Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Break is Here!

This week is Spring Break week at Zion. It's a week to take a much-needed hiatus from our studies and ready ourselves for the final 8 weeks of learning before summer vacation. Our blog will be taking a break, too, in order to catch up on reading. Look for more great book suggestions next week! Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Funny Farm

Written and illustrated by Mark Teague
Most enjoyed by preschoolers through 2nd graders

Spring planting season is just around the corner. Keep your eye peeled as you pass the fields that surround our town. You'll see farmers getting their fields ready for planting. If you're a newbie to farming like Edward, there may be a few surprises in store but probably not as exotic as those found on Hawthorne Farm. Here, the pigs pull practical jokes, the mice churn their own butter, and owners Uncle Earl and Aunt Josephine make their own maple syrup. Not much funny in that except the two are dogs and everyone knows dogs don't make syrup, right?

Poor Edward is in for a new learning experience when he visits his relatives' farm and so is the reader. While Mark Teague's text lists the activities done on the farm each day, his pictures bring the text to life and leave the reader laughing. For example, when we read that 'In the morning, everyone gets up early', we see sheep brushing their teeth and washing their faces. When it rains, we see Edward in the house watching the pigs play in puddles and Mama Robin shelter her babies with an unbrella. There's something quirky to look for on every double-page spread.

In fact, while 'Funny Farm' is a short book, it's not a quick read as I discovered the other day when reading it to some preschoolers. We lingered over every double-page spread looking closely to find the 'funny' on the farm. We weren't disappointed and shared quite a few giggles. It's the memory of that laughter that won't keep 'Funny Farm' in the shelf for long.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Written by Rodman Philbrick
Most enjoyed by history fans in 5th through 8th grade

Homer P. Figg, little brother to Harold, is known to embellish his stories a bit. He'll need to really tell some whoppers if he's going to get his brother out of the Union Army. You see, Harold went a bit too far when trying to stop his uncle, Squinton Leach, from hurting Homer. Now, Squinton has conned a judge into enlisting Harold into the Union army despite the fact that Harold is too young. Homer watches in agony as his brother is taken away, vowing to leave that night to rescue Harold. But Harold's lead is too great and Homer must rely on the kindness of others to help his search. From a Quaker minister helping runaway slaves to a kind newspaperman who tells Homer the stark truth about war, Homer's search leads him to the front and Harold himself. But the happy ending Homer had hoped for comes with a price, one that he and Harold live with forever.

I really liked this book. The characters are well-drawn, the story's pacing fast enough to propel the reader onward. It didn't sugar-coat the brutality of the Civil War, yet it didn't make it so graphic that it might turn away the squeamish. It's an excellent work of historical fiction that well deserves the Newbery honor medal it received.

Our 6th grade book club just finished discussing 'Homer' and those that finished the book before our discussion enjoyed it. The students loved Homer's ability to get himself out of major trouble with his tall tales. The biggest complaint was not about the book but about the cover art work. Group members felt it didn't accurately portray the subject matter of the book and made the book look as if it were appropriate for a much younger audience. We hope that when the paperback version comes out, the cover is redesigned. But the group consensus was that 'The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg' is great historical fiction for junior high readers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lion's Share

Written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott
Most enjoyed by 1st through 4th graders

Matthew McElligott has a way with math concepts that makes them so simple to understand. In 'Bean Thirteen', reviewed here, he covered simple division. In 'The Lion's Share', he tackles fractions and does it so well it can almost be said that fractions are easy (note, I said almost!).

Each year, the Lion holds a special dinner party for his animal friends. Ant is invited for the first time and is quite excited. Wanting to make a good impression, he arrives on time only to discover that the other guests are there already, indulging in a glorious feast but displaying terrible table manners. When the lion serves dessert, he invites his guests to help themselves and each does in his own greedy way. The elephant feels that half is his fair share so he takes half of the cake. The hippo feels that he can take half of what's left since the elephant took half. The gorilla takes half again and so on until the portion left for the ant crumbles before he can take a bite. Feeling terrible, the ant offers to make the lion a cake. When the others hear this, they wish to outdo the ant, offering twice what the guest before him has offered. So the beetle offers to make two cakes, followed by the frog who offers four, and so on until the elephant, who started the whole greedy affair, must offer a staggering number of cakes in order to save face.

Not only does 'The Lion's Share' excel at showing the effects of halving and doubling, it also serves as a great object lesson for greed and humbleness. Kids see what happens when one is self-centered but they'll cheer for the simply humility of the ant. The book demands using real cake to demonstrate the halving for the kids. M&M's could be used to show the doubling. It would be an object lesson that would stay with the kids and I'm sure would soon be a favorite. I'll be on the look-out for more math books by Matthew McElligott.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Big Wolf & Little Wolf

Written by Nadine Brun-Cosme
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Most enjoyed by readers in Kindergarten through 3rd grade

Big Wolf sees a small something coming towards him in the distance. What could it be? Will it want to stay? If it does, should he share his blanket? What about the tree that has always belonged to him? That small something turns out to be Little Wolf, who stays and does everything Big Wolf does. At first, Big Wolf shares a little of what he has - a little of his blanket, a little of his food. When he returns from a walk in the woods to discover that Little Wolf is gone, he realizes how much he's become used to having Little Wolf around, how much he misses his company.

Sometimes, when new people enter our lives, we're wary of them, uncertain how to act or how they will act towards us. The relationship of Big Wolf and Little Wolf beings with that tentative hesitation, but as Big Wolf becomes more familiar with Little Wolf, he opens up his heart and lets Little Wolf in. They become friends in a simple, quiet way. 'Big Wolf & Little Wolf' reinforces the idea that friendship is built on trust and little acts of kindness. What a great reminder for kids and the rest of us as well!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bean Thirteen

Written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott
Most enjoyed by readers in 1st through 4th grade

Division can be a tough concept to understand. The multiplication tables are memorized as well as addition and subtractions facts. But division can be particularly sticky. That's when it's great to have a book like 'Bean Thirteen' to help young mathematicians better understand the idea of division.

Ralph and Flora were picking beans for dinner. Ralph thinks the twelve beans they've chosen is enough, but Flora wants one more. Yikes, thinks Ralph, not the dreaded 13th bean! That's an unlucky number. The 13 beans come home anyway, despite Ralph's fears, only to confound the pair as they try to divide the beans equally among dinner guests. First, it's two groups of six but that leaves the unlucky 13th bean by itself. Then it's three piles of four beans but again, the 13th bean is left. Ralph and Flora continue to try to divide the beans equally, only to find that letting the dinner guests help themselves solves the problem.

The illustrations support the text with bright colors and clear views of the various ways the beans are grouped. Grab some beans (jelly beans would be perfect for this time of year!) and try practicing the same groupings Ralph and Flora create. A fun, and edible, way to explain a difficult concept!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Doctor Ted

Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers and Kindergartners

Is there a doctor in the house? There is if you live with Ted, the lovable bear at the center of the delightful 'Doctor Ted'. When Ted bumps his knee, he's sure he needs a doctor but none is to be found. So, who better to answer that need than Ted himself! Not everyone thinks there's room for another doctor, especially at school where they already have one on staff. But guess which doctor helps out when Mrs. Johnson hurts her ankle!

You'll fall for Ted and his superb medical skills. He does a great job at diagnosing problems ("You have gingivitis") and determining the correct medical cure ("You need a full-body cast.")
In fact, even thought this book will appeal to little ones, older kids will really get the humor. If you need a book for an older sibling to read to a younger sibling, 'Doctor Ted' would be a great choice.