Friday, November 20, 2015

Excellent Picture Book for Math Teachers!

Wallmark, Laurie; Chu, April (2015) Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.  Creston Books.

Opening Lines:  Ada was born into a world of poetry, but numbers, not words, captured her imagination.

There are lots of picture books about math: thousands of counting books,books about adding and fractions, and even high-interest narrative book like the Sir Cumferance series.  But there are not many picture books -- in fact, none that I can think of, that describe math heroes -- or in this case, math heroines.

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Ada Byron Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron the poet, and how she grew up fascinated by numbers and what she could make them do.  When she was bedridden by measles, her interest in mathematics grew even more..  When she became a young woman, she meets Mary Fairfax Somerville, a well-known female scientist and mathematician.  Through Somerville, Ada met Charles Babbage, who had invented the first computer/calculator.  Though Babbage continued to develop the mechanics of the Difference Engine, it was Ada who figured out how to program it in a way that made it more efficient.

We live in a world where math heroes often fly under the radar, and where most elementary children have never imagined that a female mathematician could make a difference in t he world -- let alone in the world of the early 1800s.  Math teachers who care about their female students should thank Laurie Wallmark and April Chu for creating this book, then they should immediately order this book for their classroom.  Right away.

(And if you like the illustrations, you might also want to check out April Chu's illustrations in her previous book, Village by the Sea.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Kid reporters versus greedy and corrupt politicians and con artists with the fate of their town at stake!

Bauer, Joan (2008) Peeled  New York: Scholastic

Favorite Quote:
"How did you know I needed fudge?"
"Everyone needs fudge, Hildy, it's how God helps us cope."
(pg 168)

I loved this book.   Why did it take me so long to read it?

1.  After reading Bauer's Hope was Here I figured she couldn't write something that good again, so why bother trying (Peeled is very different from Hope was Here, but it is no less excellent.)
2,  My oldest daughter wouldn't let me read it for fear that it would take me too long to read, thus depriving her of the chance to reread it again.
3.  The opening lines give entirely the wrong impression about what this book is. Keep reading to the bottom of page 5 and you will be hooked.

But the point is, it was excellent.  I should have read it sooner.  You find yourself rooting for the kid reporters desperately.  The story is excellent and interesting and... oh, enough with the laudatory  adjectives, lets get to the story already.

Hildy, a reporter for her high school newspaper (and the daughter of a reporter father who died years ago), uncovers a story involving the mayor, the editor of the town paper,a land developer, a fortuneteller, a haunted house, and the possible destruction of several townspeople's apple orchards. When she and her student editor start running stories aobut it, the school tries to shut down the student newspaper.  A crusty reporter who is a former colleague of Hildy's late father shows up and takes over as adviser.  Throw in a death, a romance, and an underground paper and you have got a dynamic and interesting story.

And I guess one of the things I love most about this book is that it shows reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do, get at the truth.  At one point the crusty adviser tells Hildy that before she can run a story about the town newspaper editor's possible corruption, she has to call him and read it to him.  Hildy is scared, but she makes the call because it is the right thing to do.  It turns out there are reporters like this.  They tend to not be the ones in the limelight, but their presence gives me hope.  This book does too.  It is a good one.

This book is probably ideal for fourth grade through early high school.  I didn't notice anything that a reasonable person would find objectionable.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Roald Dahl book you probably haven't read yet.

Dahl, Roald (1983) The Witches.  New York:  Scholastic.


Opening lines:  "In fairy tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks.  But this is not a fairy tale.  This is about REAL WITCHES.
     "The most important thing you should know about REAL WITCHES is this.  Listen very carefully.  Never forget what is coming next.
     "REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women.  They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs.
     "That is why they are so hard to catch.
     "A real witch hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine."

If you have read any Roald Dahl at all, you know he was an odd man.  His children's books make that quite clear.  After all, in Matilda, Mrs. Trunchbull locks children in a spiked closet.  In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, several of those rotten kids get what is coming to them.  The Witches also has moments that make adults cringe.  For example, the main character's grandmother smokes cigars. The witches in the story look like nice ladies, but are hatching a plan to kill all of the children in Europe.  And in the end, when the boy and his grandma turn the tables on the witches, the grandma suggest a final twist on the plan that will mean that all of the witches will be devoured by carnivores.  So why in the world would you want a fourth or fifth grader to read this?

For the same reason that you loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Dahl has an amazing ability to walk a thin line between safety and terror.  His child-protagonists are often put in positions in which their lives are at stake.  To make that threat real, there need to be real (and often fatal) consequences.  This doesn't traumatize or terrify the child-reader.  On the contrary, it draws him or her into the book.   There is a point in this book where the grandson is hiding behind a screen  in a hotel meeting room full of witches who are discussing their evil plans.  They beginning sniffing and the readers knows it is just a matter of time before they realize that he is there.  It is a delightfully scar scene.  Somehow, though, at the same time the reader is scared, the reader also knows that everything will be okay.  That's the way kids' books work.

Besides the cigar smoking grandma and the violent scary witches, there is nothing particularly offensive in this book.  Some parents might object to the presence of witches in the book, but they are teh antagonists.  This book would work well for 4th through 6th grades.