Lucky Strike

Written by Bobbie Pyron

Ever been an outsider?  Remember what that feels like deep in your soul?

Nate and Genesis are both outsiders. They stick together because, “weirdos and losers stick together” and that’s their motto.  Nate is just downright unlucky. All the time, everywhere unlucky.

Genesis is a brainy girl who doesn’t believe in luck. She believes in science and probability and such. Even when Nate doesn’t call the right coin in fifty-four tries!

In a fun and opposing way, Nate is the complete opposite of Harry Potter. He does get struck by lightning and becomes the luckiest guy in touch. Townspeople even start saying he has the Midas touch. Everything is fantastic, the cool guys want him to play baseball with them, all the fishermen want him to ride on their boat. Until Nate realizes they don’t want him, just his luck.

This is a great story about being outsiders, what real luck actually is, and loyalty to the end.

Grade four, grade five and grade six readers will enjoy this story on every page. The realistic use of dialogue and short sections makes it easy to read quickly. Some students may enjoy reading parts aloud as they act out certain sections.

Teachers and librarians can use it as an excellent example of: voice, character development and plot. They will fulfill the core curriculum standards in literacy and English.

It is recommended for all elementary and middle school and public libraries.

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  • Lucky StrikeTitle: Lucky Strike
  • Author:  Bobbie Pyron
  • Publisher:  Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 263 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-59217-8
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 6


Written by Sam Gayton
Illustrated by Alice Ratterree

Would you set a faerie free? How about a trapped orphan boy? Open the pages of this adventure book based on Gulliver’s Travels, and go along with three inch high, Lily, and the captured boy, Finn, as they rescue each other.

Supposedly, on Gulliver’s first return from his travels, Londoners called him a liar and lunatic for talking about lands with tiny people. So, on his second trip, he captured a tiny faerie to bring back to London as evidence. This is her story.

Short chapters, plenty of dialogue and good humor help the story to move along at a comfortable pace. Young independent readers will delight in the story. Teachers, librarians and parents will enjoy the literary quality of the work, as well.  London in the 1800’s is well represented in details of sight and smell. Friendship in all its trials and glories is explored as Finn and Lily struggle to free each other. Their adventure is one of twists and turns, failures and successes.

Realistic pen and ink drawings bring the characters, as well as the surroundings of the city of London to life before the readers’ eyes. Art teachers and librarians can use these drawings to begin discussions about illustrating a story.

Teachers and librarians can introduce this story with or without comparisons to the original, Gulliver’s Travels. Maybe it will piggy back with, The Borrowers, Stuart Little, or other such stories about the unseen little people of literature. Perhaps this will be the introduction for some students into the world of fantasy.  Standards in the core curriculum for middle school literacy will be satisfied. Grade four, grade five or grade six readers will enjoy this immensely. This book is recommended for all school libraries and it would be a wonderful present for fluent as well as reluctant readers.

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  • LilliputTitle:  Lilliput
  • Author:  Sam Gayton
  • Illustrator:  Alice Ratterree
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, October, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 246 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-806-6
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Grade level: 3 to 6
  • Extras: Afterward by Author

Stay! A Top Dog Story

Written and Illustrated by Alex Latimer

“Ben thought Buster was the best dog in the world,” but his parents weren’t so sure. Ben’s parents want to go on vacation, but they’re not so sure they want Buster to come along. So Buster is to be left with Ben’s grandfather. In order to make sure Buster is safe, Ben writes instructions for his grandfather. The problem is, Ben keeps thinking of more instructions and has to keep sending postcards and notes. Another problem is that Buster is not always a good dog, so the grandfather takes it upon himself to make Buster behave. Naturally, he ends up making notes for Ben. Buster even learns not to attack mailmen. Buster gets to go on the vacation the next time, but he still can’t behave all the time. Not all the time, anyway.

The humorous illustrations are often dominated by the notes, cards, and maps about Buster’s world. Who knew a dog could cross its legs when it needs to go outside?

Third graders will learn a lot about pets and about family while practicing their literacy skills. This would also be a good read aloud with younger children for practicing those skills and laughing about Buster’s antics.

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  • StayTitle: Stay! A Top Dog Story
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex Latimer
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Animals, Family, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-156145-884-4


The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet

Written and Illustrated by Don Tate

Who would have thought a man who taught himself to read could come up with such beautiful poetry? While selling his master’s fruit at a university, George’s use of language caught the attention of college students. The students commissioned him to write love poetry for them, helped him learn to write, and to learn about literature and history. George paid his master to let him write full time and eventually published a volume of poetry, The Hope of Freedom. His master refused to let him buy his freedom outright, though. Eventually, the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to his servitude and George moved west with the army.

Horton’s is an important story that should be covered in literature and in history. The Civil War was fought by human beings about human beings. Horton took great risks seeking his freedom. After he published his first volume of poetry, North Carolina outlawed speaking out against slavery and also outlawed teaching slaves to read and write. After that, Horton restricted himself to non-political poetry. He also published an autobiography, used by the author of this book. Tate’s illustrations help to bring the poet’s story to life. This could be read aloud in a classroom to stimulate discussion.

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  • George Moses HortonTitle: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Tate
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Biography, Poetry, History
  • ISBN: 978-156145-825-7
  • Extras: Extensive bibliography, Author’s Note

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey

Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

There’s something for everyone in this lively tale of Charlie Bumpers and a Thanksgiving Day. Charlie is the quintessential middle child, picked on by both his older brother and younger sister. When his teacher assigns the class to define family, all he can think of how badly things have gone at home. The teacher is less than thrilled with Charlie’s definition, so he has to observe the family over the holiday and come up with a new definition. In addition to putting up with a whole house full of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors, Charlie has to share his room with the most annoying cousin on the planet, Chip. Add in a trick bathroom door knob, a casserole of Brussels sprouts, and a homemade bottle rocket, and you have a hilarious yet touching book. Of course, Chip ends up shooting himself in the foot with all his antics. Charlie’s final definition for family is, “People who love you and accept you, even when you’re a bozon.” (A bozon is a bozo-moron.)

Third graders will practice their literacy skills while learning about interpersonal relations and what families can mean. There are plenty of wonderful illustrations to add to the fun.

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  • Charlie BumpersTitle: Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey
  • Author: Bill Harley
  • Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Family, Holidays, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-156145-835-6

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can


“Achieveable,” Really? Girls going to school? Not born in Zimbabwe during the war. Then girls rarely got to attend school. Only after she grew up and had children of her own was Trent encouraged by the women of her village to learn to read. They needed her to read letters from their faraway husbands.

This beautifully illustrated story is based on the true life experiences of Dr. Tererai Trent, who now hold many degrees and is an advocate for learning and education world-wide.

Traditional values, beliefs and thatched roofed homes are described and illustrated in this full color book. Teachers, librarians, and reading specialists will fulfill core curriculum standards in geography, history, and literacy by using this book with grade three readers.

It also highlights the good possible accomplished by just one person in advocating and supporting education. While Trent dreamed of education in Zimbabwe, it became a reality in America, as she explains in the body of the text as well as in her author’s notes.

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  • Girl who buried her dreamsTitle: The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can
  • Author: Dr. Tererai Trent
  • Illustrator: Jan Spivey Gilchrist
  • Publisher: Viking, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-01654
  • Genre: Non-fiction, biography
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Afterward

Goodnight Selfie

Written by Scott Menchin
Illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby

As mobile phone users get younger and younger, the devices are used for more and more fun ideas. With the advent of celebrity selfies and many apps, kids know about all the ideas even before they have their own phones. This is the story of a young girl who gets a hand-me-down from her brother and feels compelled to take selfies while doing everything she does. When her mother suggests taking photos of other things, she decides dubs them elsies. And she takes many elsie-selfies. Of course, she doesn’t want to go to bed, and takes one more selfie – a goodnight selfie.

The illustrations add a lot to the story, especially given that the story is about illustrations. The cute quality captures the whimsical nature of selfies.

This is a fun read aloud for younger children, with whom parents and teachers can discuss the importance of not focusing only on oneself. Third graders may even have their own phones and can read independently about fun things to do with those phones.

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  • Goodnight SelfieTitle: Goodnight Selfie
  • Author: Scott Menchin
  • Illustrator: Pierre Collet-Derby
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Identity, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-3182-6

An A from Miss Keller

Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco

Teachers from childhood have given Patricia Polacco several good stories. In this one, readers find out how Patricia came to be a writer. She was chosen to attend a special class with the best writing teacher, but her reputation as killer Keller for her difficult disposition, made going to class frightening. Miss Keller only wanted one thing from her students. Perfection. She never gave anyone an A.

Patricia found the required perfection when she wrote about her beloved neighbor, Pop. She found her way to express love on paper. Her narrative essay was so true to life, poor old killer Keller had no choice but to give it an A. Which is exactly what Polacco fans will do with this new addition to their collection. Teachers, parents, librarians and grade three readers, in particular, will adore this story and use it well in meeting all the standards of core curriculum for English, reading, art, and life.

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  • An A From Miss KellerTitle: An A from Miss Keller
  • Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-16691-4
  • Genre: Picture book
  • Grade level: K to 3
  • Extras: Included is an author’s note explaining the importance of the main characters in her own past.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune

Written and Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The beautiful and realistic illustrations in this engaging new book are a big part of the little-known story of one of the original settlers near Plymouth Rock. John Howland was a young servant indentured to William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims and first governor of the Massachusetts colony. When the group set out on the two-month journey to America, John was obliged to come along. Lynch’s book gives a detailed version of the trek, from the loading on of supplies in London, to the various stops before leaving England, to the perils of the ocean crossing and setting up life on the new shore. During a storm at sea, John ventured out on the deck, only to be swept overboard. Luckily, a bolt of lightning showed him where a rope was hanging over the side of the boat, and he was rescued.

The Pilgrims were actually two groups who set out for Virginia. They merged when one of the ships set to transport them proved unseaworthy. The bad weather on the passage carried them two hundred miles north of their destination, but they decided to settle there anyway. Sickness, exposure, and starvation took out half the population in the first winter. The native Americans were wary but helpful. Squanto knew English as a result of being enslaved for a period. John Howland intended to return to England to make his fortune but decided to remain in New Plymouth.

Third graders and up will benefit greatly from this exciting tale. They will learn a truer history of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving. They can polish their literacy skills as well.

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  • Boy who fell offTitle: The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
  • Author/Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: History, Narrative Nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6584-5

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Written and Illustrated by Don Brown

Fire! Fire in the White House! Run away, run away, but Dolley Madison didn’t run away. She stopped to save the famous portrait of George Washington. It wasn’t a quick trick, either because the frame was too heavy to manage. She instructed some workmen to cut the portrait out of the frame and carry it to safety.

Don Brown’s biography begins with information about Dolley, including her charm, her ability to hostess wonderful parties, and her remodeling of the White House. He also tells readers how Dolley was actually related to George Washington by marriage.

The muted colors used in the illustrations are representative of the time. However, children will enjoy the great amount of action depicted in the story and the pictures. Teachers and librarians can use this biography to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy and American history. The author’s note also includes an interesting discussion about the many spellings of Dolley’s name. Students might use this as a springboard to studying other names with multiple meanings.

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  • DolleyTitle: Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-58244-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Bibliography
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