Sunday, April 27, 2014

Roller Coasters: A Thrill Seeker's Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines.....

Roller Coasters: A Thrill-Seekers Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines     Roller Coasters: A Thrill Seeker's Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machine is almost a coffee table style book, it is over sized and has an eye catching cover.  It is targeted for a very special niche' -- the roller coaster enthusiast.  The group that loves coasters so much that they travel the country looking for the next big thrill. This book is for them.

     Roller Coasters is a non-fiction book that is meant for an adult high school audience. It has a lot of information text that covers all aspects of roller coasters. It begins with the history of roller coaster, moves on through wooden and steel coasters to extreme machines to rocket coasters, and finally to the future of where they are going from here. Each chapter goes into great detail describing the design and how the coaster works. Pictures and diagrams support the text and make the book visually interesting. One of the most interesting things in the book is the information on how the different theme parks are trying to out do each other with bigger and better coasters. It's highly competitive with millions of dollars of park admissions at stake

     I enjoyed looking at the fabulous photographs of all the different coasters. They were taken at angles and views that aren't normally accessible for most people. The aerial views are some of the most impressive with the action shots running a close second. It's worth your time just to look at the photographs and dream about your next trip to your favorite amusement park.

     Another great thing about this book is that it has an Appendix of all of the biggest and greatest amusement parks from around the world so that you can plan your next roller coaster vacation. It also tells you it is only up to date to summer of 2005 because there's always a new coaster being built somewhere.

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Seeing is Believing......

Ripley's believe it or not! [6], Seeing is believing

Every child that I know can't get enough of one particular non-fiction series, Ripley's Believe It or Not! books. Over the years I have had several of them in my classroom, and every year my students argue and fight to get to read them. By the end of the year the binding is broken and the pages are falling out, another one bites the dust.  Ripley's Believe It or Not! Seeing Is Believing is the newest one that I have adding to my classroom library and it's especially appealing because it has a giant eye hologram on the cover that opens and closes as you move the book. It's the most popular book in my class library!

     Ripley's Believe It or Not! books are a collection of weird, odd things that you do not normally see in your regular life. The Seeing Is Believing book is no different. It has sections called Strange but True, Unusual Customs, Crazy Creatures, Travel Tales, Body Oddity, Artistic License, and several more. I have never seen my students actually use the table of contents. They usually just open the book and get lost in the pictures and pages. Each section starts with two tables that have interesting facts that go along with the section. The Crazy Creatures section starts with two charts; one list the fast creatures on earth, the other list the deadliest creatures.  The accompanying page has a picture of a kitten with two faces. The section continues with numerous weird and wild facts about the topic. Everything is written in short blurbs that most readers can make their way through so, Seeing is Believing is a book for everyone.
Belgian Students Break Mento-and-Coke World Record
Students dropping Mints into Diet soda

     My favorite part of Seeing Is Believing are the unbelievable photos. There are close ups, full page spreads, and time order photos. Each picture has a detailed caption that gives you more information about the subject. I really like that there is enough information that you can search for more information about the subject if you want to learn more about it.
Extreme Face Painting

     As an adult, the design of the book seems very busy and overwhelming to me. There are bright, vivid colors, different text fonts and points, and things that are layered on top of each other. However children see it a a mind blowing learning experiences. I hear them calling their friends over to "see" the new cool thing that they have discovered. The pictures are so fascinating that they are forced to read the text just to know what coolness the picture is showing. 

                                                                                       A hotel that has a daily wild elephant parade
     As crazy as Seeing Is Believing seems to be, I did notice that there is a whole page of researcher interviewers, and fact checkers for the book. They also have a publisher's note that says "every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the entries in this book, the Publishers cannot be held responsible for any errors contained in the work. They would be glad to receive any information from readers." To me this says that they are extremely interested in presenting a factual book for their readers. 

     Even though it's not my style book, I will always keep a copy of Seeing Is Believing in my classroom. It is the one book that my students wear out from reading every year and that's my goal to get them to read!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics.....

Freeze frame : a photographic history of the Winter Olympics

      Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of The Winter Olympics is a beautiful example of a non-fiction text. It has eye popping photos of athletes in action, interesting facts about the games, and most importantly a history of a world event.

     While Freeze Frame has incredible photos that would interest a younger reader, it was written for an older audience. Its text goes into great detail about the Winter Olympics and the history of the event. It includes information about the important players in the Winter Olympic movement and the athletes that stood out from the rest in the early days. I was surprised to learn that there was a lot of opposition to starting winter games, "surprisingly, the greatest opposition to the idea of winter sports at the Olympics came from the Scandinavians." (pg. 15) They already had the Nordic Games which their athletes dominated every 4 years. One interesting fact is that the U.S. delegation had a ten-day voyage in an ocean liner and many of the athletes were seasick during the first Olympics in 1924. Freeze Frame covers everything from weather issues, to outstanding athletes, to internal and external conflicts, and the celebrations that make the Olympics a world class event.

    The photos in Freeze Frame cover all aspects of the Olympics. There are shots of old sporting equipment, posed photos of athletes, and my favorite, action shots. The history of the Olympics is documented in black and white photos of people in old timey dress. Each with a interesting fact filled caption. One caption under a very young skater says "Just 11 years old when she competed at her first winter games, Sonja Henie helped to revolutionize figure skating by performing the required moves to music and wearing short skirts" (pg. 16). Who would have imagined that figure skating was originally done in a long skirt? The book is filled with photos that are filled with important information about the history of the Winter Olympics.

     Sue Macy has done a wonderful job documenting the history of the Winter Olympics. I would definitely recommend this book to older readers, especially those that love winter sports.

Go, Go America....

Go, go America
     I found Go, Go America when I was looking for a geography book for my second grade class.  We are participating in The Great Mail Race and I wanted my students to learn more about the fifty states.  I thought this would be an eye catching, informative book to help them understand the geography of our country.

      Go, Go America starts off with a dedication to the author's parents; "For my parents, who dragged us up and down the Eastern Seaboard against our will. I am just starting to appreciate it!" It is followed by a picture of the author, his sister, and brother hanging out the windows of a vintage station wagon on a family road trip in 1970.

     Next you are introduced to the "Fabulous Farley Family" who will be doing the traveling on this road trip. Each family member is given a brief bio, all of which are funny. "Freddie--knows lots of interesting facts about the United States and is eager to share his knowledge, even if no one wants to hear it." "Fran--would prefer to be biking, hiking, or skiing cross-country rather than riding in a car. And she's still mad at Mom for telling her that she can't ride on the roof." There's an interesting side note "Beware of BIGFOOT! He lurks throughout the states and in these pages. Can you spot him?" Clever--a car trick in a book. Next, the table of contents is actually a map with each state labeled with its page number.  Finally you are ready to start your road trip!

     The thing that makes this a GREAT geography book are the illustrations. They are full bleed with vivid colors and a contemporary design. They beg you to read the book. Each state has its own page with the state name, slogan, and a map with the capital labeled. The page contents important facts about the state's history, interesting events that take place there, and even some crazy laws that are still on the state law books. Did you know that in San Antonio, a law forbids monkeys to ride on buses? In Maine, West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is the most easterly point in the U.S.  Levi Hutchins invented the first alarm clock in Hew Hampshire in 1787. The whole book is filled with facts that children will love to learn and to share with who ever will listen.

     The book closes with a chart of all the states. The chart list the capital, the date of statehood and their order, the area, the state bird/flower/tree, the motto, and its nickname--all important facts when you are a geography buff.  It even has a Farley family photo gallery.

     I enjoyed reading this book and I look forward to sharing it with my students as we receive letters from around the country.

The Boys' Book: How to be the Best at Everything.....

The boys' book : how to be the best at everything
     A couple of years ago I had a fifth grade boy that carried The Boys Book: How to be the Best at Everything around like a bible. Any chance he got he went right back to reading it. At the time I never picked it up to look over, I was just happy he had found something he loved to read. So when I saw it on the library shelf I decided to check it out for myself.

  I learned that this The Boys' Book is a revised and expanded issue of another British book called How to Be the Best At Everything published in 2004.  It is set up in over fifty chapters. Each chapter stands alone and is an instructional manual on how to do a certain thing. There is a very broad range of topics from "how to perform a card trick," "how to fight off a crocodile," "how to rip a phone book in half," "how to get an egg in a bottle," etc.  Most of which look like things that every true boy should know. It looked like the author's had covered all their bases.

     After reading the book I understand why I have never seen another student reading The Boys Book.  It's one of those books that adults think children will love, but that it misses the mark. The heading for the chapters look interesting, but when you start to read them they are boring.  I would think that the target age group for this book would be about third to fifth grade, yet a child would have to be a solid reader to get through the text. Maybe that's why my student loved it, he was an excellent reader.

     I also felt the the illustration let the book down. They have an old timey look to them and they aren't really eye catching or even very interesting.  Inside the book there are some pen & ink simple drawings--some are diagrams on how to do things and others are just comic strip style pictures that highlight that chapter. To me, one of the most important parts of a non-fiction book is the art work and I felt like this one was just "okay."  I know if I was a child I would not pick this book up.

     I was disappointed in The Boys Book: How to be the Best at Everything, it wasn't interesting enough to even hold the attention of someone who had to read it. I am not sure what hope it has in getting elementary school boys to read it. However I would recommend This Book Will Change Your Life or The Encyclopedia of Immaturity.

Nikalas Catlow

Sideways Stories from Wayside School...

      I am constantly looking for books that make kids (especially boys) want read. Sideways Stories from Wayside School fits that bill perfectly. It has the crazy sense of humor that children love, it has short chapters that any reader can get through, and it makes fun of school. What more could a kid want from a book?

     Sideways Stories from Wayside School is about a school that was accidentally built with one classroom on each floor. It was suppose to be a one floor school with thirty classrooms side by side but they made a mistake and now they have an extra large playground. There are 30 chapters in the book, one for each character yet all the characters are in the classroom on the thirtieth floor. Each chapter is a whole story unto itself and can be read in any order. However you should read this book first before you read the rest of the series because it introduces all of the characters.

     Louis Sachar is an incredible children's author. He understands the crazy logic of children. In one chapter he writes "Dana had four beautiful eyes. She wore glasses. But her eyes were so beautiful that the glasses only made her prettier. With two eyes she was pretty. With four eyes she was beautiful. With six eyes she would have been even more beautiful and if she had a hundred eyes, why, she would have been the most beautiful creature in the world." (pg. 43) In the same chapter the teacher says "We have all kinds of arithmetic," said Mrs. Jewls, "addition without carrying, addition with carrying, and carrying without addition." (pg. 44) It doesn't even make sense, but I am sure that's what my student's hear when I start talking about math. Then, since Dana is covered in mosquito bites, the class starts to do mosquito math to get them from itching.  Each chapter is just as crazy as this one and children love them.

     My favorite chapter is 30. Louis. Amazingly Louis Sachar has written himself into the book, and he even says so in the chapter. Ironically, he is the yard teacher at Wayside School and his job is to make sure that the kids don't have fun at recess and lunch. As if to finish off a good joke "Louis", the yard teacher, tells the children on the thirtieth floor about this weird school that has all of its classrooms on the ground level.  The Wayside School students react with shock and disbelief as they learn that none of the students at the other school "don't trade names or read upside down. They can't turn mosquito bites into numbers. They don't count the hairs on their heads. The walls don't laugh, and two, plus two always equals four." (pg. 117) It's a perfectly silly way to end the book!

     This is one of those books that is a good read for adults and for children. I can't wait to introduce it to my class. I know that they will want to read the whole series, and that's my goal to make them readers.

The Phantom Tollbooth....

The phantom tollbooth

     The first time I had ever heard of The Phantom Tollbooth was when my children read it at school. My son loved it so much that he asked for his own copy and since I was willing to do anything to get him to read I agreed. Armed with just the title I went to the bookstore and asked a young male sales associate to help me locate the book. After asking for the book, the first words out of the sales associate mouth were "that book changed my life, it made me love reading." What more can be said about a book?
     The Phantom Tollbooth is about "a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself--not just sometimes, but always." (pg. 9) One day he finds an interesting present from an unknown sender in his bed room. The gift turns out to be a magic tollbooth that takes him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. While there, Milo has a series of miss adventures as he attempts to save the Royal Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Along the way Milo meets some interesting and colorful people, and he learns some important lessons that change the way he thinks about life.

     To me, the thing that makes The Phantom Tollbooth a classic is its rich language. Norton Jester does a amazing job using words, puns, and figures of speech to create another world--the Kingdom of Knowledge. One of my favorite things in the book are the characters that Milo meets. He's new best friend is Tock, the watch dog with a clock for a stomach which actually goes tick not tock. There a whole list of interesting people along the way: the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be." (pg. 19 Faintly Macabre the Which, formally the chooser of the perfect word, Alec Bings, the boy that grows down and can see through things, "Chroma the Great, conductor of color maestro of pigment, and director of the entire spectrum" (pg. 124), the Soundkeeper who has decide to lock up all of the sounds and not release any to the people, and the list of characters with word play names goes on.

     Juster also has created a magical Kingdom of Knowledge that Milo travels through. The first stop in his journey is to Expectation, a good place to visit, but you'll never get any where if you stay there. Then it's on to Doldrums where it's illegal to think, yet that's the only way out. Next on the list is Dictionopolis, the kingdom of words where it is market day and words are being bought and sold.  Of course you can't go to Dictionopolis without visiting Digitopolis, because just like words and number,s neither is better than the other. The list of wonderful places Milo visits continues, all with word play names that match their land.

     The illustrations created by famous political cartoonist Jules Feiffer are simple black ink sketches yet they help add meaning to the story and make the Kingdom of Knowledge a colorful place. In the trailer of The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, Feiffer says that the illustrations came about because Juster had to share every time he wrote 4 more lines of text. So he began to doodle the characters as they were being created.  The pictures have become iconic with the story and anyone who is a lover of The Phantom Tollbooth can't imagine the story without them.

     I love when a book makes you think and The Phantom Tollbooth is a perfect example of a book where your mind is actively engaged. My favorite lines in the book are near the end when Milo has finally reached the twin Princesses Rhyme and Reason. "It's has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault." You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason Quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons that you do by being right for the wrong reasons." (pg. 233)  In the end the boy who was always bored had discovered a a new way to look at life. Isn't that what a good book suppose to do for you?

      The Phantom Tollbooth is one of the all time classics of children'ts literature. It is meant for true lovers of literature, and even fifty years later it stands the test of time. Just as Milo says at the end of his adventure "Well, I would like to make another trip," he said jumping to his feet: "but I really don't know when I'll have the time. There's just so much to do right here." (pg. 256), there are so many more books for me to read.

Where the Sidewalk Ends...

Where the sidewalk ends : the poems & drawings of Shel Silverstein.

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a prayer, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

     And that's how one of the best children's poetry book begins. I can't imagine doing a children's poetry unit without including poems by Shil Sileversteint. He is one of the most beloved children's poets in the country. His collection of poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends show his talent, silliness, and understanding of children's humor.

     Shel Silverstein is a great children's poet because he "gets" children and what they find funny. He writes poems about things that they know and understand. He also doesn't write down to them, he uses adult language and some made up words to express his thoughts and ideas. This empowers children and helps them to love poetry. Take the poem Thumbs:
Oh the thumb-sucker's thumb
May look wrinkled and wet
and withered, and white as the snow, 
But the taste of a thumb
Is the sweetest taste yet
(As only we thumb-suckers know).
They know they should give up the thumb, but adults don't understand or remember how good they are when you need a break. Shel Slilverstein remembers things like that and writes about them for children. He also uses language that children understand. The poems are constructed with words that children already know and understand so that they are able to focus on the meaning of the poem. The simpleness of them allow children to believe that they can be poets too.

     Shel Silverstein's illustrations are perfect for his poems. They feel just like his poetry, very simple to look at, but they help carry the meaning to the reader. In the poem Jumping Rope, the illustration of a girl tingled up in a jump rope helps the reader to visualize what has happened in the story.  One of my favorite illustrations is of the mad with the bread to his toes.  The poem is even funnier when you have the image of a man using his long beard as clothing. Silverstein's illustrations and poetry fit so closely together I don't think one would be as great without the other.

     Where the Sidewalk Ends is a wonderful to introduce children to the world of poetry.

Lincoln Tells A Joke....

Lincoln tells a joke : how laughter saved the president (and the country)

       Lincoln Tells a Joke is a biography that focuses on how Abraham Lincoln used humor to get through his life, both the good times and the bad. It starts with the early years of his life on the frontier of Kentucky and Indiana. Next it briefly describes his life growing up and moving away from his family and joining the military. The last part of the book focuses on his life in politics. First, running for Illinois state legislature then for the House of Representatives and finally for President. Through out the book there are quotes from Lincoln that show his love for word, laughter and people. The opening page sums up the book:
His life was hardly fun at all.
His childhood was harsh.
He looked homely and he knew it.
Sadness disturbed him off and on.
His family had ups and downs.
When he ran for public office, he often lost.
As our sixteenth president, he was unpopular.
And when his country went to war,
it nearly split in two.
But Lincoln had his own way of dealing with life.
Not many people remember it today.
It was all about laughing.       

     One of the things that I enjoyed about this book is that it made Abraham Lincoln seem like a real person not just a text book hero. After explaining that he lived in a log cabin with dirt floors with piles of corn husks for beds, and that his childhood days were filled with back breaking work, Lincoln is quoted as saying "My father taught me how to work, but not to love it." It also lets children know that his life wasn't easy, losing his mother, sister, and two sons, but in a way that young children can understand.  It also focuses on how much Lincoln loved learning and that he did everything he could to better educate himself. At the age of eleven he wrote his first poem and it shows his sense of humor about himself and life.

 Abraham Lincoln
His hand and pen
He will be good but
God knows when
Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer have done an excellent job of including important historical details of the time with witty fun information about Lincoln helping children get a true sense of the man he was and that he is not just the picture on a five dollar bill.

     Another thing that I thought was wonderful about this book was all of the quotes from Lincoln. Many of them are humorous: on life in the military-"a good many bloody battles--with mosquitoes;" on his plain looks--"Common--looking people are the best in the world; that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them;" on the height difference between him and his wife--"Here I am, and here is Mrs. Lincoln. And that's the long and short of it;" and on the first few of the thousands death threats he received--"a little uncomfortable, but there is nothing like getting used to things!" The authors also include several quotes that reflect the seriousness of his Presidency:  on his honesty--"You many fool all of the people some of the time, You can even fool some of the people all of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time." "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."  And finally, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." These show the intelligence of the man. The end notes state that the jokes and quotes are from a variety of people after his death and that some are first, second, third hand or further removed so I feel that the story is well researched, but in the case of any historical figure that lived before the age of various ways to record things that there may be a few inaccuracies. 

     Stacy Innerst's illustrations are a perfect match with the text of this story. He uses acrylic paint to create whimsical old fashioned illustrations. One of the traits that Lincoln is best known for is his height and long features and the illustrations reflect that perfectly. There are several pictures in the story where Lincoln's head and feet are chopped off to emphasis his towering height. 
The pages are full bleed that invite the reader into the story and help them feel the humor of Lincoln. I also liked how the book was designed. The text was done in an old fashioned font that occasionally changes size. All of Lincoln's quotes are done in long hand so that it is easy identify that they come from him. Altogether the artwork and the text work together to create a delightful biography of a pivotal man in American History. 
     While this book is designed for elementary age school children, it is so well written it could also be with older students to launch a discussion about Lincoln. I will definitely be using it next year when I teach my students about Abraham Lincoln.

Harlem: a poem.....

     I felt that Harlem: a poem is a wonderful poem that celebrates the people and places of the city. However, I thought it was more of a middle school to adult poem. I found that there were lots of names and places in the poem that I had to Google while reading. I wish I had found the link to the Scholastic site that had background information for numerous lines in the poem.

     Walter Dean Myers does a wonderful job expressing his love for Harlem. You can tell that he wants the reader to understand what made Harlem a historical and important place. He starts the story talking about the people who settled there and where they came from. He mentions a place in the United States, even the place of origin for some African Americans, Goree Island. He goes on the say that Harlem is a place of promise, "where a man didn't have to know his place simply because he was Black." Throughout the poem, Myers focuses on the sounds and colors of the area, he writes "calls and songs and shouts heavy hearted tambourine rhythms...a new sound, raucous and sassy cascading over the asphalt village and "Yellow/tan/brown/black/red/green/gray/bright colors loud enough to be heard." He also name drops many famous African-Americans that frequented Harlem. Finally he remembers the import places in Harlem: Apollo, the Cotton Club, Abyssinian Baptist Church, and 1-2-5 Street. All of these are important things that make up the Harlem of Walter Dean Myers' childhood. It paints a picture of a vibrant community that produces wonderful leaders and artist.

     The illustrations in this story are done by Walter Dean Myers son, Christopher Myers. They are created from torn paper and add a vibrant energy to to the poem. They reflect that even people in one race come in many different colors and shapes. Myers' art work does a beautiful job representing the people of Harlem.

     I enjoyed reading this poem and I found it moving and powerful. However, when I read it to my second graders, they completely didn't understand it. Many of them had never heard of Harlem or of the many artists that had once lived there. It was a little sad, but I still think it is a wonderful poem.

Hush! A Thai Lullaby....

Hush! : a Thai lullaby

     It is easy to understand why Hush! A Thai Lullaby was a Caldecotte Honor Book in 1997. It's a beautiful poem of a mother trying to quiet her world so that her baby can sleep. You can see the mother going through all the animals in her environment telling them to be quiet because her baby needs to sleep. She goes from the smallest animal, the mosquito, to the largest asking them to be quiet.
Who's that weeping
in the wind?
"Wee-wee, Wee-wee,"
A small mosquito.
Mosquito, mosquito, 
don't come weeping.
Can't you see that 
Baby's sleeping?
Mosquito, mosquito,
don't you cry,
My baby's sleeping
right nearby.
The pattern then repeats with a lizard, cat, mouse, frog, pig, duck, monkey, buffalo, and finally the elephant. I think that this is a great book to teach with younger children. You can use it to teach concepts of word, animals sounds, about another country, and even compare and contrast with similar poems from our culture. The rhyme and rhythm would make it the perfect poem to share with young readers.

     Holly Meade did a wonderful job illustrating this poem. She used red ink and cut paper to make collage pictures that have texture. Her choice of muted tones give the soft quietness needed for sleeping. The illustrations also share with the reader the culture of the Thai people. The mother is shown in traditional dress, living in a traditional Thai home, and is surrounding by native animals. There is also a touch of humor in the illustrations. In each scene where you see the mother telling an animal to be quiet you can see the baby in the background crawling around, swinging, playing, and doing everything, but sleeping. At the end of the poem when night has come and the mother finally lays down her head, you see that the baby is once again awake and ready to play. There is no rest for the weary mother. Young children would find great humor in this poem.

     This is a poem that I will read to my class the next year during our poetry unit. I think its a wonderful to introduce children to poetry. I think that it would be a wonderful poem to do as a choral reading. I look forward to using it next year!