Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Mrs. Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks" and Other Painless Tricks for Memorizing Science Facts

Brian P Cleary and J.P. Sandy have written and illustrated (respectively) a marvelous science books for kids. Filled with mnemonic devices (tricks that help us remember facts), this book is chock full of poems and memory tricks for earth and space science, physical and life science, and the scientific method.

One year ago in a Meme post, I mentioned that something I knew that I would not blog about were the prepositions in alphabetical order to the tune of Yankee Doodle. That is a mneumonic device and a very successful one since I haven't gotten it out of my head since 5th grade.

The title "Mrs Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks" is a mneumonic device to help us remember the six major animal groups: Mammals, Reptiles, Birds, Fish, Insects and Amphibians. Another terrific device ticks off the list of planets in our solar system in their order from the sun: "Mel's Very Excited Ma Just Served Us Nachos." This reminds us that the planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto was demoted last year to dwarf planet status so is no longer part of the list.

My favorite item in the entire book (which is saying something as there is so much here) is a long poem about matter. Here are the first two verses:
Whether you hold it
or mold it or spin it
Whether you drink it
or mix something in it
Everything, everywhere's
one of these things:
a Solid, Liquid or Gas.

Whether it's floating
or streaming or gleaming.
Whether it's shedding
or spreading or steaming.
Everything, everywhere's
one of these things
a Solid, Liquid or Gas.

The humorous illustrations and rich saturated colors make this book a fun read. And, hey, you'll learn some great science facts as well.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Silent Music by James Rumford is a wonderful yet heartwrenching tale of a young Iraqi boy named Ali who loves to play soccer, listen to loud music and practice calligraphy. As he practices the intricate Arabic letters of simple words and family names, he says:

"I love to make the ink flow - from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head."

Or this, "Writing a long sentence is like watching a soccer player in slow motion as he kicks the ball across the field, as I leave a trail of dots and loops behind me."

Ali and his family live a normal, middle-class life until a "frightening night in the year 2003" when a series of long night of bombing forever changes their city of Bagdad. Ali stays up all night during th bombing and practices his calligraphy over and over trying to fill his mind with peace.

As the months of war turn into years, Ali notes:
"It's funny how easily my pen glides down the long, sweeping hooks of the word HARB - stubbornly it resists me when I make the difficult waves and slanted staff of SALAM - much I have to practice until this word flows freely from my pen."

The pallette of the illustrations reflect the sun-kissed tones of a desert landscape as well as the intricate and vibrant patterns of traditional Muslim art and decoration.

This would be an excellent story to discuss the impact of war with young children. By seeing Ali as a boy much like themselves, children can learn about the disruption of life that war causes. As the war in Iraq continues after five years, we can only wonder what has happened to all the families like Ali's who were once living a life very similar to our own and that now has been forever changed.

Review: I Know an Old Teacher

This story based on the old song "I know an old lady," is a zany take on that song written by teacher Anne Bowen. One day as she watched and listened to her students singing the song, she wondered what it would be like to have a teacher star in the song/story and she started eating the class pets one by one.

Fanciful and humorous, the story is told in sing-song rhyme so that you can almost hear the students saying the verses out loud:
I know an old teacher who swallowed a lizard.
Got stuck in her gizzard, our sweet Lizzie Lizard.
She swallowed the lizard to gobble the snake.
She swallowed the snake to gobble the rat.
She swallowed the rat to gobble the fish.
She swallowed the fish to gobble the spider.
She swallowed the spider to gobble the flea
that fell from her hair and plopped into her tea.
Artist Stephen Gammell's illustrations are done in watercolor, colored pencil, pastel and crayon. The illustrations are really the heart of the story as the students observe Miss Bindley, their mild-mannered teacher turn into a gobbling monster.

But there is a line over which she does not cross. Can you guess what it is?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Review: Turtle Girl

With the emphasis on the development of reading and math skills during the last few years, many elementary schools have pushed science instruction to the margins. So, it's wonderful to read a good story that is built around a science topic.

Turtle Girl by Carole Crowe and illustrated by Jim Postier is a lovely story of the special times a girl shares with her grandmother each year as the sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The special nature of Magdalena's relationship with her grandmother is linked to the need to protect the turtles.

Then when her grandmother dies, Magdalena is bereft and tries to protect herself from the hurt by ignoring the turtles' annual rituals. In the end, she remembers that her grandmother said, " I will always be with you, Magdalena, especially at turtle-time."

She wakes her mother to go to the beach in the middle of the night just in time to see all the turtle hatchlings scurrying to the sea. She realizes that her grandmother was right as she can feel her presence all around her during this special night.

Jim Postier's illustrations are integral to the story as they complement the narrative and create context for this annual ritual that few are privileged to see.