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

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

Written by Will Mabbitt
Illustrated by Ross Collins

Blimey! Don’t pick your nose or you could get captured by pirates! No matter how many times some children are warned, they still do it, Mabel Jones is one guilty girl. One minute she is wearing her pajamas and in her own bedroom. Then silence. Captured and plopped aboard a pirate ship, she is required to help find some missing treasure before the comet flies over if she has any desire of getting back home.

This mismatched batch of pirates are hilarious. First, they are completely disgusted to realize their new crewmate is a girl. Until they realize she can read. Now they know she is brainy and can be of help to them. Even the strange creature who captured her ends up loving her, because she is kind to him.

Everything about this adventure is entertaining and fun. Even the varying sizes of fonts make it a fun read and give the appearance of fewer words than might be expected in this long a book. Good readers will devour this story and reluctant readers will stick with it all the way to the end. Pen and ink sketches help the characters and story come alive, though, the text does that extremely well.

While there are some misspelled words, as one might expect of pirates, the spellings are phonetic so children readers will translate them happily.

Teachers and librarians can introduce this in read aloud form. Literacy skills dealing with fantasy, world building, context clues and character development will all be met within the core curriculum. English teachers can easily use these stories to propel their students’ own writing into the world of the future.

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  • Mabel JonesTitle: The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones
  • Author: Will Mabbitt
  • Illustrator: Ross Collins
  • Publisher: Viking/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 290 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-451-47196-3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 6

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather

Written by Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Illustrated by Sebastia Serra

Does your big toe hurt? Is the sky red at night? There have been many different myths in various cultures over the generations to explain the weather. While some might be right, many others have been proven wrong by scientists and their research.

Colorful illustrations, including weather pattern diagrams, help compare the myths of the past with the truth as it is understood today. In an optimistic and challenging ending, the book even suggests that one of today’s young readers will someday be a scientist looking back on us today and saying, “Boy, we were wrong about the weather.”

Accurate weather terminology is used throughout the book with clear definitions where necessary. It will be helpful to the youngest students as they are introduced to weather science for the first time.

As a read aloud, teachers and librarians can use this in kindergarten and first grade. Second and third graders will be able to read it independently. While they might not recognize some of the ancient peoples mentioned, it is a well done look at myths being disproven by science. It will fulfill core curriculum standards for science and literacy in the elementary grades.

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  • WeatherTitle: Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather
  • Author: Kathleen V. Kudlinski
  • Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3793-8
  • Genre: Non-fiction, science, weather
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Timeline of Weather Science, related websites

Who Was Beatrix Potter?

Written by Sarah Fabiny
Illustrated by Mike Lacey

Not everyone born to wealth loves it. Case in point, Beatrix Potter. She was born to a wealthy family in 1866 London, but wealth tied her hands. Well, perhaps, not completely wealth. It was also the time in which she was born. A wealthy young woman was not supposed to study science, draw animals or make her own living.

But that is exactly what Beatrix wanted and finally accomplished. It is sad how long it took success to find her, but perhaps the illness and loneliness actually helped her become a better storyteller.

Young readers will be amazed to find out how her stories began. They were letters she wrote to a little boy who was sick. She didn’t know what to write to him about so she told him a story about a young rabbit named Peter who got into a garden.

It is fascinating to read what Beatrix did with all the money she earned from her stories and illustrations. She helped make the world a better place with her stories and saved the part she loved best for future generations to enjoy.

Fabiny wrote a smooth and engaging narrative that reads as comfortably as a letter.

Educators will use this to fulfill core curriculum standards in history, biography, art, and literature. Librarians will use it to introduce a famous author and her wonderful books. Art teachers will use it to show how precise her illustrations were, and to encourage their students to practice over and over again their drawing of real subjects. This is a beautiful addition to Penguin’s, “Who Was?” series.

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  • Beatrix PotterTitle: Who Was Beatrix Potter?
  • Author: Sarah Fabiny
  • Illustrator: Mike Lacey
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 112 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48305-4
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3-7
  • Extras: Timeline, Bibliography, related web sites

Two for Joy

Written by Gigi Amateau
Illustrated by Abigail Marble

Centered around little Jenna and her mother, Grace, this lovely little chapter book says a lot about family, aging, and love for animals. Grace gets a call in the middle of the night. Her one remaining aunt, Tannie, has fallen (again) and broken her ankle. As her only living relatives, Jenna and Grace work on a scheme to talk Tannie into leaving her farm in Mississippi and coming to live with them in Virginia. First, they have to make their house ready for an elderly woman in recovery. Second, they have to drive her home and convince her. During the fourteen-hour drive, they play the counting crows game. Third, the three of them need to adjust to each other. Grace tries to take care of everything, leaving Jenna feeling neglected and Tannie feeling useless.

Third graders will learn about the issues of aging and also a little about birds and other animals. The wonderful characters lend themselves to wanting to find the outcome and independent reading.
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Two for Joy

  • Title: Two for Joy
  • Author: Gigi Amateau
  • Illustrator: Abigail Marble
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Fiction, birds, elderly
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-3010-2
  • Extras: Author’s note with suggestions for games

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Written by Kate diCamillo
Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Flora is a cynic. Who reads comic books about superheroes. And can’t figure out her parents. Her mother spends all her time writing bad romance novels on an old typewriter and doting on a lamp named Mary Ann. Her father greets everyone with, “George Buckman. How do you do?’ Even people he already knows.

Flora’s neighbor, Tootie Tickham, gets a new vacuum cleaner so powerful that it drags her into the yard and sucks up a squirrel. The squirrel is transformed by the experience and is dubbed Ulysses, after the name of the vacuum. Thus begins Flora’s quest to prove Ulysses’ worth and discover the rest of his talents. He’s strong. He flies. He types. Poetry. And he loves Flora. Add to this Tootie’s great-nephew, William Spiver, who is temporarily hysterically blind, and Dr. Meerscham, Mr. Buckman’s neighbor who grew up in Germany and talks about her deceased husband, the other Dr. Meerscham. Most of the world is unwilling to believe in a squirrel with super powers.

Silly and full of running gags, this award-winning book is surprisingly deep and emotional. The characters and warm and deep. The third grade reader will learn about love in all its many forms and about doing the impossible. Kids will love and read this book again and again.

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  • Flora and UlyssesTitle: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
  • Author: Kate diCamillo
  • Illustrator: K.G. Campbell
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 234 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7671-1

Little Rhino: My New Team

Written by Ryan Howard and Krystle Howard

Baseball and bullies is the theme of book one in a new series called, Little Rhino, written by the husband- wife team of Ryan and Krystle Howard. Ryan plays Major League Baseball. Krystle is a former elementary reading teacher. They write authentic dialogue as well as exciting and realistic play-by-play baseball. Both are interested in literacy as well as sports.

Team members represent a diversity of children and the main character, Ryan known as Rhino, is taken care of by a single grandparent. But none of that interferes with this great story of being on your first baseball team. Learning how to play together and get along with others solves a bullying problem in a light and realistic manner.

Third grade readers will recognize lunch room conversations about dinosaurs, a pestering bully and waiting all day Saturday for it to finally be game time.

Full page pen and ink drawings help to break up the chapters while immersing readers in the setting or action.

This is a series that third grade readers will enjoy reading and collecting. Having the beginning of the next book included at the end of this book excites readers and gives them something to look forward to reading about. It is also a good marketing plan.

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  • RhinoTitle: Little Rhino: My New Team
  • Author: Ryan Howard and Krystle Howard
  • Illustrator: Scholastic
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Papberback, 96 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-67490-4
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade level 3
  • Extras: The beginning of Book 2, The Best Bat, is at the back of this title.

Horrible Harry and the Wedding Spies

Written by Suzy Kline
Illustrated by Amy Wummer

How very exciting it is to have your teacher getting married! And it couldn’t happen to anyone better than our long- time friend, Horrible Harry.   Of course, that in itself would cause many to worry. Things don’t always go well when Harry is involved.

His class finds out about her wedding day during a show and tell class but then realize they haven’t been invited. None of them! They do what any reader attached to this series will enjoy. They figure out a way to spy on the wedding from the balcony and then the belfry of the church.

Suzy Kline has again written an entertaining and true to life story that young, but independent readers will enjoy. Her gentle inclusion of everyday struggles in a classroom, like not getting invited to a birthday part, will be familiar to students, but she handles all the incidents with respect and humor.

Teachers, parents, or librarians can introduce this book by reading only a portion of it aloud. Literacy skills will be strengthened while children enjoy a fun read. It is also a great book to use for a family couch activity like, you read a page and I’ll read a page. Another way to enjoy it would be to have an older child read it to, or with a younger sibling.

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  • Horrible HarryTitle: Horrible Harry and the Wedding Spies
  • Author: Suzy Kline
  • Illustrator: Amy Wummer
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 70 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-01552-8
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 2 to 5
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