Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Australian Backyard Earth Scientist

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Australian Backyard Earth Scientist is by Peter Macinnis and published by NLA (2019.) RRP: $Au 29.99

I have previously reviewed Macinnis’ The Australian Backyard Naturalist and The Big Book of Australian History.

From the publisher:

Find out where rain comes from and what geysers look like! Read about soil becoming too salty and why greenhouse gases are increasing. Did you know that fog is a cloud sitting on the ground and that ice can tell you about the environment of millions of years ago? And what is lightning anyway? Australian Backyard Earth Scientist is full of fantastic photos and fascinating information that help explain different aspects of earth science - a science that discovered how old the Earth is, what fossils tell us, how mountains were created, what causes earthquakes, what the difference between weather and climate is, and why glaciers are melting.

From the beginnings of the planet through to climate change, 'Australian Backyard Earth Scientist' includes interesting and fun facts and projects help develop an understanding and appreciation - like making your own fossils, collecting cloud types, and using tree rings to find out about past weather. Young readers can discover the influences that have fashioned our earth - and are still acting to change it.

If you know Macinnis’ other books, you will not be surprised by the excellence of this one. Using language and sentence structure children will understand, the author delves into earth science, explaining what it is, and encouraging kids to delve into it right alongside him. The format of this book, like the others, is well-designed, with intriguing photographs, maps, diagrams, colourful headings and call-outs, cartoons, sketches, project pages, and special fonts - as well as all the explanations a young scientist could ever hope for.

I loved the hands-on projects Macinnis leads children through, so they can discover earth science for themselves. I also loved the cute cartoons that popped up to add humour and visual interest. There is evidence of meticulous research and scrupulous editing, and above all the enormous effort that has gone into making the subject matter accessible and entertaining.

With chapters about Rocks, Erosion, Water, Weather, The Oceans, Climate Change … and snippets about glaciers, salination, lightning strikes, king tides, carbon-dating - including what it’s like inside a volcano from personal experience - this is not just a book for schools, but also one adults can dip into, be fascinated by and learn from. I recommend it to both public and school libraries, and to homes where science and knowledge are valued.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Children’s iPad App, Fiete Choice

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Fiete Choice is a children’s app from developer, Ahoiii Entertainment. It’s available for iOS and Android. I have previously reviewed Fiete Match, and Fiete Islands. (22/2)

From the developers:

You see two sheep and a pig. „Which one is out of place?“ - That’s right! The pig is the odd one out and you have to click on it. The levels in this logic game carefully build upon each other and are sure to make you laugh. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see a sheep wearing wellington boots :)

What I liked:

All the things I liked in the other Fiete apps are here too. I especially value the lovely art work. This one focuses on making choices, hence the name. Finding the odd one out or the one that doesn't "belong", discriminating between objects and elements, deciding on a choice between several - these are all activities that are part of pre-reading. For kids to be able to practise them in a fun, game environment is definitely worthwhile. There are lots of levels, and I sadly admit I had to stop and think at least once! Adults can also use the app to discuss things like positional vocabulary, colours, shapes, direction, size, counting, one-to-one correspondence etc.

There ARE ads for other Ahoiii apps and t-shirts BUT I like the way the t-shirts are behind a code and the other app pics don't link through to the app store. This is a great app for kids up to six years, in my opinion, with a good balance of learning and fun.

Where to get it?

Check out all of my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page. I’ll be adding this app to my List of iPad Puzzle Apps for Kids

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Children’s Book Review, This is Home

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

This is Home: Essential Australian Poems for Children is a children’s poetry book with poems selected by Jackie French, illustrated by Tania McCartney, and published by National Library of Australia (2019.) RRP: $Au 34.99 HB.

From the publisher:

In 'This Is Home', much-loved author Jackie French has gathered a poem for every child and every mood. What do you feel like doing today? Sit beside a bush campfire with Oodgeroo Noonuccal, watch people going by with Henry Lawson, float away with Alison Lester, learn to read with Andy Griffiths or be brave with Shaun Tan.

Ideal for sharing with the whole family, this extensively illustrated edition brings together old favourites and sure-to-be new favourites in an indispensable addition to children's bookshelves. From poems that whisper to poems that roar, from words of tranquillity and heartbreak to those of the witty and absurd, there is something within these pages to make everyone feel at home.

This is Home: Essential Australian Poems for Children is an excellent choice for teachers who want to share Australian poetry with their students. I also love the idea of parents buying it so they can make it a priority to include poetry in their family read-alouds. Anything that raises the profile of Australian poetry, and indeed of poetry in general, is a truly wonderful idea. For those children or adults who have sadly already developed an aversion to poetry, there are many inclusions in This is Home to tempt them to change their minds.

French has included a range of appealing poems, from classics to moderns, and from serious to silly. She has given short introductions to each section, and has offered suggestions for those who prefer to read by “inclination “- eg for those in primary/high school, for those who like animals etc. McCartney’s illustrations really sing. They will immediately attract youngsters, and are also appropriate to the accompanying poem’s theme.

I admit to being a little disappointed in one part of the book’s appearance. Not the illustrations - as I said, they are excellent, and will attract young readers to This is Home. But with a couple of the poems, I thought the size of the font and the length of lines made the text look blocky and off-putting for those kids who like more white space. However, the idea of an anthology is to have a range of poems, with the understanding that some will appeal to this person, and some to that. So my observation is minor, in that context.

I hope children will enjoy the many wonderful poems as much as I did. This is Home - Essential Australian Poems for Children is a must-have resource for Australian libraries, will round-out a unit on poetry or Australia, and makes an amazing gift for those special children who love words.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Writing Tips for Kids 9 - Remove Fluff Words

by Susan Stephenson,

Last year I began a series of Writing Tips for Kids which I continued in 2019. Today’s article is the ninth in the series. Over coming weeks you’ll see more short articles, each of them addressing young writers and dealing with a topic helpful to them. I’ve created a new List for these articles and will add to it over time. The List is embedded below.

How and Why to Remove Fluff Words

What are “fluff” words? Is it words that mean people have gas? Not today it isn’t!

Do you remember in Writing Tips for Kids 6 - Remove Repetitions, we talked about removing repeated words and sentence types to make it easier on a reader? Fluff words slow our writing down the way repetition does. Such words are filler. Examples are: very, really, quite, a bit, sort of, got, just. Mostly we don’t need those words in a sentence. They clutter up our writing and make it slower and more boring to read.

Here’s an example: My brother is sort of cranky when he wakes up. I tease him about it quite a lot but Dad just says that’s not very nice.

Here’s one way to write it without the fluff words: My brother is cranky when he wakes up. I tease him about it but Dad says that’s not nice.

Fluff words have less impact than a strong verb, adjective or noun. They don’t create as clear a picture for the reader. Instead of "a really big pile of rocks", we could write "an avalanche of rocks" or "a mountain of rocks", depending on the situation. Would you choose avalanche of rocks or mountain of rocks if the rocks were looming above you? Which would you choose if the rocks were starting to fall on you?

Sometimes "that" can be removed. Example: "Trey thought that he would go". "Trey thought he would go." means the same, but is quicker to read. One word sounds so small, but in a whole story, removing one word here and another there can make a huge difference. If you have to write a set amount of words, taking words out can make your story tighter, and make it an easier read.

Sometimes "the" can be removed. Example: The candle flames flickered as an icy wind blew. The shadows danced on the wall, creating monstrous, menacing shapes. I shuddered as the clammy hands circled my neck.

Can you remove "the" to make stronger sentences?

Here's one way: Candle flames flickered as an icy wind blew. Shadows danced on the wall, creating monstrous, menacing shapes. I shuddered as clammy hands circled my neck.

When you're checking your work (editing or revising), look at each word or phrase you've written. If you can take it out, without changing the meaning, it's not necessary. Our goal is to make writing strong and clear. Very few writers can do that the first time. That's why they read it over several times and change it. Some even read it backwards to help themselves look at words more carefully. Don't worry though, there's no need to stand on your head!

You might also like to read Writing Tips for Kids - How to Start, Writing Tips for Kids 2 - Write What You Know, Writing Tips for Kids 3 - Developing Characters, Writing Tips for Kids 4 - Writing Funny Stories, Writing Tips for Kids 5 - Start with a Hook, Writing Tips for Kids 6 - Remove Repetitions, Writing Tips for Kids 7 - Use Strong Verbs and Writing Tips for Kids 8  - Use Specific Nouns.

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Children’s Book Week 2019, Activities and Resources

by Susan Stephenson,

Children’s Book Week in Australia is August 17 - 23, 2019. The theme this year is Reading is My Secret Power.

Here are some prompts to start discussions with kids:

🔆 How can reading be a power?
🔆 How can reading be a secret power?
🔆 What is the difference between a secret power and a super power? Could reading be both?
🔆 Why would somebody want to keep a power secret?

Here are some ideas for educational and creative activities for kids, based on the theme:

💥 Tell someone about your favourite book. What makes it so good? Write several sentences/paragraphs about your book so others can discover it too. You might like to read the tips in my article, How Do Kids Write a Book Review? 

💥 Imagine a day when you must cover up the fact that reading is your secret power. How do you dress? How do you act? Create a costume that would help someone whose secret power is reading to disguise themselves.

💥 Think up a situation where a character solves a big problem by being able to read. What is the problem? What is the resolution? Tell the story.

💥Lots of stories have secrets in them. Explore your library and try to discover books that are about secrets, or that have “secret” in the title. How many secret” books will you read?

💥Write an advertising jingle that sells reading as a secret power. Get together with some friends and perform your jingle for an audience. How will you know if your communication is effective?

💥Reading truly is amazingly powerful. Design a poster that communicates the power of reading to change people’s lives.

💥 Because you have reading as your secret power, you have a great imagination. Let’s put that imagination to work! Imagine that one day you stumble across a hidden valley, a place so secret that you are the first person to find it. What does it look like, smell like, sound like? What kinds of creatures live here? Make up some interesting names for all these different creatures. Perhaps there are some really strange ones like Galoppalegs or Lubadups. Draw a picture about your secret valley, and don’t forget to draw and label your creatures!

➽ Teachers and librarians, if you're new to Children's Book Week celebrations, check out the Book Week for Beginners site for display and celebration ideas, character parades and more!

Here are some resources I have made this year for teachers/librarians/parents to use with students:

NB: All of my Children’s Book Week resources are free to use for teachers, librarians and parents who work with kids.

1. This first group of resources is three quizzes designed as a way for students to become familiar with the books chosen as Notables by the CBCA. Children should look carefully at the book covers on the long list page to solve the clues in the PDFs. How many of these books have they read, or plan to read?

Quiz based on CBCA Notables - Find the Book (Older Readers) PDF
Quiz based on CBCA Notables - Find the Book (Younger Readers) PDF
Quiz based on CBCA Notables - Find the Book (Picture Book of the Year) PDF

Download these PDF quizzes here

2. The next group of resources is brightly coloured posters you might like to use to keep Book Week front and centre in people’s minds, or for Children’s Book Week displays.

Download these PDF Posters here

3. The next resource is a PDF where kids can work out their secret agent code name.

Download Secret Agent Code Name PDF here

4. The final 2019 resource is a “top secret” PDF document explaining to kids that they must become secret agents, develop skills and defeat MMAR (Mischief Makers Against Reading.) Students complete the activities in the booklet.

Download the PDF TOP SECRET Activity Booklet here

You might also be interested in my other Children’s Book Week articles from earlier years, embedded in the list below.

NB: After ten years, sometime in the next few months will be my final time of publishing both The Book Chook, and my own website, so please download any other useful resources from my Free PDFs while they are still available. 

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