When it comes to children's books, teachers want bang for their buck. So they love books that cover many teaching areas at the same time. This not only saves money and time, but more important, a book that speaks to children on a variety of subjects -- with elements of science, math and language arts, for instance -- unifies learning. In teacher talk this is called "crossing curriculum."
At a continuing education class at Meredith College that I taught in December, I brought in a slew of recently published nonfiction and fact-based fiction books.
The teachers arranged themselves by areas of study, and arts, science, social studies, math and language art teams considered the books as we whirled them around the room. The teams considered curriculum connections and chose the books they thought most useful.
Here are their top five favorites.
Harcourt, $16, preK-2
Bright, bold colors stretch across double pages to portray all kinds of beetle species, habitats, life cycles and rankings in the food chain. The author's rhythmic text is just as colorful, as she uses gerunds, alliteration, adjectives and more to describe the beetles' bustling activity. The book has a 12-bar blues pattern and is a great introduction to bop-music of the '50s. The exciting writing is a natural lead to creating bug puppets to act out the book's wild action. The book's patterns could give rise to graphing and sorting exercises in mathematics.
Oscar and the Frog: A Book About Growing
Candlewick, $11.99, K-2
This new series melds science and story as a cat and frog venture forth in the world and discuss observable facts. In this book, they examine growth as they view and discuss life cycles of frogs, fish and seeds. The arts team found drama in the movements of characters and thought that pairing this book with "Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saens would bridge literature and music. Math discussion centered on examining elapsed time and size comparisons. The social studies experts saw that the book could inspire timelines or studying change as a character trait. In terms of literature, the book provides examples of first-person narrative and clarification writing, as well as a well-integrated text and graphics.
Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed ... and Revealed
David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy
Tricycle Press, $15.95, K-4
"Ear-tickling" poetry, proclaims the cover and so the language arts team went nuts over how spectacular the poetry was in both sound and sense. Each poem is placed on a full page facing a camouflaged setting on a fold-out page. Unfolding reveals the animal that hides within the setting. The poems use diverse techniques, including alliteration onomatopoeia and rhyme. Each poem includes a nonfiction element covering content areas such as animal study, habitats and landforms, symmetry and patterns. The arts team noted that the book includes textures and impressionistic paintings and provides a way to study hidden musical themes.
One Thousand Tracings
Hyperion, $15.99, 3-6
This, the author's first book, was inspired by an attic discovery: a dusty box holding "yellowed envelopes from all over Europe containing foot tracings of every size." Her family had sent shoes to those in need in postwar Europe. Her lyrical telling creates a strong personal narrative. The social studies team loved seeing comparisons of the United States and Europe in the postwar era, studying supply and demand and lack of resources, and examining facets of history such as Victory Gardens. The arts team saw a way to introduce Big Band music and talk about the history of commercial design. Math lessons included measurement, and science uses included discussing basic needs and how seasons affect people.
Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make It Bad
Holt, $19.95, 3-6
In short visual chapters with playful phrasing, the graphic artist differentiates design elements such as foreground and background and explains how to create unity of design. Children mad for comics and graphic novels can learn how images work. The arts team found connections to Op Art, as well as studies of depth and perspective, use of negative and positive spaces and computer design. The math team saw geometric shapes, patterns and inscribed and circumscribed shapes. The book lends itself to a scientific study of primary and secondary colors. The language arts team noted the concise writing and sequential organization.