Sunday, August 31, 2014

Benny and Penny in Lost and Found!

You all know how much I love TOON Books.  And you've heard repeatedly how much Gloria in particular loves TOON Books.  But did you know that the New York Times also loves TOON Books?  That's right - they do!  I am so happy to see this article share some of the things I love best about this company.  I was lucky enough to get the books that are mentioned in this article and I'm looking forward to sharing those titles with you this fall.  But in the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to do the latest Benny and Penny title: Benny and Penny in Lost and Found!
As I linked above, we read and reviewed the last book in the Benny and Penny series, Benny and Penny in Lights Out!, and Gloria cheered when this one arrived.  Just to catch you up, Benny is the older, more emotional sibling, and Penny is the younger, more practical sister.  And they show their personalities from the very first page of this story.  Benny announces "I'm in a BAD mood!" (p. 9).  When Penny asks why, it turns out that Benny has lost his beloved pirate hat (it was also left outside in Lights Out!).  She retorts "AGAIN?" (p. 9).  Benny, who is the one who feels everything strongly, continues "How can I be in a good mood when I'm in a bad mood?" (p. 10).

He feels the loss of the pirate hat very much, and sets off to find it.  Penny has some practical, sisterly advice ("In this fog? You'll get LOST!" (p. 12)) but finally agrees to help him search.  They set off, and have some alleged sightings of the pirate hat.  But just like in Lights Out!, the shadows turn out to be anything but the pirate hat.  One of the shadows is a dinosaur? a lizard? (Frances says lizard, Gloria says dinosaur) that tags along with them for a few minutes before they are all frightened by one last shadow.  This one looks suspiciously like...a cat.

They all scurry away as quickly as they can.  When the danger is over, Penny scolds Benny, "Benny, you always lead us into TROUBLE!" (p. 26).  And sure enough, he has.  Both Benny and Penny recognize that they are lost.  This is where something interesting happens for Benny and Penny.  Their relationship shifts from a more challenging, adversarial one to more of a team attitude.  Benny, who is usually hot-headed and emotional, settles down in the crisis.  Penny, usually so practical and slightly disapproving, melts down.  She yells "WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THAT OLD HAT?!!!" (p. 27).  Benny is put in the position of comforting his younger sister.  Once the meltdown is over, then they can go about the business of finding home safely, where indeed, the pirate hat is waiting for them.

While Benny and Penny's mother is never seen, she is still within earshot, providing for them.  Their mother is the one who finds Benny's pirate hat while the children are out searching.  It's worth noting that way back at the start of the story, Penny asks Benny if he's checked in the house before they set off on their adventure.  Of course, when they return home, their mother tells Benny his hat was in the closet all along.  Penny, wisely, never says a word.  As soon as he finds the pirate hat waiting, mercurial Benny is in a good mood again.

Being lost as the two mice are can be really terrifying for a young child.  Their mother has several adages about being lost that Penny repeats during their adventure.  Penny first announces in a confident, slightly snotty tone " Mommy says 'When you lose something...think of the last place you had it.'" (p. 11).  Benny ignores this advice, of course.  When they are really lost and upset, Benny remembers "Mommy says 'If you get lost, always go back the way you came.'" (p. 31).  And when they find their way back, she is there waiting to comfort them.  That helps reassure young readers that losing things, even your way, might turn out okay at the end.

I think the illustrations do an excellent job of bridging the gap between reality and fiction.  These are mice, after all, but with their strong personalities, you might forget it.  While they wear some outerwear (a sweatshirt and jacket), they really do look and act like mice do.  Their funny faces are full of human expression.  The dinosaur/lizard is all cute, though.  While he scares the siblings at first, he is just as scared by the menacing cat as they are, and he scampers quickly away.  The fog is almost another character in the book.  It obscures most of the scenery, giving an added feeling of tension to the story.  It's cloudy, dark and mysterious, with a touch of swampy.

I almost always close my reviews of books in the TOON line by talking about the company's literacy efforts.  Gloria is just beginning kindergarten next week, and her teacher came for a home visit, as is mandated by the district.  I made a point of talking to him about TOON Books, and showed him this book.  What I always love about these books is TOON's leveling system, and how clear it is.  On the back cover, this book is indicated as Level Two.  When you look inside the back of the book, there is a page of tips for parents and teachers about how to read comics with kids.  There is also an explanation of the levels.  This book is intended for students in Grades 1-2, and also includes Lexile, Guided Reading and reading recovery information as well.  And TOON gives a handy breakdown of what Level 2 means to them:
  • 300-700 words
  • short sentences and repetition
  • story arc with few characters in a small world
  • 1-4 panels per page
This is all valuable information for those of us wondering if this is the right book for our child.  I also told Gloria's new teacher about the online cartoon maker, which we like to use often.  I can't say enough about TOON Books and how unique their efforts are.

I hope there are many more Benny and Penny adventures for us to read.  I love their sibling relationship, as well as the precarious situations they get themselves into.

Benny and Penny in Lost and Found! Geoffrey Hayes.  TOON Books, 2014.

sent by the publisher for review

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Dolphins of Shark Bay

"I am summer, come to lure you away from your computer,
come dance on my fresh grass
dig your toes into my beaches." 
- Oriana Green

Sorry for the lack of blog posts in the past month.  It's a combination of things around here.  Summer in Montana is very, very short.  Already this last weekend the temperature was below 50 degrees!  You need to take advantage of every sunny moment.  At the end of the spring, I read this blog post.  It resonated with my worn out feeling at the end of the spring, when we were finishing up with lots of activities, celebrations, and events.  I decided to take the summer off.  We wouldn't schedule anything, but just be free for whatever came up.  I also made the decision to turn off the cable, so they couldn't just sit down and veg in front of the TV after work and daycare.

So, we've basically spent the summer outside, as much as possible.  We have a plot in our community garden, and a playground behind our house to keep us busy. The girls have also taken out all of their toys and played with them over and over again. This leads to other problems this summer, particularly that our house is always extremely...lived-in.  And between spending lots of quality time together, and cleaning up after said quality time together, there hasn't been very much time to create new blog posts.  I had a vision at the start of the summer that I would use all my "free" time to write posts and catch up on my blog pile.  Instead, thanks to some generous publishers I have been reviewing for, my pile teeters even higher.  But I'm not complaining, honest!  I'm just redoubling my effort to get some posts written.

This book is one of those long overdue posts.  But that doesn't mean I am any less excited to talk about it, just that I haven't had time to write up my thoughts.  I couldn't believe my luck last summer when Pamela S. Turner sent me an email, asking if I'd like a copy of the latest in the Scientist in the Field series, The Dolphins of Shark Bay.  If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you'll know I've reviewed many other books in the series, including here and here.  I was so excited to get this title, another quality, fascinating addition to the Scientist in the Field series,  Plus she sent me the best dolphin notecard, too!

This book takes place in Shark Bay, in the western part of Australia.  Janet Mann is a scientist who has made it her life's passion to study one particular trait pf the dolphins that live there - their tool use.  Now don't get any ideas of dolphins using saws underwater to build new homes.  Even more interesting (and more refined!), they are placing sea sponges on their noses (or rostrums) to help them scrape along the ocean's bottom.  The sponge protects their rostrums as they search for fish hiding in the channel's sand, rock and coral.  Once they unearth a fish, they quickly drop the sponge and gulp the fish.

Dolphins as a species are known for their echolocation skills.  This helps them in many ways - bouncing their sonar off an object helps the dolphin form a three-dimensional image of something in the deeps of the ocean.  They use this information to eat, navigate, find mates and survive.  But the dolphins who are "spongers" aren't using echolocation to find food at all.  Turner describes the dolphins who frequent this part of Shark Bay as searching "half blind" (p. 25) for food.  The channel bottom is covered with rocks and other debris that make it difficult for the dolphins to catch fish.  Conversely, the fish have a better survival rate in the channel's rocks because they aren't discovered as frequently.

So Mann, having seen this behavior performed beginning twenty-five years ago, decided to study this interesting phenomenon more closely.One of the more unusual things she and her research team have found is that this sponging is passed down through dolphin mothers in the pods that frequent Shark Bay.  If you are a dolphin, and your mother didn't sponge, you won't learn that tool use anywhere else.  Mann explains this quirk in this way: "Females are the specialists and the innovators because they're under a lot of pressure to support their calves....If you're a female dolphin who can develop a new way of making a living instead of competing with other dolphins, that's a big advantage.'" (p. 27)

As her team observed more than 600 dolphins, they also documented other unusual feeding techniques - a dolphin who hunts at night, beach hunters (they beach their prey and quickly get back into the water after eating it), and many more specialized behaviors.  These behaviors, too, are often shown in mothers and daughters.  Possibly because mothers have to be smart to get enough fish to feed themselves and their children.  It could also be because daughters stay with their mothers longer than sons do, and see the benefits of these hunting behaviors.

I learned so many interesting facts about dolphins through The Dolphins at Shark Bay.  One chapter looks at alliances of male dolphins and how they bully females into mating with them.  They herd a female away from her group, separating her and badgering her.  Young males practice this strategy on each other to learn teamwork.  They also begin to recognize which other dolphins they might want to form an alliance with.  Along with mating, it really is survival of the fittest in Shark Bay.  All of the adaptations that these pods exhibit help them survive in the wild.

And let me re-emphasize that these dolphins, although observed frequently for research, are wild.  One of the changes that have been made at Shark Bay as a result of Janet's research was to something called dolphin tourism.  When Mann first arrived in the bay, hundreds of people might be in the shallows, throwing fish to the dolphins.  The mothers especially began to learn that the beach was the easiest way to get their babies the food they needed.  SO they stayed near the beach, begging for fish.  As a result, dolphin mothers were overfed, and the only feeding technique babies learned was to head for the beach.  As a result of their knowledge, the government regulates this practice much more strictly.  Only a few volunteers feed selected dolphins a few fish - now the mothers aren't overfed, and the young learn the right way to forage, including sponging.

Finally, Turner does a terrific job of detailing the scientists at work.  She shows one of the team "pole sponging" - imitating the dolphins around him to learn how this works, and why dolphins might engage in it.  She writes about different sampling methods used to monitor the dolphins, and even talks about how they select dolphins to be in the study.  I also really appreciated how when a hypothesis was proven wrong by Mann's team, they worked to come up with alternative hypotheses to solve research questions.  It's all fascinating, and Turner conveys her own enthusiasm for this project throughout the book - she even participates in the research!

Another thing I love about this well-designed series is its inclusion of back matter.  There is an index, additional facts about dolphins, websites, recommended reading, and more citations.  I have always loved how this series develops children's understanding of not only science and research, but the world we live in.  There is tons of material for the interested student to continue learning.  

For one brief moment in my young life, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer.  I had grown up in San Diego and loved dolphins for their intelligence and creativity.  I wish this book had been around when I was young.  I might now be out in Australia with Janet Mann, learning more about these amazing creatures.

The Dolphins of Shark Bay.  By Pamela S. Turner, with photographs by Scott Tuason.  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013.

sent by the author