The Day-Glo Brothers on a free app – what a bright idea!

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013 in Art, Biography, Early Learning, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Range of Reading, Science, Technology | 0 comments

I’m a librarian partly because I couldn’t afford my book habit if I had to buy every book I read. So when I’m looking for e-books, I usually look for free ones (some call me cheap, I prefer “fantastically frugal”). But I don’t want crummy books – I want the good stuff! Leave it to Reading Rainbow to hook me up with quality children’s books for free (and a huge variety of even more titles if I want to pay for a subscription).

I downloaded the free Reading Rainbow app to my iPad and was greeted by Levar Burton ( a man who has lured more children to reading  than the Pied Piper lured rats, but you don’t have to take *my* word for it.) I was thrilled to find one of my favorite biographies, with complete text and art, a bit of fun animation, and even a game to play.

The Day-Glo Brothers: the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s bright ideas and brand-new colors is written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani. Bob and Joe Switzer were in their father’s drugstore when they discovered that certain chemicals glow under ultraviolet light. With lots of experimenting and some accidental luck, the brothers invented colors that would glow even in sunlight, those neon colors called Day-Glo. It’s a “brilliant” story about perseverance, for, as Joe used to say, “If just one experiment out of a thousand succeeds, then you’re ahead of the game.”

So now you can share this enlightening biography (CCSS Range of Reading – check!) with your students for free in paper-book form from the library, or you can share it on iPads with the free Reading Rainbow app. Charlesbridge has a free activity guide to go with the book, along with an author interview and an animation on how fluorescence works.  How fun would it be to put a blacklight  in a lamp in your classroom and get fluorescent markers for an art project. Students can try making one of the props Joe used in his magic shows, or you can have students demonstrate with Day-Glo colors why we see the phases of the moon. A great biography on a free app – what a bright idea!


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Got a new device? Play with “Chalk”!

Posted by on Dec 26, 2012 in Art, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Key Ideas and Details, Logic Smart, Technology, Wordless | 0 comments

If you were lucky enough to get an iPad, a Kindle, or some other fun e-gizmo this holiday season, and you’d like your kids to use it for more than just throwing (understandably) angry birds, get yourself some Chalk.

Chalk by Bill Thomson is a visually stunning wordless picture book available as a Kindle e-book. (If you have a tablet or an iPad, you can download the Kindle app for free and read Kindle books – cool, huh?) Three children find a bag of chalk on a playground. The things they draw come to life. When one of the children draws a dinosaur, how will the children stop it?

Wordless books like Chalk are a great choice for young readers, and not just because they can “read” the pictures to get the whole story. When children read a wordless book with adults, typically the language the adults use to describe what is happening in the illustrations is of a more complex nature than the sentences and vocabulary usually found in picture books for young ones. (Want to know more? Read my article about wordless picture books for So a wordless book can actually work well to teach the Common Core State Standard of Craft & Structure. I love that Chalk offers a great opportunity for problem-solving. When the dinosaur comes to life on the playground in the story, you can ask your young readers, “What would you do?” Kids can brainstorm how they’d solve the problem and discuss Thomson’s solution – the child who drew the dinosaur draws a rain cloud, which becomes real and washes all the chalk (including the dinosaur) away. Talk through the problem and the solution, the beginning-middle-end, and you’re hitting Key Ideas and Details as well!

After you’ve enjoyed Chalk on your device, pair up students and have them sit back to back. If you have a classroom set of iPads, you can use a free drawing app like My Blackboard, or you can go old-school and use real chalk and construction paper, dry erase markers and white boards, etc. Have each student draw something that, if it came to life, would cause a huge problem. Then, students swap pictures and draw something that can then solve that problem.

So, tech it up with your students with the Kindle book and a fun, free app, or embrace the paper and get the book from your local library, but either way, don’t miss out on Chalk!

For more information, please visit



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Abiyoyo and Abiyoyo Returns

Posted by on Oct 24, 2012 in Art, Early Learning, Holiday, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Music Smart, People Smart, Song Books, Technology | 0 comments

It’s almost Halloween, and you want a book to share with your students that will give them shivers, but not nightmares. Pull out these picture books about a scary giant and the clever little boy who defeats him, and you’ll be hitting the Common Core State Standard of Integrating Knowledge and Ideas while you thrill your listeners.

Inspired by a South African folktale, Abiyoyo is a storysong written by the folk music master Pete Seeger and illustrated by Michael Hays.  A little boy is always in trouble for making noise with his music. His father is shunned by the neighbors for playing too many pranks, making things disappear with his magic wand. But when fearful Abiyoyo comes, the little boy sings until the giant falls down from dancing, and the father uses his magic wand to make Abiyoyo disappear.

Compare this classic to its sequel, Abiyoyo Returns written by Pete Seeger and Paul DuBois Jacobs, and illustrated by Michael Hays. The little boy who made Abiyoyo disappear is now a grown man, and his town needs a giant’s help. With the help of the magic wand, Abiyoyo returns and the townspeople teach him to help rather than to harm.

There’s a terrific “Reading Rainbow” video of Pete Seeger telling/singing the first book (available for free on Youtube) and an audio cd available as well. Share the audio recording of  Abiyoyo along with the book so your students can listen to a master storyteller. (You’ll enjoy listening to him as much as your students do, and it’s amazing how listening to a different voice than the one they hear all the time can perk up ears during a read-aloud.) Before reading Abiyoyo Returns, predict with your students how the people will handle Abiyoyo when he comes back. Contrast how Abiyoyo is the problem in one story and the solution in the other.For a fun art extension, get dowels from the hardware store (you can find them for less than $1 – cut them in half and they’re even less expensive!) and decorate your own magic wands. If your students are plagued with Halloween wiggles, let them sing the Abiyoyo song and dance around until they fall down. When you wave your wand to magically transport students back to their seats, their Halloween wiggles will have vanished!

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Bones: Skeletons and How They Work

Posted by on Oct 17, 2012 in Art, Body Smart, Early Learning, Holiday, Key Ideas and Details, Math, Math Tie-In, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading, Science, Self Smart, Technology | 0 comments

I could say, “here’s an informational book that will tickle your funny bone” or  “it’s so good it’s scary”, but Bones: Skeletons and How They Work by Steve Jenkins needs no rib-tickling tricks to get kids’ attention. For Halloween or health units, this book is thoroughly engaging.  Using cut paper, Jenkins makes incredible illustrations of all kinds of bones to show how structure aids function. Some of the bones are shown actual size, so it’s easy to compare a human skull to that of a baboon, a dog, a parrot, or an armadillo. Some bones are too large to show in actual size, so Jenkins makes the bones to scale. Kids can compare an adult human’s foot bones to the fossil foot bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex!  Not only is this book visually a treat, it’s chock-full of “who knew?” facts that kids love: “a giraffe’s neck is as long as a man is tall, but giraffes and humans have the same number of neck bones: seven.”

I love sharing informational books like this with students. With Steve Jenkins’ books, I’m squeezing in the Common Core State Standards of Range of Reading and Key Ideas and Details, I can work interesting books into math and science units, I’m immersing my students in nonfiction, and all the while the kids think they’re just enjoying a good book. Because  most of Jenkins’ illustrations are actual size or to scale, you can use Bones: Skeletons and How They Work in a measurement lesson. Kids can estimate how long a bone is and measure it with a ruler. For higher level math, have students measure the to-scale illustrations and multiply to get actual-size measurements.

If you read this book with students around Halloween, it can be a springboard to make some spooky decorations. At, you can print off a human skeleton template for students to cut out and put together with brads to see how all our bones fit. Hang up the skeletons and your decorations are not only scary, they are scientific! For a treat that’s not loaded with sugar, try serving “Bones Dipped in Blood” (pull breadstick dough into bone shapes, bake, and serve with pizza sauce.) To incorporate a bit of technology and to rock it old school, go to YouTube and treat your students to the Schoolhouse Rock video clip of “Them Not-So-Dry Bones”. “Right now there’s a skeleton locked up inside of you!”

For more information, please visit Steve Jenkins’ website:

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