Sunday, May 25, 2014

Picture Book Review - Going Places by Peter & Paul Reynolds

My husband and I are really pretty different people. I'm a rule follower, a by-the-book, here's how it should be done kind of girl. I look for the best way to do something (research is my forte) and then try to arrange a situation for the optimal outcome. I'm not very creative in that regard. Hubs, on the other hand, is a let's-not-read-instructions-til-we-have-to guy, one who can visualize how he wants a project to turn out and then puts together the items he needs to realize that vision. He thinks about the outcome before he jumps in, and then adapts as necessary to get the results he wants. He's a much more out-of-the-box thinker.

When I make dinner, it's from a recipe. When Hubs makes dinner, it's with whatever's on hand.

And yet, somehow, we manage to do pretty great things when we work together. (Except when assembling IKEA furniture. That can get ugly.) I think it's the strength of our opposite skill sets, that allows each person's weaknesses to be balanced out. Obviously we're doing something right, if we haven't killed each other in ten years of marriage!

So I could really relate to the characters Rafael and Maya, in the new book Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds. I mean, Rafael is basically me: when his teacher gives every child an identical "Going Places" kit, containing parts and instructions to make a go-cart, Rafael heads straight home and studies on the right way to do things. He follows the directions and soon has a picture-perfect go-cart. Maya, however, is just exactly like my husband. She takes her kit home and uses it as a stool to perch on while she draws and watches the birds. The next day Maya has completed her kit -- but the finished product looks nothing at all like a go-cart!

Rafael's response to Maya's creation is pretty much my own, in that he points out to Maya that she didn't end up with a go-cart. But Maya answers back, "Who said it HAD to be a go-cart?" (I can hear Hubs's voice right there!). And indeed, Rafael realizes that though the instructions guide users to making a go-cart, there's no rule that says that's what the kids have to make. So he suggests the two go a bit further and team up to make something even better, and decidedly more un-go-cart-like.

Peter Reynolds is well-known in the kidlit community not only for his accessible and inclusive illustration style, but also for his books focusing on creativity (Ish, if you haven't read it, is one not to miss!). Going Places, teaming Peter up with his twin brother Paul, not only demonstrates the power of creative thinking, but also the benefits of working in a team. I love that Maya and Rafael build something together that is twice as marvelous as they could have come up with on their own. They do so by combining their resources, both in terms of supplies and ideas. This focus on collaboration is really terrific - it demonstrates to kids that sometimes we find what we need not through our own ingenuity, but by relying on another to give us perspective, encouragement and ideas. And of course, I love that Maya and Rafael's creation blows the competition away. :)

Teachers and librarians take note: the Reynolds brothers have crafted something really special here -- a book that's fun, inclusive and lighthearted, but which teaches kids a critical lesson about the value of collaboration. Books like this, that feature diverse characters in lead roles, and show them achieving their goals through creativity and resourcefulness, should be the centerpiece of every home and classroom library. Going Places is one not to miss!

Going Places by Peter & Paul Reynolds, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Rafael was confused. The set of instructions inside the box were for a GO-CART. But then again, they didn't say it HAD to be a go-cart. He looked again at Maya's contraption. After a moment, he grinned."
Highly recommended

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nonfiction Review - How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland

Dinosaur mania continues to reign supreme around Casa de Kinser. Even as I type this, the kiddo is building a "jurassic island" in the living room, using the new dinosaur figures he bought as his souvenir from Disneyland (yes, my kid is such a dino freak that he even chooses to buy dino-themed toys from the happiest place on Earth). We cannot make it home from the library without first perusing the nonfiction shelves to see what new titles may have appeared, and dinos continue to be the favorite topic of dinner-time conversation, from Sprout's perspective at least.

So you might imagine that Mama scored a big hit when I brought home Jessie Hartland's nonfiction title How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum. I thought this book was going to be a bit of a stretch for Sprout, as it's cataloged in the juvenile nonfiction rather than the picture book section. It's also pretty text-intensive, but no matter - Sprout hung in through the whole thing, and has requested it multiple times as bedtime reading. There are nice bits of new vocabulary used here, but Hartland gives them plenty of context so even younger readers can interpret what she's trying to get across. That's a very nice touch, for my money, as it gives kids practice at puzzling out contextual cues, a critical skill in developing reading comprehension.

The nice thing about How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum is it's not just a dry recital of facts. When I remember nonfiction from my own youth, it was all pretty serious stuff - those authors were in it for communicating information, not for spicing things up with story and character and that kind of frivolity. But Hartland has a different approach. She's telling kids the story of a Diplodocus that was unearthed at what is now Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah. We start out in the beginning, when Diplodocus was living, and discover the changes that happen to the environment after her death. Then Hartland brings in the humans who discover the bones of the Diplodocus - first a dinosaur hunter, then a paleontologist to confirm the find, then a group of excavators to begin looking for the rest of the skeleton. Each step of the way, a new spread discusses the role of the next set of experts to work on the Diplodocus, even as Hartland reinforces the steps that went before.

This is a really thorough overview of all the people involved in the process of bringing a dinosaur to the museum. What I appreciated most, aside from the care taken to describe the job of each individual group of specialists, was the illustrations. They are approachable and have high kid-appeal, and it's great that Hartland incorporates some diversity within her cast of characters. Granted, there could be more, but I appreciate that there was an effort to keep the people somewhat diverse.The experts aren't all middle-aged white men - there are women and people of color there too. Sprout thought it was cool that there's a female welder on one of the pages ("girls can do that job too!"). There are also some small touches of humor throughout, such as the Diplodocus being tickled by the feather duster, and problems that arise which need to be solved creatively.

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum is just one of Jessie Hartland's nonfiction titles; similar books include How the Meteorite Got to the Museum and How the Sphinx Got to the Museum. These are great choices for homeschooling families, for classrooms and libraries. If you want to spark questions and get your kids thinking before an upcoming trip to a museum, check out this or Hartland's other titles. You might just find yourself surprised by how the dinosaur got where she is!

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland, published by Blue Apple Books
Ages 6-10
Source: Library
Sample: "Here, rooting around the old river bed in 1923, is the Dinosaur Hunter. He has studied geology, pored over maps and books, and knows roughly where to look for dinosaur fossils. After searching and digging for months and months, he finds AN UNUSUALLY LARGE BONE in what today we call Utah."

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Booking Across the USA - Washington State Edition!

Today we're excited to be sharing in the fun of Booking Across the USA! This project, dreamed up by the fantastic Jodie of Growing Book by Book, brings together bloggers from across the United States. Each of us is sharing our review of a book in the same series, plus an activity or craft inspired by our home state. It's a cool opportunity to hear from bloggers from every corner of our country. Visit the main page of Booking Across the USA on Wednesday, May 14, to enter a fun giveaway and see the links to all the participating bloggers.

The book we're sharing is Way Out West in the Travels with Charlie series by Miles Backer. There are four books in this series: Down South, Travelin' the Northeast, and Across the Midwest. Each title focuses on a specific region of the US -- our home state just happens to be Washington, so we were squarely in the Western Region, which includes the Southwest, Alaska and Hawaii.

We received a copy of the book from Blue Apple Books in order to review it, and wow, was Sprout ever excited when we opened up the package and saw this colorful title. For starters, Charlie the dog is just about as cute as can be, with his flappy ears and bright red bandanna. Then, as soon as you open the book you discover the endpapers -- an outline map of the USA with the states featured in this book highlighted in different colors. Sprout's really into maps lately, so he was hooked as soon as we saw this.

Each state has a featured spread with the illustrations opposite a page with a bit of rhyming text that hits on the highlights of the state, plus the state flag and some facts. We learned a few new things about Washington that we didn't know, such as the origin of Mt Rainier's name (Peter Rainier, a British soldier in the Revolutionary War) and that the oldest gas station in the US is in Zillah, WA. Now where else would you find such terrific gems?!

Chuck Nitzberg did the illustrations for this book and they are a key component of the whole piece. The slightly cartoony feel he gives to the pictures adds to the sense of fun, and he definitely hits the highlights of each state in terms of fun stuff going on. (Although, seriously, does everyone have to be white? With the exception of the Native Americans in traditional garb, it's a white-wash -- a little disappointing, folks.) The real fun of this one comes into play when you start searching for Charlie. Yes, he's pictured in every state feature spread, and no, he's not easy to find! Little ones will love hunting for this rakish pup, who shows up, where else but in the most unexpected places.

One thing I really appreciated about the Washington spread of Way Out West was how it emphasized our proximity to the water and the many water-related activities we take advantage of here in the Evergreen State. Sprout in particular thought it was cool that the book shows the state ferries. We had a great time on the ferry last year when we vacationed in the San Juan Islands. In case you can't tell by the *huge* grin in the picture below, Sprout's a big fan of the ferry - the whole thing, from the excitement of driving on to the wind whipping around on the deck to cozying up and watching the world sail by.

Our favorite pastime during that trip was beachcombing, which meant that we brought home some really fantastic rocks, shells and seaglass. If you've been reading this blog long, you know that I'm not exactly crafty, but I do make an effort from time to time. And since we really want to preserve our memories from the San Juans, we'll be making a stepping stone using some of the treasures we found on the beach! It's actually pretty easy to do this kind of thing - we've got a basic stepping stone kit, much like this one pictured below, and will stir up the mix as directed, then imbed our stones and shells in a fun design.

(Though the reviews I've read indicate that this isn't super messy and can be done in the house, we're taking Sprout's propensity for "oops" to heart, and we'll be doing this project outside, just as soon as the sun sticks around for us a little bit.)

Whether you're traveling this summer, or sticking around home, I bet you'll find some great info about our country when you go Booking Across the USA!

Bonus: check out some fun coloring pages at this link to the Washington State Junior Grange!