Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Snow White Was So Forgetful!

Seriously, Snow White Was SO Forgetful!: The Story of Snow White as Told by the Dwarves (The Other Side of the Story) is a retelling of the Snow White story from the dwarves' perspective. This story is different from the other series of the Other Side of the Story books in a couple of ways. First this book only has the alternate fairy tale, it doesn't include the original story for students to compare and contrast. Secondly, the narrator of the story is a friend, not someone who was in conflict with the character as is generally the case in most of the Other tales. The tales are generally written to give you the evil character's perspective on what happened. In this case that presents a little bit of a weakness for the story. The dwarves had no conflict with Snow White. They just found her forgetful and that created problems for her.

In order to get around the issue of not telling the story from the Evil Queen's perspective or for that matter the Prince's story which would also might provided more material for an alternate fairy tale, the author focuses on making Snow White into a hopeless figure who can't get out of her own way. To insure nobody assumes this is based on sexism, the Prince is equally forgetful and thus a match made.

On the plus side, this version strays from the Disney version back to the traditional Grimm's tale with the multiple visits from the Evil Queen attempting to kill Snow White. It also leaves out true love's kiss for the version where the apple is displaced when the coffin is dropped.

I think the author was shooting for the humor of some of the earlier series, but failed. Instead this seemed like a petty attack on Snow White.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Math at the Art Museum

I saw a listing for Math at the Art Museum and wanted to read it because I've always been interested in how art, music, and gym can help students who love those subjects, but are weak in others build skills in new ways.

This book begins that premise and actually would make for an interesting discussion about how more subject areas could work together with shared vocabulary, activities, and curriculum planning to help students recognize that math and science are accessible in areas they often never consider.

In this book two children are headed off with their parents to the Art Museum to visit a special exhibition titled, "Discover Math in Art." The family passes through the exhibits and the mathematical vocabulary is highlighted. The paintings through out the book are identified and the painter credited.

One of my favorites was Praying Mother and Son Rock Formation by Kim Jae-hong used to demonstrate symmetry, because this reminded me of my trip to see the art teacher when I needed help with this lesson plan. While the emphasis on symmetry was significant in the curriculum, the materials I had available to me, were rather limited for the age group I was teaching. It seemed this would be a logical choice for demonstrating a math concept in art class so we discussed my curriculum goals and the types of projects she would consider doing with the kids to meet those goals. As an artist, her appreciation for symmetry was far deeper than mine and she was able to find ways to explore it that I never would have considered. I can only say my students were blessed to have her additional instruction on the topic.

This book is very introductory, but it is an important one that I hope arrives at a few faculty meetings along with being used by parents and children to explore math and art. I do believe students do better when we help them build from strengths. For kids who love art, music, and gym being able to see math and science in those subjects makes science and math less intimidating. It doesn't mean we turn every lesson into a math lesson, but there are plenty of ways to embed vocabulary and concepts into a lesson without it losing it's original purpose.

It does require training and planning. Technical high schools in this area have already begun this transformation of working to embed more traditional learning curriculum into the student's shop periods. It takes training, but it is reflected in the students going from failing standardized tests to sometimes beating their classmates in traditional classrooms who spend more time focused solely on curriculum. Students are learning curriculum through trades and technical skills that interest them. In the same way students can and should learn skills they need in art, music, and gym. It doesn't take away from the time they spend in those classrooms, it just deepens the learning experience. Having teachers use math vocabulary when discussing art, music, and gym topics requires training, but it can lessen anxiety in kids who normally fear a math problem, but excel at figuring out the geometry required in a football play.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie

I had to put Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poemswhen it appeared on the new book list at our library. The idea of combining poetry and math was such a great idea that I had to see if the promise met the reality. I can say I was pleased with the outcome.

The author has converted 14 poems into math rhymes. The poets include Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Lear, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll, Hilaire Belloc, Robert Frost, Eleanor Farjeon, A.A. Milne, William Carlos, Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, John Ciardi, and Shel Silverstein. The math is embedded into the poems creatively. Problems include whole number functions, fractions, measurement, money, decimals, perimeter, percentages and order of operations. I'm sure I've left out something, but the problems cover a range of topics. The answers are all provided at the bottom of the page. Just to be clear the poems have all been rewritten. You will find the frame of the Raven, but not the Raven. That is why I suggest doing both together.

This would be a great way to combine poetry and math studies. Groups could be given a copy of the original poem and the math poem to compare, then come back and share with the group what they learned about the poem assigned. I was surprised at how well the author worked around the original structure of the poem to recreate new poems to meet the math challenge. Sometimes author's mean well in trying to use literature to engage kids in math, but it comes off forced. I was impressed at the creativity of these poems and the math embedded in them.

That being said, I do think it would be wise to make sure the students are exposed to the original material. It actually adds to the enjoyment of the joke if you realize it is a spoof of the original.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hoodis the third story in Liesl Shurtliff's True Fairy Tale series.

This tale takes a slightly different turn from the earlier books in the series, which completely reexamine the characters Rumpelstiltskin in Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin and Jack in Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk giving us entertaining new stories.

We have already met Red Riding Hood in previous adventures and in this novel she teams up with Goldie. There are two twists in this story, but not enough to make it as engaging as the previous two novels. Red and her Grandmother are witches, but Red is struggling to embrace her powers and has almost killed her grandmother trying to adapt. That is not in the original tale. The second is that the wolf and Red are friends, he risks his life to save hers. Again this moves it away from the original, but not enough to make it interesting. These just aren't as the same kinds of bold changes made in the the previous novels that made them quick reads.

The crisis that moves the plot is Red's Grandmother is dying. Not able to face losing her, Red finally is compelled to consider magic as a solution to keeping her grandmother alive. However, as she and Goldie set out to find something to save her Grandmother she finds that kind of magic always has a hidden cost. The outcome is rarely what one hopes for and generally provides less than ideal results.

Along the path she meets people who help her come to terms the reality that her quest is not one that will benefit her Grandmother. A turning point comes when she discovers what the cost was for Beauty when she sought to stay young forever. On her return from that encounter she meets someone that has turned even darker pursuing eternal life and is only saved when she can fully embrace her own magic and stop fearing death.

This is an interesting tale, but not quite up to the standards set in the first two novels of the series. There are so many possibilities for an alternate story of Red's life. This one seemed a bit lacking.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Math Inspectors: The Case of the Claymore Diamond

I am always on the look out for good stories that can also encourage kids to engage with math. When done well it can help kids to see the relevance of math and stop those annoying when will I ever need this questions.

The Math Inspectors: Story One - The Case of the Claymore Diamond (Volume 1) is a cute mystery in the style of Encyclopedia Brown, though the author clearly was shooting for Scooby Doo. There is only one story, unlike the short stories found in Encyclopedia Brown, however, the goal is to use brain power to solve crimes that challenge the police. While Encyclopedia Brown focuses on observation and logic, the Math Inspectors use math concepts and clearly demonstrate how the answers were arrived at each time. This is a plot trick commonly used in math fiction, however, I give the authors credit, it was more natural in this book than in others I've reviewed. It didn't have that feel of we've reached the middle of page 4 it's time to insert a math problem to reach our quota.

The reference to Scooby Doo in the book pretty much gives away the thief early on, but the author keeps the twists interesting enough that I think it would encourage a reader to finish it to the end to discover how the robbery happened.

I have just a couple of criticisms. First, I recognize there is a push to address bullying in children's literature. At the beginning of the novel, we clearly see the math kids are being bullied. However, instead of demonstrating healthy coping skills, they in turn become bullies themselves, sanctioned by the authors because they are the smart kids. I wasn't comfortable with that.

My second complaint is how the kids work with the police. Encyclopedia Brown often solved the crimes before the cops, but he never struck me as rude and arrogant towards the adults in the book. These kids humiliate the bumbling police chief on several occasions and then as a reward for solving the case get him to participate in bullying the kids who bullied them. I just didn't like that.

My last complaint is a minor one. I appreciated that the conversation between the kids was clean and for the most part demonstrated positive language patterns. However, I think the conversations between the kids represented more of how we as adults think kids communicate with each other rather than how they do communicate with each other. It was just a little awkward at times.

All and all this is one of the most promising math series I've come across in a while. I'm looking forward to reading The Math Inspectors: Story Two - The Case of the Mysterious Mr. Jekyll (Volume 2) to see if the series improves on this beginning book.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

July 2016 Free Fun Fridays

July is a busy month for the Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Friday events as there are 5 Friday's in July. As I researched this ahead and scheduled it to prepost there were no links on the Highland site here. However, I will post links to the events as I find them.

July 1
Boston Children’s Museum
The Sports Museum
Heritage Museums & Gardens
Falmouth Museums on the Green no information available yet
Cape Cod Maritime Museum no information available yet
Amelia Park Children’s Museum no information available yet
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival no information available yet
Wenham Museum

July 8
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Plimoth Plantation
Peabody Essex Museum
Cape Ann Museum no information available yet
Buttonwood Park Zoo no information available yet
Children’s Museum in Easton no information available yet
The Hall at Patriot Place no information available yet
Provincetown Art Association and Museum no information available yet

July 15
Edward M. Kennedy Institute no information available yet
Boston AthenÓ•um no information available yet
Larz Anderson Museum no information available yet
Cape Cod Children’s Museum no information yet
Edward Gorey House no information available yet
Danforth Art Museum\School no information available yet
Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History
Fitchburg Art Museum no information available yet

July 22
Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park no information available
Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University no information available yet
New Bedford Whaling Museum no information available yet
Cape Cod Museum of Art no information available yet
Pilgrim Hall Museum no information available yet
The Eric Carle Museum
Fruitlands Museum
Museum of Russian Icons

July 29
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
Commonwealth Museum no information available yet
Battleship Cove no information available yet
Marine Museum at Fall River no information available yet
Sandwich Glass Museum no information available yet
Nantucket Whaling Museum no information available yet
Tower Hill Botanic Garden no information available yet
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company no information available yet

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Oh Say Can You See What's The Weather Today

I ran across Oh Say Can You Say What's the Weather Today?: All About Weatherat a used book sale and immediately began to research the series and track it down for family.

The series uses the Cat in the Hat and his friends to explore various science topics. It does follow the rhyming format of the Dr. Suess picture books, but these are very science based.

In this book the the Cat in the Hat sets out to teach children a wide range of facts about the weather. The book begins with some very basic introductions to weather, but quickly delves into weather maps, natural signs of weather changes, types of clouds, the water cycle (with a very age appropriate diagram and explanation), evaporation, condensation, rain, snow, climates, humidity, thunder, lightening, storms, and safety.

Some topics are clearly more suited to this format than others. Others seem to have appeared to have been more important to the author than others and thus received more attention and focus leaving others to be casually addressed.

I think this is a great series to bridge children's interest in the rhyming of Dr. Suess' picture books to an interest in non-fiction topics. I also think it would work in primary classrooms or at home as support material for students. The information is easily accessible and provides material for readers who might find the familiarity of the Suess format easier to grasp than more traditional non-fiction reading.

There is often a challenge in finding quality non-fiction material that is accurate and also at a level students can read independently or with minimal support. I think this series fills that gap for parents and teachers and encourages students to explore science reading at an early age.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Wrong Wrights

The Smithsonian has started an interesting graphic history series based on their museum exhibits that starts with the Air and Space Museum. In The Wrong Wrights (Secret Smithsonian Adventures) a group of students wins a trip to the Smithsonian to see the Air and Space exhibit. However, upon their arrival they discover a problem, the exhibits they expected to see of flight and space travel have been replaced by balloons and dirigibles. The museum is now the Air and Wind Museum. They quickly discover this is not a hoax, but a problem with the time line. It appears someone has much to gain by stopping the advancement of flight.

The students are involuntarily recruited to travel back in time to straighten out a problem with the time line. The story introduces students not only to the Wright brothers, but to Glenn Curtiss and Thomas Scott Baldwin who also were pursuing flight at the same time as the Wrights. As part of the time changing time line, Orville doesn't fly the plane in this book, his sister dresses up as him to try to preserve as much of history as she can.

I think the series has potential for engaging kids in learning more about history and encouraging some interest during those visits to the Smithsonian. The author seems to have a target audience of middle schoolers for this series. However, based on the language, the plot, and the support of the pictures I think elementary students would enjoy the story as well.

The sequel Claws and Effect (Secret Smithsonian Adventures)is due out in October and a quick hint is provided at the end of the first book. I believe they will be off to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum can provide more support resources and background for the book.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Boston Tea Party

I love history picture books that can educate and entertain at various levels. Boston Tea Partysets the events of the Boston Tea Party to the Nursery Rhyme the House that Jack Built. As each event happens it is added on to the previous events listed, so the reader is reminded of everything that has led up to the events currently happening in the story.

To keep younger readers interested mice are added as commentators and entertainers. They provide additional information not provided in the rhyme and some additional entertainment through their running commentary through out the book.

Despite the nursery rhyme format, this book provides quite a bit of accurate historical information. While the mice are provided for entertainment, they also engage children in learning more about the causes and the effects of the Boston Tea Party. You wouldn't want this to be the only source of information you provide. While most of the information is accurate, there are some exaggerations and distortions like the purpose of the costumes and the fear of the sailors. However, this is really my only main complaint There is a good deal of other information generally left out of children's accounts that can be found here that make this a worthy read.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Crown Affair Nursery Rhyme Mystery

I was very excited to discover The Crown Affair (Nursery-Rhyme Mysteries) had been published as the sequel to What Really Happened to Humpty? (Nursery-Rhyme Mysteries) after 5 years. I think I've been spoiled in finding sequels published so quickly or at all that I have been too demanding that they should come faster or at all. However, this sequel was worth the wait.

The author draws upon the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill for the basis of this mystery. When Jack loses his crown the fate of the Gooseland Games is in jeopardy. Unless the crown is returned, a new winner can't be awarded the crown. Chief Goose is not moving fast enough for Jill, so she calls on Joe Dumpty to find the crown.

He interviews Jack at the hill and it appears that another Jack might have been involved in the crime, however, Joe isn't ruling anyone out, just yet. With help from Spider, Joe begins to track down evidence.

This is a great way to introduce, review, or just entertain children by keeping the characters of the nursery rhymes, but introducing them in new settings. First he visits Jack Sprat and his wife and learn more of their story. Jack B. Nimble sends Joe to Jack Hammer's House (of the House that Jack Built), but Joe Dumpty only finds the fairy tale character Goldie there. She sends him on to Little Jack Horner who needed a crown, but had his work done at the dentist. However, he hints Jack of Beanstalk fame might have been involved. Dumpty and Spider proceed to solve the case so the games can continue.

As a fan of the series I was pleased to see a tease at the end for Dumpty's next case. It appears the cow has jumped over the moon and not been seen since. I only hope it is less than 5 years before we see another Joe Dumpty book.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Raindrops on a Roller Coaster Hail

I was unfamiliar with the Bel the Weather Girl series so I decided to borrow Raindrops on a Roller Coaster: Hail (Bel the Weather Girl) from the library.

I like children's science picture books that tackle topics accurately, but make the topic accessible. That is a tough balance. There are a few series that have found the right balance, but others are either too technical or too simplified to be useful. While this is only the first book I've read in the series I thought it struck a good balance in providing accurate information about hail, how it's formed, the dangers of hail, and how it comes down to earth using accurate science, but making it approachable for young readers.

The story begins with Bel and her cousin Dylan outside playing when storm clouds darken the sky. As the daughter of a meteorologist, Bel is not afraid, but aware of the cautions she should take and escorts her cousin and the family dog into the house. The story continues with Bel educating her cousin about hail, introducing children to vocabulary and concepts associated with hail.

Along with finding a book that teaches about science, I also liked that it addressed the child Dylan's fears about hail. Weather events can be frightening to children and adults, but adults have more access to information to educate themselves about dangerous weather and how to cope with the challenges of it. When I had family with young kids living in tornado alley, I struggled to find books that would educate but also comfort the kids with information about what was happening, but also how to stay safe. I will be looking for other books in the series to see if the books are consistent across the series.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fractions in Disguise

Fractions in Disguise: A Math Adventure (Charlesbridge Math Adventures) is a math picture book that uses humor and a bit of robbery to engage students in reviewing the concepts of greatest common factors, lowest common denominators, and reducing fractions.

The story begins with fraction collectors gathered for an auction of a 5/9 fraction. During the auction, the lights go out and as in any good mystery the object disappears leaving the need to seek it out. George Cornelius Factor, GCF starts out on the journey to recover the 5/9 and in the process demonstrates the how and why fractions are reduced by finding the greatest common factor.

I love books that attempt to use humor, art, and fun to teach math concepts. I think this one might be a better review or post introductory book. I'm not sure I'd start my lessons on GCF and LCD with this book as it explains around the topic rather than directly defining. I think once kids had been introduced to the topics this would be a great, fun reinforcement of those concepts.

It also could just be used as a picture book that introduces the idea in passing without being too concerned with how much a child absorbs. The choice is really in the hands of the parent or teacher. The last page in the book does give a more formal explanation of how to reduce fractions. I did think this book might inspire some fraction art projects.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Not the Curious Kind: Pandora Tells All

Pandora Tells All: Not the Curious Kind is part of the Other Side of the Myth Series. If you are familiar with the Other Side of the Story series, which retells fairy tales from another character's perspective you can see where this series is going.

The book begins by giving the reader a condensed version of the original Greek myth of Pandora. From there we are presented with Pandora's defense. She claims she was more than careful with Zeus' vase and not at all the curious woman portrayed in the myth. She blames the whole problem on her husband's mischievous cat, Cuddles who knocks over the vase allowing dark shadows to escape. Pandora is only able to replace the cover after all have left and only hope remains.

The author makes a convincing defense for Pandora. It is possible that a cat or other small house pet could have knocked the cover off a vase. I know my dogs have done plenty of damage in their time. If I was on the jury, she'd have provided reasonable doubt for me to let her go. That is what I look for in these other side stories. Some do provide an interesting alternate appeal, others fall flat and almost don't want to let the character off the hook.

These stories make for great discussions, debates, and trials. If you put Pandora on trial using the evidence from the original myth and her own testimony from this story is she guilty or innocent? Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt based on her story. It helps develop critical thinking skills and gets kids thinking beyond just the basic information presented.

This is also a great way to help reluctant readers access mythology. The material can be dry, but this series looks promising as a way to engage kids in a fun way of understanding the original story and then a silly defense of the character that might get those students more willing to engage with the material.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Manga Math: The Lost Key

I have a family member who is a struggling reader that has been begging me for some Manga options. I thought I'd check out this series to see if I could combine math and his love of Manga. After reading The Lost Key: A Mystery with Whole Numbers (Manga Math Mysteries (Paperback)) I'm a little on the fence.

The themes of learning self-control, trying not to be drawn into conflict when it can be avoided, etc. were good. I liked trying to get the kids to use math to try to solve the problem of items going missing from their training school. However, at times it all seemed a bit contrived. Most early readers aren't deep and the plots and characters can be flat. This however, seemed more than normally ackward. I also questioned if a child reading the book would actually work through the math or just wait for the characters to give them the answer and not really care how the problem was solved.

My suggestion would be to try these from the library first to see how your child likes them if they are interested in Manga and you want to see if you can introduce some math with the manga reading time. I'm not sure this meets my needs at this point.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

June 2016 Free Fun Fridays

The Highland Street Foundation is again sponsoring Free Fun Fridays. I was disappointed that the website didn't provide links to the venues as they've done in the past. Perhaps this will be corrected. I've added links where I've located them.

June 24

Lyric Stage Company of Boston couldn't locate event information
Clark Art Institute
MASS MoCA not updated as of this posting
Worcester Art Museum not updated as of this posting
Children’s Museum at Holyoke
International Volleyball Hall of Fame no info on site but Children's Museum at Holyoke provides info
The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Home

More information available about Free Fun Fridays at the Highland Street Foundation here.