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STEM Tuesday — Reptiles — Book List

Have you ever found a snake in your garden? Watched a turtle cross the road? Met a dragon face-to-face? These books are all about the cold-blooded, scaly denizens of our planet, and how we can make our world a better place for them.

Ultimate Reptileopedia: The Most Complete Reptile Reference Ever by Christina Wilsdon

The first section introduces what reptiles are, adaptations, habitats, and conservation concerns. This is followed by sections with detailed information on a diversity of species: lizards and snakes; turtles and tortoises; and crocodilians. Each spread includes a photo, quick facts, and an encyclopedic entry about the featured reptile. Plus there’s a chat with a herpetologist at the end.

 

 

World’s Biggest Reptiles by Tom Jackson with illustrations by Vladimir Jevtic

How can animals grow so big – and why would they? This book takes a look at huge reptiles in the ocean and on land. There’s a fun mix of photos, textboxes, and graphic-style pages with speech bubbles as well as size comparisons to a human.

 

 

 

Unusual Life Cycles of Reptiles by Jaclyn Jaycox

Which reptiles are only female, which climb trees, and which ones take 18 months to hatch? These fascinating facts, as well as the lifecycles, lifespans, migrations, and reproduction of a range of reptiles are explored using a combination of full page photographs, side-bar fact nuggets, and helpful back matter.

 

 

One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution by Sneed B. Collard III

A great introduction to the marine iguana and land iguana that live in the Galapagos Islands. This book covers the formation of the islands and how iguanas arrived (by accident!). It shows how the Galapagos shaped the evolution of other species as well.

 

Sneed B. Collard III’s Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards  by Sneed B. Collard III

Lizards are the least understood but most common reptile on our planet. This book introduces a diversity of lizards, how they eat and keep from being eaten, and other adaptations. There’s a section on threats to lizards and conservation efforts.

 

Komodo Dragons: Deadly Hunting Reptiles by Rebecca Hirsch

Fun exploration of the traits, habits, and habitats of a Komodo Dragon, through the use of a compare and contrast evaluation of other unusual, amazing reptiles. Although the Rhinoceros Iguana, Mexican Mole Lizard, Yellow-Bellied Sea Snakes, and Burmese Pythons share some individual aspects, the Komodo Dragon is a unique, big, venomous reptile. The book includes conservation efforts, a trait chart, and expanded learning resources.

 

 

DK Everything You Need to Know About Snakes and Other Scaly Reptiles by John Woodward

After a quick definition and a family tree, this book jumps right into snakes. We see the insides of snakes and a detailed skeleton, learn all about how fangs work, what venom is, and how it works. An interactive component is added by turning the book.

 

Awesome Snake Science! 40 Activities for Learning about Snakes by Cindy Blobaum

A good introduction to finding snakes, as well as their anatomy, how they eat, how they move, and adaptations. Lots of fun “snake science” sidebars sprinkled throughout. Activities include experiments and art projects that are simple, engaging, and safe for kids.

 

 

Sea Turtles are Awesome by Mirella S. Miller

A concise overview of sea turtles, their adaptations to underwater life, where they live, what they eat, threats facing them, and what you can do to help save sea turtles. Throughout the book are sidebars highlighting a number. It might be how many hours it takes to dig a nest, with a bullet-list of details about how to dig one, or the number of eyelids a sea turtle has.

 

Turtles & Tortoises: An In-depth Look at Chelonians, the Shelled Reptiles That Have Existed Since the Time of Dinosaurs by Taylor, Barbara

Full of stunning photographs and detailed diagrams, this book delves into the features and movement, life cycles and survival, habitats and history of familiar and strange chelonians. In addition to six detailed “Focus On” sections (one on the Galapagos Tortoise), it offers fascinating nuggets from the literature, mythology, and art surrounding turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.

 

Alligators and Crocodiles!: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle and illustrated by Meryl Henderson.

This book opens with an up-close-and-personal encounter with an alligator and its hatchlings. From there we are introduced to the diversity of crocodilians, and how they are alike and different. There’s info on conservation issues, too.

 

Bringing Back the American Alligator by Cynthia O’Brien

The American alligator was endangered at one time, but conservation efforts helped the population recover. This book shows how legislation and action by federal and state agencies helped protect the alligator. The increasing number of gators is helping restore the ecosystem as well. Includes information about what people can do to keep wetland habitats healthy for all species.

 

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This month’s book list prepared by:

 

Sue Heavenrich is a blogger, author and, as a kid, adopted a horned lizard (aka: horny toad) and curated a collection of snake skulls on a hidden shelf in the back of the garage. When not writing, you’ll find her counting pollinators in the garden or tromping through the woods. Visit her at www.sueheavenrich.com.

 

Maria Marshall is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at www.mariacmarshall.com.

Middle Grade Examines the Constitution!

By Robyn Gioia, M.Ed

Constitution Day, September 17, 1787: The day the U.S. Constitution was signed by founding fathers such as George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

What began as newspaper comic strips in the late 1800s evolved into stories spanning several pages. From there, stories grew into the superhero genre with the likes of Superman and Batman, to name a few. Later the word “graphic novel” was coined for depicting larger works that can be more serious in nature. Since then, graphic novels have grown to represent every form of genre, from entertainment to nonfiction to academically examining controversial topics such as the Constitution.

The Constitution, a document that was written in the 1700s and for a different time in history remains the heart of American law. Many argue the Constitution needs to be rewritten. The graphic novel fault line in the constitution takes middle school kids through the history and nuts and bolts of the Constitution in easy to understand scenarios and graphics. It is definitely a topic that makes you question the way things work and how you think about them. The book has garnered “starred” reviews from top book reviewers such as Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

Meet Cynthia Levinson, teacher, writer, mentor, and author of the middle-grade graphic novel, fault line in the constitution.

(Yes, fellow teachers, the book title does NOT use capitals!)

Robyn: Welcome to From The Mixed Up Files. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. It’s always fun to connect a person’s life with their books.

Cynthia: I have two daughters, two SILs, and four grandchildren. And every book my husband and I write includes a thank you to “our thoroughly splendid children,” regardless of whether or not they helped with the book! For most of my professional life, I worked in education—teaching from K-12 and higher ed and also in state-level education policy. As a writer, I still consider myself an educator. I like to cook, but only in spurts; otherwise, a kitchen-sink salad is my favorite dinner. Nothing with okra—blech.

Robyn: A good salad. Someone after my own heart. I’d pass on the okra, too! So tell me, why write a middle-grade graphic novel on the U.S. Constitution?

Cynthia: The idea to write Fault Lines in the Constitution came from one of my editors—Kathy Landwehr at Peachtree, who had given her father a copy of one of my husband’s books (a law professor) on the Constitution. He liked it so much that Kathy asked if we would write a version for kids. Our editor at First Second/Macmillan, Marc Siegel, requested a graphic novel  version! So, happily, the ideas came to us from publishers.

Robyn: How did you choose what topics to include?

Cynthia: Great question! How on earth did we?! Well, my husband, Sanford (Sandy), has written extensively on problems with the US Constitution so I began by reading his books more closely and winnowing his massive knowledge base to kid-size bites. We introduce each of the 20 issues in the book with a true story. For instance, we begin the chapter on habeas corpus—the right that the Constitution gives Americans to be released from prison if the government cannot show a cause—with a story about a pandemic. See Resources for Teachers.

Robyn: How does a topic on the Constitution relate to middle grade kids?

Cynthia: Although it might seem that the Constitution has nothing to do with middle-graders, that’s not such a tough question. Our government—especially, the way it fails to operate these days, thanks to our Constitution—affects kids’ lives from what they eat for lunch (that’s Chapter Two, called “Big States, Little Say: The Senate”) to whether they have to be vaccinated (Chapter 19) to whether they can vote (Chapter 8). Fault Lines makes abundantly clear the relationship between the Constitution and everyone’s everyday lives.

Robyn: Well, your book has certainly given us a lot to think about. Thank you very much for introducing us to your middle grade, graphic novel fault line in the constitution. Readers will be happy to know there is a plethora of resources available, everything from a teacher’s guide, to lesson plans, to a blog.

Resources are plenty and interesting! The Blog delves into topics such as:

Your Turn! How Would You Write a New Constitution?

What IS “General Welfare?”

What’s a Vice President To Do?

The King is Dead

Resources:

Discussion guides and Activities  (Peachtree teacher guide)

Standards based lessons

Blog

Games

Interviews

Presentations

Websites

Bibliographies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What I Didn’t Do This Summer” and Other MG Narrative Writing Ideas

A hearty thank you to all the teachers and librarians who are off and running in a new school year! We certainly wish you the best. Educational settings of all types have seen wild change and plenty of challenges in the last year and a half, but educators continue to rally, adapt, instruct, and inspire.

For those of you on the lookout for ways to offer your middle grade writers new and creative ideas, here are some suggestions to try!

These ideas:

  • Capitalize upon and promote students’ start-of-the-year enthusiasm and excitement.
  • Can be used as icebreakers and in peer-response circles (in which each student provides one “This is awesome!” and one “This is just a suggestion!” remark for a fellow writer).
  • Will fulfill one of the most fun Common Core State Standards—Narrative Writing (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W3)!
  • Will connect to (relatively) pain-free grammar and composition mini-lessons as students revise and edit, which account for additional Writing Standards.
  • Will connect to Reading: Literature CCSS if you tie the writing lesson to the study of a novel and Speaking and Listening CCSS if students share their original work aloud (with a bit of coaching on presentation skills).
  • Can serve as a foundation for powerhouse lessons and quality use of instructional time–not to mention a chance for kids to use imagination along with skills in a memorable and fun writing experience.

The “What I Didn’t Do This Summer” Composition

Students might need a little explanation if they are not aware of the traditional “What I Did This Summer” essay that kicked off each year of English class for so many generations of students. Then, turn the notion on its head: Kids write an imaginative piece that includes events their summer certainly did not showcase: didn’t talk to penguins at the South Pole, didn’t go back in time and meet pirates or ninjas, didn’t even try to dig a hole to the other side of the world, didn’t get the cell phone to work as a portal to another planet. Offer more structure to those who don’t jump in on their own, for example, “Three Adventures I Wanted to Try This Summer But Didn’t,” or “Three Things I Wouldn’t Have Done This Summer Even for Ten Thousand Dollars.”

The First-Line Fest

The best part about a First-Line Fest is the time involved; you can spend a few class periods on this activity, use it for a five-minute filler, or utilize any length of time in between. You might want to start by offering a read-aloud of first lines from some great test-of-time middle grade novels (and letting kids guess the titles is a nice intro). Some possibilities:

“It was one of those super-duper cold Saturdays.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital / Columbus, Ohio, / USA— / a country caught / between Black and White.”

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni and cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

Then, coach students to compose an attention-getting first line to a story or novel that they do not have to write. Use whatever guidelines or fun twists suit your purposes: must be a full sentence with an action verb; must contain at least two characters; must jump in with a conflict; must be a setting description with an animal; must be more than 20 words but fewer than 25; etc.  Or, throw rules out the window (except, of course, for your classroom-appropriate guidelines 😊 ) and see what first-line creations students come up with.

The Favorite Genre Never-Been-Done Premise

Explain the concept of a premise to your would-be writers and allow them to guess a book based on its premise. Knowing what books they covered as a class the previous year ensures success here, so for example, if they read Other Words for Home: “A seventh grade girl leaves Syria for Cincinnati, bravely auditions for a musical, and remains hopeful for the safety of the missing brother she left behind.”

Next, review genre as a literary characteristic, and have kids narrow their favorite genres. Finally, assign a fun one-to-three sentence premise for a story or novel in their favorite genre they’d love to someday read or write. Some facet of the imagined storyline must make the premise never-been-done before (a challenge, as we writers are well aware!). Look to recent releases in some favorite genres for inspiration and recommended reads for your students to dovetail with this writing assignment:

Fantasy: The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde, The Hidden Knife by Melissa Marr, Arrow by Samantha M. Clark

Sports/Outdoors/Activities: Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, Soccer Trophy Mystery by Fred Bowen, Much Ado about Baseball by Rajani LaRocca

Scare Stories: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko, The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

MG contemporary: Thanks A Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas, To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel, The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

Also, consider genre mash-ups to make the never-been-done objective a little easier—and a lot more creative.

Have a great year filled with creative opportunities for your middle grade writers, and thank you again for your devotion to educating kids.

 

First lines: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis;  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling; Holes by Louis Sachar; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo