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

The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Updated December 1, 2019

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 in 2017 I decided to take a fresh look at the tree analogy, and I came up with this:
The response was tremendous. Both teachers and librarians thought it was tremendously useful. But as I thought more deeply about the categories and their relationship to one another, I realized that the tree analogy wasn't quite right. So now I'm using this visual:
Here's how I describe the categories in what I'm now calling The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction:

Traditional Nonfiction
At one time, nonfiction books for children routinely included concise, straightforward 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.

Browseable 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; a theme; 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”—browseable 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.

Because this classification system has become so popular, I'm currently writing a book about. 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children's Books will be published by Stenhouse Publishing in 2020. 

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.

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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Christa McCauliff Technology Conference Handout

Innovative Activities for Teaching Nonfiction Reading and Writing
In this session, participants will discover fun, practical ideas to help K-5 students develop information literacy skills as they read award-winning nonfiction books and produce their own informational writing. Attendees will go home with creative ways to support student learning in the library and via collaboration with classroom teachers.

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Upper elementary students read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet that other students can use to help them make book choices.

Sibert Smackdown!
Similar to Nonfiction Smackdown!, but books are selected from a list of picture books contenders that I compile on my website. The worksheet uses a kid-friendly version of the criteria considered by the real Sibert committee. Several librarians have also used their own creative ideas to record students’ thinking, such as Padlet, Flipgrid, posters, and voting forms where students write the rationale for their choice.

March Madness Nonfiction
Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, students participate in a month-long, whole-school activity to select their favorite nonfiction title. Can be combined with the Nonfiction Smackdown!
“March Madness has not only created an energy and excitement for read aloud; it has also exposed students to more nonfiction. [It has been] a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary and author's purpose.” –Instructional Coach
“I like that these nonfiction books really make you think about things for a while and then sometimes your thinking changes.” –Fifth-grade student


Real Reviewers!
Upper elementary students read nonfiction book reviews on Goodreads. Then they read a nonfiction book of their choosing and write book review, using the Goodreads reviews as a guide. After a round of proofreading, student type the reviews into the school district’s library catalog (

Read aloud and briefly discuss a picture book every day of the school year. Display book covers, so it’s easy to refer back to them for comparison to new texts (theme, text structure, voice, writing style). They can also be used as mentor texts during writing workshop. You can work with teachers to get them started and make book recommendations or you could adopt a classroom.

Text Feature Posters
After reading a variety of age-appropriate books, K-2 students use the text features in those books as models in creating their own text feature posters.

Choosing a Topic

Ideas are all around us. I can get inspired by things I read, things people say to me, or things I see or experience myself. For me, the challenge is keeping track of the ideas, so I have one when it’s time to begin a new book. I have an idea board in my office, and I use it to remind myself about ideas I’ve had.
Teachers could have an idea board in their classroom or they could encourage students to write their ideas down on the last page of their writer’s notebook. ABC Brainstorming can work too. Other ideas include:
A Wonder Wall

An Idea Jar

Why Students Copy Their Research Sources and How to Break that Habit
Why do students copy rather than expressing ideas and information in their own words? Because they haven’t taken the time to analyze and synthesize the material they’ve collected so that they can make their own meaning. In other words, they haven’t found a personal connection to the content, and that’s a critical step in nonfiction writing.

Team Notetaking
Pairs or small groups participate in collaborative note taking on paper or using google docs, so that struggling students can access the thought process of more advanced students. This activity also reduces copying from sources materials.

Sources Students Can't Copy
Encourage students to use a wide variety of source materials, including some that it's impossible to copy, such as personal observations, webcams, and interviews. To facilitate interviews, your school can develop a list of adults in the school community with knowledge in particular area.

Create a Visual Summary
When students take the time to represent their notes visually as infographics or other kinds of combinations of words and pictures as part of their pre-writing process, they will find their own special way of conveying the information. And using that lens, they can then write a report that is 100 percent their own.


Use Thought Prompts
Invite students to synthesize their research and make personal connections by using some of the following thought prompts:
—The idea this gives me . . .

—I was surprised to learn . . .
—This makes me think . . .
—This is important because . . . 

Struggling with Structure
While writing Can an Aardvark Bark?, I experimented with 4 different text structures over a 4 year period before the manuscript was accepted for publication. The timeline on my website shows the details of my process through a series of 8 video, which take about 11 minutes to watch. The timeline also features  downloadable version of 4 rejected manuscripts, so students can see what changed over time.


Text Structure Swap
After reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate, upper elementary students make book maps to get a stronger sense of the architecture of the main text’s cumulative sequence structure. Then each child chooses one example from the text and rewrite it with a cause and effect text structure. The third and fourth links are for worksheets that guide a similar activity based on the content in Can an Aardvark Bark?

Same Structure, New Topic
Students read a selection of my books and chose one to use as a mentor text. They created a book that emulated the structure and style of my book but presented information about a different topic.

A Feel for the Flow/ Colorful Revisions
Typing out a mentor text can help students get a fee for the flow. They can study how the text was constructed by highlighting various elements with different colors. They can use a similar technique to look for ways to improve their own works in progress.



Radical Revision!
First graders write a piece of nonfiction. When the students are in second grade, teachers share the No Monkeys, No Chocolate Revision Timeline on my website and ask the children to revise the piece they wrote in first grade. Both drafts are placed in a folder, and students revise again in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Authentic Illustration
After K-2 students write nonfiction about a topic of their choice, children in another class at the same grade level illustrate the text. Then the original writers review the artists’ work and write a polite letter asking for any necessary changes. This activity mimics the process nonfiction picture book authors go through when they review sketches created by an illustrator.