Sunday, February 2, 2014

Let's Find Out

Part of my New Year's resolution was to catch up on some blog posts that I had waiting.  My "blogging" pile has an assortment of books in it, ones I really liked.  But for one due date (a publisher's or blog tour's due date) or another (due dates at the library), I would move other books past them.  I'm looking forward to sharing some of them with you in the next week, including an honor book from the ALA Youth Media Awards!

Today I'd like to highlight a series I requested last summer from Black Rabbit Books.  Even then, the series (and another series that I blogged about), were from a webinar that School Library Journal hosted last spring.  This series "Let's Find Out" is perfect for the 1st - 3rd grade reader who is interested in learning about lots of different subjects.

I was sent three books in the series for review - Let's Bake a Cake, Let's Go to the Playground and Let's Read a Book.  They are all written and illustrated by Ruth Walton.  Each of them expands on the title topic.  Let's Read a Book starts with the subtitle - Find out about books and how they are made.  But the subject of creating books has lots of tangents - libraries, different types of writing, the creation of paper and ink... Walton spends two pages on each of these topics and more.  With just two pages to devote to each, most are not covered in-depth.  But there is a surprising amount of information covered there too.  On a spread that discusses how paper is made, there are many pieces of information.  There is the main text that gives an overview of the paper-making process.  The illustration depicts the steps that the wood goes through to become paper.  There is text in the illustration as well, giving additional information and overlaying some of the machinery to guide readers' eyes along the way.  There is a text box that describes how pulp is made.  Finally, there are photographs with captions showing a paper mill and paper ready to be used in a book.  That is an incredible amount of information to have in just one double-paged spread.

And that can be a drawback to young, inexperienced readers working through the text.  There is so information that it can be overwhelming.  I suspect that a new reader would need some guidance on how to follow the main text throughout.  But on the other hand, more accomplished readers can pick and choose what information they'd like to read among the many topics.  On a page about wheat in Let's Bake a Cake, there is a large diagram of a wheat grain, with the parts of the grain identified.  There are other pictures on the same page of foods made with wheat (besides the cake of the title).  These foods are very different, yet readers will immediately tie them together.  On the same page, Walton defines self-rising flour (which is called for in the cake recipe) for readers who most likely would have been unaware of the distinction.

All three books use bold text to indicate vocabulary words.  In Let's Bake a Cake, there are words like carbon dioxide, harvest, and durum wheat.  All of these words are defined in the glossary, located in the back matter.    In Let's Bake a Cake, besides the glossary, there is a world map with the chocolate cake ingredients marked in the locations where they grow.  There is also an illustrated recipe for chocolate cake and an index.

My favorite of the three is Let's Go to the Playground.  In this book, the subtopic is forces and motion.  The format just really seems to work in this title.  There are questions for readers - in a photo of children on a teeter-totter that includes a definition of a fulcrum, the text asks readers "Where do you think the fulcrum is?".  There are simple experiments in this book and information that Frances and Gloria found really useful, such as what makes you go down slides faster (clothes made of smooth or shiny material, in case you were wondering).  The book seems to be more simple than the other two, with less information on each page.  It made this title easier for us to interact with and I felt like we learned a lot more from that.

The illustrations are done in a variety of media.  Mostly, Walton collages elements together.  In the picture of the children on the teeter-totter, the children and teeter-totter are a photograph, collaged into a park scene.  The grass, bushes and dirt are other photos, used in unusual  ways.  I'm not quite sure what the photo representing dirt was originally, but it's been manipulated to look more patterned.  Unless you are looking very carefully at the picture, you might miss all the details that go into the harmonious whole, but they are worth noticing.  There are lots of those details to pore over, and I believe they help catch the reader's eye.  A reader who might be speeding through the book, not paying much attention to anything but the main text, will be drawn in by the details and go back to learn more.  And the wide range of informational presentation in these titles will help attract readers of all learning styles.

These are the sorts of books that help springboard young readers.  As overwhelming as I sometimes found the information, the number of topics will be sure to interest any child, and may lead them into other, related topics.  They will work well within the Common Core implementation beginning across the nation, too.  Thank you to Black Rabbit Books for sharing them with me.

Let's Bake a Cake. Ruth Walton.  Sea-to-Sea Books, 2013.
Let's Go to the Playground.  Ruth Walton.  Sea-to-Sea Books, 2013.
Let's Read a Book.  Ruth Walton.  Sea-to-Sea Books, 2013.

sent by the publisher for review consideration

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