Monday, March 29, 2010


By Heather Lynn Miller
Publisher Charlesbridge
ISBN: 978-1-58089-111-0

Pay the fare.
Turn the gate—
Take a subway ride.

People rush.
Music blares.
Doors slide shut.
The train roars down the track.

A wondrous trip through the world’s subway stations brings five children together, showing how travel through different cultures creates community.

KATE’S TAKE: Celebrate transportation and multiculturalism with Heather Lynn Miller’s Subway Ride.

MOVE AND GROOVE (Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal)

Take your class outside or to the gym. Form a train. Have the engine pick a movement such as skipping, hopping, or galloping and ask the rest of the class to follow him. Keep changing leaders until everyone has had a chance to be the engine. Play train music in the background such as Dan Zanes’s “Catch That Train.”

RHYME AND MATCH (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Draw two train cars on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper. Make ten copies. Then, write one word from the story in the top car and its rhyming pair in the other car. Pass out one train car to each child and ask them to pair up with their rhyming partner. Follow up with a worksheet that has the rhyming pairs separated in two columns and ask them to draw a line to the word that rhymes with the word in the other column.

SIGHT WORD SEARCH (Verbal/Linguistic)

Miller’s text repeats these sight words often: we, our, up, and down. Type out the short text and list the four sight words at the top of the page. Ask each student to circle all of those sight words on her page. Then give students another page that has the text without the sight words. Ask them to write in the missing words.

TICKETS FOR SALE (Logical/Mathematical)

Miller’s book takes readers to ten different subway stations throughout the world. Ask ten of your students to be ticket sellers and the other ten pretend to be customers. Both customers and vendors will need pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Ask each student to go to one vendor to buy a ticket. You can have the tickets be different amounts so that each child is buying or selling a ticket at his or her math level. After the ten students have bought their tickets, ask them to find a train seat on the rug. Extend the math by adding up the cost of the tickets in each row and on the whole train. Then have the sellers become the buyers and visa-versa and repeat.

WE RIDE CLASS BOOK (Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)

Celebrate your classroom community with a class book. Give each child an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of white paper with the following sentence on the bottom: We ride past __________ home on __________ _________. Have the children write their name in the first blank and their street name on the second and third blank. If you have a homeless child, he or she could pick a street where they would like to live and draw their dream home. Compile the pages in a 3-ring binder and send home with each student.


-All Aboard! by Mary Lyn Ray
-Freight Train by Donald Crews
-I Love Trains! by Philemon Sturges
-Puzzle Train by Susannah Leigh
-Shortcut by Donald Crews

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Interview with INTO THE DEEP author, David Sheldon

KN: William Beebe explored many different habitats and discovered many animal species. Please tell us about a time you visited one of these habitats and/or observed one of these animals.

DS: As a kid, I was very fond of exploring the habitat down the street... our neighborhood forest, in Maryland. It was an enchanting world to me and still is. I used to love exploring it, scrambling around the creek boulders, looking for anything I could find. There was an enormous crayfish under one moss-covered boulder, overhanging the water, that became kind of a legend with my friends and I. We would rustle the fellow out with a long tree branch to have a look – he looked as big as a lobster to us.

Another time, all by myself, I got down on my hands and knees and explored deep under some bushes at the edge of the forest. I came upon a dead red fox. I don’t know how long it had been there, but it was beautiful to me. I felt honored to have encountered it, hidden away as it was. I felt part of the secret world of animals – if only for a moment.

Regarding the ocean: One time I was camping on the southern tip of Italy. My friend and I were amazed by the sheer rock cliffs that jutted out along the shore of Mediterranean Sea. We went into town and purchased a simple mask and snorkel. I went in first. There were beautiful sea anemones and corals covering the rocks along the shore. Pitch-black sea urchins with sharp needles were everywhere. You had to be careful-as getting one of those needles in your foot was very painful. I already had a few lodged in mine. I got to the edge of the rocks and dove in.

I was awestruck. Turns out, the cliffs jutting out, were just the “tip of the iceberg” - underwater, I saw that they went way down deep into the murky abyss. Several large fish swam lazily just below me. I’m not sure what type of fish they were, but they were quite large. I scrambled out of the water, letting out a huge yelp of glee. My friend thought something was wrong – but I was just overwhelmed with the thrill of what I had just seen. I’ve snorkeled whenever I’ve gotten the chance and always get the same rush of excitement.

One time off the island of Hawaii, I followed a sea turtle until it started heading out into open ocean and I got the jitters just looking at that deep water. Someday I’ll go scuba diving!

KN: You came across the Bathysphere at the Coney Island Aquarium. Have museums, aquariums, and zoos inspired your work in other ways?

DS: Living just outside of Washington, D.C. as a kid, my father used to take us down to visit the Smithsonian museums. Those museums became like a second home to me. Imagine living at the Smithsonian! I was amazed by everything, the dioramas showing animals in their natural habitats, the dinosaurs, the amazing gems, rocks and meteorites, the great blue whale and other ocean creatures – on and on. Washington has a great zoo and aquarium as well. And nothing excited me more than going to those places. I still go and take my kids.

When we lived in NYC, it was regular trips to the Natural History Museum, the Coney Island Aquarium and Bronx Zoo.

Now that we live in the mountains of western North Carolina, we’re surrounded by Nature. So Nature, whether its through a museum or just the bird outside my window at the bird feeder, is always a source of inspiration for me.

KN: Did you write and illustrate the story simultaneously, or did you do one before the other?

DS: I tend to work simultaneously, as the images and words help each other along. A lot of times, the image of a particular scene comes to me as I’m doing my research. So I’ll build up a whole library in my head of different compelling scenes.

As a kid I was always wanting to be captivated by books – picture books in particular, but sometimes a book might have too many words or be boring visually. A lot of science books had wonderful pictures, but there were too many hard words for me to read. Now, when I make a book I remember all that. So I keep the words just enough for a young picture-book reader to enjoy and also understand clearly the subject matter. And I want them to feel like they’ve been on an adventure themselves by the time they get to the final page. So I try to go “all out” with colors and details to really give the young reader an “amazing journey”.

KN: Which of William Beebe’s books did you enjoy the most and why?

DS: I really enjoyed reading “The Arcturus Adventure” - all about his exploration of the Galapagos islands. Beebe had a wonderful way with words and expressing his thoughts on Nature. I felt right there with him as he tried helmet diving for the first time, witnessing the extraordinary colors of the myriad fish and the strange forms of the invertebrates. I can understand how the experience changed his life, making him want to explore the ocean from that moment on.

KN: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

DS: I always tell kids, when I visit schools, that you don’t have to go to exotic places to find the wonders of Nature. Whether you’re living in a big city, the suburbs, or out in the country, there’s always something amazing to be found, maybe right at your feet, or just around the corner, or up over your head. Be on the look-out – Nature’s full of surprises.

I remember one night, waiting in line at a suburban movie theater, something caught my eye. I walked over to one of the columns of the movie theater colonnade. On the other side of the column was a huge, beautiful Cecropia moth, pulsating with life. I’d never seen one before and I’ll never forget it.

KN: Thanks for the interview.

DS: Thank you, Kate!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


By David Sheldon
Publisher: Charlesbridge
ISBN: 978-1-58089-341-1

FROM THE FLAP: “To be a naturalist is better than to be a king.”
—William Beebe’s journal, December 31, 1893

Pioneer in the field of ecology, father of deep sea exploration, and avid conservationist, William Beebe was a modern-day celebrity during the Great Depression—a time when Americans needed a ray of hope. His childhood love of nature spurred him to explore jungles and to brave ocean depths. Wanting to venture deeper into the ocean, Beebe and his business partner, Otis Barton, invented the Bathysphere. Through it all Beebe urged scientists and explorers to discover the world around them.

David Sheldon uses his artistic magic to transport readers to the lush jungles of South America, the volcanic highlands of Colima, Mexico, and the mysterious depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Exotic birds fly off the page and bioluminescent creatures swim into focus, much as they did when Beebe first discovered them.

KATE’S TAKE: It’s spring! Get out there and explore like naturalist, William Beebe!

CONSERVATION CLASS (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

As a class, research three different conservation organizations. Then, come up with interview questions for a representative of each organization. E-mail the questions to the organization. After the class receives and studies the answers, vote on which organization to support and make a donation.

DEEP SEASCAPES (Visual/Spatial)

Will and Otis Barton used the Bathysphere to explore the deep sea. On black paper, have students use glow in the dark paint to create a deep sea scene. If you don’t have access to glow in the dark paint, add white to your paints. The contrast of the lighter colors gives them a glowing appearance on black paper.

GUESS WHO? (Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, and Interpersonal)

Beebe explored various habitats. Have each student choose an animal from one of the habitats in the book. Then, ask them to write a riddle about the animal using this format:

I live in the ____________. (habitat)
I am __________. (color adjective)
I am __________. (size adjective)
I am a __________. (mammal, insect, or reptile0
Who am I?

Beneath the riddle, have them draw a picture of their animal. Then, tape a flap on top of the picture. Have each child present his or her riddle and ask the other students to guess what it is.

ROPE CLIMB (Kinesthetic)

William Beebe used rope to scale trees in the jungle. In the gymnasium, have students try to scale the climbing rope.

YOUNG EXPLORERS (Verbal/Linguistic and Visual/Spatial)

If you could explore anywhere in the world, where would you go and how would you get there? Write a story about where you would go and explain your choice. Design a vehicle on paper, like Beebe and Otis did, to take you there.


-A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart by David A. Adler
-Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest by Steve Jenkins
-Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon by Jeannine Atkins
-Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
-The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jackie Davies

Sunday, March 14, 2010


By Rose Kent
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books
ISBN: 978-0-375-86344-8

FROM THE FLAP: Ice cream warms the heart, no matter what the weather.

That’s the Dobson’s family motto. Whenever things get tough, they break out the special heart-shaped bowls to make sundaes. And the road has been especially rocky lately for Tess and her deaf little brother, Jordan. Their plucky Texan mother talks big, but her get-rich-quick business schemes have only landed them in some serious financial hot water.

Ma’s newest idea is drastic. She abruptly moves the family to snowy Schenectady, New York, where she will use the last of their savings to open her dream business: an ice cream shop. (Too bad the only place she could find an apartment is in a senior citizen’s complex.) Tess wants to be excited about this plan, but life in Schenectady is full of new worries. Who will buy ice cream in their shop’s run-down neighborhood? What will happen when their money runs out? Worst of all is Ma herself—she’s famous for her boundless energy and grandiose ideas, but only Tess and Jordan know about the dark days when she crashes and can’t get out of bed. And Tess can’t seem to find the right words to talk to Ma about it at all.

This moving story of family, community, and ice cream proves that with a little help from the people around us, life really can be sweet—and a little nutty—just like Rocky Road.

ASL SENTENCES (Interpersonal and Bodily/Kinesthetic)

Jordan needs to use ASL to communicate with everyone around him. Go to this link and ask students to learn how to sign a simple sentence of their choosing. Then, have each student sign their sentence and have the rest of the class guess what they’re signing.

BUDGET BLUES (Logical/Mathematical)

Tess’s mom has financial woes. Give students a hypothetical monthly salary, and ask them to develop a feasible budget that provides for food and shelter.

CLASS QUILT (Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Logical/Mathematical and Visual/Spatial)

Craft a quilt like Tess. Have each student design a quilt square on a piece of paper. Then have students measure the cloth and cut out their squares. Each square could reflect the hobbies of each student like Tess’s quilt reflected Winnie’s hobby, or have each square reflect a piece of your town’s history. Ask a crafty student or parent to piece the quilt together.

INTERESTING INTERVIEWS (Interpersonal and Verbal/Linguistic)

At first Tess is upset about living in a senior citizen complex, but then she gets to know the seniors as individuals, and they become her friends. Ask students to interview a senior citizen. Have them turn in their interview questions ahead of time, and record their interview.

MOTOWN MUSIC (Musical, Interpersonal, and Verbal/Linguistic)

Winnie, Tess’s friend, has a band called The Salty Old Dogs. They specialize in Motown Music. Pick a song and perform it in front of the class, or write a report on a Motwon musician/band.


-A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
-Eggs by Jerry Spinelli
-The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
-Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
-Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Interview with UNDER THE SNOW author, Melissa Stewart

KN: You did a fantastic job of including a wide variety of animals in all four of the habitats. You’ve been exploring nature for most of your life. Would you please describe an encounter or a real-life observation you’ve had with one of these animals?

MS: At a recent school visit, a boy raised his hand as I was discussing the page that shows red-spotted newts swimming just below the icy surface of a pond. “That’s a magic picture!” he exclaimed. It turns out at that school, teachers uses the term “magic picture” to describe a book illustration that also appears on the cover. I love that.

I told the students, for me, the newt image was a magic picture for another reason. They are the little critters that inspired the book. A few years ago, as I was hiking on a winter day, I saw newts swimming below the ice. They looked just like Constance Bergum’s beautiful illustration. Those real-life newts made me curious. I started wondering what other creatures do under the snow all winter long. How any of them stay active. I did some research to find out, and eventually, my findings developed into Under the Snow.

KN: How does a wood frog freeze solid and still survive?

MS: Incredible isn’t it. For a great explanation, check out this video: Please note, the last couple of seconds may not be appropriate for all young viewers.

Believe it or not, wood frogs aren’t the only critters that freeze in the winter. Check out Bugs and Bugsicles by Amy S. Hansen (Boyds Mills Press, 2010). You’ll love this book, and so will your students.

KN: When teachers instruct writing, they talk about the importance of word choice. UNDER THE SNOW has many strong verbs such as dodge, dart, whiz, and whirl. How do you choose the best words for your stories?

MS: I really wanted the text for Under the Snow to be lyrical and one of the ways to achieve that is through careful word choice, including the strong, active verbs you’ve mentioned. Studies have shown that certain sounds and combinations of sounds are particularly pleasing to the human auditory system. That’s why a writer’s tool box includes devices like alliteration, repetition, and the occasional rhyme.

When it comes to word choice, one of the most talented science writers for kids in April Pulley Sayre. The text of books like Vulture View and Home at Last is truly magical. I think all students—and all writing teachers—should read and study her books closely.

Writing lyrical text takes a lot of time and effort and trial and error. I have heard Newbery-medalist Linda Sue Park say that writers shouldn’t be afraid to play. They should experiment, try writing the same scene or passage a few different ways. Then see which one works best. I agree with her.

For me, writing a lyrical picture book is what award-winning nature writer Diane Ackerman calls “deep play.” Athletes sometimes call it “being in the zone.” I can get completely lost in the process for hours.

On really good days, I sit down at my computer at 7:00 a.m., when my husband leaves for work. The next thing I know, it’s 2:00 p.m. and I never ate lunch. The reason I was pulled out of “the zone” is because my stomach is growling. These days don’t happen very often, so I treasure them when they do.

KN: Just like the animals and the children in your story, we’re getting ready for spring in New England. What will you do outside to celebrate spring’s arrival?

MS: My husband and I go hiking just about every weekend. One of the things I like the most about living in New England is seeing the seasonal changes in the natural world. Sometimes they happen so, so slowly. Sometimes they seem to catapult out of control.

My husband says it’s spring on March 1. But for me, spring doesn’t really start until I see the trees leaf out. That usually happens in mid to late April.

KN: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

MS: Kate, I really think this blog is a fantastic resource for educators. You always come up with creative, practical activities to accompany the books you feature. I feel privileged to be included. Thanks for all your hard work.

KN: Thanks Melissa! I feel the same way about your blog Celebrate Science and your books. Our principal, Sean O'Shea, has been posting blurbs from a study which demonstrated that it is more difficult for children to comprehend and analyze non-fiction texts than fiction texts. Your books are accessible, entertaining, and provide great information for your readers. Thanks again for the interview.