Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Have a Happy Holiday!

Under the Snow-themed tree at the Festival of Trees, Concord Museum, Concord, MA
Have a wonderful holiday break. Celebrate Science will be back in 2016.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Book of the Week: Zoom in on Fireflies

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.

Zoom in on Fireflies is perfect for visual literacy lessons. In addition to clear, simple text, it features fascinating close-up images inside “zoom bubbles” that highlight a firefly’s key body parts. The photographic lifecycle diagram at the end of the book introduces readers to yet another way of presenting information visually.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What a Great Idea!

What a great idea! STEM book tubs.

Seeing that Steve Jenkins tub reminds me that I’ve been meaning to share this super-cool slide show describing the process of How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Behind the Books: Blending Writing Styles

For the last few weeks, I’ve been discussing the two nonfiction writing styles—narrative and expository. Many great books fit snugly into one category or the other, but then there are the outliers.  

For example, some nonfiction books that are expository overall, include narrative sections at the beginning and end. And when you really think about it, all narrative nonfiction is a combination of narrative scenes that give readers a bird’s eye view into the people/world being described and expository bridges that link the scenes. The expository sections provide necessary background while speeding through parts of the true story that don’t require close inspection. The art of narrative nonfiction lies in pacing, which means choosing just the right scenes to flesh out.

As long as we’re talking about the necessity of expository passages in narrative writing, I’d like to point out that expository text also exists in many-a-popular fiction books. A good example is the following passage from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

        “This,” said Wood, “is the Golden Snitch, and it’s the most important ball of the lot. It’s very hard to catch because it’s so fast and difficult to see. It’s the Seeker’s job to catch it.”
         You’ve got to weave in and out of the Chasers, Beaters, Bludgers, and Quaffle to get it before the other team’s Seeker, because whichever Seeker catches the Snitch wins his team an extra hundred and fifty points, so they nearly always win . . . A game of Quidditch only ends when the Snitch is caught, so it can go on for ages.”

Both Harry and the reader need to know how Quidditch works, and this expository passage provides all the information we need.

Okay, back to nonfiction.

Lately, I’ve begun to notice that a growing number of nonfiction books contain roughly equal amounts of narrative and expository text. The author moves seamlessly from one writing style to the other, creating a blended style that serves the subject well.

Here are three examples. I’d like to add a few more titles to this list, so please let me know if you can think of some.

Hurricane Watch by Melissa Stewart

Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo

The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle

When Lunch Fights Back by Rebecca L. Johnson


Monday, December 14, 2015

Book of the Week: Out of this World Jokes about the Solar System

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.

Don’t be fooled by the title. Out of this World Jokes about the Solar System is more than just a book of jokes. It also contains basic information about plants, moons, comets, asteroids, and more.

And that’s not all. The backmatter includes a 6-page section about how to write jokes using a wide range of language devices, including alliteration, homographs and homophones, and rhyme. There’s no better way to get students to engaging in authentic word play.

Friday, December 11, 2015

10 Great STEM-themed Middle Grade Novels

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitch Smith

Scat by Carl Hiassen

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Universe of Fair by Leslie Bulion

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Behind the Books: Two Kinds of Expository Nonfiction

This week’s topic is one of my favorites—expository nonfiction. As far as I’m concerned, this is a golden moment for expository nonfiction because, in recent years, it’s gone through an exciting transformation.

Once upon a time, it was boring and stodgy and matter-of-fact, but today’s nonfiction books MUST delight as well as inform young readers, and nonfiction authors have risen to the challenge. The books they’re creating feature engaging text, often with a strong voice, as well as dynamic art and design.

Just as there are two distinct kinds of narrative nonfiction, there are two types of expository nonfiction. Facts-plus books focus on facts as well as overarching ideas. In other words, they present facts and explain them.

Fast-fact books focus on sharing cool facts. Period. They inform, and that’s all. These are the concise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read together and discuss.

Some people don’t have a very high opinion of fast-fact books, and to be sure, they don’t build reading stamina or critical thinking skills, but they do motivate many reluctant readers to pick up a book, and IMHO that alone makes them worthwhile.

Why do students need to be exposed to a diverse array of expository texts? Because it’s the style of nonfiction they’ll be asked to write most frequently throughout their school careers and in their future jobs. Whether they’re working on a report, a thesis, a business proposal, or even a company newsletter, they’ll need to know how to summarize information and synthesize ideas in a way that is clear, logical, and interesting to their readers. Today’s expository children’s literature makes ideal mentor texts for modeling these skills.

Here are some great books in each expository nonfiction category:

Facts Plus
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

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

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Fast Facts
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Eyewitness Books
Guinness Book of World Records

Time for Kids Big Book of Why

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book of the Week: Why Are Animals Red?

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.

The clear, simple text and stunning photos in Why Are Animals Red?  are perfect for teaching students about animal adaptations. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book. I’ve also created a Teachers Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards.

For an innovative Reading Buddy experience, try a same-grade-level pairing in which an emergent reader shares Red Animals (two simple words per page) and a more advanced reader shares Why Are Animals Red? I guarantee great results.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Reading Nonfiction Aloud

Educators frequently ask me for strategies for reading nonfiction aloud. It can be tricky.

If a spread is bursting with text features, which should you read first? At what point should you read the main text? What about the captions? Should you discuss the photos or illustrations? How much time should you spend on each page?

I don’t think there are any absolute answers to these questions, in part because what works well for a third grader class may not be appropriate for first graders. In addition, the children in each class may bring different kinds of prior knowledge to the reading experience.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Carol Scrimeour, the fantastic teacher-librarian at Essex Elementary School in Essex Junction, Vermont, read my book No Monkeys, No Chocolate aloud to a group of first graders, and I was so impressed with her method that I wanted to share it here.

The main text on the first spread of the book ends with an ellipsis (as does the main text throughout the book). After reading the words, she explained what an ellipsis is and how it’s used.
She let students know that they would encounter more ellipses as they read the book, and encouraged the children to say “dot, dot, dot” as a chorus each time an ellipsis appeared. After discussing the artwork briefly, Carol pointed out the bookworms in the corner and read their dialog. As the students laughed at the joke, Carol let them know they’d see these same bookworms again. Then she turned the page.

As Carol finished reading the main text on the second spread, the students all said “dot, dot, dot” right on cue. Then Carol shared the secondary text, the artwork, and the bookworm dialog.

After the students had a good laugh, Carol did something that had never occurred to me but worked like a charm. She re-read the main text before turning the page. This helped to maintain continuity from one spread the next, so students could more easily keep track of the book’s main ideas. Brilliant!

This is a strategy that would work well with any book that has layered text. You may want to give it a try.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Behind the Books: Two Kinds of Narrative Nonfiction

I’ve written about narrative nonfiction many times before on this blog, and yet my ideas keep evolving. For a long time, I’ve felt that there are two distinct kinds of narrative nonfiction, but I was having trouble articulating the differences.

Luckily, a Tweep came to my rescue. During a series of conversations with Mary Ann Cappiello, we were able to identify some of the differences and develop a descriptive name for each category.

As part of that dialog, I looked up the definition of story and this is what I found:

a real or imaginary account of people and events told for entertainment

I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that all stories are told for entertainment, and plenty of children’s stories focus on non-human characters, so here’s my own workimg definition:

Story--a real or imaginary account of people/creatures and events.

Most fiction writers would say that a story also needs a narrative plot arc (see diagram) and a conflict that is resolved by the end. To be sure, narrative nonfiction biographies and books about historical events include both of these elements.

But I l prefer my working definition because it makes room for a subset of narrative nonfiction that I’ve struggled to define. It's most common in science-themed picture books that describe a natural process, such as the cycle of a storm or the typical daily, seasonal, or annual activities of a single animal or a host of animals living and interacting in a specific environment.

I have been calling these “cycle stories” for some time, but because I didn’t have an umbrella term for the more common history/biography titles, I kept seeing cycle stories as anomalies. But thanks to Mary Ann’s recent comments and my recollections of a conversation I had with ElizabethPartridge several years ago, I’m now giving the “traditional” narrative nonfiction the label “plot”. Because they do have true narrative arcs with conflicts and resolutions.

Here are some great books in each narrative nonfiction category:

Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Buried Alive by Elaine Scott

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Redwoods by Jason Chin (due to the art)

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre