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Nonfiction Monday is here in PracticallyParadise

  • Posted on June 9, 2013 at 11:34 PM

nonfiction.mondayIt’s back! Practically Paradise is happy to host Nonfiction Monday June 10, 2013, after a long break from blogging. I had a backlog of books to read and will be sharing those titles with you frequently from now through the summer. Today we have links to posts written by bloggers around the kidlitosphere. If you’d like to add a post, you can submit information on the google docs form or simply post it in the comments below.

Here’s a title that I am excitedly planning for purchasing in the fall with a publication date of  Nov. 1st:Hey charleston!

Hey, Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band by Anne Rockwell (Author) and Colin Bootman (Illustrator). Lerner books, 2013. $16.95 Hardcover, Jacketed. $12.95 eBook. Ages 7–11 HC: 978-0-7613-5565-6 EB: 978-0-7613-8843-2. 32 Pages

I couldn’t wait for this title so reviewed it from NetGalley after reading this description:

What happened when a former slave took beat-up old instruments and gave them to a bunch of orphans? Thousands of futures got a little brighter and a great American art form was born.

In 1891, Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins opened his orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina. He soon had hundreds of children and needed a way to support them. Jenkins asked townspeople to donate old band instruments—some of which had last played in the hands of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. He found teachers to show the kids how to play. Soon the orphanage had a band. And what a band it was.

The Jenkins Orphanage Band caused a sensation on the streets of Charleston. People called the band’s style of music “rag”—a rhythm inspired by the African-American people who lived on the South Carolina and Georgia coast. The children performed as far away as Paris and London, and they earned enough money to support the orphanage that still exists today. They also helped launch the music we now know as jazz.

Hey, Charleston! is the story of the kind man who gave America “some rag” and so much more. If you visit the Lernerbooks.com website, you can download and fold a two-sided bookmark to accompany this book.

Since I live in Nashville, Tennessee, which is the home of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, stories about the effect music has on children’s lives means a great deal to me. This historical description of the beginning of jazz is interesting musically, but the perseverance of Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins is what cries out the most. The illustrations are filled with energy and movement. The dancers inspire movement. Be prepared to play some rag and dance the Charleston to fully engage with your story time listeners. This is a great pick and I cannot wait to share the print version with my students.

Talk up Nonfiction Monday

  • Posted on October 29, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Nonfiction Monday is here in PracticallyParadise and I hope it’s something everyone will be talking about today and tomorrow. Please submit your links using the Google form here, by emailing me, or by leaving a comment. I’ll check in throughout the day and we’ll build an excellent post together. For now, let me share two of the titles I had to “talk about” during our presentation on Sprouting Readers Through STEM. Both focus on birds and how they communicate, but there are differences

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird by Stephanie Spinner. Illustrated by Meilo So. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. ISBN 978-0-375-86846-7 A Junior Library Guild selection and excellent true story of Irene Pepperberg’s work with an African grey parrot named Alex – short for Avian Learning Experiment.

Author Stephanie Spinner (who I have enjoyed since her fiction series with Jonathan Etra Aliens for Breakfast) creates this narrative nonfiction tribute to researcher Irene Pepperberg and her parrot Alex. She includes a note thanking the brilliant work of people like Roger Fouts; Francine Patterson; and Irene Pepperberg, Cynthia Moss, Temple Grandin, and countless others. Scientists, researchers, and those amazing people who can communicate better with animals help all of us open our eyes to the possibilities of closer relationships with our pets and animals in the wild.

Meilo So’s illustrations dazzle through the use of color ink, watercolor, gouache and colored pencils. Alex and Griffin, African grey parrots, are drawn so expressively that each illustration speaks to us. Still, the text is what sold me on this true story. I could not resist reading this completely through every time I opened the cover. Do I show my age when I think about Irene Pepperberg going into a pet store to purchase Alex in 1977 when I was still in elementary school? To think of the knowledge we have gained about animal communication during my life-time is amazing! Through the combined efforts of Stephanie Spinner and Meilo So, Alex speaks to the reader. His personality, his quirks, his larger-than-life story are all conveyes through a symbiotic relationship of text and picture.

I will be sharing Alex the Parrot with my third and fourth grade students to give them a glimpse of the life of scientists and researchers who devote years to their studies. Often the experiments we perform with students provide nearly instant results. Television shows like CSI and NCIS solve their scientific puzzles within an hour. Yet, the reality is science takes time to develop theories and test for results. Alex the Parrot is one of my favorite titles this year and goes very well with the next title I share.

Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why by Lita Judge. Roaring Brook Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-59643-646-6.  The author’s note at the back of this book starts:

I’ve always been fascinated by bird talk. Even as a little girl, I liked to walk in the woods and hoot until an owl hooted back. As I watched birds, I asked myself, What do their calls and songs mean? When scientists watch birds, they ask the same question. They observe bird behavior to find the meaning to their calls, songs, and other forms of interaction. 

Author Lita Jude’s grandparents were ornithologists or scientists who studied birds. Lita’s love of birds and lifetime of observing them shows in her choice of birds and simple, lyrical descriptions. Bird Talk is an example of well-researched  and beautifully illustrated nonfiction. There is a beauty in the balance of white space, multicolored text, and soft joyfully inspiring illustrations of birds. Each bird is grouped according to purpose of communication and then identified in the back with 2-3 sentence descriptions, habitat and range. I was pleased to see Alex the parrot included and Irene Pepperberg’s book listed as one of the references.

One aspect of Bird Talk that appeals to me the most is how the double-page spreads alternate between an illustration of one type of bird and a simple statement or question with pages listing three examples and a paragraph each of explanation. This enables me to share Bird Talk with a wider range of students. Will this help inspire future bird-watchers and ornithologists? Absolutely.

Check out these excellent nonfiction blog posts. They are definitely worth talking about.

* The Nonfiction Detectives share Seymour Simon’s Extreme Earth Records on the Nonfiction Detectives blog. http://www.nonfictiondetectives.com/2012/10/seymour-simons-extreme-earth-records.html I can think of wonderful STEM and Common Core State Standards connections already. 

 * Abby Johnson shares Zombie Makers on the blog Abby the Librarianhttp://www.abbythelibrarian.com/2012/10/zombie-makers.htm Just in time for Halloween, Abby has a review of a super nonfiction title! I can’t wait to get my hands on this title after reading her review. 

*  Tara at A Teaching Life shares a wonderful new book about the history of Tuberculosis in Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the never-ending search for a cure.   Jim Murphy’s nonfiction is a sure winner. 

 * Alicia at The LibrariYAn blog shares Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, a great biography of a woman who has overcome many challenges to become a highly successful entrepreneur and advocate for individuals on the autism spectrum. Temple Grandin was recognized in the books I reviewed today, too! She is amazing. 

* Shirley at SimplyScience shares Busy as a Bee by Thea Feldman. This early reader describes bees and their activities in a fun nonfiction book. We need more early readers as engaging as Busy as a Bee. I appreciate Shirley’s making the connections to the National Science Standards and Common Core.

*  Roberta at Wrapped In Foil shares Infinity and Me. Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford is an exciting and lovely new picture book that makes the difficult abstract concept of infinity accessible to children.  ∞ is an amazing symbol and concept. This title impressed me with the mathematical explanation and the illustrations. Are we thinking Caldecott possibility?

* Lynn Rutan at the Bookends: Booklist Online Youth Blog. Cindy and Lynn are reviewing the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. What a great combination of poetry and the highest quality animal photographs we’ve come to expect from National Geographic. I can understand Lynn’s inability to give up this review title. I have several review copies from National Geographic that I just cannot resist keeping. It’s only when I attend conferences like TASL and get mobbed by desperately-seeking-nonfiction-librarians that they are able to pry them from my hands. 

* Jeanne Walker Harvey features on True tales &  A Cherry On Top Vivaldi’s Four Seasons — a fascinating picture book biography of Antonio Vivaldi. I’m adding this title to my list of musical narrative nonfiction to purchase. Glad to hear there is a CD in the book. Every time students pick up a book with a CD in it, they ask me if it’s “Sposed to be there” and are thrilled when they get to take them home to listen with family. This will be a pleaser. 

A Is For Autumn by Robert Maass is Janet Squire’s contribution with her blog All About the Books with Janet Squire.  Beautiful photographs of fall themed activities in one alphabet book are perfect for this week. Thanks for sharing this. 

* Jennifer at Jean Little Library blog has a series of folktales today from Child’s World and I encourage you to read her reviews. My favorite line from her blog post is “the…moral of the tale? “The Frog King teaches us to speak in a soft voice when playing in a space shared with other people.” Um…ok…that’s right kids, use your library voice or THE CROCODILE WILL EAT YOU.”  I’m still rolling on the floor laughing.

* Amy @ Hope Is the Word reviewed the two newest books by Steve Jenkins:  Just a Second:  A Different Way to Look at Time  and The Beetle Book.  Amy states “The information in both of these books is presented in a kid-friendly way, with lots of details presented visually beside the appropriate illustrations so there are not huge blocks of text to overwhelm the reader.  These are the sorts of books to pore over again and again.”  I have loved every Steve Jenkins’ title I’ve read. I loved The Beetle Book, but I will confess that I wasn’t tempted by Just a Second until I read Amy’s review. Thanks for sharing. 



I would like to encourage all of the participants of Nonfiction Monday to TAKE TIME on TUESDAY to TALK. Leave a comment or message on the blogs mentioned here – even if it’s a simple one-liner. 

Nonfiction Monday is here in Practically Paradise

  • Posted on July 15, 2012 at 12:01 AM


Today Practically Paradise hosts Nonfiction Monday. Since I am working with my teachers and staff for inservice training on project-based learning and integrating nonfiction into our STEM units Mon-Wed, I decided to deploy Mr. Linky to help me out. Be sure to leave your link to your specific blog entry and a comment below. I’ll go back to add more graphics during our breaks throughout the day.

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Practically Paradise celebrates ELECTRICITY today. Can you feel the vibrations in the air? The fourth graders at my school use a science kit to explore electrical circuits. When I unpacked the Heinemann series It’s Electric!, I was buzzed to discover these four titles listed:

  • Using Electricity (received)
  • Making a Circuit (received) 
  • Using Batteries
  • Conductors and Insulators
I was so excited I would have jumped up and led the Electric Slide – that is if I ever danced, which I don’t; I have never mastered the easy steps I watch others take doing the Electric Slide; and I’d much rather play with electrical circuits than dance.
Heinemann (now a division of Capstone) has produced a series of books on electricity that is truly elementary. There is no mention of amps and ohms here. Instead in 32 pages you will find clearly written descriptions of electrical circuits and the basic science involved in electricity. The examples are specific and child-friendly. The captions are clear and diagrams streamlined to focus on the key features of circuits. These are up-to-date and modern looking. In Using Electricity there is mention of LED lights and compact fluorescent lamps, but none of the incandescent lightbulbs being phased out. The font is larger sized with plenty of spacing so reluctant readers will not hesitate to read this series.
It definitely meets the needs of elementary students studying electricity and explains in very concrete terms systematically how electricity is produced and transmitted to homes. Students will learn much more from this series than from a chapter in a textbook. Making a Circuit is an absolute must in every elementary school library.

I have spent the majority of this summer participating in inservice training with my STEM faculty. We’ve studied project-based learning, engineering in education, science kits training, inquiry based learning, Common Core Standards for States, intergrating technology, using formative assessment to drive instruction, and STEM inquiry. One of our sessions occurred at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, TN.

My favorite part of the day was exploring the Elenco SNAP circuit boards. These are so easy to manipulate. I didn’t worry about making mistakes as much and felt free-er to try new ways of connecting circuits. When my sons were in elementary school, we had to teach them how to solder circuit boards for them to make science projects. I loved these snap circuit boards so much that I “snuck” back in to take a picture.

Our leader through these sessions demonstrated how to lead inquiry-based learning for our Science curriculum. Each activity we participated in enabled us to experience being the learner, to use the various strategies of inquiry and collaboration, and helped us focus on the correct usage of techniques for learning.

Back to the series of books It’s Electric! I immediately put them in the hands of the fourth grade science teacher and said, “Tell me what you think and how we can use these.”  Now, before you do the same thing, you should know that teachers frequently have no idea what you want them to tell them about the books when reviewing. You may expect them to say things like “I love this.” “I’ve got to have this.” “I really like this approach.” or maybe “It’s too difficult.” Those would be good starting places. Instead, you usually get answers like  “It’s good. Do we own this?”  I usually follow-up pinning them down and ask if I were to purchase more copies, how many would you use and would it be every title in the series? Or, I’ll ask them “Could we use this title as a starting point for research on this lesson?” or “Would this help fill in the blanks the kit leaves?” and always I ask “Will you share this?”

We bloggers and librarians need to be skilled in asking teachers and parents more specific questions to better help our readers while reviewing books. What questioning strategies do you use when asking opinions about new books?