Friday, November 30, 2012

Mercer Mayer's Little Monster Home, School and Work Book - Review / Tool Flashcards

If you've read books together with a preschooler or early elementary aged child I imagine you've seen Mercer Mayer's popular Little Critter books.  But if you are like us, you might not be familiar with another of Mercer Mayer's fabulously cute characters -- Little Monster.

Little Monster has pointy ears and teeth, wings and a spiky tail. He's a not-to-scary, overall-wearing, dragon kind of monster that spends his days doing the ordinary things all children do: going to school, spending time with his family and trying to stay out of trouble.  The Little Monster series books were first published in the late 1970s, and the bestselling books continue to be popular with young kids today. However, many of the books are now long out-of-print. 

FastPencil is helping to bring back the Little Monster books for a new generation to read. The company has released a fantastic Mercer Mayer Classic Collectible four-book series. The books feature Mayer's “Little Monster” character.  My family recently had the chance to read one of the books in the series: Mercer Mayer's Little Monster Home School and Work Book.

Though it's printed with different formatting, Mercer Mayer's Little Monster Home, School and Work Book is actually a compilation of three of Mayer's original picture books: Little Monster at Home, Little Monster at School and Little Monster at Work. As collections tend to be, this hardcover book is larger-sized, 92 pages long in all.  Each of the stories are treated like separate chapters within the book and a table of content in front indicates page numbers.  The book is also available as an e-book download (we received the hardcover copy version to review).

Young kids can easily identify with Little Monster -- after all, even though he's dragon-like, he acts like a normal kid, not a monster! The illustrations in the book are very similar to those in the Little Critter series, packed full of imaginative, action-filled scenes and interesting characters.

My kids especially appreciate how Mayer includes little humorous scenarios within the illustrations including aliens at the airport and a spider inching down from a bathroom sink right in front of a monster cat.  In fact, the illustrations are so fun to look at, you'll want to spend a little extra time pouring over the pages while reading to make sure you don't miss anything in the book.  Both my kids found the book engaging and enjoyable. It's a good read aloud for preschoolers and also is challenging and interesting enough for early readers.  I'd recommend it for ages preschool-2nd grade.

Little Monster gives a tour of his house in Little Monster at Home. He starts with the cellar, a rather  unusual choice. (Who starts a home tour with the cellar? - I guess monsters do!)  Mayer provides readers with a fun glimpse into the life of the Little Monster family. They take baths and do the laundry just like the rest of us.  Little Monster's pet Kerploppus sleeps on the couch, "even though he is not supposed to."  The book also details what the family does around the house during the various seasons. I adore the winter illustrations.  Little Monster mentions Christmas and likes his house best in wintertime because "it's so very snuggly and warm." 

In Little Monster at School, a student named Yally doesn't seem to like school much at all. He gets frustrated easily and wants to be the best at everything. Little Monster shows how to be a good friend and helps brings out the best in Yally by boosting Yally's self-confidence with some well-deserved praise. [In related news, earlier this year Wanderful, Inc. released a Little Monster at School iPad storybook app.]

My son's favorite section of the book is the Little Monster at Work part. The busy illustrations and focus on vocabulary building in this Little Monster story remind me of Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day. Little Monster follows his grandfather to various places and learns about different occupations.  Together they visit a road construction site, car shop, T.V. station, circus, newspaper business, medical center, campsite,  marina, the moon, a diner, home construction site, airport, farmer's market, the Olympics, craft fair, town square, and also learn about jobs in science.  There's not much explanation in the text as to what the various jobs entail, but the illustrations offer unlimited discussion possibilities.
Little Monster Home School and Work Book by Mercer Mayer. FastPencil Premiere (October 2012); ISBN 9781607469452; 92 pages
Book Source: Review copy provided by publisher
Other books in the Mercer Mayer Classic Collectible series include: Little Monster Word Book with Mother Goose; Little Monster Fun and Learn Book and Professor Wormbog In Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo 

Related Links

Tool Flashcards and Tool Box Educational Activity

The book ends with a question from Little Monster, "Did you see anything in my book that you would like to be?" I asked my son what he wanted to be when he grows up and he replied, "a fixer."  That's not entirely surprising considering both of his grandfathers are retired mechanics. We talked about the different tools mechanics use, and I asked him to identify a few common tools.  He knew a few but it became quickly apparent that his basic tool vocabulary is lacking.

We were on a vocabulary kick after reading the word heavy "At Work" section of Mayer's book, so I decided to further the educational lessons and make some tool flashcards and a paper tool box envelope to hold the flashcards for my son. Now he knows correct tool terminology and can call the tools by their proper names (both grandpas will be so proud). We've played with the cards in a variety of ways including putting the tools in alphabetical order. I'm considering printing out a second set so we can play Go Fish--tool style.

Hand Tools Activities and Worksheets for Kids
Tool Coloring Pages and Writing Practice - Twisty Noodle
Handy Manny Toolbox Printable -
T is for Toolbelt Craft - Brilliant Beginnings Preschool
Matching Tools Printable (Pre-K - 1st) - TeacherVision
Tools Printouts -
Webelos Craftsman Activity Badge Worksheets - Boy Scout Trail
Felt Tools and Toolbox Templates - Serving Pink Lemonade

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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins Review - Jewel Beetle insect model made from recycled materials

Steven Jenkins has a knack for creating non-fiction books that appeal to readers. His fantastic and elaborate torn- and cut-paper collage illustrations take center stage and kids pour over the pages, remarking on the pictures and learning almost effortlessly. The Beetle Book is Jenkins' newest work and a remarkable one at that. The book has received four starred reviews and is one of the New York Times Best Illustrated books of 2012

The Beetle Book starts out with a compelling introduction, "Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle."  With so many beetles in the world, it's a wonder that Jenkins was able to pare down the facts into one 40-page picture book.  Yet he manages to provide a kid-friendly overview of the Beetle family as well as briefly highlighting many, many beetles (over 75 different beetles, in fact), some familiar, some unusual. And, the illustrations are simply magnificent!

The book is organized not by beetle species but rather by beetle characteristics.  Early in the book Jenkins includes a large diagram labeled with beetle parts. There's also a very small section about the life cycle, and separate segments about food, sounds, senses, movement and size, dispersed among the illustrations along with other topics such as chemical defense and clever disguises.  Though many of the beetle illustrations are larger than life, black insect silhouettes found along the edges of the pages are actual size.

Kids will enjoy learning lots of strange and unusual facts about different kinds of beetles from this book and, after reading, should be able to remark on the common traits of beetles. My 2nd grader was especially intrigued by the image of the burying beetle covering a dead bird so its larvae will have food.  She also really liked the large head shot of the six-spotted green tiger beetle.  After looking at the illustration she noticed for the first time that many beetles have antennae beneath or next to their eyes, not above.  

Because Jenkins treats the text almost like captions supporting the illustrations, most readers probably won't read the book in its entirety from cover to cover but instead peruse slowly, reading by choice factual snippets that individually entice. The book leans more toward educational entertainment rather than a hard-core research book useful for writing reports.  Though Jenkins includes a useful index of beetles in the book listed by page, a topical index is not included nor are recommended resources for further beetle research.  However, the only real criticism I have of the book is that Jenkins, in the beginning, glosses over the main anatomy of insects, only briefly mentioning that beetles have three main body parts like all insects, but never specifically stating what those important parts are (though he shows those parts mixed with other "beetle bits" on his diagram). I wish he had better distinguished these parts (head, thorax and abdomen) from the other parts on his diagram as this book has the potential to be a useful teaching tool for early and middle elementary educators.
The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (April 2012); ISBN 9780547680842; 40 pages
Book Source: Copy borrowed from public library
Related Links:
Steve Jenkins Books Website
The Beetle Book Discussion Guide

Science Project: Japanese Jewel Beetle Model 
made from recycled materials
Jewel Beetle model displayed next to Steve Jenkins' illustrations.

Last month my daughter's teacher sent home an assignment involving insects. Prior to the assignment, the class learned about insects, with a focus on the three main body parts: head, thorax and abdomen. They even learned a special Head, Thorax, and Abdomen song. The teacher asked the kids to create their own insect model out of recycled materials.

My daughter searched through Jenkins' The Beetle Book and also looked at another detailed insect book we have at home, Simon & Schuster Children's Guide to Insects and Spiders and decided to make a jewel beetle. There are over 15,000 jewel beetles in the world so she further narrowed down the type by picking a special beetle called the Japanese Jewel Beetle (Chrysochroa fulgidissima). She was able to find detailed information about this specific beetle in Workman Publishing Company's Bugs Fandex (Fandex Family Field Guides) and also on Wikipedia.

She constructed her bug model using an empty shampoo bottle as the base.  She covered the bottle with green tissue paper using Mod Podge. Using acrylic paint, she added details to her beetle and she painted the head green. The hard wing casings are cut from a plastic liter pop bottle and she made the delicate wings out of wax paper and packing tape. The eyes are old buttons hot-glued on to the head and she cut the antennae out of black paper.  She used pipe cleaners to construct the six legs.

Bottom view of jewel beetle model.

She learned a lot about jewel beetles and beetles in general from this project. Here's her summary:
My insect model is a Japanese Jewel Beetle. It has colorful, shimmering wings and grows about 1.5 inches long. This Jewel Beetle lives in forests in Japan and is a wood-boring beetle. The larvae chew tunnels in the wood of trees and sometimes destroy the trees. There are over 15,000 different kinds of Jewel Beetles in the world.
Jewel Beetle with wings spread
The model took nearly an entire Saturday to make.  The neatest parts of her model are the wings and wing casings. She attached the wings and wing casings to the model with brads and the wings can spread out to fly or fold in just like a real beetle's wings.

Did you know that some people use the beautiful, iridescent wing covers to make jewelry and decorate clothing and other things? Hence the name, I suppose!

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