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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Thud! Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Forces and Motions

I'm always looking for a balance between age appropriate accessible science books and accurate content. Thud!: Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Forces and Motion (Wile E. Coyote, Physical Science Genius)is a great example of an author that is able to achieve that balance.

The author uses the conflict between Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner to explain Newton's Laws of Motion. The author begins by identifying and defining Newton's Laws of motions. He does that in a way accessible to elementary readers without losing the accuracy of the science concepts. The humor will encourage reluctant readers to stick with a topic that can sometimes be dry.

This is the kind of book that will encourage elementary readers to explore Newton's Laws and it is also a great way to help older reader's to also engage with the information. While amusing the information is accurate and the illustrations will help readers of all ages to understand the concepts being taught.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Medusa Tells All

Medusa Tells All: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissingis another book in the Other Side of the Myth Series.

I was pleased with Rebecca Davis' addition to this series. She makes a strong case for Medusa by blaming Athena for giving into her jealousy and cursing Medusa after Poseidon showed her attention. Other than bragging about her beauty, Medusa carefully avoids including any details of her story that might hint at her own guilt in the conflict between her and Athena.

As with the rest of the books in this series, the author includes a summary of the myth at the beginning of the story for those not familiar with the story. I continue to find this series to be an intriguing way to introduce children to mythology and to point of view.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Positive and Negative Numbers, Oh My!

Positive & Negative Numbers, Oh My! (Got Math!) provides a balance of traditional number line approaches to teaching positive and negative numbers and some creative real world applications. The book also looks at less than and great than, and has a brief review of coordinate graphing with positive and negative numbers.

The book emphasizes math vocabulary for numbers, which I always am looking for in math picture books. When kids learn the words in more friendly environments, they tend to remember them and they lose the fear of math words. This book defines the words in a clear manner and provides number lines to help illustrate the concepts and vocabulary being defined. In between the math vocabulary and definitions, real world examples are used to reinforce the ideas being presented.

Concepts in this book include natural numbers, whole numbers, rational numbers, integers (positive and negative), absolute value, inequality symbols, and four quadrant graphing. The words are defined and then built on to explain additional concepts in the book.

Overall I was impressed by the amount of information covered in this book and the efforts to make it accessible. I was frustrated in one instance in the discussion of the opposite absolute value. Up until this point they very clearly clarified not just what to do, but why you do something in math. This has always been a problem for me in math. If I didn't understand something I could make up my own rules thinking I'd remembered correctly. This was the only explanation I found in the book where they just said, add a negative sign and you're good without any explanation of why it works. If they weren't going to explain, I'd rather have had them left it out because everything else is explained pretty well for the reader to follow along not just on how, but the why.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Berenstain Bears Under the Sea

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Berenstain Bears Under the Seawhen I saw the title. I've been familiar with the Berenstain Bears through several family members, but this title seemed like it was going in a slightly different direction for them.

I was correct. While they use a sub, not a bus, the premise is similar to the Magic School Bus series. While visiting the local aquarium the family is invited to take a trip on a submarine to see the creatures in their natural environment. The book shows readers what types of creatures are encountered as the Bears head to the bottom of the ocean. Along the path the professor educates the Bear family about the animals, what they eat, and where you find them.

I thought this was an great way to get fans of the Berenstain Bear series to engage with non-fiction material. There is another one recently published about a Dinosaur dig as well. I'm hoping they continue embedding non-fiction material in their fantasy series.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Jars of Hope

One of the things I love about researching children's books is I'm always learning new things. I came across Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust while trying to find more age appropriate WW II literature for children. The Holocaust is troubling to read about at any age, but for younger children it can be even more difficult to explain. The author tackled a very challenging topic providing age appropriate explanations without losing historical accuracy.

I'd never heard of Irena Sendler prior to reading Jars of Hope. She was part of the Polish underground in WW II after getting involved with rescuing children from the Warsaw ghetto. Her hope was to reunite the children she placed in safety with their families after the war, so she kept records which were eventually buried in jars to avoid detection. Sadly, for most reunification was not a possibility. However, the documentation she kept did provide the children with the knowledge of their birth names and the names of their parents.

The book does a good job of documenting Ms. Sendler's war time activities and the punishments received for those activities. It also discusses the recognition and rewards given to her after the war for the great risks she took in saving the children she could reach. As with any books on sensitive issues I always suggest parents or teachers preview prior to sharing with children. It is always best to be prepared.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Zombies and Forces and Motion

I'm always looking for science book that can accurately explain concepts and entertain and engage students in learning concepts and vocabulary related to the topic. The younger members of my family are a bit zombie crazed at the moment so when I saw Zombies and Forces and Motion (Monster Science)I had to check it out and see if it was worth a review.

The book format is a short graphic novel. The author uses a zombie theme to explain Newton's Laws of Motion. If you aren't a fan of zombies, the theme will get old quick. However, for zombie fans, this book provides age appropriate scientific vocabulary definition of terms and plenty of zombie examples to help children start to develop an understanding of those laws.

As a child I found this material very dry and hard to process. Reading this as an adult, one example that stuck with me was the explanation of why your body moves in the opposite direction as a car turns. I remember being taught this and trying to wrap my mind around the science. This book however made it very clear even if I had to work through the zombies to get there.

This is a great resource for home or school. While not a huge zombie fan myself, the author did a great job of incorporating the zombies as teaching tools, not just adding them for entertainment.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Across the Blue Pacific

I came across Across the Blue Pacific: A World War II Storywhile researching age appropriate picture books on World War II for kids. This story appealed to me because it sounded so much like the stories my mother told me of growing up during World War II. This historical fiction account is told from a young girl's perspective, which is why it reminds me so much of my Mom's stories of growing up.

Louise Borden has taken the story of her Uncle Matthew's service and death on the USS Albacore as the basis for Molly's historical fiction account of her neighbor Ted's service and ultimate death. His leave visits and the children writing letters to Ted make for an interesting tale.

I thought there were some fun details included in the story. For instance Ted's Mom gets a Border Collie when her son leaves for war. How women coped alone made for some unique war tales among the women in my family. The dog seemed like a realistic choice based on some of the stories I was told.

While this was a children's story, I did think some details were lacking. Molly and my Mom were similar in age and one of my Mom's strongest memories of the time was coping with rationing. I suspect her neighbor and Molly's families would also have been impacted by this as well. There was no mention of how the war changed the home front, although this book was focused on how people at home were dealing with the challenges of having loved ones away from home.

This book would be a good introduction to teaching children about the home front during this time period. Children often connect well to other children. Reading about how other children lived through historical events can help children relate and connect to a topic. I'd love to see more books written in this style.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Fort on Fourth Street

The Fort on Fourth Street: A Story About the Six Simple Machinesis a great concept for teaching simple machines, but it didn't quite deliver as strongly as I'd hoped. The book demonstrates how simple machines are used in the construction of a fort.

The idea is engaging. Many kids want a practical reason for learning about simple machines. Making a fort is an attractive reason to learn about simple machines and to learn to use tools. However, the author chose a rather difficult format for this book, the nursery rhyme "The House that Jack Built." At the end of each introduction of a simple machine used to build the fort, we get a listing of all the simple machines used. It is repetitive and not that helpful.

What is lacking is a good definition of a simple machine. We are supposed to infer what a simple machine is through the list of items we are given that are simple machines. However, it doesn't quite work. At the end of the book, the author has a page that gives textbook definitions of simple machines, but the definitions aren't age appropriate for the target audience of the text. This information would have been much more useful embedded in the story of the grandpa building the fort. The author sprinkled little bits and pieces, but it needed to be more organized and direct to help kids walk away with a real understanding of why X is a simple machine and Y is not. Also why X is a specific type of simple machine. At the end the author has a little picture quiz with answers that tries to clarify some of the definitions, but that would have been better suited as part of the story.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Frankly, I Never Wanted to Kiss Anybody! The Story of the Frog Prince

Frankly, I Never Wanted to Kiss Anybody!: The Story of the Frog Prince as Told by the Frog (The Other Side of the Story)is a funny retelling of the Frog Prince story told from the Frog's point of view.

In this version the Prince was not punished for being selfish or spoiled. Instead he was a star baseball player who is turned into a frog to prevent him from winning a baseball game. He doesn't mind life as a frog too much, but he does miss playing baseball. Eventually he decides he is willing to return to his old life, but finding a princess is a challenge.

Based on the baseball theme, you might have a hint where the ball part of the original tale might come in to the retold tale. The princess is also a baseball player, a pitcher and her lucky ball is lost in the well. As per the original tale she fails to live up to their agreement and the frog must go to court to enforce the contract. The couple finds a future in baseball together when the contract finally is enforced and the prince returns to his original form.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II

I've always been fascinated by the story of the British troops successful retreat from Dunkirk that only happened with the help of civilian boats and ships that risked it all to bring home the troops trapped at Dunkirk. It is a complicated tale to tell to children and once again Louise Borden tackles it quite effectively with a fictionalized account of a girl and her father's participation in The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II told from the daughter's perspective.

The storytelling has a poetic quality to it. The images are strong and powerful. One feels the tension, the drama, and the risk as the fisherman take to the seas to help rescue the soldiers trapped. While a fictionalized tale, the author based her story on solid research. The book begins with a foreword from a Royal Navy Lieutenant, Christopher Dreyer who commanded a Torpedo Boat during the evacuation. He speaks of Louise Borden making the pilgrimage with the Association of Little ships to Dunkirk in 1995 to get a better understanding of what the journey would have been like. Clearly nothing could recreate the war experience, but being there adds a layer not found in historical documents from the time.

World War II can be a challenging time period for younger readers, but I believe, Ms. Borden has provided context and a story that engages readers. The author's notes in the back provide some additional historical information for readers not familiar with the time period. It also is a strong story about a girl from the time period.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Way Eye See It Cyclops Tells All

Cyclops Tells All: The Way EYE See It (The Other Side of the Myth)is Nancy Loewn's attempt to give Polyphemus a chance to tell his side of his encounter with Odysseus.

The author begins with a summary of the original Greek myth. She then goes on to present the Cyclops version of the myth. In this version the author sticks with the traditional tale of how Odysseus meets Polyphemus. From there Polyphemus tries to justify his actions by explaining his twisted version of why he thought eating Odysseus' troops would make him human allowing him to achieve his dream of traveling the world. He seemed to have been influenced by a childhood nutrition lesson, you are what you eat. He wrongly assumes if he eats humans, he will become human.

Again sticking with the traditional tale, Odysseus attacks Polyphemus and he and the last of his men are able to escape.

This wasn't one of the strongest of this series. You are what you eat wasn't a great argument or justification. I would have gone with an unjustified attack on a one eyed creature who was just tending his sheep. Self-defense would have been more believable.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Smash! Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Simple Machines

Smash!: Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Simple Machines (Wile E. Coyote, Physical Science Genius) is a great introduction to simple machines for kids. While cartoon stories sometimes depend too much on the cartoons and not enough on the science, this book doesn't disappoint.

For those familiar with the Road Runner and Coyote episodes this book will have a predictable feel. Each chapter explores a different simple machine having Wile Coyote attempt to use that machine to attack the Road Runner. In keeping with the cartoon theme Road Runner escapes unharmed in each instance, but a valuable lesson is learned about simple machines.

Wile Coyote's story is a good fit for simple machines as he's always using different methods to attack his nemesis. The author does a good job in staying with the Coyote traditional story line and embedding the science vocabulary and concepts around the story without losing the continuity of the story.

This is actually one of the best simple machine children's books I've read to date. The language is accurate and detailed. Children who come to this story knowing little about simple machines will learn the names of the simple machines and discover more about how each is used while being entertained. For children who have been introduced to simple machines, this provides more information and a great funny review of the material.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mystery Math A First Book of Algebra

I saw Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebraand was so hopeful it would live up to my expectations, I wasn't disappointed when I checked it out of the library. I've been arguing for years, that when you introduce math language to kids in a casual but consistent way early on, they won't necessarily understand it right away, but you plant seeds and with consistant useage the language and concepts take root. Kids aren't asked to learn a new language when presented with algebra. They've been introduced to this type of language since they've been working with math. The language gets more complex and the ideas more abstract, but the goal of using math language has been a consistant.

Algebra has long been a stumbling block in my family and it is frustrating because if taught differently most of the kids seem to understand it until forced back into the standard way of being taught it. This book starts by using humor and monsters to engage kids with the basic language of equations. The book begins by discussing see saws and balance, leading children towards the concept that equations must be balanced. Eventually the book introduces the idea that what happens to one side of an equation must always happen to the other in order for the balance to be maintained. This is done in a fun and humourous way with illustrations, but the language is math language and the equations are written correctly to introduce kids to equations as they are properely written.

Honestly, I wish I hadn't waited until Jr. High to start changing my way of thinking about equations. Algebra was a foreign language based on a language I thought I already knew and that was fruatrating to me and many of my classmates. We were learning new words for concepts we thought we already understood. What if someone had just casually without too much pressure started us off with the correct language for what we were learning so we didn't have to relearn everything at an arbritrary time people thought we were ready for algebra?

This book starts out solving simple addition and subtraction algebra problems and then moves on to mulitplication and division problems. The solutions are laid out quite well and with plenty of explanations for child and interested parents who might want examples that are clear to demonstrate the process to a child. The story is funny and cute to help keep the interest in pursuing the problems alive. The math is not overwhelming, but for a child only familiar with addition and subtraction, the multiplication and division sections might be more challenging.

I have been looking specifically for algebra related math materials and this is one of the more exciting basic books I've discovered. I'm continuing my quest for others, but this is one of the best I've seen at the introdcutory level to date.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Journey that Saved Curious George

While reviewing my history book list I realized it was time to expand my listings and explore more topics. I've always had an interest in World War II but it can be a complicated topic to address with children. The information can be hard to absorb. While searching for some age appropriate books on the subject I came across Louise Borden's The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Reyand thought it presented an interesting connection. Many children are already familiar with the character of Curious George. This book introduces them to the invasion of Paris during World War II and gently hints at the dangers that presented to those who were Jewish at the time, thus the need for the Rey's to flee.

In historical picture books I'm always looking for a balance of age appropriate material with accuracy. This book added another element in that on top of it being a historical event, it is also a biographical account of the Rey's life. This adds even more of a challenge for someone writing a picture book. It is quite a bit of information to disseminate in a picture book format. I think the author did a great job in providing that balance.

The book begins with the author discussing her own interest in tracking down the stories she'd heard over the years of the Rey's having to flee Paris on a bicycles to avoid the German invasion of France. However, she was frustrated because she couldn't find any details of the event. She set out to research and document as much of that experience as she could against a well set stage of historical events. The book places the reader at the scene following the Rey's on their journey presenting the urgency and danger without the horror that younger children might not be able to process. It is a good introduction that lays the foundation for information they will encounter later. It doesn't ignore the realities, but it accepts that younger readers are only going to be able to process so much of what happened. When they are older there are other books that can take them deeper into the story of what was happening in France and across Europe. This introduces them to the reality that many were trying to flee and only few were able to leave. The Rey's were some of the fortunate few who escaped.

I was a fan of Curious George as a child, but never had heard the escape journey of the Rey's. It adds an interesting depth to the Curious George stories. The book also discusses the evolution of George who began life as Fifi before becoming Americanized to George after the Rey's escaped with the manuscript during their flight from Paris.