Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Life, New Stories: My First Day by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Easter has been on my mind this week and it has been on the minds of my students as well. They love talking about their plans. Skyler informed me that she is going to feed her fish, Roxie and Goldie, special Easter food. She plans to hide it, so her fish can hunt for the special treat. Olivya’s Dogs are going to get Easter eggs. She painted them at home – blue and green for Quest and pink and purple for Roxy. Olivya is going to hide the eggs for her dogs but her cat Luna will just get cat food. She scratches.

Not all kids celebrate Easter, so I steered the conversation away from the subject during many of my speech sessions and for my language groups, I read a book about new life in the animal kingdom: My First Day, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. 

9780547738512 300x298 Nonfiction Monday: My First Day by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
It begins with a question,

“What did you do on your first day – the day you were born?”  

A kiwi starts off with his answer.

“On my first day, I spent hours kicking my way out of my egg. As soon as I hatched, I was ready to take care of myself.”

This charming book introduced wood ducks, sea otters, muntjacs and megapodes. I had never heard of some of the animals in the story, nor had my students. All the creatures fascinated the kids, but they were amazed when I read about Darwin’s frog.

“On my first day, I hopped out of my father’s mouth. When I was a tadpole, he kept me safe in a special pouch in this throat. But once I became a frog, it was time to be on my own.”

My students weren’t the only ones to gather new information when we read this story; many of the animal facts were new to me. At the back of the book the author provided more detailed information about the animals and their habitats.  That inspired my students to further research and so we used the Internet on my iPad and found some photographs of the animals.

All this talk of animals reminded Noah of his farm and his pig. He told us the pig made a huge nest of hay, just like a chicken nest, only bigger. Noah figures his pig learned the technique from the chickens because they live together. Nests brought the conversation back to eggs and that brought us back to Easter. His chickens, it seems, lay extra eggs on the holiday. I haven’t been to Noah’s house so I can’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. After all, Easter is a time full of new life and new hope. That hope obviously extends to Noah’s chicken yard.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Infinity and Me – Kids Grapple with the Mind-Boggling

This week I read Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford to a few speech groups. It is beautifully illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska. 
 Infinity and Me

At first I was hesitant to read it to the kindergarteners. I thought they might not be ready for such an abstract concept but I needn’t have worried. Before reading, I asked the kids if they knew what “infinity” meant.  They didn’t. But by the end of the book, they had a pretty good idea.

The story begins,

“The night I got my new red shoes, I couldn’t wait to wear them to school. I was too excited to sleep, so I went outside and sat on the lawn. When I looked up, I shivered. The sky seemed so huge and cold.

How many stars were in the sky? A million? A billion? Maybe the number was as big as infinity.”

Uma, the contemplative child with the new red shoes, grappled with this concept and looked for enlightenment by asking her friends, grandmother, and teachers how they imagined infinity. Her friend Charlie told her infinity is “a giant number that keeps growing bigger and bigger forever.” After hearing from the others, Uma realized something. “It was hard to talk about infinity without talking about ‘forever.’” She started to wonder what she’d like to do forever and came up with a lot of possibilities like having recess forever, staying eight years old forever, or licking an ice-cream cone forever. My students got rather excited about some of those possibilities and added a few of their own.

When I asked the kids what they thought about infinity, Liam said, “If you ate infinity potatoes, you would get bigger and bigger forever.”

Enrique said, “Infinity minutes is a long, long, long, long, long time.”

Joden wanted to know, “What’s infinity plus infinity?” (I’ll have to consult a mathematician on that one.)  

Zayd asked, “Does Googol come before infinity?” And to think I was worried about introducing this complex concept to my students!

Toward the end of the story, when Uma spoke of her grandmother she said,

            “Right then I knew – my love for her was as big as . . .”

I didn’t need to finish the sentence. The kids finished it for me.

Afterward, Liam said, “Do you know how big LOVE is? It’s as big as this.” He spread his arms out in front of him, edging them wider and wider, until he reached around his back and clasped his hands together, leaving all of infinity outside his circled body, snug in a cocoon of unending love. Liam has great insight for a five-year-old. Actually, I’d say he has great insight for one of any age. He is beginning to grasp the concept of infinity and something more besides.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Goldilocks and the Common Core Standards

I was talking with our school librarian the other day to find out her current favorites in children’s books. She was very enthusiastic about a new book purchased by our parents’ club, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems. I can see why. It’s hilarious! She generously loaned me the book and I had a great time reading it to my students. The kids enjoyed it too.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
The story begins,

“Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.
            One day for no particular reason, the three Dinosaurs made up their beds, positioned their chairs just so and cooked three bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at varying temperatures.”

The three Dinosaurs decided to take a walk and when Mama Dinosaur laughed, “Hey hey, hey . . .” and said, “I sure hope no innocent little succulent child happens by our unlocked home . . .” we stopped right there and had a mini vocabulary lesson. After they understood the word “succulent” we moved on to inferences, such as, what did Mama Dinosaur really mean when she said she hoped a child wouldn’t happen by? A couple of pages later when the narrator said the dinosaurs “were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by.” The second-graders laughed. They weren’t surprised to turn the page and see dinosaurs peeking around trees in the forest.

My students enjoyed retelling this tale so it was easy to work on the second Common Core Reading Standard for Literature where students are expected to

“Retell stories, including key details . . .”

And it was especially fun to work on the ninth Reading Standard for Literature where the second graders are asked to,

“Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g. Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures.”

They had a great time comparing this story to the more traditional one.

When discussing this tale, one of my second graders thought there were lessons to be learned other than those covered by the standards. Noah thinks if you are going for a walk in the woods “you might want to listen for really strange noises and if you hear something that sounds like an evil laugh – go away!” That sounds like good advice to me. I asked my students if they had any other advice for readers of this blog and they all agreed, “If you haven’t read this book, you should.” I couldn’t agree more.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

World-Wide Reading: Across America and Beyond

This was a busy book week at Redwood. We celebrated Read Across America on Monday with volunteer readers from around our community. In Marcia Douglas’ class, a high school student came to read Green Eggs and Ham to her kindergarteners. The kids decided to ham it up when I took their picture.

Marcia had a creative activity lined up to accompany the story. She introduced the students to the art of making green smoothies. 

They took their jobs seriously as they chopped the fruit and kale leaves for this creation. 

Speaking of chopping greens, Yoyo had a similar task in the original folktale, The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck. 

In this wonderful tale, set in Camaroon, Yoyo had to slice bitterleaf (a leafy green vegetable) “thin as a whisper” to make her first bitterleaf stew. She was impatient and ignored her mother’s instructions because; “people just chew everything up anyway.” So she didn’t bother slicing, grinding or measuring the ingredients. When she showed her mother the creation, Mama Cecile gasped. My students grimaced at the clumpy, dripping greens in this fabulous illustration. Yoyo hid her stew in the market basket and several students cried, “oh no.” Others started laughing. They were sure there was trouble ahead and they were right.

The striking illustrations in this book inspired my second grade students to try some of their own.

I read this book to several speech groups and a first grade class in celebration of World Read Aloud Day. It was the perfect choice for March 6th, a day celebrating the power of words across the world. After reading the story, we looked at Cameroon on an African map in the back of the book. Then we went online to find out more information about the author.

Jim Averbeck brings personal experience to this story. He was a Peace Core volunteer in Cameroon for four years. On his website, he shared some interesting facts and I passed on one to the kids. When Mr. Averbeck was in Cameroon, he ate crocodile, boa constrictor, and fried termites! That created quite a stir with my students. They loved the drawing on his website, depicting his Cameroon diet and they tried their own rendition. Take a look at one:

I haven’t shared this book with Ms. Douglas’ class. If I do, I’m curious what sort of cooking project it might inspire. Fortunately, there is a recipe in the back of the book for bitterleaf stew and it sounds almost as good as the green smoothie I had with that generous kindergartener group.