Counting in the Temperate Forest from the series Counting in the Biomes is shaped like a typical nonfiction biome book instead of an over-sized preschool/kdg storytime title. So why was I surprised to open this book and find much more complicated text? Because counting books are for children who are beginning to learn their numbers. That’s my bias towards counting books. They should have large pictures for storytime sharing, a very small amount of text, and a common theme for the counting. If a story develops along the way, okay, but honestly the counting book’s purpose is to reinforce numbers and counting.
Not so for this series. Counting in the Temperate Forest is not a counting book. Learning this is marketed for grades 1-3, I had to change my expectations. Maybe the publishers intended it to be a counting book, but this is simply a scientific book filled with facts on biomes. It belongs in the science section, not my preschool repertoire. As long as you realize who this is intended for, you can stop judging it by what it is not for.
Students doing biome reports can learn much in an nonthreatening manner from this series. I tested it out and found that second and third graders in particular tuned in to this series. Since every page has at least 4 facts, I have decided to use this series to teach note-taking. After demonstrating to the class, I plan to pair the students to jigsaw or buddy read one "number" page spread and take notes. Those pages have extra spacing between the lines and are easily mastered for reading. Each illustration has numbers over the objects to be counted so there can be no question of what to point on to count. Because the text is contained in a box on the left side of each double-page spread, I plan to use the document camera to show strictly the illustration of the "objects being counted" to assist the report givers. I’ll focus on the pictures while they read from their notes to the class.
The authors have researched temperate forests and included many unusual facts. For example, did you know that the star-nosed mole has a star-shaped nose made of 22 pieces of skin growing away from the nose? The objects being counted cover a wide variety of things in a forest: claws on the mole, colors of a male mallard, eggs of a pileated woodpecker, layers of plants, and seasons of the year. Plus there are some easier photos counting tails of a squirrel, cottontail babies, raccoon eyes, and the number of deer or earthworms in a picture.
The table of contents is heavily text-laden so I would use that with third graders to teach skimming and scanning, but would not use it for my first graders.
The layout of this book varies from pages seemingly intended for adults to those definitely for children. The beginning of each book in the series has a spread of maps with different colors for each biome. On the map, the only color identified is that of the temperate forest. Beware that your inquisitive students will be asking you what those other colors are representing. Also on the map spread, there are 3 definitions of words important to this title: biomes, temperate deciduous forests, and seasons. At the end of the book comes a page with a note at the top specifying it is for Parents and Teachers to read together. Then after that comes a very simple counting review page.
If this book were intended only for first graders to use, I’d expect the counting page to come before the heavy text-laden "More information page" so that the students realize when the "story" or "counting" has ended. The internet addresses at the back are for more sophisticated sites, also, which may need your assistance navigating. So again, we realize this is better for the slightly older reader, but not a 4th grader doing a report who might reject the "counting book" layout.
The ability to take notes from this series for beginning note-taking and sharing makes this a good purchase.
The biomes 2008 titles include Counting in the…
AUTHOR INFORMATION and divergences:
When Enslow Publishers sent me Counting in the Temperate Forest from the series Counting in the Biomes, I was surprised to see the authors Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr. and Lisa Beringer McKissack. I’ve met Patricia C. and Fred McKissack. Is this the next generation I wondered? Yes, it turns out.
Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr. has written for over 20 years including articles for journals like The Progressive and several books like Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball League which he co-wrote with his mother Patricia C. McKissack. He became managing editor of Rethinking Schools in the summer of 2007 and from the description sounds warm and witty. He spoke at the Wisconsin Book Festival and was interviewed for the Madison Times. Great background information there.
I’m taking note that he spoke to schools. Hmm? I wonder how I can bring all the McKissacks back to Nashville to my new middle school. Do I need to win the lottery?
His wife Lisa Beringer McKissack is also author of Women of the Harlem Renaissance. She is a college sociology and women’s studies instructor. Lisa, could you go to JacketFlap and claim your page so we find more information about you?
The father of Fred, Jr. is Fredrick L. McKissack who may be one of the loveliest men I have ever met. He has written many books with his wife Patricia McKissack with a focus on African-Americans and nonfiction.
They visited my 4 schools in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1994 and I was able to spend quite a bit of time chatting with Fred on the sidelines and in between shows. Born in Nashville, TN, Fred is a true gentleman. When I read about his and Pat’s history growing up in Nashville, I began to understand their devotion to writing about African Americans beyond Slavery and MLK. Fred, Jr. and Lisa dedicated this book to Pat and Fred.
Having arrived in Nashville in 1997, I am still gathering stories from teachers of the discrimination and segregation that THEY personally experienced before I arrived. It’s like a secret stew boiling in a pot with everyone afraid to take the lid off. Growing up in a very isolated farm town of 250 people in Iowa, I need to hear these stories from people who lived with daily discrimination and segregation. I’m the curious child who takes the lid off and asks "What’s inside here?" while the stew blows up all over the room. I appreciate authors who tackle these topics to help me understand the past to help improve the future.