Archive for May 8, 2013

Deadly Venomous Animals

Written by Matt Doeden

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The Table of Contents tells it all. You’d better watch your step because these twelve deadly animals could wreak serious damage. Appealing to boys in particular, both boys and girls possessing second to third grade reading skills will enjoy the nastiness this book has to offer. Whether the venom comes from a snake, a scorpion, or an innocent-looking snail, it’s nothing to mess with.

The photographs are amazingly beautiful, and the facts in the sidebars may present information that could save your life. If you’re visiting Australia, for example, you may just want to shake out your shoes before putting them on. And if a Brazilian wandering spider starts an awe-inspiring dance, step back! Their name “wandering” didn’t come about because they like to pack their bags and travel. Scientists named it this because the spiders wander around at night hunting for prey. (On the other hand, those little arachnids aren’t particularly tied to their homes; they can hitch rides in shipments of pineapples, too.)

But guess what? While venom is undoubtedly dangerous, it’s also helpful in making medicine, such as powerful painkillers. The cone snail venom, in particular, may be used to create medicines that treat nerve diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

Reading comprehension is given a boost by the various vocabulary words sprinkled in the colored boxes throughout. After reading Deadly Venomous Animals, the reader may want to refer to page 30 for eight additional sources of information. Studying nature should always include a study of venomous animals and insects, if for no other reason than to appeal to a child’s sense of the gross.

  • Deadliest Venomous AnimalsTitle: Deadly Venomous Animals
  • Author: Matt Doeden
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Bonita Herold
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0599-8
  • Genre: Nature


William and the Lost Spirit

Written and Illustrated by Gwen de Bonneval and Matthieu Bonhomme

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Welcome to medieval France, land of chivalry, monsters, and unexplained events. Translated from the French, this beautifully drawn graphic novel gives third graders a glimpse into that world, represented by realistic characters. William has recently lost his father, but the father’s spirit continues to call to William. His sister, Helise, also disappears, so he sets off in search of clues. Brigands run rampant in the area, making it difficult to know who to trust. Monsters William encounters include those with no head and a face below their arms, anthropomorphic dolphins, talking plants, and dog-headed men. He crosses the ocean and the desert and catches a glimpse of his father’s hand. He gets help from a variety of characters, including his aunt, a knight, a troubadour, one of the monsters, and a young girl. The girl is required to call herself the only son of a king, just one of the “truths” of that kingdom. On his return, William faces his mother and possible future stepfather who are suspicious at best. His sister turns into a goat. Mom is sometimes a cat.

As with most graphic novels, the illustrations are very important, and these do not disappoint. Faces and animals are true-to-life and even the monsters are believable. The battle scenes may be overly realistic.

The extensive section about roles in the medieval world, mythological creatures, and gender roles provides added value and should aid students in comprehension. There is also a very good discussion section. The publisher provides materials and information on reading activities through their website: .

  • WilliamTitle: William and the Lost Spirit
  • Authors and Illustrators: Gwen de Bonneval and Matthieu Bonhomme
  • Publisher: Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0807-4
  • Genre: Middle grade, Chivalry, Myth

Stink and the Freaky Frog Freakout

Written by Megan McDonald

Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

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Stink and the Freaky Frog Freakout is sure to make its way to reading lists as it will stretch both reading skills and science literacy. This eighth book in the Stink and Judy Moody series by prolific author Megan McDonald takes Stink on a froggy adventure. Stink Moody can’t swim his way out of the Polliwog level swim class because his head just won’t go under water. Then, frogs start popping up everywhere – in his shower, boots, and bathtub. Stink bonds with the frogs and convinces his friends to visit a vernal pool. There, they learn about challenges amphibians face such as shrinking habitat and pollutant-induced mutations. Croak! Squeenk! Ribbet! Stink is not happy about that and decides to join a frog-counting project.

When Stink is licked by a blue frog (surely a radioactive mutant), things get a little freaky. As he hippity-hops through the day, Stink gobbles up once-despised raisins which now look like tasty flies. The webbing betweens his toes seems to grow, and he is tempted to spend the night in the dark, damp basement. When he is eager to go to swim class, Stink’s sure he’s turning into a frog!

The story comes to a comforting conclusion as Stink froggy-kicks his way across the pool, happily dives underwater, and ribbets his way from the polliwog to the frog level in swim class.

With plenty of boy-appeal and humor on the third grade level, this book will inspire future scientists. It is perfect for young readers who enjoy froggy facts and reading games such as fun quizzes. (Did you know Northern green frogs eat their own dead skin?!) Several pages of Stink Frog superhero comics will please graphic novel fans.

Although the text includes a few inaccuracies (for example, the implication that skinks are amphibians), teachers will appreciate the scientific content (life cycle, scientific skills, field science techniques) as well as the conservation message. The classic classroom activity to accompany this book is raising tadpoles, but the book would also complement field trips to a pond or wetland area and a unit on freshwater ecology. Additional resources and lessons can be found on the website of the Center for Global Environmental Education, A Thousand Friends of Frogs (, a project begun by students who found malformed frogs and decided to do something about it.

  • StinkTitle: Stink and the Freaky Frog Freakout (Book #8)
  • Author:  Megan McDonald
  • Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0763661403
  • Genre: Chapter book, nature, contemporary, science

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time

Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Illustrated by Joe Berger

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems to have a mind of her own. The amazing flying, submarine-ing, time traveling car takes the Tooting family on one adventure after another. Whether the family is escaping from a field full of Tyrannosaurus Rexes in the Cenozoic Era, riding in a car race in Prohibition-era New York or experiencing the lost city of El Dorado in the wilds of the Amazon, life with a luxury car demands ingenuity and stamina. Yet back at their home in England is an even bigger problem. A super-villain has moved into their house, touching all of their stuff. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is taking them to these different places in history for a reason. Dad, Mom, Jem, and Lucy are constantly seeking clues to solve the mystery of what Chitty is trying to tell them. Each member of the family is also learning that he or she has something important to contribute to solving the puzzle, even baby Harry. They soon feel like there isn’t any problem too big for them to handle. Good thing! The book ends with a cliff-hanger as the family is stranded in 1966 without Chitty.

This is a fun read that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. With a classic knack of British understatement, the humor is endearing. Jem is an inventive, engineering type of boy and Lucy is a brainy girl so both boy and girl readers will have someone to cheer for. This would be a great class read aloud for either third or fourth grade. Each place the Tootings land has something to do with Chitty’s history. Have the students make a chart and record what part of Chitty’s story is represented in each location as a reading worksheet or critical reading activity. There is an activity kit, a teacher’s guide and a book trailer available at the publisher’s website: (

  • Chitty BangTITLE: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time
  • AUTHOR: Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Joe Berger
  • PUBLISHER: Candlewick, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 234 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5982-0
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