Author Archives: joanneprushingjohnson

Number Crunch: Non-fiction for Math Lovers (and others)

Mixed-Up Files Reader, Michael M. comments:

I’m sure you’ve noted a heightened emphasis in the new Common Core Standards on NF and longer texts beyond articles. It’s particularly challenging, as much of the available NF is not expository pieces with the charts and tables that the CCS requires.  If you have any “go-to” people, that would be huge. Thanks for a great blog and a wonderful resource!

Michael, thanks for the comment and the compliment of our little piece of the blogdom. While I wouldn’t consider myself a “go-to” person, I’m interested in the same topic as a writer, school-based occupational therapist and general research geek. It’s a good thing since I can see from my calendar, it’s a topic I’ll be hearing a lot more about in upcoming professional development meetings. There will be lots of other people trying to figure out the practical implications of the standards and the best resources to implement them. Publisher’s Weekly had a great article about that very subject.

For this post, I searched for non-fiction books about math that included the graphs and charts you referenced in your question. For my needs, I also looked for high interest subject matter that had practical real life applications. I wanted books that did not look like textbooks in any way and were easy to access. I was able to find all of these books at my public library.

For our Mixed-Up fiction lovers (and as a nod to my previous post about book twins), I also included a few examples of fiction that reference math concepts. Hopefully MUF readers will add to the list in the comments below. Don’t worry, Michael, we’ve heard your plea and will include more non-fiction book lists and references in the future.

Tiger Math by Ann Whitehead Nagada; Cindy Bickel
Children learn to graph as they follow the growth of an orphaned Siberian tiger cub.

A Siberian tiger cub born at the Denver Zoo is orphaned when he is just a few weeks old. At first T. J. refuses to eat his new food, and it requires the full attention of the zoo staff to ensure that he grows into a huge, beautiful, and very healthy tiger.

Through photographs, narrative, and graphs, young readers follow T.J. as he grows from a tiny newborn into a five-hundred-pound adult. A heartwarming story about one tiger’s fight for survival that also introduces a basic math skill. (descriptions and cover photos from Indiebound unless otherwise noted.)

Joanne’s comments:  This is part of a series that includes books by the same authors including Panda Math, Chimp Math and Polar Bear Math. The right side pages follow the story of the animals. The left side pages include the math concepts such as charting growth patterns, figuring out how much food the animal needs, the feeding schedule etc.  The math concepts in the series include time, division,  graphing and fractions.

Growing Money by Gail Karlitz
Never before has there been a time when the economy has been so much a part of our daily lives. Today’s young investors want to know the basics of finance, especially how to make money grow. This complete guide explains in kid-friendly terms all about savings accounts, bonds, stocks, and even mutual funds!

Joanne’s comments: Money is motivating for most kids and this book is a great resource with lots of interesting information and facts.  Charts and tables are sprinkled throughout including comparing the cost of everyday items in the past to current prices and demonstrating the effect of interest on savings.

The Big Push: How Popular Culture is Always Selling by Erika Wittekind

Buyer beware! Why do you really buy what you buy? Did you see a commercial for a cool mountain bike? Did your favorite celebrity wear a fantastic pair of shoes on the red carpet? Learn how products are advertised using all types of media. And be aware of popular cultures influence on consumers including you! (description from

Joanne’s comments: I am  veering a bit off topic here, but I found this book when I was looking at books about money. I thought it was fresh, relevant and was something that many kids could relate to. The charts and graphs were not plentiful but were interesting. The book was targeted toward the tween age group. Being a smart consumer is another aspect of managing one’s money and is definitely a needed life skill, so I believe it meets my criteria for this list.

Basketball: The Math of the Game by Thomas Kristian Adamson

How far is it from the three point line to the basket? What is the difference in diameter between a basketball and the rim? How do you calculate a basketball players field goal percentage? With every bounce of the ball and swish of the net, math makes its way to the court! (description from

Joanne’s comments: This book is part of a Sports Illustrated for Kids series including other books featuring baseball, hockey and football.  I read Football: The Math of the Game by Shane Frederick and was pleasantly surprised at the level of difficulty of the math–definitely upper middle grade math including pre-algebra, mean, median, mode and range and calculating momentum. It has the familiar glossy magazine format with lots of photos, but there is a solid amount of text, tons of graphs and math problems based on real football situations.  Another example is the  Sports Math Series by Ian Mahaney including  Continue reading “Number Crunch: Non-fiction for Math Lovers (and others)” »

Book Twins: Linking Fiction and Nonfiction

In the midst of an avalanche of end-of the school year projects, one caught my eye.

Book twins—comparing and contrasting fiction and non-fiction books.

Book Nerd Mom is so excited.

This is an angle I hadn’t seen before and  is a great way to merge the strengths of fiction and non-fiction while keeping them both relevant and interrelated.

As a writer, parent and school employee, I can’t ignore the importance of schools and libraries in developing readers. There’s a strong push in the classroom toward non-fiction, which as a NF-loving girl I don’t mind—too much. (Click here  to see a chart on page 5 showing the  recommended distribution of reading in the Common Core Standards)

I have to admit, I worry about fiction getting lost in the move toward informational text. Tying fiction and non-fiction together in the classroom is a way to ensure that fiction remains relevant in the current test driven, funding- compromised school climate. Because believe me, not every child has a Book Nerd Mom, Dad or Grandparent at home encouraging them to read.

This project is a great way to help kids break out of their mold if they gravitate strongly toward fiction or non-fiction but don’t really enjoy the other. My son has to do a PowerPoint presentation which also adds technology to the mix.  At home or with younger kids, you could remove the PowerPoint feature—and maybe add a collage, photo album, chart or graph—whatever it takes to keep your reader excited. Or you can simply read and discuss which I have found that even my older kids will still do. Actually, it is one of the few ways I have found to get them to talk to me about things other than what’s for dinner and my chauffeur-related duties (which they usually text to me in a barely comprehensible code anyway).

If I were doing a book twin project, I would choose to compare and contrast Chuck Close: Facebook with Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind. I choose these two books because I can relate to them personally. Sharon Draper was a teacher in the same district where I currently work as an occupational therapist. My work as an OT also made the subject matter of both books personal which always strengthens a book project.

Single sentence summary: Out of My Mind  is the story of  Melody, an extremely bright girl with cerebral palsy who is also non-verbal, and her struggle to communicate and fit in. Out of My Mind will be released in paperback tomorrow, May 1, 2012.

Chuck Close: Facebook is an interactive biography of the American artist and how he used his unique artistic perspective to overcome dyslexia, learning disabilities, facial blindness and a later stroke that partially paralyzed him. I found this book on April’s MUF New Release page and had to check it out.

How These Book Twins are Alike: Both books show the power of overcoming obstacles with strong main characters who weren’t defined by their disabilities. Melody and Chuck both had supportive families and eventually found ways to use technology and creative thinking to overcome their difficulties. Both Chuck and Melody were focused and disciplined and subsequently outperformed those around them.

How These Books Are Different;  Melody’s disability prevented her from communicating and was apparent to everyone who met her. Chuck’s early struggles were invisible. Melody was a genius trapped by her physical limitations. She had strong verbal skills, but couldn’t express them. She had a photographic memory that allowed her to learn quickly since she was often underestimated and had to learn from her environment. Her disability was visible but her skills were hidden. She had to figure out how to get people to know what she was thinking.

Chuck used his art—a focus on faces–  to make sense of his environment and to help him to remember faces. His art allowed him to clearly show his abilities in a striking way and allowed him to better connect with people. Many of his subjects were friends or fellow artists which he used subjects for his art. This process helped him to better recognize who they were. He used grids in his art as a means to provide external structure due to his difficulty with focus and organization. Later Chuck, like Melody, became confined to a wheelchair and had limited control of his hands. He then had to consider even more unique methods of creating art.

Food for Thought: Melody and Chuck had every reason to give up but chose not to. What would I choose?

“In life you can be dealt a winning hand of cards and you can find a way to lose, and you can be dealt a losing hand and find a way to win. True in art and true in life: you pretty much make your own destiny.” –Chuck Close

In my to-be-read pile:  Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Let’s Talk:  If you were doing a Book Twins project, what books would you choose and why? What other ways can people who love books support the importance of fiction in developing important analytical skills in the current test driven, STEM-focused educational environment? How can fiction and non-fiction work together to deepen knowledge of a subject?

Joanne Prushing Johnson would like to acknowledge her fellow occupational therapists who work to see potential and possibility in their students, clients and patients. April is National Occupational Therapy Month. Photo from Book cover photos from

The Human Side of Technology

Just before Christmas, my siblings, my Dad and I finished work on a sixth month project—selling the family home so that Dad could move to an independent living cottage. We packed, sorted and distributed over a hundred years’ worth of history. We made sure to keep some things in the family like a spinning wheel, a pedal-operated sewing machine, a butter churn and a grandfather clock. We didn’t keep them because they were worth a lot of money. We kept them because they had stories to tell. They were valuable.

During the time that I lived in that home, we progressed from three channels to the seemingly endless choices of cable TV. From VCRs to DVD players. From boom boxes to Walkmans to CD players. Typewriters (yes, I took TYPING!) to word processors to computers. And since I’ve left that home there’s been years of updates leading to smart phones and Ipods and my dearly loved Kindle and electronic tablet. Never mind my laptop which frees me from writing in the same room with the flat screen TV with hundreds of selections and the Xbox with mind (and ear) defying video games. Don’t forget the competing noise from constant YouTube downloads or the sounds of my kids making movies and editing them on their own using the webcam and a few keystrokes. Ironically, all of these new developments are probably on the fast track to my own kids’ “remember when” stories.

Our lives would be very different without the constant influence of technology. The invention of the printing press revolutionized society by getting information to everyday people and the world was changed. Facebook and Twitter seem to be modern-day versions of using words to influence things large and small for people who used to be disconnected. Lots of voices are competing for attention and sometimes it seems hard to stand out. How is that going to influence our future? What’s next? How can everyone have access to the technology that can open doors of opportunity or leave others behind? Will people just keeping getting more and more extreme to stand out from the crowd of voices, or will there still be the possibility of lasting influence and measured discussion?

I think an element of fear and internal conflict is a normal response to change. I can’t help but wonder if e-books mean there will not be paper books anymore. I love the sound of the page turns, the smell of the paper, the feel of the pages slipping between my fingers and the weight of the book in my hand. But I also love the portability of my Kindle, the ease of getting books, the fact that when I had a problem with one of my hands, I could still easily hold the book and turn the page. How can I love books in both forms? I feel like a traitor to myself. Then I realize that my Kindle is already almost obsolete. Sigh.

And as much as I love technology, I hate the earphones-in-the- head teen years when I’m not sure if I’m actually being heard or am a talking head accompaniment to a music video I can’t see or hear. The constant connection through social networking sometimes leaves me feeling like I’ve missed a real life moment while I’ve been lost somewhere in cyberspace. All this interaction can be overwhelming yet lonely at the same time. What a crazy world we live in.

As we finalized the move, Dad decided to spend moving day with his older, eighty-nine year old brother to avoid the intensity of the moment. He drove his car two hours north, his not-very-loved cell phone on the seat nearby in case of emergency. It rained the entire day and the overcast sky meant that light faded earlier than he expected. On the way back, high water threatened to cover the road and his nemesis in the passenger seat became a comfort. If he had to stop, he’d be able to call for help. He’d be connected. In spite of the challenges, Dad made it home to his new digs and anxious daughters. He brought back a greater appreciation of why we wanted him to have the cell phone and a renewed sense of pride in himself. He would overcome this new challenge.

So what do two octogenarians do to pass time?

They went to brunch and played a crossword puzzle game where they competed against each other to gain points and complete the puzzle. Not too surprising. But then my dad showed my uncle how to find things on the internet like this You Tube video.

This is proof to me that the key to adjusting to technology is keeping it all in perspective. Life moves on and changing technology is part of pushing it forward, challenging the status quo and a way to mark the passage of time. It’s a measure of where we’ve been and a guide to where we are going. Embrace it or reject it, technology is here and influencing the way we gather information and communicate. And it’s been doing that for hundreds of years.

For now, I’ll just grab my cellphone and give the old guy a call. But I think I’ll do him a favor and call his landline.


Don’t forget to register for our Skype author giveaway with Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. She’s also a Mixed-Up Files member and ALA award winner so lets give her a big who-hoo! All you have to do is to leave comment on yesterday’s post, which was an interview with Wendy, so you’ll definitely want to check it out. Easy peesy.

Joanne Prushing Johnson lives upside-down and backward which is a very useful skill when life is a rollercoaster. She’s got lots of inspiration with a busy houseful packed with testosterone including a handsome hubby, four boisterous boys and a giant Golden Retriever. Joanne is represented by the Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. Photos from