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tree ring circus

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It's story time again, everyone! Today we have Tree-Ring Circus written and illustrated by Adam Rex. This book is a rollicking story about what happens when the circus rolls by a rather popular tree.


Now we all know that any good tree story has got to start with a seed.


Rex tells his story in rhymes and he makes excellent use of the long e sound in tree.


That is one awesome tree. Look at those roots! And it's already losing its leaves.


As soon as the tree appears, critters show up to live in it. The text in the book is often partially illustrated like the words on the left. The words are oversized and oddly shaped. I feel like I can hear an old-time carnival barker yelling them out: "Step right up and see the whopping big bee!"


After a few more critters show up, the traveling circus drives by. Turns out they've lost their clown. (Can you find him?) While Barley and Brown look around a mischievous monkey steals their key. And he sets the animals free.


Now 13 more creatures climb into the tree. Including an elephant, who you can't see. Uh-oh.


Oh gee.

How fabulous is that word "lea" there?! So cool. I love the idea of using this book in a unit on trees to talk a little about the word tree - to play around with its sound and create some clever rhymes.

If you're interested in another silly story about animal antics, check out Rex's book Pssst!, where the animals at the zoo start talking to the visitors.

anton und die blätter

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This week's story time book is in German! I couldn't resist sharing one of my favorite German kids books since it's all about leaf piles in the fall. The book is Anton und die Blätter by Ole Könnecke. I love Könnecke's Anton character. (For a look at another Anton book, check out this entry on my old blog.) The title of this book means "Anton and the Leaves." But don't worry about the German; you don't need to know German to understand this book!

Anton and the Leaves

There is Anton. Anton has raked up all the leaves.

Look at him! He's so proud!

Wait a minute, there's another one.

Okay, how awesome are the pictures here? The drawings are mostly black outlines on white, with just a few touches of the fall colors red, yellow, orange, and brown here and there.

So Anton wants to get that one last leaf, but...

There comes the wind.

The leaf blows away and Anton runs after it.

There is Lukas. There is the leaf.

Now Lukas joins in the chase after the leaf.

There are Greta and Nina. There come the boys. "Stop!", shouts Anton. "Hang on!", shouts Lukas.

And what do the girls do?

The girls run too. They've almost got the leaf.

Of course the girls join in! Other kids running by chasing something: what 5 year-old can resist that?!

There comes the wind again.

Drat! Just when they had the leaf trapped up in a tree, the wind sends it back in the direction it came from. In the tradition of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, the whole gang runs past all the places they've been before. Past the trees. Past the playground. Past the swing.

They've almost got the leaf. Almost...

Well, you know what happens next, right?

"Got it!", shouts Anton. "Got it!", shouts Lukas. "Got it!", shouts Greta. "Got it!", shouts Nina.

And then they go home to celebrate with juice and cookies.

Isn't Anton the best? Doesn't he just make you want to be a kid again? Now, go on outside and jump in some leaf piles. You know you want to.


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Ready for a story? Today's book is Leaves by David Ezra Stein.


Leaves tells the story of a little bear who sees the autumn leaves fall for the very first time. It's a sweet portrayal of a (bear) child's perspective on the mystery of the changing seasons.

The story is told in simple sentences and simple pictures, giving us an authentic sense of a child's thoughts and experience.


The little bear is happy. He runs through the grass and plays among the flowers. And all is right in his world, until...


"Are you okay?" Aww, he's worried about the leaves. Look at his little concerned face! At first, he tries to catch the leaves and put them back on the trees...


He watches them fall all around him and we see him cock his head to the side in confusion. But at the same time, he starts to feel very tired. So without much more introspection...


...and he went to sleep. How very kid-like.

We see winter come and go outside his cozy hole. He remains unaware of the snow falling or the gradual return of the light.

Finally, after his long sleep, he comes out of his hole...


...and is welcomed to spring by the new green buds. He gives the tree a big bear hug and then jumps for joy at the return of the the leaves and the flowers and the world he knew before.

This book is so sweet, I just want to hug it! It shows how special a child's first experience of something can be and what joy the return of something familiar and cherished can bring. Another of Stein's books, Pouch!, tells a similar story of a baby kangaroo, who takes his first hops away from his mother's pouch. These are special experiences and he turns them into special stories for young children.

Check out Stein's website for a free downloadable postcard of little bear and the leaves and a look at how he made Pouch!. And don't miss his hilarious Caldecott Honor book, Interrupting Chicken.

autumn: an alphabet acrostic

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Saturday story time is back!

When we visited the Arnold Arboretum in June for family fun day, they had crafts out for kids to do. One of them was organized by local artist Leslie Evans. Her beautiful prints are featured in many books about nature including a series of alphabet books based on the seasons written by Steven Schnur.  Since we've been enjoying the first colors of fall this week, I thought we'd look at Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic.


Okay, isn't the cover amazing?! The lines are so sharp and crisp and the colors are so rich. I just love Evans' work! In the autumn book, every picture contains the yellows and oranges we associate with the season, whether it's an orange moon, a bright yellow house, or the beak of a barn owl.


The book is organized like an alphabet book. There is an autumn word on each page that starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Here L is for Leaves (which comes after Knit and before Mouse). But the book is more than an alphabet book, although it could be read that way for younger kids. Each of those alphabet words also provides the structure for an acrostic poem, where each line begins with the next letter of the word. 


Who doesn't love a cool acrostic, huh? Kids would have so much fun making their own acrostic poems for the fall inspired by this book!

There are of course, three other books in the series corresponding to the other seasons.  


Spring has bright greens on almost every page, for obvious reasons. 


And again, the poems are delightful. I like all the long e sounds in this one, ending with spring itself.

In Summer, the greens become blue-greens of lakes and beaches and night skies.


I'm waiting to take a look at Winter until that season arrives here! But we get a little preview of it in Autumn.


Now, in my opinion, one of the true tests of an alphabet book (because it is one of the true challenges), is how the author deals with the letter X. Schnur uses some clever tricks to get around X in the books and this one is my favorite. The word xylem is so cool! And the roman numerals could lead to an interesting math discussion in class as well.

I'm am so getting a set of these books for my future classroom! There's great science in here, fun word work and writing modeling, and a lot of connections kids can make between their own experiences and the books.

PS - If you want to see more of Leslie Evans' amazing work, check out her website Sea Dog Press.

hold on to your leaves!

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We are all hunkered down here in New England with our flashlights and our extra water, waiting for Hurricane Irene to pass through. The rain came down hard last night and now we're getting the wind end of things. We're surviving pretty well so far, but it sure is rough on the trees.


The branches are being whipped around a lot. Poor little things. It's good that the man with the pointy stick came and cut off the low-hanging dead branches from my tree last week though. Those things would be down on the street with all those leaves now for sure.

While we're riding out the storm, I'm reading my sons' issue of Kids Discover magazine about hurricanes.


Kids Discover tells us that we can judge the strength of the wind in a storm by looking at how much it is bending the trees.


I'd say my tree looks like the first picture. Not straight, but things could be a lot worse.

Best of luck to everyone out there in the storm's path. I hope all your trees are still standing when everything's done!

a couple of boys have the best week ever

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Get ready for a fun story time today! We're reading A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee. This picture book tells the story of two boys who go to nature camp together. It received a Caldecott honor in 2009. And it is pretty much the best book ever!


In the story, James spends a week during summer vacation with his friend Eamon at Eamon's grandparents' house so that the two friends can go to nature camp together. Don't they look happy on the cover? Picture perfect nature campers - that's James and Eamon.

Uh, nope. Through their fixed smiles, James is saying to Eamon, "How long do we have to stand here and smile?" and Eamon's saying, "Only for this picture and then we can go back to being normal." Oh, yeah, I think I'm going to like these kids.

The narration takes no notice of the boys' real feelings. It continues along, explaining how upset poor James was when his mother dropped him off.


Nope, wrong again. Frazee does such a wonderful job showing us the child's perspective in the illustrations. The text is telling us one thing, but James and Eamon see things a little differently than the text.

Okay, so this here's a book about an awesome week at nature camp, right? Show me some trees and nature stuff!


Nope, no nature stuff. Heh, heh, nutty kids. Can you blame them? The boys come home, we see them eat heaping mounds of ice cream, watch loads of tv, have waffles for dinner, and jump up and down on the blow-up mattress before going to bed. 

Alright, here comes day two. Now the fun is going to start and we're gonna see some nature stuff.


Nope. Giggle, er, ahem, I'm beginning to sense a pattern here. When the kids get back home, we see them play video games and eat more waffles. Then they "enjoy the beach together."


Ha! That sounds just like my kids!

On the next page, the text sums up the week: "Nature camp was just so great." What?! Nature camp is almost over and I haven't seen any trees at all!

That's right, this book isn't about nature camp at all. Oh sure, the week of nature camp was the best week ever, but what made it so great was the fact that they spent it together. James and Eamon tell us that nature camp was sweaty and boring but we can see on their faces that it's fun to be sweaty and bored with your best friend. Especially if you can come home afterward and eat banana waffles. This book celebrates all those things that kids really love about summer. The seemingly mundane things that they tell you about when you ask them "What did you do over the summer?" Do they tell you about the big trip the family took? Nope. The books they read? Nope. They tell you that they had the best week ever doing a million things and nothing with their best friend. And that they can't wait to go to nature camp again next year.

There are some special moments in the book that the kids share with Eamon's grandparents that I haven't told you about, so check out the book and discover them for yourself! And be sure to take a close look at the end pages. Frazee has made them look like a scrapbook filled with snapshots of the boys at nature camp. (Yay! Nature stuff!) Turns out, James and Eamon didn't just sweat and stare at flowers. They had plenty of fun there as well. Together.


tim and moby (and annie) talk about trees

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If you're in a school, you've probably heard of Tim and Moby. And BrainPOP, the website full of animated educational movies staring Tim and his funny robot Moby. I've been watching lots of BrainPOP movies this summer (along with my kids) to help prepare myself for the state licensing exam requiring teachers to show knowledge of all the subjects in state curriculum standards. Don't laugh, they're great movies! Anyway, I was so excited when I found a few movies about trees!


There's Tim and Moby. Tim's shirt always shows what they're discussing this time. In this movie, we learn about plant growth and, like all the movies, it is full of great information, presented in a clear way without being overwhelming or confusing, and always with a little bit of humor.


The movies always start with Tim and Moby reading a letter with a question sent in to BrainPOP. In this movie, a student asks why the apple tree in front of her school only has pink flowers on it and no apples.


Moby just happens to be up in an apple tree (dropping applies on Tim's head) and so we take a look at the development of the tree from flowering to growing fruit and spreading seeds. Tim does most of the talking, because all Moby can say is "Beep."


They talk about the purpose of the flower, the stamen and the pistil, and pollination (there's a whole 'nother movie just about that topic too!).


And they tell us how plants get nutrients. They explain the xylem and the phloem and photosynthesis. (Yeah, I could use a refresher on how that works too. Luckily, there's a movie on that one also!)


And they even show how animals can help out with seed dispersal.


I think Moby is saying, yuck!

So, bad news is, you've gotta have a subscription to see these movies. But, good news is, your school may already have one. You can ask your school librarian. You can also sign up for a free trial and watch all the movies you want for 5 days! And then tell your school librarian that your school needs a subscription. Also, there are about 20 free movies. They are awesome (but they're not about trees).

For younger kids (grades K-3), there's BrainPOP Jr., which my 4 year-old LOVES. And one of the free movies on BrainPOP Jr. is about forests. So check it out!


In BrainPOP Jr., Moby is in school with Annie. In each movie, she gets to thinking about something and poses questions to us, which are written on a little notebook next to the movie. Each question stays up there until she is done talking about it and then she poses another, related question. In this way, each movie gives younger kids a broad, but accessible introduction to the topic. 



There's even a BrainPOP in Spanish! One of their free movies is about ecosystems. I'm sure there are bound to be some trees in there! But, um, I don't know any Spanish, so you'll just have to let me know....


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The tree blog is back! And we're getting started again with my favorite part, Saturday story time! Today, I have a fabulous book to share: Redwoods by Jason Chin.


That sticker is no advertising gimmick. This book just begs to be opened. It is beautiful, fantastical, irresitible. Although Chin is writing a non-fiction book, he chooses to use a narrative structure, showing us a young boy who discovers a book - this book - on a bench in the 14th Street subway station.


The boy picks up the book, hops on his train, and begins reading.


As we read that "the coast redwoods'... ancestors lived about 165 million years ago," we see dinosaurs appear in the window behind the boy. We read that "there are trees alive today that first sprouted during the Roman Empire" and two Roman figures appear next to the boy in the subway car. When he exits his train, we read that "redwoods have shallow root systems," and we see roots creeping down from the subway station ceiling. Step by step, as he progresses in his book, the city is disappearing until the boy comes up out of the subway to find himself in a forest surrounded by the otherworldly trees he's been reading about. 


He walks among the trees. He finds a seed, "a one-inch-long cone" that with "enough light and water... can grow fast - up to two feet per year." From down below he experiences the "artificial rain" produced by fog condensing on the needles of the tree, an ingenious way the redwoods get water in the summer months. At the base of one tree, he discovers rope, a helmet, and another book, How to Climb Big Trees. He climbs up into the canopy to explore the trees from above.


We learn that the soil produced by decaying needles caught between the branches of these enormous trees is rich enough for other plants, and even other trees, to grow in. The boy discovers many animals that live here in the canopy and sees how new trunks grow and crisscross into each other high above the ground. There's a lot of information packed into the middle of the book here. And there needs to be because the end of the book, like the beginning, moves slowly, transporting us this time back to the city. As the boy learns just how tall these giants are, the city starts to return.


"...six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty...taller than a thirty-story skyscraper..."


"...if it were introduced to a city skyline, it would fit right in." With these words, the city has returned and the boy is sitting on a city bench, holding the book, and glancing back at the redwood he was climbing just a few pages ago. He looks at his watch and dashes off, leaving the book behind. And when a young girl picks up the book...



A book IS magical; in a book, a boy from the city can take a trip to the redwood forest. And these trees are magical too. You can tell that the author appreciates the magic of both trees and books. Check out an interview with the author where he talks about his inspiration for the book at The Green Guide for Kids and see his pictures from his own trip to the California redwoods on his website.
This summer I'll be continuing my studies to become an elementary school teacher by taking a class in children's literature. In preparation for the class, I've been looking at some classics of children's literature and I couldn't help noticing and highlighting a few beautiful (and not insignificant) passages about trees. One of these is in Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting - a book I remember reading as a child.


Babbitt writes in the prologue that Treegap wood "was at the center, the hub of the wheel" that connects the events and the people in her story. We soon learn that at the center of the wood, there is an ash tree.

In the end, however, it was the cows who were responsible for the wood's isolation, and the cows, through some wisdom they were not wise enough to know that they possessed, were very wise indeed. If they had made their road through the wood instead of around it, then the people would have followed the road. The people would have noticed the giant ash tree at the center of the wood, and then, in time, they'd have noticed the little spring bubbling up among its roots in spite of the pebbles piled there to conceal it. And that would have been a disaster so immense that this weary old earth...would have trembled on its axis like a beatle on a pin.

Okay, I'm hooked!

Another classic tale I'm reading (this one for the first time!) is A Wrinkle in Time by  Madeline L'Engle. (Dang, is this book good. So glad it wasn't wasted on 13 year-old me.)


This book also has a wood at the center of the story. The story begins with Meg in her attic bedroom listening to the trees lash against the roof during a storm. She goes downstairs where her brother, Charles Wallace, tells her of his discovery in the woods:

"You know the old shingled house back in the woods that the kids won't go near because they say it's haunted? That's where they live."
"Mrs Whatsit and her two friends."

Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg and Charles Wallace that their father is trapped in the fifth dimension, and "Silence fell between them, as tangible as the dark tree shadows that fell across their laps and that now seemed to rest upon them as heavily as though they possessed a measurable weight of their own." When the kids begin their journey through time and space to rescue their father, the trees signal the sudden shift: "There was still the sound of leaves, a terrified, terrifying rushing..." And when they arrive on the planet Uriel:

They were standing on a sunlit field, and the air about them was moving with the delicious fragrance that comes only on the rarest of spring days when the sun's touch is gentle and the apple blossoms are just beginning to unfold....They had left the silver glint of a biting autumn evening; and now around them everything was golden with light.

I remember thinking as a kid that these long descriptions were so boring, but these are amazing and give you such a vivid sense of what the kids are experiencing. I am surprised at how the trees can be used to communicate so much about their feelings and surroundings.

Another book I've started is the second book in the Nancy Drew series, The Hidden Staircase (a series that I used to LOVE!).


Unfortunately it does not hold up. Wow, are these stories lame. Like A Wrinkle in Time (and I'm sure this is the only similarity), The Hidden Staircase is also about a haunted house. The house, which I assume contains a hidden staircase, is named Twin Elms. That sounds promising but here's what we read as Nancy sees the house for the first time:

From the road one could see little of the house. A high stone wall ran along the front of he estate and beyond it were many tall trees. Nancy turned into the driveway which twisted and wound among elms, oaks, and maples. Presently the old Colonial house came into view. Helen said it had been built in 1785 and had been given its name because of the two elm trees which stood at opposite ends of the building. They had grown to be giants and their foliage was beautiful.
'It's charming!' Nancy commented.

Oh, well, thank goodness Nancy told us it was charming. Because that description didn't. It sounded like it was from a rental listing or something: "Charming tree-lined view. With ghost."

a fruit is a suitcase for seeds

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I've spent the last several days packing for our summer trip to Germany to visit the in-laws. We have suitcases everywhere! So it seemed appropriate today to read  A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds for our Saturday story time.


The book is by Jean Richards and is adorably illustrated by Anca Hariton. In addition to happily colored paintings of plants and their fruit, Hariton depicts little people and their suitcases along the bottom of each page. I love this image of plants packing up everything they need for a long trip. What kinds of things do you think a plant needs to grow in a new place? What kinds of things do you need?


Richards tells us, "Seeds often travel to faraway places." Just like us. In fact, all those suitcases remind me of our pile at the airport!


"The fruit is like a suitcase for the seeds. It protects them on their trip." Now that is a well-packed suitcase!


"Some fruits carry one big seed inside them.... A cherry is one of these fruits." Look, the little people have suitcases filled with one giant seed. Do you sometimes bring one big thing with you when you go on a trip?


"Some fruits have many small seeds inside them. An apple is one of these fruits." I wonder what little things the people have in their suitcases? What little things do you pack in your suitcase when you're traveling?


"Many berries...carry their seeds on the outside! Raspberries do too."
And now the people have suitcases with lots of pockets on the outside. Does your suitcase have pockets? What do you like to keep in there?


"I bet you didn't know that every time you eat a peach, a cherry, an apple, an orange, a pea..."


"'re really eating a suitcase!" Because the seeds are meant to float away in the wind or water, to be picked up by animals or people, and be taken on a journey. And at the end of their journey, they'll need to unpack like the little person at the bottom of the picture. Will she have everything she needs? Will the seed? Will we?!! I've got to get back to packing....

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