George

Written by Alex Gino

There’s no denying the issues surrounding transgender individuals, aka born in the wrong body, are both topical and complex. Children may not understand all the nuances or possibly even the physical implications, but they will easily identify with the feeling of being different. In this celebrated and widely read story of a fourth grader born in a boy’s body, Alex Gino gently presents George’s many struggles and feelings. Even though George has heard all the news stories, she still feels isolated, as if she is the only person in the world who is called a boy and knows she’s a girl. Eventually, she finds the courage to share the fact that she is a girl. She is lucky to have many people around her who understand, once they recover from their initial shock. All of this is set in the realistic backdrop of an elementary school presentation of a play based on Charlotte’s Web. George wants to play Charlotte, but can’t because she’s a boy.

Third graders can handle the language and independent reading, but there are many reasons to read this with parents or well-informed teacher. Adults will want to discuss with kids what gender identity means and whether it is static. At any rate, George gives everyone a lot to talk about.

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  • GeorgeTitle: George
  • Author: Alex Gino
  • Published: Scholastic Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, transgender issues
  • ISBN: 978-0545812542

Firefly Hollow

Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Christopher Denise

Kindred spirits are hard to find. Friends who truly believe in you and your dreams are just the kind we need.

In, Firefly Hollow, there is a whole nation of fireflies, but only one that wants to fly to the moon. There is a whole nation of crickets, but only one that wants to catch baseballs. Good thing they find each other. Even better, they find a miniature giant who really, really needs friends.

This beautiful book reminds readers of, The Wind in the Willows, with its exquisite illustrations done on glossy papers and with no text on the backside of the page. In some ways, it will also remind children of the Ice Age stories as these friends: firefly, cricket, and miniature giant form a nation of themselves just as the characters in Ice Age create a new kind of herd. What is most important is how each of them understands, supports and fulfills the needs of the others.

Peter, the miniature giant, has lost his best friend and doesn’t know how to cope. Readers will understand these feelings whether they have experience the death of a friend or had a close friend move away. The animals understand Peter much better than his parents do. The readers will pick up on the connection between the river vole and the father as a particular secret they hope will be revealed.

Middle grade readers will enjoy this as an independent read, a read-aloud or a book club discussion title. Literacy core curriculum standards will be fulfilled in several areas using this book, and it is definite the art teacher will want to do a unit revolving around these marvelous paintings.  Writing standards can be met as students branch off after this reading to write their own stories about kindred spirits, actual friends, or unspoken dreams.

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  • Firefly HollowTitle: Firefly Hollow
  • Author: Alison McGhee
  • Illustrator: Christopher Denise
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-2336-7
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Grade level: 3 to 7

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

Lilliput

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.
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