Monday July 30th, 2012

It’s Monday What are you Reading? Celebrating books read from picture books to young adult reads. Link up with the meme sponsored by Kellee and Jen!

I read some wonderful picture books this week!

Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog by Mini Grey (who I happen to adore – read more here) There were lots of things I loved in this book – more in the pictures than in the storyline honestly. Love the oppositely stereotypical parents (Dad in apron and Mom with her circular saw). Loved the compost bin as play site. And what could be better than a search down the Grand Sofa Canyon? It did after all uncover a hairy sweet. This book reminds us germophobes not to come between a boy and his toy. Rescues into the slimy trash heap will be attempted!

Alfie Runs Away written by Kenneth M. Cadow and illustrated by Lauren Castillo.  Alfie is upset and decides to run away announcing it emphatically. His mother “helps” him get ready. Absolutely captures the sentiments of both mother and child. Love Castillo’s illustrations.

Pierre in Love written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Petra Mathers. A beautiful picture book about being in love and being brave enough to admit it.

The Gardener written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. I so love this author/illustrator team. And the book . . . We read it one night as a read aloud. Then the next day my daughter asked to read it again because she wanted to study the pictures. Lasting impressions – this book makes them! Love historical fiction delivered beautifully in a picture book!

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. I read this with my children as one of our many nightly read alouds (we also have a novel and a book of fairy tales on the go) over a few evenings. We were fascinated, shocked and sometimes disgusted (in the best of ways) as we learned all about beetles. Plan to purchase my own copy of this book and share it in the classroom this fall! Think of the art it will inspire! And since one in four living things happen to be a beetle, they deserve some studious attention!

Middle Grade reads:

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

I am considering this for a book club pick for our student book club. Such an important time in history – would prompt a LOT of discussion. I adored this book!

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. Now I understand why this is  such a beloved book for so many. There are so many students I know who need to read this book. They will find themselves and so much more.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm Okay, wow! I found one of the books I will read aloud to my new class this fall! Love the family dynamics between Turtle and the boy cousins. So much humour and yet lots of interesting things to discuss in terms of this time in history. Ideal read aloud for an upper primary classroom!

New Spring books from Scholastic

Our New Books display has had a lot of traffic recently with many students enjoying some recent purchases that I’ve ordered for the class through Scholastic book clubs.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake written by Michael B. Kaplan and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (one of my favourite Canadian illustrators) has been a favourite to read and reread especially with a buddy. Betty Bunny is very dramatic and says some very out there stuff like “I am going to marry chocolate cake!” and “I am a handful and I love chocolate cake.” Comments made all the better when read out loud. With huge sighs, gasps and artistic flair. We appreciated Betty’s chocolate cake obsession, loved her spunk and giggled over her decision to keep her cake in her pocket and the resulting brown, goopy mess! Betty Bunny shows us that you shouldn’t mess with a little bunny and her love for chocolate cake. Go Betty!

Another favourite story to read and share during buddy reading (also made a fantastic read aloud) is Huck Runs Amuck! This charming story about a flower obsessed goat is written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Poor Huck is a goat of rather discerning tastes. Yes he will eat run of the mill goat things, which means basically anything, but . . . If he had his way, he would eat flowers all day long. But flowers in his end of the world are also readily enjoyed by other goats and in short supply. Thank goodness Huck is a climbing sensation. He can find flowers in the strangest of places, high up places that seem out of reach. But what happens when his stomach and his morals face off? What will a flower loving goat do? A hilarious fast paced story.

Books by Steve Jenkins never disappoint. Many are favourites in our classroom library. The newest book in our collection is Bones. Not only is it great to look at the illustrations o bones (many of which are actual size) but we also love the comparison of bones from multiples species like all of the skulls pictured in a fantastic pull out page spread. This is also a fun book to fact collect. There is something about learning that a small python has 200 pairs of ribs that makes you want to ask everyone you know: “So how many pairs of ribs do you think a python has?” (Humans have 12 pairs just to give you some perspective) This book frequently has to be coaxed out of someone’s book box to be passed onto the next person who can’t wait to explore it!

We adore Marie-Louise Gay. Stella, Sam, and Caramba are all well loved characters! So, we were very happy to meet Rosyln Rutabaga and read about her plan to dig an enormous hole in the story: Rosyln Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth. Some days you just wake up with a plan. So when Rosyln announces her plan to dig an enormous hole and gets a calm, but positive response from her father, this little bunny begins to dig. Her all day digging brings her many interesting interactions, big piles of dirt and an experience about what it is to follow your determination. Wonderfully imaginative illustrations.

Garden themed Books

Division 5 is participating in the Growing Chefs program and learning all about growing plants, urban agriculture and the wonder of vegetables! Our windowsills are full of seedlings and we are indulging in many garden themed read alouds to learn more about the magic of gardens, growing and green. The following is a list of books that will be part of our reading:

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne

An informative information story book that details the lifecycle of the Queen bee. Touches on hive life, pollination and human behaviour towards bees.

Deborah Hodge‘s Watch me Grow and Up we Grow (photographs by Brian Harris)

These books have special meaning as Deborah Hodge gifted them to our class when she visited in the fall! These books immerse us in the world of gardening and growing! One focuses on life on a small farm and the other looks at growing food in the city.

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering

 In Cement Land, the promise of a packet of seeds is huge admist the gray drab world. Highlights the magic of watching seeds transform into plants!

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small

Can a package of flower seeds bring happiness and beauty to a family during the Great Depression?

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Liam lives in the city and nurtures a struggling garden into a majestic green world. The power of a garden to invade (in the best of ways) stark city life.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

We each need to do something to make the world a more beautiful place. Miss Rumphius spreads lupine seeds throughout the countryside and the resulting flowers have a transformative effect on everyone who stumbles upon them.

Westlandia written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Wesley creates Weslandia, his own civilization using the plants he grows from some mysterious seeds and the products he makes from them.

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long

Poetic text and beautifully detailed illustrations introduce us to the wonder of both familiar and unfamiliar seeds.

The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

When Theodora’s Grandfather must leave his beloved garden when he moves to an apartment, granddaughter and grandfather create a beautiful garden from seed to flower through the power of art and love.

Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear

Today we read the Ice Bear (In the Steps of the Polar Bear) written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Gary Blythe. Our goal: to move away from quick questions and begin asking more deep thinking questions.

Polar Bar, Nanuk, is perfectly suited to the Arctic climate and landscape. For many generations, the Inuit people have learned how to live and survive in the Arctic habitat by watching the great Ice Bear. Nicola Davies tells us how polar bears survive in the Northern landscape weaving facts on each page into the beautiful story she tells in such lovely poetic text.

As I read this story aloud, we stopped on each page to share our questions and Ms. Hibbert recorded them. Our curiousity filled three pages of chart paper!

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

We then looked at all of our questions and coded them. FO: Found Out (we discovered the answer in the story as we read on) R: Research (to find the answer, we will have to do some research)  I: Infer (we need to infer to figure out the answer – using our background knowledge and our reasoning)

Coding our questions  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

As we looked at the three charts, we noticed that we had very few questions coded FO (Found Out). This is exciting as it means we are asking fewer quick questions and more complex or deep thinking questions. Using Adrienne Gear‘s Non-Fiction Reading Power we have been learning to distinguish between quick and deep thinking questions. For our purposes here – quick questions are questions that we find the answer to (often down the page or a page or two later), where there is only one answer and where once we know the answer, our thinking stops. Deep thinking questions, on the other hand, inspire more questions, often have more than one answer or require us to do research, more thinking and/or talking to come to an answer at all.

Ms. Hibbert and I were also excited to see students asking multipart questions i.e. Do babies have fur? If not, how do they keep warm? or How often does a polar bear eat and does this affect how much it eats at a time? It was also fantastic to see questions inspire other questions between the students. At one point, Shae-Lynn was sitting right beside my chair with her hand up waiting to share her question and listening to others. “Oh!” she suddenly exclaimed, “Now I have three questions!”

Students then went back to their tables to write and draw about their learning and to share what they were still wondering.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some students began reading the books they were looking at for ideas on how to draw a polar bear and talked with each other about what they noticed.

All of a sudden, the research began happening as students realized that they were finding the answers to the unanswered questions we had included on our charts.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

“Hey Ms. Gelson look what Carmen and I discovered!” Catriona summoned me over. She went on to show me the section in the book they had found that talked about polar bear fur in the water. They discovered that the guard hairs are oily and waterproof and hollow. This answered our question about how polar bears can be such good swimmers and whether or not they had fur that wouldn’t get too wet and heavy.

Look! Read here!  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some learning shared in student writing:

* Male polar bears weigh more than females. I wonder if they eat more than females as well.

* I think the baby polar bears are more white than the Moms and really cute.

* I know that polar bears are as fast as a snowmobile. Bears eat seals. They use their sharp claws and kill the seals quickly.

* A female polar bear can have 1 to 3 baby cubs at a time

*I found out that when there is zero seals, polar bears will eat grass, dead birds and fish.

Beautiful birds

Division 5 continues to study birds. This week we enjoyed Robins: Songbirds of the Spring by Mia Posada.




We enjoyed learning how these birds make their nests, care for their young and about how the fledglings learn to fly. Posada’s robins are lovely – and it sparked an interest in bird body parts. We spread out bird books on all of the tables and students made lists of all the important parts of the bird: beak, breast, feathers, wings, talons or feet, etc. Students then drew and coloured their own birds. Our bulletin boards are now covered in gorgeous birds designed by the students and inspired by a variety of real birds in nature.

First students made pencil sketches.




We then added colour using crayons, oil pastels and pencil crayons.



Finally we shaded around our bird’s outline and cut them out. Some finished pieces:







Celebrating students, celebrating books

Having time off from the day to day of teaching gives us space to reflect back on all that we treasure. Highlights of the last calendar year for me and picture books that exemplified these important themes:

1. Lots of laughter.

This was one of the favourite non-fiction read alouds I read with a class.

Poop – A Natural History of the Unmentionable written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton. This was the discussion. Theories of why some animal poop seems to have hair on it and why do we fart anyway. Hard to keep a straight face.

2. Moments of awe

Sometimes in sharing a powerful piece of literature, the learning in the room just surrounds us. The book or the important conversations are not soon forgotten.

Nan Forler‘s Bird Child was one of the most beautiful books I have ever shared with a class.

We learned about the power in all of us to stand up for each other. Recounting our conversations in this post was important. As a group, we shared something big.

3. Experiencing vulnerability

Some books produce such strong reactions. In our responses, we are vulnerable and need discussion and support to make sense of our feelings.

This book reduced some of us to tears: The Day Leo Said I Hate you! written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Molly Bang

What happens when our feelings explode and we say something hurtful? How do we navigate our way back? We talked about this book here.

4. Honouring the power of books

We were inspired by the beautiful Book written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated byPeter Catalanotto. to talk about what reading means to us.

This post details the beautiful art and writing we did in response. Students talked about how reading transported them into the book and about how much they love to be read to.

5. Celebrating wonder

I love to use information storybooks to inspire student questions. This book The Last Polar Bear written by Jean Craighead George motivated students not only to ask questions but to explore answers.

In this post we talked about how climate change is affecting the habitat of the polar bears. We found we were left with more questions than when we started.

Looking forward to what books will bring to us in 2012!

Deborah Hodge visits Division 5!

On November 15th, 2011, local author Deborah Hodge visited Division 5 to share her books, her process and her knowledge with us.

Author Deborah Hodge

Deborah Hodge has a fantastic blog to check out and even wrote about her visit with us at Seymour! Students were very excited when I let them know that we had an author coming to visit. When Deborah came to the door just before the recess bell, she was greeted by a huge hug from Sergio who looked up at her and said: “Hi Deborah. I really like to read books.” During recess, Deborah set up all of her books around the classroom and when students returned, Shae-Lynn exclaimed, “Did you really write all of those books?” It was a very impressive display!

Deborah explained that when she had been a teacher, many of her students wanted to read non-fiction books but the text and language was just not at their level. She was motivated to create non-fiction titles that were much more accessible – full of fabulous non-fiction features like labelled diagrams, a glossary, fact boxes and interesting facts! Each book contains something life sized in a drawing at the back of each book.

Deborah’s first book was Bears, a popular title in our classroom.

Deborah began sharing the steps in making a non-fiction book like doing the research, writing the text, revising and editing, working with an illustrator, etc. She shared examples of each step as she described it. At one point about mid-way through the series of steps, one student let out a big sigh. “Wow! There really are a lot of steps in making a non-fiction book!

Deborah also shared some cool facts she learned as she researched her various books. A few favourites of ours:

  • An anaconda is as long as a bus and as heavy as two big men
  • When a polar bear cub is born, it is as small as the palm of your hand
  • A mother deer leaves the fawn alone when it is first born so that her scent won’t attract predators.

Deborah also brought in animal fur and animal skulls to show us. Very interesting and fun to interact with!



Deborah left us with more than a great learning experience – about how non-fiction books are made, about animals, and about furs and skulls. She left us with some lovely gifts.

First she signed our classroom copy of  Lily and the Mixed up Letters. This wonderful book about a little girl who struggles learning to read is of course written by Deborah and illustrated by France Brassard. It is a favourite of both Ms. Gelson and Ms. Hibbert.

Then Deborah gifted our classroom with two of her latest and greatest books! We plan to delve into these books in the Spring when we can learn more about growing food in different places.

Then, last but not least, Deborah gave each student a copy of one of her non-fiction titles.

I am a big believer of children owning their own books and having their own book collections – the power of “books in hand and in home.” Deborah signed each book for each child and in the last week I have heard students making comments like, “Did you read about . . . . in our book?” Thank you Deborah for such an amazing morning and such generosity!

More on Poop

Well, yes, it is true we are addicted to Poop (the book Poop of course!) Every page of this little book is full of fascinating facts on poop. We have been reading and learning in every spare minute and just have to share our new learning. (For Poop Part 1 read here) Nicola Davies and Neal Layton have created a book to keep you busy learning, reading and stopping to say “Really? Wow!” all on the topic of poop.

We learned that many predators use poop as clues to where to find their prey. So many animal parents get rid of their young’s poop to keep their babies safe and hidden. Jenny had a connection. “So it’s just like you can follow footprints, poop can be like a trail to lead them to the prey.”

We learned that golden moles in Africa stay underground all of the time to avoid being eaten. So they make one chamber in their large burrow just for pooping in. This prompted much discussion.

Ricky wondered, “But if that chamber gets full . . . do they just make a new one?”  Jena suggested that the moles could fill that chamber, close it off and then dig a new one. Kevin pointed out “This is just like we make a bathroom place in our houses.” (Unfortunately moles don’t have that flush feature that is so handy for us!) Miami asked, “Do they eat their poop to get rid of it?” This is not a farfetched questions as we had just read about rabbits eating their feces to get more nutrients out of it.

We then read about latrines (animal toilets) of the giant otters in South America. They use their latrines as more than just a toilet. They make a large flat area on the riverbank and poop all over it. This big smelly area is like a sign that says stay away: we made all of this poop, it is our area! The students found this quite amusing. “Like a big sign to say stay away!” “It’s a poop shield. You can’t get to us!”

We continued to read more intersting poop facts and Ricky piped up. “Scientists want to know things and they learn a lot of them from poop. They even studied dinosaur poop – prehistoric poop!” “I want to be a poop scientist,” said Eddy. “A poopologist,” suggested Josiah.

We then read about sloths and how they climb down their tree and poop every four days. Jenny wondered if they poop really slowly too. Good question!

At the end of our reading I asked students to share their new learning. Here is some of what they said.

Miami “Sloths eat lots and lots of leaves.”

Lisa “If sloths poo, they go down the tree to do it in a big pile and then back up every 4 days.”

Kevin “Sloths sniff other sloths poo to see what’s happening.”

Edwin “It’s weird that sloths have poo piles near each other. If they made them together, it would be huge.”

Jena “Some animals sniff other animals poo to know what is going on like who is pregnant.”

Ricky “Male hippos wiggle their tail when they poo to tell other hippos they are fierce and strong. The poo sprays everywhere.”

Have we tempted you yet to go and read this book?

Poop. Everything you ever wanted to know. And then some

Our current read aloud is a non-fiction title. On a kind of gross but okay, let’s admit it, kind of a lot of fun to talk about topic: Poop – A Natural History of the Unmentionable written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton.

How can you not love this book? The cover shows a huge elephant behind with a pile of dung and a little scientist carefully examining the specimen. Open up the cover and notice that it is all brown and smeary coloured. “Eww! Is that real poo on there?” someone asked. (No, it’s artistic suggestion 🙂 )And then on the first page you get to learn that feces is the proper name of poop and that if we were speaking scientifically, we would know that all animals defecate (meaning to poo). So it seems that reading this book will make us into scientific experts on poop. Excellent!

Today we decided to use Adrienne Gear‘s Questions and Inferences sheet from Nonfiction Reading Power to record some of our questions and what we were inferring as we listened to the text.

The level of engagement was pretty high. Poop is an interesting topic! Near the end of the lesson, Jena commented, “Who knew poo could be so interesting?” Indeed.

We practiced asking some questions/inferring together when we looked at the first few pages titled – A Tour of Poop

We noticed that tapir poop seemed to have hair in it. Nobody knew what a tapir was so it seemed to be the perfect question to do some inferring.

Question:  Why does some poop have hair in it?

Our inferences:

Jenny: It must mean they are predators. The hair is from their prey.

Eddy: Maybe they have furry bums. When the poo comes out, it gets covered in their own fur.

Miami: I’m thinking that – perhaps, they licked their babies’ fur to clean them and stuff. So that’s how hair got into the poop.

Manny: Maybe it’s not hair. Maybe it is grass and they eat grass. Maybe it just looks like poop. If it is hair, why doesn’t the stomach acid eat the hair?

As we read on, we found out that meat eating animals (carnivores) have poop that contains hair, fur, feathers and bones. But I love all of the thinking we were doing to come up with different possibilities!

Most conversation and discussion was related to the text but as I read and we shared our thinking some students just couldn’t help sharing. A few hilarious statements I overheard: “I feel better when I poop.” “Do you think everyone pees a bit when they poop?” “Do you think we would explode if we never pooped?” “My Dad got diarrhea when he ate spicy pork.” Poop is a great topic of conversation! Maybe not to use at your next dinner party but when hanging out with primary students, it rates pretty high!

During our sharing someone asked this question: “Why do we fart?”

Kevin happily shared his thinking. “Maybe when your body has no more poop in it, there are still poo smells that need to get out so you need to fart.”

This was a very popular suggestion. One student responded. “Oh! Oh! Kevin may I write that down on my sheet?” “Yeah me too,” someone else said. We love to share our thinking! 🙂

Some other questions/inferences from our sheets:

Hajhare: Does poo have food in it? I think it does because the food all combines together to make it brown.

Edwin: Why is animal poo smaller? Maybe the animals don’t have big tummies like people.

Kevin: What happens if you poop a lot? I think you live longer.

The students can’t wait to learn more about poop! Stay tuned!

Predator Showdown

Yes, of course we know that predators have few reasons to fight each other. They are too busy hunting for prey to ensure their survival. But if they did battle each other . . . Well, wouldn’t we all just love to know what would happen? Lucky for us, Scholastic has published this very cool book about exactly that: Predator Showdown (30 Unbelievably Awesome Predator vs. Predator Face-offs!)

We are currently exploring this book with our Reading Group. It allows us to interact with non-fiction text features such as bar graphs to compare stats about speed, strength, defence, brains, etc or charts that tell us about predator style, range and sample prey. Students are asked to decide between two predators – First Instinct: Who would win? Justify. Some students are very familiar with the predators and find this easy, others are guessing just by looking at the pictures. Either way, it’s okay. There will be an opportunity to read more and make a more informed decision.

Today Catriona was thinking about a battle between a lion and a spotted hyena. Her first instinct? Who would win? She wrote:  “A hyena because male lions are lazy. Female lions do all of the work. And this is a picture of a male lion.”  She shared this thinking with me and then went on to explain, “I happen to know this. I’m taking my background knowledge and putting it into the paper.” (How much do I love when students are able to articulate exactly what they are thinking like this?)

We have been looking at three Predator Showdowns in more detail.

  • The Lion vs. Spotted Hyena
  • The Raccoon vs. North American River Otter
  • Tasmanian Devil vs. Dingo

After students have a chance to read the information page, they answer specific questions. Some questions have answers easily found on the page like: Look at the Stats section. Where is the raccoon superior? Other questions ask the students to include their own thinking. Can you think of a real life situation where these two animals might actually battle each other? Explain why you think this might happen?

We are also asking students to read a section and identify what was important to them about what they just read. For example, What is something you found particularly interesting about otters? Student answers varied. Some were intrigued that otters can stay underwater for up to 8 minutes. Others thought it was interesting that otters could dive up to 60 feet in search of prey.

After reading, students are asked to again think about who would win in a showdown. Many students changed their initial answers and provided lots of evidence from the text to support their thinking.

An inside page from Predator Showdown

Such a great book to engage children in learning and discussions. Answering questions allowed the students to build their confidence about forming an opinion based on evidence. Everyone wants to read this book when I put it out on the new non-fiction shelf! It will be a battle – a Student vs Student Showdown. Who will win and get to read it first?