Friday, May 30, 2008

Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by Lauren Thompson, Photographs by James Estrin

Abbey, Nicole, Shekina, Monica, and Veronica range in age from 3 to 7 years. They all shared the dream of being ballerinas. Joann Ferrara, a physical therapist and their dance instructor made that dream come true. Each girl is challenged by Cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy, but they don’t let that keep them from working hard to fulfill their dream. Bright action photos show each girl and her teenage helper as they work to hold their bodies in the various ballet poses. Their story is inspiring and conveys a lesson of perseverance.


Roanoke: The Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee Miller

Miller presents a conspiracy theory in an attempt to solve the mystery of the lost colony. Along with primary documents and John White's beautiful illustrations, she describes the colonists' journey, the decsion to return for supples, delayed efforts to return, and the final discovery that the colonists were missing. It is a unique perspective of what happened both in England and in the colony and why. Includes maps, time line, source notes, and photographs. A thought-provoking book examining a fascinating part of NC's history. It would be great to use with NC studies / 4th and 8th graders.

Grades 4 - 8

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yum! MmMm! Que Rico! America's Sproutings, by Pat Mora

Illus. by Rafael Lopez

A haiku and an informational paragraph introduce several foods native to the Americas including chocolate, potatoes, corn, and papaya. Influenced by Mexican murals, the illustrations have a bright and distinctively Southwestern feel. This would be a fun accompaniment to geography or nutrition units.

Grades 1-4

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pass it down: Five picture book families make their mark, by Leonard S. Marcus

Short biographies take a different twist in this collection that focuses on families who create picture books: Donald Crews, Ann Jonas and Nina Crews; Clement and Edith Hurd and Thacher Hurd; Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers; Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney; and Harlow and Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell. Family photographs, artist sketches, and final illustrations accompany the stories.

All ages.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

This compact novel tackles prejudice, faith, hope and fear through the eyes of Frannie, a sixth grader in a predominately black school. One day a white-looking boy shows up at her school, seeming out of place. He is quickly knick-named Jesus-boy because of his long, flowing hair. Frannie puzzles over her classmates’ mixed reactions to this newcomer. The class bully instantly starts making fun of him while her friend Samantha, whose father is a conservative Baptist preacher, believes that he really is Jesus. Meanwhile, Frannie contemplates her family’s future. Her mother is expecting another baby after having lost her last three and her older deaf brother, Sean expresses a desire to be able to live in everyone else’s world as well as his own deaf world. All of these concerns are woven together as Frannie learns more about herself and the meaning of an Emily Dickenson poem “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul...” This thought-provoking novel could foster lively discussion among middle-school students.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems by John Grandits

These 34 creative poems are told by fifteen-year-old Jessie who voices typical teenage concerns such as annoying siblings, bad hair days, problems with parents, AP classes, jocks and cheerleaders. Students will laugh aloud at the poetry, hilarious illustrations, and surprises. For example, there is a clever poem on Grownups Talking (A+) and Grownups Listening (D-) Although the poems deal with high school life, they will appeal to students in Grades 5 - 8. Students would enjoy listening and comparing these poems to those written by Grandits in Technically, It's Not My Fault (poems by Robert, Jessie's younger brother). I can see this title being used for poetry, writing, and art activities .

Traveling Tom and the Leprechaun by Teresa Bateman

Illustrated by Melisande Potter. An Irish princess, Kathleen declares that she will marry "only a man who could win a leprechaun's pot of gold in a single day's time." Tom, a wandering minstral who falls in love with the princess, vows to be that man. Readers will enjoy how he outwits a leprechaun so that he can claim the hand of the fair Kathleen. Watercolor illustrations vividly portray the Irish countryside. Grades K-3.

Fiona's Luck by Teresa Bateman

Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. During the Irish potato famine, a leprechaun king steals away the luck of the Irish. A clever young girl named Fiona outsmarts the leprechaun and manages to trick him into setting luck free again. Shamrocks, leprehauns, and the Irish countryside are beautifully illustrated which helps make this a delightful read aloud at St. Patrick's Day or during a unit on folktales. Grades K-3.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's slave finds freedom, by Emily Arnold McCully

Oney Judge was a young slave owned by first lady, Martha Washington. Her father had been an white indentured servant and her mother was a slave. Favored by the Washington family, Oney moves to Philadelphia with them for Washington's presidency. There she encounters freed slaves and the Quakers active in helping others to escape. In this fictionalized account, Oney realizes that Martha Washington plans to give her away to one of her married daughters and decides to escape. This story serves to round out our understanding of early American history.

Grades 3 and up

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller

Anne Sullivan had always been called Miss Spitfire because she was so unruly and feisty, and she learned how those traits would serve her well when she became teacher to Helen Keller, every bit a Miss Spitfire herself, at all of six years old! From the moment Anne meets Helen, the psychological, emotional, physical and mental battles begin. Anne had nowhere else to go when she took the job as a teacher to Helen. She daily reminds herself of that fact, as she struggles to gain respect from all the Kellers, who have let little Helen terrorize their lives, and to reach Helen, who seems so frustrated, angry and isolated. The story is engaging and quite a page-turner, as we read of Anne's struggles and hope for a breakthrough with Helen. The chapters begin with exerpts from the letters Anne really wrote to her former housemother at Perkins Institute for the Blind. Miller also includes an Author's note, photos, a Chronology, and Bibliography.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler

This razzy, jazzy picture book will make you want to get up and dance. Daddy puts a record on and the tapping, and the snapping, and the clapping begin, with baby in the center of the action. The beat brings in the extended family and even the neighbors get in on the dancing. The illustrations are as energetic and joyful as the text. A great read aloud for pre-K-1 with lots of opportunities for audience participation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Champions on the Bench: The Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars by Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
The first-ever African American little league team in SC (1955) was not allowed to play in the series tournament when the other white teams refused to play them. Instead, they are invited to watch the Little League World Series from the stands. This story puts the history of racial discrimination in sports into perspective for younger readers. Weatherford does a nice job of blending fact and fiction with the inclusion of an Author's Note and photographs of the team in 1955 and in 2002 when they were hoored at the Little League Baseball World Series.

Good Sports: rhymes about running, jumping, throwing and more by Jack Prelutsky and Chris Rashka

A collection of poems about a variety of sports (baseball, basketball, gymnastics, frisbee, swimming, etc). Lots of humor. many of the poems are about NOT winning, NOT making the team, or dropping the ball. All sorts of defeated things but the kids are still playing and enjoying what they're doing. It's quietly about sportsmanlike attitude! Other poems are about the joy the kids have in the activity itself - not winning, just doing it! (pun, intended!)

Rashka's illustrations are whispy, bright and action packed. The movement of each game or activity is included in the mood of the artwork.

The Great Smelly, Slobbery, Small-Tooth Dog retold by Margaret Read Macdonald

A story of the Language of Flowers wrapped in a fairy tale.

This folktale from Great Britian tells a somewhat familiar tale of a beast (in this case a big smelly slobbery dog) rescuing a man from peril. The man offers the beast whatever he wants and the beast wants his daughter. She goes away with him but hates him, often calling him a"big,smelly, slobbery, small-tooth dog" and hurts his feelings. However, in great folktale, fairy tale fashion, she eventually comes to love the big smelly dog and they live happily ever after.
Oh, forgot to mention, of course he turned into a prince once she declaired her love.
Personally, I might have wanted to keep the dog! But what's a fairy tale with out the prince!

The Langauage of Flowers is demonstrated on the endpapers with a pattern of the flowers and their emotion or meaning. Throughout the story, the painted tapestry-like illustrations include the flowers that correspond to the events in the story. Very pretty and an interesting way to show a nice aspect of British cultural.

The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Patricia C. McKissack

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
This beautiful picture book is set in the "poorest place in America" during the Depression. Laura wants a Baby Betty doll of her very own. however, Santa brings one doll for three sisters and the girls are told by their father to "work this out." Pinkney's rich watercolors portray a warm family life during a cold and challenging time. Based on a true story, McKissack' s telling provides a wonderful lesson on sharing.
Grades K-3.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive by Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
This is a well-researched, poetic, second-person tribute to Jesse Owens (Go Jesse, Go. Trounce Jim Crow). Details are provided about how he won four Olympic gold medals as well as the controversy surrounding his accomplishments. Nice pastel illustrations add to the story. The final pages provide a summary of his life and a bibliography of titles for further reading.
Grades 2-6.

Hello, Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde

llustrated by Patricia J. Wynne
A delightful look at a bat that is one inch long and six inches wide. This short book contains nine questions and answers in a pattern that makes for an appealing read-aloud for young children. The illustrations are warm yet realistic. The last two pages provide additional facts about this endangered species.
Grade K-1.

The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka

This tiny, yet powerful book is for terminally ill children, their family and friends. The simple text tells the touching story that dying is hard work but others, such as medical workers, clergy, friends, and family, can help. Raschka provides a list of "What You Can Do to Help" for friends at the end.
All ages.

I Love You Always and Forever by Jonathan Emmett

Illustrated by Daniel Howarth
A father fieldmouse and his daughter play games in the woods where the daughter learns that losing to her father won't last forever but his love for her will. Delightfully realistic illustrations fill the pages making this a great read-aloud for young children. Grades PreK - 2.

Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo & Diane Dillon

This beautifully-illustrated tribute to jazz is a 2008 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book and it is easy to see why. The illustrations almost jump off the page alongside brief descriptions of jazz masters such as Monk, Fitzgerald, Parker, Coltrane and others. An accompanying CD provides an intro to jazz. Grades K-4 but this would be a great picture book to use with older students as well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo (Poems) by Linda Sue Park

A new twist for our poetry units. Sijo is a form of poetry from Korea; similar to haiku, it is dependant on a certain number of stressed syllables, and has an unexpected joke or twist at the end. (Maybe you guys knew about this form, but I'd never seen it)

These poems are neither monumental or side splittingly funny but this book and poetry style are charming. These little poems are playful and light and the illustrations are a little odd but are equally as spirited.

The author gives sufficient but not overwhelming background on the form and includes further reading and some tips on how to write your own.

A fun "something new" and I learned a new word in one of the poems: sesquipedalian - lots of syllables.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Into the Woods by Lyn Gardner

Illustrated by Mini Grey. Three sisters battle an evil villain and his bloodthirsty wolves in this novel filled with fairy tale allusions. Elements of Hansel and Gretel, the Snow Queen, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty are woven together in a plot that is filled with hair-raising suspense and narrow escapes. The sisters have well-developed personalities and learn about bravery and family loyalties as they discover their own unique gifts. The black and white drawings that are scattered through the text add a note of whimsy to the story.
Grades 4-7

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Bearskinner : A Tale of the Brothers Grimm retold by Laura Amy Schlitz

Illustrated by Max Grafe. A dejected young soldier makes a bargain with the devil. He will live seven years encased in a bearskin, during which time he may not clean himself in any way, nor may he pray. However, he will have all the gold he wants. If he fails to fulfill this promise, his soul will belong to the devil. As the years go by, he becomse increasingly disgusting but saves himself by giving his money away and asking the poor people whom he helps to pray for him. Dark brooding illustrations reinforce his sense of hopelessness. Older readers will respond to this story of mainitaining hope when all hope seems lost. The final spread, detailing the happy ending, shines golden. This will make a great discussion starter.
Grades 4-8

One Thousand Tracings : Healing the Wounds of World War II by Lita Judge

Illustrated by the author. A young American farm girl and her mother collect necessities such as food and clothing, especially shoes, to send to families in post-war Germany. The tracings of the title are of shoe bottoms, enclosed with the poignant letters that they receive. The story is based on real events in the lives of the author's mother and grandmother. It represents an untold part of the history of World War II. Soft, slightly out of focus watercolors and photographs of actual artifacts from the period complement the text. This is a heartwarming tale, told in a gentle, low key style.
Grades 2-6

Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman

Five clearly written chapters explore the issue of who the first people to discover the Americas actually were. Columbus, the Chinese, the Vikings, and the Indians all receive a thorough treatment. The author has used the most recent research to explain the questions and controversies. Superbly reproduced paintings, maps, and photographs liberally illustrate the text. A selected bibloigraphy and index are included. This book will be relevant for any study of American history and could be utilized in the North Carolina history curriculum.
Grades 5-8

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Good Enough to Eat by Brock Cole

A poor nameless beggar girl is offered as a bride to the fierce Ogre who comes to ravage her town. She tricks the townspeople into giving her gold and jewels as a dowry, plus a sword that she uses to defend herself from the Ogre, who is determined to eat her alive. She triumphs over the monstrous giant and renames herself "Good Enough to Eat." This rollicking story has the feel of a tale from the Brothers Grimm, complete with some very grisly details. Cole's humorous illustrations temper the gore,and the plucky heroine rides off into the sunset, far better off than she was before.
Grades 3-5

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tracks of a Panda by Nick Dowson

A tiny baby panda is born in the wild in China. As he and his mother need food and safety, they travel around in search of a good home. There is a narrative line to this nonfiction story, plus a panda fact on each double page spread. Chinese style paintings match the text beautifully. An index is inculded.

Dog and Bear :Two Friends Three Stories by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Dog,a daschund, and Bear,a stuffed toy, are best friends. Dog helps Bear to be brave, Bear gives up something he is enjoying to play with Bear, and finally, they have a humorous discussion about changing Dog's name. Bright childlike illustrations accompany the text. This is a warm, funny treatment of friendship.
PreK-grade 1

There Is a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems

This is one of a series of beginning readers about Elephant and Piggie. Elephant has a bird on his head, then two, then a nest with three chicks. Piggie suggests an easy solution for this problem. Simple illustrations that use balloons to show the dialogue accompany an equally simple text. Winner of the Geisel Award.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Little Red Riding Hood, by Jerry Pinkney

Failing her mother's admonition not to tarry, Little Red Riding Hood's encounter with a wolf is almost fatal for her and her grandmother. Only a passing woodcutter saves them. The classic tale is lushly illustrated with watercolors featuring woodland animals in a snowy forest. The illustrator's trademark use of red accents finds perfect application in the title outfit.

Jabberwocky; The Classic Poem from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, reimagined by Christopher Myers

Electric illustrations and font update the timeless nonsense poem with a contemporary, urban, basketball setting. In the author's note, the author and illustrator details his research into the poem providing an authoritative reason for the basketball setting. Apparently Carroll scribbled a note in the margins of his journal about "ollamalitzli" an ancient game of balls and hoops.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale, retold by Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen, a beautiful green cockroach is ready to "give her leg in marriage" and her Cuban grandmother gives her some good advice. She should spill coffee on the shoes of her suitor; his reaction will give her clues to what sort of husband he will be. The tactic reveals the true character of the rooster, the pig, and the hungry lizard who come to court her. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout and the author's storytelling style make the book a delightful choice for read aloud.

Grades 2-5

Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals, by Ashley Bryan

Three familiar African-American spirituals are exuberantly presented with brightly colored cut paper collage illustrations. Music for the spirituals follows the text.

all ages

Way Down Deep, by Ruth White

In the Appalachian town of Way Down Deep, twelve-year old Ruby lives in a boarding house called The Roost with Miss Arbutus who took in the red-headed girl as a toddler when she appeared one day on the Courthouse steps. The small town is loaded with personality and personalities from a goat named Jethro to Mr. and Mrs. Doctor and Granny Butler who lives in a house Way Up That-a-Way. The mystery of Ruby's family and how she came to Way Down Deep begins to unravel when a family moves into town from Yonder Mountain. This is a warm-hearted, funny story about the mysteries of family with a bit of magical realism.

Grades 4-6

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Booth’s Daughter by Raymond Wemmlinger

Booth’s Daughter is a work of historical fiction which accurately follows the career and travels of Edwin Booth and his family fifteen years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Told as a first person narrative by Edwina Booth, Edwin’s daughter, the story documents her experiences as she faces the stigma of her uncle’s crime and gains independence from her demanding and controlling father. Raymond Wemmlinger, the curator and librarian at The Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, includes a bibliography of resources used to create an accurate timeline for his fictional account of Edwina’s life. This is an excellent presentation of an alternate perspective to the assassination of Lincoln as well as the post-Civil War life style of the theater and artist crowd.

Grades 8-11

A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer, pictures by John Butler

This is a fictionalized account of the friendship between the young hippo, Owen, orphaned by the Christmas tsunami, and the old tortoise, Mzee. The story of these unlikely friends has inspired non-fiction books for older readers, but this story is meant for younger readers and focuses on the friendship that develops between the two animals. The illustrations are soft and comforting and the text is simple and repetitive. The non-fiction accounts of this story are much better at telling the story and explaining how this friendship came to be, but this book would be a good introduction for younger children with the non-fiction texts used to add supporting facts. Or it can be used on its own in a discussion about friendship.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

Mary is the daughter of a Scottish lord who is hanged as a traitor to King Duncan. She is placed as a maid to Lady MacBeth. Events unfold as in the play MACBETH by Shakespeare, but from this outside perspective -- a young girl whose honest and faithful father is now remembered as a traitor. MacBeth's hungry greed for the throne Duncan holds is finely drawn. His wife's decent into madness and its effects on young Mary are part of the problem she must solve to save herself. Lots of quotes from the play lead off the chapters. Well-done literature spin-off by the author of so many teen novels -- surely her readers will pick up this fine book and maybe learn something about the great Shakespeare play MACBETH in the bargain.

Grades 7-10

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee

Clementine is back in this fun intermediate story about the school talent show. Clementine can't find her talent. She plans a variety of hilarious acts, finally settling on one which uses her baby brother. That plan is stopped by her father. Clementine goes to dress rehearsal without an act and becomes a great assistant director when her teacher has to leave.

Almost as much fun as the original Clementine.
The audio version was a notable children's recording nominee. Grade 3-7.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells

When the Civil War begins, India Moody is twelve. She and her family live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the war profoundly affects their lives. Her father goes off to serve in the Confederate Army, schools close, and local young men who have eagerly enlisted die in large numbers. India is tutored by a young man who has theories about disease,sanitation, and how to prevent needless deaths among soldiers.The details of medical history alone makes this a title with great appeal. The story is unusually frank about the horrors of warfare. Unlike many historical novels about this period, it does not focus primarily on slavery but rather on the pride and foolishness of the Southerners who champion the fight and on the cruelties that are committed during war. Despite all the grim details of bloated bodies, amputations, and death, there is a hopeful ending. Highly recommended for middle school.
Grades 5-8

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wired, by Anastasia Suen

Illus. by Paul Carrick

Three-dimensional illustrations accompany the story of how electricity flows from the power plant to homes through wires, step up and step down transformers through the service head and the meter box and into each house. This would be a great addition to the fourth grade electricity unit.

Grades 3-5

Fred Stays with Me!

This little girl's parents are evidently separated or divorced because sometimes she lives with her dad and sometimes she lives with her Mom. However, as she points out, her dog, Fred always lives with her. Through hilarious illustrations in soft brown hues we see that Fred often creates a disruption in the lives of her parents. However, happily, both Mom and Dad come around and each joins with their daughter to come up with a plan so that Fred can continue to stay with their little girl wherever she is living. This is a timely predicament that many children will relate to.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Illus. by Robert Byrd.

A variety of medieval young people from a lord's nephew to a falconer's son and a varlet's daughter speak in monologues (with two dialogues) about their work, roles, and lives in the village. Each has a distinctive voice, they sometimes reference each other, and all provide first-hand insight into life in the middle ages. This is a book distinguished by concept, text, and design. Many facts are provided in the margins and always anticipate the reader's curiosity along with a few longer explanatory passages.

Grades 4-8

Living Color, by Steve Jenkins

Color is an important adaptation of animals and bright colors often signal danger, or attractiveness to the opposite sex, or may offer camouflage in some environments. Red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, and pink each have one or two doublespreads featuring animals in these brilliant colors particularly striking here against the white pages with brief facts about the color's advantage to the animal. Postage stamp illustrations with facts about size, habitat and diet of each animal fill out the last several pages. Many of these animals are unfamiliar and while this is a fascinating book to browse, I wish the author would include an index. This may be one of the few sources of information about many of these animals in print collections.

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara

Illus. by G. Brian Karas

When the class lines up by height, Charlie is always last. One day his teacher brings three pumpkins to class: big, medium, and small and students predict how many seeds will be in each. When the seeds are counted, the smallest pumpkin has the most and Charlie notes, "Small things can have a lot going on inside them." This book has a lot of mathematics going on; beyond predictions there is the problem of how to count a lot of seeds. The students agree to count by twos, fives, and tens. When Charlie groups the seeds from the smallest pumpkin by tens, he ends up with thirty five groups or 350.

Grades K-2

The Apple Pie that Papa Baked, by Lauren Thompson.

Illus. by Jonathan Bean.

The apple pie that papa baked came from apples "juicy and red" he picked from a tree "crooked and strong" nourished by rain, "cool and fresh" and the sun "fiery and bright" in a world "blooming with life." Told as cumulative verse, the story traces the interconnections of the sun, clouds, and life on earth. Black, brown, and red illustrations against a creamy background have an old-fashioned feel indicative of the influence of Wanda Gag and Virginia Lee Burton on the illustrator. Rich with vocabulary, this cheery book will find applications in the perennial apple units in primary grades.

Grades Preschool-2

Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, by Mo Willems

When Trixie starts school, she discovers that her beloved Knuffle Bunny is not so unique; in fact Sonja has one too. This encounter causes a disruption and both toys are taken by the teacher until the end of the day. Well sometime in the middle of the night (2:30 a.m.) Trixie discovers she has the wrong bunny and a phone call is followed by a bunny exchange. The juxtaposition of colorful cartoon illustrations against black and white photographs of a real school and real city offer a lively counterpoint of child's world to real world. The bunny exchange has the feel of a cold war spy exchange. Yet this is a very child-like story.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vulture View, by April Pulley Sayre

Illus. by Steve Jenkins.

Turkey vultures soar high in the air, sniff and seek food in a simple text accompanied by striking cut paper illustrations. Two pages of notes follow about the vulture family including a list of turkey vulture festivals across the country. This is a very dignified treatment of these scavengers accessible to new readers but also an important source of information for curriculum up through fifth grade ecosystems.

Grades K-5

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Illustrator)

Gratuity Tucci, better known as Tip, is given an assignment to write an essay about the true meaning of the Smekday, a holiday commemorating the day that aliens called the Boov took over the earth which is known as Smekland. The winning essay will be buried with the National Time Capsule. The story starts in June 2013, six months after the alien Boov arrived. These aliens have invaded the earth and sucked Tip's mom up into their spaceship. They have also decreed that all Americans must relocate to Florida to live on preserves. On second thought make that Arizona. The book basically covers Tips' refusal to move and her quest to rescue her mom. Along the way she meets J. Lo, a delightful renegade alien, who works with her to regain control of America. In the course of their adventures, the two also have to battle a second group of aliens, the Gorg.

The humorous text is a mixture of narrative, letters, and black and white illustrations by the author plus actual comic strips that move the story forward. It is a very light-hearted approach to science fiction and could even be used as a read aloud. It should be an easy sell to a middle school audience.

Grades 5-8

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

Fleischman approaches the atrocities of the Holocaust from a very different perspective in this tale. The year is 1948, and The Great Freddie, an American GI who has stayed on in Europe after the war, has become a mediocre ventriloquist. He is barely making ends meet when he discovers a dybbuk, a Jewish spirit, in his closet. The spirit, a thirteen year old victim of the Nazis, wants to make a deal. He has a score to settle with the SS officer who killed him, and he would like to use Freddie's act to spread his story. Understandably, Freddie is appalled, but when the dybbuk inhabits Freddie without permission and turns his act into first rate ventriloquy, he succumbs to the dybbuk's plan.
The tale is humorous and introduces Jewish culture and several of its frequently used words, yet Fleischman also paints a realistic picture of the horrors that befell the Jewish children during the Holocaust.
The story can be read on many levels and is an interesting addition to middle school Holocaust literature.

Grades 5-8

Monday, January 21, 2008

First the Egg, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

A very simple and repetitive text and clever die cut pages introduces the life cycle of an egg, tadpole, seed, and caterpillar as they change into a chicken, frog, flower, and butterfly respectively and then the text also morphs into a tale about the creative process "First the word.. then the story."

Grades PreK-1

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, by Paul Fleischman.

Illus. by Julie Paschkis.

Cinderella has variants around the world and this gorgeous presentation melds them into one story with features from Appalachia, Ireland, Russia, Iraq, Zimbabwe, and Japan among others. The decorative illustrations also blend motifs from these many cultures into an attractive and appealing whole. Most library collections hold numerous and scattered variants of this familiar tale; this story offers a satisfying introduction and synthesis.

Grades 2 up.

Nic Bishop Spiders, by Nic Bishop

Oversized color photographs of spiders leap from the pages while the informative text is presented against electric colored pages that also demand attention. The photographs allow for close up details of spider fangs, eyes, and hairy bodies as well as hunting, web-building, and feeding practices placed next to the relevant text. A note provides further information about the process of taking the photographs and the relationship the author formed with many of his subjects.

Grades 2 - up

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

The author of this picture book for older children grew up during the 1950's, 60's and 70's in Prague, Czechoslovokia. Here he blends the history of that repressive time behind the Iron Curtain with autobiography. The illustrations are mainly in black and white with red accents, but Sis's representations of his own drawings and of all things Western appear in color. Three double page spreads are from his journals written during that time. He places emphasis on the importance of music to those living in the Soviet controlled countries. The book ends with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. Young people may gain new insights into what it was like to live under a totalitarian dictatorship. Winner of the Seibert Award; also a Caldecott Honor Book.
Grades 4 and up

Henry's Freedom Box : A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

Illus. by Kadir Nelson.

This is a simple telling of the story of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom in a wooden box. Rich, colorful, cross-hatched paintings complement the text. Henry had ample reasons to want to escape slavery. The story follows him from childhood up to the point that he emerges from his box. Any study of American history or Black history could include this title. It will work as a read-aloud.
Grades 3 and up

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lawn boy, by Gary Paulsen

When the twelve-year old narrator of this book inherits an old riding lawn mower from his grandfather, he has no idea that his lawn mowing business will become a lesson in capitalism, profit and loss, labor, and investing. Although a short book, the economics and the dry humor of the author are best appreciated by older readers. The length and narrative will also work well as a class read-aloud during economics units.

Grades 5-7

Bugs: Poems about creeping things, by David L. Harrison

Illus. by Rob Shepperson

Most of the insects and spiders in this collection of poems are familiar to young readers. A variety of poetic forms are featured including several poems for two voices. The black and white illustrations and design is used effectively with some pages using white on black. For poetry and insect units.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford

A free verse poem accompanied by black and white photographs tells the story of the racially motivated bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Four young girls were killed in the blast. While the narrator is fictional, the historical events of the day are accurately represented. The recounting of ordinary events that might have led up to the moment of the bombing gives the actual explosion a shocking immediacy. Particularly poignant are the individual tributes to each girl at the end of the book. This will be a powerful title to use during a study of the civil rights movement.
Grades 4-8

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

This free verse novel vividly portrays the life of a Sudanese refugee boy in America. Kek's entire family has been killed in Sudan, excpet for his mother who is missing. He lives with his aunt and cousin in a Minnesota city while trying to make sense of the language and customs in this strange new land. As he makes friends, gets a job, and struggles with nightmares, he longs for his lost country and family. This story will have usefulness in helping American students tounderstand their refugee classmates. It could be used as a read-aloud and discussion starter.
Grades 4-7

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The U.S. Constitution, by Norman Pearl

This is a good treatment of a difficult subject for the very young. The pictures are appealing and every effort is made to make the ideas and vocabulary accessible to younger children. Students are introduced to the father of the American Constitution, James Madison, they see Benjamin Franklin, and they learn about the Constitutional Convention and the parts of the Constitution. The pictures, although conveying abstract ideas, read well across a room. This is a good title to add to Catrow's We The Kids (K-3), Krull's A Kid's Guide to America's Bill of Rights (K-3), Maestro's A More Perfect Union (2-4), Fritz's Shh! We're Writing the Constitution (2-5), and Sobel's The U.S. Constitution and You (3-5).
Grades K-3

Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington

Big Mama, obviously a grandmother, tells a young African American girl not to chase chickens. But of course she does it anyway, because it's fun and because she has her sights set on catching "Miss Hen." Wonderful figurative language and bright collage spreads make this a delight to read. The rural setting won't be familiar to most kids, but they will identify with this mischevious little girl, who, in the end, finds a good reason to give up her chicken chasing ways.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold, by James Rumford

Brave Beowulf fights against the evil ogre Grendel and his hag mother in this retelling for young readers of the famous Old English heroic poem. The pen, ink, and watercolor pictures support the story wonderfully with green and murky tones and menacing dragons. And as if the story were not brilliant in and of itself, the author, in an end note, introduces his young readers to a glimpse of the etymology of the English language.....and states that with the exception of only six words, all of the words used in his retelling are Anglo-Saxon. An exquisitedly re-told classic, certainly violent, but still within upper elementary school limits.

Grades 4-6, strong-hearted and up

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dolley Madison saves George Washington, by Don Brown

Dolley Madison was renown for her hospitality and fashion yet she was also an amazingly strong and brave woman. With the British invading Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, Dolley had the foresight to rescue the lifesize portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart and though the city burned, the portrait was safe and eventually returned to the White House. Facts about this First Lady born in North Carolina follow the vignette.

Grades 4-8

Lightship, by Brian Floca

Unlike other ships at sea, the lightship does not go anywhere but "holds her one true spot" and illuminates the way around danger for other ships in fog and bad weather. A very brief text has a gently rocking rhythm for reading aloud and along with the illustrations show the crew (including a cat) in their day to day activities. An author's note provides more information about these floating beacons allowing readers to compare and contrast lightships with our familiar North Carolina lighthouses.

Grades K-4

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis

Buxton is a community in Canada founded by escaped slaves from the United States and Elijah is the first free child born there. His accounts of life in Buxton are often humorous while also capturing the close ties in the community. In pursuit of a thief, Elijah ventures back over the border and confronts the horrors of slavery first hand. Curtis has the amazing gift of telling a story from a young person's voice in a way that first reels the reader in with incredible humor and then confronts the reader with grim realities.

Grades 5-8

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

Pledged to serve as a maid to Lady Saren, young Dashti finds herself locked in a tower for seven years with Saren who has refused to marry Lord Khasar. Written as Dashti's diary, the story of their years together becomes a compelling adventure and tale of friendship and growth. The author's choice to place this story based on a Grimm's fairy tale in Medieval Mongolia adds spice and flavor.

Grades 5-8

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Vinnie and Abraham, by Dawn Fitzgerald.

Illus. by Catherine Stock

During the Civil War, Vinnie Ream, a young girl of fourteen finds employment at the Post Office but longs to create sculpture. She approaches Clark Mills, a famous sculptor who is impressed by her talent and hires her as his apprentice. Soon she is creating sculptures of congressmen and earns the chance to sculpt Abraham Lincoln. Following Lincoln's assasination, she wins a commission from Congress to create a statue for the Capitol rotunda. This is a remarkable true story of a young girl's talent and perseverance as well as a time period when women were gaining opportunities and recognition.

Grades 3-5

Comets, stars, the moon, and Mars: space poems and paintings by Douglas Florian

All of the planets (including the questionable Pluto), the moon, the sun, and the constellations are featured in poetry that also offers factual information about these celestial topics. Small details abound in the illustrations and die cuts carry the reader from page to page. The information is up to date including the latest about the status of Pluto. Two pages of brief facts and a bibliography close the book. Young readers continue to be fascinated by this topic and these poems will serve to whet their interest and meet the third grade sun moon and earth curriculum goal.

Grades 2-6

Skyscraper, by Lynn Curlee

The history of skyscrapers parallels the development of technology that allows taller and taller structures to be built. In particular the convergence of steel frames, elevators, electricity, plumbing and heating, and communications allowed for the growth of skyscrapers in large cities most notably New York City and Chicago in the late 1800s. Numerous acrylic paintings portray the history, construction, and future of these amazing structures while the text treats the topics of architecture, technology, and personalities associated with skyscrapers around the world.

Grades 3-up

The Snow Baby: The Arctic childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's daring daughter, by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Born within the Arctic Circle, Marie Ahnighito Peary had an amazing childhood as the daugher of the adventurous Admiral Peary. Her childhood included Inuit friends, Arctic storms, being ice-bound for months, and wearing caribou skin clothing. Remarkable photographs convey Marie's obvious comfort and delight in her unusual surroundings. Young readers will be captivated by this child's perspective on the famous explorer.

Grades 4-6

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

Three girls, who have totally different lives, experience the same situation having a not so wonderful stepmother. Each girl tells the tale of their situation with the new wife/stepmother and how each ends up in a boarding school in where all three meet. Here is where they form the secret society of The Poison Apples (stepdaughters wronged by their stepmothers) where they plot to destroy each stepmother’s relationship within the family. Seek and find how each girl tells their tale and finally deals with the reality of what family is in their own value as young adults.

Grades 6-12

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Jack Plank Tells Tales by Natalie Babbitt

Jack is an out-of-work pirate who wanders his new town searching for potential work. At the end of each day, he amuses his fellow tavern goers with tales about why each available job is unsuitable for him.
Potential for him being a whiny slacker is avoided in the creative and always witty tales Jack weaves. The reader (and listener) understands completely and sympathetically exactly why Jack couldn’t possible take that job – what ever it may be. We have a slightly predictable but satisfying enough ending.
A short author’s note at the beginning says these are tales from Jamaica dating from 1720 but there aren’t any resource notes.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Author: Kinney, Jeff

Illustrator: Kinney, Jeff

Publisher: harry n. abrams, inc.
ISBN (library bind): 0-8109-9313-9
Price: $12.95
#pages: 217
Call number: 741.5 KIN

This book is a must have for all middle schoolers. Greh Heffley is a 6th grader who wants to make his mark in the school. In his attempts of making his mark his has tried weightlifting, creating the ultimate haunted house, trying for class treasurer, and trying to bet the World Record for the biggest snowman. However his attempts never work because he is always caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Middle school readers can relate to the typical teenage problems. The author is clever is using cartoons to play up the humor of the book.

Recommended grade levels: 4 grade – 7 grade


Character Education: Middle School, Friendship, Diaries, Humor

Other: graphic novel/comic