Sunday, November 8, 2009

59 Books in 6 Weeks!

It sounds like a National Enquirer headline. I've been reading. I've been reading a lot. Yes, fifty-nine books in the last 6 weeks!

Fantastic reads! Not a bad one in the lot. All nonfiction. All children's picture books. Penguins. First cross-country trip across America. John Brown. The first moon landing. Butterflies and moths. The American Revolution. The friendship of an elephant and a dog. Jacques Cousteau. Zero. Gertrude Stein. Darwin. And more Darwin. And even more Darwin. Even philosophy for kids.

Here, in one spot, I'm compiling my reviews to the Cybils nonfiction picture book nominees. Some are not yet read and reviewed. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I have received many publisher's review copies of these. However, only two arrived as a publisher's review copy before I received a copy from the library system (American Revolution and Q is for Question).

14 Cows for America
About Penguins
The American Revolution from A to Z
Balarama: A Royal Elephant
Beautiful Ballerina
Boo Boo Bear's Mission: The True Story of a Teddy Bear's Adventures in Iraq
Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie
Bubble Homes and Fish Farts
Building on Nature
Camping With the President
The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak
Coretta Scott
Creature ABC
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life
Darwin: With Glimpses into his Private Journals and Letters
Day-Glo Brothers
Down Down Down
The East-West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan
Eleanor, Quiet No More
Faces of the Moon
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau
Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude
Haunted Houses
If America Were a Village
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage
In the Trees, Honey Bees!
It's a Snap!
Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride
John Brown: His Fight for Freedom
Just the Right Size
Keep On!
Let There Be Peace
Life in the Boreal Forest
Life-Size Zoo
A Lion's Mane
Listen to the Wind
Living Sunlight
Mermaid Queen
Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt!
My Japan
Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
Nic Bishop: Butterflies and Moths
Nugget on the Flight Deck
One Beetle Too Many
One Giant Leap
Pharoah's Boat
Pippo the Fool
Pony Island
Q is for Question
River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River
S is for Story
Secret World of Walter Anderson
Shaping Up the Year
Shining Star
Sky High
Tarra and Bella
The Twelve Days of Christmas in Minnesota
Tyrannosaurus Math
Unite or Die
What Can You Do With an Old Red Shoe
What Darwin Saw
Where Else in the Wild?
Winter's Tail
Wrestling the ABCs
Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West
You Are the First Kid on Mars
A Young Dancer
You've Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?
Zero is the Leaves on the Tree

*For convenience, I'm going to list all the nonfiction picture book nominees here and update here after I've read and reviewed all 73 titles.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tyrannosaurus Math by Michelle Markel

Tyrannosaurus Math by Michelle Markel

A tyrannosaurus, T-Math, goes through his life and solves math problems. The pictures are bright and fun and the story is compelling and fun. The ending is wonderfully satisfying.

A bit:
“When a meteorite sped toward the earth, he asked himself, ‘sphere or cube?’ before dashing to safety.
And when a volcano launched colorful rocks onto the plain, he arranged them in rows to count them swiftly before lava caught up to him.”

Children’s thoughts:
The large group of first graders and kindergarteners who previewed this book loved it. The illustrations were a big plus for kids who looked at this book. They all said they loved math, so they thought they would like this book. One boy said that he liked how you could read and learn math at the same time.

You Are the First Kid on Mars

You Are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O’Brien

With photograph-like paintings and detailed text, this book relates what might happen if a child were to visit Mars. I was taken by the pictures and the details of what a child might experience.

A little from the book:
“You can’t go out on the surface of Mars without a space suit. There’s not enough oxygen to breathe, and it is much too cold. You carry air in tanks on your back, and your suit keeps you warm. Gravity on Mars is less than half as strong as on Earth, so you take big, bouncing steps.”

Children’s reactions:
The children who looked at this book commented on how real the pictures looked. They were pretty evenly divided as to those who liked the book and those who did not.

Zero is the Leaves on the Tree by Betsy Franco

Zero is the Leaves on the Tree by Betsy Franco

The author uses metaphors from children’s lives to explain the concept of zero. I could see this book being used a lot with students to better understand zero or as a writing prompt.

A little from the book:
“Zero is…
the balls in the bin at recess time.”

Reactions from children:
Two unexpected problems with the book: We live in the southern part of the United States and many of the metaphors involved concepts our children never experience (the sound of snowfall, for example). The younger children liked it, but the older children said they got tired of zero.

My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

This book is shows the life of a girl in Japan, told from her point of view. The pictures are as helpful as the text in telling the story. I was fascinated to read about the differences in the lives of a Japanese girl and an American girl.

A bit:
“In Japan, we sleep on futons. They are light and very easy to fold and carry. When you air them out in the sun, they feel warm and fluffy. Mmmm, very nice to sleep on!”

The children were mildly interested in this book. I was surprised to find they were not as interested in the book as I would have predicted. I avoided the page with naked people; a parent has leafed through the book just before I showed it to the children and she did not like that page. I would have trouble putting it into my library as that page would cause a lot of titters from kids.

Darwin: With Glimpses into His Private Journal & Letters

Darwin: With Glimpses into His Private Journal & Letters by Alice B. McGinty

The third Cybils nominee that takes on Darwin. Like the other two, this one tells of Darwin’s life. This book includes excerpts from Darwin’s journal and letters.

A bit:
“In 1831, Charles Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle, beginning what would become a five-year trip around the world. Seasick, he got off at every stop. He explored islands and coasts. He followed rivers. He climbed mountains and hiked through tropical rainforests. What Charles saw filled him with awe and left him believing firmly in a God who had created these wonders.”

Children’s reactions:
I showed a group of eight first graders all three Darwin books. This was the least favorite, though they found the text in this book easy to understand. They liked the pictures better in the other two books.

Just the Right Size

Just the Right Size:
Why Big Animals are Big and Little Animals are Little
by Nicola Davies

I’m a person who has a great deal of trouble with scientific concepts. This book explained some principle in science, I think, and I believe I understand the principle better after reading this book, though I couldn’t tell you the name of the principle and I doubt if I could explain it very well. It has something to do with why animals cannot be enormous in size and it has something to do with volume and doubling height causing a big jump in volume. (Glad I am not being tested on the material in this book as I quite obviously am barely grasping any of this.)

The pictures are funny and helped me understand this concept better. If I really wanted to understand this concept, this book would be just the one to read, I think.

A bit:
“Here is a Little Thing. It could be anything---a car, a log, a bar of soap---but it just happens to be a creature (even if it looks a bit like a cube)….
Now let’s meet Big Thing. Big Thing is TWICE the size of Little Thing….
How many Little Things would it take to make one Big Thing?
If you look carefully, you can see that Big Thing’s surface area and cross section are FOUR times bigger than Little Thing’s. But Big Thing’s volume and weight are EIGHT times bigger.”

Children’s reactions:
The group of eight first graders who looked at this book had very little interest in this book. Perhaps this book is aiming at an older audience.