Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fly Guy Presents the White House

I am always on the look out for books that present non-fiction material accurately, but in ways kids will want to read. That is often a hard balance to achieve. I'm always willing to look at author's who make the move from using their fictional characters to introduce non-fiction material, but I have a high standard for accuracy and age appropriate material.

While searching our libraries new available titles I ran across Fly Guy Presents: The White House (Scholastic Reader, Level 2)and decided to preview it to see if it met my standards.

I know several younger readers who love Fly Guy although he's never been on my favorite character list, so I thought he might draw readers into non-fiction topics. With the election year being in the news I thought parents and teachers might want some age appropriate material to discuss with children.

One of the strengths and the weakness of this book is it attacks a wide range of topics. From a leveled reader perspective I'm not sure this would hold the reader's attention. As a shared read with the teacher or parent, I think this book might be more effective in discussing the amount of information the author has embedded in this short book.

The book begins with an introduction to the White House, using a map to show where it is located in the United States. From there the book goes on to discussing the various people who live and work in the White House. I though this was rather an interesting point as I know as a child I never thought much beyond the President and his family. It never really occurred to me how many people it took to run the White House and the governmental staff. This is only a brief introduction, but it is better than just saying this is where the President lives. The book continues by discussing the role of First Lady and in light of the current election situation, what that role would be should a woman be elected.

From there the book provides a brief discussion of the election system, bypassing the electoral college, which was likely deemed to complicated to explain for a Level 2 reader.

The book continues with a brief history of the White House including portraits of all the Presidents. I liked the map of the White House and the stories of the President's children that were included in this section.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fred Flintstone's Adventures with Wedges

Fred Flintstone's Adventures with Wedgesis part of a Simple Machine series starring the Flintstone's characters.

This series breaks down the individual components of simple machines into separate books. The focus is for younger readers and the text, dialogue and pictures are designed to introduce, define, and provide examples of wedges. The book does a great job introducing the concept and provides some interesting examples to help young readers understand what a wedge is and how to identify one.

Fred discusses door wedges, wheel chocks, axes, nails, chisels, darts, knives, and teeth. Each is illustrated and the characters explain why these fit the definition of a wedge.

My one question about this series is name recognition. I loved the Flintstone's as a child. However, talking to my niece's boys they don't seem to know much about them. Parents might enjoy sharing their memories of the series with their kids. I'm just not sure if the connection will be the same if there isn't a connection to the cartoon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Yogi Bear's Guide to Plants

I am always on the look out for books that engage kids with science concepts and vocabulary. Yogi Bear's Guide to Plantsprovides younger readers with fun characters to guide them through learning the basic language, vocabulary, and scientific concepts associated with plants.

The book begins with the introduction of seeds and how seeds turn into plants. I particurally liked the picture that shows the progression in bean plant growth. While not labeled it is a great visual that demonstrates plant growth from the hard seed to the beginnings of a leaf plant.

The book gave a very basic attempt at explaining chlorophyll and photosynthesis. I looked at this a couple of times before deciding this was actually an age appropriate explanation of the topic. Some books choose to ignore the science of plants, thus making it harder for kids to learn later. Some bombard them with so much information they can't absorb it all and it gets shut off. To pardon a pun, this planted the beginnings of the concepts in language that is accessible by younger children without teaching them inappropriate science language or ignoring the science concepts. It begins to explain photosynthesis without all the chemistry that most younger readers aren't going to absorb. However, it does it in a way that once they are ready for the chemistry of photosynthesis, nothing they have learned will need to be relearned. It will be building on knowledge already introduced.

The book goes on to discus the purpose of leaves, stems, and roots. I thought the explanations and illustrations were again age appropriate and designed to engage and entertain. While there are practical examples, there are also some very wild looking roots introduced as well.

Yogi goes on to discuss seeds and how they are spread, as well as other forms of plant reproduction. I was impressed with this section. Often in books written for younger readers you see the basic seeds discussed and the topic is left there. However, this discussed a wide range and scope of how plants reproduce. The book begins with bean seeds, continues with fruits, but then continues to conifers, ferns, moss, then flowering plants and trees. Clearly each is addressed at a basic level, but it does open the topic for further exploration and discussion.

While I've enjoyed all the books in the Yogi series, I will say this is my favorite that I've reviewed to date. I'm hoping more will be written and that they will eventually be published in something other than library binding, so I can put them on my Christmas list for my younger family members.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Aliens and Energy

Aliens and Energyis another entry in the Monster Science series.

Agnieszka Biskup chose aliens as a method to teach children about energy. The book begins by introducing the readers to the relationship between matter and energy. The author uses illustrations to help children access the vocabulary and concepts. I do prefer when the the characters are more integrated into telling the story, but I've come to accept that some in this series are only going to use the characters as illustrations, not as storytellers.

The story continues by defining the types of energy for readers. I was impressed by the explanation of kinetic vs potential energy. The explanations were clear and the illustrations added provided humor and more ways for students to access the material. Sound, light, and electrical energy are also addressed.

Changing energy is lightly covered. I thought the best part of this section was the explanation that energy can be changed but it isn't created or destroyed. The examples are less consistent. I found some were good in this section, others less strong.

The end was the weakest when it discusses energy conservation and renewable sources of energy. It lacked the consistency of the previous sections.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Yogi Bear's Guide to Bugs

Yogi Bear's Guide to Bugs (Yogi Bear's Guide to the Great Outdoors)is a great introduction for primary readers to the vocabulary associated with bugs and insects using Yogi and Boo Boo to entertain and engage the students.

As I write this I can only find the book published in a library binding. Since it is a recent series I'm hoping it will soon be available in paperback soon as I think they'd make great birthday and Christmas gifts for certain younger readers in my family.

In this volume Yogi and Boo Boo take on the challenge of bugs vs. insects. I thought the author did a good job of providing age appropriate definitions and examples to help them understand the differences between bugs and insects. The book gives a brief definition of the life cycle of an insect, explaining that bugs may have a slightly different cycle. The book also covers the eating habits of bugs and insects identifying the main types of food that insects eat.

This is clearly meant to be an introduction to the topic. However, I like the fact that the book focuses on teaching children the vocabulary, basic scientific concepts, and engaging children in a manner that will encourage them to explore more about the topic.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Vampires and Light

Vampires and Lightis another book in the Monster Science series. I was curious to see how Joby Jensen Shaffer would attack the topic because it is a complicated one.

The vampires provided an entertaining frame for the subject because of the vampire lore that they don't like light. The book begins by defining what light is and why we need it, even convincing the vampires that while it is a problem for them, they can't live without it. The author continues to explain the elements of light defining and illustrating vocabulary terms in clear, concise and humorous terms.

The author moves from discussing wavelengths to the electromagnetic spectrum. The author cleverly uses the vampires to illustrate the concepts giving students another way to view the material.

From there the author discusses the characteristics of light including speed, traveling in a straight line, why it passes through some objects and not others, light reflection and absorption. There was an interesting description of how the human eye processes light.

This was a challenging topic and I thought the author did a great job breaking it down and making it accessible for children. I continue to be excited by this series.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Yogi Bear's Guide to Rocks

As I was researching the Monster Science series I came across Yogi Bear's Guide to Rocks (Yogi Bear's Guide to the Great Outdoors)and decided to see if the author had extended his talent to a different series.

I am so excited by these new series of science books that are making science vocabulary accessible and fun for younger kids. This series is written for a younger audience than the Monster Science series. The book still uses accurate vocabulary, but there is less of it. The author focuses on the basics of the topic for younger readers. It is a great introduction to the topic for an elementary level reader who might need some motivation to read non-fiction material.

While out for a walk through Jellystone Park, Yogi teaches his friend, Boo Boo about the basics of rocks and minerals. One of the reasons I love these comic series is they provide kids with access to accurate scientific information and vocabulary in an engaging manner. If you've ever encountered a child who can recite more facts about dinosaurs then you ever realized existed, you know children can absorb quite a bit of challenging vocabulary and information if they are engaged with the topic. These books help engage children in a variety of topics.

Yogi covers the basics of the rock cycle, types of rocks, and specifics of each type of rock. It is an introduction to the topic, but I'm always excited about finding ways to engage students with material that educates and entertains.

This is one of the newer cartoon series and as of this writing is not yet available in paperback. Hopefully that will be happening soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ghosts and Atoms

Ghosts and Atomsis another addition to the Monster Science series this one written by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen PhD.

I was very pleased that this book returned to the flavor of Zombies and Forces and Motion that made me start exploring the series.

The book uses ghosts as a theme to help children explore atoms. It begins with the history of scientists exploring matter and how theories and knowledge evolved to our current understanding of what atoms are and how they function. The book then moves on to defining an atom, describing what atoms are made of, explained positive and negative electrons, how liquids, gasses and liquids are formed, molecule formations, and several other topics.

I was pleased to see a fairly complex subject broken down with the help of the ghosts into language that is accessible to children. As I've said about this series in the past, the scientific language is kept intact, but the explanations are creative in helping make that language more user friendly.

This book does a great job of holding children's attentions and engaging them in a rather complicated topic. Just as you could see a child losing interest the author engages the ghosts to provide humor and reengages the child's attention. This is on my Christmas list for this year.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Vampires and Cells

Vampires and Cells is an impressive entry in the Monster Science series. Vampires are a logical choice to teach children about types of cells and cell structure.

These are friendly vampires, not likely to frighten children. The book covers a remarkable amount of material. It begins slowly with a definition of cells and a history of their discovery. From there it moves on to describing how cells work together and what I found to be a rather detailed discussion of types of cells and diagrams and descriptions of plant and animals cells. This was all done with vampire humor and illustrations helping to illustrate the vocabulary and science concepts being taught.

The vocabulary and concepts covered here are the most advanced of all the books I've reviewed in the series so far. While it might be a good chance to introduce the concepts to elementary students, I'm not sure how much they will process and remember. However, this would be a great resource for Middle School students as the information is fairly detailed and there is an emphasis on accurate science terms and descriptions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Energy

Smash!: Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Simple Machines (Wile E. Coyote, Physical Science Genius) helps kids explore the types of energy with fun examples, illustrations, and age appropriate science vocabulary and concepts.

The books is divided into chapters, energy in motion, electrical and chemical energy, heat energy, and renewable source energy. In each chapter Wile E. Coyote ends up badly abused in his efforts to use the various types of energy to attack the Road Runner, who makes fewer appearances in this graphic picture book.

One of the strongest examples was the explanation of springs and coils. The author doesn't just entertain with the characters, he uses them to explain the concepts in a clear and concise manner.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mummies and Sound

Mummies and Sound is another entry in the Monster Sound series.

I was glad to see sound covered as while it is often taught as an elementary science topic, finding age appropriate material that students can access independently isn't always as easy as one would hope.

This book follows the previous books in the series using a graphic novel format, humor, and lots of science vocabulary and concepts to create a book to teach students about sound. This book didn't tie the mummies as directly to the science material as I would like. The best attempt was made in using mummies to explain frequency. In the rest of the book the mummies are mostly used to provided illustrations and humor.

The science descriptions are thorough but accessible for children. The pictures do help illustrate the topics and keep children engaged. I just think it would be more engaging if the mummies were more directly involved with demonstrating science material. I also think this could be a great book for older students needing to review the topic. The graphic novel format and the humor might be attractive and make the material accessible without it being too childish.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Werewolves and States of Matter

Werewolves and States of Matteris another entry in the Monster Science series. This is the first by Janet Slingerland I've read.

This one is closer to Zombies and Forces and Motion (Monster Science) that I reviewed earlier. The author begins by using werewolf examples to define matter and moves on to states of matter.

The author manages to keep the werewolf examples through about half the book and then reverts to using other examples with werewolf pictures to keep the reader engaged. The language is age appropriate and the examples are effective in illustrating the concepts the author is attempting to explain. My favorite is using a cake to explain reversible vs. irreversible changes. The cake once baked cannot be returned to it's original ingredients. I thought that was a great visual and something that kids would remember.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Berenstain Bears Dinosaur Dig

The Berenstain Bears' Dinosaur Digis a more science focused book in the Berenstain Bear series.

In this story the Bear children begin researching dinosaurs at the local library, move on to the Bearsonian Museum where they meet Professor Actual Factual who invites the family to visit a local dinosaur dig.

I discovered this book when I reviewed The Berenstain Bears Under the Seareleased this year.

These two books are a slightly different direction for the Berenstain series. The books remind me more of the Magic School Bus with the Bears exploring scientific topics in an age appropriate manner for young readers. This book encourages readers to use the library, explore the museum, and introduces where the museums get the dinosaur bones they display. The author provides phonetic pronunciations to help adults and children to tackle to long names of the creatures that often fascinate young children.

While I realize science isn't the focus of the series, I am hopeful the writers and publishers continue to include new science titles in the series. It is a great way to encourage fans of the series to move into non-fiction reading.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Zombies and Electricity

Zombies and Electricity is another addition to the Monster Science series.

This was not quite as strong as the Zombies and Forces and Motion (Monster Science)which made stronger ties between the comedy and the science.

This book still works to put the scientific concepts of electricity into age appropriate language, but it doesn't use the zombies to illustrate the concepts in the same creative way the first book achieved. In the force and concepts books the author managed to describe the science concepts using zombies to illustrate each idea. Unfortunately, in this book the zombies are used more as background comedy to keep the kids looking at the pictures and hoping they'll also engage with the information. The book fails to blend the zombie theme with the electricity topic. It is much more heavily focused on scientific language boxes rather than engaging students by telling a story of zombies exploring electricity and embedding the language in that story. The zombies become more of an after thought, not a main part of the story.

The topic was harder than forces and motions to combine with the zombies, but there were places where direct connections between the zombies and the ideas being illustrated could have been made and were missed. I still think it is a worthy book for bringing important concepts into age appropriate terms. However, I was disappointed that the zombies were not as embedded in this graphic picture book as they were in the previous one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Freddy the Frogcaster

I'm always looking for age appropriate weather books and decided to check out Freddy the Frogcasteras the first book in a weather series.

In this book we meet Freddy a young frog who is very interested in weather forecasting. He watches and learns about weather forecasting from his local weather forecaster and builds his own weather station at home to practice forecasting the weather. He gains confidence by comparing his own forecasts to those of a very accurate local weather forecaster. When she leaves on maternity leave Freddy is excited to meet the new forecaster. However, the new forecaster is not as dedicated to the work and her information lacks the quality of her predecessor.

This becomes an issue for Freddy and his friends when an outdoor event is planned and no warning is given about an upcoming storm. Freddy and the former forecaster run their own data and set out to warn the town so they can plan a safe outing for the citizens.

This was an introduction to weather forecasting targeting young children. I would be interested in reading some of the other books in the series to see if they go any deeper than this one or if they stay on the surface. As I've demonstrated with Dr. Suess' science series and Bel the Weather Girl one can embed quite a bit of content in the context of a children's picture book. There is a healthy balance. I thought this book was a little light on content. The book will entertain and encourage children to explore more about weather.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Three Pigs, One Wolf, and Seven Magic Shapes

Three Pigs, One Wolf, Seven Magic Shapes (level 3) (Scholastic Reader, Math)is an attempt to combine fairy tales with math. The story is a more brutal version of the three pigs than the ones I've previously read. Instead of sheltering with the other pigs, the wolf kills the first two pigs before giving up on the bricks building pig.

After summarizing the original tale, the author moves on to introducing a second chapter to the tale that combines math and a new set of pigs. In this second act, tangram animals appear to three new pigs. Each pig asks the tangram animal for help seeking its fortune. The pigs are each provided with seven tangram shapes and each pig creates something it feels will help. The first two pigs go the way of the pigs in the first act. However, the last pig follows the original third pig's plan building a tangram house, defeating the pig. The boy and girl surviving pigs marry and convert their tangram home into a boat for their honeymoon. The wolf sends them off on their honeymoon huffing and puffing in a last attempt to kill them.

The book provides information about tangrams and cardboard tangrams to cut out and experiment with for students who purchase the book. I borrowed the book from the library so that wasn't an option. Readers are also given activities and games to play with the tangram shapes.