Thursday, October 31, 2013

Aliens Are Coming! by Meghan McCarthy

Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast
by Meghan McCarthy
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006
ISBN: 9780375835186
Grades 2-6

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

Are you looking for a book to share with children on Halloween? Aliens Are Coming! may be just what you need. This informational picture book recounts how Orson Welles scared the pants off the entire country with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast on Oct. 30, 1938.

At the beginning of the book, readers get a glimpse of life in the 1930s as McCarthy uses black and white paint to illustrate a family sitting around the radio listening to Ramon Raquello play the tango. When the announcer interrupts the broadcast with news of explosions on Mars, things get serious in a hurry. Colorful illustrations of aliens landing in Grovers Mills, New Jersey accompany excerpts from the actual radio transcript. As citizens follow the news of a possible alien invasion, panic ensues until it's revealed to be a hoax. McCarthy is a pro at relating history to children in an accessible and exciting manner. The cartoon-style illustrations and characters with google eyes will make this a popular read with kids.

A detailed author's note provides readers with more background information about Welles' radio prank and its effects on the nation. If you're planning to share the book with a group in a classroom or library, be sure to play parts of  the War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Visit Meghan McCarthy's web site to view pages from the book.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Common Core IRL: The Salem Witch Trials

As Halloween draws near, we thought it fitting that Common Core: IRL focus on scary stories. Be sure to visit the following blogs today to read reviews of frightening tales (both fiction and nonfiction) and see how they may be used in classrooms settings. 
100 Scope Notes

Sometimes real life is more frightening than fiction, so today we're highlighting books from a terrifying event from our past: The Salem Witch Trails.

Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem 
by Rosalyn Schanzer
National Geographic, 2011
ISBN: 9781426308703
Grades 6 and up
2012 Sibert Honor Book

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her public library.

Rosalyn Schanzer packs a lot into the 144 pages of this small nonfiction book for young adults. It is evident from the detailed story and the extensive bibliography that Schanzer meticulously researched the mysterious events from 17th century Salem.

Chapter One, titled "Where the Stage is Set," provides background information about the Puritan religion and their beliefs about the Devil. The author ends the chapter by identifying three reasons why Salem's Reverend Parris was discontent with his current situation: he had not received the firewood he had been promised, he had not been paid his salary, and his daughter was sick with fits and seizures. His daughter's mysterious illness will prove to be just the beginning of a frightening and dark period in history when innocent people were accused, tried and hung for witchcraft.

Witches! is a rich, nonfiction text to use with students for several reasons.  Schanzer's description of the events coupled with excerpts from transcripts from the trials provide readers with sense of the severity of the accusations during the colonial era. The author effectively uses questions throughout the chapters to encourage readers to think and reflect as they read.

"And who else would rake coals over the reputations of Martha Cory, Elizabeth Proctor, and even Elizabeth's husband, a big burly tavern keeper named John Proctor? It was the Proctors' very own 20-year-old servant, Mary Warren. Now why would she do that? Was she truly ill? Was she terrified by shadows in her chambers? Or was she out for revenge against her hot-headed master?" (p. 43-44)

Black, white and red scratchboard illustrations are fitting for this story involving beliefs about witches, the Devil and demons; the Caslon Antique font appropriately reflects the 1600s.
Educators who use Witches! in literature or history class should ask students to identify the central ideas of the book and to develop theories about what caused the hysteria and the subsequent trials based on evidence from the text.  Witches! could also be used to provide readers with historical context before reading fiction titles such as A Break with Charity or The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem addresses the following 7th grade Common Core State Standards:

  • ELA Literacy: Reading Informational Texts
  • Key Ideas and Details
  • 7.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 
  • 7.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials 
by Marc Aronson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003
ISBN: 9780689848643
Grades 9 and up

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her public library.

Aronson, always meticulous in his research, covers the same information as Schanzer does in Witches!, but fills out his detailed narrative with actual historical transcripts or notes taken during the trials. He outlines the events, and indicates key questions that historians over the years have also raised.

Why did the good people of Salem cause nineteen people to be hanged and twenty-five more to die? Was it revenge? A silly teenagers prank out of boredom? Did the judge and the adults who attended the trials really believe the accused were witches? 

Written directly with teens in mind, the ten chapters are presented as a mystery and Aronson states, “the challenge of this book is to give you enough information to begin to think for yourself about what really happened in Salem, Massachusettes, 1692. If the study of the witchcraft accusations, and of the mythologies that have grown up around them, teaches anything, it is that we must be careful with evidence.” 

Aronson in his epilogue continues to provide insight in order to help make sense of current scholars differing views.  In the appendix, Aronson believes that Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible and its compelling portrait of the Salem trials was influenced by his experience with the House Un-American Activities Committee that blacklisted hundreds of people in the motion picture industry during the late 1940s. Other back matter includes a timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index.

Witch-Hunt addresses the following Common Core State Standards for grades 9-10:

      Key Ideas and Details
    9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text,   including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

      9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

Craft and Structure
9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas                                                                                                                    
9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

This book trailer of Witches! includes examples of Schanzer's scratchboard illustrations.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

The Great American Dust Bowl
Written & Illustrated by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
ISBN: 9780547815503
Grades 5 and up
I borrowed this book from my local public library.

Using a graphic format, Don Brown tells the story of the great dust bowl, the worst environmental catastrophe our country has even seen that took place during the 1930’s.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nonfiction News- October 2013

Here are some articles that caught our attention this month.

Several nonfiction authors have been focusing on the Common Core State Standards on the Interesting Nonfiction for Kids blog this month. Jim Murphy sheds light onto how he writes nonfiction for children in his enlightening post, "The CCSS and Me: I Could Be Wrong."

Meghan McCarthy fans take notice, Barbara Auerbach has put together a McCarthy author study for School Library Journal.

Over at the Heavy Medal blog, Jonathan Hunt gives the Scientists in the Field series some love.

Nominations for the 2013 CYBILS closed this week. Check out the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction nominations and the Young Adult Nonfiction nominations.

We'll leave you with a book trailer for I Feel Better With a Frog in My Throat (winner of the 2011 CYBILS in the Nonfiction Picture Book category.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins

The Tree Lady: the true story of how one tree-loving woman changed a city forever
By H. Joseph Hopkins; Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Beach Lane Books. 2013
ISBN: 9781442414020
Grades 1 - 5

I borrowed this book from my local public library

For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit San Diego, especially Balboa Park, you will remember the enormous variety of trees, shrubs, flowers and vines. Who was responsible for transforming this once desert town into a gardener’s paradise? Katherine Olivia Sessions.

Growing up in northern California in 1860 surrounded by trees, Katherine Sessions was someone who was very comfortable being in the woods. Girls from Kate’s side of town weren’t supposed to get their hands dirty. But Kate did. A wonderful student, in 1881, Kate became the first woman ever to graduate with a degree in science from the University of California.  

After graduation, Kate took a job in Southern California. When her boat docked in San Diego, she saw that her new home was a desert town.  
Could she live in a place with very few trees?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

From the Backlist: The Day-Glo Brothers

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand New  Colors
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Tony Persiani
Charlesbridge, 2009
ISBN: 9781570916731
Grades K-5

A 2010 Sibert Honor Book

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

You know that you're in for a treat from the very beginning of this unique picture book biography. Upon opening The Day-Glo Brothers, readers will notice the fluorescent yellow, green and orange endpapers. Those bright colors play an important role in the story.

Brothers, Bob and Joe Switzer, grew up in the 1920s. The boys were both industrious and creative, so it's no surprise they used chemicals from their father's drugstore to create fluorescent paint. I've shared this book with many students in the age 8-10 range, and it's been a big hit.  The narrative style is very accessible to young readers, and the illustrations are visually appealing. Most of the illustrations near the beginning of the story are drawn in black, white and gray. When a fluorescent item appears on the page it quickly catches the attention of readers. By the end of the book, day-glo colors take over the page.

Barton does an excellent job of showing how an invention we see frequently in the twenty-first century has been used to save lives at sea, at airports, and at construction sites. Be sure to read the author's note which includes information about how Barton got the idea for the book and a list of sources he used in his research.

Pair this book with Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy or The Boy Who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull for a study of inventions.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bone by Bone by Sara Levine

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons
By Sara Levine; Illustrations by T.S. Spookytooth
Millbrook Press. 2013
ISBN: 9780761384649
Grades 1 up
I borrowed this book from my local public library.

Have you ever wondered what we would look like if we didn’t have any bones? 
This humorous nonfiction picture book asks readers to imagine how human skeletons are similar, yet different, from other animals. Levine asks what kind of animal would you be if  “your vertebrae didn’t stop at your rear end but kept going?” or “What kind of animal would you be if we took away your leg bones but kept your arm bones? “ HINT: we’d also move your breathing hole from the front of your face to the top of your skull. Can you guess what you’d be?
Different fonts differentiate the questions from the answers and further science facts. T.S. Spookytooth’s full color illustrations are humorous as they show just how we would look without arms, legs, or with 10 extra vertebrae in our necks. (Think giraffe).
Back matter includes more facts about bones, more facts about vertebrates, a glossary, and a list of books and website for further reading.
A fun way to learn facts about skeletons.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone

Courage Has No Color: the True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers 

By Tanya Lee Stone 
Candlewick Press. 2013 
ISBN: 9780763651176 
Grades 8 and up 
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library. 

 Prejudice is a flaw of human nature, but awareness and education are powerful weapons against it, according to award winning nonfiction writer Tanya Lee Stone. 

In Courage Has No Color, Stone examines the long history of racial discrimination in the US military through the history of the first black paratroopers, the 555th: The Triple Nickles. Though very well-trained, the 555th never saw active combat, yet their perseverance and hard work paved the way for those who came after. Despite facing negative attitudes and prejudice, 

Why would a black man risk his life to help his country? The answer was simple. This is my country, my children’s country, and their children’s. It is up to me and many, many people of all races and cultures to fight the haters and racists to make this a better place to live, said Walter Morris, a leader in forming the Triple Nickles. Morris retired from the military in 1946. 

The book is well-researched using primary and secondary sources, as well as interviews with the remaining Triple Nickles. According to the author’s note, Stone admits this was, perhaps my hardest book to write to date. Much of the Triple Nickles story was scattered in obscure places through the decades. It took several years to sift through all the information to tell the 555's story. Readers will find the writing engaging with the story unfolding in chronological order. Black and white photos are spread throughout, making the reading experience even better with visual tie-ins. Back matter includes author’s note, appendix of key players in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, timeline of desegregation and the Triple Nickles, source notes, and index. 

Click here to see the book trailer.
A thought-provoking read on a timely subject.