"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Children's Book Week and Celebrating Books that Expand our Horizons

Our continuing focus for Children's Book Week is reading books that help shape us as empathic people who are creative thinkers. What better way to do this than read books that expand our horizons - that help us see beyond that which we can actually see?  From our understanding of the natural world to the people in it and the things that surround us, these books are real horizon expanders.
Our first horizon expander was Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.

"In this book, readers will discover the plants and animals that make up the rich, interconnected ecosystem of a mountain pond. Over the pond, the water is a mirror, reflecting the sky. But under the pond is a hidden world of minnows darting, beavers diving, tadpoles growing. These and many other secrets are waiting to be discovered...over and under the pond."

A beautifully-illustrated companion to Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. Christopher Silas Neal's illustrations pair with Kate Messner's lyrical narrative to bring readers into the pond's depths and onto the pond's shores. This was an ideal book to remind students that information can be gleaned from both narrative and art. It is also a wonderful example of a parent and child celebrating the quiet moments in a busy life, a book encouraging inquiry about the natural world that surrounds us.

Amongst other things, my students shared that they wouldn't have known that: beavers eat the roots from the bottom of the pond; dragonfly larvae eat minnows and have claws; and, something called a caddisfly exists and has a very cool larva. As with the other two books in this series, there are notes in the back explaining more about each animal, which was a great way to quickly answer many of the students' questions.

I asked my students to share what Kate and Christopher should explore next, it seems they think an autumn book is missing because they see the garden as spring, the pond as summer, and the snow as winter. Here are their ideas: Up and Down in the Trees, Over and Under the Leaves, Before and After the Frost, In and Out of the Burrow. 

What say you, Kate and Christopher?

Our next horizon expander was Curious Constructions: A Peculiar Portfolio of Fifty Fascinating Structures by Michael Hearst and illustrated by Matt Johnstone.

"Curious about constructions? Inside this book, you'll come face-to-face with 50 incredible structures, including: a fire-breathing octopus sculpture; the skateboard ramp you'd need to jump the Great Wall of China; a whole community of tree houses in Costa Rica; and a lifesize X-Wing Starfighter built of Legos." 

This book is a fabulous introduction to some incredibly cool structures. It is a book that one can sit down and pour through from cover to cover or pick and choose structures to read about. The first time I cracked the case, I read the first few pages one after another - not knowing which cool thing I would read about next. The second time, I used the table to contents to choose purposefully. Both times were extremely entertaining, informative, and inspiring. 

With my first graders, I used the Elmo to project the image of the curious construction and then read the information to them. They loved the Eiffel Tower and the Terracotta Warriors. The were amazed by the Millau Viaduct and intrigued by the Dyar Tunnels (Note: I did not read everything about Mr. Dyar.). This is a book that I would use more readily with my older students, if only because there is history tied to many of these constructions that would need to be explained. 

There are some cool things out there to see and I can't wait for my into students to discover them.

Our final horizon expander was This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe.

"Follow the real lives of seven kids from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia for a single day! In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days—and this one world we all share—unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences."

I love this book. The reader is introduced to these seven children and then brought through an average day - breakfast, getting to school, school, after school, helping out a home, dinner, and after dinner activities, and finally to bed where we all look out at the same night sky.  The layout of the information invites exploration of each child's life and allows for comparison and contrast to the lives presented and to the reader's own life. Starting with where each child lives, the reader builds an understanding of different parts of the world and finds familiar things in the unfamiliar - such as houses and apartments made of wood and stone. My students' favorite pages were the ones that showed what each child eats for breakfast and how they each get to school. These tangible parts of the day are important to them. Underlined words are defined or explained in the glossary. 

I can see that I will be buying multiple copies of these horizon expanding books.

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