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!

Monday, February 12, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Colleen Cruz

How to Make a Universe with 92 Ingredients: An Electrifying Guide to the Elements by Adrian Dingle (OwlKids, 2010)
I grew up thinking elements were boring and their whole purpose was to be memorized from the Periodic Table of Elements. This book destroys that myth by giving examples—celestial and terrestrial—that are made up of those elements. It’s also filled with little silly jokes and asides and fun activities that help make the rather abstract concept of elements very relatable.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (Charlesbridge, 2013)
Full disclosure, Melissa is my go-to nonfiction author, and I love basically everything she has ever written. This book is an irresistible combination of intriguing structure, riveting information about a delicious topic, and laugh-out-loud humor provided by the tiny bookworms at the bottom of each page. To push this book right over the edge, Melissa has great videos about her process of writing the book, making this a perfect mentor text for writing as well.
Welcome to the Neighborwood by Shawn Sheehy (Candlewick, 2015)
This gorgeous pop-up nonfiction book focuses on animals people might find in their backyards. I love the way it elevates common animals as well as the way it transitions from one animal to the next by connecting something about their setting, behavior or some other feature to the next animal. While it’s written for K-2, older kids also enjoy reading it and it makes a wonderful mentor text for structure.

This book is one of my new favorites for a few reasons. Not the least of which is that it is a rare expository text paired with poetry. Additionally, it is organized in an incredibly classroom friendly way: each chapter explores a different aspect of the Latino experience, something very rare to find in children’s books. I also love that the book offers follow-up reading for each topic it explores. A must have for those of us looking to round out our libraries with more mirrors and windows.

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2012)
Middle-grade readers will be riveted by this fascinating combination of narrative stories and expository background information. The author uses an extended cinematic zombie metaphor throughout the book to describe a variety of predatory insects that control other insects’ bodies. Warning: it is very gross. 2nd Warning: You won’t be able to keep it on your shelf.

Colleen Cruz is an author of books for teachers and kids, including The Unstoppable Writing Teacher and Border Crossing, a Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award Finalist. She was an elementary public school teacher in Brooklyn for many years. She now works as Senior Lead Staff Developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University where she supports schools, teachers, and students nationally and internationally. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

NF 10 x 10: Celebrating Seeds!

I created this post for the annual Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 (#nf10for10) event started by Cathy Mere (@CathyMere) and Mandy Robek (@mandyrobeck) in 2013.

In honor of my brand-spanking new book A Seed Is the Start, I’m featuring ten of my favorite seed-related nonfiction titles . . .

As an Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas

Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer, Adam Schaefer, and Frann Preston-Gannon

Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by JoAnn Early Macken 
A Grand Old Tree by Mary Newell DePalma

It Starts with a Seed by Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart, Allen Young, and Nicole Wong

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Gailbraith and Wendy Anderson Halperin

Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch and Mia Posada

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston

A Seed Is the Start by Melissa Stewart

And because some students connect more strongly to fiction, I’m also including my absolute favorite here . . .

Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler

These books are perfect for supporting lessons that address the following NGSS performance expectations:

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.

2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.

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.

4-LS1-1. Construct an argument showing that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

I’ll be sharing activities related to all these PEs on Fridays for the next month.