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