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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ten CC's of Books for Boys

Looking for a way to get your boys reading? Look no further than the book recommendations below, sorted into "10 CC's" guaranteed to inject some enthusiasm for reading!

1. Curious Critters

Boys love to read about animals, the stranger the better. What's really terrific is that so many animal picture books are written using nonfiction text conventions such as a glossary, index, text boxes, captions, boldfaced and italicized words, appositives (for defining words in context), and headings and subheadings. Boys who frequently read these books will later find content area texts easier to navigate.

So which critters to include? Insects and predators lead the list, although mythological creatures are also popular. Boys tend to leave books about horses, dogs, and cats to the girls. A great example of this critter category is Predators, one of Simon and Schuster's Insiders Series. Photographs, photo-realistic close-ups, and cool cut-aways give boys an unparalleled look at some of nature's most awesome hunters.

2. Caped Crusaders

Superheroes embody many of the traits that boys admire. What schoolboy hasn't dreamed of living dual lives? Superheroes, with their awesome powers and identity struggles, continue to be popular with boys right up through middle school. From classic superheroes such as Batman to newer, more unlikely protagonists such as Jeff Smith's Bone, this is a tradition that continues to reinvent itself for new generations of boys.

Need ideas for using superhero books? Check out the I Need a Hero post at this blog, and also click on the tag for heroism to the right.

3. Cool Cars

Cars, planes, motorcycles, and all things that go VRROOM! universally appeal to boys (and full-grown men as well!). In fact, researchers in a Harvard study of several hundred preschoolers discovered an interesting phenomenon. As they taped children's playground conversation, they realized that all the sounds coming from little girls' mouths were recognizable words. However, only 60 percent of the sounds coming from little boys were recognizable. The other 40 percent were yells and sound effects like "Vrrrooooom!" "Aaaaagh!" "Toot toot!"

Boys, it seems, do have a need for speed! Use this to your advantage by offering books such as the high-interest Torque series from Scholastic. While the reading level in this series is roughly third grade, the interest level is third to seventh. Some titles include Stock Cars, Apache Helicopters, and Motocross Cycles, all written by Jack David.

4. Comic Characters

In addition to superheroes, boys enjoy reading other materials in comic form. Many publishers recognize this, and now offer a fantastic collection of graphic novels in almost every genre (biography, mystery, history, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, etc.).

Graphic Planet's Bio-Graphic series title Jackie Robinson, for example, presents that hero's life story in comic format. The title also includes a timeline, glossary, index, stats, recommended further reading, and web links. For reluctant readers, this is a rewarding foray into biography which is likely to create a desire to explore additional famous men and women.

For more on graphic novels, see my previous post on Graphic Novels and New Literacies.

5. Comebacks and Conquests

The majority of boys who are obsessed with sports can be encouraged to read voraciously, given a library stocked with titles about players, teams, and championships. What's really awesome about many of today's titles is that they'll take a boy's love for a sport, such as baseball, and bring the context of a single game to life. In Phil Bildner's The Shot Heard 'Round the World, for example, young readers are taken back to Brooklyn in the sweltering summer of 1951 to see the Dodgers face off against the rival Giants for the chance to play the Yankees in the World Series. Illustrator C.F. Payne's images complete the time-machine transformation, and for just a little more than a dozen pages we are lost in a bit of baseball history.

If your students dig that one, be sure to check out Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy, by this same creative duo. Then, in a bit of what I call "stealth teaching," slip in Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss. They'll recognize C.F. Payne's style on the front cover, and that should be enough to draw them in.

Need some ideas for teaching with sports books? Check out my previous post on Going Extra Innings with Baseball Books.

6. Creeping Corpses

Almost every kid loves a good scare, and boys in particular love to read creepy stories. Whether it's a collection of Scary Stories which have been passed down orally for years, or a retelling of a classic ghost story, or a totally new take on this genre, boys love a good horror story.

Tales of the Dead: Ancient Egypt by Stewart Ross is a large format picture book that is part graphic novel, part cross-sections, and part nonfiction reference (a combination of three genres which are tops with boys!). This incredible book tells a tale of "murder, magic, and mystery" while simultaneously teaching the reader how ancient Egyptians honored their dead. The vast number of incredibly detailed and historically accurate illustrations were painstaking completed by a pool of talented artists and designers called Inklink. A fantastic addition to any library!

Lerner's Graphic Universe series Twisted Journeys is part Choose Your Own Adventure, part graphic novel, and 100% gripping. For example, the blurb on School of Evil (Twisted Journey #13) reads:
At Darkham Academy, the teachers are creepy, monsters lurk in the lab, and your dorm room is haunted! Can you survive the first day of school and finish your homework on time? Every Twisted Journeys graphic novel lets YOU control the action by choosing which path to follow. Which twists and turns will your journey take?
School of Evil's compact size, slick pages, masterful illustrations, and multiple opportunities for rereading (by choosing alternative endings) makes it a hit with upper elementary and middle school boys.

7. Close Combat

While many schools discourage war play, we can tap into boys' fascination with soldiers and guns by offering a wide selection of books on history. Books like 2010 title The Top Ten Battles that Changed the World are an easy introduction for boys into the wider study of world culture. Warring is, unfortunately, nearly as much a part of any culture as music, art, food, and dance. But a good book on the topic may lead students to want to explore more about a specific culture, beyond which battles it fought.

For lots of great titles and activities for teaching about the Revolutionary War, see my previous post, Crossroads of the Revolution.

8. Cut-Throats and Cutlasses

There's something about the pirate life that's enticing to boys. Is it the sword fights and the buried treasure, or the absence of nagging mothers and the lack of bathing? Whatever its allure, the pirate life can be explored through such books as How I Became a Pirate, Everything I Know About Pirates, and Pirate Bob.

If you have older readers, Candlewick's more sophisticated Pirateology would be an excellent choice, and your boys would absolutely want to visit the related web site at Ologyworld.com. There they'll find games, downloads, and extracts for all the Ology books.

9. Corporeal Crud

"Boys are gross!" is the oft-heard lament of school-age girls. Whether or not that's true, it does seem that boys love stuff that is really gross. Case in point: Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (and Others) Left Behind, a fun and fascinating look at scatology (the study of poop). Author Jacob Berkowitz and illustrator Steve Mack might do for this field of science what CSI did for forensics.

Boys also love to find out cool stuff about their own bodies. Place a copy of Clot and Scab: Gross Stuff about Your Scrapes, Bumps, and Bruises on your classroom book shelf, and you're not apt to see it again until year's end! Filled with disgustingly real photos, gross facts, microscopic close-ups, and just enough text to answer students' questions, this book will be of interest to future scientists and physicians alike. Author Kristi Lew supplements all the "cool stuff" with some really solid, fact-filled writing. Chapter One, for example, begins:
Have you ever fallen off your bike and dragged some poor body part along the pavement? YOW! Not only does it hurt like crazy, it looks nasty too. But don't worry. While you made hamburger out of your knee or elbow, your body got busy repairing the damage.
In that short paragraph, we have an awesome model of writing: all four sentence types, varied sentence length, and a metaphor! Trust me, if every textbook were written with this much skill, students would be far more successful in reading them than they are! (Clot and Scab is just title from Lerner Publishing's Gross Body Science series which includes Crust and Spray, Hawk and Drool, Itch and Ooze, and Rumble and Spew. What awesome titles! Also be sure to check out my prior post on Does It Really Take Seven Years to Digest Swallowed Gum? That post discusses ways teachers can use disgustingly cool books like these to encourage inquiry and research).

10. Cross-Sections and Cut-Aways

What boy hasn't taken apart a favorite toy or household appliance, just to "see how it works"? Books that offer detailed diagrams of the workings of helicopters, the human body, pyramids, the Titanic, tanks, and the Millennium Falcon are guaranteed to attract crowds of boys, anxious to read and discuss the tiniest captions offered to explain the most detailed drawings.

DK Publishing has dozens of these titles, and what's incredible is that the cross-sections of things that don't even exist in real life (such as the vehicles and spacecraft found in Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections) are often the most popular. My guys will sit and pore over a single diagram with a degree of studiousness I could only wish they would apply to their other school work.

Need even more recommendations? Check out Deborah Ford's recently published Scary, Gross, and Enlightening Books for Boys Grades 3–12. About this resource, School Library Journal says
Citing studies and describing the academic risks boys face, Ford challenges educators to help boys become more successful readers and students. Nine chapters cover nonfiction, graphic works, sports, mystery and adventure, humor, fantasy and science fiction, war and history, books with male characters, titles that have become movies, and read-alouds that meet national curriculum standards. Entries include a brief synopsis along with the publisher's interest-level recommendation and a reading level calculated by averaging three standard tools. Throughout, activities are highlighted, and Web resources are included at the end of each chapter.
 Know of other great titles and topics to get boys reading? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

To Create One's World: Exploring Georgia O'Keeffe in Picture Books

American painter Georgia O'Keeffe once said, "To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage." Her life and work proved that she had such courage. Help your students learn more about this imaginative and innovative artist through some terrific picture books.

Through Georgia's Eyes, written by Rachel Rodriguez and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, is a colorful, simply told narrative. It's the perfect introduction for younger students who need just a basic biographical sketch of the artist's life. Wonderful cut-paper collages echo artistic styles of the time, without trying to copy the style of Georgia herself.

Georgia Rises: A Day in the Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, follows the artist through a single day, from rising to retiring. Author Kathryn Lasky used Georgia's own diary entries to cobble together this fictitious yet representative day spent in the remote hills of New Mexico. Georgia Rises would be of interest to students who might wonder how artists work, and could be nicely supplemented by a video which features the artist herself discussing her somewhat unusual routines. As with Georgia Rises, this book's artist (Ora Eitan) has also chosen not to attempt the book in Georgia's signature style, but rather in a simpler, blockier, more modernistic approach which captures the changing colors and moods of the day. The two books cover very different ground, in very different ways; this in turn provides a good jumping off point for a discussion of how artists do the same.

Extensions:

IncredibleArt offers three simple yet satisfying art lessons which are equal parts artist study and art project. The lessons include links to recommended sites, sample student works, and in one case, a scoring rubric (designed for high school students but adaptable).

If you want to share some beautiful images with students on a large screen, The Georgia O'Keeffe Online Gallery offers an excellent selection of her most popular works, including bones, flowers, and landscapes. I'd highly recommend this approach since so many of her paintings were, after all, quite huge (30" x 40" or even larger). Students should see the images in those dimensions to truly appreciate their beauty and power. In Georgia's own words, "I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty."

Speaking of Georgia's own words, I recommend you check out some of her thoughts on art and culture. O'Keeffe's biography at The Art History Archive provides dozens of quotes, as well as a timeline of her works, some images, and information concerning the awards she achieved in her lifetime. Several of her quotes could definitely be used as writing prompts for students, allowing students to relate thoughts about their own creativity to support O'Keeffe's opinions. For more, Google "Georgia O'Keeffe Quotes."

A lesson plan from Teacher Vision (also available at the site) ties in math concepts to three other Georgia O'Keeffe books. Although Teacher Vision is a subscription site, it allows teachers to preview three resources before requiring a subscription. The lesson summary states that
Students will learn about size, scale, proportion, ratio, and measurement as they study the work of 20th-century artist Georgia O'Keeffe and read about her life in Georgia's Bones, Georgia O'Keeffe (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists), and Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers. Integrate math and art with the activities in this printable. Students will determine whether the flowers in O'Keeffe's paintings are drawn to scale, and they will sketch and color a scaled drawing of a flower in the spirit of the artist.

Finally, are you looking for an outstanding site to allow students to create their art online? Look no further than Sumopaint. Sumopaint is a fantastic, free, online paint application which has all the functionality of expensive programs. What's even better is that you can download Sumopaint for use on home or school computers. Images can be saved in a couple different formats, and even reopened for later editing.

Two additional Georgia O'Keeffe picture books I'd recommend are My Name is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter, and the above mentioned Georgia's Bones.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Girls Got Game

Over the past week I read dozens of books on women and their accomplishments, and was quite simply astounded by the number of excellent titles available. But the following books stuck in my mind above and beyond the others, so for that reason I’d love to share them with you.

America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David A. Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener, retells the childhood and achievements of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel. After nearly drowning in a pond, Trudy is taught by her father at an early age to swim. Tying a rope around her waist and placing her in a river, Trudy’s father tells her to paddle like a dog. Once she’s the master of the dog paddle, she copies the swim strokes of older sister Margaret and can soon swim better than any of her family or friends.

After winning her first big race at age fifteen, swimming the seventeen miles from Manhattan to Sandy Hook, winning Olympic medals at the 1924 games in Paris, and setting twenty-nine U.S. and world records, she’s ready to take on the ultimate challenge: the twenty mile swim across the English Channel. At just nineteen years old she attempts to do what only five men, and no women, had ever been able to accomplish.

Braving extreme cold, choppy waters, stinging jellyfish, and sharks, Trudy’s first attempt fails when her trainer, fearing the swimmer had swallowed too much sea water, pulled her from the Channel. Just one touch disqualifies the attempt. Disappointed with herself (and more so with her trainer), Trudy finds a new trainer and attempts the feat again a year later.

This time she’s not only successful, but beats the men’s record by almost two hours. While impressive, it’s even more amazing to discover that rough waters, which made all observers on nearby ships seasick, violently pushed Trudy in the opposite direction fro many hours of her fourteen hour swim. Observers estimate that Trudy likely swam the equivalent of thirty-five miles in order to cross the Channel.

And like all true champions, her story doesn’t end with this one feat. Made nearly deaf by the cold waters of the Channel (or possibly by childhood measles), Trudy went on to teach deaf children to swim and later was a member of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness.

David A. Adler’s treatment is flawless; this book is an exemplary piece of biographical writing in picture book format, which would make this a perfect mentor text for students to study and emulate. Terry Widener’s lush, folk-art inspired illustrations are the perfect vehicle for this retelling.

Extensions:
  • As a follow-up, students may want to check out Ederle's obituary (at ESPN Classics). She lived to the age of 98, spending her last years at a nursing home in Wyckoff, NJ. The obituary confirms many of the details shared in the book's narrative and author's note, while adding others. Students might use the obituary format to write similar summaries of other famous people they've studied.
  • You may also wish to check out America's Best Girl, which is a released reading comprehension test from Massachusetts. America's Best Girl is what then-President Calvin Coolidge nicknamed Trudy in a telegraph congratulating her on swimming the channel. The test, downloadable in pdf format, is at the fourth grade level, and contains both multiple choice and an open-ended portion.
  • Students often find it "cool" to discover that Trudy went on to help deaf children when she herself lost her hearing. You may wish to extend this to a study of famous people with disabilities, or difference. While the site provided at the link isn't pretty, it's a well categorized collection of people who have accomplished incredible things, despite, and perhaps because of, physical and mental challenges.
Terry Widener lends his talents to another stand-out title: Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings. In the simplest prose (shared with the reader in “innings”), author Deborah Hopkinson relates a fictionalized tale of Alta Weiss, a pioneering baseball player who would win acclaim by playing for the all-male Independents. Although women’s teams had been around since the formation of the 1866 Vassar College team (a fact I learned in this book’s “Highlights of Women in Baseball" endnote), the foray of Alta Weiss into what was traditionally a men’s game was a first.

Again, I’d recommend this title, first and foremost, for its historical importance. But like America’s Champion Swimmer, it’s a terrific mentor text, demonstrating to students how an entire life story might be parsed to its essence. The author also uses figurative language (simile, hyperbole, metaphor) liberally, so it makes for a worthwhile reread as well.

Extensions:
Definitely check out my previous post on Women in Baseball. There you'll find lots of questions to use when reading the book, plus related titles, activities, and links.

While your boys may not consider ballerinas athletes, I would certainly argue the issue, especially after reading Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina. The dedication and hard work needed to succeed as America’s first great dancer is made evident in this autobiography by Maria Tallchief (with author Rosemary Wells) and illustrator Gary Kelley. What we also discover, however, is what is at the soul of a dancer, In words as lyrical as dance itself, Maria says:
The secret of music is that it is something like a house with many rooms. My first simple exercises were like the frame of a house before it is built. The frame of good music has to be strong enough to hold the weight of a whole symphony, and delicate enough to break the heart.
The book’s luminescent images are reminiscent of the Degas dance paintings, but are at the same time solid, saturated, and iconic.

Extensions:
  • Students are likely to ask what Maria Tallchief looked like in "real life." Definitely share some images with them. They may also wish to see her in action (this short video also includes Maria being honored with the National Medal of Arts Award in 1999).
  • Maria was honored with the title "Woman of Two Worlds." Both before and after reading the book, ask students for their hypotheses about that name. To which two worlds does it refer? What other nickname might students choose for her? Who else can think of other famous people who have been honored with nicknames that tell the world more about them?
  • Teachers can read more about Maria's childhood, and share some of the anecdotes with students, who are always curious to hear how the lives of "the great ones" mirror their own.
A fourth book I highly recommend is Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills, and Frills, written by Julie Cummins and illustrated by Cheryl Harness. From the book’s inside flap:
From 1880 to 1929, these women, ranging in age from fifteen to sixty-three, demonstrated derring-do and nerves of steel equal to any male thrill seeker. In the water, in the air, and in the circus, their extraordinary exploits, as awesome today as then, put their names in lights and their “feats” in headlines. They drove, dove, sped, and fed the public’s appetite for spine-tingling, breath-holding entertainment in the days before television. Their spunk and courage made them inspiring at a time when women were testing the waters of equality and freedom.
In case you can’t tell, the fourteen performers profiled in this book are nothing less than amazing. Take, for example, Sonora Webster Carver, who plummeted forty feet, on horseback, into a tank of water just eleven feet deep on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. For seven years she performed this feat until a terrible accident blinded her at the age of twenty-seven. Unknown to her fans below, Sonora continued to ride the high-diving horses blind for the next eleven years. (Her story was eventually made into the Disney movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken).

Extensions:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Science Girls: Women with Vision

Nothing speaks louder than a good role model. As a teacher and a father, I absolutely believe that. That's also why I love picture books which retell the lives of men and women who, from their very childhoods, proved themselves to be innovative, independent, and incredibly resolute.

So while this post (and the next) might be seen as my "doing the Women's History bit," I truly believe that these biographies can serve a universal role in helping students realize that childhood dreams and interests can determine the paths they follow as adults.

Take, for example, Julia Morgan, who as a child loved to build. To her, buildings were huge puzzles, and she wanted to know how all the pieces fit together. Greatly influenced by her father, an engineer, and her cousin Pierre LeBrun, an architect who designed many of Manhattan's stone churches and its first skyscrapers, Julia dreamed of becoming an architect.

The book Julia Morgan Built a Castle, written by Celeste Davidson Mannis and illustrated by Miles Hyman, chronicles Julia's dogged determination to first enter the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and to then be accepted as a competent professional (unlikely for a woman in the early 1900's). Her success in both endeavors is inspiring to read; the glowing, sculpturesque forms in Miles Hyman's gorgeous images make this book a satisfying journey through the life of one remarkable woman.

Morgan was a tireless architect who completed hundreds of projects while simultaneously working on William Randolph Hearst's incredible San Simeon estate (the "castle" of the book's title), which required twenty eight years to complete. In her design, Morgan ingeniously suspended the estate's massive 345,000 gallon Neptune Pool from steel reinforced concrete beams so that it would sway, rather than buckle, during California's frequent earthquakes.

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, describes how a curious girl became one of America's most prolific inventors. Emily Arnold McCully helps readers see that Mattie's childhood fascinations with how common things work (a sled, a kite, a foot warmer) fueled her adolescent desire to improve the way machinery operated. While working in a textile mill at age twelve, for example, Mattie witnessed a serious injury when a rogue shuttle shot from a loom and struck a friend in the head. Young Mattie mulls the problem over, and her solution, a metal guard, is adopted by all of the factories in Manchester. Injuries from flying shuttles ceased immediately.

Mattie's later invention of a machine designed to create flat-bottomed paper bags (yes, those same bags we still use today) revolutionized the industry. Earlier flat bags had to be held with one hand when packing, and ripped easily when overfilled. When she tries to file her patent for the machine, however, Mattie finds herself in a patent war with a man who most certainly stole her idea just days earlier. Fortunately, Mattie's detailed diagrams and meticulous notes prove her "priority of invention," and from that point forward she pursues a life as a professional inventor. Her obituary refers to her as "the Lady Edison."

Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning, written by Laurence Anholt and illustrated by Sheila Moxley, provides readers with an even more extensive look at a scientist's childhood. This makes perfect sense with Mary Anning, however, since she was only twelve when she discovered the fossil of a great sea monster on the coast of England. This ichthyosaur would be just the first of hundreds of rare fossilized animals Anning would uncover over her lifetime.

But the road to her success was not an easy one. At the age of fifteen months, Mary survived a bolt of lightning which killed her nurse and two other girls. Her father, who encouraged her interest in fossils, died when she was just a girl. The children who should have been her friends teased her, calling out, "Stone Girl, Bone Girl, Out-on-your-own Girl!" Despite these obstacles, Mary Anning pursued her passion for the past, paving the way for other scientists in the field of evolution.

If you dig (pardon the pun) that story, you might also be interested in two other versions of Mary Anning's story. Catherine Brighton's The Fossil Girl: Mary Anning's Dinosaur Discovery tells the story of Mary's discovery through graphic novel format, complete with frames and speech bubbles. Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon, written by Jeannine Atkins with pictures by Michael Dooling, presents a much more mysterious, shrouded England, offering the reader just the slightest glimpse of the actual ichthyosaur. The emphasis is more on Mary's determination to see the job through. Teachers might consider sharing all three versions with students to generate discussion about choices made by writers and illustrators alike.

If you're seeking a book aimed at more independent readers, look no further than Jane Goodall: Researcher Who Champions Chimps, written and illustrated by Mike Venezia. (This book is from Getting to Know the World's Greatest Inventors and Scientists, just one of the excellent biography series created by Venezia).

From her earliest childhood, Jane dreamed of traveling to Africa to study the animals of that continent. Jane's father was a race car driver, often absent from the home scene, so Jane and her mother would spend hours in the garden observing plants, insects, and small mammals. Later, when evacuated from London during the bombings of World War II, Jane spent time exploring the rocky cliffs and pine forests of Bournemouth. She and her friends even formed a nature club, where a favorite pursuit was racing snails. During this time she continued to feed her imagination with tales of Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle.

Eventually Jane traveled to Africa where she met the legendary Dr. Louis Leakey and his wife, Mary. Leakey assigned her the task of observing chimps in a remote area, previously unexplored by human beings. Goodall's discoveries about those creatures amazed even Leakey himself. Jane was one of the first scientists to observe, for example, that chimps created and used tools. Scientists had believed that only humans did this!

Jane Goodall: Researcher Who Champions Chimps differs from the other books listed here in one special way: it introduces students to many standard conventions of nonfiction text: bold words, captions, a glossary, and an index. For that reason, this book would serve as a terrific transitional text to more formal textbooks which students will be seeing as they progress through school.

An equally intrepid yet much less celebrated explorer of Africa is brought to life in Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa, one of many fascinating biographies written and illustrated by Don Brown. Unlike Jane Goodall, Mary Kingsley experienced a childhood which was by all measures bleak and uninspiring: her mother was constantly bed-ridden, her father was habitually traveling, and her brother was simply absent (sent off to school, although he was younger than Mary). Mary's only companionship were the many books in her father's library, and she devoured them (though how she even learned to read was a mystery).

With the passing of her mother, Mary was finally free of all obligations. Her dream? To explore West Africa. At the time such an enterprise was unthinkable, for West Africa was a land hostile even to its own people. How could a woman, a single woman for that matter, survive? But survive she did. Mary battled crocs, swam with hippos (not intentionally!), tumbled from a ledge through a thatched roof, stumbled into a spike-filled animal trap, was thrown from a canoe, and survived all manner of insects and other discomforts. She not only lived to tell her tale, but to write it as well, in two books which became best sellers. Her collected specimens not only filled her own home, but the showcases of the British Museum of Natural History as well. Mary was thirty when her mother died, and passed away herself at age thirty-eight, yet she lived more in those eight years than most people do in a lifetime!

The following questions might prove useful in discussing any of the three books above:
  • What are your interests? How might those interests affect what you choose to do for a living?
  • What is success? How does a person become successful?
  • What kinds of things might create obstacles, or problems, for someone who is trying to pursue their dreams?
  • Did women always have the same opportunities as men? What were some jobs that women were expected to do? What were some jobs reserved for men alone?
  • This book begins by telling us about _____'s childhood. Why do you think the author started there? 
  • Was following her dream difficult? What made it so hard? Who or what may have encouraged her, and convinced her to continue?
  • What is determination? How was it exemplified through this _______'s actions?
  • If this woman were alive today, what advice might she give us?
  • Let's look again at the illustrations. How do they help us understand the story better? What information do the illustrations supply that the text doesn't? How did the book's illustrator know what these events looked like?
  • What other information does the author provide?
  • What questions do we still have about ___________?
  • If ___________ were alive today, what would surprise her most about how the world has changed since her time?
  • If we had to give __________ a nickname, what would we choose?
As a follow up activity, students could create a new book jacket for any of these books. You might even consider covering the book's actual cover while reading it aloud, and only uncovering it later once all students have completed their designs. At ReadWriteThink you'll find a nice interactive which explains the elements of a traditional picture book cover, and you can additionally have students create the entire book cover online (or just a cover or back) using the cool interactive Book Cover Creator. (Personally, I might have some parent helpers cut down some brown paper shopping bags, and use the reverse blank sides for the project; this would be a neat homage to Margaret Knight).

Women's Adventures in Science features a cool look at real, live scientists practicing in their fields. Students can choose from Ten Scientists, and each is linked to a kid-friendly site featuring a biography, videos, games, and related links. These biographies are rich, and definitely made for the Grade 3 and above crowd. As a class project, students could be paired and assigned a scientist to research using this site.

You'll also find an Interactive Timeline (1900 to present), which, while not well populated, definitely points out that the number of women in the fields of science has increased dramatically during the last century. The Ask It section allows students to pose their questions about science to real scientists. They can also browse answers to dozens of questions already asked. And, of course, a Games section!

Another terrific site to explore is PBS's very hip SciGirls, which is filled with projects, profiles, and videos featuring women in science. This site is awesome in that it helps students (okay, mostly the girls) realize that they, too, can be scientists, right now! (Note that there is a section on the site which allows girls to interact socially, so standard precautions should be taken to address Internet safety issues). The Teacher's Overview provides a number of different approaches as well as additional resources for using the site.

I personally think a SciGirls club sounds like a pretty awesome idea for a school or homeschool group, and this site would be a great place to start! Don't forget, though, to inspire your girls with some real-life role models, and those provided in the books I've shared are highly recommended.