Keep Learning Fun This Summer With School Zone

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As parents, we want our children to be able to wind down during summer break, but we also don’t want them to lose all the skills they worked hard to master during the school year.  That’s why so many families turn to summer school or workbooks as refreshers to help maintain knowledge gathered during the previous school year for a smooth transition to a new grade.

06342_1-13_c2013.pngFor this review I checked out Giant Science ($12.99, Grades 2-3) and Math Basics ($2.99, Grades 5-6) from School Zone. School Zone Publishing, in business over 30 years, is committed to kids and to making learning fun and accessible. They do so by offering their educational products on a variety of platforms: ebooks, iPad Apps, iPhone and Android Apps and more. You can also sign up to receive their monthly newsletter and be the first to learn about special offers plus kids can join their Golden Scholar Club.

Affordable and engaging, these workbooks include a brief parent guide and straightforward examples for students to complete. Parents are encouraged to have their children do the work from the beginning to the end rather than tackling random pages. This will allow the flow of review to mimic what was taught during the school year as concepts were introduced and built upon. While the Giant Science book has 320 pages, the Math Basics is a quick 32 pages and both contain the ever important Answer Key for peace of mind.

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As you can see in the cover image above left, skill areas featured range from Birds, to Ocean Life to Weather. The accompanying illustrations are colorful and detailed and help make the review process more than pleasant.  Kids can play word searches, fill out charts, decode answers, color, study charts and graphs, fill in the blanks and connect the dots.  And while it may sound less like learning and more like playing, if the info is being absorbed, that’s ultimately what matters most! The It’s A Fact and Awesome! boxes highlight important or interesting information and break up the print on the page. It’s elements like that that add to the School Zone workbooks’ appeal.

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I liked Math Basics: An I Know It! Book because it was uncomplicated and the tasks were easy to navigate. I haven’t done 5th or 6th grade math in decades so the review of decimals, fractions, ratios, percentages, areas and volume were helpful. There aren’t too many illustrations so tweens won’t feel it’s babyish and the Activities to Share section at the end will give parents the opportunity to turn many everyday occurrences into teaching moments.

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All in all, it’s evident that School Zone workbooks are the right solution to combat summer slump. If kids can take just 30 minutes out of their busy schedule to review the problems presented, they can say good-bye to brain drain and hello to a head start this coming school year.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Free Books on The Performing Arts & Traces Tickets Giveaway

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I have just two words for you: free books. Interested? Read on …

Money’s tight not only for families but for school districts all over L.A. Cutbacks mean many of our schools have had to eliminate arts education programs. As parents we must try not let the state’s budget cuts impact our kids because who knows – we may be raising the next Bernadette Peters, Leonard Bernstein or Justin Timberlake?!

Because of that, it’s great to know that The Music Center’s longest-running education program, The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, will continue to bring exciting performing arts experiences for free to more than 18,000 fifth grade students from all over LA County from April 23-25 of this year. Students will experience the power of live performing arts as they see a performance from Traces, a modern brand of circus infused with the energy of street performance, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Afterwards, they will dance together, en masse, on The Music Center Plaza, a dance they have rehearsed in advance in their classrooms, incorporating music and movements from the professional performance. Every student who attends the Festival will receive a copy of the book, A Journey Through The Music Center, which introduces them to The Music Center and various aspects of the performing arts.

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And now for the first time, The Music Center is offering parents and guardians an opportunity to get a copy of A Journey Through The Music Center for free; formerly the book has been available only to students who attended the festival. The book is available in limited quantities for a limited period of time. Parents/guardians can visit www.musiccenter.org/festivalbook to request a copy.

This keepsake book makes information about the performing arts very accessible and understandable. Parents and students will especially appreciate the book’s attention to the vocabulary words. What is an oboe? What is a resident company? What does it meant to strike the set? What does a theater house manager do? Students will be able to answer those questions and more as they enjoy the book’s beautiful photographs and illustrations, storylines and special attention to personalizing the experiences associated with the performing arts.

To celebrate the performing arts, Good Reads With Ronna is giving away a $220 four pack of tickets to the Friday, April 26, 2013 performance at 7:30 p.m. of Traces at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Just click here to enter. You must include your name, phone number, email and postal address in the email to be officially entered into the giveaway. Tickets will be available at Will Call on the evening of performance.  Click here for the rules or scroll down below.  The giveaway ends on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at midnight and the winner will be selected and notified on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. Good luck!

HOW TO ENTER:

  1. Beginning Thursday, April 18 we’re offering one reader the chance to win a family four pack to see TRACES worth a total value of $220 ($55 each)     at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Simply LIKE us on Facebook and also send us your name and contact info in an email to Ronna.L.Mandel@gmail.com by midnight Tuesday, April 23, 2013 and you’ll be entered to win. Remember to write ARTS in the subject line. This winner and three guests will attend the Friday, April 26, 2013 performance at 7:30 p.m. with tickets available at Will Call for collection.
  2. The giveaway opportunity ends at midnight on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 and one winner will be randomly chosen on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. For an additional entry please follow us on Twitter @goodreadsronna too! If you don’t provide an email where you can be contacted your chance to win is forfeited.

Up With People

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Rita Zobayan reviews Good People Everywhere  ($15.95, Three Pebble Press, ages 3 and up) by Lynea Gillen and illustrated by Kristine Swarner.

Within reading three pages of Good People Everywhere, I’d fallen in love with it. Written by Lynea Gillen and illustrated by Kristine Swarner, this beautiful, touching book is inspiring and empowering. Its message is simple: there are good people doing good things everywhere, every day and in many ways. In a world where we too often hear of the destructive, unethical and terrible acts that people commit, Good People Everywhere offers a powerful juxtaposition to the idea that there are bad people everywhere. It presents the notion that people, including young children, can and do good in the world.

The prose is written in plain language and provides examples that children will find familiar. Numerous examples show children of various ages engaging in good deeds, the kinds that are readily managed by youngsters.

Teachers are teaching math, spelling and reading skills,/Today, people are planning seeds, picking fruits and vegetables, and driving them to grocery stores all around the world, so you can have a ripe, juicy orange in your lunch./Today, a first grade boy is helping a friend who has a skinned knee, and a big sister is holding her baby brother.

The illustrations are warm and engaging, and depict the text in a childlike fashion. They are a perfect complement to the heartfelt message. The bonus activities help children recognize and celebrate the good people around them.

As a mother, I have shared this book with my daughters and discussed how people we know do good things and how they, even at their young ages, can bring good into the world. As an educator, I plan on sharing this uplifting book with my students as our school continues with its theme for the year of giving back. Good People Everywhere provides examples, inspiration and comfort not only to young children


From Mechanical Engineer to Children’s Book Author: An Interview with Jerome Pohlen

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After giving Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments a glowing review, Debbie Glade was thrilled when Jerome Pohlen, author and Senior Editor at Chicago Review Press, agreed to an interview with Good Reads with Ronna.

After receiving his Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Notre Dame University, Jerome joined the U.S. Peace Corps, volunteering for two years in the Republic of Benin, West Africa. Upon his return stateside, he started his career as an engineer, but soon realized he’d rather be teaching so he returned to school for a Master’s Degree in Education. That of course, led him to a teaching position and later, a job with an educational toy company where he created science kits for kids. Next he wrote a series of Oddball travel books, and most recently, Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids.

Author Jerome Pohlen

Can you tell us a little bit about your work in the U.S. Peace Corps?

I worked with a group that taught wood conservation, specifically through tree planting and efficient (and easy-to-build) mud stoves. For most villagers, who cooked on open fires, these mud stoves could cut their wood consumption in half, saving them money, time, smoke in their eyes . . . and it was pretty good for the forests, too.

What a fascinating experience that must have been. Was it that work that inspired you to write your Oddball travel books? And in any way did it influence your desire to educate or write for children?

The Oddball books came after I was a teacher. I traveled a lot for my job with the educational toy company, and started writing a self-published travel magazine about the goofy destinations I visited on the side. That magazine turned into the Oddball series.

What made you decide to get your Master’s Degree in Education and teach rather than continue in the field of mechanical engineering?

After working as an engineer for a few years, I realized that I didn’t have the passion I needed to make it a career. Engineering can be very specialized, narrowing your focus, and I was more interested in a variety of subjects, some having nothing to do with science. Plus, I wanted a job where I had more human interaction.

With your experience as a teacher, what is your opinion about the level of science education in America’s schools?

It’s pretty sad. It’s certainly understandable that the emphasis needs to be on reading and math, particularly in the early grades. But science often gets pushed to the background until students reach middle school where there are dedicated science teachers. By then, a lot of kids have written it off as something they can’t understand (which is nonsense).

As the parent of a college undergrad studying science – Geology – I am well aware of the shortage of scientists in America, and in particular women scientists. My daughter’s physics classes have been 98% men. Why do you suppose there is a shortage of American students here who want to study science and in particular, women?

Sadly, I think that there remains an underlying sexism that too often comes through peer pressure as to what should interest girls and boys. And on top of that, I think there’s an even larger anti-science bias in the general culture. A parent would NEVER say, “Don’t worry about reading—I didn’t understand it in school, either.” . . . but you hear that all the time in regard to science.

That’s sadly so true! How does one go about creating science kits for children? That must be both time consuming and challenging.

I worked for an educational toy company that wanted to develop science kits for the retail market. They could get all the components, but they needed a writer. I was the company’s science editor at the time, and when the intended author backed out, they asked me if I could write them . . . and fast. I did, and it was a lot of fun.

What inspired you to write Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids?

I’ve always loved physics and I wanted to give myself a challenge. After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein, I was convinced that kids needed to know more about this remarkable man.

I am so glad you wrote that book! I interviewed author Kerrie Logan Hollihan, about her Queen Elizabeth I Kids Press book.  (She also wrote Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids and Theodore Roosevelt for Kids.) She informed me she was responsible for gathering all the photos and illustrations for her books. Did you do the same?

Yes, I went through the same lengthy process with my book.

How did you go about finding them?

All of the historic photos I researched and purchased online. With a subject as popular as Einstein, the question was more of cost than availability. A fair number of the photos in the book I took myself during a trip to Switzerland—the schools he attended, his homes, the train station where he waited with the red rose—they’re all still there, and look pretty much the same way today as they did when he was alive.

So you went to Switzerland for the purpose of learning more about Einstein?

Yes, I wanted to get a sense of where Einstein lived, studied, and worked, as well as visit the two Einstein museums in Switzerland. The trip helped my writing more than I expected.

That must have been an amazing experience! What was the process like, researching and then putting together copious amounts of information for the book? How long did that process take?

Start to finish it took about two years—a year and a half researching and reading, then six months writing. So much has been written about Einstein; the more I read the more inconsistencies I found. I was determined to include only those items that I could confirm with three independent sources.

I have so much respect for you for taking the time to make certain your facts were completely accurate. You have a unique and extraordinary talent of writing about a difficult topic in such a way that every reader, young or old can understand it. Your explanations of Relativity and Special Relativity are the first I’ve ever been able to totally comprehend. Does this ability come naturally to you, and do you credit your years of teaching experience?

I have to give my father credit on this one. When I was growing up my dad was working on the Viking mission, the first spacecraft to land on Mars. He would always tell me and my brothers the latest developments, even though we were still in elementary school, but he always made it understandable. The summer the spacecraft was launched, my family lived down in Florida, so we got backstage tours of Cape Canaveral. We even got to play around in the actual Apollo simulators, which by then had been mothballed in an old building. So science has been a part of my life from an early age, and I know it can be made understandable because it was made understandable to me.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Einstein when researching this book?

I was shocked at how brave Einstein was, all through his life. As a kid, he challenged his teachers, and as an adult, he challenged physicists who could have made his career difficult, and sometimes did. He opposed World War I while living in Germany. At a very real risk to his life, he also stood up to Hitler’s followers—again, in Germany—in the lead up to World War II, and he criticized Joseph McCarthy before almost anyone else did.

After reading your book, I realized that many Americans have misconceptions about Einstein. One is that he forgot to eat at times because he was too absent-minded; in fact there was a shortage of food that kept him from eating regularly. Another is that his brain was donated to science, rather it was taken without permission. Did you come across any other misconceptions about the scientist during your research?

One popular misconception was that he was a poor student—he wasn’t. Not until his last few years in college, when he spent a lot of time on his own course of study, did his grades slip.

If you could ask Albert Einstein one question in person, what would it be?

The one question no historian seems to be able to answer: What happened to your daughter Lieserl?

I wondered about that too. What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to write science books for children?

Never talk down to kids—you may have to adjust your vocabulary, but never your tone, which should be one of intellectual respect.

When you’re not writing, what do you most like to do?

Read!

What is your next writing project?

Oddball Michigan.

Jerome, thank you for sharing your interesting background with us and especially for sharing details about the extensive process of writing a non-fiction book for children.  Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids is an extraordinary book. Best of luck with your upcoming Oddball book, and please let us know when your next children’s book is due out. I want to be the first to read it!


Your Teacher as Your Travel Guide

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Today’s review is by Ronna Mandel.

Because You Are My Teacher (Abrams Books For Young Readers, $16.95, ages 4-8) written by Sherry North and illustrated by Marcellus Hall is a book that will get kids excited about going back to school while also celebrating the dedication teachers bring to the classroom. If readers happen to get bitten by the travel bug along the way, then that’s just an added bonus.

I found myself hooked immediately by the cover image depicting a teacher and her students high up in a hot air balloon observing some spectacular scenery. Author North has teamed up with illustrator Hall for yet another installation in the successful series that brought us Because You Are My Baby and Because I Am Your Daddy. With this new picture book told in rhyme, readers will travel the world all because of a teacher’s commitment to sharing her knowledge in a colorful way.

Imagine learning about the world through every mode of transportation. Any book can introduce exotic sites and cities to children.  What works so well with this story and what will excite children is that they’ll study the Atlantic on a schooner, get a peek of the pyramids while atop camels, tour the Amazon on a river raft, and dive deep down into the ocean to discover illuminating sea life. They’ll even get to hang glide over the Australian outback! All the while the students are journeying courtesy of their teacher’s imagination, they are discovering what makes going to school so special – teachers. End pages include info on the seven continents visited and all the animals or places mentioned.

 


Rotten Days and Toddlers’ Ways

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Rita Zobayan is today’s reviewer.

When I first read My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson ($16.99, Viking, ages 2 and up), I burst into commiserative laughter. This story rings true for anyone who has raised a toddler or has seen a toddler in full-fledged fit. Bella, l’enfant terrible, is not having a good morning. Her baby brother, Bob, has gotten into her room and licked her jewelry, and that is only the beginning of a very bad day for Bella, Bob and their enduring mother.

Patterson has a talent for capturing the experiences, discontent and language of young children. As one thing after another upsets Bella, she expresses her anger in that special way that only young children can.  Then I came downstairs and I saw that egg. I cried and cried and said, I can’t eat that! And Mommy said, “You could eat it last week. Look at Bob eating his mashed banana.” After the terrible egg I didn’t like my shoes either. So I took them off all by myself, shouting, No shoes! And then we had to go shopping and Mommy said, “Please stop all that wriggling, Bella.” But I couldn’t stop wriggling and in the end I shouted, Get me out!

Patterson is also the book’s illustrator and does a great job of depicting the situations and facial expressions that parents dread: a toddler having a tantrum in public and lying on the floor; the tearful, angry, pinched face of the toddler; the annoyed or sympathetic faces of onlookers; and so on. Patterson does an especially nice job of adding expressions to the plush toys and animals that witness Bella’s bad day.

 I read this 32-page book to my three-year-old daughter while she was in the throes of a tantrum. After a few minutes, she stopped her crying and yelling, and settled down to hear about Bella’s battles. As we read along, I asked my daughter about Bella’s behavior and what she thought of it. Through her tear-streaked face, she replied and recognized that Bella was “grumpy,” and that she was “having a hard day.” We then talked about why my daughter was also having a hard day. The ability of children to recognize other children’s behavior reflected in their own is a wonderful learning tool and My No, No, No Day! does a great job of facilitating that. 


Bye-Bye Bully Bye-Bye!

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Freda Stops a Bully, ($6.95, Charlesbridge Publishing, ages 3-6) written by Stuart J. Murphy and illustrated by Tim Jones, is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

How many of you remember the schoolyard bully? You know, the kid who made fun of maybe you, perhaps your friend, or maybe someone you didn’t know.  How many of you wish you’d known what to do about or say to that kid? With bullying incidences being highlighted more and more often these days, preparing our young children with strategies to seek help against bullying has become increasingly important.

As part of Stuart J. Murphy’s “I See I Learn” series, Freda Stops a Bully provides relatable, simple and straightforward tips to help young children handle a bully. The story centers on Freda who likes to wear her pink shoes and Max who calls her “funny feet.”  Freda and her friends try various methods to deal with Max and his name calling. As they try each of the methods, we see what works and what doesn’t. At 28 pages, the book is long enough to cover the story and short enough to keep young readers engaged.

Presented in fun, comic-style illustrations, the book features animal characters situated at home, school and the park. Freda seeks assistance from the primary adult figures in young children’s’ lives: parent and teacher. These familiar settings and adults will help young readers understand and relate to Freda’s predicament.

The end of the book features a review of the four “what to do about a bully” strategies and provides five discussion points/activities for a child to engage in with a parent/teacher. Useful both at home and in a classroom, Freda Stops a Bully provides a good starting point for helping children identify and deal with bullying.

Editor’s Note:  We all know that sadly, bullying is not limited to the playground. With summer around the corner, children may encounter similar situations at a camp, park, vacation getaway or even summer school. Use this book as a gentle way to approach the topic and begin a meaningful conversation.