osprey with dry grass flying in blue sky above nest
3-12, Books, Science

Swoop and Soar

Two of my favorite picture book authors have teamed up again to produce another non-fiction masterpiece, Swoop and Soar. You may recall the fantastic book by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp, Beauty and the Beak, which I reviewed back in 2016. That story related the uplifting journey of an eagle who was given a 3d printed prosthetic after her beak was shot off by poachers. Jane Veltkamp, the raptor biologist who led the team that engineered the new beak (and who has lifetime care of Beauty), returns in Swoop and Soar when a pair of osprey chicks are orphaned by a storm.

Cover photo credit: (c) Ann Kamzelski from Swoop and Soar, used by permission

Reading about the plight of the chicks and Veltkamp’s clever and science-based plan to find them new parents in the wild is fascinating and suspenseful. Once again, Rose and Veltkamp distinguish their book from other non-fiction by crafting a personal story around the scientific facts, and highlighting it with amazing photography on every page.

(c) Scalder Photography from Swoop and Soar, used by permission

Swoop and Soar is an excellent companion to Beauty and the Beak. Both books are perfect for teaching STEM, with compelling narratives and intriguing information about raptors, conservation, and careers in science.

You can learn more and see Rose’s other books (including Astronauts Zoom, which I’ve also reviewed) here. Veltkamp’s site is Birds of Prey Northwest. Swoop and Soar is available for pre-order for its September, 2022, publication date at Bookshop.org, Amazon, and B&N.

Mary Gertsema, (c) Jane Veltkamp from Swoop and Soar, used by permission
3-5, Books, K-5, Language Arts

Memoirs of a Tortoise

When I was asked to write curriculum for some picture books, I jumped at the chance. Without a young child at home any longer, I don’t spend as much time in that section of the bookstore very often — and I miss it. I was given a few books to begin the project and pulled one out randomly, settling in happily to immerse myself in the illustrations and simple prose of Memoirs of a Tortoise, by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Tim Bowers.

By the end, there were tears in my eyes.

Memoirs of a Tortoise is a year in the life of Oliver, an 80 year old tortoise, who spends happy days with his human friend, Ike. Though Oliver is comparatively young in tortoise years, Ike is not. One day, Ike does not return to their garden, and Oliver must make a trek to visit his 137 year old mother 10 gardens away to find out why Oliver’s “pet” human couldn’t stay with him.

Though the book gently addresses the theme of loss, it is not sad. There a few humorous lines, and the story’s ending is a reminder of the fact that we may not be able to enjoy someone’s physical presence forever, but we can be grateful for the time we had them and hopeful that we will continue to encounter new friends along our journey.

I love a book that you can repeatedly re-read and discover new delights each time. Memoirs of a Tortoise is one of those books. I need to read the other three “memoirs” by this author/illustrator team, but it’s difficult to imagine they will have the same kind of impact on me as this beautiful story.

To order Memoirs of a Tortoise and learn more about the author, click here. (I did not recall until I looked at the site that Scillian also wrote a book I used frequently with my students, P is for Passport.) I also highly recommend reading Scillian’s bio, which shows him to be quite the Renaissance Man with a variety of interests and talents. Tim Bowers is equally fascinating, and you can learn more about him here.

books on wooden shelves inside library
Anti-Racism, Books, K-12

An American Love Poem by Kwame Alexander

I would love for you to read “An American Love Poem,” by Kwame Alexander, published as an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times. I apologize if it’s behind a paywall for you, but I was able to access it without a subscription, and I hope that you can, as well. The poem is the author’s response to book banning, something that is becoming far too frequent in our country. I chose this as my Friday Anti-Racist post this week because it breaks my heart to watch books being removed from libraries based on bigotry, racism, and fear of making readers “uncomfortable.” Once again, we have people who are making uninformed decisions, and reducing what should be nuanced and thoughtful conversations into polarizing accusations of indoctrination and child endangerment. Why can’t we have civilized discussions among people who have read these materials and understand the needs of children, instead of kneejerk reactions to out-of-context quotes and clearly biased summaries?

I love the last line in Alexander’s poem because it centers this debate on the children, the ones who desperately need to understand their world and to see themselves in it.

“I want them to know
that banning a book
is like banning a hug
and that is a dismal storm
no child should be left behind in.”

I’ll be adding this post to my Anti-Racism resources, which you can find here.

light inside library
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com
Books, Critical Thinking, K-12, Student Response

The Story Routine: Main–Side–Hidden

Last month I had the honor of working with our local NEISD librarians during a PD on one of the newer Visible Thinking Routines, “The Story Routine: Main–Side–Hidden.” Visible Thinking Routines appear frequently on my blog because I really believe in the way they help teachers to facilitate rich discussions among their students. These routines, compiled by Harvard’s Project Zero research team, are detailed in two books (see image links) and on several websites, including this one.

“The Story Routine” appears in the most recent book, The Power of Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchart and Mark Church. The purpose of the routine is to analyze events, photos, stories, documents, etc… by constructing a story beyond the obvious. The routine can be applied to fiction, non-fiction, data in math, primary sources in history, and many other situations. There is even an example in the book where a counselor uses the routine with a young boy who is having trouble at home.

“The Story Routine” may have different prompts depending on the context. Some examples are:

  • “What is the main message of this story?” (What does the author want you to think?)
  • “What is a side message of this story?” (Maybe something not as important, but still something the author wants to get across)
  • “What is a hidden theme in this story?” (Maybe something that contributes to the theme but is never actually mentioned)
  • “What is the main message of this graph?” (What information does the graph give you?”)
  • “What is a side message of this graph?” (Maybe how does this graph fit into a larger context?”)
  • “What is a hidden message in this graph? (Maybe what are some unspoken contributing factors that could have skewed or contributed to the graph’s meaning?)

There are endless possibilities, and you can adapt it to different ages, abilities, and topics. The point is that you want students to make inferences, look at things from other perspectives, and apply a systems thinking outlook that acknowledges that nothing exists in a vacuum. Peer discussions are critical and it is also essential to accept multiple answers as long as students can support them. For those of you who use Socratic Dialogues in your classrooms, this routine would work very well. Otherwise, whole class and small group conversations can be used.

I made a few different digital templates for the PD that I did, and I thought I would share one with you here. You could certainly use it for other things besides this Visible Thinking Routine, but I designed it as a Google Slides presentation that could be used in groups in your classroom and then presented to the whole class with the fun interactivity of using a magnifying glass at the end to display the “hidden” message.

It’s impossible to explain the routine in depth in a short blog post, so I encourage you to read the unit in the book. If that isn’t feasible, Alice Vigors does a good job of offering examples here, and, of course I’d be happy to do a PD for your district or group on it;) I’ve also started a new Wakelet collection where you can find my other Visible Thinking blog posts, many of which have downloadable templates.

Anti-Racism, Books, K-12, Teaching Tools

Social Justice Books

Whether you are trying to make your home, classroom, or school library more diverse and and inclusive, Social Justice Books is a great website for you. The site was developed as a project for Teaching for Change, “a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.” If you are wondering why, or even if, we need to improve the reading material we provide to children, Social Justice Books includes this infographic (see caption for full citation):

Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/literature-resources/ccbc-diversity-statistics/books-by-about-poc-fnn/. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/

The site includes Book Lists, detailed Reviews that you can sort by various criteria such as reading level or theme, and Articles that include an excellent Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Books.

The quality of this site is excellent, and it is extremely thorough. You can learn more about the criteria for books they choose and their rating system here. You can also view books that they’ve added according to the years they were published on this page. There is a lot to unpack on Social Justice Books, but it is user-friendly and a valuable resource.

This post will be added to my Anti-Racism Wakelet collection. Please check it out if you are interested in finding more articles like this, and you can follow all of my collections here.

Books, K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Aaron Slater, Illustrator

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Aaron Slater, Illustrator is yet another fantastic book from the writer/illustrator team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. Ada Twist, Scientist (don’t forget you can now watch this series on Netflix!) was a recommendation I made on my 2016 list, and I could really have included all of the succeeding books from this duo in lists since then, but I didn’t want it to look like I was playing favorites 😉 I think that I find Aaron Slater particularly special because the main character is dyslexic, and I have taught so many amazing children with dyslexia throughout the years. At the end of the book, it’s explained that the typeface is a font called, “Dyslexie,” which was designed for people with dyslexia, and the “Illustrator’s Note” explains that David Roberts, too, experiences problems with reading and spelling. Another thing I applaud about this book is that Aaron Slater’s problems don’t immediately get rectified even once he encounters a teacher who recognizes his struggle. I also love that Andrea Beaty named her character after artist Aaron Douglas, who was an African American who contributed largely to the Harlem Renaissance.

As you may know, I am trying to support independent stores as much as I can now on my blog. You can purchase Aaron Slater, Illustrator from Black Pearl Books in Austin, a Black-owned bookstore. Here are some more Black-owned independent bookstores. You can also go to Bookshop.org to search for independent stores.

Book cover of Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty