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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Do you really know Heinemann-Raintree?

Once upon a time I adored Raintree books for my elementary school collection. Then along came these prodigious series books from Heinemann that everyone knew we had to carry for elementary collections (although it took Title1 funds to purchase the entire collection and I didn’t have them then). I’ve watched as Raintree was gathered into the Heinemann fold, then as they both became part of Capstone Publishing. When I moved to middle school, I wondered – "Does Heinemann-Raintree have anything to offer middle schoolers?"

I’m going to take a look at a couple series here on this blog and will follow up by visiting them in Chicago this next week to ask my annoying questions so stay tuned. Here’s one series for upper elementary that is intriguing and which I believe can be used in middle school –  True Stories.  From the website we read this blurb:

This series tells you everything you ever wanted to know about a range of topics, from science and, to history and food. Each book offers comprehensive and cross-curricular information that will stimulate the curiosity of young readers.

12 books in the series. ISBN: 143292351X (9781432923518) Series Price: $237.00 • Individual Title Price: $19.75 Ages: 8-10 • Grade Level: 3-5 Copyright: 2009 32 Pages  • Authors: Heidi Moore, Sean Stewart Price & Elizabeth Raum. 

From the moment I opened the first title, I knew this series was special. The binding is terrific and didn’t make that crazy crackling noise. There’s plenty of white space on the page so it’s not overwhelming. Lots of captions and sidebars provide entertaining facts. There’s a timeline at the end of each book and along the bottom of some pages. Look at this wide range of topics:

  1. The Story Behind Skyscrapers
  2. The Story Behind Salt
  3. The Story Behind Diamonds
  4. The Story Behind Toilets
  5. The Story Behind Chocolate
  6. The Story Behind Bread 
  7. The Story Behind Time 
  8. The Story Behind Cotton
  9. The Story Behind Oil
  10. The Story Behind Gold
  11. The Story Behind Electricity
  12. The Story Behind Gravity
Story Behind Skyscrapers, The How tall is the world’s tallest skyscraper?  Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa crooked?  Who invented the elevator brake? 

Why do I like this title? History, geography, and architectural connections. The variety of details that keep the most distractable of us entertained and involved. Seeing the videos of the new glass retractable balconies that suspend people off the Sears Tower in Chicago connected skyscrapers and current events to me. The photographs and drawings are appealing and have inspired me to add new locations on my travel list. I must go see St. Mary Axe in London now. I’m really intrigued with how Bahrain developed the Bahrain World Trade Center with three wind turbines integrated. What impact will this have on architecture and power structures in the future? What other structures in the world include dampers like the Taipei 101? There are possibilities for literature tie-in’s with Mirette on the High Wire.

Why is the sea salty? Why is it so easy to float in the Dead Sea? Why do people put salt on icy roads? 

Why do I like this title? This has potential for integration across the curriculum. The reader learns about both the science of salt and the impact salt has had on history and civilization. I like the variety of information included like how geographical features create salt and unusual uses. This title won me over by including my favorite folktale about the king who asks his daughters who loves him the most. He initially rejects the daughter who says she loves him like salt. I can see using this title to inspire scientists. Remember when you first learned that sodium was explosive in moisture and that chlorine was a poisonous gas? I can remember gazing at the periodic table of elements in fascination and marveling that these two elements create such an important mineral – salt. I loved examining salt and sugar crystals under a microscope. The timeline that is included at the back of each book in this series is very useful and can integrate into the math curriculum. The potential for cross-curricular connections makes this series an all-star pick for school libraries.

Story Behind Salt, The
Story Behind Diamonds, The  How do dentists use diamonds? Who sang Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend? What is a blood diamond? 

How will I integrate this title? Rocks and mineral studies. Myths and origins of customs – why do people give diamond rings for engagements and have they always? What is a blood diamond? How does control of resources on our planet impact the economy?

Where can you find a twelve-seater toilet? Why did castle moats smell so disgusting? What was the ‘Great Stink’? 

Why should you buy this title? Well, for one thing because your students will demand it! Mine saw this on the website and nagged me to request it sent ASAP. They want to know about how things work and why they are the way they are. School libraries need to provide these type of titles because students are not going to find them in bookstores for family purchases. Librarians shouldn’t judge everything upon whether it is a highlighted tested item on some ridiculous state test that has no relevancy with a student’s ability to think. (Oops! Was I ranting?) Besides, who could pass up an opportunity to teach about Thomas Crapper’s improvements and how American soldiers made this famous in WWI?

Story Behind Toilets, The
  Story Behind Chocolate, The What is the ‘food of the gods’?  How did Aztecs make their chocolate foamy?  When were chocolate chip cookies invented? 

Each spring I’ve needed titles on chocolate for advanced curriculum. Other than taking a field trip to Hershey, PA, how can I fill their needs?  Scientific and historical facts set this title above others for middle school. 

I found myself wanting to be a name dropper while reading this book. Yes, I have tried the chocolates and improvements of Daniel Peter, Rodolphe Lindt, Henri Nestle, Frank C. Mars, John Cadbury, Milton Hershey, and Ruth Wakefield. I can’t believe the authors neglected Wilbur Buds though!  

Did you know the role chocolate played in the invention of microwave ovens?

Why does a bagel have a hole in the middle? When did people eat bread made of straw, clay, and tree bark? Who used to be paid in bread? 

Do you know which countries produce the most wheat? Sorry, you are wrong. The USA is behind the European Union, China, and India. Growing up in the midwest, I believed the USA was the king of all wheat-producing countries. <shudder> My world is shaken. 

I think this title is a definite addition to middle school collections as well as elementary titles. Of course you’d start with Everybody Bakes Bread in elementary and work your way. Thanks, Heinemann for giving us advanced reading on bread.

Story Behind Bread, The
Story Behind Time, The How old is Earth? What is a time capsule? How did the Egyptians tell the time? 

Lots of details about different methods of telling time. Great for detail oriented minds. Expect tinkering and broken clocks from students taking them apart to see how they work.

Which country’s leader was an expert cotton spinner? Where do people talk about "three-coat weather"? How many slaves worked on cotton farms?

I needed some information on the Industrial Revolution this year and could have used this title. Good information on organic cotton and pesticides. Need information on "fair trade"? It’s hard to locate this within the context of crop production.

Story Behind Cotton, The
Story Behind Oil, The Where does oil come from? What is ‘Greek fire’? How does an oil pump work?

Again, this title contains a wide variety of details. Wildcatters, how refineries work, tar pits, Black Gold, automobiles,  and much more.

How much does a gold bar weigh? Why is gold used in computers? Who was Atalhualpa and why was he murdered? 

One of my favorite parts of this book is the chapter on Stories and Legends. They even include the Chinese proverbs on gold.

Story Behind Gold, The
Story Behind Electricity, The How does a lightning rod work? What animals use electricity? Why did Thomas Edison have to build a power station? 

This is going to be a very useful title to have when students begin preparations for the Science Fair. I answer so many questions about electricity. Now I can direct them to read this! 

Growing up in Iowa, I appreciated Benjamin Franklin’s invention – the lightning rod. I learned quite a bit about Tesla in this title.

What was Einstein’s biggest mistake? How does gravity help us keep fit? What is a wormhole in space? 

This is not a beginner’s guide to gravity, but extends learning in many areas. You’ll need this title to supplement gravity studies in elementary. Great pick for middle schools.

Story Behind Gravity, The