Category: educational

Kindergarten Day USA and China (Trish Marx & Ellen B. Senisi) – Book Recommendation

By , January 6, 2011 10:17 am

One thing I enjoy about having a blog is being “discovered” by a publisher whose books really fit my style and interests.  For me, the Global Fund for Children is just that publisher.  Their books are all about diversity and respect for other cultures and people.  I am always delighted and honored to be asked to review one, and pleased to be able to recommend a really worthwhile book.  When the review copy arrives at my house we all pounce upon it eagerly!

The latest treat we received from the Global Fund for Children is Kindergarten Day USA and China by Trish Marx and Ellen B. Senisi.  The premise of the book is basic:  simple text from a child’s point of view and lots of big, colorful photos track a typical kindergarten day in the United States and in China.

First of all, we love the way the book is cleverly set up as a flip book.  One half is the Schenectady, New York class but when you finish that section you close the book and flip it around to read about the Beijing children’s day in the other half.  We also liked that each page has a clock that shows both the time in Schenectady and the time in Beijing.  This gives a real-time sense of what is going on for the children in each country.  Finally, we enjoyed the fact that the China section has some Chinese words sprinkled throughout and briefly explains pinyin, encouraging young readers to try to pronounce the Chinese words.

The authors successfully create a connection between the two classrooms on different sides of the globe through parallel activities.  Each class has a birthday celebration.  There is a slight conflict (being too loud, not sharing toys) that will be familiar to all children wherever they live.  We see both classes eat lunch and have outdoor recess.  Children in each class interact with their friends and work on reading.  And at the end of the sections, both classes mention thinking about the other class and wonder if the other class thinks about them too.

Children will see that although there are some interesting differences in life in the other country (for example we see the American children served lunch in a cafeteria, whereas the Chinese teacher prepares lunch for the children and it is eaten in the classroom with chopsticks), there are actually far more similarities.  Children in both countries laugh and cry.  All the children enjoy friends, playtime, drawing and reading.

My kids (ages 5, 8, and 10) are fascinated by Kindergarten Day and have read it through several times, even the older two.  I really like how the Global Fund for Children’s multicultural books take advantage of childrens’ natural curiosity about other children to teach the important lesson that although we might be different in some minor ways, people are basically the same wherever they live.  If every human could learn this basic truth at a young age, and develop a sense of curiosity about other countries and cultures, wouldn’t the world be a much happier and more harmonious place!

Kudos (yet again!) to the Global Fund for Children for helping to promote international awareness and understanding among children.

Kindergarten Day USA and China is available either directly from Global Fund for Children (hardcover or paperback), or Amazon (also in hardcover or Kindergarten Day USA and China (Global Fund for Children Books (Paperback)).

My other Global Fund for Children recommendations:

Global Babies

Nasreen’s Secret School

Book Recommendation: “An Environmental Guide from A to Z” (Tim Magner)

By , November 16, 2010 3:08 pm

There are a lot of junky books out there, but every now and then, an unknown gem comes my way and makes me very thankful that I get to review books on occasion!  An Environmental Guide from A to Z is just such a book.

Typical A-B-C- books are usually geared towards babies and toddlers and often leave older readers and adults cold.  This book is a happy exception.

Picture an A-B-C book for older children with each letter representing an environmental or nature-related concept or important person.  Each word is fully explained in easy to understand terms and is beautifully illustrated by Aubri Vincent-Barwood.  “D is for Darwin,” “F is for Fossil Fuels, ”  “I is for the Inuit Eskimos,”  “R is for Reduce and Reuse.”

Each letter also has a “Did you know?” section with an interesting fact or two related to the topic.  For example, in the “B is for Bees and Insects” section:  “A bee’s buzz comes from their wings flapping 200 times per second!”

I even learned a few things:  “Q is for Vo Quy,” “L is for Paolo Lugari” (read the book for more information) or “the average ‘piece of food’ travels 1,500 miles before it reaches your mouth….”  How about:  “with solar panels, Germany has nearly cut their use of coal in half” and “Denmark gets more than 20% of its electrical power from wind farms.”  I love it when I find a well-written childrens’ book that actually also teaches me a thing or two.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is that it doesn’t just limit itself to teaching facts, ideas and concepts, but it also asks questions encouraging children to think about their own lives.  Each letter has at least one little oak leaf with questions on it, or sometimes activity ideas.  “What’s the biggest tree in your neighborhood?  How old is it?”  Many of these questions will encourage kids to get outside:  “Watching the animals in your neighborhood, can you see how they are built to survive?”

If you are looking for an informative and interesting book that teaches about the environment and “green living”  without being preachy, then I encourage you to take a look at An Environmental Guide from A to Z Many thanks to Tim for sending me a copy.  This is a review copy that will remain on our shelf to be enjoyed for a long time to come.

Cool Math

By , May 12, 2010 5:34 pm

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Do you have a reluctant math student? Unfortunately I have two of them.  My 7 and 9 year-old are stuck in that very tedious phase of math where everything seems to be all about drilling problems.  According to her recent parent-teacher conference, my 4 year-old on the other hand, currently spends much of her time in the “math environment” of her Montessori classroom.  As her proud Mom, I have of course already planned out her future career as an engineer!

The foundation of math can be pretty boring.  I remember that from my school days.  Fortunately I ended up loving math later, and even took it in college.

I keep thinking, if only there was some way to make it clear to them that math can actually be really cool later on, then perhaps they’d be willing to slog through this early stuff until the light bulb comes on for them as it did for me.

Fortunately I recently discovered the math stories by Theoni Pappas.  I bought Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales (that’s some of the cool stuff!) and The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat (my kids love cats).

I have begun reading the fractals book out loud with my oldest daughter. We have read several chapters and she keeps wanting more!  Each short chapter has an easy and creative explanation of a different complex, mind-bending concept presented in story format.  Often there are related activities to do, or puzzles to solve.  At the end of the chapter is a highlighted box with more complete information about the concept, usually involving history or practical applications.

The Möbius strip was one of the real WOW chapters that we have read so far (see our photo above).

Will these books turn my children in to math-lovers?  Who knows, but they are fun!

Great Magazine Find! “Tessy & Tab Reading Club”

By , March 9, 2010 1:36 pm

I get tons of offers to review all sorts of odd things: snack foods (no thanks), prenatal vitamins (not pregnant), infant video games (did you read the title of my blog?), celebrity this and celebrity that (my interest in celebs = ZERO).  Do any of these marketers actually READ my blog first? I rarely accept a review offer.

Well, a while ago I got a very nice email about a publication that sounded pretty good and well-matched to Unplug Your KidsBlue Lake Children’s Publishing wanted to know if I would be interested in reviewing their bi-monthly “magazine” (really more like a little book) for 2-6 year-old pre and early readers.  The magazine is called Tessy & Tab, and after checking out their website, I decided that my 4 year-old and I might like to give it a try.

The verdict?  We love it!

As I mentioned before, Tessy & Tab is more like a small stiff paperback book than an actual magazine. This is helpful if you have destructive little-ones!   But as Heather of Blue Lake explained, “kids like the word ‘magazine.”  Your preschooler will love getting their own “magazine” twice a month in the mail.

The main characters of Tessy & Tab are a duck named Tessy and a kangaroo…obviously named Tab.  Each 14 page issue features Tessy and Tab doing fun things that children will enjoy learning about, or are perhaps familiar with.  My packet included issues about flying kites, ice skating lessons, learning to write, making pizzas, a yoga lesson, and crafting jewel mugs.

The subject matter was very interesting to my 4 year-old and the bright and simple illustrations were fun for her too.  The text is basic and the font is large, dark, and easy to read.  My daughter was pleased that she could sound out some of the words herself, and LOVED the part where she got to do an “I Spy” finding different pictures and words that appeared throughout the story.  I think she sat quietly on the sofa for at least half an hour working on her packet of Tessy & Tabs.

From a parent point of view, I like the following:

  • I can do more than just read the content aloud.  There are also a few activities, some of which my 4 year-old can do on her own.
  • The featured letter and number are useful bi-monthly teaching tools that might especially be helpful for homeschoolers.
  • There are three “Story Questions” at the end of each issue.  The questions check to see if your child remembered and comprehended the story (there are visual hints too).  A good introduction to the idea of “reading for comprehension” which they will face for many, many years to come in school.
  • Twice a month is ideal in my mind for publications geared to children so young.  Although it flies by for us grown-ups, a full month’s wait is a Very-Long-Time when you are 4ish.
  • The website has printables, learning games, and activities that go along with each issue.

And last, but DEFINITELY not least!!!

  • Tessy & Tab has no advertising.  I don’t have to endure tortured requests for Disney princess fruit snacks or Sponge Bob sneakers after we read an issue.

I have subscribed.

If you decide to subscribe and like this magazine, please tell your friends about it.  If you have a blog, please write about it.

Blue Lake Publishing is a low budget operation and it does not accept advertising.  I really respect this attitude and I wish them well.  I also thank them for bringing Tessy & Tab to my attention!

LINKS:  How does the Tessy & Tab Reading Club Work?

Nasreen’s Secret School (Jeanette Winter) – Review

By , October 28, 2009 9:48 pm

If you like multicultural children’s books, then I hope you are familiar with the books published by the Global Fund for Children.  The Global Fund for Children recently discovered my review of their wonderful Global Babies board book and contacted me regarding a review of a brand new book, Nasreen’s Secret School.

I am very picky when it comes to requests to review books, most queries end up in my email trash.   But I just knew that this book would be of great interest to us, and to many of you who read Unplug Your Kids, so I accepted this particular request.  Soon I was sent a free review copy of Nasreen’s Secret School.

Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter is subtitled “A True Story from Afghanistan.”  It is published by Simon & Schuster for the Global Fund for Children.  The author based this book on a story told to her by an organization supported by The Global Fund for Children that aided secret schools for girls during the reign of the Taliban (1996-2001).

This is the powerful tale of young Nasreen, a little Afghan girl who has not spoken since her parents’ disappearance.  The narrator, Nasreen’s grandmother, is determined to get her out of the house and into school, but girls are not allowed to attend school in Afghanistan:

“The Taliban soldiers don’t want girls to learn about the world, the way Nasreen’s mama and I learned when we were girls.”

There were “whispers” about a secret school for girls behind a green gate.  Nasreen and her veiled grandmother hurry down alleyways to towards the green gate, hoping not to be seen by soldiers (women were not allowed to leave the home without a male relative):  “Please Allah, open her eyes to the world” prays her grandmother.

My 7 and 9 year-old loved this book and I still often come across them reading it and rereading it in quiet corners of the house.  My daughter (age 9) said she liked that it was a true story and how it showed that not all children have the same life she does.

Although the book is written in a simple picture book format, it is recommended for ages 6 to 9.  On every page you will find a vibrant acrylic illustration (also by Jeanette Winter) and just a few short sentences.

Despite its colorful picture book appearance, I would agree that this is not a book for very young or sensitive children due to the serious subject matter.  Nasreen’s father is taken away by soldiers and her mother never returns home after going off to try and find him.  Although mention of these events is brief, it could be distressing for littler ones.

The ultimate feel of the book though, is very uplifting.  It celebrates the strength of ordinary people (particularly women) to overcome adversity and carry on.  It is a wonderful lesson for older children in the value of education and how an education opens windows to the world, and that knowledge is always with you, “like a good friend.”

We also liked the tidbits of Afghan culture that are sprinkled throughout:  Nasreen’s ancient city Herat was once a beautiful place where music and learning “flourished.”  When a soldier demands to enter the school, he finds only a room full of girls reading the Koran, which is allowed (the girls hid their schoolwork).   The women wear a burqa and are completely covered while out in the streets and the girls wear headscarves.  This book offers lots to discuss and discover about Afghan culture, history and politics.

There is additional interesting information about Afghanistan in an author’s note.  Teachers and parents might find it helpful as a starting point for teaching about modern Afghanistan.

Thumbs up from us for this beautiful and educational multicultural book!

LINKS:

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