It’s Monday! And here’s what I’m reading…

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Capstone Connect

             School is out…summer is finally here!  No matter how well I’ve planned it out, that last week of school is just such a whirlwind – too much to do, so little time…
…but, I did manage to squeeze in reading these:

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World  written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Boris Kulikov answers a question I’ve meant to look up (how did that fierce some T-Rex which I’ve walked by so often at the Natural History Museum in New York City come to be there in the first place??).  As it so often happens, the story of how something is discovered is as interesting as the find itself. Barnum Brown was named after his circus-loving parent’s great hero P.T. Barnum, in the hopes that the boy would wind up a performer under the big tent. Barnum, however, had different ideas – he was fascinated by fossils.  His avid interest, combined with his uncanny ability to “smell fossils” eventually attracts the attention of  Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborne – an administrator at the Museum of Natural History in New York.  This collaboration leads to Barnum’s discovery (in the badlands of Montana) of T-Rex, “the king of kings…a fighting machine.”  Kids will love the entertaining way Barnum’s discovery unfolds, and they will love him as well – after all, what’s not to love about a eternally optimistic fossil hunter who goes about his adventures dressed to the nines in a fur coat, a suit and tie and a spiffy bowler hat?!

I picked up Far From Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage written and illustrated by Sophie Webb thinking that it would be a wonderful mentor text for our unit on the photo essay.  And it is.  Webb, a field biologist and naturalist specializing in birds, sets off with a team of scientists to “discover what has happened to dolphin populations that have been affected by tuna fishery.”  This four-month journey is written in diary form, with detailed paintings of both cabin life as well as  seabirds and marine life encountered along the way.  Webb’s narrative is filled with information about the scientific angle of the voyage and descriptions of the wonders of the natural world that she is able to experience from the vantage point of her ship.  Here, for instance, is her description of one August night:

This evening I treat myself to some time alone…I go up to one of the open decks to relax in my hammock.  Glittering starts fill the sky. One shooting star zips through the darkness, leaving a long, brilliant trail.  Night skies are spectacular out on the open ocean, where there is no light pollution.  The Milky Way looks like a long, hazy cloud.  When I look through my binoculars it becomes millions of specks of twinkling light.  The breeze is warm and soft – a truly beautiful night.  

One of the things I discovered about our unit on the photo essay was that my kids sometimes struggled with how to add scenes just like the above to their non-fiction writing – Webb’s book will be a wonderful mentor text to share with them so that they can see how this is done.

Finally, I discovered this book in the YA fiction section while I was looking for something else.  I won’t lie, the front cover made me laugh and enticed me to read the jacket flap, and when I learned that a border collie was involved in the plot, I was pretty much hooked (we had a border collie once, and she was just about the smartest and most interesting dog I’d ever met…more interesting, even , than a lot of people I’ve known!).

Dog Sense by Sneed B. Collard III is the story of thirteen year old Guy Martinez, who moves from his happy California life to Montana, where his mother hopes to start life anew.  To help ease the transition, Guy’s mom has found him a dog – a border collie by the name of Streak.  As much as he adores Streak, life in Montana is dreary and lonely, especially since Guy has come to the attention of the gang of bullies who are determined to ruin his life.  But, with the help of a fellow out-caste named Luke, and Streak’s uncanny ability to chase down a Frisbee, Guy finds a way to settle in and begin to enjoy life in big sky country.  I could think of at least five boys I had in my sixth grade class last year who would have just loved this book – kids in Dog Sense talk like real kids (some rough language – this is eighth grade, after all) and think like real kids.  And although the resolution seemed a bit predictable to me, I did appreciate that even the bullies turned out to have back stories which needed to be understood.  This would be a great choice for  book club, too – I can see so many interesting discussions emerging from the characters and events in Dog Sense.

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