Sunday, January 31, 2010


By Bob Crelin
Publisher: Charlesbridge
ISBN: 978-1-57091-785-1

FROM THE FLAP: Do you wonder, when you see the Moon, at dusk, or dawn, or midday noon, just why her face is curved or round, or why she sometimes can’t be found?

From night to night the Moon seems to change. She grows or shrinks, or sometimes even disappears. What causes this transformation? The answer is as simple as the play of light and shadow, and as grand as the dance of the Earth and Moon in space. Open this book, turn the pages, and watch the Moon change.

KATE’S TAKE: If your science standards require you to teach the lunar phases, don’t miss this book!


Write a report on one of the astronauts who reached the moon.

LUNAR PHASES: (Visual/Spatial and Kinesthetic)

Set a lamp up on a stage and remove the lampshade. Divide the class in half and give each of the students in one half of the class an orange. Have them hold the orange out in front of them and rotate their bodies until the orange’s surface is completely shadowed (new moon). Then ask them to slowly rotate. This will allow them to see all of the lunar phases on their orange.

MOON MATH: (Logical/Mathematical)

Find out how far away the moon is from the earth. Calculate how long it would take to get there using common modes of transportation such as cars and airplanes. Calculate the average speed of space shuttles based on how long it takes them to fly from the Earth to the Moon.

MOON PAINTINGS: (Visual/Spatial and Verbal/Linguistic)
Assign students a lunar phase. Give them contact paper and ask them to trace and cut out that shape. Place the cut-out on a 8.5 by 11(landscape format) piece of white paper. Draw a landscape with oil crayons. Paint over the landscape and the horizon with water paints. After the paint dries, remove the contact paper. Ask students to label the painting with the appropriate lunar phase stanza from the book. Special thanks to Jane Lattimore for this activity.

MOON ROUND ROBIN: (Interpersonal)
Ask students to sit in a circle. Have one student name the first phase of the moon (new moon.). The next student names the next phase of the moon (first quarter). Repeat until you’ve gotten all the way around the circle without any mistakes. Special thanks to Holly Berry for this activity.


-Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone
-Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts by Robert Jacobs
-Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon by Andrew Chaikin
-Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
-The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins by Bea Uusma Schyffert

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Author Interview with Michelle Markel

KN: Thanks so much for joining us. TYRANNOSAURUS MATH is the first math picture book I’ve come across that deals with fifteen different math concepts. I know you started making up dinosaur word problems in the classroom. Did you have all of these word problems made up before you wrote the story, or did you work to incorporate new problems as you wrote the story?

MM: I knew beforehand that I wanted to incorporate many second grade math skills. I made the word problems after researching T-rexes and the Cretaceous Era environment. If you look at detailed pictures in non-fiction books- the plants and animals in this case- it's easy to come up with ideas for math problems.

KN: T-Math seems like a fun guy to be around as long as you’re not a plant-eater. What did you do to make T-Math a well-rounded character?

MM: T-Math wants to use and show off his skills (somewhat obsessively!) , he's competitive with his siblings but loves them, he has desires and frustrations. These are all human qualities. The character developed in the process of writing the story.

KN: In addition to being a great book to use for a math lesson, T-Math has to figure out to rescue his sister which means it’s also useful to illustrate character, problem, and solution. Did you think about other problems and solutions, or did you always know what the main problem and solution would be?

MM: In the original manuscript, the climactic moment came when the main character was threatened by a menacing T-rex. The editor asked me to explore other sources of conflict that would be more appropriate for a younger audience. So I explored dramatic possibilities with sibling rivalry, which was already a part of the narrative.

KN: Have any of your other books originated from your time in the elementary classroom?

MM: I wrote a book called "The Shark That Taught Me English" that is part of a literacy program. The main character is an immigrant girl from Mexico who struggles to learn English. Many of the student's I've worked with over the years have been immigrants from Central America.

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

MM: In writing this book, I learned how easy it is to have FUN with word problems. I've posted several lessons on my blog, The Cat & The Fiddle.
There are lessons using holidays, fantasy, and history. I'd love to see what your students or children come up with!

KN: Thank you for the interview.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


By D. Dina Friedman
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-0258-4

FROM THE FLAP: Halina Rudowski is on the run. When the Polish ghetto where she lives is evacuated, she narrowly escapes, but her mother is not as lucky. Along with her friend Batya, Halina makes her way to a secret encampment in the woods where the Jews survive by living underground. As the group struggles for food, handles infighting, and attempts to protect themselves from the advancing Germans, Halina must face the reality of life without her mother.

Based on historical events, this gripping tale sheds light on a little-known aspect of the Holocaust: the underground forest encampments that saved several thousand Jews from the Nazis. In telling the story of one girl’s survival, Escaping into the Night marks the arrival of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

KATE’S TAKE: If you teach the Holocaust, don’t miss this book.

CHARACTER CONNECTION: (Verbal/Linguistic and Intrapersonal) Heroic characters fill this book from start to finish. Ask students to write a five paragraph essay about the character they most resemble and to support it with details from the text.

MUSIC MATTERS:(Musical)Music kept Halina’s hope alive. In groups, ask students to research Jewish music. Give them a choice or writing a report about a Jewish magician or singing or playing a piece of music. This website is a great place to start researching:

STONE SORT: (Naturalist) Halina has a lucky rock, and she collects and sorts rocks throughout the book. If possible, take a walk outside and gather rocks. If not, bring in rocks for the class to sort. Ask students to sort them into three categories: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. If there’s time, have them name each rock using the charts from this site as a guide:

SWAMP CROSS: (Kinesthetic/Interpersonal) Halina and her friends have to cross through the swamp to escape the German soldiers. Using a rope, they each link themselves to another person in their party to make sure they don’t sink into the mud. Break the class into groups of five students and give each group three hula hoops and a long piece of rope. Tell them they need to get from one point to another, cross the swamp, by stepping into the hula hoops. They must always hold onto the rope as they pick up the hula hoops and pass them forward. Hula hoops may not be dragged on the floor, they may only be lifted. If someone steps onto the floor outside of the hula hoop, the group must go back to the start line. Special thanks to Matt Ettinger for this activity.


Ask students to build ziemlanka, forest shelter, dioramas. Make sure to camouflage the outside of the box just as the Jewish forest encampments camouflaged their ziemlankas.


-Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
-Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev
-Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo
-The Seamstress by Sara Tuvel Bernstein
-The World Centre for Jewish Music in Palestine, 1936-1940: Jewish Musical Life on the Eve of World War II by Philip V. Bohlman

Sunday, January 17, 2010


By Michelle Markel
Publisher: Tricycle Press
ISBN-13: 978-1582462820

FROM THE FLAP: Who can add an entire herd of triceratops, multiply the legs of a group of ankylosaurs, and estimate the distance to the next tasty meal? TYRANNOSAURUS MATH!

He’s a number-crunching dinosaur who chews on math problems as easily as he thunders through the trees. When his little sister is in terrible danger, T-Math even saves the day by using his measurable math skills. Is there anything he can’t figure?


The CD A T-REX NAMED SUE has many fun fact-filled songs about dinosaurs. One of the songs even includes dance moves.

LEAF SYMMETRY (Naturalist, Visual/Spatial)

Have students do leaf rubbings and cut them out. Then ask students to fold the leaf in half on the line of symmetry.

MATH NUMBER STORIES (Logical/Mathematical, Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial)

Ask students to write and illustrate one of their own math number stories just as author Michelle Markel does throughout her marvelous book.

NATURALIST ARRAYS (Naturalist, Visual/Spatial, Logical/Mathematical)

Take a walk outside and ask students to collect leaves and rocks. In the classroom, have them arrange their objects into different types of arrays.

HALLWAY ESTIMATES (Logical/Mathematical and Kinesthetic)

Have students measure their feet. Then ask students to estimate how many steps (heel-to-toe) that they’ll have to take to reach the end of the hallway. Challenge them to stay on one column of floor tiles from the beginning of the hallway to the end.


-A Dinosaur Named Sue: The Find Of The Century by Fay Robinson
-Dinosaur Deals (MathStart 3) by Stuart J. Murphy
-How Big Is A Foot by Rolf Myller
-The Grapes Of Math by Greg Tang
-Zero Is The Leaves On A Tree by Betsy Franco

Sunday, January 10, 2010


By Phillip Hoose
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
ISBN-13: 978-0-374-31322-7

FROM THE FLAP: “When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You just have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’”- Claudette Colvin

On March 2, 1955, a slim, bespectacled teenager refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Shouting “It’s my constitutional right!” as police dragged her off to jail. Claudette Colvin decided she’d had enough of the Jim Crow segregation laws that had angered her and puzzled her since she was a young child.

But instead of being celebrated, as Rosa Parks would be when she took the same stand nine months later, Claudette found herself shunned by many of her classmates and dismissed as an unfit role model by the black leaders of Montgomery. Undaunted, she put her life in danger a year later when she dared to challenge segregation yet again, as one of four plaintiffs in the landmark busing case Browder vs. Gayle.

Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of a major, yet little-known, civil rights figure whose story provides a fresh perspective on the Montgomery bus protest of 1955-56. Historic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks play important roles, but center stage belongs to the brave girl whose two acts of courage were to affect the course of American history.

BALANCED BUDGET (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Claudette Colvin stood up for a cause. Research your state’s financial budget. Write a letter to your state governor expressing your support for a line item or criticizing an area that lacks funding.


The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days. If you had to walk to and from school for 381 days, how many miles would you walk? How about if you only had to walk to school for an academic year, 180 days, how many miles would you walk?

CHARITY WALK (Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

As a class research three charities. Interview someone from each charity and vote on which one the class would like to support. Organize a school walk to support that charity.

FAMILY MEMBER TIMELINE (Visual/Spatial, Interpersonal, Verbal/Linguistic)

Interview a family member about his or her life. Make a timeline of his or her life that includes at least eight facts. Use photographs to highlight the events of his or her life.


Create a diorama of one of the historical scenes in the book. Write a short summary of the scene to top off your diorama.


-Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge
-Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
-The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon
-The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
-We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History by Phillip Hoose

Friday, January 8, 2010

Interview with Loren Long

KN: Thanks so much for letting me interview you. I love the fact that the main character of this book, Otis, is a tractor. On your website there’s a great video of you riding a tractor. As a child, did you have a special attachment to a tractor or long to read a book about a tractor?

LL: Of course as a little boy, anything that has wheels and moves is attractive...tricycle, bicycle, skateboard, roller skates, motorcycle, go cart, cars, trucks, planes and yes... tractors. I've always liked tractors...especially the old ones that just seem like a large farm animal in a way. A tractor's shape is different than a truck or a car. It is slim and other than it's wheels, it stands there like a metal horse. And I like to think of them as dinosaurs roaming the farm. Ancient in a way (at least the old ones) but these "dinosaurs" have never really become extinct. A great number of the old tractors are still useful to the farmer and still have a place as a viable farm implement. I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky surrounded by beautiful horse farms. I never lived on a farm but I worked on a horse farm during the summers while going to college in Lexington and the University of Kentucky. It was then while working on the horse farm as a college kid, that I got to drive a tractor for the first time. And it was one of the old ones that they just used to pull wagons from here to there or to pull a wagon while we were bailing hay.

Certainly, all of the above, inspired and informed my interest in creating Otis.

KN: The primary colors pop out of the monochromatic background. Why did you choose red for Otis instead of yellow or blue?

LL: I ended up using red for Otis after experimenting with a combination of many other colors. I don't always go to this extreme while planning my artwork, but for a character like Otis, I knew his colors would be very important to his overall personality. I tried a lot of colors that I felt had a vintage a light pale blue or a light aquamarine bluish green color. I tried all cream and all red and then I thought the two toned solution looked neat (sometimes it comes down to what simply looks "neat"). I wanted Otis to have an identity all his own so I tried to keep him different and unique from tractors of today.

KN: The tender friendship between Otis and The Little Calf makes this book a joy to read, yet both characters are at different stages in their lives. Is the friendship in the book inspired by a personal relationship?

LL: I wanted to focus on that tender friendship between the two characters but did not specifically attempt to make a statement about age or even gender. The theme of age is apparent as Otis gets replaced by a newer, larger tractor. Otis proves his value in many different ways...not only as a worker on the farm but as a valued friend to the farm in general and especially to that little calf, who does not care if Otis is a tractor or a different species of any kind. Otis is a warm, unassuming friend.

KN: The whimsical scenes of Otis and The Little Calf are not only fun, they foreshadow the solution to the problem. Did you know from the beginning how Otis would solve the problem or did the solution become obvious as the story moved along?

LL: Thanks, those scenes are certainly meant for fun. And they also help to establish the friendship and bond between Otis and the little calf. And yes, they set up the unique way Otis saves the day. I did not know how Otis would solve the problem until I got into writing the story and it became evident to me that I needed that unique solution to set Otis apart as the hero. It was at that point, that I added the "ring-around-the rosie" game.

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

LL: I'd like everyone to notice that Otis is a friendly tractor to everyone. He likes to play...but he also likes to work!

KN: Thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it.

LL: Thank you. All the best.

KN: Teachers check out Loren Long’s website at for great OTIS worksheets.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


By Loren Long
Publisher: Philomel Books

FROM THE FLAP: Otis is a special tractor. He loves his farm and farmer. He particularly loves the little calf in the next stall, whom he purrs to sleep with his soft motor. The two become great friends, romping in the fields, leaping bales of hay and playing ring-around-the rosy by Mud Pond.

But when the big yellow tractor comes to the farm and replaces Otis, he is cast away to rust behind the barn until the little calf gets stuck in Mud Pond. Then there is only one tractor(and it’s not big or yellow) who saves the day. It’s little Otis!

Artist Loren Long has created an unforgettable story and a truly unforgettable character.

CHARACTER SEQUENCE (Verbal/Linguistic)

Assign students the character roles of Otis, the little calf, the farmhands, the yellow tractor, the fire chief, and the fire truck. It is helpful if you have signs with a picture of each character to give to the students. Ask the students to tell you what little calf’s problem is. Have the little calf stand in the "mud." Ask who came first to help the calf? Then, have the farmhands stand next to the calf. Repeat the activity until you reach Otis. If you repeat the activity once or twice, every student will get at least one turn.

MIRROR MOVEMENT (Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

This activity builds student confidence, strengthens community, and helps get rid of the jitters. Better yet you can do it during transition time. The little calf mirrors Otis’s movements. Ask one of your students to pretend to be Otis. This student will move a part of his or her body and all of the other students will mirror his or her movement. Switch leaders often.


Loren Long highlights his personified character by juxtaposing primary colors with a monochromatic background. Give students brown, black, or gray construction paper and white chalk. Ask the children to draw a landscape with white chalk. Then, they can choose a primary chalk color and personify a vehicle. Check out the Book Buddies section for more books with personified vehicles.

ROPE TUG MATH (Logical/Mathematical)

Gather students on the rug and give each student a whiteboard or clipboard to record addition problems. Tie a long rope onto a large object and tell the kids to pretend the object is the calf. Have a small number of students/farmhands come and hold the rope. Then ask more students to come and hold the rope. How many students tried to pull the calf out of Mud Pond? If you’re working on subtraction, start with the larger number or students and have some of them leave the scene.


Check out the book John Deere: Crazy About Tractors Songs and sing them with your class. This url lets you listen to song previews:


-John Deere: Crazy About Tractors Songs by John Deere
-Dinotrux by Chris Gall
-I’m Dirty by Kate and Jim McMullan
-I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullan
-The Three Little Rigs by David Gordon