fun to read. The thing I like most about this book is that it isn’t your usual information about the states. Instead, a variety of cities (not necessarily capitals) are included with interesting information that is unique to the city.

C is for Chickasaw by Wiley Barnes
Early this year we enjoyed the book Mission to Space by John Herrington, an astronaut and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. After reading the book, students had several questions about the Chickasaw Nation, so I ordered C is for Chickasaw to add to our collection. This is an alphabet book packed with information that may correct misinformation our students might have. The format makes it engaging and allows readers to learn a great deal about the topic in a short time. This is a good book for read aloud or independent reading.

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
This book won NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award, an award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. It features expository writing, but the artwork includes a story, making it well suited for a broad range of readers. Packed with information, this is a book readers can return to again and again to learn more.  

This is book, intended for older elementary readers, is a combination of narrative and expository writing styles. It includes stories of five refugees--children who escaped their countries by sea--as well as expository sidebars and fact boxes. This topic is timely and this book is a bit more in-depth than other picture books for this age. 

So many fifth graders enjoy fractured fairy tales by Leisl Shurtliff, Christopher Healy, Sarah Mlynowski and others. This nonfiction picture book lets readers know that the things we might know about being a princess from stories and movies may not be true. It compares princess life as we may visualize it with the real truth. It is a fun book, and I can see it being enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Franki Sibberson currently teaches fifth grade in Dublin, Ohio. She has worked in elementary schools for over 25 years as a classroom teacher, a Reading Support Teacher, a curriculum support teacher, and a school librarian. Franki’s books include Digital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 (NCTE), Beyond Leveled Books (Stenhouse), Still Learning to Read (Stenhouse), Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop (Scholastic), and The Joy of Planning (Choice Literacy). She blogs regularly at A Year of Reading and she is also a regular contributor to Choice Literacy. Franki Sibberson is currently President-Elect of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)

Friday, March 16, 2018

In the Classroom: Science-Lit Activity for Grade 3 Students

As you read A Seed Is the Start, use the information in the book to create a data table like this one.

When you’ve finished reading the book, share a book that describes the life cycle of a butterfly, frog, or other animal. As you read, create a second data table that compares the stages of growth and development of the apple tree in A Seed is the Start and the animal in second book. Then invite the class to use the information in the second data table to create life cycle diagrams with (1) drawings that show how the plant and animal change over time and (2) descriptions that explain how the plant and animal are “born,” how they grow, and how they reproduce to create more plants and animals even after the original individual dies.

3-LS1-1. Develop models to describe how organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Activity for grades 4 and 5 coming next week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Behind the Books: Writing STEM Picture Books, Part 9

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been discussing the ins and outs of writing STEM picture books, including its key craft elements. (Scroll down to read earlier posts in this discussion.) Today I’m going to finish up by talking about point of view.

Traditionally, all nonfiction for children was written with third-person narration, but in recent years, people have begun experimenting.

Most life stories still feature third-person narration, but some do include first-person narration. Many educators worry that this kind of storytelling could be confusing to young children.

Expository concept books may feature first-, second-, or third-person narration. Here are some examples:


Monday, March 12, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Kim Keith

It’s a Butterfly’s Life by Irene Kelly (Holiday House, 2007)
This book introduces the younger grades to the scientific details about butterflies. Each picture highlights a species and describes its common behaviors. My first grade classes use this book as they hatch butterflies every spring. The simple informative text is easy for the students to understand.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (Charlesbridge, 2013)
From the moment I read the title to my third graders, they were fascinated with this book. I even had a classroom teacher stay to hear it read aloud. At first glance, monkeys and chocolate seem to have nothing to do with one another. Once the text starts, the students are enthralled to find out about the ecosystem and the life cycle of the tree. After reading this book, we researched the rain forest and chocolate and then created a circle story that was illustrated with both the ecosystem and the cocoa beans. The story of the original development of the book, the rainforest preservation in the back matter, and the book worms throughout the book make this a favorite read aloud for my students.

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep by April Pulley Sayre (Holt 2016)
There are four kinds of squirrels introduced in this book—the gray squirrel, the fox squirrel, the red squirrel, and the flying squirrel. My kindergarteners love the lyrical text. I paired it with Nuts to You by Lois Ehlert and did a fiction/nonfiction lesson. We recorded the squirrel facts in categories: what they eat, where they live, and how they contribute to the ecosystem. Steve Jenkins artwork, as always, is brilliant!

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003)
When I did a Steve Jenkins author/illustrator study with my first graders, this was their favorite book. They were fascinated by his cut paper illustrations. As we read, we made a chart with facts about the animals in the book. One group was assigned tails, one had noses, one had ears, and the last had eyes. When the chart was complete, they illustrated the animals themselves. The back matter has more in depth facts about animal adaptations for students who are still curious.  

Whose Baby Is This? by Julie Murphy (Capstone. 2012)
This is a book about baby animals. Some babies look like their parents, and some need time to grow. Fun clues and multiple choice photographs make my students want to know more. I pair this with Born in the Wild by Lita Judge and My First Day by Steve Jenkins to start my kindergartners’ baby animal research project in the spring.

Kim Keith (@capecodlibrary) is a K-3 library media specialist in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She is starting her fifth year at M. E. Small Elementary.

Friday, March 9, 2018

In the Classroom: Science-Lit Activity for Grade 2 Students

As you read A Seed Is the Start, use the information in the book to create a data table like this one.
When you’ve finished reading the book, divide the class into four teams—A, B, C, and D. Let the students know that each group will brainstorm to come up with the design for a new machine or gadget that can disperse seeds like the dog on page 24 (Team A), the bird on page 26 (Team B), the ant on page 28 (Team C), or squirrel on page 29 (Team D) in A Seed is the Start. The invention should disperse seeds more efficiently than the animal it’s mimicking.

After the brainstorming sessions, each student should create a drawing of the group’s gadget. Allow time for the teams to share their ideas and drawings with the rest of the class.
2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.

Activity for grade 3 coming next week.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Behind the Books: Writing STEM Picture Books, Part 8

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been discussing the ins and outs of writing STEM picture books, including its key craft elements. (Scroll down to read earlier posts in this discussion.) Today I’m going to focus on nonfiction voice.

What exactly is nonfiction voice? It’s the personality of the writing. It’s how the writing makes the reader feel. I like to think of nonfiction voice as spanning a continuum, from lively to lyrical, with lots of options in between.

For a life story, the voice should match the personality of the person being discussed. For a concept book, the voice should reflect the approach you are taking to the topic.
Here are some examples:

Next week, I’ll finish up this string of posts by focusing on the six and final element of nonfiction craft—point of view.

Monday, March 5, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Stacey Rattner

When Melissa asked me to write a guest blog post on expository nonfiction, I thought it would be pretty easy. It was only when I realized that my initial list was narrative nonfiction, that I had to sit back and really dive into my “Dewey Section” of the library.

Now I feel like I’ve copped out a bit when coming up with my list. Who is one of my favorite nonfiction writers for kids right now? Steve Jenkins. I could make a whole list dedicated to his books. But I won’t. I’ll also include a few other ones that I know my students love and go back to time after time.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
Last year this book was a hit with my fourth grade students. They loved everything about it—the informational facts, the graphs, the illustrations. You could pick up this book, turn to any page, and learn something fascinating. Check out this lego stop motion movie a couple of my students made based on this book:

Apex Predators: The World’s Deadliest Hunters, Past and Present by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)
Want to know about the alpha animals millions of years ago and today?  This book includes a treasure trove of predators that never become prey. Kids will love seeing the size, the bite, the fight of these beasts.  The book even concludes with a timely message about the deadliest predator of all. Can you guess what it is?

I have so many students who love Legos and love animals. Organized by habitat, this book includes authentic photographs alongside Lego characters spouting out facts about the animals. On the bottom of many pages, there is a “Play it!” banner that asks a question about Lego figurines related to the habitat or the animals.

The Deadliest Creature in the World by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2016)
This is another book that kids devour because it’s written from the point of view of the animal. Each left-hand page introduces an animal: “I am a bull shark.” On the right-hand page, the animal shares the reasons it thinks it is the deadliest creature in the world. Each critter seems more deadlier than the last. Which is the deadliest of all? At the end, the text simply says, “You decide!” My students also liked Guiberson and Spirin’s The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea, written in the same format.

I’ve had this book in my library for five years now, and it’s still very popular. On each double-page spread, the reader learns cool facts about the featured animal as well as its biological classification, scientific name, habitat, and more. A sketch of the animal to scale is also included. Kids will recognize some of the animals (i.e, Komodo dragon) in the book, but most will be unfamiliar (i.e, hagfish).

Wow. After reacquainting myself with all these deadly, unusual, apex, extreme animals, I think I’m ready for a cute dog cuddle right now. I’m exhausted thinking about all these amazing creatures, but for my elementary students, it’s  just what they love—reading to get their heart pounding just a little bit and gaining a new fact or two to show off at the lunch table.

Stacey Rattner is the "leaping librarian" at Castleton Elementary School, just outside of Albany, NY. For the past three years she has run a Sibert Smackdown with a collaborating fourth grade teacher and looks forward to doing it again in 2018-2019. You can follow her on Twitter @staceybethr or

Friday, March 2, 2018

In the Classroom: Science-Lit Activity for Grade 1 Students

As you read A Seed Is the Start, use the information in the book to create a data table like this one.
When you’ve finished reading the book, let your students know that sometimes seeds disperse to new places where people don’t want them to grow. For example, dandelions are weeds that grow in people’s lawns.
Divide the class into four teams—Wind, Water, Self, and Animal. After giving each group an index card with their team name written on it, invite students to look at the data table and choose a plant that disperses in the way written on their index card. Their mission is to design a solution to the problem of unwanted seed dispersal for that plant.

Encourage the teams to brainstorm at least three possible solutions and then choose their favorite one. Each student should draw and label a picture of the group’s solution. Allow time for the teams to share their ideas and drawings with the rest of the class.

1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.

Activity for grade 2 coming next week.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Behind the Books:Writing STEM Picture Books, Part 7

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been discussing the ins and outs of writing STEM picture books, including its key craft elements. (Scroll down to read earlier posts in this discussion.) Today I’m going to talk about text format.

Life stories usually have simple running text like a fiction book, but concept books are often carefully formatted and may include a variety of text features.

Some STEM picture books feature layered text with two, three, or even four different layers, each with a different purpose.
STEM picture books may also include story panels and dialog bubbles reminiscent of comic books and graphic novels.
Like text structure, developing the perfect text format can involve a lot of trial and error and creative thinking. But getting it just right is SO important.

Next week, I’ll focus on nonfiction voice.

Monday, February 26, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Jen Vincent

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander and Joel Sartore (National Geographic, 2017)
Kwame Alexander collaborated with National Geographic to bring us a picture book that blends stunning, unique photographs with rich language.

This is such an extensive book with so many animals represented. There are some great timelines and opportunities to look at the size of animals in comparison to a human or another reference.

Hidden Dangers: Seek and Find 13 of the World's Deadliest Animals by Lola M. Schaefer and Tymn Armstrong (Chronicle, 2017)
This is a beautiful, descriptive book about thirteen super deadly animals! It makes a great mentor text for descriptive writing in nonfiction.


Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records by Seymour Simon (Chronicle, 2012)
This book gives snapshots of different parts of Earth. It’s one of my favorite mentor texts for how to write an attention grabber in nonfiction. Also check out the companion title Extreme Oceans Records.

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating and David DeGrand (Knopf/Random House, 2017)
This book is creepy and cool at the same time. I like that it describes unique animals with a fun twist. Also check out Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals, the first book in the World of Weird Animals series.

Jen Vincent is an Instructional Coach for Mundelein School District 75 in Mundelein, Illinois. As a writer, blogger, and educator, she strives to model and share a growth mindset in everything she does. Her passion is connecting people and ideas, and she believes in the power of being a connected educator to impact teaching and learning. Jen hosts Sunday Check-Ins for Teachers Write, co-hosts the kidlit It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? meme, and blogs at She can be found on twitter at @mentortexts and her website is

Friday, February 16, 2018

In the Classroom: Science-Lit Activity for K Students

Before you read A Seed Is the Start, divide the class into pairs and give each group a lima bean that has been soaked overnight. Tell the children that if they cut the bean in half, they’ll discover a secret inside. Encourage students to turn and talk with a buddy about what they think is hiding inside the seed.

Now give each group a plastic knife from the school cafeteria. Invite students to carefully cut the bean in half. Ask students to observe the inside of the seed and draw a picture of what they find inside. (They will see a tiny plant.)

As you read the book, use the information in the book to create a data table like this one.

After reviewing the information in the data table, encourage students to pretend they’re a seed. Invite them to draw a picture on an index card showing how they would most like to be dispersed. While the class is working, create a graph like the one shown below on a blank wall or bulletin board.
When the students are ready, help them add their index cards to complete the bar graph. Ask the class: Which seed dispersal method is most popular in our class? Which is least popular? Select two or three items from the horizontal axis and invite student volunteers to explain why they would (or wouldn’t) want to be dispersed in those ways.

Activities for grades 1-5 are coming after school vacation week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Behind the Books: Writing STEM Picture Books, Part 6

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been discussing the ins and outs of writing STEM picture books, including its key craft elements. (Scroll down to read earlier posts in this discussion.) Today I’m going to focus on text structure.

Common Core espouses six major text structures. But in truth there are many more.

Nearly all life stories have a sequence structure, but expository nonfiction can have just about any text structure you can think of. As I describe in the revision timeline I created for Can an Aardvark Bark?, finding the right text structure is the most challenging and most creative part of writing expository nonfiction.

Identifying the best text structure often goes hand in hand with selecting a text format, which I’ll be talking about after school vacation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sibert Smackdown Wrap Up

Yesterday at 10:00 a.m. EST I was glued to my computer to watch the live stream of the ALA Youth Media Awards. Were you?

Most people were excited to find out who won the Caldecott and Newbery Awards, but I was looking forward to the Sibert announcement, and I wasn’t alone.

This year a growing number of students participated in the #SibertSmackdown, and they wanted to know if the books they’d championed would be selected by the actual Sibert committee.

Many schools celebrated nonfiction with small, focused programs, and a few went whole hog. Here are some reflections on this year’s program from Michelle Knott (@knott_michele) in Illinois. They are invaluable if you are thinking of jumping on the #SibertSmackdown bandwagon next year.

At an international school in Malaysia, Mrs. Victor’s (@ErikaMVictor) students discussed their favorite books in Flipgrid videos. You can watch them here. Their winner was Grace Hopper: Queen of Code by Laurie Wallmark, with honors to The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson, Balderdash! by Michelle Markel, Dazzle Ships by Chris Barton, and Grand Canyon by Jason Chin.

Ms. Jaimes at Flagstone School (@msjaimes) in Colorado, posted great photos of students reading the books aloud. Here are some examples:

Ultimately, the students selected If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams as the winner.

At Center School (@libraryatcenter), fifth graders read and discussed the books in pairs.

At a school in Illinois, Mrs. Rench’s students took their responsibility very seriously. They carefully analyzed the books and recorded their ideas.


Here is the list of books the students focused on.

At a school in in Michigan, Mrs. Weakland’s (@mrsweakland) fourth graders selected Shark Lady by Jess Keating as their winner.

Mrs. Thompson (@LTeacher10) tweeted me to share what one of her students had written about How the Cookie Crumbled by Gilbert Ford while filling out his #SibertSmackdown worksheet:

How the Cookie Crumbled tells the very lip-smacking tale of how the chocolate chip cookie was whipped up in the first place! It's no wonder how this book could become the cookie of your eye!"

Love it! The class’s fantastic observations are compiled in this google doc. It’s so interesting to read their comments.

Mrs. Singer’s (@Singers3rdcgrade) third graders were enamored by books like Dazzle Ships by Chris Barton and Grand Canyon by Jason Chin.


Here's what a school in Bothell, Washington (@LibraryFW) wrote about their experience:

“Thank you @mstewartscience for the Sibert Smackdown project. Definitely recommend this and plan on doing in library next year. Students evaluated nonfiction with purpose and it helped me add quality titles to the collection. So much fun!”

That’s music to my ears! Here’s a list of their winners: 1) This is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe 2) The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson and tied for 3) A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman & How the Cookie Crumbled by Gilbert Ford.

At Hampden Meadows School in Rhode Island, working with librarian Melanie Roy (@mrsmelanieroy) and teacher Jennifer Reynolds (@reynoldsj24), fifth graders made incredible Flipgrid videos and then had a family celebration so that parents could watch their children's videos. What a great idea!

Which books did the Hampden Meadows students choose as winners? Older than Dirt by Don Brown and Mike Perfit came in first place, closely followed by Grace Hopper: Queen of Code by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu. 
In Upstate New York, Mrs. Rattner’s (@staceybethr) and Mrs. Pryde’s (@MrsPryde_CES) students did some unbelievably wonderful projects and then defended their book picks to classmates. Here’s a collage of the children reading the books.
Now take a look at them creating their projects:

To see photos of the whole process, check out this google album. Here are some of the final projects:

Schools in Maine, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Connecticut participated too.

In the end, the biggest winners weren't the books or the authors and illustrators. The biggest winners were the students who learned to analyze fascinating, high-quality informational texts and discuss and debate their ideas with their peers.

I hope even more schools participate in #SibertSmackdown activities next year. Until then, keep on reading nonfiction!